United Kingdom

7 great UK holiday ideas beyond the beach

Photo of Cathy ToogoodPhoto of Cathy Toogood
By Cathy Toogood

23 July 2021 | Updated 24 June 20226 min read

View across a canal in the UK with narrow boats moored to the side and clouds reflected in the water

While the UK has many fantastic beaches that are well worth a visit, there are a multitude of other fantastic options for a holiday in the UK, whether you’d rather avoid the crowds or are looking to try something new.

From active walking, cycling and wild swimming holidays to scenic train journeys and adventures themed around food, here are seven UK holiday ideas beyond the beach.

1. Admire the UK’s landscape on foot on a walking holiday

Whether you fancy strolling through a forest, trekking up mountains or planning your walks around stops in friendly pubs, the UK has plenty of scenic walking routes to suit. If you’d like to explore an area of the UK by foot, you could book a guided walking holiday with a specialist such as HF Holidays or choose your own location then plan daily routes.

As for where go to, the Yorkshire Dales is a good bet. Here, you can tackle the popular 15km (9-mile) Whernside circular during which you’ll climb the highest mountain in the Yorkshire Three Peaks and will enjoy a cracking view of the Ribblehead Viaduct.

Alternatively, go classic with a holiday in the Lake District to admire the scenery on the Grasmere and Rydal loop and find out for yourself why Wordsworth thought this was “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found”.

2. Take to the water on a canal boat holiday

See the UK from a new perspective and enjoy taking things slowly on a canal boat holiday. You can cruise at your own pace, deciding whether you fancy mooring up and going ashore to visit local attractions or relaxing on board, taking in the scenery and wildlife.

You could cruise to the 2021 UK City of Culture, Coventry, as there’s a canal basin in its city centre – consider a loop from Rugby or Kings Orchard in Staffordshire. Or, explore North Wales on the Llangollen Canal, where you can pass over the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, and enjoy fantastic views from 38.4m (126ft) above the River Dee.

Plan routes and get inspiration on the Canal & River Trust site, and hire boats from companies such as Drifters and Black Prince.

3. Spot Highland cows, seals, puffins and more on a wildlife holiday

You don’t have to board a plane to see some fantastic wildlife – there’s plenty right here in the UK. For example, in southwest Scotland, Kitchen Coos & Ewes run Highland cow safaris, and options include an Insta Coo Tour with plenty of time to take pictures for your grid and a Cream Tea Coo Tour that includes a sweet treat at the end.

Prefer birds to bovines? Try a birdwatching break in Norfolk, where you can spot everything from the colourful flash of a kingfisher to majestic marsh harriers. Or, in Northumberland, you can take a boat trip to the Farne Islands where you’ll be able to see puffins between April and late July, as well as thousands of grey seals.

4. Enjoy the journey on a spectacular rail adventure

Keep your holiday carbon footprint low and make your journey part of the adventure on a beautiful UK train trip. On the Jacobite steam train in Scotland, you’ll travel from Fort William to Mallaig on a 135km (84-mile) round trip, during which you’ll pass over the 21-arched Glenfinnan viaduct – just as Harry Potter did on his way to Hogwarts.

Or, revel in the romanticism of a sleeper train on the Caledonian Sleeper between Scotland and London where you can relax in your en-suite room or comfortable seat overnight and wake up refreshed ready to sightsee. If you’re travelling the other way, there’s also the Night Riviera Sleeper between the West Country and London.

5. Explore on two wheels on a cycling holiday

Keen enthusiasts and cycling pros alike will love exploring a new area on two wheels. And the UK has some excellent official cycle paths to choose between.

On the 33.6km (21-mile) Sefton Coastal Path, you’ll pedal past some fascinating landscapes from salt marshes with wading birds and cheerful seaside town Southport to Antony Gormley’s Another Place installation on Crosby Beach. The route is in three suggested stages or can be tackled all at once.

Alternatively, in Northern Ireland you could try the 29km (18-mile) Knockchree cycle route where you’ll be treated to spectacular views of the Mourne Mountains and Whitewater River.

6. Feel rejuvenated on a wild swimming trip

Wild swimming became incredibly popular in the UK during the coronavirus pandemic, when public swimming pools closed and travel was restricted – and its popularity is yet to wane. See what the fuss is about this summer, with dips in lakes and lochs, swims next to cascading waterfalls and even plunges into deep river pools.

A dip in Britain’s largest body of water, Loch Lomond in Scotland, is the perfect introduction to wild swimming for beginners. Or, try the picturesque spot in the River Wharfe in Appletreewick, Yorkshire, where you can swim to a small islet and dry off on a pebbly beach then retreat to a village pub to warm up. You can even slip into the Thames at tiny Wallingford Beach in Oxfordshire, midway between Oxford and Reading.

While wild swimming can feel like a spontaneous adventure, remember to do your research on safe spots before you jump in and don’t dive from a height unless you’re sure the water is deep and rock-free.

7. Make food your focus on an indulgent break

There’s no need to settle for an overcooked roast dinner on a holiday here at home. The UK’s food scene is thriving, with everything from Michelin-star restaurants and fresh farm produce to local delicacies such as creamy cheeses and lip-smacking seafood to try.

Book a table and room at L’Enclume in Cartmel in the Lake District, which has three Michelin stars and is run by chef, Simon Rogan, who says that “Ingredients that change with the seasons inspire my menu development and ensure a truly traceable dining experience reflecting my farm to table philosophy”. Before you leave the pretty village, you could pop into the Cartmel Village Shop to pick up some of its famous sticky toffee pudding.

Or, if you’d like to improve your own cooking and take your holiday home, book yourself into a cookery school at an esteemed hotel such as Northcote in Lancashire or The Raymond Blanc Cookery School at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons in Oxfordshire.

Alternatively, create a foodie road trip, looking up great stops to sample local classics such as pork pies and stilton cheese in Melton Mowbray.

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