I’ve been living in England for 3 years now. Being from a small town in Mississippi, I would’ve never imagined living in a different country, let alone seeing picturesque castles and gorgeous landscapes like this in the United Kingdom. It is so different from the United States. However, being able to learn about British culture and history is just so inspiring. While living here, I’ve gotten the chance to take a city break quite often to explore England and all it has to offer.
So how do you take a city break?
Of course, I know it can be challenging to see everything in the UK and most people only get one vacation a year. I get it. That’s why taking a city break is so important and something that you should strive to do. You don’t have to go to a different country if you only have 2-3 days off.
You can see a new city, experience a new culture, and have adventures right where you live.
In this post, I have gathered 12 places to visit in England for some unforgettable city breaks. Some of these places you can see in one day or over a 2-day weekend. Other cities, you can see if you have an extended 3 or 4-day weekend. A long weekend is a perfect time to take a city break right here in the UK.
If you are like me and only living in England temporarily due to work or the military, taking a city break is perfect. You have to think about how other people from the states or other countries would love to travel here to London, Scotland, or Cornwall, but it’s too far away and maybe too expensive or out of their budget.
But you, my friend, are already here, so why not take advantage of this beautiful country of England? Because once you move away, you may not have the same opportunity of being so close again. Once I go back to the states, I know that I will only come back to Europe once a year if I’m lucky.
So take the opportunity while you have it to get out there and explore England. Make memories, create experiences, and you’ll cherish those moments for years to come.
So without further ado, let’s look at the best 12 city breaks to take in the UK.
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London is said to be one of the most visited cities in the world. And I can see why. London is like no other place I’ve ever been. There are so many different places to explore. London is a melting pot full of different cultures and ethnicities. From British to Indian to Caribbean culture, it is a piece of everything from around the world. That’s why London is a perfect city break to take in England.
Things to do in London
London is the closest thing to New York or the big city life you will see. Meaning they have Big bus transportation, the Underground, city cabs galore, people are walking around EVERYWHERE, enjoying, touring, and exploring.
So one of the best things about London is the incredible Food and Instagrammable desserts. My friends and family love to go to London to get some good food and try something different. If you are missing American restaurants as I sometimes do, then London is the place to go. They have TGIFridays, Wingstop, Planet Hollywood, Hard Rock Cafe’, and even…wait for it…A Chipoltle. Say what? YES.
But of course, we didn’t travel all this way from America to only eat American food. Oh, no-no-no. You have to eat other authentic British food as well. From the Ivy Market Grill, the plethora of pubs, to eating Fast Food like Nando’s. The choices as endless.
Along with eating great food, going to the West End theatre is another incredible thing to do. There is nothing like going to a live performance and experiencing it first hand. Watch the Lion King, Phantom of the Opera, Tina Turner, Six, and countless more. The theatres are excellent in London.
But wait there is more
Last but not least is exploring the big tourist attractions, especially if you’re visiting London for the first time. You must see places like Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s Residence, and visit the London Eye, and the London Tower Bridge. To see some of the top tourist attractions, then I recommend getting a London Sightseeing Pass. With the pass, there are more than 55 attractions you’ll have access to enter for free, including the Tower of London and River Thames cruises.
There are so many other things to see and do in London. This, of course, to get cultured and for bragging rights!! Duh! You must visit London at least once, but hell, I cannot even count the number of times I’ve been. It’s been that many times!! I’m sure once you visit, you’ll be going back for more and more.
How to get to London
So the best way to get to London, IMO, is by train. If you live in the Mildenhall, Bury St. Edmunds area, you can take the train from Ely, Cambridge, or Cambridge North.
If you are relatively new to England, driving down the narrow streets and being stuck in traffic may deter you from visiting again. However, it’s so much easier and faster to navigate through London by train.
Parking at Cambridge North train station (my favorite) is pretty cheap; pay a few pounds a day, and you can get on the train without worry.
You won’t get stressed by driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Or having to turn around countless times because you don’t know where you’re going…LOL. Therefore, you won’t waste your time in traffic.
If you don’t want to do a lot of walking once you get to King’s Cross Train station, you can catch an Uber or Taxi to your destination. Or do like me and jump on the Underground.
You have to have an Oyster Card, which you can buy at the train station. It only costs 5 pounds, and then you just load money on your card to get around, and that’s it.
Cambridge City Break
Cambridge is a fascinating city to visit for an awesome city break. So Cambridge isn’t as big as London, but it is a big-medium size city nonetheless. There is so much history and culture to explore around Cambridge. The beautiful architecture buildings will captivate you. Since it is a University city, you will see a ton of college kids walking around. Not to mention, bicyclists are everywhere too.
Things to do in Cambridge
First off, the University of Cambridge is an iconic place to see. The University is known around the world. Also, you’ll see a big park in the middle of the city called Parker’s Piece. The park is where you can have a picnic and people watch. At this park, they are known for having activities like cricket, football, and seasonal events and fairs.
Next, take a boat ride along the River Cam or take a private punting tour. Being on the river will allow you to see parts of Cambridge and the colleges that you can’t see otherwise. It’s also lovely to walk down by the river. If you love flowers and nature as I do, check out the Cambridge University Botanic Garden. Don’t forget to explore and gawk in awe at the Great St. Mary’s Church (Church of England) that dates way back to 1205. So much history in this city of Cambridge. You should not miss it.
There is also excellent shopping in Cambridge. If you are relatively new to the area, then you should check out the Grand Arcade mall. They have some stylish retail stores like Calvin Klein, John Lewis, Mango, and Levi’s. But I love that they have an Apple Store for all those Apple junkies out there like me. You can get your fix and get your products fixed at the same time. Then stop and have desserts at Krispy Kreme. Add to your jewelry collection at Pandora’s. Or grab some new undergarments from Victoria’s Secret Pink. There’s a little something for everyone.
If you didn’t get enough retail therapy and looking for more, then head to The Grafton Centre for more shopping, food, and socializing. It’s just a short walk between the two malls. Some stores to check out there are H&M, Claire’s, Next, and New Look. And then, if you want to take a break, go check out a movie at the VUE.
How to get to Cambridge
Cambridge is a pretty easy city to drive to and around. You can drive your car to wherever you need to go while in Cambridge for about 30-45 minutes, depending on exactly where you’re going. There are usually car parks near the place you would like to see. But, if you are really up for a full day of exploring, you can Park & Ride the city bus. Park&Ride is a good option for only 3 British Pounds you can park your car and ride the bus all day. A bonus is that it’s a hop-on-hop-off bus. If you don’t want to do either, you can take the train into Cambridge and park at the train station from Ely, Cambridge, or Cambridge North.
Oxford City Break
What makes Oxford the ideal city break is that it is full of history and culture. It is a smaller city, that is easily accessible by walking. It is a beautiful city with gorgeous honey-colored architectural buildings. Oxford is in central Southern England.
Things to do in Oxford
You can take a City Sightseeing Bus Tour to learn all about the city’s history. I like taking a city bus tour, especially when visiting somewhere for the first time. It gives me a chance to see the entire city and learn about its history from the commentator or pre-recorded audio. Then once you’ve seen the whole town, you can choose what sights you want to get off the bus to see and enter.
Some of the top sights and things to do in Oxford are Oxford University, Oxford Botanic Garden, Oxford University Museum of Natural History, Oxford Castle, and more. Additionally, see some areas where the Harry Potter movies were filmed, like at the Bodleian Library and Christ Church. You may opt to do a Harry Potter sightseeing tour to learn more about the filming of Harry Potter and tour all of the locations with a guide.
There are loads of shopping there as well on the High Street. Along with tons of excellent options of restaurants to eat. My recommendation is to try some of the Asian cuisines. There are many to choose from, but The Coconut Tree would be a great place to start.
Furthermore, you can’t miss taking a trip to The Covered Market. Here you can hunt for some unique finds and authentic, organic, homemade goods. I bought some excellent Rose and Lavender oils from this cute boutique shop. Some of the stores at the Covered Market are Pieminister, Oxford Soap Company, Bens Cookies. Furthermore, stop at one of the stalls for some fresh produce and flowers. Drink a rich and thick milkshake from Moo-Moos or eat creamy gelato from iScream. But if you are not into sweets and want a little bit more tangy, then have a pint at Teardrop Bar.
How to get to Oxford
You can drive to Oxford quite easily from Mildenhall, Bury St. Edmunds in roughly 3 hours. Then once you are there, you can park your car at your hotel or car park. Then walk around to where you want to go. There is also a railway station there if you don’t want to drive. The train ride is 2 1/2 hours from Cambridge. They have direct routes from London Paddington to Oxford to get there in less than an hour.
So Dover is a lovely, quaint city that is the beginning of the English Channel crossing over to France. Dover is in the Southeast of England in Kent county. Dover is the perfect city break for families especially.
Things to do in Dover
Visit the Dover Castle. At the castle, you’ll get a chance to see the Underground WWII tunnels. You’ll get to tour the underground hospital where they treated WWII victims. I must say it’s pretty incredible to see.
Don’t forget to go to one of the most visited places in the castle, the Great Tower. Plus, you can get astonishing views of the channel crossing and the city.
Another thing to do in Dover is to take a walk along the beach. Lounge at St Margaret’s Bay Beach, and surround yourself by the chalky white cliffs. Get your cameras ready to take some gorgeous shots of these beautiful cliffs.
Then no visit will be complete without taking a hike along the chalk-white cliffs of Dover. Moreover, another activity is to visit the South Foreland Lighthouse, and if you want some history and see great art, check out the Dover Museum.
How to get to Dover
If you come from Mildenhall, Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, the drive will be about 2 ½ hours. But it is a reasonably easy drive if you have gotten used to the country roads here with a few winding roads in between. There is parking available at the castle if you are driving. Some trains run from London St. Pancreas to Dover Priory, about 2 ½ to 3 hours.
Brighton is the perfect place to visit for a city break. It’s a vibrant, bustling, and yet quaint area. Sitting along the Southern Coast of England makes this gem the ultimate seaside city.
There are many things to do here, and art enthusiasts will love seeing all of the collections here. I’m sure you’ll love gazing at the dazzling blue water. Although the beach is pebbles vs. sand, it is still a trendy day trip for many visitors, and people flock here to get some sun.
Things to do in Brighton
So Brighton Beach is situated next to a huge boardwalk. Take a stroll along the beautiful beach and take in the views. Next, you can walk down the Brighton Palace Pier and jump on a few of the rides.
There are several restaurants to eat at along the beach, so you’ll have plenty of choices to tame that hunger for lunch or dinner. Additionally, there are places to have a pint of drink or cocktail to wash all of that food down. You’ll be happy to see the beautiful artwork displayed throughout the beach and pier if you are into the arts. There are sculptures placed in different locations on the beach and pier for your enjoyment. The big beautiful Chinese-inspired palace you’ll likely see is the Royal Pavillion, it’s pretty to look at, but you can go inside for more exploring. If you have little ones with you, I’m sure they’ll love going to the aquarium, Sea Life Brighton. There are so many other things to do in Brighton. Learn more about how to spend one day in Brighton.
How to get to Brighton
It is a comfortable drive to Brighton. Roads to get there from Mildenhall are easily accessible. Brighton is about 53 miles south of London and 137 miles from Bury St. Edmunds.
Cotswold City Break
So I was fortunate to live in this area for six months, so I got the chance to explore the towns all around Cotswold. And I must say that I love Cotswold. It has by far been one of my favorite places to explore.
The Cotswolds is a beautiful area in the western part of England. It’s not just one city. It spans over five counties and 800 square miles. It is the perfect place to visit for a city break or over a long weekend. Driving to the Cotswold from Mildenhall or London, you will see breathtaking countryside and landscapes. The area is just so charming. You’ll pass by cow and sheep pastures. Plus, gorgeous green rolling hills that extend for days. Driving through the Cotswold is just so picturesque. You’ll fall in love with the countryside, beautiful waffle-colored cottages made of stone. It has that old-small town type of feeling, very nostalgic, and did I say…beautiful?
So within the Cotwolds are several different cities. There are a few notable ones Burford, Bibury, Castle Comb, and Cirencester. In Bibury, you must go to see the glorious cottages of Arlington Row. These cottages have to be amongst one of the MOST photographed villages of England. Like seriously. And you won’t be disappointed, and it is a sight to see these historic British homes.
Things to do in the Cotwolds
Walk down the stream of water and watch the swans swim peacefully adrift. This village, I feel, is classic old England with its charming cottages with plants and flowers covering parts of the houses.
Also, in Cotswold, you will have a field day of lavender (at least I did). Visit the Cotswold Lavender Farm. You’ll be in heaven smelling all that fresh lavender in open fields. However, if you don’t visit the farm, that’s okay since there is lavender all around here. You can get your hands on some Lavender at a boutique that specializes in all things lavender. There you can treat yourself or your family to some essential oils, lotions, or linen spray made with their organic lavender. There are so many other charming boutiques to poke your head in for some unique finds. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to try some decadent pastries, cakes, and fudge.
How to get to the Cotwolds
You can drive to the Cotwolds for a one-day city break or stay for the entire weekend. It will take about 2 ½ hours to get there from Cambridge, 3 hours from Bury St. Edmunds, and 2 hours from London.
**Tidbit, when you are driving back home, you may like to stop at IKEA, in Milton Keynes. It is on the route you’re going anyway, so you might as well.
Bath City Break
Bath is a UNESCO World Heritage site. This Roman-inspired city is cute, quaint, and oh so adorable. It is genuinely a different side of England and is a slower, peaceful area away from the hustle and bustle. Since it is a small city, you can walk practically everywhere. You will fall in love with the waffle-colored Roman-style buildings and unique crescent houses. They are so unique, and the stones it’s made of are an exquisite and historic charm.
Visiting Bath is an incredible city break for couples because it is picturesque and romantic. However, it’s still a cool place to visit with friends or the entire family. You can visit Bath in 2 days or over an extended weekend, and that will be enough time to enjoy its beauty.
Things to do in Bath
Visit the Roman Baths. You will get to see how the Romans lived and spent their free time. Also, you’ll get some rich history of the Roman Baths and see how the thermal spring waters were curated.
Additionally, you can’t come to Bath and not partake in frolicking in the hot springs yourself. So head on over to Thermae Bath Spa for a day of relaxation. Not only can you get in the mineral-rich water, but you can get a relieving massage as well.
Then, pop on over to one of the many unique cafes and take a break for coffee, tea, and pastries.
There are plenty of memorable sights to see, like the Avon River Bridge and The Bath Abbey. The atmosphere of Bath is stunning, so just walk around and enjoy the city, landscapes and the people.
How to get to Bath
Bath is easy to get to by driving. However, parking can be a bit challenging. So just make sure you plan your trip to Bath ahead of time. It is about a 3-hour drive from Bury and 2 ½ hours from London. You can also take the train directly into Bath, which is what I did. Once there it was no need to catch a taxi or Uber because we walked everywhere.
Cornwall City Break
Cornwall would be the ultimate city break for sunshine and beaches. This area is west of England, and it is breathtaking. Cornwall, by far, has to be one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen while living in England. It’s like its own separate island or something. You will enjoy a holiday city break here too. It’s like the perfect weekend getaway and city break, all without having to leave the UK.
Things to do in Cornwall
There is plenty to do with the family or with some friends. You can visit one or two of its many beaches. Most of the beaches here are full of golden sand, so you’ll love this. One of the beaches of St. Ives is Porthminster Beach, where you can lay out in the golden sands or swim in the calming waters. Other beaches there are great for surfing. If you’ve never been surfing, don’t worry, you can get a surfing lesson no matter your skill level.
Then you should visit St. Michael’s Mount. It’s a stunning castle that sits high above on an island. In addition, there are several cities in Cornwall that are worthy of visiting. Some are St.Ives, Penzance, Carbis Bay, and Newquay.
Visit Land’s End, which is at the westernmost point of England. Then eat some of the most delicious Cornish Ice Cream you’ve ever tasted in your life! It’s so indulging, creamy, and rich.
How to get to Cornwall
You can take the drive to Cornwall. My family and I decided to do a Roadtrip to Cornwall for our Labor Day city break. We had a long 4-day weekend and wanted to take full advantage of our time off from work. So, it will take about 6 hours to get to Cornwall, driving from Mildenhall, Bury St. Edmunds area. It will take about 5 hours from London. If you would prefer to take the train, you can. There are options to take the train to Cornwall, but the prices may be a little too steep and may take you longer to get there. The cool thing about taking a road trip is that you can take your time, make stops along the way, and see the mind-blowing landscapes that England has to offer.
Bournemouth is another beautiful southern coastal town. The city is small enough to walk around pretty much anywhere. We stayed at a great location at the Bournemouth Highcliff Marriott Hotel. This hotel was sitting up above on a hill right near the beach. While at the Marriott Hotel, you’ll get amazing views of the tranquil beach.
Things to do in Bournemouth
There are plenty of things to do in this gorgeous seaside city of Bournemouth. First, you can visit their beautiful lower and upper gardens. At the gardens, you’ll see lovely manicured lawns, flowers, and landscapes. You’ll see other people walking their dogs, having a picnic, or getting their exercise on by running through the park.
You can also go shopping down High Street in the Town Centre. There are loads of stores here for some good old retail therapy. Then you can go to the Bournemouth Pier and partake in some activities, play some carnival games at RockReef, or go ziplining! Yes, they have ziplining from the pier across the water, landing on the sandy beach. Stop and get some ice cream or a milkshake. Take a ride on the Observation wheel, aka Ferris Wheel, to see the city of Bournemouth overlooking the water.
Another thing you must do is go to the beach. It’s a sandy beach, so you can play in the sand, build a few sandcastles. If the water is warm enough, take a dip. Or just lay out on the beach and enjoy hearing the ocean waves crashing and enjoy the peace and quiet.
How to get to Bournemouth
The drive is pretty smooth and beautiful. From Bury St. Edmunds, it will take about 3 ½ hours. If coming from London, it would take about 1 ½ to 2 ½ hours, depending on what part of London you are driving from. You can take the train from London Waterloo directly to Bournemouth in 2 hours.
Bristol City Break
Bristol is a vibrant, colorful port city. I like the vibe of Bristol as the people look chill and just want to have fun, kick back, and relax. The city is a breath of fresh air, especially being out on the water. Bristol is also an artsy city full of life and culture. It is in the southwest area of England near Cotswold.
Things to do in Bristol
First and foremost, you must go to the iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge. It is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Bristol. Its construction began in 1836 by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. While on the bridge, take in the incredible views of the Avon Gorge.
Then take a walk around the harbourside. Have drinks at one of the beer gardens and eat some good food. I went to a Caribbean-inspired restaurant, and they had some cocktails that were on point. So you can go to a good restaurant or beer garden and sit outside looking at the water and enjoying the scenery.
If you want a little history, then make a trip to the M Shed museum, don’t worry, it’s free to enter. Then take a ferry boat ride around the harbour and learn more about the city and surrounding communities from another view. Another attraction that people love is Brunel’s SS Great Britain, “the ship that changed the World.” Explore the ship, learn the history, and see how the Victorian people lived at sea.
Are you going there with a group of friends? Then you should have some fun and go pub hopping. Then you can chase some street art because Bristol has plenty of it.
How to get to Bristol
It’s easily accessible by train. It only takes 1 1/2 hours from London Paddington to Bristol and 3 hours from Cambridge. However, if you decide to drive from Bury St. Edmunds, it’ll take about 3 1/2 hours to get to Bristol. The drive from London is also not that long, only 2 1/2 hours to get there.
Dorset City Break
For an adventurous city break and hiking trip, visit Dorset and the Jurassic Coast. The Jurassic coast is vast since it spans over 90 miles of coastline. Jurassic coast is an iconic area to visit. Why? It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. And for a good reason too. This coastline full of rocky terrain, hills, cliffs have been there for over 200 million years. The Jurassic Coast is where the dinosaurs roamed. The Jurassic Coast is stunning. The nature and landscapes are breathtaking. It gives you a different feeling when you are out in nature and away from big cities and large buildings. Coming here is a must and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This is history at its finest.
Things to do in Dorset
Hike to the Old Harry Rocks to get stunning views of the White Chalk Cliffs. These views are breathtaking, overlooking a body of water. Then you can go to any of the four beaches of Studland Bay. Additionally, you can continue to explore down the Jurassic Coast to learn and see all of the facets of this area. Don’t forget to visit another iconic landmark, Durdle Door. Then trek over to the Lulworth Cove.
How to get to Dorset
The drive here is about 3 hours 45 minutes from Bury St. Edmunds and 3 hours from London. It is right next to Bournemouth, so you could try to visit both if you have enough time. By train, it’ll take 3 ½ hours from London.
Edinburgh City Break
Who wouldn’t love Scotland? While you’re living here in England, you must take a city break in Edinburgh, Scotland. Scotland is a part of the United Kingdom, but yet the culture is different from England. Edinburgh is the epitome of preserving its history, culture, and historic buildings. This ancient city is gorgeous, like a step back in time but in a good way. The architecture alone will blow you away with its gothic-style buildings and old-time look.
Things to do in Edinburgh
There are plenty of things to do in Edinburgh. One of the most popular things people come here to do is conquer hiking up Arthur’s Seat. Not only that, Edinburgh is a walkable city too. Go to the top of Calton Hill to see incredible views of the city and Arthur’s Seat. Additionally, Scotland is known for its Whiskey, so learn more about its origins on a Scotch Whiskey Experience. For a different activity, take a Ghost Tour.
Edinburgh is known for many things, but Harry Potter has to be amongst the most notable. So, take a Harry Potter Tour to see some of the places J.K. Rowlings sat to write the tales and places where the filming takes place.
Don’t forget to visit Edinburgh Castle, and you can’t miss it because the city is surrounded by it. Likewise, have food and drinks at the Grass Market. There are a plethora of things to do in Edinburgh. You can explore all of these things by spending 3 days in Edinburgh, the perfect city break.
How to get to Edinburgh
Driving is always an option. Some people prefer to drive to take in some of the breathtaking landscapes leading up to Edinburgh. So, from Bury St. Edmunds, the drive will be roughly 7 hours. From London, it’ll take about 7 1/2 hours. You can also catch a train to Scotland, which is what we did. The train station is in New Town and about a 20-minute walk to Old Town. It’ll take 4 1/2 to 5 hours from London and about the same from Cambridge by train.
So as you see, there are plenty of things to do around the UK for the perfect city break. I hope you take this opportunity to get out and explore. Let me know in the comments below where you are planning to take your next UK city break.