The UK’s best 24-hour city trips holiday cottages

The UK’s best 24-hour city trips

Jemima Kirkwood 25 May 2022

The UK cities boast amazing architecture, fascinating history, and many cultural delights with thousands flocking to the major hot spots like London and Edinburgh to get a taste of British culture. But what about the UK’s smaller cities?

It turns out you don’t need to head to the big cities for fun adventures because loads of the lesser-known and smaller cities have just as much on offer, and there are fewer people to contend with too! 

Explore the UK cities

Looking at the cities with population counts under 150,000 and ranking them based on the number of attractions, restaurants, and historic sites they house, we have found the best cities in the UK that can be explored easily in a day. We also looked at their access to national parks, AONBs, and Blue Flag beaches within their counties, giving visitors more options to mix it up!

Read on to discover the best 24-hour UK cities which can be explored in a day…

The top ten 24-hour city trips are:

  1. Exeter, Devon
  2. Bath, Somerset
  3. Dundee, Angus
  4. Norwich, Norfolk
  5. Carlisle, Cumbria
  6. Preston, Lancashire
  7. Inverness, Highlands
  8. Cambridge, Cambridgeshire
  9. Chester, Cheshire
  10. Gloucester, Gloucestershire

Exeter, Devon

Exeter takes the leading spot as being the best 24-hour city in the UK! 

Exeter in Devon

  • Attractions: 230
  • Restaurants: 322
  • World Heritage Sites: 2
  • National Parks: 2
  • AONBs: 4
  • National Trust sites: 25
  • Blue Flag beaches: 14
  • Instagram tags: #9,471

Here you will find over 2,000 years of history crammed into one place! From family-friendly fun to solo adventures, the city is home to 230 diverse attractions such as Crealy Great Adventure Park,, Red Coat guided tours, Powderham Castle and Exeter Quayside. The city is home to the award-winning Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery and the city centre is great for shopping, eating out, and escape rooms for those afternoons you want a challenge! The Phoenix art centre hosts a whole programme of theatrical shows, music gigs, and cinema showings too. Rest and refuel after hours of exploring with your choice of 322 restaurants, ranging from curry houses and Chinese takeaways to trendy cafes and vegan restaurants. Check out The Daisy Cafe and Red Panda

For times when you want a change from the hustle and bustle of city centre life, the surrounding area has even more to offer. Explore the 25 National Trust Sites, like Clyston Mill - a working watermill set by the River Clyst, or A La Ronde - a quirky 18th-century, 16-sided house. Discover Blackdown Hills AONB, East Devon AONB, South Devon AONB, and Tamar Valley AONB, and take on some beautiful walks through amazing scenery. The Jurassic Coast is easily accessed from the city by heading south - hunt out some fossil fun! Dartmoor National Park (20 miles) and Exmoor National Park (26 miles) are within easy reach too and offer outdoor adventure playgrounds for those into walking, cycling, and adventuring. 

Explore the city from our self-catering cottages and enjoy everything Exeter has to offer from the doorstep!

Bath, Somerset

  • Attractions: 484
  • Restaurants: 425
  • World Heritage Sites: 2
  • National Parks: 1
  • AONBs: 5
  • National Trust sites: 33 
  • Blue Flag beaches: 0
  • Instagram tags: #156,044

A city with wellness in mind, Bath has been welcoming visitors for relaxing breaks as far back as Roman times. The city has been a World Heritage Site in itself since 1987 and now the city is a buzzing hub of cultural gems and fascinating heritage, as well as being the go-to place for independent shops, museums, galleries, and theatrical shows. 

The architecture is second to none and you can roam through stunning Georgian architecture whilst hunting down a nice place to eat - there are over 400 restaurants to pick from! Hop on Bath’s Toot bus for a full tour of the major landmarks, or take a stroll through Royal Victoria Park and Botanical Gardens. Search out all the local events and festivals which happen throughout the year, the Jane Austen Festival being the stand-out! 

When you have satisfied your thirst for city exploring, head further afield and discover what else you can see and do around Bath. Take on the Bath Skyline walk from the city centre taking you into the rolling hills of the surrounding countryside. Being close to four Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, there are nature and wilderness areas on the doorstep, Cotswolds AONB and Mendip Hills AONB being the closest. All offer up lovely walks and countryside drives. 

For a chilled afternoon, why not visit a National Trust location? Dyrham Park and Prior Landscape Garden make for nice outdoor afternoons out admiring gardens and parkland - perfect for picnics and walks. Westwood Manor is a 15th-century manor house (8 miles south) which you can visit and admire period interiors and tapestries, lovely gardens, and then enjoy a refreshment in the tearoom. Explore more with #bath

Dundee, Angus

Dundee in Scotland

  • Attractions: 225
  • Restaurants: 310
  • World Heritage Sites: 0
  • National Parks: 1
  • AONBs: 1
  • National Trust sites: 5
  • Blue Flag beaches: 7
  • Instagram tags: #40,484

Dundee is the fourth-largest city in Scotland and is often outshone by its nearby capital, Edinburgh. But it is just as special and there is just as much to explore! It’s said to be the sunniest city in the UK, so coupled with a seaside location and lots of well-planned green spaces, Dundee is a hub for wellness and quality of life! Its modern and vibrant city center is popular with those who love art and culture. The V&A Dundee puts on all sorts of shows and exhibitions as well events like yoga workshops. For an educational day out, keep the Dundee Science Centre in mind, or scratch that itch for retail therapy in the city's impressive shopping malls. With over 300 restaurants, there are loads of options when it comes to food and rest assured they cover all options - pub grub, vegan menus, and traditional Scottish fare. 

You can do everything from historical city tours and museum visits to park visits and whisky tasting - the options are endless in Dundee. For quieter times, the county of Angus has even more to offer. Being set by the sea, you have easy access to many nearby beaches, Angus is home to seven award-winning beaches alone: Carnoustie (11 miles), Lunan Bay (25 miles), and Monifieth Beach (7 miles) to name a few. Head into the countryside and explore fascinating places like Glamis Castle or Barry Mill and J M Barrie’s Birthplace which are amongst the five National Trust sites in the area. Sitting south east of the Cairngorms National Park, you even have forests, lochs, and mountains to explore too!

Norwich, Norfolk

Norwich in Norfolk

  • Attractions: 384
  • Restaurants: 600
  • World Heritage Sites: 0
  • National Parks: 1
  • AONBs: 1
  • National Trust sites: 9
  • Blue Flag beaches: 6
  • Instagram tags: #5,674

With over 380 attractions to enjoy, Norwich is one to put on the city breaks list! The bustling and vibrant city centre surrounds the castle, cathedral, and market place offering up history on a plate with amazing architecture and winding streets in the oldest parts of the city. Explore on foot soaking up every inch of culture; pop into the unique shops and bistros, visit St Peter Mancroft's gothic tower and hear the bells ring, or hunt out art galleries and museums to satisfy your curious side. Tour the highlights with a hop-on-hop-off bus tour, or visit Riverside for a cinema show, bowling, or some full-fun trampolining!

The city is within easy reach of the beautiful Norfolk Broads, also known as Norfolk Broads National Park, and some of the more rural attractions including East Ruston Old Vicarage Garden and Winbirri Vineyards. These all offer peaceful places to visit and roam amongst nature and wildlife, and you can take a tour of the vineyard if you fancy sampling some wine! Great Yarmouth Beach and Gorleston-on-Sea are easily reached from Norwich by bus, taxi, or car, so an afternoon on the sand is totally possible. The River Yare runs through the city and offers peaceful riverside walks, and Whitlingham Park is a lovely place for a picnic. Fancy a bite? Pick from around 600 places to eat!! Search  #norwich for more ideas.

Carlisle, Cumbria

Carlisle in Cumbria

  • Attractions: 123
  • Restaurants: 245
  • World Heritage Sites: 1
  • National Parks: 1
  • AONBs: 2
  • National Trust sites: 27
  • Blue Flag beaches: 0
  • Instagram tags: #8,006

The Cumbrian city of Carlisle, also known as the Great Border City, is located to the north of Cumbria with easy access to the Lake District National Park. The city centre is dotted with museums, shops, galleries and places to eat. Spend days exploring the city network, sightseeing around Carlisle Castle and the military museum. Take walks along the River Eden and through Bitts Park, stopping off for a picnic or hot coffee from one of the many nearby cafes. Pack in the fun at the Energi Trampoline Park, Total Enigma Laser Quest, and the Red Herring Escape Rooms as well as places offering indoor climbing, bingo, and cinemas too!

With there being 123 attractions and 245 restaurants and counting, there is enough to keep you entertained in the city for sure, but there is also so much going on in the surrounding area. The Lake District National Park is a 25-mile drive away and here you can reach the shores of some of the most famous lakes in the world; Windermere, Bassenthwaite, Derwentwater, and Thirlmere. Visit the land of Swallows and Amazons and Beatrix Potter. Explore pretty villages or climb some peaks, try out some paddleboarding or scenic boat trips - the options are endless! There are 27 National Trust sites near Carlisle, including Wordsworth House and Garden and Acorn Bank. North of the city lies the Solway Coast AONB where you can find peace and tranquility amongst landscape and beaches.

Also in the top 10 are...

Preston, Lancashire:

  • Restaurants: 414
  • World Heritage Sites: 0
  • National Parks: 1
  • AONBs: 2
  • National Trust sites: 3
  • Blue Flag beaches: 0
  • Instagram hashtags: 24,423

Inverness, the Highlands:

  • Attractions: 283
  • Restaurants: 207
  • World Heritage Sites: 0
  • National Parks: 1
  • AONBs: 16
  • National Trust sites: 15
  • Blue Flag beaches: 5
  • Instagram hashtags: 21,264

Cambridge, Cambridgeshire:

  • Attractions: 408
  • Restaurants: 447
  • World Heritage Sites: 0
  • National Parks: 0
  • AONBs: 0
  • National Trust sites: 7
  • Blue Flag beaches: 0
  • Instagram hashtags: 119,443

Chester, Cheshire: 

  • Attractions: 345
  • Restaurants: 362
  • World Heritage Sites: 1
  • National Parks: 1
  • AONBs: 0
  • National Trust sites: 10
  • Blue Flag beaches: 0
  • Instagram hashtags: 9,961

Gloucester, Gloucestershire: 

  • Attractions: 196
  • Restaurants: 323
  • World Heritage Sites: 0
  • National Parks: 0
  • AONBs: 3
  • National Trust sites: 15
  • Blue Flag beaches: 0
  • Instagram hashtags: 33,989

    Also in the top 20 are:

  • Winchester 
  • Newport 
  • Lincoln
  • Lancaster
  • Worcester
  • Derry
  • Salisbury
  • Durham
  • Truro
  • Wells

Stay in a self-catering holiday home in Exeter

Change up the way you travel this year and visit the smaller cities packed full of history, culture, and fun. Start planning your 24-hour city trip today! Why not book a break in one of our Exeter cottages and explore all these great things from the doorstep.

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.

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