The 10 best UK city breaks for a weekend trip in 2023
Days spent lounging in parks, pub gardens with pitchers of Pimms, and strolling along the beach. This will soon be part of the summer routine in the UK, as the coming months bring warmer weather and longer, brighter days.
June, July and August provide opportunities to explore the country when you can be (slightly more) sure that rain and overcast weather won’t ruin your weekend.
It appears that staycations are on the rise in the UK. VisitBritain recently reported that the numbers of people intending to take a short break or stay in UK hotels in the spring or summer are higher than those in 2021 and 2022.
Even though there are an excellent countryside and coastal destinations, some of the best UK locations are its cities.
Need some inspiration for your next break? Here are some of the best UK cities to help you choose your 2023 staycation.
The capital remains the best city in the country for things to do, with world-famous museums, parks, galleries and monuments. Walk through Westminster to see Buckingham Palace, Big Ben or Trafalgar Square (among many other sights), catch a West End show or simply explore Covent Garden, Piccadilly and Leicester Square.
Those who are more artistically minded will enjoy browsing through works by Picasso (at the National Gallery) or Warhol (Tate Modern), but if it all gets a bit too much then you can escape to the city’s various green areas, such as Hyde Park or Regent’s Park. Camden, Soho and Shoreditch are among the best areas for eating and drinking, with markets serving street food, such Borough and Broadway Markets, also popular.
There are no shortage of hotels in London. The Z Hotel Holborn is less than five minutes away from Holborn underground station and under 10 minutes’ walk from Covent Garden, providing the perfect base for exploring the city’s many attractions.
The Industrial Revolution-era powerhouse lays claim to being the city that “invented the weekend”, so what better place to enjoy one? The city has transformed in the last 20 years, with a skyline that has added numerous skyscrapers, and neighbourhoods that have been transformed from “industrial wastelands” into bustling, trendy districts. Many of the buildings in the city centre have retained their old red brick, factory-style facades (despite their interiors making way for apartments, restaurants and even cinemas), adding to the city’s sense of architectural idenity.
The focus in Manchester is not on sightseeing, but rather on general exploration. Spend time in Deansgate – the city’s high street, where you’ll find independent shops and cafes alongside all the expected names – but the canals of Castlefield and the still-industrial streets of Ancoats are worth wandering through for some of the best scenery (and most popular restaurants) in the city. If you’re looking to stay more central, locals will tell you not to miss the Northern Quarter: this is the city’s main nightlife hub, but in the day is a maze of restaurants, shops and cafe ranging, from the high-end to the plainly bizarre.
The Novotel Manchester Centre’s location is among the best in the city, perfectly located for exploring almost every area of the city. It’s also close to Piccadilly station.
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Ranked as TimeOut’s best city in the world in 2022, the Scottish capital is well-known for the architecture of its medieval Old Town and the grand nature of events such as the Festival Fringe and Hogmanay celebrations. One of the most beautiful cities in the UK, its castle and the Royal Mile are among its most well-known attractions, while Victoria Street – a winding street with colourful shopfronts - may be its most photographed.
If you want to escape the crowds, the idyllic Dean Village is just 20 minutes away from the centre, where the Water of Leith river flows through rows of cobblestoned streets and old mills. Anyone wanting a panoramic view is advised to climb Arthur’s Seat, an ancient volcano just under two miles from the city centre. The total journey up and down takes around 90 minutes, but the views are more than worth it.
Sitting within a 1750s sandstone building in the Old Town, Fraser Suites offers bespoke, fashionable rooms just 0.3 miles from the castle.
This West Country city has gained a reputation as a great place to visit, with Conde Nast Traveller naming it the UK’s best city break in 2021. The city has a “hipster” feel to it; this reputation has been added to through the thriving university population, a wide array of street art (including several by Banksy), dozens of weekly musical and cultural events, and an ever-growing range of excellent bars and restaurants, such as Italian mini-chain Bosco or Poco Tapas.
Architecture and sights such as the Clifton Suspension Bridge or SS Great Britain might be the symbols of the city, (and are definitely worth a visit), but anyone wanting to “define” the city should look no further than Gloucester Road, which, for a time, contained the longest unbroken chain of independent retailers in all of Europe. For a more leafy feel, head to Clifton Village, a picturesque area of cafe and pubs that comes alive during weekends and evenings.
The Avon Gorge Hotel has one of the finest views of Bristol – looking out over the Suspension Bridge – which alone make it one of the best recommendations, but its location within Clifton Village also gives it the feel of a stay in a tranquil village rather than a bustling city.
Home to arguably the world’s most famous band (and two famous football clubs), Liverpool is a centre of British history and culture that remains a Unesco City of Music, despite having lost its status as a World Heritage Site. Liverpudlians won’t care though, safe in the knowledge that their city doesn’t need a title to prove its attraction.
The city’s architectural highlights (such as the Three Graces), the waterfront and canal areas (including Royal Albert Dock) and a plethora of galleries and museums (including the International Slavery Museum and works from Rembrandt and Monet in the Walker Gallery) provide more than enough to do on a weekend trip, while the evenings can be spent walking around the buzzing city centre or the more local Baltic Triangle.
When the sun is up, the waterside terrace at Malmaison is a gem for whiling away the hours (the food from the newly revamped restaurant is a delight, too). Whatever the weather, this 130-room hotel has the big, comfy beds and on-trend look to ensure you’ll have a good stay.
Cardiff is the youngest capital city in Europe, having only been proclaimed as such in 1955. It is now Wales’ main city and one of the largest in the UK, with a settlement history stretching back to long before Roman times. The castle (some of which was built in the third century) is the best example of this, while the National Museum (including St Fagans National Museum of History) does most of the present-day showcasing of the city’s long and varied history.
Nowadays, Cardiff is the home of Welsh rugby, the country’s largest football team and a number of universities, making it a popular place to live, learn and visit (and giving it a buzzing vibe on the weekends). Cardiff Bay is an excellent hangout spot for drinks by the waterside, while the Brewery Quarter and Roath are two districts that are worth exploring (if you can bring yourself to venture out of St David’s shopping centre).
Slap-bang in the middle of town, on Cardiff’s pedestrianised Queen Street, this hotel features vivid street art influened by the city. Marco Pierre White Steakhouse Bar & Grill occupies the top floor.
Another UK city with a thriving university population, Newcastle is well-known as being a great party destination, but at the same time it is cultivating a reputation as an excellent choice for a more well-rounded city break. Grainger Town is the historic heart of the city, where Georgian and Victorian architecture blend together to create an impressive centre, including the ever-popular 1830s Grey Street (including the Theatre Royal) and the Grade I listed Grainger Market.
Neighbourhoods such as Jesmond and Ouseburn contain a vibrant mix of locals and students, and are where affordable bars and pubs meet quaint cafes and upmarket restaurants. For a more central hub of nighttime activity, head to the picturesque Quayside for somewhere to spend time along the River Tyne. The city is also an excellent base for exploring nearby sites, such as Hadrian’s Wall, the Northumberland countryside or the beaches (such as Bamburgh).
The Vermont is an independent hotel with views over the cathedral and both the Millennium and Tyne bridges, and just five minutes away from the city centre and main shopping districts.
The Northern Irish capital is a popular destination for city breaks and a great base for exploring more of what the nation has to offer, such as parts of the Causeway Coast. The city is steeped in both recent and ancient British history, with opportunities to learn including the Conflicting Stories walking tour (regarding the Troubles period) or the Titanic Belfast exhibition, contained within the aptly named Titanic Quarter.
Other great neighbourhoods include the Cathedral Quarter – the city’s cultural epicentre, with dozens of bars and pubs centred around a cobblestoned pedestrian street – and the Gaeltacht Quarter, which aims to preserve Irish history and language,(and is where you’re likely to hear traditional folk music and see local arts). Of course, there’s always the city centre too, where shopping areas such as Victoria Square meet more bohemian vendors, like those within St George’s Market. The famous City Hall is also located here.
The Hilton Belfast overlooks the River Lagan and is less than a mile from the city centre, with simple-yet-stylish rooms.
Ranked by Which? as the best city break in the country in 2023, York ranked highly for its mix of great places to stay, eat,drink and shop. Its cultural sights received a five-star rating, and it’s a place brimming with an extensive Roman and Viking history. The York Minster cathedral is the city’s must-see sight, though the Roman walls and Jorvik Viking Centre are the main links to the city’s ancient past.
The Shambles – a narrow medieval street, with 14th-century buildings that house shops and cafes – is another impressive area, but anyone walking around the city will be struck by a charming atmosphere. Walk alongside the Ouse to end up at sights such as Clifford Tower or the Millennium Bridge, or to find the Micklegate Bar, one of the city’s most important medieval gates.
Located in a Grade I-listed Goergian townhouse, Judge’s Lodging has views over York Minster and offers elegantly decorated British-style rooms.
One of the most picturesque cities in the UK, Bath has an impressive mix of history and architecture. The Roman Baths attract hundreds of thousands of visitors every year and are one of the best-preserved examples of Roman architecture in the country, while the Gothic abbey stands right next to the entrance to the baths – a reminder of more recent history. Much of the remaining architecture of the city consists of elegant Georgian buildings, from the Circus to the Royal Crescent.
If a visit to the baths makes you suddenly yearn for a swim, the Thermae Bath Spa offers two-hour sessions in its thermal outdoor pool, mineral baths and ice chambers. If that’s a little too much, walk across Pulteney Bridge to Royal Victoria Park, where from both you get superb views of the river.
Eight has a great city-centre location, right next to the Roman Baths and the Abbey and less than a mile from Royal Crescent. Less is more here, with spacious, simple (but stylish) rooms.
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