When I imagined myself living in London for a couple of years, I thought of weekend pizza sprees in Rome, lying on a nice beach in Nice or dancing all night in Ibiza. Though some of these did happen, I spent the majority of my time locked down in a hostel bunk. But it didn’t all suck because spending time on this island country forced me to explore it. Was it better than Rome, Nice and Ibiza? Probably not. But these trips did give me the push I needed not to lose all my sanity and build more meaningful relationships with friends across the country. Here are some of my favourite road trips to take in the UK.
On a train from London, Brighton is less than two hours away. During the first lockdown in summer 2020, everyone and their mum came down to Brighton for some sun.
Brighton has a pebble beach but offers such a needed change of scenery from landlocked London. We didn’t stay overnight, but in terms of accessibility, it made for a perfect day trip.
Bath and Bristol
Possibly my favourite stop in the UK. The city of Bath is small, quaint, historic and most importantly, walkable in a day. Being the first in line for the thermal spa at 7:30 am is one of my favourite memories of the trip. The city had a humble mist over it so early, and as the line grew, I made more friends.
Hot tip: skip the paid tours and museum tickets; just make sure you reserve a ticket at the thermal spa or get your butt first in line. Google the heritage sites later because trust me, you need this multifloored thermal spa.
Bristol, just a 25 min drive away from Bath, is a bit more urban yet equally adorable. Great for a night out after a soak in Bath. We only spent a night here, so I recommend checking out some Banksy stuff if you’re also there during daylight. If you’re looking for a good meal: Thai Garden served up a mood and half.
Edinburgh and the Scottish Highlands
This was the trip I was most excited about and the universe found a way to help corona shit all over it. While on our way up north to Scotland, the UK entered a Tier 3 lockdown. This meant pubs and restaurants no longer offered dine-in services. It sucked not to have a place to sit and rest after walking all day, but the city was too pretty to spoil the mood.
We hiked up Arthur’s Seat for incredible views of the Edinburgh skyline, stopped at cute winter markets for souvenirs, and ordered so, so much chicken shop take out to our hotel.
Scotland really feels like a fairy tale with its gothic architecture and cobblestone streets. The weather also hated us, but we still drove to Loch Ness to catch a glimpse of the water monster.
Leeds is actually the one city in the UK I visited most often, thanks to an incredible friend who was always ready to host and feed.
Despite being there so much, most of my memories are of blasting throwbacks in our friend’s living room and chatting for hours on end. Besides that, my friend insists that Leeds is perfect for young professionals because it’s an upcoming urban hub and everything is super “walkable”.
Talk about walking around the campus having actual PTSD from university days. Truth be told, Oxford was a little too perfect.
The gardens were cut to the edges, café windows were neat enough to fit in a wall frame, and Gen Z students on their iPads were at any turn of the neck – it felt a bit much. BUT, there is was an old prison I really enjoyed walking around. Again, very day trip material.
I had the lowest expectation for Swansea, a city I’d only heard of a month before deciding to go there. Fun story: I only went there to see a friend with whom I connected over social media. She was another Pakistani-Canadian journalist studying in a university there at the time.
We clicked online instantly, so an in-person rendezvous was a must. Swansea is a, you guessed it, sea town. The sun was sunning, the beach was beaching, and my friend and I were vibe matching hard. Did I mention the bus ride there was one quid? Wild.
I heard a lot of good things about this southern city, but I was pretty underwhelmed because of the horrible weather. It has a charming dockyard and a very pointy tower – these were the only things I saw. Apparently, the D-Day Museum is really cool and details the Normandy landing well. However, I did enjoy the variety of restaurants and bars there, many of which had live music. Everything was on the main street, making hopping venues much easier in the cold.
Little Pakistan, I mean Birmingham, was such a treat. Getting there was a bit tiring only because I could not read train signs, but it was a pleasure to see my family after years. Ask any Pakistani anywhere in the world, and they WILL know someone in Birmingham.
I thought the street art scene was quite poppin’, and strolling the Bullring mall with my cousin was a great way to catch up.
Now, let’s move on to some must-see sites and hikes:
Something about Vikings? I only read the Wikipedia page in the parking lot of this island.
Nonetheless, very historically significant and enough fresh air to cure a smoker’s lung (probably not). It makes for a great car break if you’re in for a long ride.
Seven Sisters Cliffs
The rain was quite awful, and visibility was worse, but that’s England. I didn’t think the UK was a spot for “natural beauty”, but it has its moments. The Cliffs are vast and border a beach, which I suppose would be fun if the sun ever entered the premises. Seven Sisters is also a great place for a nice hike.
Was it pagans or aliens? I don’t have the answer but what I can tell you is that Stonehenge makes for a great stopover. I think the tickets are a bit pricey to see a pile of rocks, but walking from the entrance to the site was refreshing and built-up anticipation. Stonehenge is often referenced in pop culture, so it was nice to check it off the list.
The city of Weymouth is one of the best places in the south of England to visit if you want to explore the Dorset Area of Natural Beauty. If you head east of the city towards Durdle Door, you can see the Jurassic Coast.
There is a fun element for everyone, from long hikes and beach vibes to weird gift shop items and hills dotted with cow poop. We took a change of clothes because we wanted to go in the water, but I also recommend taking a jacket as it gets a bit chilly when you climb up to see Algarve’s cousin, Durdle Door.
I know I’ve listed many places here, but none would be memorable without a fun travel buddy, family, internet friend or a gracious host. That’s the thing with lockdown travel; it makes you realise how vital the human component of any trip is.