Best UK city breaks to book this summer

·8-min read
<p>The country’s capital may be quieter than you think</p> (Getty)

The country’s capital may be quieter than you think

(Getty)

You’ve heard the stories: cottages in Cornwall selling for £20,000 a week, B&Bs in Dorset booked up till 2022, campsites in Devon offering extra pop-up locations to cater for demand.

It may feel counterintuitive, but heading for the city, rather than beach or countryside, might actually steer you away from the crowds this summer. While the hoards descend on the UK’s prettiest spots, those who swap a rural retreat for an urban outing might find they benefit from crowd-free museums, galleries and attractions in the country’s most dynamic hubs.

Domestic travel has been given the go-ahead from 12 April, and overnight stays in “self-contained accommodation” – Airbnbs, campsites and self-catering properties – are now permitted. However, the more mainstream travel industry, including hotels, will have to wait until 17 May to open.

If you do opt for a city stay, here are some of The Independent’s best picks across the UK.

Coventry

This city in central England, often overshadowed by nearby Birmingham, is stepping proudly into the spotlight this year as it takes its place as the UK City of Culture. This honorific, bestowed upon a different city every four years, did wonders for improving the rep Coventry’s predecessor, Hull, which was awarded the title in 2017. In 2021, Coventry kicks off its tenure officially on 15 May with an opening ceremony, the details of which are strictly under wraps for now. A festival of street art will follow, along with a range of events from the Belgrade Theatre, Herbert Art Gallery & Museum and Warwick Arts Centre. The year’s signature event, Coventry Moves, takes place on 5 June, kickstarting a “Summer of Surprises”.

Turner Prize 2021 will be hosted in Coventry at the Herbert Art Gallery and MuseumHerbert Art Gallery and Museum
Turner Prize 2021 will be hosted in Coventry at the Herbert Art Gallery and MuseumHerbert Art Gallery and Museum

Stay

Opening in May, The Telegraph Hotel is Coventry’s newest place to stay, housed in striking mid-century building that was once the newspaper headquarters of the Coventry Telegraph.

Coombe Abbey Hotel celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2020. A former Cistercian Abbey, the hotel is set in 500 acres of countryside and Capability Brown gardens.

On the edge of a small Warwickshire village seven miles from Coventry city centre, Brandon Hall Hotel and Spa Warwickshire offers some respite in its 120 rooms, gym and comprehensive spa facilities.

Bristol

This laidback West Country darling is, let’s face it, up there as one of the UK’s coolest cities. It comes into its own in summer, when there are plenty of opportunities to get outdoors. You can watch from the sidelines or book a session at inland surfing lake The Wave; get close to nature at Bristol Zoo Gardens, the world’s fifth oldest zoo, and its sister attraction Wild Place Project with the recently opened Bear Wood; and take a stand-up paddleboard session with SUP Bristol. Yuup, a curated online marketplace for local experiences, has several outdoor activities, including a wildcrafting and foraging walk, a haunted and hidden walk in the Old City and a sheep herding workshop. Meanwhile, Where The Wall has devised a self-guided street art tour via a specially designed app.

Clifton Suspension Bridge in BristolGetty/iStock
Clifton Suspension Bridge in BristolGetty/iStock

Stay

The Avon Gorge Hotel was given a £16.5m facelift by boutique chain Hotel du Vin in 2019 and comes with roll top baths, indulgent yet modern design – and fabulous views.

Number 38 Clifton, with pared back luxe design inside a converted Georgian townhouse, overlooks the Downs and offers spa breaks in conjunction with The Lido.

Bristol Harbour Hotel offers 42 luxurious bedrooms and an award-winning restaurant, plus is perfectly placed for a night out.

Sheffield

Aside from the fact it was ranked the least polluted city in the UK in a 2021 Green Cities Report, Sheffield offers plenty to attract visitors. Nicknamed “Steel City”, it may sound industrial but is the perfect jumping off point for exploring south Yorkshire’s plethora of green spaces, offering easy access to the Peak District. Among its urban charms are its wide range of independent cafes and shops, vibrant arts scene, and variety of museums and galleries alongside events destination the Crucible Theatre.

Peace gardens and Town Hall in SheffieldGetty
Peace gardens and Town Hall in SheffieldGetty

Stay

Brocco on the Park channels Scandinavian chic in its eight rooms and offers all-day dining and an honesty bar.

Whitley Hall Hotel is 4.5 miles out of town, but promises digs in an ivy-clad 16th-century mansion in 32 traditional rooms.

The Leopold is a four-star hotel in a Grade II-listed building, where period features are twinned with modern design across its 90 rooms.

Canterbury

It may be less known for its metropolitan accomplishments than other cities, but Canterbury has one advantage over many of its rivals: its proximity to the Kentish coast. It’s just a 20-minute train ride to Ramsgate or 33 minutes to Margate, while a hilly but lovely cycling and walking trail, the Crab and Winkle Way, gets you to the charms of Whitstable within an hour by bike. If you’ve no interest in heading to the seaside, there’s plenty to explore, from its three Unesco World Heritage Sites – the famed Cathedral, the Church of St Martin (the oldest church in the English-speaking world) and the ruins of St Augustine’s Abbey (once a burial place for the Anglo-Saxon kings of Kent) – to the more modern pleasures of a tour of the Foundry Brew Pub, a local brewery creating award-winning beer and gin.

Canterbury Cathedral is a Unesco World Heritage SiteGetty
Canterbury Cathedral is a Unesco World Heritage SiteGetty

Stay

THE PIG at Bridge Place, of the beloved Pig Hotels chain, was awarded four AA Red Stars in 2020. Three miles south of the city, it’s housed in red-brick building where period features abound.

Canterbury Cathedral Lodge proffers an unbeatable location within The Precincts, inside the Unesco-protected Cathedral grounds themselves.

The White House is an adults-only B&B set in a Regency Townhouse tucked behind the Marlowe Theatre and within striking distance of the city’s main attractions.

Dundee

London City Airport has announced the restart of key domestic regional routes, with flights resuming shortly to Edinburgh, Dundee and Glasgow as the airport gears up for the summer. It makes it all the easier to reach this east coast city on the Firth of Tay estuary, which has plenty to recommend it this spring and summer. The spectacular Kengo Kuma-designed V&A museum opened in 2017, while Waterfront Place, part of the city’s £1bn redevelopment of the area around the River Tay, is set to open this spring, with an urban beach and natural landscaping. A new Eden Project visitor attraction also looks like it’s on the cards for Dundee, acting as a “beacon of hope” after the pandemic.

The Victoria and Albert Museum has given the city a huge boostGetty
The Victoria and Albert Museum has given the city a huge boostGetty

Stay

Malmaison Dundee is a bougie boutique offering great value stays in a convenient location a stone’s throw from the train station.

Trendy, modern Hotel Indigo Dundee is another budget-friendly option that doesn’t scrimp on style.

For boutique country house vibes, head to Tay Park House in the west end of the city, where the turreted building is home to attractive, upscale rooms.

London

The capital is pulling out all the alfresco stops this summer to make it one to remember. Rooftops across the city are reopening: there’s the Bussey Building rooftop bar in Peckham, or Roof East in Stratford. The South Bank has been turned into a beach club with Caribbean-themed Limin’ Beach Club. Considering it’s the biggest city in Europe, London’s still got plenty of gorgeous green spaces to enjoy away from the royal parks such as Hyde Park and St James’s. Try the eye-popping views from Greenwich Park, or Primrose Hill the other side of London.

The view from Greenwich ObservatoryGetty/iStock
The view from Greenwich ObservatoryGetty/iStock

Stay

For its first outpost outside the USA, NoMad has transformed the storied, grade-II-listed Bow Street Magistrates Court and Police Station in London’s West End into a 91-room hotel.

Any of the Hoxton properties – the original in Shoreditch, in Holborn or the latest near Blackfriars – offer affordable rooms and an unbeatably cosmopolitan vibe.

For the ultimate “London” stay, try Hotel Cafe Royal, right on the junction of Regent’s Street and Piccadilly Circus.

Manchester

This northern powerhouse city, birthplace of the industrial revolution, is reinventing the wheel once again with a wave of new openings and things to do this summer. There’s a full programme of events: starting in May with the Manchester Flower Show, before the Manchester International Festival takes over the city in July. To finish off the summer, the long-awaited Manchester Pride is taking place over August bank holiday weekend. Just bring your raincoat...

River Irwell passing through Manchester city centerGetty/iStock
River Irwell passing through Manchester city centerGetty/iStock

Stay

Native Manchester is the UK’s largest to date, spread across eight floors of a Victorian warehouse on Ducie Street, a five-minute walk from Manchester Piccadilly station.

Another new property to watch in the city is Hotel Brooklyn, a classy joint across town on Portland Street with 189 loft-look-inspired rooms, a tenth of which will be fully accessible.

Old Trafford legends turned hoteliers Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs have transformed the Edwardian-era former Stock Exchange into a swish 40-room hotel.

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