Easter (7-10 April)
Culture in Hull
For a last-minute Easter getaway, a city break offers more choice and less chance of places being booked up. The UK’s 2017 City of Culture, Hull is an interesting, multifaceted destination. There are leaflets of trails at the tourist kiosk at the railway station for exploring Hull’s Old Town, which has become a popular film location: it stood in for wartime London in TV shows such as The Crown.
Walking tours might include sea-themed sculptures on the Fish Trail, historic pubs along the Ale Trail, literary sites with links to Philip Larkin, or a free guided tour of the city’s maritime heritage.
There are nesting plovers, flower-covered dunes and a great lighthouse to climb at Spurn Point, 20 miles south-east. Spurn Safaris takes visitors around the wild, ever-changing peninsula in its former military truck (£22 adult/£12 child). In this flat landscape even inexperienced pedallers could cycle to – and across – the Humber Bridge, or along an old railway to spot marsh harriers hunting over reed-fringed Hornsea Mere. Hull Trinity Backpackers has bikes for hire, and also dorms and private double rooms (£54 room-only).
Hull Minster’s tower can be climbed (book ahead) for views over the Yorkshire Wolds and Humber estuary (£6). Nearby Ferens Art Gallery, one of several free museums, has a lively collection spanning Frans Hals and David Hockney. Two free Ancient Egypt-themed exhibitions have recently opened.
Hull’s refurbished Trinity indoor market smells of fresh falafel, pad thai, and chickpea curry. For a place to stay, the Hilton DoubleTree, which opened with 165 bedrooms in late 2017 has B&B doubles from £99. It’s just down the road from Hull Truck Theatre, which has a production of foot-tapping musical Footloose until 8 April.
For souvenirs and a glass of decent wine, the former Hammonds department store over the road is a vast space partly filled with a new food hall and a Saturday craft market.
Get there from Leeds for £5 one-way. Trains run direct from London in 2½ hours (from £60 return). More info and places to stay at visithull.org
Cotswolds by train
Drifts of daffs and delicate blossom, budding buttercup meadows and glades of early bluebells make the tree-lined valley of Batsford Arboretum a great place for a springtime stroll (£9 adult/£3.15 child). It’s a two-mile walk through fields of lambs and fresh-leaved oaks from Moreton-in-Marsh, which has a railway station, places to stay and regular buses (£2 each) to other Cotswolds towns.
A ride on the Oxford to Worcester railway, with orchards and winding rivers through the window, makes a lovely trip in its own right and is ideal for enjoying linear hikes between Cotswolds towns and villages. An eight-mile ramble along the Evenlode valley from Charlbury to Hanborough passes the ruins of a Roman villa and woods pungent with wild garlic.
Or there are parrots, porcupines, lizards and lemurs to spot at All Things Wild (from £12) just a few minutes’ walk down the road from Honeybourne station – and there are free hot drinks for visitors who arrive by train, bus or bike.
Worcester, half an hour further on and nearer to the Malvern hills, makes a good holiday base for the area, with relatively budget-friendly hotels still currently available on booking.com. Wet-weather options in Gloucester, a short scenic train ride from Worcester or Cheltenham, include the cathedral’s fan-vaulted medieval cloisters, which appear in three Harry Potter films, and the Waterways Museum, which covers two floors of a former grain warehouse in the docks. The museum runs boat trips from April on board a former Dunkirk Little Ship along a canal rich with birdlife including cormorants (£8.50 adult/£5 child).
Getting there: advance train tickets from Bristol to Gloucester cost from £5 one-way or £17.30 from Oxford to Worcester, gwr.com. More info cotswolds.com
29 April-1 May
Wild Perthshire and Fife
Kinclaven bluebell wood, north of Perth, offers springtime purple under mossy oaks and big beeches. Walkers on its gentle grassy tracks can listen for woodpeckers and watch red squirrels jump through the branches. The winding paths in neighbouring Ballathie woods are wilder, with glimpses of the Tay, Scotland’s longest river. Turreted Victorian Ballathie House does lunch (three courses and coffee, £35) or afternoon tea and has doubles from £120 B&B. The 18th-century Stanley Mills cotton factories bring the Industrial Revolution alive. It’s on a bend in the River Tay, whose power drove waterwheels and later turbines (£7.50 adult/£4.50 child).
In the small town of Bridge of Earn, self-catering River Edge Lodges (£400 for three nights) are waterside cabins with fresh flowers inside and goats and chickens outside. Regular buses stop close by for trips to Falkland or Perth, where oxlips and blue poppies bloom in Branklyn Garden (£7.50). Spring roses and wisteria climb over the medieval stones of Falkland Palace, with its ornately carved four-posters, tapestries and painted ceilings (£13). The Falkland Estate has a picturesque walk through pines to the organic vegan-veggie Pillars of Hercules cafe.
Getting there: efficient new electric buses from Edinburgh to Dundee stop in Bridge of Earn (£5.40, book at ember.to). More info: visitscotland.com
Flowering west Norfolk
While the coast and Broads fill up with visitors, west Norfolk is sometimes overlooked. Cherry and chestnut blossom frame ancient towers and gateways in King’s Lynn and it’s often warm enough to drink outside by the river. Spring is a good time to discover this town and the vast tulip fields nearby. Cobbled lanes, medieval guildhalls and old merchants’ houses can be admired from the far bank by crossing the River Great Ouse by ferry. The Riverside restaurant on Ferry Lane offers dishes such as leek tart with local brown shrimps, and lemon meringue ice-cream. True’s Yard celebrates the town’s fishing heritage in two cottages, a smokery, a smithy and a tearoom (£3.50 adult, £1.50 child). St Nicholas chapel, next door, has a ceiling covered in carved angels. Sandy paths run through heather-purple Roydon Heath, just outside town, where birds of prey wheel over birch trees and dragonflies dart through the golden gorse.
Nearby is the Norman keep at Castle Rising (£6 adult/£4 child) and Dutch-style fields of tulips, in flower from late April. Birders can head to RSPB Snettisham, a few miles north, where high tides create whirling clouds of wading birds over the mudflats of the Wash. The striped cliffs and wide beaches of Hunstanton are just a pebble’s skim further up this coast.
Places to stay can still be found on visitwestnorfolk.com. The refurbished Old Rectory has doubles from £95 B&B, and riverside Georgian Bank House has doubles from £125 B&B. Almost next door, Purfleet Brasserie opened last summer near the 17th-century Custom House, and there is outside seating at ancient Marriott’s Warehouse for watching the sun set over the river.
Getting there: train tickets from Cambridge to King’s Lynn cost from £20 return, greatnorthernrail.com. More info at visitwestnorfolk.com
Coronation weekend (6-8 May)
Two hours by train from Birmingham or London, Cardiff makes a great weekend away. Immediately outside Cardiff Central station are the gleaming glass cliff and smart stone columns of the BBC’s newest, most up-to-the-minute broadcasting centre, BBC Cymru Wales. It offers fun 90-minute tours of the TV and radio studios (booking essential). King Charles III, then Prince of Wales, launched the tours in 2022 and visitors get a behind-the-scenes view of the broadcasting process. Presenter Wynne Evans (AKA the Go Compare man) might pop out of his studio to say hello.
On the way from here to Cardiff Castle (£14.50/£10) is the city’s market, where Welshcakes are quickly and expertly cooked on a hotplate in front of customers. Cardiff diners are spoilt for choice, with options including Parador 44, which recently opened a lovely hotel upstairs (doubles from £156 including fabulous Spanish breakfast), the gourmet Heathcock pub near Llandaff cathedral, or the recently revamped waterside Tir a Môr, serving produce such as Welsh cockles with seaweed or bara brith bread-and-butter pudding. A foodie tour, with samples of cheese and seafood, cakes and ale (from £65), gives an expert overview.
The city’s Foodies Festival is on this weekend in flowery Bute Park, with big-name bands, MasterChef winners and Michelin-starred celebs. There are cake-making classes, tips from Bake Off stars, new wine cocktails to sample and chilli-eating challenges. This puts pressure on accommodation, but there are still options, from budget Zip (room-only doubles £60) to five-star St David’s (room-only doubles £183).
Getting there: advance tickets to Cardiff from London Paddington start at £27.60 each way, £8.70 from Bristol, gwr.com. More info at visitwales.com
Amsterdam is now only four hours on the Eurostar from London St Pancras. At the cornucopian Noordermarkt, which overflows with organic rainbow chard and flamboyant tulips, street snacks include plump spring herrings or crispy kibbeling (battered chunks of fish served with garlic mayonnaise). The cobbled streets nearby are full of gabled houses and hollyhocks, and lead to the Western Docks for a free ferry over the river to NDSM, once Europe’s largest shipyard. It’s now home to workshops, cafes and Straat, the world’s biggest street art museum (€18.50 adult/€9.50 child).
The Vermeer exhibition may be sold out, but the city is awash with culture: the Rembrandt House has reopened with five new spaces (€17.50 adult/€6 child). Free sights include Egyptian-style vaults at the City Archives (including a letter from philosopher Spinoza and a school photograph of Anne Frank) and the Rijksmuseum gardens, where sculptures float in a sea of poppies and purple cranesbill.
For a budget stay, Gaasper Camping, 15 minutes away by metro, has free wifi, fresh pastries, bike rental and a lake to swim in (tent pitch for two €22.50). The funky Volkshotel has a sauna and hot tubs on the roof (room-only doubles from €170; saunas open to non-residents on Sunday afternoons). Medieval Haarlem is 15 minutes from Amsterdam by train, and often cheaper. Hello I’m Local hostel has dorm beds from €45) and there are bars nearby with views of boats on the Spaarne River.
Getting there: Eurostar from London to Amsterdam from £39 one-way. More info at holland.com
Half an hour’s harbourside stroll from Dieppe’s ferry port is a museum and art gallery in the clifftop medieval castle. It has portraits by Renoir, prints by Braque, there are model ships, carved maritime ivories and great views across this Norman fishing port (€5.50/€3.50, ).
If it’s still too cool for a dip in the sea, Les Bains is a public spa with a big open-air pool below the castle. For a paddle, the city’s pebbly beaches are often sandy at low tide.
Supplies for a picnic at the coast or nearby woods could include tomatoes and heart-shaped Neufchâtel cheese from Dieppe’s Saturday morning market, voted France’s finest in 2020. At low tide it’s possible to walk along steep-sided Gorge des Moutiers. The church at Varengeville-sur-Mer, with its striking blue stained glass, crowns the chalky cliffs above. An eight-mile hike links this and two other valleys with ochre-walled Manoir d’Ango and Jardin Le Vasterival, full of fragrant meadowsweet and a rainbow of rhododendrons.
There are sea view rooms at Hotel l’Europe, which reopens in April next to the aquarium (twins €169 room-only). Nearby, quayside restaurants offer Dieppe scallops, buttery snails and seafood sauerkraut. La Marmite Dieppoise, on a backstreet near the towering Saint Jacques church, is named after its fish stew, which can be followed with warm, Calvados-infused apple tart and cream.
Getting there: foot passenger tickets on the four-hour ferry from Newhaven start from £23 one-way, dfds.com. More info uk.dieppetourisme.com.
The striking grass-roofed First Light Pavilion opened a year ago at Jodrell Bank. It’s part of a £21.5m project to show off the observatory’s pioneering role in scientific history. The original fabric of the Lovell telescope is part of the exhibition and a Space Dome screens shows about Jodrell, the universe and everything (£12 adult/£8 child).
Northwich, 20 minutes’ drive away, has a free food festival on 27-29 May. Nearby, the Anderton Boat Lift, an impressive bit of Victorian engineering, reopens at Easter. Trips on a glass-walled viewing boat include being raised 15 metres from the River Weaver to the Trent and Mersey canal. Among rusting brine tanks and brick chimneys along the canal at Lion Salt Works, dioramas and projections conjure up 12-hour shifts sweating over boiling salt pans (£6.60 adult/£4.20 child).
The Geronimo festival, up the road at Arley Hall, has a crowd-pleasing lineup and activities from crazy golf to craft workshops, rocking horses, Nerf guns and fort building (tickets from £10). Tatton Park, a few miles east, is more peaceful. The birdsong-filled Japanese garden is full of late-spring colour, and sheep are being sheared this weekend (£14 adult/£8 child).
Hartford Hall near Northwich is a schoolhouse converted into a hotel in 2021 (room-only doubles from £95). Other bolthoes include the Roebuck Inn at Mobberley (room-only doubles from £145) or, closer to Chester, glamping in lakeside yurts at Lloyds Meadow. One yurt has a stargazing roof and fish can be heard jumping outside the door (£315 for three nights). In Chester, the new market’s food court offers delights such as lentil fritters with spiced chickpeas at Guroma and salted caramel brioche with honey-glazed apples at Crustum.
More info, visitcheshire.com