‘Done’ London and Edinburgh? These are your new favourite British cities
When you’ve planning a backpacking trip around Britain, it’s easy to focus on the big two: London and Edinburgh. And why wouldn’t you? They’re both amazing places packed with culture, nightlife and super-cheap hostels. But smart backpackers know you can’t get a handle on a country from its capital alone. One of travel’s great pleasures is discovering regional cities – those often-overlooked places that mix big-city buzz with distinctive vibes and compact, often walkable centres. Ready to explore Britain in a bit more depth? Let’s hit the road…
Region: North west
You can’t understand British popular culture without visiting Manchester. The former industrial powerhouse has produced seminal bands – The Smiths, Joy Division, The Stone Roses, Oasis – and now has a thriving creative and media economy. The lively city centre’s shopping is superb, and the regenerated Northern Quarter is packed with cool craft beer and cocktail bars. Several universities give Manchester a huge student population, so it’s a great place for young backpackers looking to run into some like-minded locals.
Region: South west
Bristol is another music powerhouse, celebrated for its fusion of punk, dub and hip-hop (checkpoints are Massive Attack and Portishead). It’s a multicultural place where curried goat is as common as hipster burgers, and street art as common as chic coffee shops. Hang out in the Old City and Harbourside for some great pubs and restaurants, or head to Clifton Village for a quieter vibe with a zoo, an observatory and loads of independent shops. And if you want a countryside fix, the beautiful Cotswolds are just up the M4.
Region: Central Scotland
Glasgow can be a little rougher round the edges than stately Edinburgh, but it arguably outstrips it in terms of culture. The city’s legendary art school has made it a hotbed of visual arts and cutting-edge music. For contemporary work head to the Gallery of Modern Art or the independent Transmission Gallery, and for live music try to squeeze into King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, a small venue with a big reputation – chances are you’ll catch a band that will be on everyone’s lips by this time next year.
Region: South east
Brighton is due south from London, with great rail links – so little wonder that city-dwellers have been using it as a coastal getaway for generations. These days rising prices in the capital have encouraged Londoners to relocate here for good, and the result is a small city that packs a big cultural mix. Book into a hostel here and you’ll discover a unique blend of traditional British seaside culture – think naughty postcards, amusement arcades and donkey rides – and trendy bars and restaurants. Brighton’s also famous for independent shops, many of which are concentrated around ‘The Lanes’, a warren of narrow streets close to the seafront.