Best city breaks in the UK for a memorable stay

written by Zara Sekhavati
updated 3/13/2023
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Travel closer to home and make the most of what’s right at our doorsteps, by enjoying one of the best city breaks in the UK. The UK has some stunning locations to explore. Think London for incredible views or head to the north and soak up some history in York. Wherever you choose to go, you’ll be treated to fascinating attractions, and a memorable weekend break for sure.

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

1. London: best for world-class museums

London has a plethora of attractions to explore and it's no wonder that the capital tops our list of the best city breaks in the UK. Tourist-central spots like Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey attract the crowds, while iconic landmarks such as the Tower of London, Trafalgar Square and St Paul’s Cathedrals remain at the top of the list, too.

Alternatively, why not see London from high up? Head up the Shard to see the sprawling views of the city, while the London Eye is one of the most popular ways to enjoy a view – it attracts over three million visitors every year.

Alternatively, hop on the Santander cable car for a ride over the city, too, and spot some iconic sights, such as the O2 arena. The arena hosts some fantastic live music and is home to a plethora of shopping and dining opportunities. London's hotel scene has something for everyone - find your perfect place to stay in London or browse our best areas to stay in London.

Looking out onto Trafalgar Square and enjoying one of the best city breaks in UK © VisitBritain

2. Cambridge: the perfect destination for art

Known for its enchanting waterways and famous university, Cambridge is a real treat for a weekend break. Punt on the River Cam, or explore the city on two wheels with its many cycle paths. While here, you won't want to miss the University of Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum, which is free to enter. Inside you will find excellent collections of art and antiquities.

There’s more for artistic travellers – the Kettle’s Yard is one of the UK’s best galleries. Find sculpture trail walks and incredible contemporary art here. There are plenty of exhibitions inside, too. Discover the best things to do in Cambridge, beyond the Colleges and start planning your trip to Cambridge.

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The historic University of Cambridge © Pajor Pawel/Shutterstock

3. Bath: best city break in the UK for history buffs

Bath is known for its Roman remains. The top sight here is the Roman Baths, which is a remarkably preserved thermae. The thermal springs rise high in the city and natural hot water still flows here. In the summer, you can see the baths by torchlight, which provides a memorable experience.

For more history, head to the Circus and the Royal Crescent where you can find examples of Georgian architecture. All these incredible features have made the city a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. Another great way to explore the city is on foot with a walking tour and to learn more about historic sights such as The Circus, a collection of Grade I-listed townhouses.

What’s more, you can’t miss a spa treatment here, so make your way to Thermae Bath and enjoy some much-deserved TLC. Discover the best hotels in Bath and start planning your trip.

Roman Baths, the city's main attraction © VisitBritain

4. Brighton: ideal seaside city

Close to the capital, Brighton is always a fun weekend getaway. Mooch around The Lanes neighbourhood and enjoy coffee after coffee, then take a look at the endless vintage shops to find that special something. To end the day make your way to the seafront and pier for some well-deserved fish and chips. For more outdoor fun head to Preston Park, which also serves as an outdoor festival venue.

For glistening views of the seafront, Brighton and the South Downs, head up the British Airways i360 tower which cuts through the sky at 162 metres high. For history, head to the Royal Pavilion, which stands as a Grade I-listed former royal residence. It was constructed as a seaside palace for King George IV. From dance lessons to vintage cocktails, discover the best things to do in Brighton, and plan your perfect Brighton getaway.

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Brighton Pier at sunset © VisitBritain

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5. Liverpool: best for music

Home to the Beatles, Liverpool is without a doubt one of the most musical cities in the UK. With live music pouring out of hotspots such as the Cavern Club and the Arts Club, music is everywhere. If you’re a Fab Four fan, head to The Beatles Story museum for an in-depth look at the band. You can also hop on a Beatles Magical Mystery Tour which takes you to the band’s childhood homes, Penny Lane and Strawberry Field.

Head to the Royal Albert Dock which owns the biggest collection of Grade I-listed buildings in the country. It’s a vibrant area in the city with plenty of food and drink spots here which look out onto the waterfront.

Head to Gusto for some fine Italian food, and after have a drink at The Smugglers Cove pub which has its very own Rum Room which is free to book. For more food and drink head to Lark Lane where you can find plenty of bars, alongside cafés and exciting clothing boutiques. Inspired? See Liverpool's top hotels.

Liverpool’s iconic Cavern Club © VisitBritain

6. Bristol: perfect break for cool vibes

Bristol is a city full of independent restaurants, cafés and shops which are a fantastic way to explore the location. Head to the Root in Wapping Wharf for some veggie goodness while Masterchef finalist Larkin Cen has brought Woky Ko to the food scene. The Wave has been attracting visitors to the city, too, which is a man-made surfing spot. Here you can surf on waves all year round, whether you’re a beginner or an expert.

To fit in with the amazing cultural scene of the city, there are some fantastic sights to see as well. Spend an evening at the Grade II-listed building, Bristol Beacon, where you can catch live music. If you’re interested in seeing a show, head to the Bristol Old Vic Theatre.

History buffs shouldn’t miss Brunel’s SS Great Britain. This is a former passenger ship and museum where you can learn all about its history. Find out everything you need to know about a short stay in Bristol.

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Pad thai served at the Woky Ko in Bristol © gowithsotck/Shutterstock

7. Edinburgh: best Scottish city break

Edinburgh is one of those perfect, memorable city breaks in the UK. Coated in history, the pretty city is well-loved. Head to Edinburgh Castle and enjoy incredible views or make the most of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival which takes place every summer and celebrates arts and culture. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, there are plenty of tours.

Make your way to the Elephant House which is where JK Rowling wrote some of the books. Or trundle down Victoria Street, which is said to be the inspiration behind Diagon Alley.

Want to enjoy life on the fringes of Edinburgh? Discover eight ways to enjoy Edinburgh's quirky side and start planning your trip by checking out the best places to stay in Edinburgh.

Get ready to explore Britain on this unique tailor-made Great British Road Trip. Choose the car of your liking before you hit the road: from the Cotswolds and its picturesque villages over the Beatle's favourite hang-out in Liverpool to Scotland's capital Edinburgh: this trip includes many highlights to be explored

Edinburgh Castle © VisitScotland

8. York: best city break in the UK for walking

One of the best cities up north, York is an instant winner. Walk the city walls and plunge into the location’s impressive history. The York Minster is the cathedral of the city and is said to be the biggest of its kind in northern Europe. There are plenty of history-themed attractions to visit. Learn about all things Viking in the Jorvik Learning Centre, which is a fun day out.

Alternatively, head to the top of Clifford’s Tower for panoramic views over Old York. It’s the biggest remaining part of York Castle, which was previously the centre of the government for the north of England. Head to the York Castle Museum to learn more about this site, which was constructed by William the Conqueror in 106.

For an alternative museum visit, why not head to the Chocolate Museum? It showcases the history of making chocolate in the city, so make sure to bring your appetite! After all that, make your way through the Shambles, which is a maze of narrow lanes. Described as the best preserved medieval street on the planet, the Shambles is full of charm. Start planning your York getaway today.

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Picturesque York Minster © David Ionut/Shutterstock

9. Belfast: top city for food and drink

One of the smallest cities on the list is Belfast, but it packs a real punch. It’s fantastic for the outdoors. However, it may just be the food and drink scene that the city is mostly known for. Head to the rooftop Babel bar for a cocktail or two, while the Cathedral Quarter is where it’s at for a bar crawl. The Duke of York and the Sunflower Public House, are some of the best of the bunch.

For a spot of lunch head to the Hill Street Hatch which is full of pop-up stands. Try Sawers, a well-loved deli which is known for its giant cheese counter. For more Belfast attractions, read our guide to the best alternative UK city breaks.

One of the city’s most popular attractions is the Titanic Belfast, a museum which details the history of this famous ship. See Belfast's top hotels to choose the one that's just right for your stay. Plus, discover more great reasons to visit Northern Ireland.

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Take the weekend to discover Ireland’s most spectacular corners such as Antrim Coast, the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge and the Giant’s Causeway. This tailor-made weekend getaway to Belfast to will also give you the chance to visit the beautiful city of Dublin and Belfast, along with the Boyne valley.

Belfast: a small city with a big personality © VisitBritain

10. Birmingham: best for fun neighbourhoods

Birmingham has always been one of the best city breaks in the UK, and not just because of the success of the popular TV series, Peaky Blinders. Spend your time spotting old factories that have been redesigned into hip galleries and buzzing shopping centres. Odox is a fine example of this, which transformed from a brass workshop into the artist-run spot which it is today.

The Jewellery Quarter is one of the finest neighbourhoods in the city. Trundle down past the canal while you enjoy the selection of quirky shops on offer. The Custard Factory is also a firm favourite. Head to Baked In Brick for tasty pizzas, before enjoying some exciting live music in the venue. See our Rough Guides expert guide to spending a weekend in Birmingham and find out how to book your Birmingham break.

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The Chamberlain Clock in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter © Matthew Troke/Shutterstock

11. Oxford: the most romantic city break in the UK

When visitors think of Oxford, they almost always imagine its university, revered as one of the world’s great academic institutions, inhabiting honey-coloured stone buildings set around ivy-clad quadrangles. The image is accurate enough, but although the university dominates central Oxford both physically and spiritually, the wider city has an entirely different character.

Oxford should be high on anyone’s itinerary, and can keep you occupied for several days. The colleges include some of England’s finest architecture, and the city also has some excellent museums and a good range of bars and restaurants.

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Outside of London, England is known for its countryside full of history, picturesque villages, patchwork hills, and winding country roads. On this tailor-made Refreshing English Countryside Break you will explore the countryside with its castles, parks, and historical cities such as Oxford.

Oxford University © aslysun/Shutterstock

12. Cardiff: the best city break in the UK for a rural escape

Home to some sixty per cent of the country’s population, the southeastern corner of Wales is one of Britain’s most industrialized regions. People and industry are most heavily concentrated around the seaports and former mining valleys, though quiet hills and beaches are only ever a few miles away.

Once the world’s busiest coal port, Cardiff is today the country’s commercial, cultural and political powerhouse, an upbeat capital offering stellar museums, a storybook castle and invigorating nightlife. Beyond Cardiff, Wales unfolds from the English border in a beguilingly rural manner.

The River Wye flows forth from its mouth at the fortress town of Chepstow, where you’ll find one of the most impressive castles in a land where few towns are without one. In the Wye’s beautiful valley lie the spectacularly placed ruins of Tintern Abbey, downstream from the old county town of Monmouth.

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Cardiff castle © AdobeStock

13. Manchester: the city of the industrial revolution

Manchester has had a global profile for more than 150 years, since the dawn of the industrial revolution. But today’s elegant core of converted warehouses and glass skyscrapers is a far cry from the smoke-covered sprawl George Orwell once described as “the belly and guts of the nation”.

Its renewed pre-eminence expresses itself in various ways, most swaggeringly in its football, as home to the world’s most famous and wealthiest clubs – Manchester United and Manchester City, respectively. But also in a thriving music scene that has given birth to world-beaters as diverse as the Hallé Orchestra and Oasis.

Moreover, the city’s celebrated concert halls, theatres, clubs and cafés feed off the cosmopolitan drive provided by the country’s largest student population outside London and a high-profile LGBTQ+ community.

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Inspired to explore the UK? Read our guide to the best weekend breaks in the UK. And to spice up your memorable city break, check out our list of the best beaches in UK.

Waterway canal area in Manchester © SAKhanPhotography/Shutterstock

Feel inspired by our winter breaks in the UK? Check out the snapshot of The Rough Guide to Wales or The Rough Guide to England and start planning your perfect trip.

If you prefer to plan and book your trip to the UK 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.

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written by Zara Sekhavati
updated 3/13/2023
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