The British appetite for a UK staycation has never been greater, as families, couples and groups of friends look for a post-lockdown stay. Over half (52%) of UK holidaymakers are planning UK staycations for the remainder of 2020. And when you consider current travel restrictions, the complex possibility of travel bubbles and the uncertain nature of air travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s no surprise that UK staycations are joining wellness travel as the top holiday trends for this year.
We’re here to help. Here are our recommendations of the best UK staycations in the UK, for couples, families and groups of friends.
Best UK staycations for couples
1. Bath spa
The hometown of Jane Austen, the site of some of the world’s best-preserved Roman bathhouses and a city-wide UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bath is hard to beat for a post-COVID staycation. It’s a hit for couples, who can spend their days meandering between chintzy tearooms (starting with the Regency tearoom at the Jane Austen Centre, where staff are dressed in period costume) and cosy heritage pubs, where local ales wash down gastropub grub. Make time for a pint and free live music show at The Bell Inn, a no-frills 18th-century boozer whose recent community buyout was supported by local rockstar Robert Plant and Glastonbury festival’s Michael Eavis.
No romantic stay in Bath is complete without a soak at Thermae Bath Spa (currently opened for pre-booked spa sessions), whose rooftop pool overlooks the city’s honey-coloured, limestone houses. Take a stroll along the Royal Crescent, a row of 30 terraced houses that’s one of the UK’s best-preserved examples of Georgian architecture. You can even stay there, in the five-star Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa, which has just regenerated its spa and serves socially distant, locally sourced meals to your suite. For an even more private stay, book the new Townhouse experience at The Gainsborough Bath Spa, which puts all the hotel’s famous hospitality in a private house setting.
2. South Downs National Park
England’s newest national park counts over 600 square miles of rolling green countryside, linking Eastbourne to Winchester via the South Downs Way – a long-distance footpath and bridleway. With a quarter of the park covered in trees, this is a stunning stretch of scenery, accessible from many romantic spots that make it one of the UK’s best staycation destinations for couples. Most visitors make their base in Eastbourne – which despite being Britain’s sunniest town has a reputation for being a bit sleepy.
We recommend bedding down on the Downs themselves or one of the surrounding villages. The UK’s national parks partner with Skye Cottages, which have rentals in the picturesque market town of Farnham and romantic shepherd’s huts in Alresford, both of which border the South Downs. If you’re after some romance-fuelled luxury, Gravetye Manor hotel is hard to beat – the Sussex estate was built for the owner’s bride in 1538.
For a fizzy day trip, visit Tinwood Estate, one of England’s prime sparkling wine vineyards at the foot of the national park. Take a pre-booked daily vineyard tour, sample the Estate Brut or Rosé, and maybe even stay the night at one of three luxury lodges on site.
Even if you live in London (and certainly if you don’t), the UK’s capital makes for a hard-to-beat staycation. As one of the world’s great cultural cities (and voted one of our best UK cities), you’ll never be short of things to do, whether that’s exploring street markets, dining in world-class, international restaurants, or admiring works of art in the national museums and galleries. Wherever you stay, make sure you’ve got easy access to a tube or bus line into the city centre – you want to be able to reach the bars and restaurants of Soho, or the street performers and street food of the Southbank, without fuss.
But couples’ staycations come into their own in the less-central parts of London. Meandering walks through Columbia Road Flower Market turn into flat whites at independent coffee shops on Broadway Market, and perhaps a picnic on London Fields. Browsing bric-a-brac on Portabello Road escalates into tasting the gin menu, and maybe designing your own, at The Ginstitute (you might want to book a room for the night, if not down the road at the couples-friendly Portobello House). A cooling dip in the Hampstead Heath ponds inevitably leads to a warming pub dinner and glass of wine at a pub like The Spaniards Inn. Do as the locals do and the romance can feel endless.
Best UK staycations for families
4. New Forest
England’s New Forest National Park, with its 193,000 acres of forest and heathland, is a top contender for a family-friendly staycation. The forest’s administrative capital is Lyndhurst, and this is a great base from which to explore the surrounding area (having a car helps, although rented bikes will get you far, too). The large, pretty village was named the capital of the New Forest when William the Conqueror claimed it as royal hunting ground in 1079, and you can have a taste of its royal heritage through gorgeous stays such as the Crown Manor House Hotel or the Forest Lodge Hotel. Feeling rustic? Many families opt for one of the New Forest’s many campsites, where wild ponies graze between the green thicket and trees.
From there, the region’s family-friendly options seem limitless. Kids can take part in reptile trails, quizzes and activities on Wild Wednesdays at the New Forest Reptile Centre, or cuddle baby bunnies at Longdown Activity Farm. Pet Shire horses at the Dorset Heavy Horse Farm Park and spot owls, deer, otters and wildcats at the New Forest Wildlife Park. And how could we leave out Peppa Pig World, at Paulton’s Park – or for older kids, the World of Top Gear at the National Motor Museum. Always check in on the websites in advance in case there are any COVID-19 restrictions in place.
5. The Lake District
Home to many of the most beautiful lakes in the UK, the Lake District is a magnificent destination for a family staycation in the UK. It may be the country’s most popular national park, but this doesn’t get in the way of experiencing its dramatic fells, craggy hills and glass-like lakes. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the region has been immortalised over and over again by poets and writers who found inspiration in its serene landscape: William Wordsworth, Arthur Ransome and even Beatrix Potter (whose house you can visit) wrote its winding hills and waters into words.
But the reason it’s a family staycation champion is for its boundless outdoors activities. Take a steam yacht gondola at Lake Coniston; trek to the summit the dramatic Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain; or cycle the woodland trails of Grizedale Forest. After all that, you’ve earned a slap-up dinner at one of the region’s gorgeous old-timer pubs. We love The Masons Arms, just three miles from Lake Windemere but surprisingly less visited, where you can stay for the night under tartan throws and low-beamed ceilings – that is, if you’re not bunking up at the modestly priced Youth Hostel Association hostels in Borrowdale, Keswick and Grasmere, which have all adapted to be COVID-19-friendly.
Anyone who complains about British beaches clearly hasn’t been to its southwestern coast. Cornwall is family staycation heaven, boasting wild, sandy bays beaten by crashing surf; craggy cliffs and sheltered coves; fishing villages and surfing hotspots. There’s an endless array of hiking and cycling trails – beginning with the South West Coast Path, England’s longest trail that runs from Somerset all the way down. But active families can also try sea kayaking and paddle boarding, or spot wild dolphins from Padstow and Penzance.
Come to mention it, those two towns are among the UK’s top seafood capitals, too – check out The Shore Restaurant, Penzance, where an exquisite, small seafood menu is crafted daily according to the local catch. When in Padstow, it would be a crime not to at least try to book a table at the aptly named The Seafood Restaurant. Internationally renowned and owned by Rick Stein, it’s a trip to seafood heaven – and has 16 guest rooms, upstairs.
That’s just one of myriad hotel options in the area. If you do make Padstow your base (the fishing port in north-east Cornwall is a great place to start your adventure) make sure you check out family options at Drang House and The London Inn.
Best UK staycations for friends
7. Northern Ireland
Grab your mates and hop on a cheap flight or ferry to Belfast, great for a lads’ and ladettes’ weekend thanks to its nightlife (lockdowns permitting) and diverse live music scene. There are pubs aplenty and the restaurant options are endless – seasonal, creative menus are ten a penny, although don’t miss some traditional soda bread and black pudding on a full English brekkie. A stay at the Grand Central Hotel comes with access to the city’s highest observatory bar on the 23rd floor, which might just be Ireland’s fanciest cocktail lounge.
But while you might base yourself in Belfast, it’s the city’s access to the great outdoors that makes it one of the best spots for a UK staycation. A short drive away is one of the UK’s most remote outdoor spaces, the imposing Mourne Mountains, while the Giant’s Causeway (pictured above) inspires visitors today just as it inspired the myths of the region’s ancestors. Groups of friends can pep up their staycation with a Game of Thrones tour (it was filmed in various locations across Northern Ireland – tours now bookable for 2021), perhaps even holing up at the Slieve Donard Resort & Spa – which is right beside filming locations for Winterfell, the Red Wedding and the site of the White Walkers’ first appearance. After all that you’ll be hungry, so book onto a self-drive Toast the Coast tour, too, which celebrates the flavours of the Antrim Coast Road and Glens area, north of Belfast. As always, check their websites in advance to see if there are any coronavirus restrictions in place.
The rolling hills of the Cotswolds are a favourite among groups of Londoners for a group staycation in the UK, as it takes less than an hour on the train from London Marylebone to Banbury, a market town on the edge of the Cotswolds. It’s a good place to start for exploring the region that encompasses six counties and endless thatched-cottage villages, golden-hued manor houses and sheep-dotted pastures. With much gentler hills than you’ll find in the Lake District or the countryside north of Belfast, this region is perfect for walking and cycling between country pubs. Stake out a rough itinerary somewhere along the 102-mile Cotswold Way – which extends from Chipping Campden all the way to Bath – and you can’t go far wrong.
A half-hour drive into the Cotswolds from Banbury is a London celebrity secret – Soho Farmhouse, a hotel that’s part of the creative Soho House group and, this summer, has been the most Instagrammed eco-friendly staycation. Join the ranks of Alexa Chung, Liv Tyler and Pixie Geldof in the Cowshed spa or over a treaty meal at a weekend Farm Feast – and book a room if you’re feeling extravagant. For a more modest and 100% rustic stay, try the lovely Kings Arms Hotel in nearby Chipping Norton.
The so-called Original Seaside, which has welcomed British holidaymakers for two centuries, had a bit of a slump post World War II. But Margate has resurfaced since as one of the best UK staycations, and at just an hour’s train ride away from London it’s perfect for groups of friends post-lockdown. The Kent seaside town is a veritable arts centre thanks to its Turner Contemporary art gallery and Dreamland – a free-entry amusement park featuring the UK’s oldest wooden roller coaster and a (currently closed) Roller Disco. Then there’s the 18-hole Strokes Adventure Golf minigolf course that’ll keep even your most restless friends entertained. Check their websites before arriving, in case coronavirus restrictions are in place.
Still got energy to burn? Take it outside on the Viking Coastal Trail, a 25-mile trek that connects Margate to the other seaside towns of Broadstairs, Ramsgate and Pegwell Bay. Nothing like a sea breeze and a meal of fish and chips at the other end to blow away the lockdown cobwebs – and you can pick from a wide range of group accommodation, too, such as the Margate Holiday Apartment or a group room at The Glenwood Hotel.
Remember: safety first.
Travel responsibly, keeping in mind social distancing and hand hygiene guidelines. Consult the local authorities or your healthcare provider if you feel unwell before or after travel, and revise your plans accordingly.
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