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Summer in the cities: Simon Calder’s selection of good-value getaways

·5-min read
On manoeuvres: Simon Calder in Footdee, Aberdeen (Charlotte Hindle)
On manoeuvres: Simon Calder in Footdee, Aberdeen (Charlotte Hindle)

Millions of people have chosen to stay in the UK this year. The media minister, John Whittingdale, told Sky News: “You can have a great holiday in Britain and I think a very large number of people will decide this year that that’s what they will do.”

But how to arrange it? With demand surging, in some parts of the country, prices are high and availability is low.

The solution: choose a great British city over coast or countryside. They have good connections, heritage and gastronomy in abundance, and hotels at very competitive prices.

You’re all set for a city break – and with a metropolitan base you can explore beyond the city on a series of day trips by rail and bus.

These are five of my favourites.

Southampton

One of England’s greatest maritime cities is seeing many visitors this summer, not least because it is the starting point for a record number of UK cruises. But many people overlook the city itself, which is rich in history and character.

Stay

The central Premier Inn is currently available at £49 per night.

Eat

Splash out on dinner at the five-star Southampton Harbour Hotel, with superb fresh cuisine and a spectacular location overlooking Ocean Village Marina. (You can stay there too, but when I did I paid three times the Premier Inn rate.)

Explore

Once you have wandered the medieval streets at the city’s heart, and perhaps sampled the stories at the Titanic pub (proud to carry the name of that ill-starred ship), Southampton Central station is impeccably connected: with trains to the beach at Bournemouth (half-an-hour) or the heart of the New Forest in Brockenhurst (14 minutes).

You could also make an island escape on the Red Funnel ferry to Cowes on the Isle of Wight.

Cardiff

The Welsh capital is worth a week of any traveller’s time: Cardiff has Roman foundations, a Norman castle (with fantastical Victorian flourishes) and a splendidly revived waterfront.

Stay

I paid £63 per night at Sleeperz, right next to Cardiff Central station, but I am glad to say it is currently on offer for just £53 double.

Eat

The Dock, on the waterfront, is part of the Brains Brewery empire – founded just a mile or so away – and on the menu I can never get beyond the beer-battered cod and chips.

Explore

Opposite Cardiff’s reborn waterfront, the barrage tames the tide – and also allows walkers and cyclists to cross to Penarth Head, giving fine views of the coasts of both South Wales and Somerset. Beyond, the Victorian resort of Penarth has a fine restored pier. Or, with frequent fast trains to Dylan Thomas’s home town of Swansea (51 minutes) you can get two cities for the price of one.

Hull

The city on the Humber is set apart from the rest of the nation. But Hull has always looked to the sea for its destiny – which has brought wealth and diversity to the city.

Hull can claim to be the home of emancipation (William Wilberforce, who played a key role in the abolition of the slave trade, was the local MP). The centre has been exuberantly refreshed by its year in the sun as the UK City of Culture in 2017. And a new footbridge links the city elegantly with the marina.

Stay

Gilson’s, right next to the station, will do just fine; a double room in this friendly hotel typically costs £55 with breakfast.

Eat

Trinity Market is a delicious combination of traditional stalls, alongside a food court brimming with choice – though you may not wish to look any further than Looby Lou’s Yorkshire pudding wraps.

Explore

Hull’s Old Town, with Georgian buildings lining cobbled lanes, is remarkably well preserved – and leads to The Deep, which tells the story of the world’s oceans.

Frequent trains connect Hull with the great Yorkshire resorts of Bridlington, Filey and Scarborough, as well as the market town of Beverly with a spectacular gothic minster.

Preston

The Lancashire city does not often appear in a top five – mainly because it is so easy to travel through and around. It’s the halfway point on the West Coast main line between London and Glasgow, and the UK’s first motorway was the Preston bypass (now the M6). But Preston has a broad urban canvas, from Georgian splendour in the shape of Winckley Square to the Brutalist might of the bus station.

Stay

The Travelodge is a handsomely converted mill, close to the city centre and outstanding value – with rooms on many nights this summer at around £40.

Eat

Bistro Pierre on Fishergate – the main street – is part of a chain, but has a spectacular Victorian location and an appealingly concise menu of French dishes. The highlight for me: Steak-Frites, simple and succulent.

Explore

Preston’s golden age was the 19th century, and there is plenty of architectural archaeology on offer.

The connections beyond are superb, with two different rail routes to Blackpool (whose North station is just 22 minutes away). If you prefer the Lake District, Windermere is less than an hour north.

Aberdeen

The nickname “Granite City” might conjure up a harsh, grey image. Stone is abundant: the main thoroughfare, Union Street, includes the world’s widest granite span. Yet it is offset by parks in summer bloom and the primary-colour patchwork of in the ships in the harbour.

Stay

The Holiday Inn Express is a couple of minutes’ walk from Union Street and has all you need for as little as £36 per night.

Eat

The Silver Darling, in the old Customs House on Pocra Quay takes its name from the local term for herring. Just ask for the catch of the day, sit back and enjoy the waterside location.

Explore

The two cultural big hitters are Aberdeen Art Gallery, with a handsome Centre Court; and Aberdeen Maritime Museum, telling the story of the city’s eternal link with the sea. At the mouth of the river you find Footdee (pronounced, approximately, “Fiddie”), with neat, low rows of cottages decorated with flotsam.

North from here, the two-mile curve of sand that constitutes Britain’s best city beach also gives way to the cobbled lanes that surround one of the UK’s oldest – and best located – universities.

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