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Ten incredibleUK places that feel like you’re abroadwithout a car

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Flying feels more and more like a dodgy idea - what with the climate and coronavirus crises. So, when we are allowed to travel for fun again, where can we go in the UK to get the sense of wonder that comes from the best trips abroad? Here are ten suggestions you can reach without a car and some alternatives that might be more local.

  1. 3. Brighton Pavilion and Saltdean Lido, East Sussex

    George IV’s seaside pleasure dome, Brighton Pavilion, redesigned by John Nash in the early 19th century, celebrates the Indo-Saracenic architecture fashionable in Regency Britain. Nash copied elaborate towers, minarets and cusped arches from Mughal mosques and tombs like the Taj Mahal. Inside, there’s the largest public display of Regency bling: chandeliers hang from silver dragons’ claws, gilded dolphins decorate the music room’s six porcelain pagodas, and even the kitchen sports copper palm trees. For a real holiday feel hop on regular bus 12 from almost outside the Pavilion to iconic Saltdean Lido. There are more car-free things to do around Brighton in our car-free guide.

    • Getting there: The pavilion is about twenty minutes’ attractive downhill stroll from the station. Bus 12 and others will also get you there.
    • Refreshments: Fabulous South Indian street food at the Curry Leaf cafe, four minutes’ stroll through the Lanes.
    • Alternatively, check out lidos all over the UK with our car-free guide. And for authentic tastes from Asia, stroll along Leicester’s Golden Mile for colourful jewellery and fabric shops, embroidered kurtas and saris, enticing wafts of garlic and ginger.
  1. 4. Portmeirion, Gwynedd

    A Mediterranean piazza with colonnade and fountain; a jumble of domes, campaniles and villas in pink, turquoise and terracotta set in 70 acres of subtropical woodland above white sandy beaches. Amalfi? No, Portmeirion village stands on the Dwyryd Estuary near Cardigan Bay. Designed by Clough Williams-Ellis over five decades from 1925, the village incorporates rescued architectural features and buildings from pagodas to neoclassical colonnades.

    • Get there: From Minffordd railway station, walk past Castell Deudraeth and follow the footpath along the field below it.
    • Refreshments: Several on-site places to get food too, including Caffi Glas, which has seats outside offers classics like pizza Napoletana or take away a cornet from Caffi’r Angel, the village’s Italian-style gelateria.
    • Alternatively, for glimpses of Italy in London, try the Italian church and deli in Clerkenwell or wander round Little Venice. Birmingham, famously, has more canals than Venice and several cities (like Leeds and Bristol) use their waterways as an enjoyable means of transport…
  1. 5. Mayfield Lavender, Surrey

    Provence is not the only place to see those buzzing violet fields, their neat, fragrant rows converging towards the horizon – there are champs de lavande dotted across the English and Welsh countryside. Mayfield Lavender Farm opens on June 1st and the slopes turn purple in summer.

    • Getting there: Take the train from London Victoria to East Croydon or Purley, then hop on bus 166 to Oaks Park in Carshalton Road.
    • Refreshments: Cream teas, sandwiches, drinks and cakes at the on-site cafe.
    • Alternatively, there are also lavender fields in Yorkshire, Norfolk, Somerset, Shropshire, Warwickshire, Powys, Surrey, Sussex, Kent, Hertfordshire and Hampshire.
  1. 6. Camel Valley Vineyard

    The Camel Valley Vineyard has a room full of prizes from recent years (literally hundreds of them since 1993) and its Cornish fizz has beaten Bollinger in blind taste tests. The Pinot Noir sparkling Rosé scooped the International Wine Awards gold medal and trophy in 2014. Drink to their success while sitting on the slate terrace above sloping, green vines looking across the valley towards the distant woods and downs. There is a tour every weekday afternoon, taking in the state-of-the-art winery and a glass of still wine. For more adventures in the area, see our car-free guide to Bodmin.

    • Getting there: The vineyard is right on the Camel Trail cycle path, a couple of miles west of Bodmin so it’s easy to cycle there (or walk if you keep an eye out for bikes!) But if that sounds too energetic. It’s only a lovely, leisurely mile along the beautiful valley from Boscarne Junction on the Bodmin and Wenford steam railway. The station is right next to the trail so – with a little bit of forward planning – you can continue on foot, have a glass or two and get a later train back.
    • Refreshments: Wine by the glass on weekdays (book ahead). Half way between the station and the vineyard, you’ll find the delightful Camel Trail tea garden, serving crab salads and cream teas in a terraced apple orchard.
    • Alternatively, there are vineyards all over England and Wales as far north as Ryedale in Yorkshire. There’s even one near Forty Hall in Enfield on the outskirts of London.
  1. 7. St Andrews West Beach, Fife

    St Andrews is actually one of the driest places in Britain, with more than 1500 hours of sunshine and less rain each year than Rome. Famous as the location for the opening sequence of Chariots of Fire, West Beach is big enough to get away from the crowds with two miles of dune-backed golden sands. There’s a dramatic ruined cathedral on the cliffs above and the chance of spotting bottlenose dolphins. The thirty miles of coastline to the south are also spangled with lighthouses, harbours, gardens, caves and castles – and well-served by buses! Near the village of Elie, a terrifying vertiginous chain-walk skirts the cliffs and rock pools, like the via ferrata or Klettersteige in the Alps.

    • Getting there: Get the train from Edinburgh to Leuchars railway station and jump on one of the many regular buses into town, like frequent bus 99. The West Beach starts about five minutes’ stroll from the bus station, past the Royal and Ancient Golf Club.
    • Refreshments: Non-golfers are allowed to eat and drink at the beachfront lounge Swilcan Lounge in the golf clubhouse, with beer from the St Andrews Brewing Company. The less formal Bibi’s cafe is also close by.
    • Alternatively, with more than 5000 miles of coastline, Britain has hundreds of beaches that (squinting into the sunshine) could pass for the Caribbean with gently curving tree-lined bays of soft white sand and turquoise water (slightly chillier than the Caribbean, admittedly). Cornwall, the Hebrides, Wales, Northern Ireland all have their fair share. A dramatic beach like Luskentyre Sands on the Isle of Harris might be perfect for escaping by ferry.
  1. 8. Westonbirt arboretum, Gloucestershire

    Giant Redwoods, Californian incense cedars, caramel scented katsuras and Australian Wallemias, autumn colours for Canadian-style leaf peeping and fiery Japanese maples… 2,500 different species of trees, representing landscapes all across the globe, means you can travel round the world in an afternoon with a trip to Westonbirt Arboretum

  1. 9. Mountaineering and a cable car in Greenwich

    OK, so “mountain” might be a bit much, but there is a (relatively vertigo-free) climb on offer in Greenwich – over the roof of the O2 arena. daytime, sunset and twilight climbs.

    • Getting there: Go to Royal Victoria station in the Docklands Light Railway and ride the cable car high over the Thames. This is well worth doing even if you don’t want to scale the O2. You could then choose to walk along the Thames to Greenwich or catch the boat. More ideas in our car-free guide.
    • Refreshments: Lots of choice, including a floating cafe on board the Good Hotel near the cable car station on Royal Victoria Dock.
    • Alternatively, among other UK cable cars, is the one that flies up to the Heights of Abraham near Derby.
  1. 10. The English Riviera, Devon

    Palm trees along a seaside prom? Check. Sandy beaches and (often) blue water? Check. Yachts? Interesting cultural history? The art nouveau pavilion and the elegant hotels of Torquay have Agatha Christie connections. With a balmy microclimate, in the shelter of Dartmoor, and subtropical plants flourishing in Victorian villa gardens, the area is known as the English Riviera, a slightly greyer rival to the Côte d’Azur. It certainly ticks a few boxes: calm bays, rugged footpaths, and one of the UK’s seven UNESCO-listed global geoparks, boasting caves and rocky arches that give Capri’s Arco Naturale a run for its money. Queen Victoria described Babbacombe Downs, with England’s highest cliff top promenade, as having “red cliffs and rocks with wooded hills like Italy”.

    • Getting there and around: See our car-free guide.
    • Refreshments: Rockfish, with seats outside overlooking Torquay harbour, serves fresh local seafood, chargrilled with salad and chips.
    • Alternatively, lots of other seaside towns, like Eastbourne (sunniest city in the UK) with its palms and Mediterranean coastal flowerbeds, can also do a good impression of being somewhere more exotic. There are glimpses of Riviera-style coastline in Hastings too – as well as a great art gallery. And the white and gold cliffs of Dorset have often been compared to Malta, Spain, even the Caribbean!