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Cliff camping in Snowdonia
Photograph: Gaia Adventures

The best places to visit in the UK in 2021

Planning to holiday closer to home in 2021? These are the best UK holiday destinations to visit this year, from remote islands to rural idylls

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Written by
Ellie Walker-Arnott
&
Rosie Hewitson
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Thanks to lockdowns and travel restrictions, 2020 was officially the year to holiday closer to home – and, luckily, it didn’t even feel like a compromise. Sure, the UK might be small, but when it comes to amazing landscapes, world-class attractions and incredible history, this country really can’t be beaten. 

International travel might be opening up now, though all the faffing about with PCR tests and quarantines means that opting for a UK adventure has never been so appealing. So forget green lists and vaccine passports – we’ll be booking up the incredible British campsites and treehouses, cabins and cottages that don’t come with so much Covid-related risk. From remote islands to lush national parks, here’s the lowdown on the best UK holiday destinations and places to visit in 2021.

RECOMMENDED: The best weekend breaks from London

The best places to visit in the UK

Thought lockdown 3.0 was isolating? This tiny island off the coast of Devon, which successfully raised funds to secure its survival this year, is truly remote and home to less than 30 people and some puffins. It’s dotted with historic buildings that have been turned into holiday rentals for people seeking solitude (a couple of the cottages sleep just one) or the feeling of being temporarily cut off from the real world as well as the mainland. Ideal if you don’t feel like you’re actually on vaycay until you’ve crossed a body of water.
Four-night stay from £123. 

No one wants to be queuing to reach the summit of Snowdon, as happened last summer, but there are ways to explore this mega National Park in north Wales, and its surrounding countryside, without adding to the potential crowds. You won’t find many people kipping off the edge of a cliff, for example. Make up for all the months of being extremely indoors by spending the night on a portaledge tent suspended above the waves. Or push your heart rate up by taking a rock-climbing course and making your way up the area’s peaks the super-steep way.
Cliff camping from £200 per person, climbing from £60 per day. 

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You don’t need to venture too far from the city to discover bucolic countryside. Hop outside the M25 to the Essex-Suffolk border and you’ll find yourself in the fertile landscape around the River Stour, populated with riverside pubs, neat villages (bed down for the night at The Sun Inn in Dedham, after filling up on local Tiptree jam and scones) and, in midsummer, trees bowing with the weight of their own lushness. If it feels like you’re in a Romantic masterpiece, that’s because you basically are: this bloody beautiful corner of the country inspired the paintings of John Constable – and will also make great content for the grid.
The Sun Inn. From £150 a night. 

You can social distance without trying to in Norfolk: this wide, flat county feels vast and wonderfully empty even in the height of summer. Head to pinewood-edged Holkham Beach for more sandy space than you know what to do with, rent a self-contained canal boat and bob your way along the Broads or book at The Harper in Langham. Opened this spring, the hotel offers laidback luxury, low-key fine dining and a wellness focus in a former glass-blowing factory, all minutes from the coast – and Blakeney’s seal colony if you need to swerve human interaction for an afternoon.
The Harper. From £175 a night. 

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A noisy, vibrant metropolis might not seem like the best place to head for if you’re craving a dose of nature, but Manchester could be just the place right now – thanks to the recent opening of RHS Bridgewater. The Royal Horticultural Society’s fifth public garden is a grand 154-acre patch in the grounds of Salford’s Worsley New Hall. It opened in May 2021, and so visitors this summer will be among the first to discover its ancient walled garden, community growing area, orchard, peaceful lake and acres of wildlife-rich woodland.

You’ll find trickling rivers, craggy peaks, heath, moorland and classic hills of the rolling variety at this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty near the Welsh border. For total tranquillity, visit the quiet village of Clun with its ancient ruins. For a bit more action, try pretty Ludlow, for its historic centre, grand castle and buzzy food scene. Had more exotic adventures in mind entirely? Book one of the lodges at West Midland Safari Park, which is ever-so-slightly over the county border in Worcestershire. The newly opened luxury cabins sleep up to six and are integrated with the wildlife habitats, offering unbeatable, up-close views of the elephants and cheetahs. Wild!
West Midland Safari Park lodges. From £179 per adult per night.

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There’s never a bad time to visit the Lakes, but in 2021 there’s a special reason. This year is the seventieth anniversary of the Lake District’s glassy waters and towering peaks, including England’s highest mountain and deepest lake, officially becoming a National Park. Celebrate the big one by booking a hotel room with an epic view at Another Place, admiring those green and pleasant views from a hiking trail, hiring a paddleboard or rowing boat to float around Coniston Water on or hopping between towns and villages sampling local ales. First stop: the Drunken Duck pub and brewery on a rural crossroads in the middle of nowhere.
Another Place. From £190 a night.   

We’re big fans of Kent. Not only is it handily close to London, it’s also got holiday destinations to suit all requirements: rural idylls in the Kent Downs, historic cities like Canterbury, jolly seaside resorts like Margate that’ll placate even those most reluctant to leave east London, and weird, otherworldly spots like Dungeness. If feeling a million miles away from the city, but if only having to travel around 50 is the aim, try Sheppey. Not cutesy like nearby Whitstable, it has really unique island vibes, with vast marshland and even vaster skies. A night or two in an Elmley cabin with floor-to-ceiling nature reserve views is a must-book, particularly if you manage to get away during the rescheduled Estuary Festival which is taking place nearby across May and June.
Elmley Nature Reserve. From £85 a night.

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By the end of 2021, England is going to have the longest coastal walking route on the planet. At 2,800 miles long, the walk will link up some already existing coastal paths, improve others and, in some places, create new routes for hikers to appreciate the country’s really very pretty coastline. For a preview, check out the quiet Lincolnshire coast section between Skegness and Mablethorpe, which is already open. You could do the whole sand-dune-lined stretch, which runs alongside the North Sea, in about six hours or break it up over a few days. Make sure you pause to spot art installations en route and stop off at Anderby Creek Cloud Bar for a stint watching the clouds overhead and the North Sea Observatory for views of the waves. 

West Highlands, Scotland
Photograph: Andrew Woodhouse

10. West Highlands, Scotland

A truth for our times: the rural wilds of the Scottish Highlands have never been as appealing as they are right now. But with tourists expected to descend on the North Coast 500 route in their droves this year, you might want to head somewhere less... populated. Luckily the West Highlands are edged by secluded spots that are equally as stunning. You could give wild camping a try (it’s legal in Scotland, FYI) or get up close to Loch Beag and its local wildlife during a stay at the many-windowed holiday house The Net Store at the water’s edge. For a week of being totally undisturbed, book a cottage on the topically named Isle of Rona that sits between Skye and the mainland. Apart from you, the tiny island has a population of just two.
The Net Store. Sleeps four. Three-night stay from £630. Isle of Rona. Sleeps up to eight in three cottages. From £71 a night. 

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