Best things to do in the UK during summer

Annie Warren

written by
Annie Warren

updated 15.03.2024

Find your great escape a bit closer to home and make the most of your staycation this summer, with our enticing round-up of the best things to do in the UK during summer.

This article is inspired by our Rough Guides guidebooks — your essential guides for travelling the world.

1. Immerse yourself in history

One of the best things to do in the UK during summer for history buffs is a visit to Warwick Castle. This massive medieval fortress has lavish royal chambers and a tower plucked straight from a fairy tale, set against 690 acres of immaculate gardens.

Venture underground to the dungeon and torture chamber if you dare, brought to life by devilish actors – not to mention gallons of fake blood.

Considerably less gory is the Beamish open-air museum in County Durham, which showcases the years between 1825 and 1913 with painstakingly re-created streets and costumed guides driving the steam trains and serving in the sweet shop.

Changing tack again, the Birmingham back-to-backs have been carefully restored to give a fascinating insight into the industrial boom that gripped the city in the nineteenth century. Here, a guided tour wends its way through four homes full of anecdotal titbits about the inhabitants of these hastily-erected, overcrowded dwellings.

St Michael's Mount in Cornwall © Valery Egorov/Shutterstock

Explore the historical heritage is one of the best to do in the UK during summer /Shutterstock

2. Get lost in nature

You could spend hours wandering Aberglasney Gardens in Carmarthenshire. Here you can stroll the excavated Tudor cloisters and luxuriate in the zen-like calm of the hothouse, constructed from an ancient courtyard shrouded in glass and housing magnolias, orchids and palms that reach the roof.

Meanwhile, few places in Britain juxtapose so well the destructive impulses of man and the enduring richness of nature as Orford Ness Nature Reserve in Suffolk. This park was once used to conceal Britain’s darkest military secrets. Yet amid the dystopic landscape of marshes and the huddle of abandoned buildings that flank the airfield, nature thrives undisturbed. The reserve now fulfils a crucial conservation role.

For sheer otherworldliness, though, the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland with its 37,000 black basalt columns is unrivalled, each polygon the result of a subterranean explosion some sixty million years ago. This incredible scene attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors annually, meaning the site can get crushingly busy. You'd do well to visit as early (or as late) in the day as you can.

This tailor-made trip to Scotland's wildest natural scenery is a breath of fresh air and perfect to explore the most enchanting landscapes of the Highlands. This trip will introduce you to the wildest landscapes of Scotland, its fast-paced history and its amazing traditions.

Pyg track leading to the Snowdon summit © Tamas Beck/Shutterstock

Pyg track leading to the Snowdon summit © Tamas Beck/Shutterstock

3. Encounter the local wildlife

For a brush with creatures great and small, take a boat tour around the craggy archipelago of the Farne Islands. You’ll hear it before you see it. The cacophonous din of the 100,000 seabirds that nest here each year, whose ranks include puffins, guillemots, cormorants, shags and oystercatchers.

Another brilliant place from which to spot some animal antics is the ingeniously concealed hide at Devon Badger Watch. Here you'll be offered a rare chance to observe these reclusive mammals as they play. The woodland is home to woodmice, woodpeckers and tawny owls, so keep your eyes peeled!

For beasts of more exotic nature, the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust uses Jersey Zoo to provide a window into its global conservation work. The trust showcases some of the planet’s most at-risk species in habitats ranging from Madagascan dry forest to the Discovery Desert.

 Puffins on Mykines, Faroe islands @ Shutterstock

Atlantic Puffin, Fratercula arctica, Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, West Wales © Shutterstock

4. Stretch your legs

The opportunities for walking in the UK are endless! Head to Malham in the Yorkshire Dales. Here you can amble through the wooded dell of Janet’s Foss, rich with the scent of wild garlic, to Gordale Scar, a deep ravine that requires a head for heights.

If you’re feeling energetic, one of the best things to do in the UK during summer is to clamber up to Malham Cove. Here you will be rewarded with magnificent views over the Dales. A further squelchy trek across the moorland beyond leads to England’s highest lake, Malham Tarn.

Another climb that is well worth the effort is the ice-age relic of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh. The vistas from up here are intoxicating, arcing across Edinburgh’s genteel cobbles and the Forth estuary to Fife.

Less of a scramble but no less scenic is the Cotswold Way National Trail, dotted with a string of chocolate box villages and towns. The Trail makes for a gentle countryside walk with scenic picnic spots and plenty of pubs.

Visit two traditional capitals, London and Edinburgh, and enjoy a trek through the Loch Lomond national park. This tailor-made walking trip will let you discover peaceful Scottish islands on foot, with several days of detailed walking tours included.

Cityscape of Edinburgh Arthur's Seat © S-F/Shutterstock

Cityscape of Edinburgh Arthur's Seat © S-F/Shutterstock

5. Brave the water

The timeless landscape of the Norfolk Broads is the perfect place to mess about in a boat. You don’t need any experience – at least if you opt for an engine rather than a sail. Or better yet, get out in a canoe and explore the smaller waterways. If you’d prefer to be in the water rather than on it, tarn-swimming in Snowdonia National Park might be for you; tarns are blue-green glacial lakes formed over 10,000 years ago.

It’s not just the cold water that’s breathtaking – hiking through the mountainscape is truly remarkable. However, be aware that access to isolated spots can require hours of walking on unmarked tracks.

City-dwellers will be pleased to know that there are plenty of opportunities for outdoor dips closer to home. The cherished British tradition of the lido has seen a resurgence, with faded Art Deco and modest community pools alike reopening up and down the country.

London is awash with charming swimming holes including those in Charlton, Brockwell and Parliament Hill, while outside the capital some of the most spectacular urban lidos are found in Cheltenham, Bristol and Plymouth.

A steam train passess the Settle to Carlisle railway north of Ribble Junction © Karl Weller/Shutterstock

A steam train passes the Settle to Carlisle railway north of Ribble Junction © Karl Weller/Shutterstock

6. Sample British grapes

Looking for more relaxed things to do in the UK during summer? The UK may not be the first place that springs to mind when you think of wine tasting, but in fact, the country now produces wines to rival even the most established competitors. There are over four hundred vineyards in England, many of which are open for tours and tastings.

The best of the bunch includes Kent’s oldest commercial vineyard at Biddenden, a family-run concern producing wines from ten varieties of grape. Also of note is Camel Valley in Cornwall, set up by an ex-RAF pilot and his wife. Meander through the vineyards, join a tour around neat rows of beautifully pruned vines, take part in a tasting or sit on the terrace and sip at your leisure. Roll over Bordeaux, it’s time to celebrate the English grape!

7. Stuff yourself with seafood

It’s never too late to develop a taste for seafood, and what better place than at the Oyster Festival in Whitstable this August? As well as bivalves you can expect to find a giant food fair, impromptu performance art, and a crab-catching competition for the kids. Or try to win the local oyster-eating contest, where iron-stomached participants race to down four oysters and half a pint of stout.

If that all sounds a bit raucous, there remain few places more idyllic than the quay at Padstow to tuck into a mountainous portion of fish and chips.

With the ocean so close, it’s little surprise that seafood is the speciality in this Cornish town. In fact, your fish might have been caught just hours before by the boats in view.

 Galway oysters at the International Oyster Festival

One of the best things to do in the UK during summer is to indulge in some delicious local seafood © Shutterstock

8. Take the train - one of the unique things to do in the UK during summer

Step back in time at the Bluebell Railway in Sussex, which has one of the finest collections of vintage steam locomotives and carriages still in service. Treat yourself to the luxuries of a bygone era in the burnished lounge car of First Class. Or, enjoy the Railway’s annual calendar of platform Punch and Judy shows, Victorian picnics, brass bands and food festivals.

Another option for locomotive lovers is England’s most scenic railway, the Settle to Carlisle line, which runs from the Yorkshire Dales almost to the Irish Sea via the iconic Ribblehead Viaduct. You’ll feel like you’re flying as rivers and roads meander far below.

In stark contrast with the shining beauty of the countryside is the grim history of the railway, which was built by an army of six thousand navvies. Many were killed by accident, disease or exposure, and were buried along the route in unmarked graves.

Strathspey Railway in Scotland © Shutterstock

Strathspey Railway in Scotland © Shutterstock

9. Hit up music festivals

Music lovers will be stunned by the number of things to do in the UK during summer.

Glastonbury's unrivalled festival has delighted audiences for decades and is the largest and most well-organised festival in England. Much more than just a music festival, large parts of the sprawling site are given over to themed “lifestyle” areas. Bands cover all musical spectrums, from up-and-coming indie groups to international superstars. Recent headliners have included the Foo Fighters, Radiohead and Ed Sheeran.

Classical music lovers will be interested in visiting Montgomeryshire in Wales. Here in the town of Newton, Gregynog Hall hosts the annual Gregynog Music Festival. This is a high-class feast of classical music.

And if your summer travel itinerary includes a visit to Scotland, don't miss the Mull of Kintyre Music Festival, which pulls in some big-name rock bands, plus some good traditional Irish and Scottish ones.

Tents on a music festival campsite

Tents on the Glastonbury music festival campsite © Shutterstock

10. Have a family day off

Sometimes when travelling with children, it's hard to think of something for all the family to enjoy. Luckily, there are plenty of things to do in the UK during summer for family fun.

For example, Preseli Venture in Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire. The enthusiastic team at this outdoor adventure experience have cooked up one of the best family day trips in the UK. And what's better is that is all about getting active, getting wet and getting fully immersed in the natural environment.

Children and adults alike will thoroughly enjoy visiting the Shambala Festival. Pitch your tent, pull on some wellies, don a pair of fluorescent tights, a set of wings and some facial hair, and you're all set for four days of unabashed wackiness at Britain's most family-friendly festival.

Set in a secret location and with a line-up of undisclosed musical acts, Shambala remains small in scale and retains an inclusive ethos that embraces both families and serious partiers. It remains free of corporate sponsorship, and strongly ecologically sound.

The extensive beach at Whitesands Bay, Nr St David's, Pembrokeshire, Wales © Peter Moulton/Shutterstock

Whitesands Bay, Nr St David's, Pembrokeshire, Wales © Peter Moulton/Shutterstock

11. Catch some sun

Although the UK is not renowned for its regularly hot summers, there are a solid amount of sunny days — perfect for soaking up the sun and enjoying a variety of outdoor activities.

If you're in search of a beach holiday, one of the best things to do in the UK during the summer is to visit one of the famous coastal destinations. Cornwall, Devon, and Brighton all offer stunning sandy beaches, scenic walks and a variety of water activities.

London, Edinburgh and Glasgow are each in their own right famous for their green parks and gardens. Here, you can take leisurely strolls in the sunshine and have a picnic afterwards.

For a combination of activities and enjoying the warm summer weather, head to one of Britain's beautiful national parks. The Lake District, Snowdonia, the Peak District and Scottish Highlands are just a few examples of the region's spectacular national parks. You can go camping, cycling or just find somewhere to relax and enjoy the beauty of nature.


Brighton's Pavilion © Shutterstock

When you're ready to start planning your summer holiday trip in the UK, the fantastic Rough Guides UK Staycations guidebook series is the perfect place to start.

If you prefer to plan and book your trip without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.

We may earn a commission when you click on links in this article, but this doesn’t influence our editorial standards. We only recommend services we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.

Top image: St Michael's Mount in Cornwall © Valery Egorov/Shutterstock

Annie Warren

written by
Annie Warren

updated 15.03.2024

Annie Warren is a Midlands-based writer, translator and editor at Rough Guides. Other than the UK, she specialises in writing about France, Italy and Austria. You can find her on Twitter as @notanniewarren or see more of her work at

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