The ultimate British bucket list: unique places to see and things to do before you die
One of the many millions in tier 4 right now? Fret not. While you may not be able to travel right now, there’s all the time in the world to plan your next great escape in 2021 – with a ream of unique destinations right here on the doorstep of Britain.
The concept of travel seems rather remote at the moment; like a lovely dream we once had, but now can’t quite remember.
Yet, when the current wave of Covid sweeping Britain finally recedes (come on, brilliant vaccines) we’ll be free to move around a little more. And when we do, the UK will be the most obvious and easiest spot for a 2021 getaway.
Not only that, but it’s a landscape brimming with potential, too. Britain is home to a vast cocktail of adventures, from warship wreck-diving in the icy waters of Scapa Flow to kicking back in a hot tub in one of our island’s few residential beach huts.
Fancy a challenging ski terrain? Forget the Alps; Scotland’s glorious Cairngorm pistes are ten times as fun, and cheaper to boot. Want to catch the Northern Lights? Skip Alaska and instead hop across the Irish sea to the Isle of Man, with some of the best Dark Sky Discovery sites in Europe. Combestone Tor in Dartmoor (pictured above) is another excellent place to see the night sky come aglow with stars.
And then there are some experiences that are just so delightfully British that you would seriously miss out by not doing them. Things like a hearty pub lunch in the Cotswolds, a rousing hike through the Black Mountains or fish and chips in the literary fishing port of Whitby.
With help from recommendations that you, our readers, gave us on Twitter and Facebook, we’ve rounded up 12 uniquely British and offbeat travel experiences everyone should have a lifetime. Grab a pair of wellies and get set to wander off-track with our pick of (just a few of) the standout destinations that the UK has to offer, below.
Ponder life at Llyn Y Fan Fach, Wales
This enchanting lake in the heart of the Brecon Beacons National Park will leave even the most hardened cynic in awe.
Surrounded by the highest peaks of the Black Mountains, it’s steeped in folklore stemming from the Lady of the Lake legend, lending it an otherworldly quality. A four-mile circular walk will take you up along the river, revealing the dramatic glacial cirque at the top of a ridge.
Here you can soak in the scenery or ponder the meaning of life amid one of the most ethereal natural landscapes Britain has to offer.
And when you’re done channelling your very own Plato moment, head down for a bite to eat in the excellent Neuadd Arms in nearby Llandovery.
Stargaze on the Isle of Man
The clarity of the sky and the almost total lack of light pollution makes the Isle of Man one of the finest places for stargazing in the British Isles.
Located in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Ireland, the self-governing island is home to 26 Dark Sky Discovery sites, including Cregneash and Peel Castle. On a clear night and with just a naked eye you will be able to spot Orion Nebula, over 1500 light years away, or the Milky Way Galaxy. A telescope or binoculars will open up the scope for even more spectacular astro-theatrics.
Amazingly, this is also a great place to see the Northern Lights. Never mind travelling to Alaska, Norway or Iceland; the Northeast coast of the Isle of Man offers a crystal-clear view over the Northern horizon, with the ethereal glow of Aurora Borealis presenting itself on many a magical night.
Get lost in Tresco Abbey Gardens, Isles of Scilly
A remote Scilly island is the most unlikely location for a sub-tropical paradise, but this only adds to the mystical allure of Tresco Abbey Garden. The warm Gulf stream air coming off the Atlantic means conditions are perfect for a riot of exotic fauna from all over the world to flourish, in an extraordinary project begun by 19th Century explorer Augustus Smith.
To walk here is to feel like you have entered some kind of wonderland. Scarlet flame trees rear up next to great blue Echium spires, Canary Island palms and fuchsia Lobster Claw plants. You can even cross continents – in a botanical sense – with gardens including “Higher and Lower Australia”, “Mexico” and “South Africa Cliff”.
There’s a strong element of the unexpected; you may spot a peacock along the way, chance across the remains of a Benedictine Abbey, or marvel at a curious collection of shipwrecked figureheads housed within the garden grounds. Finish the day off by catching a boat over to nearby Bryher, the smallest inhabited Scilly isle with the gorgeous Hell Bay Hotel.
Feel the sand between your toes on Roseland Peninsula, Cornwall
Everyone knows North Cornwall with its tourist hot spots of Padstow and St. Ives. But the South coastline is a bit more remote, with Roseland Peninsula among its highlights.
This designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty stretches from St Mawes across the River Fal to the fishing villages of Gerran and Portscatho and is host to some of the UK’s most secluded and unspoilt beaches; the kind of places that are perfect for paddling, shell-collecting or mooching around on rocks.
Make a beeline for the South West Coast Path as a starting point to the area’s labyrinth of hidden coves, woodlands, tiny hamlets and dramatic headland views. Head to The Hidden Hut just above the bay of Porthcurnick for fresh Cornish pasties or lobster and chips cooked outdoors on giant wood-fired grills.
Go pubbing and walking in the Cotswolds
Sometimes the simplest pleasures in life are the best, and that’s certainly true of the Cotswolds. This golden patch of South West England is the very definition of relaxed country life, with lush green valleys, pretty limestone cottages and quirky independent boutiques.
Picturesque market towns such as Nailsworth, Tetbury and Stroud are in abundance but to really get under the skin of this lovely region – and meet its friendly locals – head to one of the great country pubs for a hearty lunch and walk. The Crown in Frampton Mansell is a dogs-by-the-fire kind of place with glorious hill views, or pop by The Plough Inn in Kelmscott, which is situated moments away from a beautiful stretch of the River Thames.
Find more pub suggestions here.
Wreck-dive at Scapa Flow in the Orkneys
The adrenaline junkies among you will delight in Scapa Flow, one of the finest dive sights in Europe.
Orkney’s clean, nutrient-rich waters on the edge of the Atlantic Gulf Stream make for perfect conditions, with clear waters and plenty of marine wildlife. Seals, porpoises, dolphins and even whales can be spotted in deeper water around sites such as the Old Man of Hoy and the North Shoal.
But the real adventure lies with a treasure trove of sunken vessels from the First and Second World War. Divers can explore the unsalvaged vessels of the German High Seas Fleet, including a handful of large warships and destroyers.
Companies including Scapa Scuba and Kraken Diving guide divers of all levels down to the wrecks. There’s also great cliff, rock stack and cave diving in the area.
Feast on fish and chips in Whitby
The historic fishing port of Whitby attracts year-round visitors for a reason.As many British seaside towns fall sadly into decline, the town that inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula is flourishing, with its quaint tea shops, maze of cobbled streets and glorious North Sea beachside.
Tourists don’t fall into one stereotypical bracket and thanks to its Dracula heritage, you’re as likely to rub shoulders with visiting goths as you are a busload of pensioners.
Whitby is filled with foodie attractions and one of its most famous is The Magpie Cafe, where fish and chip fans don’t mind queuing well out of the door, all year round, for a seat. Standing on the quayside for 75 years, it serves 20 types of fish that it buys in fresh every day and is reminiscent of a cosy wartime tearoom; the perfect setting to enjoy a plateful of the region’s finest fish and chips and a steaming pot of tea.
Or you can pop by Quayside, which was recently crowned the UK’s best independent fish and chip shop. Grab a Whitby whole-tail scampi coated in breadcrumbs and head down to the beach to eat it, to the tune of a brisk North Sea breeze. It’s the ultimate fish and chips experience.
Cycle and sea kayak across Alderney
The closest Channel Island to France, Alderney feels truly far-flung and removed from the hubbub of everyday life.
At three and a half miles long, it’s perfectly formed for a dash of rugged exploration. The flight descent alone can be a stunning experience on a clear day, as the verdant island emerges in panoramic detail from the Channel sea.
As it’s virtually traffic-free, the best way to move around this tiny and beautiful enclave is by bike. Hire one from Cycle & Surf in St Anne’s (the island’s only town) and head out to the 1912 Mannez lighthouse at Quesnard Point, on the eastern end of the island, or take a look at German bunkers left over from Nazi occupation in World War II.
Alternatively, take to the waves in a paddleboard or transparent kayak and mosey around Alderney’s hidden beaches, caves and cliffs to spot out some wildlife – including gannets, Atlantic puffins, seals and dolphins.
Ski the dramatic slopes of the Cairngorms
Scottish ski resorts used to be dismissed as second-rate, but facilities and snow conditions have improved dramatically in the past few years.
Now you can expect deep, powdery snow, challenging terrain and stunning mountain scenery from Cairngorms National Park’s highest peaks.
Lecht is a small, quiet resort with fewer crowds and queues than its neighbours, or head to Cairngorm Mountain, the region’s best-known skiing and snowboard hot spot, with plenty of variety and long-lasting snow. Meanwhile Glenshee resort is home to the infamous Tiger, one of the most challenging black runs in the UK.
These places offer all the delights of the Alps without the pretentious crowds or eye-watering prices. No-one’s paying through the nose for a post-piste hot chocolate, or people-watching for the latest ski wear. They’re too busy having fun.
Travel by London to Aviemore (a beautiful town in its own right) on the Caledonian Sleeper to kick-start your holiday in true style.
Revel in Whitstable’s boutiques and oyster picnics
The upmarket Bohemian appeal of this Kentish seaside town has seen it christened “Islington-on-sea”, brimming as it is with migrating weekend Londoners.
There’s no doubting the fact that you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to art galleries, delicatessens and independent stores. Pop by Pink Flamingo for cute, retro-style dresses or Mosaic for beautiful handmade jewellery.
A thriving trade in oysters is central to Whitstable’s character and history. Grab yourself some from the fresh fish market at the harbour, along with a bottle of bubbly, for a homemade picnic/feast out on the town’s iconic beach with its pretty beach huts.
Whitstable beach is also home to The Old Neptune, one of the UK’s few beach-side pubs, with fabulous sunset views.
Roam the pretty Norfolk village of Happisburgh
Happisburgh (pronounced “Haisbro”) is a unique coastal village on the East Norfolk coast.
It’s a lovely place for a bit of downtime to just wander around and discover its charms. These include its distinctive red and white candy striped lighthouse, the oldest of its kind to still operate a light in Britain, a fistful of picturesque flint and thatch cottages, a friendly pub serving local ales and a wide sandy beach that extends for miles in both directions.
The surrounding countryside is oh-so scenic and provides plenty of scope for a good walk or two.
The village is one of the first in Britain to face a real threat from coastal erosion brought on by climate change, making its quiet charisma all the more precious.
Hunker down in one of the UK’s only residential beach huts on Whitsand Bay
On the Rame Peninsula – in the South East of Cornwall –you will find the “forgotten corner” of the West Country. One of the UK’s most peaceful places, this picturesque and little known area is dotted with some of the UK’s only residential beach huts, as well as miles of stunning and unspoilt coastline.
Stay at the Edge and wake to a panoramic sea views before taking a dip in the hot tub outside. After a morning spent walking the three miles of coastline, treat yourself off to lunch at the top-rated View restaurant where you can eat fish caught just that morning as you look out over Whitsand Bay.
The more adventurous among you could enjoy a day’s surfing or kitesurfing on one of the many surrounding beaches, all known for their good wind conditions.
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