Author Emily Ray is a travel blogger based in London who aims to squeeze in as many trips as possible around her full-time job as a content designer. From chasing the Northern Lights above the Arctic Circle to celebrating Thanksgiving in New York, Emily shares all her trips on Instagram and Twitter.
In the year of the staycation, many of the UK’s most popular domestic holiday spots are snapped up fast, and the demand isn’t slowing. However, there are still some quieter, under-the-radar staycation destinations up for grabs and ready for you to explore.
1. Birmingham, West Midlands
What do you get when you combine the waterways of Venice with the edginess of Shoreditch? Birmingham might not be the first answer that pops into your mind, but this West Midlands city is a hub of UK counter-culture thanks to its cool neighbourhoods, quirky architecture and vibrant street art.
Birmingham boasts more miles of canals than Venice (35 miles, compared to 26 in the Italian city). Its bustling network of waterways harks back to the 18th century, when Birmingham was the world’s most prolific industrial city and coal and iron would be transported from factories along the water. Today, the canals are more romantic. Pull up a seat at one of the many waterside restaurants, or view some of the city’s industrial architecture from a glass-topped narrowboat.
Birmingham: the insider essentials
- For exciting exhibitions, pop-up markets and vintage shops, head to Digbeth, only a short walk from the centre of Birmingham. It was once heralded as the ‘coolest neighbourhood in Britain’ by the Sunday Times – a big title to live up to, but Digbeth meets expectations for even the coolest of critics.
- Hit up the Custard Factory, an Industrial Revolution relic that’s now a creative hub of shops, eateries and an independent cinema. It’s perfect for alternative souvenirs and to meet the city’s creatives.
- After a cultural deep dive? Go to the National Trust’s Back to Backs houses for learning local working-class history, the Ikon Gallery for contemporary art or the space-age Bullring shopping centre for some retail therapy.
Plan your Birmingham trip:
- Check flights to Birmingham or our car hire deals
- Stay at the quirky and affordable Bloc Hotel or browse Birmingham’s best hotels
- Step back in time at the National Trust’s Back to Backs heritage site.
2. Penzance, West Cornwall
In the southwest of Cornwall, Penzance is a windswept, ramshackle seaside town, whose faded Victorian promenade is closer to authentic, old-school Cornwall than some of the region’s more upscale tourist spots. The coastline is more rugged here, but no less beautiful for it.
Penzance also serves as a gateway to the most westerly parts of Cornwall, so you can easily hire a car or take public buses to nearby sights, including Land’s End and the quaint harbour town of Mousehole.
Penzance: the insider essentials
- Take a tour of the town centre’s pasty shops. Rowe’s Bakery has been stuffing golden pastry with mince and onions since 1949, and now takes its flavour combinations off-piste with non-traditional fillings, like butter chicken. Meanwhile, Warren’s Bakery, on the main square, is the oldest Cornish Pasty company in the world.
- Make time for Jubilee Pool, a triangular Art Deco lido that contains a large sea water pool overlooking the beach (there’s a heated geothermal pool for when it’s cold).
- Anyone who developed a love of the Great Outdoors during lockdown will love the exotic greenery at Morrab Gardens, which is bursting with sub-tropical plants and rare palm groves.
- Catamaran wildlife boat tours run from Penzance harbour, and on a good day, you’ll see grey seals, dolphins and even minke whales. Take a slightly longer boat trip and you’ll reach the Scilly Isles – a remote archipelago of sandy bays and heathland. Less than three hours from Penzance by ferry, it feels worlds apart.
Plan your Penzance trip:
- Check flights to Penzance or our car hire deals
- Stay at the gorgeous Artist Residence Penzance or browse the best hotels in Penzance
- Visit Morrab Gardens
3. Whitstable, Kent
From Margate to Ramsgate, the north Kent coast is firmly on our radar as one of the UK’s prime destinations for a revitalising dose of sea air. Just down the road from popular Margate sits the sleepier seaside town of Whitstable, which makes a great alternative for guzzling on fresh seafood and sleeping soundly to the sound of crashing waves.
Famed for its fresh oysters, Whitstable is home to one of England’s most adorable seasides. It’s got pebble beaches, colourful beach huts, seaside pubs and restaurants – not to mention a pretty town centre that’s lined with quaint coffee shops, independent boutiques and the occasional splash of street art.
Whitstable: the insider essentials
- At the end of Tankerton Beach, right by the docks and hidden by shipping containers is the Lobster Shack, one of the best places to eat in Whitstable. No reservations are needed, as it’s first-come first-served.
- Pick up one-of-a-kind creations at Whitstable’s Harbour Market (open Thursday to Monday), which specialises in local handicrafts.
- Visit 18th-century Whitstable Castle, a remarkably well-preserved, crenellated masterpiece surrounded by manicured gardens. The tours are currently on hold, but you can soak up the grounds over the most English of treats: an afternoon tea, with clotted-cream smeared scones, finger sandwiches and a cuppa or two.
Plan your Whitstable trip:
- Check the closest flights to Whitstable or our car hire deals
- Experience seaside views at The Marine or browse Whitstable’s best hotels
- Enjoy a cream tea at Whitstable Castle. Tea has never felt so posh.
4. Dumfries, Scotland
The birthplace of celebrated Scottish poet Robert Burns, the small town of Dumfries sits just north of the Anglo-Scottish border. This lowland destination is often overlooked by travellers heading off to explore the Highlands, but this historic region of Scotland is home to a UNESCO-listed Biosphere, dark sky reserves and whisky distilleries – the stuff long weekend dreams are made of.
Spend your stay on bracing country walks and soulful strolls alongside the River Nith. Just make sure you carve out some time to sample some of the local grog – you can even do it at Robbie Burns’ local.
Dumfries: the insider essentials
- Start proceedings at the Robert Burns Centre, where you’ll catch a glimpse of 18th century Scottish life, and visit his former home Ellisland (where he wrote Auld Lang Syne).
- Partial to a dram of whisky? Head for The Globe Inn, which has 300 whiskies behind the bar, and drink in the place where the bard used to drown his sorrows. Or spend the afternoon at Annandale Whisky Distillery, where you will learn how to sample the brew like a pro.
- Stop by the family-run Pumpernickel cafe for a post-walk meal.
- If you’ve rented a car, go to the nearby Cream o’Galloway farm (for award-winning ice cream and cheese).
Plan your Dumfries trip:
- Check the closest flights to Dumfries or browse our car hire deals
- Stay in the charming Caledonian Hotel or choose from a list of Dumfries’ best hotels
- Explore the tiny cottage Robert Burns was born in.
5. Scarborough, Yorkshire
Yorkshire’s charming East coast rarely gets its dues. Far from just offering family-friendly beaches, sugary seaside rock and seafront amusements (though it does all of these well), Scarborough is also home to a number of lesser-known sights.
Oh, and Simon & Garfunkel weren’t kidding: there really is a Scarborough fair. It’s called Luna Park, it’s a stone’s throw away from the harbour, and you’ll find dodgems, thrilling rides and traditional fairground stalls there (but not much parsley or sage).
Scarborough: the insider essentials
- Pop by the harbour, where you can board a speed boat, pleasure steamer or a pirate ship for a wildlife tour. Scarborough’s sealife is nothing to sneeze at. On a boat tour, you can spot everything from elegant gannets and adorable puffins, to playful dolphins.
- Back on solid ground, Alpamare waterpark has adrenaline-fuelled slides and a wave pool, as well as a relaxing, Alpine-style wellness centre and spa.
- Come the evening, Scarborough’s Open Air Theatre is the place to be. It’s seen everyone from Britney Spears to Elton John grace its stage, so check out the programme before you go to book tickets for any big names passing through.
Plan your Scarborough trip:
- Check flights close to Scarborough or browse our car hire deals
- Stay in the funky and affordable Bike & Boot Inn or browse some of Scarborough’s more upmarket hotels
- Find out what shows are coming up at the Scarborough Open Air Theatre.