Five Amazing Places to Visit in the UK – Slightly off the Usual Tourist Trail

London, Brighton, Cardiff, Edinburgh… hold it right there. Need we even say any more? The big name destinations when it comes to UK holidays don’t really need any more commendations behind them, let’s face it – and we can’t help but feel that while they’re hogging the limelight, a lot of roads-less(er)-travelled aren’t getting the attention they deserve. Whether your preferred destination is cultural or historical, beachside or countryside, here are five littler names to bear in mind the next time you’re looking for a memorable break.

Ventnor, Isle of Wight.

Described as “a Victorian town with a Mediterranean feel”, Ventnor is sheltered by St Boniface Down and as a result experiences its own microclimate, with milder winters and warmer summers than much of the UK. The town was once a small fishing hamlet that became a popular seaside resort, and its balmy weather has also meant it can sustain all kinds of subtropical plants. Visitors can enjoy these at the impressive outdoor Ventnor Botanic Garden.

Where to go? One hidden gem just south of the town is Steep Hill Cove, a tiny bay that foregoes the usual seaside tourist fare in favour of charmingly quaint surroundings: colourful little cottages, resident fisherman, lobster pots and one old donkey. The cove has no road access, keeping it noise-free and amazingly peaceful. Watch the fisherman bring ashore fresh seafood daily – and then enjoy it for yourself later at one of the cove’s restaurants.

Penrith, Cumbria.

Cumbria is an idyllic region to choose for short UK breaks in the countryside, and the sandstone buildings of this ‘old red town’ are just a stone’s throw from the Lake District National Park. A little slice of rural living with breath-taking surroundings, the town is tucked cosily within the appropriately named Eden Valley – a secluded paradise with the lowest population density of any district in England. Penrith itself is an ancient town, and impressive local landmark St Andrew’s Church dates back to the 12th century, its 6ft thick walls making it an ideal place of refuge during years of clashes with the voracious Scottish Border Reivers.

Where to go? Scattered throughout the town, and the colourful little alleyways that connect it, are a wealth of unique shops and restaurants to explore. Head to Baldry’s Tea Room if you fancy adding a Withnail-ian touch to your trip (though you may have to settle for fine cakes instead of fine wines).

Stokes Croft, Bristol.

While Bristol attracts swathes of shopping-hungry visitors to its city centre and the surrounding areas, for many the heart of the city is in Stokes Croft, an informal district in the city named after the road it surrounds. Fascinatingly jumbled, and a great visit for anyone looking for something a little different, it’s rich in alternative culture and famous for its arts and music scene. Countless independent stores rub shoulders with historically significant sites, such as the neglected English Heritage listed building The Carriage Works. There’s colour to be found everywhere, from the huge graffiti murals adorning the walls, to tiny touches such as the grit bins with animated faces; exploring the district can feel slightly like life in a cartoon.

Where to go? The People’s Republic of Stokes Croft was formed in 2007 to get more people involved in creative local projects, and they now own three amazingly unique galleries on Jamaica Street; the Selling Gallery, the Outdoor Gallery, and the New Gallery.

Stornoway, Lewis.

The largest town in the Outer Hebrides, Stornoway is not the rural island retreat one might expect. Traditional aspects of the town, such as the maritime industry and religious observances, co-exist with an animated social and cultural scene. Each year the Hebridean Celtic Festival attracts over 10,000 visitors to the area, and An Lanntair, the town’s arts centre, opened in the town in 2005. For fans of black pudding, Stornoway’s particular variety is a world-famous delicacy.

Where to go? If you’re looking for history, forget Stonehenge; about half an hour’s drive from Stornoway you’ll find the mysterious and sombre Callanish Stones, where they’ve stood patiently for nearly 5000 years, outdating even the Pyramids.

Oakham, Rutland.

A quintessentially English market town, Oakham is a pint-sized treasure in an equally diminutive county – the country’s smallest, in fact. It’s pretty, traditional and peaceful, but still with plenty to see and do. Wander the town and enjoy the local landmarks both big and small, from the charming butter cross (with an unusual set of stocks beneath it) to the gorgeous Oakham Castle with its enchanting horseshoe display. The residents take pride in the beauty of the place, and thanks to their efforts the town holds an esteemed Britain in Bloom award.

Where to go? For those who love their flora and fauna, an exploration of the extraordinary – and gigantic – Rutland Water reservoir is an absolute must. The whole lake is a popular venue for water sports, but its western end forms Rutland Water Nature Reserve, a hotspot for scores of rare birdlife and appointed a Site of Special Scientific Interest.