London sometimes feels like the center of the universe, mixing cosmopolitan and diverse modernity with a sense of history that goes back many centuries. It is certainly a fantastic place to visit, and easy to get to with four major airports welcoming huge numbers of passengers from around Europe and the world.
A car rental from London
is a great and affordable way to explore - and we have some suggestions for low-cost short breaks to put on the list. These spots aren’t the most famous of tourist destinations, but that just means fewer crowds and lower prices!
1 . Kent: Cool coastal towns
To the southeast of London, Kent doesn’t often feature in the travel guides, often overlooked in favour of better-known seaside retreats like Brighton and Bognor Regis. However, there are many great places to experience here, and they are all very close to London. If you’re flying in, a Gatwick Airport car rental
is a good place to start.
Dover and Folkestone are the major centres on the Kent coast, and definitely worth a look. Dover’s famous white cliffs and lovely castle are great photo ops, and Folkestone has a unique Victorian water-powered funicular railway, the Leas Lift, which carries passengers down to the stony beach. Both cities are a little past their prime in terms of business and bustle, but are a great and affordable place to relax and enjoy some English seaside.
Deal is a destination for those in the know - that now includes you! Here you can feel, see and taste the creative revival happening in Kent. It is easily walkable, with a fantastic High Street and some great eateries.
Margate, right at the eastern tip of the region, is another funky town in the same vein, a little more well-established as a seaside resort. It is brimming with artistic energy, chic shops, galleries and restaurants and more. The historical highlight of the area is perhaps the Shell Grotto, a subterranean passageway decorated with seashell mosaics. It was discovered in 1835 but its origins remain a mystery.
2 . Southport: a classic English resort
It’s half a day’s drive from London to Southport (a Luton Airport car rental
will give you a bit of a head start), but worth the journey. Located right between Liverpool
in Merseyside, this town has the benefits of those fun seaside cities without the crowds and costs.
Southport boasts one of the oldest piers in the UK, some world-class golf courses, classic Victorian architecture and of course a tidal beach. There’s a fairground called Southport Pleasureland and a “Funland” near the pier, both of which bring a little of that quintessential slightly tacky English seaside resort feel. Never fear, you can also go for a classy night out in the many restaurants and bars.
A tight budget can go a long way in Southport too, as there are many things to do cheaply or freely - especially for families with kids. The historic King’s Gardens is a good place to start, boasting a rather impressive playground as well as historic sites, crazy golf, a venetian bridge and a model village. The promenade is a great place to stroll or ride a bike, and history buffs will love visiting the prehistoric footprints in nearby Formby.
3 . Birmingham - a city break
The second largest city in England
doesn’t sound like a dream travel destination, but it’s known to have some of the most affordable accommodation. What many don’t know is that it also has several Michelin-starred restaurants, beautiful buildings, new parks and public spaces, picturesque canals, and just an increasing number of great places to eat, drink, shop and be entertained. In short, it’s the ideal place for a city break without breaking the bank.
A car rental from Heathrow Airport or Luton Airport will see you well-placed to drive the two hours or so from London to Birmingham. Once there, what you might like to do depends only on budget and imagination - the urban delights are endless. Cadbury World puts chocolate on show, the National SEA LIFE Centre is a fascinating underwater wonderland, and Birmingham Science Museum is interactive and great for little ones. Those are just a few of the great cultural attractions on offer. There are also a range of more grown-up art galleries and museums, as well as some lovely churches and cathedrals to visit including St Martin in the Bull Ring, the city’s quirkily-named oldest place of worship.
For a bit of nature amongst the urbanity, try the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, Cannon Hill Park or one of the many other green areas. Foodies can drop in to Adam’s, Purnell’s, Simpsons and Turners for a Michelin-starred experience, and the city is also known for the “Balti Triangle,” an area filled with eateries specializing in Balti which is a type of curry served in a steel wok. Don’t leave without trying a bowl of this! There is a vibrant and varied live music scene, in bars and in the more prestigious Symphony Hall and other venues.
4 . York and its Shire
Many people come to the UK for its spectacular history, and York is an affordable way to see some of the best on offer. Near the big Yorkshire cities of Leeds
and Sheffield, it is a little smaller, quite affordable for travellers and has a lot to see and do for history buffs and others. It’s around four hours’ drive on the A1 from London to York - but picking up your car rental at Stansted Airport
will mean a decent head start!
The centerpiece of this medieval-looking city is the Minster, a stunning gothic-style cathedral which boasts the largest expanse of medieval stained glass in the world in the Great East Window. All visitors to York should pay the admission fee to see inside, or even take in a concert or service there. Another historical highlight, the Shambles, will make you feel like you’ve stepped well back in time - or at least onto a Harry Potter set. It is a very old road with slightly wonky timber-framed buildings holding quaint shops and cafes. These quaint three-storey structures overhang the narrow street which is open to pedestrians only.
The picturesque nature of York and its buildings make it a very cheap place to visit - you needn’t indulge in any pricey attractions when you can just wander and stare! It gets even better around Christmastime with the festive decorations. Of course, if you do need to seek shelter there is the fascinating National Railway Museum which is free to visit.
If you have time during your short break, you could also spend some time visiting the surrounding region of North Yorkshire. The Yorkshire Dales is not far away, a scenic national park of gorgeous valleys, stone villages, woodlands and more. The North York Moors National Park is also close, as well as Scarborough and the Yorkshire coast.
5 . Wonderful Wales
The cost of living in Wales is overall lower than in the rest of the UK, and its proximity to London (only two hours or so with a car rental from Heathrow) makes it an often overlooked but great holiday destination for a short break. Look for accommodation outside the main city centres and you might just find a charming bed and breakfast at a bargain!
There are many different parts of Wales to focus on should you not wish to do the whirlwind tour. Pembrokeshire in the southwest has some spectacular wilderness and coastlines, and plenty of lovely towns in which to stay. Further East from Pembrokeshire are Swansea and Cardiff
where visitors can get a dose of Welsh city life.
In the northwest of Wales is Snowdonia National Park, a mountainous region very popular for hiking and outdoor pursuits. Active holidaymakers will enjoy this part of the country, which also has some pretty towns, cultural attractions and a reputation for good local food. Nearby Llandudno is Wales’ most famous beach resort, an elegant seaside city.