Why not break your holiday habits by trying something different? The UK is home to hundreds of exciting and unusual places that you can explore.
Here is our guide to the best alternative holiday ideas for off-the-beaten-track and unique UK holiday destinations.
Try a rail adventure
Hop on a sleeper to Fort William, experience Brunel’s Great Western line along the South Devon coast or cross the Pennines on the Settle to Carlisle route. The UK is full of great rail adventures.
Leave the car at home and let Britain’s public transport system take the strain. From trundling through the Trossachs on a bus or hopping on and off a train in the New Forest, the scenery is worth the journey.
Plan a rail holiday yourself or let an expert tour operator arrange everything, whether it’s five days exploring the valleys of mid Wales by rail with accommodation, half board, transport and guides, or two weeks discovering the Emerald Isla. For a selection of some of the best UK rail holidays, try www.greatrail.com
Whittling, woodcraft and wild camping
The National Trust offers hundreds of working holidays every year, ranging from building hedges and clearing canal banks to pruning and weeding vegetables in a stately home’s walled garden. It’s not luxurious but it’s great fun, and you’ll be helping a charity, learning traditional skills and mixing with a team of like-minded workers.
Why not try your hand at some traditional woodland crafts, such as whittling and charcoal-making, on a four-night break at Leith Hill in Surrey? nationaltrust.org.uk/working-holidays
Tackle The Dorset Doddle
The 32-mile hike from Weymouth to Swanage along the South West Coast Path is anything but a doddle. In fact, you’ll need to feel rather energetic and allow at least two or three days to complete it. But the reward for a total of 3,000m of ascent and descent is some of the UK’s finest coastal scenery, including Lulworth Cove, Durdle Door and Man O’ War Cove.
One of England’s most-loved counties, Dorset’s coastal cliffs, bird-rich moorland and marsh and vast pebble beaches are a hiker’s dream.
It’s part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site with spectacular rock formations around every corner – but lots of ups and downs, too. southwestcoastpath.org.uk
Drive a vintage car around Wiltshire
First you have to choose from a Wiltshire-based collection of beautifully restored classic Jaguars, MGs, Alfa Romeos and even a convertible Morris Minor. Then you can set off to tour the local sights such as Stonehenge, Avebury and the white horses in old-school motoring style. Each of the hiring periods includes flexible start times, so if you want a car from midday you can adapt your package, all you have to do is supply your own flying helmet, goggles and driving gloves.
Take a foodie break in the Cotswolds
Once voted the ‘UK’s favourite village’, the pretty little village of Kingham has recently become the food capital of the Cotswolds. There are two old village pubs: TV chef Emily Watkins from BBC’s Great British Menu set up the highly rated three-AA-rosette the Kingham Plough, while the Wild Rabbit has been taken over by millionaire organic food crusader Lady Carole Bamford and serves suitably local and natural ingredients to great acclaim.
And just down the lane is Lady B’s Daylesford Farm Shop, one of the UK’s most famous organic food shops. It also offers cookery classes and has a sumptuous café. You can even stay in beautifully converted outbuildings at the farm shop. daylesford.com/our-cotswold-cottages
Go castle counting in north-east Scotland
With a total of more than 300 forts and stately homes, there are more castles per acre in Aberdeenshire than anywhere else in the UK. A dedicated ‘Castle Trail’ lets you discover 18 of the most dramatic sites in a self-drive, four-day itinerary. The drives are punctuated with sightseeing walks through gardens and countryside.
The highlights include the tough stone 17th-century Cairngorm fortress at Braemar, the elegant loch-side baronial palace at Fyvie and spotting puffins and dolphins from the spectacular cliff-top stronghold of Dunnottar.
From the ravens of the Tower of London, to remote medieval ruins, Britain’s sprawling castles retain a sense of heritage in our cities and countryside – our guide to Britain’s best castles.
Hole up in a historic Oxford College
Many of Oxford University’s colleges offer B&B in their rooms when students are away. The best of these can be in medieval buildings overlooking ancient quads or alongside Oxford’s water meadows and riverside walks. Don’t worry about dirty socks and posters of Black Sabbath, the rooms are completely cleared of student detritus before guests arrive. Note that beds are typically singles but cheap enough for a couple to take adjoining ensuite rooms each, and are always in close proximity to the college gardens. Don’t miss the highlight of breakfast in the Hogwarts-style grandeur of the college’s dining hall. visitoxfordandoxfordshire.com
Cruise on a working ship
THV Patricia is Trinity House’s flagship, a busy, working vessel constantly maintaining buoys, marking wrecks and supplying lighthouses and lightships. Paying passengers are welcome aboard to share a week of Patricia’s duties. There are six surprisingly luxurious double en-suite cabins, a smart lounge and dining room, and unique coastal panoramas from the viewing deck.
You can even help with some of the activities… just don’t expect a swimming pool or nightly cabaret shows. wildwings.co.uk/app-holidays/patricia-voyages
Cycle through Constable Country
The leafy River Stour villages along the Essex/Suffolk border were once immortalised by Constable’s brushstrokes. You can potter around this gentle rural landscape trying to spot the locations he painted. These flat, quiet lanes are perfect for rediscovering cycling. If you’re uncertain, a holiday of circular rides gives you the choice of pedalling as much, or as little, as you like. Packages include route notes and two nights’ bed and breakfast at a four-star hotel with spa and leisure facilities. www.cyclebreaks.com
Scottish island hopping
Step aboard a converted traditional wooden fishing boat for a luxury small-ship tour of the Western Isles. It’s a chance to spot wildlife – including whales and dolphins – learn some history and roam true wilderness areas with a small group of like-minded passengers. You can spend six nights exploring the coast of Skye and the islands of the Inner Hebrides, or choose from a range of different 10 night trips. www.themajesticline.co.uk
Sail away from the campsite
Can’t decide whether to go boating or caravanning? Try a caravan that floats. A cunning invention from Germany, the Sealander is a towable, two-bed, amphibious mobile home with an electric outboard motor and a removable roof. It’s just 3.5m long and 1.6m wide. It has cooking, eating and sleeping facilities, so you can head to a campsite, spend your nights on shore and your days sailing across the water. www.sealander.de
Practise painting seascapes
Where better to learn to paint seascapes than at the St Ives School of Painting? Not far from the Tate Gallery in this Cornish artists’ haven, you’ll spend four days trying to capture the beauty of the sea and the shore. ‘Landscape Painting with Natural Pigments’ is just one of a long list of art courses for everyone from beginners upwards. Note that the fee includes all materials but not accommodation. schoolofpainting.co.uk
Stay on Prince Charles’ farm
Charles and Camilla often escape the pomp of their royal duties to their little-known home among beautiful rolling hills near Llandovery, Carmarthenshire. Surprisingly, half of their Llwynywermod Farm holiday retreat is available to rent to ordinary commoners when the heir to the throne isn’t there. These two adjoining cottages provide a fascinating glimpse of their lifestyles and a chance to share their tranquil rural retreat. There’s no throne room or dungeon but you’ll need to be vetted, negotiate tight security and ignore sentry boxes hidden in the trees. It’s worth the hassle to experience the immaculate cottages full of royal nick-nacks, Charles’s charming garden and the walks teeming with wildlife, including red kites. www.duchyofcornwallholidaycottages.co.uk
Get snapping in the Brecon Beacons
Professional landscape and wildlife photographer Steve Hedges’ inspiring three-day course is held amid the peaks, valleys and waterfalls of the Brecon Beacons National Park. So you’ll need to be energetic enough to walk around the hills all day. Steve’s small-group workshops help everyone from beginners to experts develop artistic and technical skills while exploring the Beacons countryside. www.stevehedgesphotography.co.uk
From snapping otters in the lochs of Argyll to capturing reed deer in their autumn rut, hone your photography skills with our guide to Britain’s best wildlife photography courses.
Take a deep breath at a mindfulness retreat
Be guided through a sequence of calming and mindful yoga sessions within the historic walls of Monk Coniston, a romantic and charming national trust property. Set amongst the relaxing greenery of the Lake District, you’ll start your days off with mindfulness meditation sessions before attending a light lunch provided by the house. Then, take time to explore the local area or make the most of the house during the afternoon.
We look at the various ways that nature and the countryside can be used to help improve physical and mental wellbeing.
Enjoy a lamb-watching break
This is the perfect time to visit a farm and see newborn lambs skipping through the grass. There are hundreds of British sheep farms that provide accommodation, either as B&B rooms or in self-catering cottages, each with unique features to suit you: from hot tub lodges in Shropshire to unspoilt and secluded cottages in Powys. Visit: farmstay.co.uk/Accommodation/HolidayIdeas/lambwatch
It’s miraculous. Amazing. Unforgettable. And yet it’s commonplace on British farms. Every year, 16 million ewes give birth in the UK.
These days, lambing takes place anytime between November and May – but the birth rate still peaks in spring.
Take a discovery tour in the Yorkshire Dales
Relax as an expert guide takes you to discover the sights of the Yorkshire Dales on a winter tour through historic castles and leading museums. You’ll travel by mini-coach surrounded by like-minded passengers, and stop in local pubs and cafes for lunch on touring days. And you’ll stay in a grand 19th century house in the rolling Yorkshire countryside.
The valleys, moors, hills and caverns of the Yorkshire Dales are etched with miles and miles of rolling footpaths – explore this atmospheric limestone landscape with our guide to the national park’s best hiking trails.
Immerse yourself in music
From Sidmouth to Stornaway, there are scores of festivals featuring traditional British music in 2016. The Hebridean Celtic Festival on the Isle of Lewis is always memorable: expect vibrant Gaelic music displays and a mixture of local talent with household names. A weekend arena ticket covers entry to events across all venues from Thursday to Saturday. www.hebceltfest.com
Explore an ancient island kingdom
Piel Island is half a mile off the southwest tip of Cumbria. Its 50 acres contain an English Heritage castle, the 18th-century Ship Inn and a few old pilots’ cottages. The human population is just 10 but Piel is a haven for hundreds of seabirds that nest on the beach. Fishing and seal-spotting boat trips can be arranged, too. Piel was the starting point, 500 years ago, for Lambert Simnel’s ill-fated revolt against Henry VII. That story has since transformed into an unlikely tradition: the Ship Inn’s landlords are grandly crowned ‘King of Piel’ and have the power to bestow knighthoods to any visitor who sits in an ancient ceremonial ‘throne’ (and buys a round of drinks for all). The pub serves food packed with local produce and has ensuite rooms, a bunkhouse and campsite. www.pielisland.co.uk
Take a wildlife holiday
Unwind and immerse yourself in the natural world this year – from spotting otters to kayaking with puffins and catching a glimpse of a minke whale, here is our pick of the UK’s best wildlife watching holidays.