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The ultimate summer staycation guide to the UK

Can you almost taste strawberries and cream? Is it socially acceptable to order Pimms now? Summer has never felt so long-awaited after over a year spent in and out of national lockdown. It’s nearly time for Brits to get back to what they do best…frolicking in wellies, filling beer gardens to the brim, quaffing champagne at picnics in the park, and tucking into a good brunch or afternoon tea – to name but a few. Whether you’re planning to escape to the country, unwind by the beach, or catch up on culture with a city break, here are our top UK destinations to visit this summer plus where to stay.

England

For some quality country time…the Cotswolds

To stay in the Cotswolds is to immerse yourself in England’s rural past. Each impossibly pretty village offers a glimpse of ‘how they used to live’ with chocolate box cottages and honey-hued Georgian mansions. Potter about the postcard-worthy streets of the likes of Broadway Village, where rustic farmers markets, quaint tea rooms, and old-fashioned sweet shops can be found at every tranquil turn. With its gently rolling hills dotted with lavender and wild flower meadows, the Cotswolds are made for long rambles, dog walking, and horse riding – home to over 5,000km of picturesque footpaths and bridleways. To the west you’ll find Regency Cheltenham with its boutiques and boulevards, while the dreaming spires of Oxford outline the east.

The Coach House at The Fish Hotel

Where to stay: The 400-acre Farncombe Estate ripples with Cotswold charm where you’ll find not one, but three boutique hotels with a farmhouse cool feel. Grown-ups can put their feet up in the ‘no rules’ Foxhill Manor, while little ones and four-legged friends can run riot in the treehouses and hillside huts at The Fish. For some well-earned wellbeing, spa-seekers will be most at home at Dormy House, where you can soak up some sunshine from the hot tub on the spectacular Spa Terrace. If you venture towards Cheltenham, you’ll be backing the right horse with The Greenway Hotel & Spa.

For a Bridgerton inspired break…Bath

Long before Lady Whistledown’s society papers brought Bridgerton to Bath, it was seen as the diamond of the city break scene. Read our complete guide to the World Heritage city here.

Where to stay: Perfectly placed for a turn about ‘the ton’, The Gainsborough Bath Spa is a stylish spa hotel with pools drawn from Bath Spa’s thermal waters, where your period drama fantasies are sure to become reality. Meanwhile, the glorious grounds of Georgian country house Homewood are just a few miles from the city, giving guests the best of both worlds.

If you like to be beside the seaside…Cornwall

A treasure trove of hidden coves, golden beaches, and vibrant fishing towns, it is easy to see why Cornwall has inspired artists and writers for centuries. Famous locations include Tintagel, the legendary birthplace of King Arthur, and the wilds of Bodmin Moor where Daphne Du Maurier’s smugglers came to Jamaica Inn. Find some inspiration of your own in St Ives, home to numerous galleries, artists’ studios and Cornwall’s Tate. While there is plenty to explore along the miles of unspoilt coastline, Cornwall is best seen from the water – whether by surfboard, sailing boat, or paddle board, you’re sure to get a glimpse of whales and dolphins. Back on dry land, find your way to a harbour-side restaurant to sample the fishermen’s catch, or a cosy pub for pints of crisp, fruity cider.

The view from the Whittington Suites at The Nare, a country house haven on the Roseland Peninsula.

Where to stay: Flanked by colourful gardens and overlooking the white sands and gentle waves of Gerrans Bay, The Nare has all the exclusivity of a private island. Be sure to book one of the four brand new Whittington Suites, the largest sea-view hotel suites in Britain.

To satisfy culture cravings…London

You’d be forgiven for wondering where to start when it comes to a break in London. The city’s size, scale and layers of history mean the options can seem overwhelming. But combine a few famous sights with a sprinkle of lesser known gems and you’ll soon see why London is the city that everyone falls in love with. Not short on green spaces, there are picnic spots aplenty – from historic Hyde Park to leafy Hampstead Heath, and Battersea Park with lovely gardens and a boating lake. Which brings us neatly to the River Thames, the beating heart of the city which connects many of the capital’s best sights where you can easily base a day around its banks.

If you’re in the city at a weekend, make time for street markets. For independent arts and crafts, head to Spitalfields. Colombia Road Flower Market fills the street with blooms as far as the eye can see – get there early for the best picks. Portobello Road is the destination for antiques and to admire the pastel facades of the upmarket Notting Hill area, while Borough Market is a mecca for food and drink.

The Ampersand, an eclectic design hotel in South Kensington

Where to stay: Browse ten of the best boutique hotels in London here – think rooftop terraces with iconic skyline views, fabulous afternoon teas, and quintessentially English townhouses. As a welcome back treat, both St. James’s Hotel & Club and The Franklin are currently offering a special 15% discount and DUKES LONDON 30% off as part of their ‘Summer Sensation’ rate, while rooms at The Ampersand can be snapped up for half price until June 2021. Those in need of some retail therapy can splurge in Harrods and Selfridges while staying at The Capital Hotel, Apartments & Townhouse and Flemings Mayfair, both offering £50 daily store vouchers for guests.

For the best of town and country…Surrey

Londoners looking to escape the city bustle need look no further than their own doorstep. A vision of home-counties perfection, Surrey boasts some of the best English gardens in the country along with charming market towns, historic hamlets, ancient heathland, and scenic waterways. Covering a quarter of the county, the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is the place for city dwellers to unwind in an array of countryside pursuits, to work up an appetite for hearty local fare in one of the many characterful pubs. For the royal treatment, trace the steps of the Tudors with a day trip to Hampton Court Palace or make a stop at Runnymede – the Thames-side gardens where King John signed the Magna Carta.

The Mitre Hotel photographed by Claire Menary

Where to stay: Londoners looking to escape the city heat should head to The Mitre Hotel, a riverside retreat with pet-friendly rooms for those all-important dog walks in nearby Bushy Park. While away a lazy summer’s day on the banks of the Thames, with a personalised picnic prepared by the hotel’s kitchen complete with a hand-woven wicker basket and comfy rug. Meanwhile, the 50 acres of landscaped gardens at Great Fosters are the ideal setting for summer sports, from croquet and tennis on the lawn to a swim in the heated outdoor pool.

For storybook settings…Sussex

This is the land of grand houses and fine gardens; the stomping ground of world-renowned writers and painters – fringed by seaside resorts and bordered by ancient forest. Dip your toes in the sea at Eastbourne and Brighton, or into 1,000 years of history at Arundel Castle. Walk the white cliffs of the South Downs, where you’ll be immersed in rolling hills and peaceful rivers, wildflower meadows and tranquil woodland. And, to round off your trip, pop open a bottle of Sussex’s own acclaimed sparkling wine.

Mirabelle Restaurant at The Grand Hotel, close to Beachy Head (right)

Where to stay: For a classic English seaside escape, look no further than The Grand Hotel in Eastbourne, overlooking the English Channel and the cliffs of Beachy Head. Country house hunters can revel in the secret gardens, paths through woods and elegant lakes at Ashdown Park Hotel & Country Club, or 120 acres of beautiful parkland at Alexander House Hotel & Utopia Spa.

Scotland

Where cosmopolitan meets cosy…Edinburgh

Circus Lane (left) and a Stockbridge shopfront (right)

Sitting pretty, yet hilly, between rolling countryside and a windswept, sandy seaside, Edinburgh offers the best of both worlds with its Medieval Old Town and elegant Georgian New Town, interspersed with well-kept gardens and varied architecture. Among the cobbled streets and Gothic buildings, you will find more restaurants per head than any other city in the UK, a trendy underground selection of speakeasies, gin distilleries, and whiskey bars, along with the country’s best vintage shopping scene.

Edinburgh Castle photographed by Chloe Frost-Smith

Wander along the Royal Mile or the colourful Grassmarket shops to pick up some Scottish souvenirs, before heading up to the Castle for an insight into the vibrant history of this military fortress, and the city’s best-known landmark. Make time for a stroll down to Dean Village, a photogenic patchwork of 19th-century buildings and bridges set along the Water of Leith, just five minutes’ walk from Princes Street. If you’re lucky with the weather, take a trip to Portobello Beach, a charming stretch of seaside only a few miles from the city centre. Don’t miss out on the weekly Sunday farmers’ market in Stockbridge, a tucked-away area of the city with a village vibe, and a local hotspot for organic delis and stylish gastropubs. Visitors to the capital in August will be at the heart of the annual Fringe Festival, a world celebration of art, culture, and theatre – set to return from the 6th August 2021.

The Orkney Suite at The Dunstane Houses

Breakfast in bed at Nira Caledonia

Where to stay: Bringing a breath of fresh Orkney air to the heart of the Scottish capital, The Dunstane Houses puts the best of Edinburgh at your feet – just a short stroll from pretty Dean Village and vibrant Stockbridge. The hotel’s complimentary parking is a serious bonus (this is a notoriously difficult city when it comes to parking) and four-legged friends are welcome in selected rooms at Hampton House. In New Town, the superbly placed Nira Caledonia comprises two magnificent Georgian townhouses just 10-minutes from Princes Street.

For back-to-nature adventures…The Highlands

Heather dotted coastlines, sweeping skies twinkling with stars and oil-painting sunsets, craggy castles and dramatic mountains, lochs, and rivers teeming with wildlife. The Scottish Highlands is rugged wilderness at its best, unapologetically untamed beauty. If lockdown has left you craving the great outdoors, this is the place to come and just get lost in an off-grid world of adventure. The three hour drive from Edinburgh up to Fort William is well worth every minute, with plenty of picturesque stop-off points along The Trossachs National Park, Loch Lomond, and Glencoe. Heading further north to Royal Dornoch, where golfers will be in their element, you’ll be greeted by gorse-filled landscapes, tumbling waterfalls, and some of the finest spots for fly fishing in the UK.

Inverlochy Castle in the foothills of the Nevis Range

Seasonal dining foraged from Highland waters, fields and forests at MARA Restaurant, Links House Royal Dornoch

Where to stay: With a backdrop of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the UK, the views from Inverlochy Castle are second to none. Or you can sample the delights of the local highland larder and taste the best seafood in Scotland at Links House at Royal Dornoch, where rooms are all named after North Highland Salmon Fishing rivers.

Wales

For the wild side to Wales…Pembrokeshire

Thanks to its spellbinding stretch of National Park coastline, untamed sheep-grazed hills dotted with crumbling stiles and kissing gates, pretty market towns and quaint fishing villages, it’s easy to see why Pembrokeshire is the most popular holiday destination in Wales. Boasting some of Britain’s best beaches, this underrated Welsh county has charm in buckets-and-spades. Read our complete guide here.

Showcasing local craftsmanship and period features at every turn, the rooms and suites at Grove of Narberth are spread across the main house and three charming cottages – all curated by Martin Hulbert Design.

Where to stay: Wonderfully rustic and wholesome in style, the Grove of Narberth began life in the 15th century as a traditional Welsh longhouse, and is now the first and only five-star hotel in South West Wales. Set within 26 acres of rolling countryside and beautifully kept gardens, which supply the homegrown and locally sourced menus of the Artisan Rooms and The Fernery, this food-led country retreat is bursting with flavour and character.

Northern Ireland

For a cinematic city break…Belfast

If you’ve indulged in more television during lockdown than you’d like to admit, you’ll recognise this scenic city from your screen as the filming location for a star-studded line up of shows, including Line of Duty, Marcella, Bloodlands, and Game of Thrones. Not to mention the immersive Titanic Quarter, where the infamous ship was built. The atmosphere in Belfast is as lively as it can be laid back – find colourful street art next to Victorian pubs, enjoy wild walks on the Causeway Coast, and sit back with a pint of Guinness while listening to some of the best live music in Northern Ireland. If it’s a sunny day, take in the splendour of the historic City Hall before having a picnic on the lawns, though the Botanical Gardens are a good spot for this, too. A gateway to dramatic landscapes, Belfast is perfectly placed for day trips – from the UNESCO listed Giant’s Causeway to Dunluce Castle, you’ll be spoilt for choice.

Where to stay: Northern Ireland’s first five-star hotel, Culloden Estate and Spa is a country-meets-city retreat overlooking Belfast Lough and the sprawling County Antrim Coastline. Set to reopen its palatial doors at the end of May, guests will be welcomed back with a new Bridgerton-themed afternoon tea, the return of the hotel’s summer ‘Art in the Garden’ exhibition, and the introduction of a new outdoor ‘Bollinger Bus’ for some luxury alfresco dining.

Channel Islands*

To castaway close to home…Jersey

*No, not technically part of the UK, but we couldn’t resist the secluded shoreline of Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands. A beguiling mixture of beautiful tranquil beaches and bustling urban style, there are nature trails, beaches, coves and paths in abundance for island adventures. Best explored by boat or bicycle, you’ll find plenty of outlets for rentals in the capital town of St Helier. Make the most of the mild climate whiling away an afternoon at St Brélade, one of Jersey’s most popular beach resorts. For somewhere a little more secluded, you could travel to Les Mielles Nature Reserve – this quiet stretch of countryside has a fine beach where you can spot wading birds.

Dinner with a view at The Atlantic Hotel

Where to stay: Set in ten acres of private gardens overlooking the golden sands of St Ouen’s Bay, The Atlantic Hotel is beautifully located on Jersey’s picturesque shores. For a truly idyllic way to spend the day, be sure to ask for an Atlantic picnic hamper – the staff will happily point you in the right direction (or two!) for the perfect picnic spot.