Britain off the beaten track: 17 incredible places you have to see before going overseas
There’s a new travel trend happening in the UK. We are flocking to a new hot destination. But where is this place of which we speak? Joining Spain and Italy in the top-3 destinations for British travellers is ….. Britain! Across the country, people are choosing to step out in their own backyards to see why The United Kingdom is the 8th biggest tourist destination worldwide
As the roughly 36 million visitors to our shores each year can attest, what we have on our very doorsteps is a wealth of medieval structures and modernist architecture, ancient museums and designer boutiques, wild style and refined culture, wild landscapes and cultivated gardens, natural wonders and thriving cities; the list goes on. It’s easy to see why overseas sightseers are so attracted to Carnaby Street, Loch Ness and Canterbury Cathedral. But let us homebodies forget Brighton Pier, Stonehenge and the London Eye, and instead, seek out the hidden nooks and crannies of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We’ve put together a list of places that tend to be found off the beaten path in Britain; some are relatively famous, some are forgotten to most, but all should be experienced at least once in a lifetime and the majority of British citizens have seen maybe a handful at most.
As we delved into researching this piece we realised how hard the job was we’d created for ourselves. Top 5 became Top 10. Top 10 became Top 15. And Top 15 would have become Top 20 if someone, thank goodness, hadn’t pulled rank and told us enough is enough. The 17 places we present to you below are all steeped in history, be it natural or human, and all unforgettable. Enjoy, and please tell us in the comments of places you feel should be included in further lists, because we can already see a sequel – coming soon, to a blog near you.
The Yorkshire Dales are all rolling meadows delineated by stone walls, pockets of water and castles, abbeys and villages scattered over the stunning landscape, but perhaps the most remarkable feature to be found here is the Gaping Gill Cave. While most people may be familiar with the name, few have been here. Get a move on though, public access to the cave, via a winch, is only possible at particular times of the year. From May until June with the Bradford Pothole Club and in August with the Craven Pothole Club.
Accommodation tip: Only 2-stars but with an ‘excellent’ rating plus a starting rate of £39 per night, do you need another reason to stay here? Where? Oh yeah. This hotel is called The Unicorn Skipton. Staying at “The Unicorn”, there’s another reason for you.
Tyneham, South Dorset – Population: Zero. There is evidence of the valley having been inhabited since Iron Age times and a village is mentioned as having existed here in the Domesday Book, published in 1086. And there it remained, populated, until Christmas 1943 when is was requestioned by the Ministry of Defense to use as a firing range for training troops. Of the 225 people displaced the last left this note on the church door:
“Please treat the church and houses with care; we have given up our homes where many of us lived for generations to help win the war to keep men free. We shall return one day and thank you for treating the village kindly.”
But they never did. These days the village and designated footpaths across the range are open to the public on weekends and for longer periods during summer, etc. These days, even with the village slowly crumbling into ruin, there is an eeriness that feels like all time stopped here back in 1943.
Accommodation tip: The Letchworth Guesthouse is a 4-star ‘excellent’ rated boutique hotel located right on the esplanade in Weymouth that starts at £58 per night. Fall asleep to the sound of the waves lapping outside.
With a name like Loch Awe, you’d better hope you’re all that and then some. And no, the third largest freshwater loch in Scotland doesn’t disappoint. Between the various castle ruins, including the you-must-know-it-at-least-from-the-telly, Kilchurn Castle, and the world-class trout fishing, this Loch doesn’t need an imaginary (or is she?) monster to fill you with a sense of ….wonder?
Accommodation tip:Loch Fyne Hotel & Spa starts at £70 a night, is located at the water’s edge and is a hotel and spa. Again, spa. Tres romantic.
We’ll help you find your weekend getaway: To make sure your weekend getaway doesn’t break the bank, you can compare weekend flights on KAYAK. On the flight search page just click on ‘Show flexible dates‘ and then select ‘weekends’.
Discovered in 1835, to this day, no one knows what the purpose of this ornately decorated subterranean passage is or was. 4.6 million shells, local mussels, cockles, whelks, limpets, scallops and oysters, line the walls and vaulted ceiling of this underground grotto forming an incredibly detailed mosaic of suns, stars and geometric patterning. With its rotunda and central altar, hypotheses range from a prehistoric astronomical calendar to secrets rooted in the occult dealings of the Knights Templar or Freemasons. If you need to shake the uncanniness of the place, there is a museum, shop and café attached that, as well as knowing the folklore of the place is home to Flossie the shell dinosaur.
Accommodation tip: Copperfields Vegetarian Guest House in Broadstairs, is fantastically located for local shopping and nightlife but, most importantly breakfast is included in the price – from £70 – and it’s unbelievably tasty, and meat-free, naturally.
KAYAK tip: Londoners. The trip from central London to Margate is roughly 2.5 hours by car and hiring a car from London can cost as little as £4 for the day. Do we even need to say’ Day Trip’?
Ok, so most fantasy fans are going to know The Dark Hedges from having caught them in a short but important role in that TV series with the Dragons. Yes, the one with all the nudity and colourful weddings. For anyone else, it’s likely you’ve seen an image of this incredible avenue of ancient beech-trees-become-tunnel through some other media and the shadow play of light through these leaves has left an imprint on you somewhere along the way. Well, it’s only a 20-minute drive from the Giant’s Causeway and is even more beautiful in the flesh. Oh, and of course, keep your eyes open for the ghost of the Grey Lady…..
Accommodation tip:The Portrush Holiday Hostel starts at a super price of £15 a night, especially when you consider that it has an ‘excellent’ rating and rave reviews from verified guests.
The whole of the Peak District in Derbyshire is stunning and there is a multitude of reasons of visit, but let’s tighten the lens a little bit and bring the focus to Surprise View. Which is car park that has a lovely view (how disappointed would you be if didn’t?), but it is from here that you should go a-hiking. Upwards to Owler Tor. The eroded gritstone formation that caps the hill is equally beautiful when seen in the new snow or an abundance of heather. If you can catch a moment here free from other people you’ll feel like you’re standing here before the dawn of time.
KAYAK Insider tip:Pubs. That’s the whole tip. The country pubs of the peak district are all fantastic.
Heather is lovely, isn’t it? All that purple. Well, you know what else is lovely and purple? Lavender. And Norfolk has it in droves. Norfolk Lavender‘s distilleries, tearooms, gift shops, animal garden and plant centre are all fantastic in their own right, but, of course, it’s the gardens you are most there to see. Fields of lavender stretching as far as the eye can see and that delicate fragrance permeating the air around you. Bliss; back of the net.
Accommodation tip: Starting at £58 per night, Moorsticks B&B, the charming is located in idyllic surrounds, space on every side. If relaxing is number one on your list of things to do (post lavender, of course) this is the place for you.
KAYAK Heatmaps show you where in a city the hotels are located by interest. Do you want your accommodation to be surrounded by cafés and pubs? Or perhaps within walking distance of the most famous sights? Maybe shopping is your thing? Select your filter and see the hotel results on the map.
The Isles of Scilly: Contrasts off the coast of Cornwall
This archipelago off the Cornish coast is its own goodie bag of contrasting treats. Spread across the islands are cafés, restaurants, bars, craft shops and galleries, etc, all of the highest quality. If you are after adventure, you can swim, dive, sail, kayak, windsurf, paddle board, horse ride and bike to name a few of the activities on offer. But the real magic of Scilly is how unique each island is. St. Mary’s is the gateway to the other islands and as close to ‘bustling’ as you’re going to get here with its population of 1,800. With a surface area of only 2.5 square miles, St. Mary’s is chock-a-block with beaches, coastal walkways and its two towns boast top eats and arts. St. Martin’s has those perfect beaches you normally associate with postcards from the pacific, considered by many to be the best stretches of sand in Britain the island also has an artisanal bakery, vineyard, flower farm and silversmith, etc. that share the island with its wildlife. Bryher is rugged and wild and watching the waves thunder into Hell bay is exhilarating, while on the other side of the islands the beaches couldn’t be more serene. St. Agnes is untamed and littered with history, while there is a small community inland, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time and you explore the island’s mounds, cairns and bronze age standing stones. And then there’s Tresco. This subtropical (yes, you read that right) island has rugged outcroppings, pristine beaches, culinary flair, ancient burial sites, castle ruins and the world famous Tresco Abbey Gardens – home to over 20,000 exotic plants, many of which cannot be found anywhere else in Britain.
Each year hordes of tourists from around the world head to John O’Groats, a small Scottish village in the highlands that is famous for being Britain’s most north-eastern point. As can happen when a place becomes an almost mandatory stop-off for every tour bus operating in the highlands it’s easy to be cynical about the destination and not even consider stopping by yourself. But you should. Not so much for the town itself (although, there is still plenty to do here), but as the setting out point for a walk out to Duncansby Head. On your walk, you’ll skirt rugged beaches, cross turf and bogs, pass through a kissing gate or two and stop at the lighthouse to catch a view out over the waves below before reaching your destination. Pictured above, the Stacks of Duncansby rise from the ocean floor and stand like sentinels at the end of the world. You can’t see them without feeling like you have a new appreciation of Mother Nature’s majesty.
Stonehenge! It’s amazing! It’s also jammers with tourists and you have to maintain a very healthy distance from the of-so-famous stones. The three stone circles that make up the neolithic henge that surrounds the village of Avebury in Wiltshire, are fully accessible to the public and are in many ways even more compelling than old Stoney. Maybe it’s because the Avebury Stones are older, larger and all of their mysteries are that much more palpable when you can get up close and personal with them.
Accommodation tip: The Swan at Stoford is a beautiful, old-fashioned hotel praised for it comfortability. Plus its in-house restaurant, The Cygnet Room, offers fantastic food: breakfast, lunch and dinner. From £47 per night.
Deep in the Chiltern Hills, in the sleepy village of West Wycombe, underneath St. Lawrence’s Church, something ominous lurks. Entering through a striking archway, designed in the style of a gothic church, you’ll encounter nearly a mile of tunnels. Here various social and politically important 18th-century figures used to gather to practice occult rituals, drink heavily and peruse saucy reading material. No, this isn’t the plot to a BBC Drama, this is The Hellfire Caves, where the Hellfire Club used to meet. The Hellfire Club was a notorious group of publicly respectable men who secretly practised such untoward behaviour. Discover the caves yourself, just make sure the mischievous spirits of the “gentlemen” who used to meet there doesn’t possess you.
KAYAK Tip: Again, Londoners. Car hire: £4 = Day trip.
Fingal’s Cave, Staffa, the Inner Hebrides: Symphonic seclusion
The uninhabited island of Staffa is home to Fingal’s Cave. An awe-inspiring sight as you approach by boat, the basalt columns that frame the mouth of the cave rise like organ pipes around this natural wonder. Cathedral-like in nature and blessed with the acoustics to support this claim, the remoteness of this island is equally sobering and uplifting in its remoteness. There is a range of tours available out to Staffa and the surrounding islands but the light is best in the morning and if the weather is on your side you will be able to land and hear a natural symphony as the Atlantic thunders over the caves columns.
KAYAK Tip: Fingal’s Cave was first made famous to a wider audience after is served as the inspiration for Felix Mendelssohn’s ‘Hebrides Overture (Fingal’s Cave) after he experienced the perfect acoustics for himself while exploring the Hebrides with friends in 1829. Just have a listen of the overture while checking out the above photo and try not to want to rush off to the Hebrides right away.
Keep track of everything you’ve booked! If you want tips on how to keep a good overview of all your saved search queries or booked flights, hotels and/or car hires, read more about KAYAK Trips (number 6 on the list of how to hack your holidays). You can even add restaurant or tour reservations directly to you trips so you’ll never forget anything.
Greyfriars, Edinburgh: Hauntings on hallowed grounds
If you’ve been to Edinburgh, chances are you already know about Greyfriars Bobby. You know, the cute dog statue that commemorates the sad story of a dog, Bobby, that slept at the grave of its master until Bobby passed on. Opposite the cute dog statue on George IV Bridge is the graveyard where Greyfriars Bobby is actually buried, as well as his owner John Gray, but that’s as far as the cute goes. The graveyard in question is Greyfriars Kirkyard, which has a long and terrifying history that will scare even the most hardened of ghost hunters. We’re not talking about your average sepulchral spooks. No, we’re talking about mass imprisonment and execution in a walled off section of the cemetery called ‘The Covenanter’s Prison’, mortsafe cages laid over the graves to deter body snatchers, a popular pursuit in the 18th century. Not for the faint of heart.
KAYAK Tips: Is you are a thrill seeker and most trips involve a graveyard visit, check out the City Of The Dead tour. One of the best spooky tours in the UK.
Located off the coast of Mount Bay, Cornwall, St. Michael’s Mount is one of the few tidal islands in the UK that visitors can walk to. Take note, unless your idea of a good time is being swept out to sea, the island is only accessible during low tide. This small unassuming island has a rich history ranging from famous religious visions to strategic wartime capture. It’s also the source of the fairy-tale ‘Jack the Giant Killer’, as it was rumoured a giant lived on the island before a plucky local named Jack slew him.
In Wales, on the western edge of the Brecon Beacons is the South’s highest waterfall. The walk to the waterfall winds through steep tree-lined gorges and if you approach quietly you may catch glimpses of kingfishers, wrens and warblers darting through the valley. Sgwd Henrhyd cascades over the lip of farewell rock and falls 90ft (27m) into the wooded gorge below. The other walkways through surrounding Graigllech Woods and along the Nant Lech river are also stunning.
KAYAK tip: The waterfall is at its best after heavy rainfall. Finally! Something to look forward to whenever those summer storms come in. Be careful though as the path to the falls will be a bit slippery post downpour.
Overlooking the sea on the cliffs above Whitby in Yorkshire, this Abbey needs no introduction. First founded in 657AD, the original monastery here was laid waste to by Danish Vikings in the 9th century and it is the ruins of the second monastery, built in the 13th century, that we all know today. So, while most us have an image of this Abbey indelibly burnt into our imaginations the majority of us have never actually been here. We can’t recommend seeing it in real life enough.
KAYAK tip: Important from a literary perspective, Whitby Abbey is where the Count first came ashore in the guise of a large dog and climbed the 199 steps to the abbey in Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’. To really get your teeth into the atmosphere of the place, have a read of the book or watch one of the countless film adaptations (Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee’s versions for our money) before visiting.
Wistman’s Woods, Devon: Devonitely a great place to visit
These woods are the stuff of fairytales. Open all year round but best in spring or winter, the wild combination of Burtonesque trees and mosses and lichen that adorn the boulders and trees in this part of Devon are a wonder to behold. It is recommended that travellers to this remote woodland have some experience with hiking but if you don’t maybe this is the inspiration you need to start a new hobby.
Accommodation tip: If you fancy combining some spooky woods with a spot of luxury and a touch of romance you should check into the Bovey Castle. Sure, prices start at £112 a night. But it’s a castle. A luxury castle. With a spa and a golf course. Enough said.
If you’re one of these lucky people that have seen everything on here already, rather than feeling like the cat that got the cream, why don’t you go and check out these 10 Unknown Spots in Spain?
Note: These rates are based on search queries made on KAYAK.co.uk on May 14th, 2017. The prices are quoted in GBP. Flight prices are based on results for a return economy flight search. Hotel prices are for double occupancy and include taxes and fees. Prices are subject to change, may vary, or no longer be available.