How well do you know this green and pleasant land we call home? In part two of our Exploring England series we're revealing three more cities perfect for exploring along with their countryside charms – so you can experience the best of both town and country on a microgap escape. What is microgapping? It's taking a break from the norm, changing your perspective and maximising your enjoyment of this country we call home, without needing weeks to do it. Part one covered the south, east and west - and now it’s time to head north.
1. Sheffield & Peak District, South Yorkshire & Derbyshire
The city: Sheffield
Sheffield’s worldwide reputation for steel means its present-day reincarnation as a green city might surprise many visitors. With more trees per head than any other city in Europe, visitors will delight in the 19-acre Botanical Gardens as well as The Winter Gardens, the largest urban glasshouse in Europe.
The Lyceum, Crucible and Studio Theatres make up the biggest theatre complex outside of London, while the Millennium Gallery houses a museum and art gallery to rival any down south. As the home of the Arctic Monkeys, Joe Cocker, The Human League and Pulp among many others, the city’s reputation for music is well-deserved, and you’ll want to experience it for yourself in one of the many live venues, such as Plug Sheffield.
More unusual attractions include a number of fun and challenging Escape Rooms, and Swegway Park, an indoor hoverboard park.
The Town Hall and Peace Gardens in Sheffield, England © Shutterstock
Beyond Sheffield: The Peak District
The Peak District is Britain’s oldest national park, becoming a designated protected reserve in 1951. The area has long been a breath of fresh air for those living in the cities around it. Spanning the White and Dark Peaks areas of hill and moorland, the network of footpaths, hiking and bike trails offers something for all ability levels. Kinder Scout at about 2,000 ft is perhaps the biggest hiking challenge but Dovedale is a much gentler day out with its picturesque stepping stones over the River Dove.
Experiences to tick off include paragliding at Mam Tor, taking a rock climbing lesson, paddleboarding and sailing on one of the reservoirs, or wild swimming in one of the many remote ponds (doing it while learning to paddleboard doesn’t count!). The treetop GoApe course at Buxton is always a challenge, while gentler pursuits include taking a hot-air balloon ride over the beautiful moorland landscape.
The stately Chatsworth House, star of film and TV, including a major role in 2005’s Pride & Prejudice, is another popular attraction. Join a guided tour of the house or parkland, browse the shop and, of course, enjoy afternoon tea.
How to get there
Dovedale is just over an hour (34 miles) from Sheffield via the A625. Chatsworth House is 33 mins (16 miles) via the A621.
Bamford Edge in the Peak District © Shutterstock
2. Liverpool & Port Sunlight, Merseyside
The city: Liverpool
Liverpool means The Fab Four, and first-time visitors head straight to The Beatles Story, where you can see the band perform again through digital animation. Music fans will also want to experience the Cavern Club – still hosting live music every night – and visit Strawberry Field (a local orphanage and gardens, immortalised in the classic Beatles song) or take the Mersey Ferry for its views of the city. From the water, you can see the Royal Albert Dock, now filled with shops and restaurants, the landmark Royal Liver Building and Tate Liverpool.
Football fans will enjoy a guided tour of Liverpool FC’s Anfield, where you’ll have a chance to try your interview technique in the Press Room among other inside views. And from a cathedral of football to a real one: climb the 500-ft-high tower of the Anglican cathedral – if you dare – for great views of the city.
Liverpool’s nightlife is equally impressive, from the cocktail bars and Latin nights of Seel Street to the clubs of Concert Square, the traditional pubs along Hardman Street to the LGBQT Clubs around Stanley Street. Wherever you go, you’ll meet friendly scousers who really make Liverpool the welcoming city it is.
Visiting the Cavern Club © VisitBritain
Beyond Liverpool: Port Sunlight
Port Sunlight, on the Wirral Peninsula, was a location for the TV series Peaky Blinders. Built by Lever Brothers in the late 1800s as a model village for workers in its soap factory, it has hundreds of listed buildings, ranging from pretty redbricks from the Victorian era to later Edwardian homes inspired by Arts-and-Crafts Movement.
The houses and buildings stand among now-mature landscaping which makes the village a great place to tour on foot or by bike. A bike & go scheme means you can conveniently pick up a bicycle from the station. Don’t miss the Lady Lever Art Gallery showing paintings, sculpture and ceramics from around the world. A tour of Thornton Manor, once the Leverhulme family home, is another must-do, if only to see Lord Lever’s outdoor bedroom!
How to get there
Port Sunlight is a 15 min (6-mile) drive via the Birkenhead Tunnel from Liverpool. Trains run regularly from Liverpool Lime Street, taking 20 mins.
Visiting The Royal Albert Docks in Liverpool © VisitBritain
3. Newcastle upon Tyne & Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear
The city: Newcastle
Newcastle has reinvented itself in recent years as an arts centre with spaces such as The Biscuit Factory, for contemporary art, and the North East Art Collective, dedicated to local artists working in any medium. Don’t miss the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, with its quirky gift shop, and check out who’s performing at the exciting Sage Gateshead.
United to Gateshead with seven bridges, it’s easy to get around by foot, bike, bus or Metro. Former industrial areas such as Ouseburn and Quayside, with views of the Tyne Bridge and Gateshead Millennium Bridge, are perfect for strolling around to take in friendly pubs, lively clubs and the many restaurants.
Among the more unusual sights is the 4km-long Victoria Tunnel, dug in the 1840s for coal wagons and used as an air raid shelter in WWII. The two-hour tour of the tunnel is a lot more interesting than you expect and gives a good overview of the area’s industrial history. You’ll also want to take a bus or drive to see Antony Gormley’s 200-tonne Angel of the North sculpture, looming over the A1(M) in all its rusty splendour.
Paddling up the river Tyne © VisitBritain/Michael Baister
Beyond Newcastle upon Tyne: Whitley Bay
Whitley Bay sits at the mouth of the Tyne and offers day-trippers miles of beaches, an aquarium and the Stephenson Railway Museum. St. Mary's Lighthouse sits amid a nature reserve where you might spot seals, while its Visitor Centre tells many tales of the power of the sea along this wild but beautiful coastline.
The beach is a great spot for walks and also for surfing, sailing, kayaking or paddleboarding. Cullercoats Bike & Kayak offer equipment for hire as well as lessons in in everything from canoeing to coasteering.
Afternoon tea, fish & chips or dinner at the lovingly restored Spanish City centre remains a local tradition, as does strolling along the Promenade and Links. All in all, it’s the perfect English seaside experience.
St Mary's Lighthouse near Whitley Bay in Northumberland © Richard Bowden/Shutterstock
How to get there
Whitley Bay a 25 min (10-mile) drive via A1058 from Newcastle. Trains and buses run regularly, taking 30-40 mins.
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Top Image: The Angel of the North, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK © Shutterstock