Six fantastic UK holiday destinations you should consider in 2021

Sussex and Hampshire

Goodwood Circuit near Chichester, West Sussex, England ©VisitBritain/Andrew Pickett

An east-west tour along the A272 beginning in the High Weald AONB and ending on the western edge of the South Downs National Park takes in beauty spots and interesting places to visit. Starting at Five Ashes near Mayfield in East Sussex the road passes through Hadlow Down, a village sitting atop one of the ridges that make up the High Weald, with lovely views to the north and south. The village is known for its annual steam traction engine rally held in May. The road passes through the villages of Buxted, where the first canon was made in the 16th century and Maresfield, which sits on the edge of Ashdown Forest.

Heading west the road reaches the pretty village of Newick, which like many villages in the vicinity has a bonfire society that takes part in the annual Bonfire Night torchlit procession through nearby Lewes. The medieval county town of East Sussex is worth the 20-minute diversion. Highlights include a Norman castle, Anne of Cleves townhouse and the ruins of a Cluniac priory. The town’s steep narrow streets will be hard to navigate in a large vehicle. North of Newick, off the A275, is the National Trust Sheffield Park and Gardens and the Bluebell Railway.

Diverting south of the market town of Haywards Heath, on the B2112, will take you across Ditchling Common and into pretty Ditchling Village, where you will find the Museum of Arts and Crafts. Make the steep climb up to Ditchling Beacon for far-reaching views across the South Downs and Brighton, just a few minutes’ drive away. Plumpton Racecourse is nearby and the area is home to several vineyards, including, back on the A272, Bolney Wine Estate, which holds tours and tastings and has a café.

Passing by Cuckfield, over the A23, on through Cowfold, across the A24 and through several attractive villages the road enters the South Downs National Park and arrives at the ancient market town of Petworth. Adjoining Petworth House and its parkland designed by Capability Brown, the town is known for its proliferation of antique shops. Note that the streets are tight and there is a one-way system, but it’s worth parking up in the grounds of Petworth House to visit the stately home and a wander around the town.

Between Petworth and Petersfield there are countless gorgeous villages dotted among the gentle undulations of the South Downs and it’s certainly worth exploring to the north and south of the road. To the south you will find Goodwood, a Roman Villa at Bignor and the celebrated gardens of West Dene.

At Petersfield the road diverts to the north, briefly joining with the A3 until it emerges again at a roundabout on the west side of the town to continue on to the beautiful city of Winchester. Explore the ancient streets, the cathedral and the Great Hall with its magnificent round table.

The route is a scenic treat packed with lovely villages, vineyards and great views. 


Herefordshire and Shropshire

The River Wye and the borders of the counties of Herefordshire and Gloucestershire ©VisitBritain/Andrew Pickett

The A49, in western England, is a south-north route crossing the Welsh Marches border counties running north from Ross-on-Wye in Herefordshire and linking the medieval market towns of Hereford, Leominster, Ludlow, Shrewsbury and Whitchurch. It encounters two areas of outstanding natural beauty and provides highlights that will please both foodie and historian travellers.

The route starts in the ancient market town of Ross-on-Wye, the gateway to the Wye Valley AONB. It skirts the western edge of the northern section of the Wye Valley AONB to reach the city of Hereford, a foodie destination known for its Hereford beef, cider, asparagus and winter vegetables. Stop here to visit Herefordshire’s cider route (, which will take you on a tour of producers in Herefordshire and the Wye Valley, where you can sample ciders, perries, and fruit juices. Historians will want to visit the cathedral to see the 13th-century Mappa Mundi, the largest medieval map in the world.  

North of Hereford the road follows the Lugg valley towards Leominster, a stunning black and white town once famous as a wool centre. From Leominster you can follow the 40-mile Black and White Trail that winds its way through the Hereford countryside to reveal its most beautiful villages. 

Continuing along the valley the road crosses into Shropshire and up to Ludlow, a medieval market town famous for its castle, race course, eateries and food and drink festival that takes place in September. Past Ludlow the road passes through the Shropshire Hills AONB, popular with walkers. 

The road passes to the east of Shrewsbury, but you will want to visit its medieval centre encircled by a loop in the River Severn. Fans of Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael stories can visit their setting, Shrewsbury Abbey. The town was also the birthplace of Charles Darwin.  

Continuing north along the hills of the Welsh Marches, the A29 comes close to the Welsh border at Whitchurch, known as a centre for the production of Cheshire Cheese. And unless you’re keen to continue on and explore the Cheshire Plain, this is as good a place to stop as any.


Northern Ireland – the east coast road

Carrickfergus Castle is a Norman castle on the northern shore of Belfast Lough ©VisitBritain/ Tony Pleavin

Following Northern Ireland’s A2 will take you along the country’s stunning eastern coastline. Along the route you can explore the Mourne Mountains, skirt loughs and visit the vibrant city of Belfast, all the while being part of an ancient landscape that hosted prehistoric communities, the Vikings and the Normans. 

Working from south to north the A2 starts at Newry, at the head of Carlingford Lough, behind it are the Mourne Mountains and the Ring of Gullion. Follow the north side of Carlingford Lough. By skirting the lough and the coast of Co Down you are going around the Mourne Mountains.The ring of 12 mountains, the highest is Slieve Donard, is said to have inspired C S Lewis’s Narnia. Take time to tackle part of the 26-mile Mourne Way Walk. At the foot of Slieve Donard sits the seaside town of Newcastle. Out in the harbour are seals and smugglers’ caves and it is home to the only seaweed bath house in the UK. 

Pass by the dune landscape of Murlough Nature Reserve on the Mourne Coastal Route to Belfast, following the west side of Dundrum Bay as far as Clough. 

From Clough, turning right, the A2 follows the coast to Strangford at the southern end of the huge Strangford Lough. Pay a visit to the National Trust Property Castle Ward, just a 10-minute drive from the town. 

St Patrick is said to have sailed through the Strangford Narrows bringing Christianity to the area in the fifth century, followed by the Vikings in the ninth and 11th centuries and the Normans in the 12th century. By the 18th century the area was a busy port and kelp became an important industry. Today, activities on the lough include sailing, kayaking, diving, canoeing, fishing, kite surfing, windsurfing, boating and bird watching. It’s an important stop off for migrating birds and home to both common and grey seals, otters and dolphins. 

At Strangford the A2 meets the ferry to cross to Portaferry. From here you can choose to either follow the road around the eastern shore of the lough taking in the extraordinary National Trust estate of Mount Stewart, then Newtownards connecting with the A2 at Bangor or continue on the A2 around the east Co Down coast to bypass Bangor then into Belfast.

Once clear of Belfast and following the Belfast Lough through Carrickfergus the road then becomes the Causeway Coastal Route.


Shetland Isles

Until the end of the 15th century, when it was taken over by Scotland, Shetland was part of Scandinavia and until 2007 there was a direct ferry service to Norway. Nowadays, a 12-hour overnight crossing on the Northlink ferry connects the main town, Lerwick, with Aberdeen.

Eight campsites are registered with the local tourist organisation with a further two due to open. The nearest campground  in Lerwick is the Cunningsburgh Tourist park about 8 miles south of the town. Skeld Caravan and Campsite, about a 30-minute drive from Lerwick on the west of Mainland, has 19 touring pitches. 

To the north of Mainland is the district of Eshaness, which has fantastic sea cliffs and walks where you can check out storm beaches, subterranean passages, amazing rock formations of a UNESCO listed geopark, a lighthouse and several archaeological features. A museum and cafe are open during the summer months. 

On the south part of Mainland a sand causeway (tombola) connects to St Ninian’s Isle. At the southern end of Mainland is Jarlshof Prehistoric and Norse settlement, while the RSPB reserve at Sumburgh Head is noted for its seabird population including puffins. Other wildlife includes seals, which in turn attract Orca during the summer months, and of course the islands are known for their short, stocky ponies.

Six miles west of Lerwick is Scalloway where a small museum reveals the story of the Shetland Bus operation of fishing boats that linked Britain to the Norwegian resistance against Nazi occupation during WWII.

Visit the outer isles of Yell or Unst, which can be accessed by regular car ferries. Island attractions include otters on Yell, seascapes, historic sites and isolated beaches. Go wild swimming, walk your dog or have a barbecue with nobody else around.

Shetland is synonymous with quality seafood. Lerwick has the second highest fish landings in the UK. In addition to seafish, Shetland produces farmed salmon and mussels, and has its own breed of cattle and sheep. There is a local brewery and small bakeries in the rural districts have fresh bread and cakes daily.

Traffic congestion in Shetland is minimal. It is usually easy to find a place to park. Main roads outside of Lerwick are well maintained and comparable with A class roads on  the UK mainland. Anticipate single track roads with passing places in remoter parts.


Outer Hebrides

Exploring the Outer Hebrides takes in Lewis, North and South Harris, Berneray, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist, Eriskay, Barra and Vatersay. There are campsites throughout, so take your time exploring, with long walks and slow drives. The crossing on the Cal Mac ferry from Ullapool to Stornoway on Lewis takes 2.5hours.

Spend a few days around Stornoway, seeking out shops selling Harris Tweed and trying the fish restaurants. Visit the ancient Stones of Callanish; Dun Carloway (an Iron Age stone tower) and the crofting village of Garenin Blackhouse Village on the Atlantic Coast. Head northeast to Bragar to see the Whalebone Arch made from the jaws of a Blue Whale and seek out the island’s beautiful beaches at Port of Ness, Traigh Uige and Traigh Mhor.

The landscape changes from open moorlands to a more mountainous terrain as you drive south. Drive along the east coast of Harris to experience the beautiful bays. At Luskentyre in South Harris, the Traigh Losgaintir has been voted the best beach in the world with fine white sand and water that changes from royal blue to pale aqua – breathtaking with the mountains in the background. 

From Leverburgh in Harris take the roll-on-roll-off ferry to Berneray. Causeways join the islands of Berneray, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist and Eriskay. Look out for road signs warning ‘caution, otters crossing’. 

The next ferry crossing, between Eriskay and Barra, takes just over half an hour.

The most famous landmark on Barra is the airport on the cockleshell beach that stretches for miles. The baggage reclaim is a bus shelter. Castlebay has a castle in the centre of the bay that belonged to the MacNeils of Barra. On Vatersay the scenery is like that of the west coast of Scotland. 

The tour is a magical one of beautiful beaches fringing extraordinary landscapes.


Cambridge – Felixstowe

Punting beneath the Bridge of Sighs, Cambridge ©VisitBritain/Yu-Chun Chang

A tour along the A14 from Cambridge to Felixstowe will only take 1.5 hours done in one go, but there are several interesting places en route, so you’ll want to take two or three days over it. 

Kicking off in Cambridge, one of the great university towns, will take a day in itself. Get an eyeful of the fronts of these incredible historic buildings on a walking tour to learn their history and then check out their ‘backs’ with lawns reaching down to the River Cam on a punt, with a punter as your guide. Visit the Fitzwilliam Museum and the extraordinary Chronophage, the time-eating clock at the Corpus Christi college. If you visit Cambridge in May, walk alongside the River Cam to the Orchard tea rooms at Grantchester and have tea and scones sitting in deck chairs beneath clouds of apple blossom.

Heading east you come to the horse racing world of Newmarket, where you can visit the National Stud and the gallops. Book a tour to give you a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the exciting world of horse racing and visit the National Horse Racing Museum. 

Twenty miles further on is the historic market town of Bury St Edmunds with the ruins of the abbey and its extensive gardens and the magnificent St Edmundsbury Cathedral. The town’s parish church, St Mary’s is one of the largest in England and is the resting place of Mary Tudor, Henry VIII’s sister. The town is also home to Greene King Brewery, which runs tours and has a café.

At Stowmarket visit the Museum of East Anglian Life and venture away from the A14 to visit Helmingham Hall, a moated Tudor mansion set in glorious gardens. If you like street markets, Stowmarket has one every Thursday and Saturday. Historians will appreciate the town’s 130 listed buildings and its central conservation area of mainly Georgian architecture.

Ipswich, one of England’s oldest towns is also the county town of Suffolk and an ancient port – it has been active since the 7th century. Visit the harbour for its myriad of cafés and watch the comings and goings of the marina there. 

Make a diversion to Woodbridge, off the A12, to visit the Suffolk Punch Trust, where Suffolk’s heavy working horses are bred. Make a day of it to meet the horses and explore the heritage museum. Then on to Felixstowe for a traditional day at the seaside with its beach huts and fish and chips and then on to the Landguard Peninsula for its nature reserve and bird observatory.  

Looking for more travel inspiration – why not visit the Ten Beautiful Cities or some of these 12 Amazing Nature Reserves or check out more travel features here and at our sister site