Is Britain the world’s biggest holiday rip-off?

People walking past houses on the high street in Southwold
Fashionable UK destinations such as Southwold, in East Suffolk, cost an arm and a leg compared to continental alternatives - eye365/Alamy

The staycation boom is well and truly over. Research released this month by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that Britons took 55.5 million holidays abroad last year, up from 45.6 million in 2022. Furthermore, a recent VisitBritain trends survey revealed that – despite the ongoing cost of living crisis – 60 per cent of respondents are planning an overseas trip in 2024, up from 57 per cent last year.

Having embraced domestic travel for the last few years (not least because, for much of that time, overseas trips were mired in red tape or banned entirely), we’re flocking once again to foreign shores.

And who can blame us? Leaving to one side for the moment the issue of weather, it’s hard not to reach the conclusion that UK holidays simply don’t offer value for money, a key concern amid spiralling mortgage rates, food costs and utility bills.

Imagine you are looking for a summer holiday for your family. You want days on the beach, coastal walks, enjoyable meals out – but are worried about prices. You might assume, therefore, that the answer is to stay in Britain. To visit Cornwall, not Corfu; the Lake District, rather than Tuscany. You’d be wrong.


I tried searching for a two-bedroom holiday cottage in Cornwall this August. The cheapest result for a week from Aug 5 on one of the leading sites – – currently costs £890, and that’s for a decidedly charmless-looking apartment. You can easily spend more than twice that for some of the more stylish two-bedroom places, and for something smart for a party of eight you are looking at over £3,000.

Yes, it’s possible to holiday in the UK more cheaply. You could camp, stay in a caravan or head to less desirable coastlines in northern England. But then compare the above prices to what you’ll find on the Continent. A similar search on the Gites de France website (, for the same dates, turns up options in Brittany from £350 and Provence from £300. For the same price as that so-so Cornish apartment, you could stay at Venelle de la Croix, a characterful self-catering property on hip Île de Ré, available through Sawday’s (

Once upon a time, Airbnb was hailed as a cost-cutting alternative to traditional self-catering properties, but prices, as well as booking and cleaning fees, have shot up in recent years. According to the analytics firm AirDNA, the average nightly price for a UK rental in 2024 has risen by 12 per cent since 2023, to £153. In France, Italy and Spain, the average rates are £107, £124 and £121 respectively.

I searched on Airbnb for a two-bedroom property in trendy Southwold, again for Aug 5-12: the cheapest option, a cute cottage, costs £1,548. Opt for the equally cool Peñíscola in eastern Spain, however, and you’ll find a decent apartment for half that price.

You’ll have to factor in the cost of getting there, of course. But even with airfares on the rise, you can still find peak-season flights to Europe for around £50 each way, or Eurotunnel returns for £200.

“We took a holiday in East Wittering just after Covid and it was awful, we’ll never do it again,” says Suzi Love, a mother of two based in Winchester. “The house we booked cost £1,800 from Monday to Friday, it was tired and mediocre at best, there wasn’t much choice of places to eat out and the high prices didn’t reflect in the quality of food or service. Added to which, the weather was dodgy.”

Ah yes, the weather. Even if British holidays could compete on price, it’s hard to overlook the fact that Cornwall gets roughly 187 hours of sunshine and 73mm of rainfall each August, while Andalusia gets around 300 hours, and 1mm.

“My girls are three and six, so they just need a beach or a pool, but when the weather is not good, you have to really entertain them and that’s not a holiday for us adults,” adds Love. “With gridlocked roads and beaches contaminated with sewage it’s all pretty off-putting, so we’d rather jump on a plane and get to the south of Spain in three hours where the weather is more guaranteed.”

Eating out

Spain tops the leaderboard when it comes to Britons’ favourite destinations, says the ONS, with 21 per cent of all overseas visits in 2023 to the land of sangria, followed by France (11 per cent), Italy (6 per cent) and Greece (5 per cent). And when you look at the cost of eating and drinking in these countries, it doesn’t take a lot of head scratching to figure out why.

Every year, the Post Office compares food and drink prices, along with other typical holiday purchases, in dozens of popular destinations. Buying a coffee in the Algarve will set you back 88p, it estimates, while on the Costa del Sol the average price is £1.58. For a three-course meal for two, including a bottle of wine, you can expect to pay £40 or £60 in the two sun-soaked regions, respectively, it says. Compare that with the UK, where a coffee ranges in price from £3 to £4, and an average three-course meal for two (including wine) costs closer to £70 or £80.

Furthermore, while food and drink prices are still on the rise in the UK (the year to January 2024 showed a 7 per cent increase), it’s a different picture abroad. The 2024 Post Office Holiday Money Report found that prices for meals, drinks and other goods had fallen since last year in 25 out of 40 destinations surveyed.

Getting around

The high cost of train travel within the UK is another thorny issue. Say you want to reach your Cornish holiday apartment by train, taking a leaf out of Greta Thunberg’s book and doing your bit for the planet. The cheapest off-peak return from London to Penzance on Aug 5 currently costs £143 (that’s almost £600 for a family of four), with a journey time of just under five hours. If you’re travelling from Manchester, the bill is £236 per person and the journey time is over seven hours. And that’s before adding the cost of a taxi to and from your accommodation. For comparison, a three-hour, high-speed return journey from Madrid to Malaga, on the same date, costs from £55 per person.

The alternative, and the choice of most UK holidaymakers, is to drive. Anyone who has sat on the A303 on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday never wants to repeat the experience, but filling a family car with four people and driving from London to Cornwall is significantly cheaper than a train (around £60 for a one-way journey). Sorry, Greta.

The bottom line

Add up the cost of getting to your destination, accommodation and eating out, and a family of four is looking at well in excess of £2,000 – probably closer to £3,000 – for a UK holiday. So it’s no wonder fly-and-flop packages look so appealing. Head to Tui, and £2,000 will get you a week’s B&B accommodation (including flights) at the Green Forest Hotel in Dalaman, Turkey (departing Aug 8); £3,000 will secure a one-week all-inclusive holiday at Ibiza’s Invisa Figueral Resort (departing Aug 7).

UK holiday providers recognise that the Covid glory days are over, and are looking at ways to improve their offering. Last month, Telegraph Travel reported on how British holiday lets are raising their game to survive, with the addition of everything from hot tubs to axe throwing. Prices have also been cut.

James Norton, the director of independent holiday business Toad Hall Cottages, confirms that the market went “crazy” during the pandemic years, but says prices are now returning to the levels they should be.

“Dynamic pricing, set by automated algorithms, adjusts the price based on demand – how many visits a page gets and so on,” he says. “There are now 50 per cent discounts being offered on some sites, but that’s a bit misleading. Prices are being corrected after an inflated few years, when some properties that rented before Covid for £1,200 [per week] were commanding rates of £3,000 or £4,000.”

One way Toad Hall has enhanced its offering is to move changeover days to Wednesdays, Thursdays and Mondays instead of Saturdays and Sundays, “so people only spend five hours on the A303 instead of eight,” says Norton. He adds: “Some owners have asked to slash prices by 10 per cent in order to secure bookings, though there are exceptions. The New Forest is doing unbelievably well, with record bookings this year, and the top properties in places like Salcombe are booked up all summer long.”

Even discounts won’t convince many of us to stay in the UK this summer. The VisitBritain research pointed to a desire among holidaymakers to experience new cultures, and this is exactly why Anna and Jon Long take their teenagers Ella, 17, and Ollie, 15, abroad.

“We haven’t done any detailed or massively informed comparisons this summer as we’ve given up looking. UK holidaying is for the very organised – anywhere lovely gets super busy in the school holidays and is booked up well in advance,” says Anna. “Teenagers are far more discerning about holidays, and would rather be at home with their friends than stuck in a cottage in Devon in the pouring rain.

“When the cost is so marginal for a holiday in the UK, we think there aren’t many holidays left with the kids, so it’s nice to do something a bit special with them. I know we are lucky to be in a position to be able to do that, but we love to explore somewhere new as a family while we still can.”