Britain's best alternative holiday ideas

Fancy an unusual and memorable holiday this summer? Here is our guide to alternative holiday ideas for some off-the-beaten-track and unique experiences in the UK.

Viaduct with moorland and mountain view
Published: January 31st, 2020 at 11:15 am
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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.

UK’s most scenic public transport routes

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.

See our guide to the best public transport routes in the UK


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

A vintage steam train passes over the Ribblehead viaduct (1874) in North YorkshireEngland, UKIt is the longest and most famous viaduct on the Settle-Carlisle Railway, a railway line passing through some spectacular British scenery. The first stone was laid on 12 October 1870 and the last in 1874
Take the spectacular Settle to Carlisle route via the Ribblehead viaduct (built 1874) in North Yorkshire. The viaduct is 400m long and 24 massive columns carry it 32m above the moor below. Getty Images


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?

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Learn to whittle wood and other traditional woodland crafts with the National Trust. Getty Images


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.

Best walks in Dorset

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.

Here's our guide to some of the county's best walks

Chapman's pool, Dorset

It’s part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site with spectacular rock formations around every corner – but lots of ups and downs, too.

A colourful sunset over Durdle Door on the Jurassic Coast, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Dorset, England, United Kingdom, Europe
Walk the spectacular Dorset coast and catch a colourful sunset over Durdle Door. Don't forget to look for fossils along the way. Getty Images


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.

The Cotswold village of Kingham, Oxfordshire, England.
Is the village of Kingham the food capital of the Cotswolds? Getty Images.


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.

Dunnottar Castle is a ruined medieval fortress located upon a rocky headland on the north east coast of Scotland, about two miles (3 km) south of Stonehaven. The surviving buildings are largely of the 15th 16th centuries, but the site is believed to have been an early fortress of the Dark Ages.
Dunnottar Castle is a ruined medieval fortress located upon a rocky headland on the north east coast of Scotland, about two miles (3 km) south of Stonehaven. The surviving buildings are largely of the 15th 16th centuries, but the site is believed to have been an early fortress of the Dark Ages. Getty Images

Guide to Britain’s castles: history and best to visit

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Castle and river

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.

The Radcliffe Camera (Camera, meaning room in Latin) is situated in Oxford, England. Designed by James Gibbs in English Palladian Style and built in 1737-1749The work was funded from the estate of John Radcliffe. The building serves as a reading room for the Bodleian Library. Sited to the south of the Old Bodleian, north of St. Mary's Church and between Brasenose College (west) and All Souls College (east)
The Radcliffe Camera, one of the 'golden spires' of Oxford was built 1737-1749 in the Palladian style. (Getty Images) JRR Tolkien used it as inspiration for Sauron's temple in his Lord of the Rings prequel The Silmarilien


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.


Cycle through Constable Country

Willy Lot's House Cottage, Flatford Mill, Suffolk, England. An ancient farmhouse made famous by a painting by artist John Constable. (Photo By: Geography Photos/UIG via Getty Images)
Willy Lot's House Cottage, Flatford Mill, Suffolk, England. An ancient farmhouse made famous by a painting by artist John Constable. (Getty Images)

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.


Scottish island hopping

Isle of Berneray (Bearnaraidh). a small island located in the sound of Harris at the nothern tip of North Uist. West Beach with the mountains of Harris in the background. Europe. Scotland. June. (Photo by: Martin Zwick/REDA&CO/UIG via Getty Images)
The tropical white sands of the Isle of Berneray (Bearnaraidh) a small island located in the sound of Harris at the nothern tip of North Uist. (Getty Images)

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.


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.

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Sealander – the caravan that turns into a boat.


Practise painting seascapes

ST IVES, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 10: A woman looks at works from the Tate collection in the newly rehung galleries in the interior of the Tate St Ives which is set to reopen to the public this weekend after a four-year £20 million transformation in St Ives on October 10, 2017 in Cornwall, England. The extensive building project has doubled the space for showing art inside the gallery, which was originally built in 1993, adding almost 600 square metres of galleries, creating new studios for learning activities and enough space to accommodate the quarter of a million visitors it welcomes each year. Tate St Ives, which is said to bring £11 million annually to the local economy, will now be able to provide a permanent presence to iconic 20th century artists who lived and worked in the town helping to demonstrate the role of St Ives in the story of modern art as well as offering a new programme of large-scale seasonal shows. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
The Tate Gallery at St Ives Getty Images

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.


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.


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.

Best wildlife photography courses in Britain

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.

See our pick of the best wildlife photography courses

Male photographer outdoors


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.

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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:

Our guide to lambing, including when it takes place, what happens and where you can see it.

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.

Discover where to watch lambing


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.

Best walks in the Yorkshire Dales National Park

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.

Find walking routes in the Yorkshire Dales

Viaduct with moorland and mountain view


Immerse yourself in music

Traditional and modern morris dancing during Sidmouth Folk Week in Devon.

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.


Explore an ancient island kingdom

The lifeboat station in the harbour on Roa Island, Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria circa 1989. The castle on nearby Piel Island can be seen in the background. (Photo by RDImages/Epics/Getty Images)
The lifeboat station in the harbour on Roa Island, Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria circa 1989. The castle on nearby Piel Island can be seen in the background. (Photo by RDImages/Epics/Getty Images)

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.


Take a wildlife holiday

Otter on the Isle of Mull, Scotland, UK
Isle of Mull, Scotland, UK

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.


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