Although all holidays have been in short supply of late, the city break has perhaps suffered the biggest downturn in fortune. But with the roadmap out of lockdown now in place, it is time to think about exploring our great cities once again. Britain’s best hubs are a melting pot of history, stimulating cultural attractions, exciting restaurants and irrepressible energy.
Self-catering properties are set to be unlocked first on April 12, meaning a spring holiday rental with your household is well within reach. It’s worth noting there is a grey area surrounding aparthotels, with some still seeking clarification from the Government on whether they will be able to open or must wait until May 17 like other hotels and b&bs.
Here we round up Britain’s best city breaks, with suggestions on where to stay in each.
How to travel in 2021
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Best for all-round adventure… London
Ignore the dour headlines about London’s decline. The true story of the capital during the pandemic is one of ingenuity, with hospitality businesses shape-shifting to survive and providing much-needed relief to locals. By mid-April, Soho’s streets will likely be converted to al fresco drinking and dining zones once more and Covent Garden’s pavement cafés will be humming again. Stay close to the action at Newton House (Sleeps six. From £250 per night; sawdays.co.uk) in Holborn, a five-storey townhouse full of trinkets and quirky touches from its actor owners. Looking to stretch your legs? Further out, enjoy leafy strolls in Kew Gardens, or walk The Line, London’s first public art and sculpture trail, which stretches from Stratford to Greenwich.
Best for history buffs… York
Encircled by Roman walls, few cities can rival York when it comes to history. Much of the city’s delights are found outdoors, from the Minster’s gothic facade, to the cobbled Shambles, a street that routinely draws comparisons to a Harry Potter set but in reality is much more magical. Head to street food hub Spark (reopening April 12), where tacos, beers and burgers are rustled up in repurposed shipping containers. For a suitably historic stay, book Lendal Tower (Sleeps six. From £840 for three nights; hostunusual.com), which overlooks the River Ouse and dates back to 1299. The old water tower has been converted in swish medieval style, with wood-panelled walls and heavy beams. A ship-style ladder leads to the roof terrace with views across the city.
Best for romance… Edinburgh
The Scottish Government hasn’t announced specific dates for reopening self-catering properties and hospitality venues, although it is expected that many could return in the last week of April, when the country reverts back to a tier system. Edinburgh makes for the perfect city break, with its navigable size and fascinating mix of medieval streets and elegant Georgian buildings. Clamber up to the top of Arthur’s Seat or Calton Hill for glorious views over the city, ideally armed with supplies from Mimi’s Bakehouse. For a romantic weekend away, book Holyrood Cottage (Sleeps two. From £75 per night; sawdays.co.uk), a small bolthole on the northern edge of Holyrood Park, where the surrounds are so quiet you could almost be in the countryside. Highlights include the little patio garden, sunny conservatory and wood-burner (in case those cold Scottish nights creep in).
Best for music fans… Manchester
A trip to this northern powerhouse is something of a pilgrimage for many music fans. Whether you’re channelling the Smiths by snapping a picture outside the Salford Lads’ Club, or walking past the legendary Hacienda nightclub (now converted into flats), you’re never far from a music moment in Manchester. Street art has also taken off in recent years, with arresting murals such as Serenity, a huge portrait of a woman in a red dress. Make a beeline for Stevenson Square, where buildings are repainted every three months by street artists as part of the city’s Outhouse Project. Airbnb features plenty of industrial-looking warehouse flats in the hip Northern Quarter. A top choice is a two-bedroom Victorian loft conversion (sleeps six. From £95 per night; airbnb.com), which has good availability throughout late April and May.
Best for Austen and antiques… Bath
Bath is a classic city break, with its attractive Georgian architecture and Jane Austen connections. Sadly the city’s other big draw, the Roman Baths complex, looks set to remain closed until at least May 17, but there’s still plenty to explore. On a spring visit, explore Walcot Street and London Road, which form Bath’s artisan quarter and are full of antique, interiors and furniture shops. Stay at Johnstone on the Weir (Sleeps two. From £982 for a week; cottages.com), a grand apartment with a winning location by the River Avon. The building was designed by renowned Bath architect Thomas Baldwin and its high ceilings and arched windows give it a real sense of place, while the original marble fireplace and sparkling chandeliers mean it’s a cut above most holiday rentals.
Best for a quirky break… Bristol
Creative Bristol is always a winner for a weekend away. From admiring local boy Banksy’s famous murals, to perusing the wares at St Nicholas Market or having a swim at Bristol Lido (which should be able to reopen from March 29) there’s no shortage of interesting activities, even with restrictions in place. For a particularly novel day out, try The Wave, a man-made inland surfing experience that’s suitable for all skill levels. Airbnb features a fittingly quirky cottage in Clifton Village (Sleeps five. From £150 a night; airbnb.com), which has an upside-down layout – the kitchen and living room are on the top floor with the bedrooms downstairs.
Best for a seaside escape… Brighton
Perennially popular Brighton is not often short of visitors, but booking self-catering stays in the five-week window before hotels reopen and group trips are allowed could mean catching the city a little quieter. Beyond the beach, Brighton has a delightfully offbeat identity. Browse the quirky vintage clothes shops on North Laine – it’s time to change out of that loungewear. Airbnb rules the holiday rental scene here, with some of the best options in villagey Kemptown or the laidback Seven Dials area. In the latter is a breezy townhouse flat (Sleeps four. From £125 per night; airbnb.com) complete with sleek kitchen and French doors leading to a patio.
Best for scholarly types… Oxford
Oxford is a city defined by its university, which only adds to its city break appeal. Of course you have the historic colleges to wander past and landmarks like the 15th-century Bodleian Library and the Palladian-style Radcliffe Camera. However, the city isn’t stuck in the past; its ever-renewing student population keeping a buzz about the place. Takeaway pints and al fresco dining should be in full swing later this spring. Though it hasn’t yet announced reopening plans, the Cherwell Boathouse restaurant will likely be a top spot, with its large deck and riverside setting. The Old Station House (Sleeps four. From £144 per night; situ.co.uk) is a modern serviced apartment in a central location, with a decent dining area, smart TV and two large bedrooms.
Best for culture.. Liverpool
Few cities can rival Liverpool for cultural cachet. For Beatles fans, a trip to Penny Lane is almost obligatory but Strawberry Field and the bandstand at Sefton Park – said to be where Paul McCartney found the inspiration for Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club band – should also be on the list. Football fans can stroll to Anfield’s famous Shankly Gates, emblazoned with the stirring ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, or head across to Goodison Park, if they are so inclined. For an unusual base, book a stay onboard the surprisingly spacious and stylish Liverpool Houseboat moored in the Liverpool Yacht Club and Marina (Sleeps 6. From £805 per week; hostunusual.com).
Best for gardens… Glasgow
In normal times, Glasgow has a thriving nightlife scene, but while that is on pause for a little longer, other elements of Scotland’s second city can shine. The 360-acre Pollok Country Park in the south of the city is the perfect spot for a picnic surrounded by gently grazing Highland Cattle. Elsewhere, stroll around the pretty Botanic Gardens, which have remained open throughout the lockdown, though the impressive wrought-iron greenhouse, Kibble Palace, is closed for now. Don’t forget to pick-up an ice cream from the kiosk. A nearby holiday rental option is a studio that bills itself as The Writer’s Retreat (Sleeps two. From £210 for two nights; airbnb.com). Double height ceilings and a mezzanine bedroom lend a spacious feel, while original features include ornate cornicing and a decorative fireplace.