If you’re looking for UK city breaks, these three will all hit the spot for a weekend away. If money is tight, do what I do — travel by coach.
I have always loved the coach (trains feel so clinical to me, I can’t relax), so I often travel with National Express.
Even long journeys are over very quickly with a nap and a little TV to pass the time. National Express coaches have plugs to keep your phone or laptop charged, and it even has its own entertainment app VUER, that provides free Wi-Fi to watch movies, TV shows, news and sport as well as having a games selection.
If, like me, you’re trying to reduce your carbon footprint by avoiding flights but find trains a little too expensive, getting the coach makes the whole of the UK accessible and National Express coaches meet the latest standards for engine emissions. Here are three northern cities to consider for UK staycation ideas, or click here for something a little more laid back.
UK city break: Leeds
Leeds is often referred to as “the capital of Yorkshire”. It has to be at the top of the list because I lived there for three years, so it holds a special place in my heart. It is a small city which makes it easy to explore on foot and you can tick off most activities in just one weekend.
It is an amazing place to go shopping as Kirkgate Market, which is Grade I listed, is where Michael Marks of Marks and Spencer first worked. You can find all sorts of things here to this day, with over 400 stalls selling textiles, tea, fresh flowers and street food. At the nearby Corn Exchange, you’ll find indie boutiques and vintage shops as well as quirky food. It is in an incredible round Victorian building which is a sight in itself. Similarly, head to The Arcades. The shopping is high end but whether you’re into that or not it is a beautiful old building.
Despite being a busy UK city, there is plenty of nature and wildlife to uncover. Roundhay Park is one of the biggest in Europe, with lakes to stroll along and trails to explore. The Yorkshire Dales are right on the city’s doorstep, so it can be your HQ for adventures further afield.
At night head down Call Lane, a street famous for fancy bars and live music venues (and you won’t find a load of first-year university students). I recommend Call Lane Social, Smokestack, Neon Cactus and Oporto. You’re less likely to find students here (if that is a concern).
UK city break: Manchester
Spend your day in the Northern Quarter visiting galleries, or shopping in the gigantic Trafford Centre. Then head a little bit out of town to Curry Mile; famous throughout the UK, it is the largest concentration of Asian restaurants in the UK including Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi.
Then head back into town (trust me, the curry diversion will be worth it) and go and see some live music. Manchester is world famous for homegrown bands including Oasis, The Smiths, Chemical Brothers and Take That — and the music scene is still thriving. I hear that YES is the newest music venue in town. If you fancy staying up all night, plan your visit around Warehouse Project which takes places in a huge empty depot.
There are free museums aplenty to choose from as well: Manchester Museum, Manchester Art Gallery, the Museum of Science and Industry, Imperial War Museum North, the People’s History Museum, and the National Football Museum.
If you’re spending the night, I highly recommend staying at the Kimpton Clocktower Hotel (which used to be called The Palace Hotel). According to The Manchester Evening News, the grade II*-star listed building was designed by town hall architect Alfred Waterhouse and completed in 1895, and was originally the headquarters of life insurance and pensions provider The Refuge Assurance Company. The business relocated in 1987 and the building lay empty for several years until reopening as the Palace Hotel in 1996.
UK city break: Liverpool
If you’re a fan of the band then it goes without saying you have to visit the immersive walk-through journey at The Beatles Story. Otherwise, spend your day at Tate Liverpool and go for a ride down along the water on the hop-on-hop-off Mersey Ferry. On Bold Street you’ll find lots of independent shops to explore and over on Wood Street you’ll find FACT, an indie gallery and cinema.
Spend the night at The Cavern Club which opened in the 50s and has seen many famous acts perform over the years from The Beatles to Rolling Stones and the Kinks. It closed in the early 1980s but reopened later that decade thanks to investment from Liverpool FC player Tommy Smith.
Just outside Manchester, you’ll find Knowsley Safari — an unexpected rarity in UK travel sights. It’s a 550-acre site you can drive through with 700 wild animals, including baboons, camels, giraffes, wildebeest, lions, birds of prey, sea lions, meerkats, and the newly opened wold trail.