Experience the romantic side of the UK with this selection of beautiful city breaks
What hallmarks a city? Is it the hustle and bustle of the industrious citizens overflowing from buildings, pavements and trains as they go about their business? Or is it the meandering tourists, disrupting the flow of human traffic with their unpredictable non-linear actions, stopping abruptly to crane their necks and squeeze the city skyline into the frame of another obnoxious selfie? Perhaps you simply believe cities to be dirty, smog-ridden dens of iniquity worth avoiding altogether.
Despite the attractions of UK cities such as London, Manchester and Glasgow, it is a stretch to call them pretty. They do not have that certain je ne sais quoi of European cities like Amsterdam, Florence, or Bruges. Here we take a look at our own homegrown alternatives and a selection of delightful city breaks right under our noses in some of the prettiest cities in Europe.
There are few cities in the UK that can match the history of York. The countytown of Yorkshire has been the backdrop to many historical nation-shaping political events: early Roman infrastructure, Viking invasions, rebellions, gunpowder plots and civil wars.
Its biggest attraction is the York Minster, established before the Norman invasion of 1066, but whose architecture they rebuilt in their own image. From the gothic style of its exterior to the grand 76ft stained glass display that makes up its great east window (more than half of England’s medieval stained glass is in York Minster), the building is an exercise in rounded arches and characteristically enlarged proportions.
The beauty of York is that there is almost no need to map out sightseeing destinations as the city’s history is all around you. Many of the great stone walls that surrounded the city are still standing to this day and are free for you to walk along. Just keep an eye out for invading Vikings!
York’s famous cobbled shopping district, The Shambles, is so pretty it was once voted the most picturesque street in Britain. First mentioned in the Domesday Book, over 900 years ago, it is one of Europe’s oldest medieval streets, so keep an eye out for the quirky leaning buildings whose roofs almost touch in the middle. Packed with idiosyncratic shops and cafes offering delicious treats – and plenty of historic pubs – you can while away many a happy hour in these glorious surroundings from another age.
Finally, for those of you who enjoy a ghost story, York claims the title of ‘Europe’s most haunted city’, so why not take part in a theatrical night time ghost tour of the city? The most famous is The Ghost Hunt of York, which mixes amateur dramatics and tragic stories to delightful effect.
Those with a penchant for Georgian architecture will love the picturesque city of Bath, which lays in the valley of the River Avon, 97 miles west of London. The city became a World Heritage Site in 1987 and is known throughout Europe for its Roman baths that lend the city its name. There is, however, more to Bath than just a historically good soak.
Especially when you have an attraction as stunning as the Royal Crescent on your doorstep. Built in 1774 by famed Georgian architect, John Wood the Younger, this row of 30 terraced townhouses in a sweeping crescent is one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in the UK and was once home to regency and aristocracy.
In modern times you can explore the period features of the Royal Crescent Museum or even book a
stay in the luxury boutique hotel a little further along the curve. Weather permitting, why not relax on the lawn, sample a picnic lunch and enjoy an afternoon in splendid surroundings?
It would be remiss of you to visit Bath and not pay a visit to the city’s namesake, the Roman Baths. No longer functioning as a spa, it is now a museum. Take a tour of the building, explore a range of roman antiquities and find out more about the Roman’s habits at the time. There is also an opportunity to taste a glass of spa water which claims to contain 43 different minerals. It is an acquired taste to say the least!
Bath has gained a reputation recently as a hotbed of high-quality gastronomical experiences. There are three Michelin-starred restaurants in Bath with the pick of the bunch being the delightful Park Restaurant found at Lucknam Park . Head chef, Hywel Jones, has crafted a menu of rustic, organic dishes that are a delight of textures and hearty flavours.
The greatest joy of Bath, then, is perhaps a combination of the above elements – the fabulous food, the indulgent architecture and the intriguing history. Factors which, when added up, mean that when walking the streets of this wonderful city you will be awestruck by its elegant beauty at every turn.
Edinburgh and London share a few things in common. They are both capital cities, their populations are huge and both are cultural hubs. But while a weekend in London is a whirlwind of endless transport, angry commuters and swathes of people queueing to join a queue. Edinburgh has a more sedate pace.
There are still crowds but nobody seems to be in a rush to get anywhere. Instead, they are content wandering around this delightful city. And why would they not, Edinburgh is a city that celebrates its past while stepping boldly and brightly into the future. You just need to look at the striking design of the Scottish Parliament – a fascinating mix of avant-garde architecture and Scottish heritage. Compare that to the medieval streets found in the Old Town and you realise Edinburgh’s inner beauty can reveal itself in many different ways.
If there is one thing that the Scots are famous for it is being able to throw a good party. Edinburgh’s famous Fringe Festival takes over the city during August and features the best comics, theatre troupes and street performers from across the globe. It is often described as the world’s greatest street party – so eat your heart out Notting Hill Carnival.
If there is one event that encapsulates the sheer joy of Edinburgh then it would have to be Hogmanay. Unlike the English, who would rather spend the evening with Jools Holland and wake up with a sore head, the Scots have a three-day celebration packed full of live music, street parties and copious amounts of libation.
All this sounds enticing enough without mentioning the vast array of museums, theatres and beautiful heritage sites on which to while away your time. There is even a zoo with two giant pandas currently residing in it – not even London can offer that.