Big Ben in london
London is notoriously expensive but there are ways to enjoy the city even if you are on a tight budget.
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Experience the Enchantment of the UK for Less with These Budget-Friendly Destinations

The UK Is More Affordable Than You Think

The U.K. ranks highly on many people’s bucket lists, which is my cheap holidays in the U.K. are a go-to travel choice. Urban areas filled with stunning historic architecture, some of the best natural scenery in the world, an extensive and interesting history, and vibrant cultural heritage attract millions each year.

However, as tempting as a trip to Old Blighty might be, sometimes the jaunt across the pond and the legendary high prices make it seem out of reach. For cheap holidays U.K., vacation might be more doable than you think, though. It all comes down to where you go and what activities you choose to partake in.

Read on and be inspired by our pick of the best destinations for cheap holidays in the U.K.

London, England

If you know much about travel you’ll be surprised to see London on our list of cheap places to visit in the U.K. In fact, London is well-known as one of the most expensive cities in the world to visit. However, it’s worth including a few tips on visiting London on a budget as it’s likely to make your itinerary even if just for a few days.

London is usually the cheapest city in the United Kingdom to fly into from the United States. In fact, flights to the city are often so affordable that it’s one of the cheapest international destinations to fly to from many major U.S. cities, making it a popular jumping-off point for exploring not just the United Kingdom, but Europe as a whole.

While spending more than a few days in London is likely to eat away a sizable chunk of the travel budget for your U.K. vacation, there are some ways to explore the city and make the most of it without going broke.

Accommodations will make up a major portion of your budget, but you can cut costs by staying a bit further from the historical center (the West End is the most expensive area). Staying in the Victoria Railway/Coach area offers a good balance of convenience and affordability. Plus, you’ll likely be traveling through this area anyway if you plan to take the train to other parts of the United Kingdom. This area also has cheap eateries and is a short trip away from Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and The London Eye, which typically rank high among popular points of interests for travelers visiting London.

Getting around the city is easy and fairly affordable on the Underground. There are day tickets that offer unlimited journeys in Central London for a low price. In addition, there are other daily and weekly options that may be worth it if you plan to stay longer or travel outside of the city center.

While a number of attractions in London will set you back a bit, there are also quite a few free and cheap things to do while visiting the country’s capital. From delightful parks and museums such as The British Museum, to walking tours of the city and art galleries, there are a surprising number of attractions that require no admission fee to be enjoyed. Do a bit of research before you go and you’ll find there are lots of ways to stay entertained in London without spending any money.

Manchester's City CenterFrom free galleries and museums to low-cost eateries and accommodations, Manchester makes for a great budget-friendly vacation.Photo Credit: Getty Images

Manchester, England

If your flight from the United States isn’t landing at Heathrow Airport in London, then there’s a good chance you are heading to Manchester, another popular destination for travelers looking to book affordable flights to the United Kingdom. In fact, we’ve often found flights into this slightly smaller city to be even cheaper and there are nonstop options from the U.S. east coast. Even if you don’t fly into Manchester, it’s easy and relatively cheap to get there, with the most affordable options being a slow train or a bus from London or elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

Once you arrive, you’ll find a plethora of free galleries and museums including the National Football Museum, the Manchester Art Gallery and the Science and Industry Museum (the atom was split here, after all!). Make sure to stop by the beautiful John Rylands Library, which is the country’s oldest public library and also the site where Marx and Engels drafted The Communist Manifesto.

Being a college town, there are a number of delicious, yet low-cost eateries around, making Manchester one of the best places in the United Kingdom to grab a meal on the cheap. Add that to a wide range of affordable apartments available for rent on Airbnb and you’ve got the makings of a budget-friendly U.K. holiday.

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Narrow street with shopsWalking the cobblestone streets of York is the perfect way to spend time and doesn't have to cost a dime.Photo Credit: Getty Images

York, England

York is a dreamy historic town sitting right at the confluence of two rivers. The gated city is a historic town that is unlike anywhere else in Northern England. Here you’ll find large numbers of tourists who come here looking for that true British experience — and it’s easy to see why York attracts the crowds. Cobbled streets, tea rooms, centuries-old Gothic buildings and a selection of quirky shops, cafes and pubs make York well worth adding to your bucket list.

Other attractions here include the JORVIK Viking Centre, which highlights the city’s Viking heritage and ranks as one of the most-visited attractions in all of England. Make sure to sit awhile in a tea room such as Betty’s and enjoy a traditional afternoon tea. There’s perhaps no better way to spend an afternoon in Britain than by people-watching from a cozy chair while enjoying a cup of tea and delicious pastries.

Your trip to York certainly doesn’t have to cost a ton. Many of the attractions are free or low-cost and accommodations can also be reasonable. Window-shopping the many interesting shops in town doesn’t cost a penny and wandering the city’s medieval streets such, as the well-known and incredibly well-preserved Shambles, is also completely free.

You’ll find several options in town for budget places to stay including branches of well-known budget-friendly chains such as Travelodge and Best Western, as well as very affordable local options such as the bed and breakfast at York St. John University (starting from £30 a night and not just for college students!).

The Roman Baths in Bath, EnglandThere's far more to seek out in the town of Bath than the historic Roman Baths themselves.Photo Credit: Getty Images

Bath, England

The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bath is another historic gem that is possible to visit on a budget. Easily accessible from London, the city offers the best of modern Britain along with a rich history and tons of must-see sights and attractions. You’ll find a large number of museums, theaters and other cultural attractions that will leave you coming away more cultured and with a richer knowledge of British history.

The ancient Roman Baths complex remains one of the main reasons many come to Bath. Today, the city remains true to this heritage, with a large, modern thermal spa that takes advantage of the town’s rich mineral springs and is well worth spending a relaxing day (or several) at.

Bath is incredibly photogenic with its UNESCO World Heritage Site-worthy Georgian architecture and surrounding hillsides. The streets are lined with interesting shops perfect for the artsy types and wannabe creatives. You’ll also find a selection of charming eateries offering delicious fare, markets for browsing and artisanal coffee shops.

Like York, Bath is a college town, so when it comes to accommodations you can stay in the University residences for £30 a night. For a bit more, book a stay at a farmhouse bed and breakfast or a low-cost inn near town. You should be able to find something decent for around £60.

Beach with lots of people and Ferris wheel and buildings in backgroundBrighton Beach is a popular seaside getaway and easy to enjoy on a budget. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Brighton and Hove, England

The seaside town of Brighton and Hove in East Sussex is a popular vacation destination with both Brits and international visitors. Booking a holiday in Brighton is great for the budget-explorer as it offers a wide range of activities that are completely free. For lovers of the outdoors, it’s hard to beat with miles of scenic beaches, some 98 free public parks and gardens, and the gorgeous Sussex countryside all offering opportunities to explore the great outdoors without spending any money.

However, as much as we’d love to, we can’t spend all of our travel days outdoors. For rainy days or when you need a break from the sunshine, there are a number of free and cheap museums and galleries around town. Check out the Hove Museum, the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, and the Brighton Fishing Museum.

You can save money on both your accommodation and food budget by booking a self-catering room. Brighton has a number of comfy rooms and chalets with self-catering options, some priced around £30 a night, per person. For families on a budget, there are also several Brighton hotels that offer spacious family rooms with prices starting around £125 for families of five or fewer people.

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Buildings on the edge of cliff over water with boatsThe Cornish coast offers many nooks and crannies just waiting to be explored.Photo Credit: Getty Images

Cornwall, England

One of the more remote parts of the United Kingdom, Cornwall still remains popular with travelers. Whether they come here seeking the legendary home of King Arthur, or the multitude of natural attractions, it’s hard to beat. The county of Cornwall sits on a peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean. The county boasts 300 miles of coastline and is every beach holiday lovers dream with plenty of options for those looking to have a cheap holiday in the U.K. The area’s rich Celtic heritage also makes it a popular destination among tourists who are interested in cultural travel.

Enjoying the sights at the busy fishing harbors around Cornwall’s coast, or enjoying the crystal-clear waters at one of its many beaches make it an ideal destination for water lovers. Surfing is popular here as are a range of other water sports. If you’re taking a break from the beach, browsing the art at the Falmouth Art Gallery might be an ideal afternoon for you, and it’s free to visit.

You can also visit Roskilly’s, a real, working organic dairy farm where you can learn how ice cream is made and sample some of their delicious products. The Camel Trail is a popular (and free!) way to explore the beautiful Cornish countryside. It’s a disused rail line turned multi-use trail that is best traveled by bike. The 18 miles of trail passes some of the most spectacular views in the region and is free to ride on if you have your own bike. Alternatively, you can cheaply rent bikes in Padstow, Bodwin or Wadebridge.

Family travelers are also in luck as Heartlands, an amusement park of sorts, is an absolute gem and you won’t believe that it’s completely free. Expect to spend the day crawling through tunnels, slipping down slides and exploring a shipwrecked boat — your kids won’t want to leave and your wallet will thank you!

There are a number of budget cottages for rent around Cornwall so you won’t have to fork over a great deal of cash to enjoy a stay here. Tideway isn’t the absolute cheapest, but its convenient location, beautiful garden and swimming pool along with reasonable rates make it our favorite affordable place in Cornwall.

Buildings on the waterfront with tugboatsEnjoy live music and drinks while in Belfast.Photo Credit: Getty Images

Belfast, Northern Ireland

The capital of Northern Ireland, Belfast was historically an industrial city that is perhaps most famously known as the birthplace of the RMS Titanic. Today you can visit the renovated shipyards and a whole neighborhood named after the famous ocean liner. There’s even a Titanic Hotel. The Titanic museum is a must-visit and even though the tickets are a bit pricey you can get a discounted, two-hour “Late Saver” ticket if you go late in the day. The museum is incredibly well done and historically accurate.

Belfast has a loud, upbeat nightlife scene with plenty of options to enjoy live music, the party often spilling out into the streets late into the wee hours on the weekends. Even on the weekdays, it’s not difficult to find live music and a drink somewhere in town.

For those looking to explore the cultural and historical heritage of the city, there are many cheap and free options in town including the Ulster Museum with its collection of artifacts and oddities, the Discover Ulster-Scots Centre, and the impressive Belfast City Hall, which offers free tours. You’ll have to pay if you want to see a show at the Metropolitan Arts Centre, but there are usually free art exhibitions in the MAC’s three galleries that you can visit any time of year.

Despite being a large city, there are numerous opportunities to enjoy nature in and around Belfast. The Belfast Castle Estate and Cave Hill Country Park is a must-see. The large park has a number of walking trails that offer amazing views and, of course, at its centerpiece is a castle dating to the late 1800s. Right in the heart of the city, Belfast’s Botanic Gardens offer an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors without traveling very far.

You can find very cheap flights to Belfast from other cities in the United Kingdom if you fly Ryanair. Just be careful to pay attention to the Ryanair luggage limits as they are quite restrictive and additional fees can really add up. There’s also a rail link from Dublin and ferries from both Scotland and England, so there are plenty of options for getting here.

Once you arrive, Airbnb has some good options for affordable accommodations, but the ibis Belfast City Centre Hotel offers a good balance of affordability and convenience as it’s located right in the downtown area.

Liverpool riverfrontLiverpool has much more to offer than just a famous football club.Photo Credit: Getty Images

Liverpool, England

You’ve probably become well-acquainted with the name Liverpool from the famous football team, even if you have no idea where it might be on the map, or what it might have to offer for tourists. However, the city has its own draw for tourists seeking musical heritage, culture and nightlife.

England’s home of music, Liverpool has long been a hot spot for music production and is famous as the home of The Beatles. Lennon and McCartney’s homes are available for touring and a permanent exhibit known as The Beatles Story tells the story of the band’s rise to fame.

Culture vultures certainly won’t come up empty here with the city being home to the largest concentration of galleries and museums outside of London. You’ll want to make time to visit the World Museum, the Tate Liverpool, the Walker Art Gallery, the Museum of Liverpool and the impressive Liverpool Cathedral. Historically, the city was a significant seafaring port and there’s a great Maritime museum here, the Merseyside Maritime Museum, where visitors can learn about this aspect of the city’s history.

Of course, there’s something for fans of the famous football (soccer to us Americans) team as well. The Liverpool Football Club offers exciting experience days as well as tours of the club. A number of free parks, including the magnificent, 200-acre Sefton Park are a great place to spend a day in the outdoors and save a bit of money.

Saving money here is as simple as choosing your attractions carefully, making the most of the free ones and booking an affordable place to stay. The latter is made easy with a number of cottages and guesthouses around town that start from just £30 a night.

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Aerial view of Glasgow with historic churchGlasgow, Scotland is filled to the brim with stunning medieval and Victorian architecture.Photo Credit: Getty Images

Glasgow, Scotland

While Edinburgh gets much of the attention when it comes to booking a holiday in Scotland, Britain’s Second City of the Empire is a fantastic option for those wishing to travel on a budget. The city was settled in medieval times but its the Victorian-era architecture that really stands out as you stroll the streets of Glasgow.

The city has many beautiful gardens and nice public parks that can be enjoyed for free. The impressive Glasgow Botanic Gardens are especially nice and have some indoor areas that make it a good option even on a rainy day. You’ll find a number of free walking trails around town including a self-guided street art walking tour that you can find here.

Like many other university towns around the United Kingdom, one of the best places to look for budget accommodations is university housing. The University of Glasgow’s Cairncross House has comfortable rooms for a bargain price and is certainly worth considering.

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