The 10 top UK winter holiday destinations

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  • The 10 top UK winter holiday destinations

    WOODSTOCK, THE COTSWOLDS

    Best for: fabulously festive illuminations

    The illuminated light trail is always a highlight of the Christmas celebrations at Blenheim Palace, from the vaulted Tunnel of Light that twinkles with more than 100,000 white bulbs to the futuristic woodland Laser Garden and the Water Terrace pièce de résistance, where coloured lights are projected onto the palace’s façade. Sip a cup of mulled cider as you explore the grounds, and afterwards toast marshmallows around the fire pit.

    Where to stay: The Swan Inn, a smart pub with rooms in Chipping Norton, or take over one of our favourite Airbnbs in the Cotswolds.

    The best Airbnbs in the Cotswolds, UK

  • The 10 top UK winter holiday destinations

    BEAULIEU, NEW FOREST

    Best for: kayaking in a private estuary

    Beaulieu River is the idyllic location for invigorating two-hour guided ‘winter paddling’ sessions with New Forest Activities: choose from either open-top Canadian canoes or typical stable touring kayaks and push off from Baileys Hard. Large sections of the river are part of the North Solent Nature Reserve, which means plenty of birds flitting along the reed-covered banks to distract from any aching arms. Just remember to bring a flask of steaming hot chocolate to help you warm up afterwards.

    Where to stay: Chewton Glen, a classic English country hotel with a brilliant spa.

  • The 10 top UK winter holiday destinations

    CLEY MARSHES, NORFOLK

    Best for: bird spotting and boat trips

    You know winter is on its way when thousands of pink-footed geese migrate to the UK. Each year these pink-grey birds swap their breeding grounds in Greenland and Iceland for the mudflats and salt marshes of Norfolk (most arrive by the end of November), where they spend their days feeding on the tops and tails of sugar beet left in the fields by farmers. The sight, as the flocks fly back to their roosts at dusk, is extraordinary. December and January are also peak months for grey seals to give birth to their pups: head out on boat trips from Morston Quay for an up-close look at these inquisitive creatures swimming in the water and lolling on the beaches.

    Where to stay: The Victoria Inn, Holkham, a 19th-century hotel surrounded by acres of parkland.

  • The 10 top UK winter holiday destinations

    HAY-ON-WYE, WALES

    Best for: a bookish weekend break in the UK

    In normal years, the main difference between the annual Winter Weekend festival in Hay-on-Wye and its longer literary counterpart in May is that while the talks – by writers, artists, academics, thinkers – still take place in a tent, there’s a real focus on events in the town too. In 2020, the event will be streamed digitally – but visiting the town in winter to leaf through the many bookshops is still a wonderful low-key day trip.

    Where to stay: Cheese Market Flats, which occupy a splendid vantage point in the historic market opposite the castle.

  • NEWQUAY, CORNWALL

    Best for: surfing big breaks without the crowds

    The water might be icy but there’s no need to hang up your wetsuit: winter surfing in Cornwall is mercifully crowd free apart from a handful of hardcore locals who turn out in all weathers to make the most of the swells (during the colder months, low-pressure systems build up in the Atlantic, driving surf towards the west coast). And there are plenty of sweet spots to choose from, whether it’s Newquay’s legendary Fistral beach or protected Praa Sands, an hour’s drive away near Porthleven, where the northwest to northeast winds create hollow, fast waves.

    Where to stay: Watergate Bay, a renowned beachside hotel with eco-friendly self-catering accommodation. For more options, see our edit of the best holiday cottages in Cornwall.

    15 of the best holiday cottages in Cornwall

  • The 10 top UK winter holiday destinations

    LODE, CAMBRIDGESHIRE

    Best for: a mindful meander in winter gardens

    There’s something rather wonderful about crunching along the frosty narrow path at Anglesey Abbey, just outside Cambridge, on a freezing sunny morning. Here, the Winter Garden has been specially designed with plants that are at their most vibrant in the colder months: flaming scarlet willow and red-barked dogwood, the Killarney strawberry tree, which bears fruit just before Christmas, and the grove of Himalayan silver birch trees with their stark white trunks. Snowdrops bloom in January and February, and the scent of winter–flowering honeysuckle and Christmas box fills the air. Those who want to make it more of a ‘mindful meander’ can pick up a sensory trail map from reception, which marks the most peaceful spots for contemplation.

    Where to stay: The University Arms, a Victorian hotel transformed by Royal Family-approved classical architect John Simpson.

  • The 10 top UK winter holiday destinations

    THE WILD ATLANTIC WAY, IRELAND

    Best for: a glimpse of the northern lights

    Instead of hopping on a plane to the Arctic Circle to see the northern lights, rent a car and drive a section of the Wild Atlantic Way, which stretches 1,500 miles along the west coast of Ireland. With secluded bays, rocky headlands and sheep-dotted hills, it’s pretty magical at any time of year but brave the changeable weather and there’s a chance of witnessing the Aurora Borealis too. The unpolluted skies of the unspoilt Northern Headlands at the tip of the route are your best bet for a clear sighting.

    Where to stay: The Wild Honey Inn, an old-school restaurant with rooms.

  • The 10 top UK winter holiday destinations

    THE LAKE DISTRICT, CUMBRIA

    Best for: wild walking in the hills

    Whether strolling the length of the seven-mile Borrowdale Valley or yomping up the steep path to Tarn Hows, through woodland and past gushing waterfalls, the possibilities for wild winter walking in the Lake District are endless. Yes it’s glorious in the summer sun but it’s equally atmospheric in the off-season mist and drizzle, when there are far fewer walkers and the solitude of the mountains acts like a soulful reset. Pack waterproofs and sturdy boots, and plot your path so there’s a rewarding tea shop or cosy pub at the end.

    Where to stay: The Kirkstile Inn, a handsome, traditional 16th-century inn.

  • The 10 top UK winter holiday destinations

    CAIRNGORMS, THE SCOTTISH HIGHLANDS

    Best for: all-action winter sports (and reindeer)

    Forget Switzerland, Scotland has skiing much closer to home. The varied terrain at Glenshee, in the Cairngorms National Park, makes it one of the best options for skiers and snowboarders of all levels. Runs extend across three valleys and several mountains, including Glas Maol, which offers access to some of the best off-piste slopes. While you’re in the Highlands, don’t miss the chance to visit the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd that roams the mountains.

    Where to stay: Killiehuntly Farmhouse, an impeccably renovated 17th-century farmhouse.

  • The 10 top UK winter holiday destinations

    CANTERBURY, KENT

    Best for: a button-busting foodie break

    From Michelin-starred gastropubs – think chef-owner Daniel Smith’s refurbished riverside pub The Fordwich Arms in Fordwich and Stephen Harris’ The Sportsman in Seasalter – to the Goods Shed farmers market and food hall in Canterbury, the foodie buzz about this corner of the UK has been growing for some time. Plan a weekend around a list of must-try restaurants and, in between meal times, cycle off what you eat along the Viking Coastal Trail, which takes in of-the-moment seaside towns such as Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate.

    Where to stay: The Pig at Bridge Place, a foodie hideaway set in a 17th-century manor.

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