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The UK’s Top 4 Unusual Weekend Breaks

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3 months ago

Looking for unusual weekend breaks in the UK? Don’t want to deal with the hassle of international flights? After four years living in the UK, I have made a conscious effort to travel across the width and breadth of this beautiful country – and here are my top four UK off-the-beaten-path weekend escapes.

If you have visited any museum in London or done a day trip to Stonehenge or Oxford, you might be thinking that the United Kingdom is just full of tourists all the time. In my opinion, most well-visited tourist destinations follow the 80/20 rule: 80% of people in 20% of places. In this article, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite remote and unusual weekend breaks in the UK (well, the British Isles!). 

The United Kingdom is home to some of the stunning vistas in Europe. Rugged cliffs dotted with little colorful towns, empty beaches with a lone fish-and-chips stand or a warm cosy pub. Not to mention some of the greenest rolling hills that wouldn’t be out of place in New Zealand or Patagonia.

4. Shetland Islands

The Shetland Islands are probably the most remote and difficult locations to reach in the UK. But I promise you, it’s worth the effort!

If the Scandinavian-style flag throws you off, there is good reason for that. The Shetland Islands are proud of a long history as the bridge between the Norse world and the British Isles. Many of the villages in the Shetlands are actually built in Scandinavian style – with tall roofs and bright colors. If it isn’t clear yet – the Shetland Islands could be the most unique places to visit in the UK!

As you drive around the Shetland Islands, keep your eyes open for migrating whales. I was lucky enough to spot two killer whales during my weekend here!

The Jarlshorf prehistoric and Norse settlement archaeological site is a major highlight of visiting the Shetland Islands. Here, you can literally walk among 4000+ year ruins of human settlement.

How to get to the Shetland Islands

The main airport at the Shetlands Islands is located at Sumburgh (Airport Code: LSI).

At the time of writing, there are regular direct flights from the Shetland Islands to major cities across Scotland, including: Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness. These flights are generally timed to allow connections from London Heathrow.

Where to stay in the Shetland Islands

I generally recommend staying in the capital, Lerwick. Conveniently located in the middle of the main island, Lerwick an ideal base for day trips to the north and south. 

3. Isle of Harris and Isle of Lewis, Scotland

Often overshadowed by the more accessible and (deservedly) famous Isle of Skye, the interconnected Isles of Harris and Lewis are home to the most beautiful beaches in the United Kingdom.

The islands form part of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides. This is the Scotland of yesteryear. Sitting in the little pubs of Tarbert, you are just as likely to hear people speaking Gaelic as English.

I can also firmly attest that Luskentyre Beach is the most beautiful beach in the United Kingdom. Unfortunately the weather in the Outer Hebrides is very rarely suited for swimming – but just look at this water!

How to get to the Isle of Harris and Isle of Lewis

By boat

If you are on an extended Scotland road trip, please consider tagging on a few days to visit the Outer Hebrides. Caledonian MacBrayne Ferries run regular daily ferries between the Isle of Skye, Outer Hebrides and the Scottish mainland.

In my opinion, every Scotland road trip should include the Outer Hebrides. For example, you can easily build a little triangle and connect with ferries: Isle of Skye, Outer Hebrides and then return to Ullapool, from where you can continue to Inverness in just over an hour.

By plane

The main air gateway to the Isle of Harris and Isle of Lewis is the small airport at Stornoway (Airport code: SYY). Loganair offer regular flights to Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness, with onwards connections to London. You might even want to couple your triple to the Isles with one day in Edinburgh or one day in Glasgow.

Where to stay in the Isle of Harris and Isle of Lewis

Accommodation options are more limited here and you will almost certainly have a car with you. In saying that, I would recommend picking an accommodation option that suits you best.

I stayed at Pairc an t-Srath Guest House (you won’t find it on the big booking websites) and can confidently state it was one of the most memorable guesthouses I have ever stayed at. A bed and breakfast in the truest sense, the morning breakfast overlooking the fields of sheep and ocean in the distance was a real highlight of my visit.

Make sure you pick the right place to stay on the Isle of Harris and the Isle of Lewis for an elevated experience. And make sure to Scotland’s great traditional food when you’re in the area.

2. Isle of Man

Technically, the Isle of Man is not part of the UK but rather an autonomous Crown dependency.

What does this mean for you? You can basically visit a new country with the ease of taking a domestic flight! The Isle of Man truly is one of the most unusual weekend breaks in the UK!

In my opinion, the Isle of Man is the ideal weekend escape from London, Manchester or Dublin. From the majestic castles of Peel and Castletown to the iconic Great Laxey Water Wheel, you won’t run out of things to do with 3 or 4 days in the Isle of Man.

Make sure you also dedicate some time to learning about the 10,000+ years of unique history in the Isle of Man at the Manx Museum in Douglas.

Unlike other destinations on this list, the Isle of Man is home to a high-quality dining scene, with countless excellent restaurants and a local Manx pride in using local produce. From homemade sourdough to plant-based vegan dining, eating out in the Isle of Man often feels like you’re back in East London’s hip neighborhoods!

When I say the Isle of Man doesn’t operate as part of the UK, I really mean it. Most UK phone companies will not cover you for roaming in the Isle of Man. If you are planning a visit, make sure you have your Isle of Man eSIM ready to go beforehand!

How to get to the Isle of Man

By plane

There are numerous daily flights from London Heathrow, London Gatwick and London City to the Isle of Man’s Ronaldsway Airport. This means you can be in the Isle of Man in under an hour. The best part? Budget airline Easyjet operates regular flights to the Isle of Man, making this perhaps the most affordable off-the-beaten-path location to reach from London!

There are also direct flights from the Isle of Man to Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Dublin and Belfast.

By boat

If you have a bit more time to spare, during the summer there are regular ferries from Liverpool and Belfast to the Isle of Man.

Looking for a unique overland trip in the British Isles? Consider traveling by ferry from Liverpool to the Isle of Man and then onwards to Northern Ireland.

Where to stay in the Isle of Man

I would recommend staying in Douglas, the capital.

Firstly, Douglas has the most options for both accommodation and restaurants – making it an uber comfortable base to visit the Isle of Man. Second, Douglas itself has an abundance of sights to visit, including the excellent Manx Museum.

1. Pembrokeshire, Wales

Pembrokeshire holds a special place in my heart. This beautiful coastal region offers the best of Wales (and the UK): huge cliffs, not-too-difficult coastal paths, small abandoned churches and delicious Welsh cakes.

With so many little secluded towns to choose from, Pembrokeshire also takes our award for the most unusual romantic weekend break in the UK!

How to get to Pembrokeshire

I’ll be upfront: Pembrokeshire isn’t easy to access. But let’s be honest, it wouldn’t be one of our unusual weekend breaks in the UK if it were easy!

If you have your own car, the main towns in Pembrokeshire can be accessed in about 2.5 hours from Cardiff or 5 hours from London. If you are coming from outside the UK, I would recommend flying into Cardiff Airport (CWL) and renting a car at Cardiff Airport.

You can visit Pembrokeshire by public transport, but it does quickly become a little bit of a headache. There are regular trains to Haverfordwest, which take approximately 2.5 hours from Cardiff. From Haverfordwest, you can catch a taxi to major towns like Broad Haven, Little Haven or St David’s.

Where to stay in Pembrokeshire

I always stay in Broad Haven: the beach is perfect (and often empty), the fish and chips are first class and the town makes a great base to nearby picturesque towns like Little Haven and St David’s (both of which are worth a visit). And while you’re Wales, make sure to try the best of the traditional foods of Wales.

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