Now's the time to explore Britain's blissfully uncrowded cities

Summer in the city: With foreign tourists staying away, now’s the time to explore Britain’s blissfully uncrowded cities – and there are hotel bargains on offer, too…

  • If you’re after peace and quiet, head to Edinburgh where it is all calm on Princes Street and George Street
  • A Gothic abbey and the Guildhall Market await in Bath — although the famous Roman Baths remain closed
  • In London, wander along the Thames to Big Ben and take in the shops without the usual summer argie-bargie 

Sandy beaches, ice creams, fish and chips, amusement arcades, or rolling hills with footpaths and baking countryside… these are the traditional ingredients for a UK summer break.

But think again. 2020 could be the perfect year to visit some of Britain’s great cities, with high streets quieter than ever and hotels offering tempting deals.

It’s true that some attractions remain closed, but there’s more than enough of interest for a long weekend away. So here’s our guide of the top picks this summer.


In Edinburgh, all is calm on Princes Street and George Street and you can enjoy the Royal Mile without the crowds 

In August the Scottish capital is usually in the throes of the Fringe Festival. So if you are after peace and quiet and one of the country’s finest cities, this is the year to go to Edinburgh. All is calm on Princes Street and George Street.

Take your pick of tables at the pubs on Rose Street. Saunter down the Royal Mile without the crowds. Enjoy the silence as you take in the impressive views from Arthur’s Seat or Calton Hill.

The excellent markets — Grassmarket, Stockbridge and Leith — are all open.

TOP ATTRACTION: Edinburgh’s spectacular castle re-opens today. Adults £15.50, children £9.30 (

WHERE TO STAY: The Bonham Hotel in the West End has B&B doubles from £125 (


Visitors to York this summer will be pleased to know that York Minster, pictured, which is unmissable on any trip to the city,  has reopened 

York Minster has re-opened — and it’s unmissable on any visit. This staggering example of medieval architecture was completed in 1472, with a 235 ft tower and five lancet windows more than 50 ft high.

The River Ouse cuts through York, bypassing the city walls and overlooked by Clifford’s Tower — which you can visit again from today for the best views.

Families are also able to enjoy the Dungeon and city ghost tours again — and shops on the Shambles are back in action.

TOP ATTRACTION: York is surrounded by beautiful countryside full of places to visit such as Castle Howard, Newby Hall and Dalby Forest.

WHERE TO STAY: Doubles at the Principal York from £116 (


West is best: The abbey offers a stunning backdrop to Parade Gardens in Bath

Jane Austen connections, a Gothic abbey and the Guildhall Market await in Bath — although the famous Roman Baths remain closed.

But there’s plenty else to investigate including the Georgian houses of the Royal Crescent, which sits majestically on a hill, as well as plentiful cafes, tearooms and delicatessens, which are usually chock-a-block in the summer. This year they are blissfully quiet.

TOP ATTRACTION: River tours along the Avon restart today, from £8 at

WHERE TO STAY: B&B doubles at Broad Street Townhouse from £85 (


Capital attraction: All is quiet in London and you can wander along the Thames to Big Ben without the usual summer argie-bargie



Buckingham Palace

Tower of London

The Cutty Sark

London Dungeons

Imperial War Museum

Somerset House

The Barbican 

Kew Gardens


British Museum

London Eye

Science Museum (until August 19)

Natural History Museum (until August 5)

Museum of London

Serpentine Gallery


With 30 million annual visitors, London is one of the world’s great tourist destinations — but now all is quiet. Wander along the Thames to Big Ben and take in the shops on Oxford Street without the usual summer argie-bargie.

There’s Mediterranean-style outdoor dining in the newly closed-off streets of Soho. And seeing Buckingham Palace or St Paul’s Cathedral has never been easier. The Tube is even pleasantly calm.

But be warned, the British Museum and London Eye remain closed, and competition for tickets for the National Gallery and V&A is fierce.

TOP ATTRACTION: The Tower of London’s outdoor areas as well as the Crown Jewels displays and the White Tower have re-opened; adults £25, children £12.50 (

WHERE TO STAY: B&B doubles at the Hilton Hyde Park from £103 (


The city of Chester, which was founded in AD79 and has a strong Roman connection 

Founded in AD79, Chester is home to the most complete medieval walls in England. The River Dee runs through the city and streets are lined with fine Victorian buildings.

There is a strong Roman connection — and history tours, including a visit to the Roman Garden, recently resumed.

Chester Zoo has also re-opened with social distancing (online booking required).

It’s easier than ever to get around the shops on the medieval Rows, while Storyhouse Theatre has films, but not live performances.

TOP ATTRACTION: The 355 ft long and 127 ft high cathedral, which began life as a Benedictine abbey in 1093.

WHERE TO STAY: B&B doubles at the Crowne Plaza Chester from £97 (


Small and peaceful Durham, pictured, is famous for its magnificent cathedral overlooking the River Wear

Among the northern industrial cities of Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Sunderland and Hartlepool is small, peaceful Durham, famous for its magnificent cathedral overlooking the River Wear.

There are also fine views of its 11th-century castle, designated a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1986 (along with the cathedral). Sadly, both are closed for tours, but you can still wander their grounds and marvel at their sheer splendour.

Much in the city has, however, re-opened, including the ten- hectare Botanic Gardens and the Oriental Museum, plus many pubs and restaurants.

TOP ATTRACTION: Beamish, the Living Museum of the North, is 20 minutes away — 350 acres dedicated to recounting the history of the North-East. Entry is free. Book online (

WHERE TO STAY: B&B doubles at the Hotel Indigo from £99 (


On a visit to Winchester, you can visit one of the largest cathedrals in Europe, pictured 

Winchester has one of the largest cathedrals in Europe (open once again after lockdown), plus 600-year-old Winchester College, Peninsula Square Gardens and a castle containing Arthur’s Round Table, which is also open.

Yet this quaint city has many less traditional attractions. For example, Kyoto Kitchen is a first-rate Japanese restaurant serving wasabi farmed locally.

Or, for a relaxing evening, head to the re-opened Everyman Theatre, where seating is on socially- distanced sofas.

Winchester Council has signed up to Visit England’s ‘Good to Go’ stamp scheme to reassure visitors and get crowds back — but it’s lovely and quiet right now.

TOP ATTRACTION: A 15-minute drive away in the South Downs National Park, Hinton Ampner is a superb country house and gardens; adults £8, children £4 (

WHERE TO STAY: B&B doubles at Hotel du Vin from £138 (


The city streets of Cardiff, pictured, are especially quiet as the Welsh approach to lifting lockdown has been stricter than England’s 

Cardiff has released a phased Safe City plan to re-open as coronavirus lockdown measures continue to lift. And as the Welsh approach has been stricter than England’s, the city streets are especially quiet.

Cardiff Castle has re-opened and St Fagans National Museum, where you can learn about the history of Wales, will open on August 4.

Take a stroll along Cardiff Bay Barrage for the best views of the Severn Estuary or a day trip to Flat Holm Island.

TOP ATTRACTION: Head to Mermaid Quay to enjoy the Cardiff waterfront and a selection of restaurants (

WHERE TO STAY: B&B doubles at Lincoln House Hotel from £75 (


The East Midlands city of Lincoln, pictured, has a fine cathedral and a rich history 

Lincoln may not be the first place that springs to mind when one considers a summer break. But this East Midlands city has a rich history — and now is a great time to go.

There’s the fine cathedral with its Sir Christopher Wren-designed library.

Then there’s Lincoln Castle, which houses a copy of Magna Carta and a Victorian prison. Both have re-opened.

On your way to the cathedral, which is quite a climb, stop in at the timber-fronted independent shops, pubs and tea rooms of Steep Hill.

TOP ATTRACTION: Visit the Usher Gallery, part of museum The Collection, to see J.M.W. Turner’s depictions of the city; booking required, entry free (

WHERE TO STAY: Doubles at the Duke William from £90 (


Devon’s county capital of Exeter, pictured, had much to offer in the summer months 

Think of Devon and its beaches and packed seaside resorts tend to spring to mind. Yet the county capital, Exeter, has much to offer in the summer.

Free Red Coat city tours may have been suspended, but whizzing around the streets on an electric bike is a good substitute (£1 per 20 minutes, Cycle past the cathedral green, Roman walls and Tudor shop fronts.

The Royal Albert Memorial Museum remains closed, but if you visit on a Thursday don’t miss the farmer’s market.

TOP ATTRACTION: Choose from no fewer than eight restaurants inside a neo-classical facade which overlooks St Pancras Church at Queen Street (

WHERE TO STAY: Doubles at Headweir Mill House from £120 (


  • London, with its 8.9 million inhabitants, is the largest city in the UK.
  • Birmingham, with 2.93 million people, is second and Manchester (2.84 million) is third.
  • St Davids is our smallest city with about 1,600 residents, making it 5,562 times smaller than London.
  • There are 69 cities in the UK — 51 in England, seven in Scotland, six in Wales and five in Northern Ireland; city status is granted by the monarch and there is no defined criteria, although all places with cathedrals are deemed cities.
  • Colchester claims to be our first city as it was made a Roman ‘colonia’ 1,971 years ago in AD49. Today, though, it is a town.
  • The UK’s youngest cities are Perth, Chelmsford and St Asaph, which were granted city status eight years ago in 2012 to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

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