Like many of us, I enjoy nights away exploring new parts of the UK. When I book somewhere new to staycation, my planning skills go into overdrive. I need to know what visitor attractions there are, local restaurants, pubs and bars, and the area’s history. The to-do list is created along with a schedule of where we are going and what we are doing.
For a long time, I have loved helping others with their staycation planning too. Many of my friends and family ask for my help. It’s also my job. Over the last year, being home on furlough has been challenging. I miss being in the thick of the tourism industry. And, I have missed getting emails from tourist boards and hearing about places promoting new and exciting experiences. FOMO at its finest!
What are the essential elements of an incredible staycation?
As the (unofficial self-appointed) travel and tourism expert for House 21, I have put together some of my favourite staycation destinations you can visit in 2021. Hopefully, you can discover somewhere or something new. Whether you are travelling alone, as a couple, with friends or for a family holiday, make sure you treat yourself, plan fun activities and make the most of being together.
Ok, I may be biased as it’s my hometown, but Cardiff is fantastic to visit. Looking at the current hotel booking trends, many people seem to be avoiding city breaks and heading to the countryside. However, Cardiff is unlike other major cities. It is so compact you can explore on foot or by bike – which are easy to rent if you don’t want to take your own.
Cardiff’s parks and gardens are beautiful. You will quickly forget that you are in the heart of a vibrant city, with its countryside vibes. Plus, historic castles and manor houses where you can picnic on the lawns. There are more than 25 beaches within a 30-minute drive. As well as world-class theatre, sporting excitement, and top-class food and drink.
My grandmother lived in Llandudno, but when we visited the nearby towns of Conwy or Caernarfon would be our staycation choice. Conwy is a world heritage site, and the imposing castle is the focal point of the town. You can walk along the walls towards the harbour and visit the smallest house in the UK, Quay House. Caernarfon is one of the most famous Welsh castles. Its sheer scale and commanding presence sets it apart.
Both are close to the mighty mountains of Snowdonia National Park, perfect for walking, hiking and rambling. Don’t fancy the climb to the top of Wales’ tallest mountain? Don’t worry, you can reach the summit on the Snowdon Mountain Railway. There are also rugged coastlines, the best beachside pubs and Llanddwyn Island, St Dwynwen’s home. She is the patron saint of lovers and an inspiration to independent ladies since 465CE. Lonely Planet even voted North Wales a must-visit destination.
In so many ways, Bristol reminds me of Cardiff. Again, it’s easy to get around the city. Most of the tourist attractions are within walking distance of each other. The Harbourside reminds me of Cardiff Bay, and there are beautiful country walks such as Leigh Woods, Ashton Court Estate and Blaise Castle. There’s also an abundance of National Trust properties, so I get to utilise my membership with free entry and free parking.
Ultimately, Bristol is a city with a growing reputation for its food. If you’re a foodie, then you need to check out all of the mouth-watering dishes on offer. There are a considerable number of independent restaurants. You can experience food from all over the world. Bristol was also recently been named as the World’s Number One Vegan City.
I haven’t done any extensive exploring of Bath, which is the largest city in Somerset. The last time I visited was for a spa day and stay. The whole city was built for pleasure and relaxation. However, I have been to Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths. The waters are the only natural thermal hot springs in Britain that you can bathe in. Plus, you can take in the Georgian architecture – recently shown off on Netflix’s Bridgerton, and immerse yourself in the remarkable collection of museums and galleries.
I have to be honest with this one. I never considered Plymouth as a staycation destination until I visited the hotel for the group I work for. I fell in love with the city. History fans especially will appreciate what’s on offer. It’s famous for being the home of Sir Francis Drake, and he even played bowls on Plymouth Hoe as the Spanish Armada approached. The Mayflower famously left The Barbican port with the first American settlers on board.
There is also Jacka Bakery, the oldest in the UK, and Plymouth Gin in a Black Friars Distillery that dates back to the 1400’s. Plus, Smeaton’s Tower, The Box, Drake’s Island, Dartmoor National Park, Tamar Valley, Tinside Lido and the National Marine Aquarium – to name only a few.
Looe and Polperro, Cornwall
The two Cornish towns are my favourite staycation destination. Polperro especially. It is a small village, which you can not even drive through. It is a jumble of cottages and houses built around a harbour. It has even featured on Poldark. Even though it is tiny, there are over 50 places where you can eat or drink. From classic homemade pub grub to fine dining. I haven’t had one bad meal there. Rain or shine, I love to have a day pub hopping and soaking up the atmosphere.
Looe is bigger and has a beach, museum with smuggling memorabilia, a coastal walk and a monkey sanctuary. It has some of the best New Year celebrations in the UK. The streets fill up with people in fancy dress, and pubs and restaurants are usually fully booked. At midnight there is a spectacular firework display watched by people on the beach and promenade.
On a sunny day, you could mistake Torquay for a European beach break. It is known as the English Riviera and has palm trees, a busy harbour, a marina and sandy beaches. Gone are the Fawlty Towers vibes. As you walk down the promenade, you’ll see swanky yachts and Michelin starred restaurants. As well as sea views, fresh fish caught that day will definitely be on the menu.
I especially loved Living Coasts, where you could get up close to Penguins – they actually run across your path. Their feeding time is the best interactive experience. As well as getting up close to otters, rays and seals.
The Real Crime Museum was also fascinating. It is set in underground bunkers from WWII. It features gangsters, bank robberies, forensics, police memorabilia, including an actual prison cell from HMP Dorchester, drug smuggling, football violence, and the largest collection of Charles Bronson artwork in the world.
I accidentally booked York on the Viking Festival weekend. Arriving late in the evening and enjoying a drink in a local pub, we giggled at how many people had the look of a Viking. The next day, the streets were teeming with people dressed the part. There was even a procession through the town centre, dramatic combat performances and evening entertainment. The Jorvik Viking Centre is one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions.
The medieval city is a must-visit for history buffs. The Shambles is one of the UK’s most historic streets, which is narrow and cobbled. It is believed that it was the inspiration for Diagon Alley from Harry Potter. You can’t miss York Minster, one of the largest cathedrals in Europe. Nearby, there is Castle Howard, one of England’s most impressive stately homes and the National Railway Museum.
York is a compact walled city. I spent a few hours walking on them, all the way around, taking in the views, sites and tourist attractions along the way. In some unexpected places, you can find a coffee shop, pub or a chocolatier.
I’m a big fan of Scotland. I could have chosen Glasgow or Ayr for this list, but I decided on Edinburgh. Why? You can visit this city without a car. It’s large but still compact enough that you can get around on foot. Make sure you have comfy footwear as it is hilly and some of the older streets are cobbled. Of course, Edinburgh Castle is the focal point of the city. Personally, I think it’s a fort, not a castle, but absolutely worth a visit.
I have been on a Ghost Hunt at night and to the Edinburgh Dungeons. This is stupid, really, as I’m incredibly easy to spook and make jump. The walk up to Arthur’s Seat, the remains of an extinct volcano, is worth it for the stunning view overlooking the city. Of course, one of the biggest highlights for me was eating and drinking my way up The Royal Mile. It is a labyrinth of dank alleys and steep streets, with quirky shops too. A trip to Edinburgh Zoo is also a must. It is home to over 1,000 rare and endangered animals, including chimpanzees, sun bears and the UK’S only koalas and Giant Pandas. The penguin parade is also adorable.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Belfast. There are regular and cheap flights from Bristol (and other airports), making it an affordable staycation. If you are looking for late nights out, Belfast probably shouldn’t be the first choice. It is still old fashioned in some ways. Pubs and nightclubs close at 12pm, and Sundays are a ghost town. Shops, cafes and restaurants do not open until the afternoon.
Like Cardiff and Bristol, you can walk around the city easily and to the tourist attractions. The Crumlin Road Gaol tells the story of Northern Ireland’s “troubles”, and you have to see the Peace Wall, a mass of colourful murals. Must-sees are The Cathedral, Botanic Gardens and St George’s Market. The biggest tourist attraction is Titanic Belfast. Arguably the worlds most famous ill-fated vessel, which was built in Belfast. There are interactive and entertaining galleries telling the ship’s story, and even its sinking and the discovery of the wreck.
You can also hire a car or a daily bus tour to Giants Causeway, a world heritage site. It is an epic sight, with over 40,000 hexagonal shaped stepping stones that date back almost 60 million years. It has even been voted the 4th greatest natural wonder in the UK.
Best staycations UK 2021
There’s no time like the present to start planning. If you are still nervous about travel under the current COVID-19 regulations, make sure you check out virtual tours of your favourite museums and destinations for now. Now is the perfect time to see more. For a more extensive list, check out my holiday staycation ideas.
Where will you be going on a staycation in 2021?