Looking for the best UK city breaks? I’ve put together a list of my favourite cities in the UK for a perfect weekend getaway.
To those who are new to my blog: I LOVE CITY BREAKS! I think they’re the perfect way to go on a little getaway without breaking the bank but still soak up a ton of culture and explore new places. Cities are packed with culture, sights, architecture, eateries, independent shops, and much more. You can really get a good idea of a country’s culture from its cities.
And the UK has some fantastic city destinations to choose from. Even after living here since 2014, there are still many UK cities I’d like to visit. But so far, I haven’t been disappointed. That’s why I’ve put together a guide to the best UK city breaks – perfect for a few days away from home. (Not in any particular order, btw!)
Let’s dive in!
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The Best UK City Breaks For Weekend Getaways
To kick off this list of best UK city breaks, Manchester has to take the first spot. Since moving to Manchester in 2014, it’s been one of my favourite places in the world. The city has something for everybody, and its friendly people and creative scene make it the perfect place for a city break.
Manchester’s city centre is quite small, and it’s easy to get around to see the main sights. With a huge variety of independent eateries, coffee shops, and bars, Manchester’s also a great place for foodies. So, let’s take a look at what you can do in Manchester on a city trip.
Things to do in Manchester
Despite having such a small city centre, Manchester is packed with things to do, making it such a great UK city break destination. One of my favourite parts of Manchester is the Northern Quarter. While there aren’t any sights to see, this is the creative heart of the city. It’s filled with independent shops, coffee shops, bars, and restaurants – and there is a ton of amazing street art to enjoy.
A few other great sights to visit is John Rylands Library. Not only is this one of the most beautiful libraries in the whole country, but it’s also home to one of the world’s richest book and manuscript collections.
Manchester is also home to many free art galleries and museums. The museum of science and industry, the Manchester Museum, the Manchester art gallery, and the Whitworth are some of my favourites.
In the seven years I’ve lived in Manchester, I’ve tried out my fair share of bars, restaurants, and pubs – and I can confidently say that the city is perfect for foodies. Cloud23 and 20 Stories both have fantastic views over the city and are places I highly recommend when visiting Manchester for the weekend.
There are also a host of independent coffee shops in the city. Some of my favourites include Foundation Coffee, Pot Kettle Black, and Idle Hands. Perfect for a quick stop to up your caffeine and grab a pastry. And for dinner, check out Mackie Mayor.
If you’re looking for a beautiful and culture-rich city to visit, York should be your first choice. There aren’t many other cities that capture so much of England’s history – the ancient city walls, the historic buildings, and the many museums.
Things to do in York
One of the most amazing sights in York is York Minster, one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in Europe. It took over 250 years to build it. You can even climb to the top of the bell tower for a fantastic view over the city.
Another highlight of York is its city walls. While not fully intact, York has the most miles of remaining walls of any city in the UK. You can walk the 3.4 kilometres long walls for free. While the full circle will take around two hours, you can use the exit and entry points to only walk a part of the wall.
But a visit to York wouldn’t be complete without visiting the Shambles. This old street is one of the most atmospheric places in the city – and it really gives those medieval English vibes. Some of the timber-framed buildings date back to the fourteenth century, and it’s believed that this was the inspiration for Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley.
Another great sight in York is Clifford’s Tower, the keep of York Castle. From it, you can get some great views of Old York. Nearby, you can also visit the York Castle Museum to learn more about York’s history.
Edinburgh was my first trip to Scotland, and it was almost impossible not to fall in love. It’s one of the most beautiful cities in the UK, especially with the cobblestoned streets, the stunning architecture, and the historic charm. With tons of places to visit, Edinburgh is the perfect UK city break.
Things to do in Edinburgh
Simply walking through Edinburgh’s Old Town is magical. The historic charm of the century-old buildings is unbeatable. Inside of this part of the city, you can find Edinburgh Castle – another spot to add to your itinerary. It is located on an extinct volcano and holds Scotland’s crown jewels.
The street that connects Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse is called the Royal Mile. While you can find the Scottish Parliament here, there are tons of souvenir shops, bars, restaurants, and sights for tourists to enjoy. It’s a real treat walking through it on your way to the castle.
If you, like yours truly, are a sucker for a good view, make sure to stop by Calton Hill. The hill itself isn’t very high and only takes a few minutes to climb, but it;s one of the best viewpoints in Edinburgh. If you want to go for a real hike, you may want to consider Arthur’s Seat (which takes about two hours).
And what’s a visit to Scotland without whisky? There are some fantastic whisky tours in Edinburgh, which teach you about the drink and – of course – lets you taste some different types.
Liverpool is another fantastic UK city break destination in the northwest of England. Having been living in Manchester for quite a while, I’ve visited Liverpool multiple times – and it’s always a treat. The city’s industrial character is still seen back but mixed in with very creative and cultural adjustments.
Things to do in Liverpool
Liverpool is known for all things Beatles, as the band originates from the city. Of course, Liverpool capitalised on it with a Beatles museum, Beatles statues, and the Cavern Club. But the city has got a lot more to offer!
The Royal Albert Docks are a must-visit for anybody visiting Liverpool. Here, you can really see Liverpool’s industrial glory. The warehouses are Grade I listed, and now house shops, bars, restaurants, and museums.
Liverpool also has a beautiful cathedral, which is worth a visit. And if you’re looking for the best street art, I highly recommend wandering around the Baltic Triangle – here, you can also find a ton of great bars.
When visiting Liverpool, make sure to wander through Bold Street. This shopping street is filled with the most amazing independent shops, coffee bars, and restaurants. Lonely Planet actually rated it as the top shopping street in England. One bar I recommend is Ropes & Twines – serving speciality coffees, wine, and they do an amazing cheese plate.
If you’re looking for views, Panoramic 34 is one of the highest restaurants in the UK. But you can also visit for an afternoon tea – something I highly recommend. The views are absolutely stunning, and the food is to die for.
Liverpool is also a great day trip and you can use my one day Liverpool itinerary to help you plan it.
Being the best seaside destination in Britain, Brighton is one of the best UK city breaks. You can relax at the beach, shop at the many boutiques, eat fresh fish and chips, and enjoy the colourful streets. Especially since it’s only an hour by train from London! Let’s take a look at what else you can do in Brighton.
Things to do in Brighton
The Brighton Pier is one of the main highlights of the city. Apart from being an iconic photo opportunity, this 100+ years old pier is a great place to enjoy some fairground rides, play arcade games, and eat fresh fish and chips.
And next to the pier, you can find Brighton Beach. If you have enough time, relaxing on the beach is a perfect way to break up your city break. That’s one reason Brighton is such a popular destination: relax on the beach and enjoy the city’s excitement.
Culture lovers will appreciate the Royal Pavilion. This extraordinary piece of architecture was built in the 18th century for the Prince Regent. The exotic exterior is absolutely stunning – a real crown jewel of Brighton!
If you’re looking for the best views, make sure to stop at the British Airways i360. The 162-meter tall observation tower gives you 360 degrees views (hence the name) of Brighton and the sea. It was designed by the same architect who designed the London Eye.
Brighton also has some of the best independent shops in the UK. The Lanes used to be the centre of an old fishing town but now house more than 300 quirky stores and businesses. This is also a great place to sit down for a cup of coffee, enjoy a meal, or snap some pictures of the amazing street art.
Chester is by far one of the prettiest cities I’ve visited in the UK. If you’re looking for UK city breaks up north, this one should be one to consider. The city was founded as a Roman fortress, and a lot of its Roman influence is still found there today. Even though Chester isn’t a large city, the rich history makes it a perfect place to spend the weekend.
Things to do in Chester
Chester was founded in the first century, and its Roman influence is still found everywhere in the city centre. The iconic Chester city walls are over 2,000 years old, and it is the only UK city wall you can walk full circuit. You can also find the famous Eastgate Clock at the Eastgate of the walls. This iconic symbol of the city was introduced for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.
Just outside of the walls, there are even more Roman sights for you to enjoy. The Roman Gardens are wonderful to walk through; you can find ancient artefacts, ruins, and the remains of a Roman bathhouse. Near the gardens, you can find the largest stone amphitheatre in Britain.
One part of Chester’s city centre stands out to me most, however. It’s the Tudor-styled Rows. These iconic buildings give the city that old-English atmosphere. Inside, you can find a lot of independent shops and cafes. Flower Cup is one of my favourite coffee shops in the city, and just outside of the Rows, you can find Jaunty Goat Coffee, which is another great choice.
The Gothic-style cathedral in Chester took over 500 years to build, and it’s one of the most beautiful ones I’ve seen in the UK. It’s free to visit, and I highly recommend doing so when taking a city break to Chester.
Visiting Chester as a day trip is great, but if you’re planning to stay in Chester for a few days, also consider visiting Chester Zoo. While I’m very wary of combining animals and tourism, Chester Zoo is one of the (if not the) most ethical zoos in the UK. They fund a lot of animal charities and research into extinction prevention.
Even though Sheffield isn’t as popular as many other places on this UK city breaks list, I absolutely adore it. Especially since it’s located so close to the Peak District, you can easily combine the city visit with a few days of hiking. But even inside the city centre, you can enjoy a lot of green space. Let’s take a look at what else you can do in Sheffield.
Things to do in Sheffield
The Sheffield city centre isn’t very big, so it’s easy to make your way around on foot. Most main sights are located near each other, and wandering through the streets is a real joy. One of the places I highly recommend is the Millennium Gallery. This art gallery/museum has special exhibitions that change regularly, but it also houses a metalwork collection. Since Sheffield is known for its history in the steel industry, it’s a great place to learn more about the city.
Next to the gallery, you can find the Winter Gardens. This urban glasshouse is the largest of its kind in Europe and is filled with more than 2,000 plants. Especially during autumn and winter, it’s wonderful to walk through. The building itself is quite impressive also.
Even by simply walking through the city centre, you can see that Sheffield is a creative city. There is a lot of street art! And there are tons of unique independent shops – plant shops, coffee bars, vintage clothing; you name it.
Steamyard is one of those coffee shops that you should definitely check out. Hidden in a little alley on one of the main streets, Steamyard serves delicious coffees, doughnuts, and lunches. The atmospheric outside seating area adds just that little extra. Another place to check out for lunch or coffee is Tamper Sellers Wheel.
Sheffield also has a large botanical garden, which you can find just outside the city centre. With over 19 acres of land and 5,000 plant species, it makes for some nice and relaxing walks. It also includes a glass house with cacti and succulents.
Check out my one day Sheffield itinerary on how to make the most of a day trip to the city.
Named after the famous Roman baths, Bath is a charming little city, perfect for a weekend trip. Not only is this city incredibly atmospheric due to its Roman history, but it’s also the only place in the UK where you can bathe in a natural hot spring.
Things to do in Bath
Obviously, the Roman Baths have to be part of your itinerary when visiting the city. It’s what the whole city was built around! They are over 2,000 years old and still look absolutely stunning.
Unfortunately, you can’t bathe in the Roman Baths anymore, but there is a way to enjoy that geothermally heated water. The Thermae Bath Spa pumps the water into their pools for you to enjoy. One of them is a rooftop pool with a 360 degrees view of the city – can you think of a better way to relax during your city break?
But the baths aren’t the only historic feature of the city. Bath is filled with impressive architecture, and Pulteney Bridge is one of them. It was built over 250 years ago and is one of four bridges in the world, with shops built across the full spans. If you have enough time, it’s also fun to check out one of the boat tours available in Bath.
The history and architectural sights don’t stop there, though. Another place to check out is the Royal Crescent. These 30 terraced houses are Grade I listed and some of the best Georgian architecture you can find in the UK.
Since Bristol it’s located close to Bath, it’s a great opportunity to tick both off your bucket list. This lovely harbour city is filled with culture and history. With tons of quirky neighbourhoods and a relaxing harbour that’s full of bars and restaurants, Bristol is perfect for a city break.
Things to do in Bristol
One of the main icons of the city is the Clifton Suspension Bridge. While you can walk across the bridge, it’s better to enjoy a view of Bristol WITH the bridge. The Avon Gorge Hotel bar gives you a lovely view of this impressive structure.
Being a harbour town, Bristol hosts a ton of restaurants that use local ingredients. Especially near the harbour, you can find some fantastic eateries like FiSH and No.1 Harbourside. While you’re near the river, make sure to stop at the floating harbour.
Bristol has a ton of great museums to check out. The Bristol Museum & Art Gallery has a real mummy, the famous Bristol Dinosaur, and anything from art to natural history. Another one to check out is M Shed, where you can learn all about the city’s history. And if you want to really step back in time, stop by Brunel’s SS Great Britain. This former steamship (dating back to 1843) is now used as a museum.
If you’re looking for the best street food, St Nicholas Market has to be on your list. With over 60 vendors, you’ll be sure to find something delicious to try.
Like many other cities in the UK, Bristol has a beautiful cathedral. It is Grade I listed and dates back to 1140! Even though I’m not religious, I do always like visiting cathedrals in cities. They’re packed with history and I like the idea that so many others have visited it before me.
The Cabot Tower is another great sight to add to your Bristol itinerary. You can find it on Brandon Hill, which also houses the oldest park in the city. There are some great viewpoints to enjoy Bristol from afar and get some photo shots in.
All the way up in the north of England lies Newcastle. Many beautifully preserved buildings give the city a lot of character. And because the centre isn’t that large, you can easily tick off all the main sights in a day or two – making it a perfect addition to our UK city breaks list.
Things to do in Newcastle
The Tyne Bridge is one of the most iconic pieces of the Newcastle skyline. When it was constructed almost 100 years ago, it was the longest single-span bridge in the world. Now, it makes for a perfect Newcastle photo opportunity. While on the topic of bridges, the Millennium Bridge is another piece of the skyline that’s hard to miss and worth checking out.
If you’re wondering why the city is named the way it is, add Newcastle Castle to your itinerary. This medieval castle was built over 900 years ago and is very impressive. I think it looks exactly what you’d imagine a medieval castle to look like – especially with the battlement on the top.
When looking for the bridges, you’ll be making your way through Quayside. This area is home to the BALTIC art gallery, a fantastic museum to add to your itinerary. But you can also find many bars, restaurants, and clubs.
Conclusion – The Best UK City Breaks
That concludes my guide on the best UK city breaks for a lovely weekend getaway. If I missed any of your favourite places, please let me know in the comments so I can add them to my own travel wishlist!