The United Kingdom is a popular destination for backpackers from all over the world. Here in Old Blighty, we’re used to foreign visitors and welcome travellers from all over the world. While backpacking isn’t the top choice for travellers in the UK (let’s be honest… it’s the weather, isn’t it?), if you don’t mind getting a bit soggy, you’ll be rewarded for your efforts. The UK has some amazing places to visit, and here are just a few cities in the UK that you might want to include on your backpacking adventure.
The Old Smoke… Not so Smokey These Days
What: Capital of the UK since the 12th century, London is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Samuel Johnson (who wrote the dictionary, seriously!) said that “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life” because there’s basically nothing you could want that you can’t find in London, according to him.
Backpackers usually strive to find those off-the-beaten-track locations rather than visiting the same old tourist traps that most visitors are drawn to. On the contrary, though, there’s something to be said for spending at least a few days in the capital city. For starters, the museums are world famous and many of them are free (donations, of course, are appreciated). There’s also a huge number of youth hostels where you can find cheap accommodation. The UK, being constantly endowed with less than desirable weather, doesn’t attract as many backpackers as other popular countries. For this reason, finding backpacker accommodation isn’t always easy.
London is easy to get to. There are multiple airports to choose from. If you’ve come by boat, then a train can take you up to the center of London. Driving in London isn’t recommended. For starters, almost no-one drives in London unless they’re super rich. The parking is a nightmare, traffic is a nightmare, and roads are mostly taken up by taxis or buses. Cycling is popular but dangerous if you’re not used to the roads. Local busses are convenient, as is the subway (known locally as the Tube or Underground). But remember to get yourself an Oyster card as you can’t pay with cash. Alternatively, there are ways to pay directly with a debit card or a phone app.
London is a great place to discover little hideaways that other people don’t go to. Why visit Big Ben or the London Eye when you can find yourself down a quirky street full of vibrant local colour? If you like the idea of Camden but don’t want the crowds, there’s a solution to that. You can instead head to Islington and visit Camden Passage for a condensed experience. My favourite secret spot is Postman’s Park… shhh!
City of Festivals
What: The capital of Scotland since the 15th century, this northern city is well worth a visit. Edinburgh is a capital city that’s within a stone’s throw of the Scottish Highlands — a must-see for any keen hiking backpacker. The highlands are rugged, breathtaking, and awe-inspiring. For a shorter walk, hike up Arthur’s Seat, which will offer you a panoramic view over the city.
To soak up local history, walk along the Royal Mile and pop into St. Giles’ Cathedral. The hilltop fortress of Edinburgh Castle is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city. Scott Monument is one as well, which is quite a climb, but gifts you some amazing views.
Edinburgh is a festival city, so if you like the party scene, you should try to visit at the right time of year. The film festival is in June, jazz and blues is in July, the popular fringe festival is in August (the same month as the Edinburg Tattoo, and the book festival), and the Hogmanay festival every New Year are just a few you could choose from.
The Waters Run Deep
What: Do you like visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites? If so, head to Bath — the whole city is a designated cultural UNESCO destination. Built from golden Georgian sandstone, the whole city is a stunning location. While Bath is an expensive place to live in and attracts plenty of ‘posh’ visitors, it’s also a student hub. It’s also very popular with backpackers in the UK.
Top attractions in the city include the Roman Baths (that gave the city its name) and the Thermae Bath Spa where you can actually try out the relaxing warm waters. Visit ‘Britain’s Most Picturesque Street’ — the Royal Crescent — for a glimpse of the awesome architecture and views that the city has to offer. The city is particularly busy during the Christmas Market, where streets are flooded with chalet-style stalls to get you in the festive spirit.
Where: The Lake District
What: Whether you just want a day or two of soaking up amazing views and atmosphere, or whether you are looking for some epic hikes and pure adventure, the Lake District should be on your tick list. One of the most beautiful national parks in the UK, this scenic spot has been a source of inspiration for creatives such as Beatrix Potter, William Wordsworth, and John Ruskin. With peaks and fells, lakes and rolling vistas, it’s a truly inspiring view. Not quite Scotland, but with scenes to rival the far north, the lakes might be the most stunning place you visit in the UK.
Excellent Value, No Compromise
What: Capital city of Wales, this is one city you don’t want to miss. Wales is known for its rugged beauty, it’s rural charm, and outdoor pursuits. If you like hiking up mountains in drizzle and fog, Cardiff is for you. But the capital city can offer the other side of the coin — fantastic museums, diverse eateries and pubs, fun experiences, and good value as well.
Backpackers are commonplace in Cardiff. As prices are often a little cheaper in Wales than they are in the UK, you can enjoy this stop off without it hurting your wallet too much! Enjoy the nightlife of this bustling city, then wake up early the next day to see the local attractions. Cardiff Castle is one of the things that you shouldn’t miss.
The Harbour With A Big Heart
What: This is a city with a long history and exciting growth into the future. Many London office workers ditch the big city to head on over to vibrant, happening Bristol. It’s really giving bigger cities a run for their money. There’s always something happening in Bristol—whether it’s a jazz night, poetry reading, comedy gig, cutting edge theatre, convention, or something else; Bristol is a city of events. It will certainly keep you on your toes.
Much of the city has undergone redevelopment in recent years. They are evident in the Cabot Circus shopping center and the developments around the Temple Meads train station. Spend some time walking around the city (looking out for artwork by Banksy!) and enjoying the different architectural styles and periods. The Bristol Museum is free. There are also plenty of other speciality museums, such as the Palestine Museum, the M Shed, and Arnolfini.
Come On, Clever Clogs
What: Cities that are good for students are good for backpackers. So why not head to one of the most coveted student hangouts in the world — Oxford? Oxford University has educated around 30 Nobel Prize winners, as well as countless other smart cookies. Come and rub shoulders with the best young minds that the country has to offer. J. R. R. Tolkien (Lord of the Rings) is one famous scholar produced at Oxford. You can visit his favourite haunts, including the pub where he used to drink in the evening. Physicist Stephen Hawking, writer Oscar Wilde, actor Hugh Grant, and poet T. S. Elliot have all pounded these pavements. Not only them, but so have the cast of Harry Potter, as many parts of the films were made here.
Don’t miss out on visiting these top locations: the Ashmolean Museum (epic, you could spend days there), the Bodleian Library, the Pitt Rivers museum (an explorer’s paradise), and the Bridge of Sighs.
Don’t Forget About Ireland!
What: Dublin is Europe’s fastest growing airport, so wherever you’re flying from, you’re likely to find a flight that will get you to Ireland! The largest city in Ireland, Dublin, is a world apart from any city you’ve visited elsewhere in the UK. If you think a visit to Dublin will just be all about drinking Guinness, think again; the city is a cultural hub with countless museums to offer. Some of them are Archaeology, Natural History, Decorative Art and History, Dublin Writers Museum, Transport Museum, Photography Museum, and the National Gallery. A visit to Kilmainham Gaol (Dublin Prison) will be unforgettable.
A City Off-The-Beaten-Track
What: Not on everyone’s hit list, but in our opinion, this Lancashire city is an absolute gem. With a modest population, it doesn’t have as much going for it as some of the bigger cities in the UK, but Lancaster has a wonderful vibe. It has that friendliness that you only get in cities up north. It’s the right size to wander around without feeling overwhelmed. The Lancaster Visitor Information Centre doesn’t look like much, but it’s a fantastic little museum with so much to offer. Lancaster is a place for discovering quirky attractions; from staying in a unique glamping or camping pod, to discovering funky eateries or visiting Sambo’s Grave.
Hit The Beach
What: Life’s a beach… or at least it is if you head over to Brighton. Down on the south coast of the UK, in East Sussex, Brighton is known for its nightlife, party atmosphere, LGBT population, and stunning beaches. Popular as a holiday destination in the Regency era, tourism has continued in this seaside city, which is the most popular beach destination for foreign travelers to the UK.
The relaxed, open atmosphere and hippy vibes in the city make it a great place for backpackers in the UK. You’ll feel very welcomed. At the same time, you can enjoy the time to chill out while hitting Brighton Beach with your towel and swimwear. You can also wander through the lanes for boutique shopping experiences or visit the vibrant bars and clubs when night falls. Brighton has been called one of the happiest places to live in the UK, so if you want to take some time out from your travels to kick back and recharge, what better place to do it than here?