UK spring breaks: six of the best towns and cities

Cambridge

Lovely at any time of year, Cambridge is at its prettiest in spring. Daffodils and crocuses cover The Backs – the riverside land behind the colleges – and cherry blossom fills the parks. Many of the colleges have beautiful gardens (evening song at Christ’s College and King’s chapels adds charm) – and don’t miss the 40-acre Botanic Garden.

Punting is fun if the weather is kind, without the summer tourist hordes. Hire your own or join a tour (it’s harder than it looks) with Scudamores – it runs Bat Safari punts from May, too.

Wander the cobbled streets, stopping at teashops, such as Fitzbillies on Trumpington Street, and browsing bookshops like David’s on St Edward’s Passage. There are nine museums, including Kettle’s Yard for contemporary art, plus the Cambridge Literary Festival hosts readings and talks for book lovers (5-7 April).

There’s a thriving alternative scene, too. Try the Portland Arms on Chesterton Road for live music, or sup craft ales at the oldest and largest Camra beer festival (20-25 May).

At dinner time, try the British fare at celebrity chef Tristan Welsh’s Parker’s Tavern at the University Arms hotel, reopened last year after a two-year renovation.
Book it The Varsity Hotel & Spa, doubles from £139 B&B, thevarsityhotel.co.uk

Deal, Kent

This seaside town is perfect in spring, with good restaurants, cool shopping, a smattering of galleries and flower-filled walks on the doorstep.

Meander down the Georgian lanes to a high street crammed with shops like the Hoxton Store, for eclectic homeware and fashion, and J Cosmo for retro-style clothes. Galleries include Taylor-Jones & Son and nearby Will & Yates. For foodies, there’s a Saturday market with wine tasting and good bakeries, and the Wild Kitchen runs seashore foraging days, followed by feasting and cocktails (£75). On the pier, the Deal Pier Kitchen has reopened, serving breakfast and lunch with views over the ocean, or eat French bistro-style at the Frog and Scot.

Walk west along the coast from Deal towards Kingsdown and onto the cliffs beyond, or join local William Thomson for a tide walk. Down the road, the gardens of Walmer Castle are magnificently flowery in spring. For family fun, nearby Betteshanger park has everything from cycling trails to geocaching, and Kent Mining Museum opens in March.
Book it The Rose has doubles from £100 B&B, therosedeal.com

Perth

Once the capital of Scotland, the “Fair City” of Perth lies on the banks of the River Tay, the longest in the country. Visit later in spring for the best of the weather – and to catch Festival of the Arts from 16-25 May .

While Edinburgh dominates the Scottish festival scene, Perth has quietly hosted its own event for 48 years. What started as an opera and classical music festival is now a 10-day extravaganza covering all art forms, with everything from Jools Holland and his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra to a brand new Horrible Histories show this year. Don’t miss The Fergusson Gallery, showcasing Scottish artist John Duncan Fergusson, or for an extra dash of culture head to Dundee and its brand new V&A museum, just half an hour away by car or train (the immersive Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt exhibition starts on 20 April).

The city is small enough to explore on foot – follow the River Tay Public Art Trail or nature trails in Kinnoull Hill Woodland park for great city views. Refuel at genteel tearoom Effie’s on the high street or feast on Scottish fare at North Port’s eponymous wood-panelled restaurant.

To the north of town, Scone Palace is the original coronation site of the Kings of Scotland. In spring, the grounds are alive with bluebells, rhododendrons, azaleas and the dazzling yellow laburnum walkway.
Book it The Townhouse has doubles from £80 B&B, thetownhouseperth.co.uk

Ludlow, Shropshire

Halfway down the border between Wales and England, Ludlow is a pretty place of half-timbered pubs and Georgian hotels – dubbed “probably the loveliest town in England” by John Betjeman.

It also has a reputation as a foodie mecca. The Spring Festival in Ludlow Castle grounds will be a tasty affair, with real ales at the Festival Pub marquee, talks from local producers and over 60 exhibitors selling everything from cheese to chocolate – plus live music and a classic car display (10-12 May).

There are three Michelin-starred restaurants in town, but the thriving culinary scene caters for all pockets. The Charlton Arms at Ludlow Bridge has modern British mains from £13 – and you might see swallows from the terrace in late spring. Time a visit for the second or fourth Thursday of the month to catch the popular farmers’ market, check out specialist food shops like Harp Lane Deli – plus there’s a brewery in a renovated railway shed that is open for tours.

The town and surrounding Shropshire hills, valleys and forests offer great walking, from gentle strolls through medieval streets, around the castle walls and along riverbanks to challenging countryside romps (download suggested walks from the tourist board, theludlowguide.co.uk).
Book it Clive Arms has doubles from £115 B&B, or dinner, B&B from £164, theclive.co.uk

Bath

Bath is beautiful in spring – both its Unesco-listed centre and its encircling hills, which grow greener and increasingly redolent of wild garlic as the season progresses. Now, Bath’s Georgian alleys aren’t yet heaving and, anyway, there are plenty of places tourists rarely reach. For instance, the city has six impressive crescents, not just the photogenic Royal; walk up to Camden Crescent to see wisteria explode across the honeyed stone and to gain better city views.

After a day’s ambling, drinkers could head for the city’s latest venues: Brewed Boy on Walcot Street for craft ales; the Beckford Bottleshop on Saville Row for wine and small plates; Fidel on Trim Bridge for a rum revolution; and Comptoir+Cuisine on George Street for French food and champagne.

To clear fuggy heads, join the Bath Beat (27 April), a 12- to 26-mile walk looping south via glorious trails, a Neolithic long barrow and one of Britain’s oldest taverns. Easier to follow is the Kennet & Avon Canal – perhaps as far as equally lovely Bradford on Avon – pausing to watch the poem at Bath’s Lock 13 emerge as the water empties, the first of six sunken verses planned as part of a canal poetry route. There’s also the Bath Festival (17-26 May), with its diverse programme of music, theatre, comedy and literature.
Book it Eight in Bath has doubles from £90 B&B, eightinbath.co.uk

Belfast

Having shaken off its troubled past, Belfast has transformed into a dynamic city with a hedonistic streak. The state-of-the-art Titanic Belfast centre, telling the story of the world’s most famous ocean liner, tops the must-see list, and the waterfront is lined with music-filled pubs and great restaurants. Cultural big hitters include the Metropolitan Arts Centre, while the nightlife is legendary: try The Bear and Doll on Little Donegal Street for cocktails and Black Box on Hill Street for alternative live events.

Added spring attractions include the Game of Thrones Touring exhibition – an immersive experience of the TV series, which opens on 11 April. Filming locations along the Causeway Coastal Route, such as Cushendun Caves and Ballintoy Harbour, aren’t far away.

On St Patrick’s day (17 March), there are carnival parades through the city centre and free open-air concerts in Custom House Square. The Belfast Film Festival is in town 11-20 April, and there’s everything from comedy to theatre at the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival from 6-12 May.

Enjoy the spring sunshine with a walk up Cave Hill or along Connswater Greenway, a new network of paths in the east of the city.
Book it Bullitt, themed around the 1968 Steve McQueen film, has doubles from £89 including a breakfast bag, bullitthotel.com

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