The UK’s hotpots for domestic travel are well documented, from Bath’s Roman baths to country walks in the Lake District. But with staycations set to be huge this summer, how do you get off the beaten path – and experience parts of the UK that only locals usually get to? Luckily, that insider knowledge has come to you. Our local Skyscanner writers have revealed the UK hidden gems that you never knew about, but that after this year will be your favourite spots, too. We’ll keep it a secret if you will.
Best UK hidden gem for golfers
If you want to escape the cold climate of Scotland without actually leaving Scotland, the north Highlands community of Dornoch might be your best bet. Blessedly sheltered, it enjoys a sunnier and warmer climate than the rest of the coastline, attracting nesting birds and even seals, as well as sun-seekers, to its miles of golden shoreline.
“There’s a lovely beach with golden sands and tranquil waters – basically one of those beaches that Scottish people like to say could be in the Caribbean,” says local Skyscanner writer Jemma Porter. And for keen golfers, the Royal Dornoch championship course is ranked 13th in the world.
Eat: a Sunday roast at The Court Room, a fine dining restaurant attached to the Links House Hotel.
Sleep: at the Royal Golf Hotel, perfectly positioned for as many games of golf as you can squeeze in.
Don’t leave without: taking a stroll on the Falls of Shin, known as one of the best places in Scotland to see wild salmon leaping upstream.
Best UK hidden gem for medieval history
Bamburgh, a beautiful and quaint little village in Northumberland, is best known for its towering castle. Built on a volcanic rock outcrop, the foundations of the castle date back to around the year 420, when this may have been the capital of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Bernicia. Later destroyed by Vikings, rebuilt by Normans and eventually taken over by the English Crown in 1095, the castle is now open to visitors (post lockdown) who peruse its 14 staterooms and stunning grounds.
In the castle’s shadow is one of northeast England’s most beautiful beaches, which has crystal clear, clean waters if you can brave the cold to swim. Then it’s into the village to stock up on Northumberland’s self-proclaimed best sausages from butcher R Carter and Son, where Bamburgh Bangers, haggis and black pudding have been rustled up for over 100 years.
Eat: a platter of local Lindisfarne oysters with shallot vinegar and lemon, at The Potted Lobster – the area’s specialist seafood restaurant.
Sleep: at the Victoria Hotel, which also happens to serve up an afternoon tea that comes highly recommended from our local expert, Paula Beaton.
Don’t leave without: taking a grey seal cruise trip from the puffin-populated Farne Islands, a couple of miles from Bamburgh.
Best UK hidden gem for afternoon tea
It’s only around an hour from London, so the idyllic village of Dedham should be on any city dweller’s radar for a short trip to the countryside. The High Street’s pastel Georgian facades and medieval timber couldn’t look much more picture perfect – which makes sense, as this area is the birthplace of iconic 19th-century oil painter John Constable.
After browsing the village’s shops and arts and crafts centre, stop for lunch – or at least a takeaway soft serve ice cream – from the Essex Rose Tiptree Tea Room, where the afternoon tea is second to none (not least thanks to its local, yet world-renowned, Tiptree jam). Then it’s to the River Stour, where you can hire a rowboat from Dedham Boathouse and glide through the picturesque fields of Constable Country until you reach Flatford: the site of Constable’s most famous painting, The Hay Wain.
Eat: if you’re driving between London and Dedham, stop for lunch or dinner at Milsoms, a boutique hotel with a fabulous restaurant attached near the turning for Dedham off the A12.
Sleep: Nab a room at The Sun Inn, the sun-yellow local pub with rooms in the middle of the High Street, where rooms are named after local legends like Constable and Boudicca. Or if you’d prefer some nightlife options, venture to the nearest town Colchester and book into the central The George Hotel.
Don’t leave without: popping into St Mary’s Church, before having a sunny sit down in Duchy Fields, the park and playing fields behind the church.
Best UK hidden gem for walkers
If you’re in the west country and staying in Bath, it’s just a 10-minute train trundle to one of the region’s most beautiful spots: Bradford-on-Avon. Less populated by tourists but equally picturesque as Bath, this historic town nestles on the hillsides that rise from the banks of the River Avon and is a beautiful starting spot for walks in the area.
Start by arming yourself with a Bradford on Avon Walking Wheel – a map that will guide you through the area’s 42-mile network of interconnected walks – then set off on a short or long ramble, or a hilly climb. The village of Avoncliff is a mile and a half’s walk away along the River Avon – you’ll be welcomed by a view of its pretty aqueduct when you arrive. Grab a slap-up lunch and a local ale at the Cross Guns pub, before making your way back to Bradford-on-Avon.
Eat: a venison burger with chorizo mayo from the Bunch of Grapes, one of Bradford-on-Avon’s go-to gastro pubs.
Sleep: at the top-rated Timbrell’s Yard, also celebrated for its on-site dining.
Don’t leave without: a soak at the thermal baths in nearby Bath – it would be rude not to.
Best UK hidden gem for camping
Tucked away by Wells-next-the-Sea in north Norfolk, Holkham beach is one of those spots that those in the know want to keep a secret. With sweeping expanses of white sand framed by pine forests and dunes, this is one of England’s most unspoilt beaches, immortalised (with the help of Gwyneth Paltrow) in the closing scene of romantic drama Shakespeare in Love. Wildlife abounds in the surrounding Norfolk Coast AONB, and activities like horse riding and canoeing are on the doorstep.
Where better, then, to set up camp for a staycation in the wild? Especially when Holkham Hall – a glorious country house complete with walled garden, cycle hire and boat hire – is a stone’s throw away.
Eat: at the Victoria Inn, in the middle of the Holkham National Nature Reserve, where all produce is beautifully fresh and local – whether it’s Norfolk samphire, local shellfish, beef from Holkham Estate or venison from their own herd of fallow deer.
Sleep: at Whitehall Farm Accommodation, recommended by travel industry expert Rachel Johnston: “They have lots of tent pitches, two yurts and three wood cabins with stretcher beds, heating, a fridge and TV. The whole site is gorgeous, so peaceful and only 10 minutes’ drive from Holkham Beach.”
If you prefer a hotel, The Quay B&B is nearby in Wells next the Sea.
Don’t live without: donning Holkham tweeds and testing your skills on the virtual tractor driving experience as part of Holkham Stories.
Best UK hidden gem for culture vultures
On the Suffolk coast, Aldeburgh is famous among classical music lovers thanks to its connection with Benjamin Britten – the composer who lived here and founded the Aldeburgh festival, which takes place each June. And while fans still flock to the festival, the composer’s former home-turned museum The Red House and nearby concert venue Snape Maltings, there’s even more to this cultural spot than its music heritage.
Take the pastel-fronted townhouses built directly onto the shingle, or the clothes boutiques, antique stores and 100-year-old cinema. Or the four-metre-high Scallop sculpture, crafted from steel and overlooking the sea. Then there are the colourful fishermen’s huts and the catch of the day to be eaten at classy dining spots all over town.
Eat: there’s only one place to eat in Aldeburgh: Aldeburgh Fish & Chips, regarded as one of the best chippies in the country. They’ve been dishing up cod and chips in greasy brown paper parcels since 1967, to be devoured with wooden forks on the beach (just hide your chips from the seagulls).
Sleep: at The White Lion, a top-rated hotel perfectly positioned on the seafront and in the centre of town.
Don’t leave without: sipping a pint of local Adnams ale at the wood-panelled White Hart pub, opposite the famous chippie.
Best UK hidden gem for jaded Londoners
You can go off the beaten track without even leaving our capital city, if you know where to go. Perhaps you’re a north Londoner, and have never ventured south of the river? Or a Hackney dweller that barely recognises the word ‘Kensington’? Even if you’ve never been to London before, you can draw a radius on the map around an area of the city that you know nothing about, and create an itinerary that will be completely devoid of tourists.
Take Tooting. Beloved by those in the know, and easily accessible on the Northern Line, this South London neighbourhood is off the tourists’ radar but is worth making a beeline for thanks to its budget-friendly South Asian restaurants, leafy common and indie bars and pubs. If you happen to go during a religious festival, such as Eid or Diwali, queues for the legendary sweet shop Ambala will be down the street and you’ll be drawn in by the celebratory atmosphere wherever you go. But at any time of year, you can browse food and fashion at Tooting Market (which has been going since 1930) or sip a glass of Portuguese wine at the aptly named Secret Bar, with central London a million miles from your thoughts.
Eat: slow-cooked lamb on the bone at Mirch Masala, an Indian-Pakistani institution.
Sleep: one Tube stop away at the Bedford Balham – a boutique hotel, music venue, artisan bar and vegan-friendly restaurant.
Don’t leave without: having a peek at Tooting Community Garden, at the base of Tooting Common, where volunteers grow fruit and veg.
Making plans to get out there? Keep an eye on our interactive travel restrictions map and we’ll let you know the latest on borders reopening.
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