The best UK summer experiences 2021

written by Annie Warren
updated 7/25/2021
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Find your great escape a bit closer to home and make the most of your staycation this summer, with our enticing round-up of these distinctively British experiences. Plus, to help you make the most of a holiday in the UK, we've launched a new series of Rough Guides UK Staycation guidebooks, equipping you with everything you need to know about much-loved destinations such as Devon and Cornwall, the Cotswolds, Snowdonia and more.

Immerse yourself in history

History buffs should make a beeline for 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 Bemish 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 backto-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.

“City-dwellers will be pleased to know that there are plenty of opportunities for outdoor dips closer to home.”

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

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, which 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; so you’d do well to visit as early (or as late) in the day as you can.

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

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, which offers a rare chance to observe these reclusive mammals as they play. The woodland is home to woodmice, woodpecker and tawny owl, so keep your eyes peeled!

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

Stretch your legs

The opportunities for walking in the UK are endless! Head to Malham in the Yorkshire Dales where 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, clamber up to Malham Cove and 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.

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

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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 – but 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

Sample British grapes

Looking for a more relaxed way to spend a sunny day? The UK may not 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, and 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!

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, a crab-catching competition for the kids and the 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.

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In-depth, easy-to-use travel guides filled with expert advice.

With the ocean so close, it’s little surprise that seafood is the speciality in this Cornish town: your fish might have been caught just hours before by the boats in view, or landed that very morning in nearby Falmouth or Newlyn.

© Shutterstock

Take the train

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.

At 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.

However you choose to spend your great British staycation, whether it be a countryside getaway or a city break, an energetic few hours or an indulgent couple of days, we can’t wait for you to experience the richness and diversity of the UK’s summertime offerings - because there really couldn’t be a better time for it. And, when you're ready to start planning, the fantastic new Rough Guides UK Staycations guidebook series is the perfect place to start.

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

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written by Annie Warren
updated 7/25/2021
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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 www.annie-warren.com.

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