From Holy Island to the Hebrides: 10 UK alternatives to crowded Cornwall

Aug 29, 2020

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So September is nearly here, some kids have gone back to school but Cornwall is still heaving. Let’s not be coy about it, Cornwall is stunning. Turquoise waters, powdery sandy beaches, the quaintness of Perranporth, clifftop walks, boutique hotels and more pretty villages than you can shake a stick at, Cornwall keeps giving.

Staycation is one of the buzzwords of 2020 but with Cornwall oversubscribed, where can you go for an alternative seaside getaway in the U.K.? Here we have rounded up a few water-inspired alternatives. As travel restrictions can potentially change quickly, please also check your destination before you book.

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1. Guernsey

Located geographically closer to France than the U.K., Guernsey isn’t just all about offshore banking and weird number plates. The Guernsey coast is also one of the prettiest. There are over 20 very different bays to choose from — some with long stretches of sand and hidden coves which rarely attract tourists.

St. Peter Port, Guernsey. Photo courtesy of The Red Carnation Hotel Collection
St. Peter Port, Guernsey. (Photo courtesy of The Red Carnation Hotel Collection)

Something to do: St Peter Port has our favourite attraction on Guernsey, Castle Cornet. This 800-year-old fortress that guards the harbour is a great way to while away a few hours. Try to visit around midday so that you see the Noon Day Gun, where a cannon is fired by guards dressed in full uniform. Adult tickets are £10.50.

Somewhere to stay: The only five-star hotel in Guernsey, Old Government House, has 62 rooms and sits proudly on the hill in the heart of St Peter Port. It also has an outdoor heated pool (open May to September.) Rooms from £192 per night.

Read more: Your guide to the UK’s many staycation-worthy islands

The Old Government House. (Photo courtesy of The Red Carnation Hotel Collection)

2. The River Thames

Okay, so the River Thames may not have the same sandy beaches of Cornwall but for the nine million of us living in London, it offers a little respite from the usual hectic London every day. At 215 miles, it is the longest river in England and also flows through Oxford, Reading, Henley-on-Thames and Windsor.

Photo by Reid
(Photo by visit London/Jon Reid)

Something to do: Celebrating all things river-related, Totally Thames brings together art, music, activities and special events in September every year. This year, the month-long season of digital and socially distanced events will include plenty of activities to enjoy from home as well as contact-free events in London. In October, London Cocktail Week has been extended to last all month and is the biggest city-wide celebration of cocktails in the world.

Where to stay: The London Marriott County Hall has some of the best views of the River Thames. This rewards Category 8 property with rooms that cost 70,000 points per night (off-peak) also has the largest hotel indoor swimming pool in London, over 100 gins in its bar and a rather splendid afternoon tea. Rooms from £225 per night.

Read more: 5 easy day trips you can take from London

Photo courtesy of London Marriott County Hall
(Photo courtesy of London Marriott County Hall)

3. The Northumberland coast

Northumberland’s picturesque coastline may be a little chilly but with more than 30 miles of beaches, a galapagos of islands and a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it is spectacular. Fish and chips in Amble harbour, Bamburgh Castle at dusk and trekking the Northumberland Coast Path are just some of the highlights.

UK Northumberland Bamburgh Castle UK Northumberland Bamburgh Castle viewed in the evening light (Photo by Travelpix Ltd/Getty Images)
Bamburgh Castle (Photo by Travelpix Ltd/Getty Images)

Something to do: From one-on-one surf lessons in the morning swell to stand up paddleboarding, Northside Surf School in Amble provides endless fun for those looking for a new adventure. The first to establish itself along the wild Northumbrian coastline over 14 years ago, the region is now home to a growing surf scene.

Read more: Beaches, castles and waterfalls: Why England’s North East should be your next staycation

Photo courtesy of Northside Surf School
(Photo courtesy of Northside Surf School)

Where to stay: The dog-friendly Amble Inn is a quaint 30-bedroom coastal pub with plenty of local favourites served all day every day. It also does a wicked Sunday roast. Rooms from £116 per night.

4. Dorset

If you are a fan of Cornwall, head a bit further east and you’ll find the county of Dorset — a lot less busy but with some equally beautiful coastline to explore. There’s the fossil-speckled Jurassic Coast, the picture-perfect arch of Lulworth Cove, the seaside resort of Weymouth and the nature reserve on Brownsea Island with its red squirrels. And just like in Cornwall you can find boutique hotels, local wineries and plenty of great seafood like West Bay crab.

Coastline of Jurassic Coast in Dorset.
The Jurassic Coast in Dorset. (Photo by John Harper/Getty Images)

Something to do: The Bournemouth Aviation Museum is a must-visit. Located adjacent to the airport, the museum has plenty of aircraft cockpits to view from the famous English Electric Lightning to the mighty Westland Wessex Helicopter. Adult tickets are £7.

Where to stay: The Pig on the Beach is a mellow yellow house situated along Studland Bay with uninterrupted views of Dorset’s sandy coastlines. Many of the rooms have sea views and come with a larder that is well-stocked with vintage treats and local snacks if you get the midnight munchies. Rooms from £145 per night.

Photo courtesy of
(Photo courtesy of The Pig on the Beach Hotel)

5. Portstewart

This seaside resort in Northern Ireland just an hour’s drive from Belfast has it all – a spectacular beach, scenic harbour, promenade, championship golf courses, great restaurants, cafes, parks, ice cream parlours and even outdoor swimming pools. It is also right on the Causeway Coast which stretches from the mouth of the Foyle in the west, to the Glendun River in the east.

Portstewart Strand Photo by
Portstewart Strand. (Photo by Discover Northern Ireland)

Something to do: Between Portstewart and the mouth of the River Bann are the golden sands and domineering sand dunes of Portstewart Strand, which holds the prestigious Blue Flag award and is also one of the few remaining beaches in Ireland where cars still have access and permission to drive onto the beach.

Somewhere to stay: Me & Mrs Jones is a cute 20-bedroom hotel steps away from endless sand beaches and the refreshing Atlantic Ocean. It also does an awesome smoked seafood chowder with Guinness bread and local butter. Rooms from £155 per night.

6. Isle of Harris

The combination of beaches and mountains on the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides creates a miniature Scotland to discover. The beaches of Harris are famous for their white sands and clear (but fresh) turquoise waters. Stunning Luskentyre beach is the star of the show and is one of the largest and most spectacular beaches on Harris. Regularly voted as one of the best U.K. beaches, this three-mile stretch of sand also has free parking.

Read more: Red deer, unspoiled beaches and sublime seafood: The ultimate guide to the Scottish Hebrides

Luskentyre Beach on the Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides, Scotland, UK (Photo by PetraKosonen/Getty Images)
Luskentyre Beach. (Photo by PetraKosonen/Getty Images)

Something to do: You should discover Harris Tweed, the only fabric protected by its own act of parliament. What makes it so very special is that any cloth that is officially Harris Tweed is woven in a weaver’s shed on the island.

Where to stay: Amhuinnsuidhe Castle has uninterrupted views over West Loch Tarbert. As well as plush bedrooms and a resident ghost, there is direct access to a small beach and plenty of activities surrounded by some 55,000 acres. Double rooms are from £370 per night and include a full Scottish breakfast, afternoon tea and a four-course evening meal.

7. Lindisfarne Island

Sitting one mile off the northeast coast of England mid-way between Newcastle and Edinburgh is the historic and beautiful island of Lindisfarne. Cut off by the sea twice a day, the island is home to 200 people and boasts beautiful landscapes and rich history, attracting thousands of tourists from far and wide each year.

Looking South from Holy Island. (Photo by Peter Tully/Flickr)

Something to do: St Cuthbert’s Island (also known as Hobthrush Island) is a small tidal island that is only accessible from Holy Island at low tide. This is where St Cuthbert was said to come for peace and quiet from the busy Priory on Holy Island. There are great views from here across the sands towards the mainland and to the south of Holy Island, and also a great place to see birds and seals.

Where to stay: The Ship Inn is modelled on a traditional sailing ship with wood-panelled walls adorned with artefacts of life at sea in days of yore. This four-roomed inn also has a huge garden and serves Holy Island gin which distilled and bottled on… you guessed it, Holy Island. Rooms from £110 per night.

8. Aberystwyth

This historic market town was built around a beach which is home to the oldest pier in Wales and is sandwiched between the cathedral city of St Davids in Pembrokeshire and the surfers’ paradise of Aberdaron.

Something to do: Aberystwyth is a great base to explore the 180-mile Coastal Way which is dotted with harbour towns and resorts, fishing villages and secret coves. An hour down the coast from Aberystwyth is Cardigan Bay and on a good day, you could see porpoises, Atlantic grey seals and various bird species such as guillemots, razorbills and puffins.

Aberystwyth Sea front, Wales, UK. Photo by Ashley Cooper / Getty Images
Aberystwyth seafront. (Photo by Ashley Cooper/Getty Images)

Where to stay: Berthrhys is a pet-friendly five bedroom detached farmhouse with a private hot tub with countryside views aplenty. Nearby you can visit dramatic waterfalls or take a trip on a steam train with the Vale of Rheidol Railway. £1,156 for seven nights.

9. The Cotswolds

The rolling hills of the “wolds” are not the first place that comes to mind when it comes to waterside retreats but the Venice of the Cotswolds would disagree. Bourton on the Water on the River Windrush is just one of the charming villages along the five rivers running through the Cotswolds, great for a day-long riverside walk.

The scenic village of Bourton On The Water, in the Cotswolds, Gloucestershire. (Photo by David Clapp/Getty Images)
Bourton On The Water. (Photo by David Clapp/Getty Images)

Something to do: With 170 lakes and wetlands covering 40 square miles, Cotswold Water Park is somewhere you can enjoy various watery activities like angling, an inland beach (the largest inland paddling beach in the U.K.) and peaceful lakeside walks to Cotswold towns and villages. Entrance to the park is free but activities can carry individual costs.

Somewhere to stay: Whatley Manor’s 23 rooms and suites are completely unique in character and set in 12-acre grounds. It also has a spa with a delightful indoor/outdoor pool and a double Michelin starred dining room. The whole place is a masterclass in refined hospitality with sustainability high on the agenda as well. Rooms from £225 per night.

(Photo courtesy of Whatley Manor)
(Photo courtesy of Whatley Manor)

10. Mersea Island

The tiny estuary island of Mersea in Essex is a place of pilgrimage for seafood fans, especially oysters. Although it may only be eight square miles, there is plenty to do and see. The island’s waters are calm and shallow, making it ideal for watersports.

(Photo by Anna Wator/Getty Images)
(Photo by Anna Wator/Getty Images)

Something to do: You can walk around the entire island in around five hours. You’ll pass the sea wall around the northern half, with tidal flats and farmland on either side. As you get to the southern half, you’ll mostly walk along the beach passing the Blackwater Estuary and rows of colourful beach huts.

Where to stay: The Blackwater Suite in West Mersea is a one-bedroom space just next to the beach and less than a five-minute walk to the world-famous Company Shed restaurant. Airbnb host Georgina also gives great local recommendations. Rooms from £69 per night.

Bottom line

Cornwall is one of Britain’s most popular holiday destinations but alternative U.K. staycation spots like the ones above offer all the things we love about it but without the huge crowds — and with over 7,000 miles of coastline, our fair isles are very capable of giving us those Cornwall vibes all year round.

Featured photo by Xantana/Getty Images

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