Leave your passport at home: 7 UK destinations with an international feel
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With Staycations becoming ever more popular, we’ve scoured the length and breadth of the U.K. from the Highlands of Scotland to the southern coast of Cornwall to find some of the best stay-at-home holiday spots to give you some inspiration when planning your next trip.
For many of us Brits, it doesn’t feel like it’s actually a holiday unless you head off to the airport with your passport and get off the plane somewhere sunny and warm in a foreign land far, far away. However, you can still get that feeling — though maybe not quite so warm — by staying in the U.K and heading to places like these specially selected seven which have a distinctly international feel about them.
Related reading: What are the finest hotels in the U.K. to book with points?
We often take for granted the things we have right in front of us, so rather than hopping on the next flight abroad, try one of these beautiful destinations that are right on your doorstep.
The Lake District
Tucked away in the northwestern corner of the U.K. in Cumbria, the Lake District boasts more than 2,000 square kilometres of natural beauty. The main attraction is its 16 lakes. Well actually, despite being called The Lake District, only Bassenthwaite Lake is officially a lake as the rest are called meres or waters.
Related reading: Skip the seaside and visit these European Lakes instead
The region is a perfect place to both relax and have an adventure with a lake cruise on Windermere. If you’re a more outdoorsy type of traveller, then why not get your walking boots and head up into the fells to climb Scafell Pike — probably the most well-known and highest mountain in England at 978 metres high.
Buttermere comes highly recommended for those wanting a slightly more secluded, less touristy waterside experience. It’s also a great spot to get some amazing photos.
Where to stay
There are so many cute little bed and breakfasts and smaller hotels dotted around the Lake District. We’ve picked a couple of our favourites for you to consider. First up, in the heart of the town of Keswick just off Derwentwater, The Inn On The Square is a quirky, 36-roomed hotel with a striking design throughout and a steak restaurant that comes highly recommended. Prices start at about £140 a night.
A little farther south on Windermere, Aphrodites Boutique Hotel calls itself “one of the most luxurious spa hotels in the Lake District” and is sure to provide a memorable stay with its world-class service in private grounds. Rooms here start at about £199 a night.
In the name of all things points and miles, you might want to consider using booking.com for all of the destinations mentioned in this article. Until 31 March, you can earn up to 6 miles per pound through Virgin Atlantic Shops Away or, if you’re in need of some Avios, until 1 April, BA Executive Club members can earn up to 8 Avios per pound when making a reservation on booking.com through the airline’s eStore.
Other than driving, the next best option is by rail. The Lake District is pretty well connected to the U.K.’s rail network. The best stations for access would be Windermere, where there are direct trains from Manchester, or Oxenholme, which is on the West Coast mainline and has direct trains from Edinburgh and London operated by Avanti West Coast.
You can also earn extra air miles through British Airways and Virgin Atlantic’s shopping portals. The partnerships with The Trainline mean that Virgin’s Flying Club members can earn up to 4 miles per pound and BA’s Executive Club members can earn up to 5 Avios per pound spent.
Alternatively, you can even fly from Southend Airport (SEN) to Carlisle (CAX) with Loganair. Carlisle is the county town of Cumbria and is just under an hour’s drive from Keswick. Prices start at around £92 for a return trip.
Related reading: Loganair and KLM unveil new codeshare agreement
Sticking with the west side of the country, it’s now Cornwall’s turn in the spotlight. In particular, the tiny village of Porthcurno on the county’s southern coast. It’s been said that in the height of summer the crystalline waters and white sand of the village’s beach and the surrounding areas of West Cornwall could be mistaken for resorts around the Mediterranean.
There is a distinctly nautical theme in the area, with most activities based on or in the sea and many restaurants featuring local seafood catches of the day. Porthcurno beach itself is said to have very photogenic waves but due to the nature of the tides, it’s more popular with bodyboarders than surfers.
Where to stay
Like many rural areas, most of the accommodation options around Porthcurno are small bed and breakfasts or holiday rental homes. For more choice and bigger, more mainstream hotels you’ll have to head to the nearby cities of St Ives or Penzance. About a 30-minute drive from Porthcurno, the St Ives Harbour Hotel and Spa is an ideal spot to relax and unwind after a day at the beach. Prices start at around £162 per night.
For a more rural and secluded alternative, The Old Success Inn is a charming old building, right on Sennen Cove, which is 5 miles away from Porthcurno. Prices start at about £115 a night.
For the first time ever in summer 2020, British Airways is launching a new seasonal route from London Heathrow (LHR) to Newquay (Cornwall’s only commercial airport), operating five times per week and taking around an hour. BA’s Reward Flight Saver tickets are available for this route for as low as 7,500 Avios and £0.50. The lowest cash tickets can be found starting at £69 one-way.
If you’re more of a train fan, then you can get directly from London to Penzance (the nearest mainline station to Porthcurno) on a five-hour Great Western Rail service. There is also a direct service from Penzance to many cities up and down the U.K. as CrossCountry Trains operates a service from Penzance to Edinburgh. Remember to book through your airline’s shopping portal to earn those extra miles.
Wroxham, The Norfolk Broads
Imagine Venice — but in the U.K. That’s the comparison that has been made to Wroxham in the Norfolk Broads. Yes, you do have to have quite a bit of imagination, but there are certainly some similarities that can tease you into thinking that you might be abroad. It’s not just Wroxham itself that feels like an international destination, the endlessly flat surrounding landscape, scattered with windmills could also be mistaken for the Netherlands.
One of the most novel things to do is take out one of many different varieties of boats and make the most of the 125 miles of open waterway. There are many restaurants, pubs and bars lining the waterways, making it easy to dock up and refuel after a day of boating. You can also try out watersports at Whitlingham Country Park (around a 20-minute drive from Wroxham) where you can try your hand at canoeing, sailing or slightly more relaxing, paddleboarding.
Where to stay
One of the best ways to enjoy the Broads and see as much as possible is by staying on a boat. Prices for a week’s boat hire vary depending on the type of boat and time of year, but you can expect prices to start somewhere between £200 to £300 for a week’s hire for a small, pretty simple boat that sleeps two people.
Back on dry land on a beautiful stretch of the Broads is the lovely Hotel Wroxham. With its simple yet stylish rooms and waterfront restaurant, the hotel makes a great base for a holiday on the broads. Prices start at about £119 a night.
Norwich (NWI) is the region’s main airport and is situated just north of the city. Before Flybe shut down, the airport saw several flights per day to destinations all over the U.K. It is yet to be seen if all of these routes will be taken over by other airlines, but there are still flights operated by Loganair to Aberdeen (ABZ) and Edinburgh (EDI).
Related reading: Loganair announces five new UK routes for 2020
By train, there are mainline services from London and many other cities across the U.K. to Norwich. From there, Greater Anglia operates a local service to Hoveten and Wroxham station.
You might not have thought it, but according to The Telegraph, ski resorts in Scotland can be a great alternative to heading to the Alps — especially Glencoe. The town itself is way up in The Highlands on the banks of Loch Leven. Visitors flock from all around the world to visit as Glencoe has been named as one of the most romantic and picturesque glens in all of Scotland.
Related reading: A review of the Gleneagles Hotel, Scotland
The real attraction, of course, is skiing. Glencoe Mountain Resort is more akin to a smaller Alpine spot rather than the big boys like Val d’Isère or Chamonix. It’s not the largest resort around with only eight lifts and 20 runs, but its size certainly makes for a great ski weekend getaway.
Related reading: 5 unusual skiing destinations
Where to stay
Unlike most larger European resorts, there are no hotels in the Glencoe Mountain Resort itself, so skiers will need to find accommodation in the surrounding area. With seclusion and relaxation in mind, the Strath Lodge in Glencoe would be a great place to rest weary skiing legs after a long day on the pistes. Prices start at around £250 for a two-night minimum. For something a little different, Aos Sí Lodges are surrounded by the sights, smells and sounds of nature nestled in the mountains surrounding Glencoe. Prices start at about £168 a night.
Fancy a bit of an adventure? Why not hop on board the Caledonian Sleeper Train taking you overnight from London to Scotland. The service leaves London Euston at 9:15 p.m. and arrives in Fort William just before 10 a.m. the next morning. There are two different types of accommodation — the cheaper and less comfortable reclining seat and a private cabin sleeping up to two people.
Regular train services are also available from cities all across the U.K. Again, remember to book through The Trainline via an airline’s online shopping portal to earn some extra miles for your bookings.
The closest airport to the resort is Glasgow (GLA) at around two hours away. In the winter months, British Airways operates up to eight return flights daily to Heathrow (LHR) and London City (LCY), and four daily flights to Gatwick (LGW). Tickets start at around £36 for a one-way flight or 7,500 Avios plus £0.50 — making the most of the BA Reward Flight Saver. There are also flights from many other airports around the U.K., including Belfast (BFS), Bristol (BRS), Cardiff (CWL), East Midlands (EMA), Luton (LTN), Southend (SEN), and Stansted (STN) as well as connections to several other smaller airports around Scotland and its islands.
Related reading: The best and worst UK airports
Think of a quaint little town in the South of France — but in Yorkshire — and you have the beautiful market and spa town of Knaresborough. Once you’re done exploring the town itself, it’s the perfect base to start a long and relaxing walk along the River Nidd. There are so many things to do in the surrounding area, too, as Yorkshire has many castles, gardens and beautiful green countryside to be explored.
The town is also home to Mother Shipton’s Cave — the oldest tourist attraction in England dating all the way back to 1630.
Where to stay
At just a stone’s throw away from the River Nidd, with views of the ancient stone viaduct, is Teardrop Cottage, a luxury bed and breakfast only a few minutes walk from the town centre. Prices start at around £85 a night. A little further out (about a 10-minute drive from Knaresborough) and a little grander, why not treat yourself to a stay at Goldsborough Hall Hotel — a five-star stately manor which is the former home of Queen Elizabeth II’s aunt, Princess Mary.
British Airways recently axed its London (LHR) to Leeds (LBA) route, which is the closest airport to Knaresborough. The next closest, less than an hour’s drive away, is Teesside Airport (MME), which recently announced a new route to London City (LCY) from 6 July. Failing that, around a 90 minute drive from Knaresborough, is Manchester Airport (MAN) which has direct flights to and from Heathrow with British Airways several times per day. Once again, thanks to BA’s Reward Flight Saver, the airport falls into the 7,500 Avios plus £0.50 category. If paying in cash, flights can be found for as low as £40 one-way.
Another destination within the U.K. is Southampton, operated by Eastern Airlines. The airport has also suffered from reduced U.K. connectivity owing to the collapse of Flybe.
Related reading: UK regional airlines take over some of Flybe’s axed routes
By rail, there are direct trains to Knaresborough station from Leeds and York, both of which have direct connections to major cities all over the U.K., including London.
Tobermory, Isle of Mull
You might be wondering where you recognise this row of colourful buildings — well, it’s thanks to a kids’ television programme called “Balamory” that aired from 2002 to 2005. The colourful fictional town is in actual fact Tobermory on Scotland’s Isle of Mull in the Inner Hebrides and also has a distinct resemblance with Bergen, Norway.
Unsurprisingly, the island has a very nautical theme. There are all kinds of sea life in the surrounding water including whales and dolphins. You might even be lucky enough to spot puffins along the island’s miles and miles of coastline.
Back on dry land, I recently discovered on a trip to Orkney, that Scotland is a big player in the gin distillery industry and the Isle of Mull is no exception, as it has its own — the Whitetail Gin Distillery.
Oh, and if you visit in the winter, you might just be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights.
Where to stay
Right in the heart of Tobermory on the harbour is the family-run, boutique-style Tobermory Hotel in a 200-year-old, renovated fisherman’s cottage. Most of the individually styled rooms have a view out onto the Tobermory Bay, so be sure ask when booking if there’s one available so you don’t miss out. Rooms start at around £80 a night.
Five miles from Tobermory, you can stay in the turrets of Glengorm Castle that was built in 1860. The castle offers self-catering accommodation on the grounds as well as bed and breakfast and serviced apartments within the castle itself. Prices start at around £140 a night.
It might actually be a little bit trickier to get to the Isle of Mull than Bergen, but at least it will be cheaper when you’re there. The best way to get there is to travel to Glasgow. Flying is easy from several airports across the U.K., or if you’d prefer to take the train, then there are direct connections from all over the U.K. Either way, you can then either opt to take a two-hour-and-20-minute-drive or around a three-hour train to Oban on the coast of Scotland’s mainland. Then, from Oban, there is a 46-minute ferry across to the Isle of Mull.
Last but not least, we hop across to the Italian village of Portmeirion in… Wales? Yes, that’s right. The tiny village on the country’s west coast was designed and built between 1925 and 1975 using the inspiration of Portofino in Italy. You really shouldn’t judge a purpose-built tourist town by its cover, as the charming architecture and vibrant atmosphere of Portmeirion will trick you into thinking that you really are on the Mediterranean coastline of Italy.
The village is a prime location in Wales. If the weather’s good, you can head just a few miles south of Portmeirion where there’s a 4-mile stretch of sand called Harlech Beach. For the more adventurous traveller, Portmeirion is perfectly located just at the bottom of a valley leading right into Snowdonia National Park, which is home to Mount Snowdon.
Where to stay
If you’re going to come to Portmeirion, there are various types of accommodation throughout the village: from the Gothic Castell Deudraeth to the 32 village rooms or 16 self-catering Cottages — all which have access to the main Hotel Portmeirion facilities. Elsewhere, there are many bed and breakfasts and rental properties in the area surrounding Portmeirion and into Snowdonia. Prices for all start at about £99 per night.
Due to the location of Portmeirion, road, rail and air links aren’t the best — meaning travel times can be quite lengthy, depending where you’re coming from in the U.K. The nearest railway station with regular services at just under three miles from Portmeirion is Llandecwyn, but to get there is a four-hour train ride from Birmingham. Alternatively, around an hour’s drive north from Portmeirion is Bangor Station, which is only a three-hour train ride from London.
Your best bet, if you can, is to either drive your own car or take out a rental as it will also mean you have the freedom to explore the surrounding area while you’re there.
If you decide to hire a car, make sure to get the right insurance. It might be worth considering The Platinum Card by American Express U.K., as this credit card includes car hire insurance as one of its benefits as well as automatic elite status with Hertz and Avis.
The U.K. has so many charming and little-known gems that are just as fabulous — if not more so — than being abroad. If long-haul flying isn’t your thing or you just fancy a road trip and staying local, these lovely places, scattered throughout the land, will hit the spot.
Featured photo by Kapook2981/Getty Images