Ah, the “mini break”. That must mean a 1950s headscarf and shades. An overpriced and impractical valise. A picnic hamper in the boot. And a drive to a country house retreat, where you shall waft around in floaty fabrics, and bathe in champagne, candlelight, sunsets and smugness.
Or maybe not.
It’s been 25 years since Bridget Jones’s Diary hit the shelves, the mid-1990s heyday of the clichéd long weekend, when imaginations strayed no further than romance and room service in a fancy hotel. Thankfully, the British short break has come on a bit since then. Now, all manner of escapades can be packed into a few days, whether you travel with your significant other, your friends, your family or alone. After all, why simply “waft” when you could run the length of a National Trail, board a quick wildlife-watching cruise, descend a whole river by canoe, let the kids go feral in the semi-wilderness, tick off a ton of castles, get your well-being realigned, learn to write a novel, or find out if you can survive the weekend on your wits alone?
Even the indulgent end of the market has become a lot more original – a quick spin in a supercar with a famous female racing driver, anyone? Move over old-school mini-break, action-packed microadventures and chic coastal stays are in. And with ongoing airport chaos and lingering Covid rules abroad, now may be the time to embrace the potential of this evolved breed of extended weekends.
Alternatively, if you’re stockpiling that annual leave for a longer trip later in the year, these short breaks can bridge the gap to your next big trip. They offer a lot of bang for only one or two days off work – refreshing, adventurous, unusual, diverse and indulgent escapes across Britain that will make you feel like you’ve had a much longer, more exotic holiday than you actually have. No headscarf required.
Gorge by the sea, Devon
The Salcombe Food & Drink Trail makes for a delicious mini-break: follow it for artisan chocolate and ice cream tastings, crab sheds and lobster shacks, cookery demonstrations and chilli farms, and a lesson at Salcombe Gin School (to craft your own tipple). Stay at Salcombe Shepherd Huts with its cosy hideaways, which overlook the estuary and lie within easy reach of South Devon’s fine sands. A three-night shepherd hut stay (sleeps up to four) costs from £200 (01548 843635; salcombeshepherdhuts.co.uk).
Escape everyone, North Yorkshire
Find your own space beside the seaside at Coast and Camplight. Its two camps are tucked into high woodland between Whitby and the smugglers’ cove of Robin Hood’s Bay. Each has safari-style tents with comfy beds, upcycled furniture, large verandas and inside-outside bathrooms. There’s also wildlife skittering outside, the North York Moors “dark skies” above and a sense of being far from the rest of the world that is hard to beat. A three-night stay (sleeps four) costs from £400 (07415 655046; coastandcamplight.co.uk).
Bolt along the beach, Suffolk
Galloping along an endless beach, sea breeze in your face, horse hooves pounding through the shallows, is a bucket list-ticker of an experience – and easily doable over a weekend on the Suffolk coast, even for novice riders. Stay at a seafront B&B, take a lesson, go for a woodland hack and then giddy-up for a canter along the shore. A two-night Suffolk Beach Riding Holiday costs from £350pp including B&B accommodation and five rides (01829 781123; equestrian-escapes.com).
Take it easel, Cornwall
Newlyn has attracted artists since the 1880s, thanks to its picturesque landscapes and delicate light. Take a Newlyn School of Art course to try capturing the coast on canvas yourself; a local painter will lead lessons en plein air. Nearby Chapel House Penzance is an inspiring base. A three-day Sea & Coast course costs from £425pp; May-September 2022 (01736 365557; newlynartschool.co.uk). Doubles at Chapel House Penzance cost from £150pn B&B (01736 362024; chapelhousepz.co.uk).
Hit the Hawaii of the North, Inner Hebrides
A distant island paradise out of reach this year? No matter. Try the Isle of Tiree, dubbed the “Hawaii of the North” on account of its good weather (it’s one of Britain’s sunniest spots) and surfer-friendly Atlantic swell. Head to the new Reef Inn, Tiree’s first luxe bolthole, to explore the white sand, turquoise shallows and wild waves along the island’s 45-mile coast. A three-night stay at the Reef Inn costs from £435 B&B (07990 633953; reef-tiree.com).
Get sand between your toes, East Sussex
Aptly named indeed, there’s an awful lot of beach at Camber Sands. Local family-run company Beside the Sea rents 45 properties here, from old fishermen’s cottages to contemporary surf shacks. All make atmospheric bases for exploring the nearby coast: you could hire kayaks and paddleboards, take a kitesurfing lesson, hop aboard the steam-pulled Kent & Sussex Railway or cycle to nearby cobblestoned Rye. A three-night stay at Owlers Cottage (sleeps four) costs from £452.50 (01797 227308; besidetheseaholidays.com).
Secure prime position, Lancashire
St Annes Beach Apartments sit on the South Promenade, gazing over the town’s huge swathe of sand, close to its Victorian pier. There are 15 modern-fresh flats, some with balconies, some with decks, most with sea views. It’s also possible to hire a beach hut for the day (£105), so you don’t even need to leave your deckchair to make a cup of tea. A two-night stay at the Bolthole Suite (sleeps two) costs from £220 (01253 789332; stannesbeachhuts.co.uk).
Big little journeys
See stars, Northumberland
Hire a Land Rover Defender with a rooftop tent and you can pretend you’re off on a grand expedition without leaving the country. Based near the North York Moors, the 4x4s are within easy long-weekend reach of the Lakes and Dales. Or, with three days, adventurers could try a 250-mile loop via Northumberland’s hills and coast, using the roof tent to gaze at some of England’s best dark skies. A three-night Defender Camping rental costs from £375 (hostunusual.co.uk).
Drift around, Worcestershire
Comprising various canals and a stretch of the River Severn, the 21-mile-long Droitwich Ring makes a wonderful waterway weekender, with no backtracking required. Cruise clockwise from the handsome city of Worcester, navigating the circuit’s 33 locks and swing bridges, shadowing the River Salwarpe and passing plenty of bankside pubs, peaceful countryside and pretty villages. A three-night Droitwich Ring trip (for up to four people) costs from £924 plus £50 fuel deposit (0808 302 6288; abcboathire.com).
Chug about in style, North Wales
Combine mountain drama, seaside scenes, steam train nostalgia and Italianesque flair on a rail romp around glorious Gwynedd. Travel first-class on steam services from Porthmadog to Blaenau Ffestiniog and Caernarfon, enjoying views of castles and craggy peaks. Then bed down in eccentric Portmeirion each night, for a dash of Amalfi style on the Welsh coast. A three-night self-guided Welsh Steam Railway Experience costs from £645pp including B&B accommodation (0141 260 9260; mckinlaykidd.com).
Pootle along the Thames, Oxfordshire/Berkshire
Enjoy life in the slow lane with a sedate self-drive mini-cruise along the Thames (no prior boating experience required). Pick up a comfortable craft from the rural village of Benson to explore the river’s quieter end: head west to spend a few days gliding to Oxford’s dreaming spires and back; navigate east to to reach Henley, the home of British rowing. A three-night Thames cruise aboard the Capri (sleeps three) costs from £383 (023 9280 9124; leboat.co.uk).
Cruise Britannia, Newcastle to Scotland
Get a quick cruise fix this summer aboard the Balmoral, which is bound for Shetland and Orkney via the Old Man of Hoy and The Needle sea stacks – the habitat for large seabird colonies. Experts from marine wildlife charity Orca will be on hand to give spotting tips, as well as hosting talks and offering passengers the chance to contribute to conservation research. A five-night Scenic British Isles cruise costs from £749pp full-board, including £50pp on-board spend; June 1 2022 (0800 0355 242; fredolsencruises.com).
Embrace the camper van life, countrywide
Camper van sales are still surging as Britons continue to embrace staycations. But before you invest, try renting one first – a really cool one. Quirky Campers has an eclectic fleet of unique vans (plus it plants trees to offset the carbon for every mile you drive). Perhaps pick up blue-white-chic Rocky from Bristol (sleeps two) for a quick escape to the North Devon coast. A three-night Rocky rental costs from £339 (0330 133 1121; quirkycampers.com).
Take a regal road-trip, Scotland
Cram a cornucopia of castles into one classic drive. Armed with a Historic Scotland Explorer Pass, set off from Edinburgh to tick off pretty St Andrews, striking Stirling, mountain-tucked Balmoral, cliff-perched Dunnottar, Shakespeare-inspiring Glamis, rose-pink Craigievar, ruined loch-side Urquhart and more, stopping to sample a few single malts en route. A three-night self-guided Scotland Castles Trail trip costs from £295pp including B&B accommodation and Historic Scotland Explorer Pass (0141 530 4028; macsadventure.com).
Amble Ammonite country, Dorset
Follow in the footsteps of Thomas Hardy and fossil-hunter Mary Anning – whose story is told in the 2020 Kate Winslet film, Ammonite – on a Dorset countryside-and-coast walk. Visit Salisbury and the well-endowed Cerne Abbas Giant, stay at characterful pubs and inns (including the Acorn, rich in Hardy connections) and finish at Lyme Regis on the dramatic Jurassic Coast. A four-night self-guided Dorset trip costs from £625pp including B&B accommodation (01722 322652; onfootholidays.co.uk).
Cycle from coast to coast, Cumbria to Tyne & Wear
Ride across the country over a long weekend. The 140-mile C2C (Coast to Coast) is doable over three leg-testing but breathtaking days. The route follows quiet lanes and cycleways to link Whitehaven, on the Irish Sea, and Tynemouth, on the North Sea, via the Lake District, North Pennines and Hartside Pass, 1,900ft above sea level. A four-day self-guided C2C trip costs from £565pp including B&B accommodation (0191 265 1110; skedaddle.com).
Run a boozy river, Highlands
Descend the River Spey by open canoe to experience classic Scottish scenery and classic whisky. Paddle from the Cairngorms to Spey Bay via pine forests, heather-cloaked hills, village distilleries and gnarly rapids (including the “Washing Machine”), looking out for red deer and golden eagles en route, and wild camping on the banks. A four-night guided Spey Descent costs from £595pp including full-board accommodation; various departures May-September 2022 (01479 420020; wildernessscotland.com).
Tick off the 14 hardest and highest peaks in Snowdonia National Park over three action-packed hiking days. A ratio of one mountain leader to every four trekkers will ensure you stay safe as you bag the heights of the Carneddau plateau and the rocky Glyderau range, finishing with a Grade 1 scramble up Crib Goch to top the Snowdon massif. A four-day guided 14 Peaks trip costs from £695pp including B&B accommodation; May 6, July 1, September 16 2022 (01824 737024; adventuretoursuk.com).
E-whizz all over, National Forest
Explore three-and-a-bit counties in four nights without breaking too much of a sweat. The quiet lanes of the National Forest (encompassing Staffordshire, Leicestershire, Derbyshire and a smidgen of Warwickshire) are ideal for e-bike exploring, with lots of fascinating sites en route, from Ashby Castle and foodie Lichfield to Calke Abbey and the National Brewery Museum. A four-night self-guided 3 County Explorer trip costs from £599pp including B&B accommodation and e-bike hire (01530 417482; ebikeholiday.co.uk).
Cast off, Southampton
You only need one day off work to go from landlubber to certified sailor. First Class Sailing’s RYA five-day Competent Crew course can be taken over two consecutive weekends (two days, then three days). Eat and sleep on board, and learn sail handling, boat safety, rope work and the rules of the sea as you navigate around the Solent. A five-day Competent Crew course (taken over two weekends) costs from £750pp including full-board accommodation (0203 006 3717; firstclasssailing.com).
Pedal and paddle, Herefordshire
The quiet borderlands around the River Wye make for lovely cycling and canoeing country. Pedal back and forth across the Wales/England border, via quiet waterside lanes, Herefordshire’s black-and-white villages, tougher Welsh Hills and bookish Hay-on-Wye. Spend a day Canadian canoeing down the leafy river, to see the valley from water level. A four-day self-guided Cycling & Canoeing trip costs from £550pp including B&B accommodation and equipment hire (01568 770755; wheelywonderfulcycling.co.uk).
Run like a Roman, Norfolk
Peddars Way National Trail follows the route of a Roman road, wending via river valleys, farmland and wildlife-rich terrain on its way from Knettishall Heath to the Norfolk coast. Fairly flat and fairly short (50 miles), it’s a satisfying choice for a first-time multi-day running break, whether you choose to do it over three (gentle) or two (more testing) days. A three/four-night Peddars Way Trail Run costs from £370/460pp including B&B accommodation (01629 821900; contoursrun.co.uk).
Focus on you, Yorkshire
On the North Yorkshire coast, tranquillity is so valued it’s protected by legislation – making this officially a great place to chill out. Valley View, near Whitby, runs a variety of wellness breaks which can be tailored to individuals. Arrange accommodation from sister company Whitby Log Cabins (from £300 for four nights) then plan your own yoga and relaxation programme. There’s a chance to join four studio classes a week and private sessions can be organised. (07962 505906; yogandspice.com).
Swim and stretch, Anglesey
For a full body refresh, head for the Plas Cadnant Estate. This historic pile, set within acres of parkland, woodland and meadows, is the base for a luxe retreat: daily yoga and meditation in the estate’s garden studio will leave you rebalanced; sea swims off Anglesey’s hidden coves and beaches will leave you revived; tasty veggie meals will leave you replete. A three-day Yoga & Wild Swimming trip costs from £576pp including full-board accommodation; June-September 2022 (0203 048 3044; notintheguidebooks.com).
Spa plus, Cornwall
Simply admiring the views from the Scarlet’s big windows, across the wild North Cornwall coast, is probably rejuvenation enough. But this clifftop hotel in Mawgan Porth excels in more sophisticated wellness, too. Combine the signature Scarlet Journey (a tailored treatment) with good food, daily yoga, well-being classes, spa steams and dips in indoor and outdoor pools. A three-night Spa Break costs from £1,410 for two, including B&B accommodation (01637 861800; scarlethotel.co.uk).
A little luxe
Drive like a duke, Cotswolds
There are road trips. Then there’s Untold Story Travel’s Ultimate Drive. This money-almost-can’t-buy break includes getting behind the wheel of a McLaren Spider supercar and a drive-and-dinner experience with The Grand Tour’s Abbie Eaton. You’ll also enjoy an exclusive tour of the Duke of Marlborough’s private Blenheim Palace apartments followed by lunch overseen by the Duke’s butler himself. A four-night Ultimate Drive trip costs from £5,000pp including B&B accommodation (0207 523 5858; untoldstorytravel.com).
Combine town and country, London & Oxfordshire
Can’t choose between city bustle and rural calm? Treat yourself to the best of both. Stay at the stylish Cadogan, in the heart of Chelsea, for some chic capital culture. Then take a limo to Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, a honey-hued manor in the Oxfordshire countryside. Here, a private tour of the glorious grounds and dinner at Raymond Blanc’s two Michelin-starred restaurant awaits. A three-night Belmond Town & Country break costs from £2,866 for two including B&B accommodation (0845 077 2222; belmond.com).
Stay at a stellar retreat, Brecon Beacons
At the end of the Llanthony Valley, on the edge of the Brecon Beacons, Llwyn Celyn is a medieval house that was remodelled in the 17th century and painstakingly restored in the 21st – as seen on Channel 4’s television show £4 million Restoration: Historic House Rescue. It’s a rare survivor, with exquisite features such as carved doorheads and wooden beams – a great choice for a grand escape. A three-night stay at Llwyn Celyn (sleeps eight) costs from £964 (01628 825925; landmarktrust.org.uk).
Land in luxury, The Highlands
Newhall Mains, a derelict farm tuned luxe retreat on Scotland’s Black Isle peninsula, has its own airfield – ideal for cutting travel time to make the most of a long weekend break. Fly in to stay at one of the recently restored cottages, explore the stunning countryside by Land Rover, enjoy a scenic flight over the Highlands and take a wildlife cruise on Cromarty Firth. A four-night package at Newhall Mains costs from £1,330pp including half-board accommodation and activities (01381 632032; newhall-mains.com).
Slumber and slurp, West Sussex
Ashling Park Estate produces award-winning fizz and also offers five luxury lodges, so you can sleep right by the estate’s vines. Built to reflect the vineyard’s seasons, each lodge is designed by William Hardie, of the Channel 4 series George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces, and each one has huge handmade beds, roll-top baths and expansive terraces. Estate tours and wine tastings are available, too. A three-night stay in a one-bedroom lodge costs from £615 (07768 123678; ashlingpark.co.uk).
Return to nature
Sleep among sheep, Kent
There are two cosy rustic-chic shepherds’ huts on Romney Marsh Wools Farm, offering a special solitude: just you and 1,000-odd ewes. Inside, you’ll find lanolin toiletries and wool blankets, of course. Outside, there’s lots to fill a long weekend: the owners can arrange jeep safaris (£45pp) and needle felting (£60pp) to photography (£25pp), so you can capture the big-sky views. A three-night stay (sleeps two) costs from £358 (01233 721800; romneymarshshepherdshuts.co.uk).
Feel the Force, County Durham
High Force, where the River Tees plummets 70ft over the Whin Sill, is one of England’s most impressive waterfalls. Stay at the High Force Hotel (a former 18th-century hunting lodge) to sleep within listening distance, and to further explore the surrounding North Pennines area of outstanding natural beauty – there’s great hiking, fishing and kayaking on the doorstep. A one-night stay costs from £104 including breakfast (01833 622336; raby.co.uk).
Hike with horse power, Cairngorms
Venture into the high peaks and Caledonian pine woods of the Cairngorms National Park with your own pack ponies for a more comfortable wild camping adventure. The horses can carry more gear, meaning you can trek unencumbered via lovely lochs and ancient forest; spend nights well off-grid in big Nordic tepees, warmed by portable wood-burning stoves. A three-day guided Highland Wilderness Glamping trip costs from £635pp including full-board accommodation (01479 831331; scotmountainholidays.com).
Spot summer species, Somerset
With the help of an expert guide, you can see a wealth of Somerset wildlife in just four days. Explore the Levels and the marshes, the Quantocks and the Mendips, the wild Steart Peninsula and precipitous Cheddar Gorge to look for a wide range of species, from bee orchids to grizzled skipper butterflies, and bats to bitterns. A four-day guided Somerset’s Summer Wildlife trip costs from £595pp including half-board accommodation; June 13 & July 18 2022 (01962 733051; naturetrek.co.uk).
Retreat to the river, Scottish Borders
Converted from an 18th-century mill, handsome Heiton House is an idyllic bolt-hole on the banks of the River Teviot. It feels far from anywhere – though Kelso’s pubs are only a 40-minute walk along an old railway. Spot otters, heron and salmon from the deck. Or cast a line – the house offers private fishing on the adjacent stretch of river and ample storage for waders and rods. A three-night stay (sleeps ten) costs from £1,455 (01573 226711; crabtreeandcrabtree.com).
Go re-wild, Norfolk
Fritton Lake is at the forefront of WildEast, a movement aiming to return a fifth of East Anglia back to nature. Get a taste of this ethos by staying at one of the retreats, cottages or Clubhouse rooms spread across its 1,000 acres. Wild swim in the lake, explore by paddleboard or canoe, run the forest trails, and learn about the rewilding project on a tour by foot, jeep and boat. A three-night stay costs from £480 including breakfast (01493 48400; frittonlake.co.uk).
Fun-size family fixes
Have a sort-of safari, Isle of Wight
If time and budget don’t allow for a visit to an African reserve, try a stay safari-style in a Unesco Biosphere Reserve. Family-friendly Southland Campsite on the Isle of Wight has four canvas safari tents, each with two bedrooms, a kitchen and veranda, perfect for gazing over the Arreton Valley. Explore by bus and bike – there are lovely beaches within easy reach. A three-night stay (sleeps up to six) costs from £117 (01342 777533; experiencefreedom.co.uk).
Take the clan, Cairngorms
The Macdonald Aviemore Hotel is designed for families: rooms are big (and some have bunk bed privacy partitions) while facilities include a huge pool, an enormous soft-play area, dress-up space, treehouse and more. Plus there’s a national park on the doorstep, where you can hike, bike, visit the Highland Wildlife Park or take a Hairy Coo Safari. A three-night stay for a family of four costs from £600 full-board (01479 815100; macdonaldhotels.co.uk).
Wizard them away, Hertfordshire
A little bit of Hogwarts is hiding at the end of the Tube… North Hill Farm has several magic-sprinkled glamping retreats; opt for the Hut, a rustic wooden roundhouse with a bath fit for a half-giant and lots of wizard knick-knacks. The farm is accessible by the Metropolitan line, and close to Warner Bros Studios, home of the Harry Potter tour. A three-night stay at the Hut (sleeps five) costs from £750 (01923 287040; northhillfarm.co.uk).
Embrace the wild, New Forest
Let the kids roam free on an almost-wild New Forest camping weekend. Harry’s Field has three sites across the national park, all good for wild-swimming, tree-climbing and spotting deer and ponies. Choose between small-but-serene Harry’s Field, Harry’s Meadow (where there are luxe bell tents, too) and the Old Airfield, with its eco-facilities and food trucks. Pitches from £17 plus £9/£4 adult/child; bell tents (sleep four-six) from £420 for three nights (07968 136891; newforestcampsite.com).
This article is kept updated with the latest information.