By Ruby Lizon-Walker

24/7/2023

With many Brits feeling the squeeze during the current cost of living crisis, holiday budgets have taken a hit. Yet, getting away for a proper break is never more important than in times of high stress.

The ‘mini-break staycation’, which has soared in popularity in the past three years, offers the chance to save some money on travel. But with high inflation even the cost of a short holiday within the UK can blow a tight budget.

Never fear, we’ve got you covered! We’ve conducted thorough research to reveal the most affordable, popular, destinations for a UK city break. Or for those who prefer to get away from the big smoke on their holidays, we’ve also pinpointed the most affordable picturesque towns to visit.

There are great options for everyone, whether you are looking for a girls’ or lads’ weekend, a romantic day trip, or a core memory-making family holiday. So pack a bag, choose the best discount vouchers on travel, days out and food for your journey, and get out there this autumn.

The most affordable must-visit cities in the UK

We explored a list of the most popular must-visit cities in the UK to determine which ones provide the best value for money. We looked at the number of free attractions, parking fees, the number of accommodation options that cost £100 and below, the price of a coffee, and the cost of a meal at an inexpensive restaurant. We also looked at the number of Instagram hashtags to ensure our destinations are holiday snap friendly.

City No. of Free Attractions Cost of a Coffee Avg. Cost of a Meal Cost to Park your Car (daily) No. of Accommodation £100 & Under No. of Instagram Hashtags
Liverpool 100 £2.88 £15.00 £9.66 97 16,463,627
London 186 £3.47 £20.00 £51.39 102 158,467,876
Derry 11 £2.32 £10.13 £0.00 5 516,981
Wells 47 £3.00 £10.00 £4.14 34 351,068
Nottingham 95 £3.13 £12.00 £12.99 35 3,791,319
Stirling 56 £2.75 £12.00 £3.84 3 580,346
Durham 80 £2.75 £13.50 £9.42 11 3,116,201
Stratford-upon-Avon 73 £2.75 £13.50 £13.25 8 452,827
York 34 £2.92 £14.00 £22.19 55 4,978,588
Manchester 53 £3.24 £15.00 £28.72 70 18,361,398

   

Liverpool is the best UK city for travellers on a budget

Famous as the hometown of The Beatles, Liverpool tops the charts for the most affordable city break destination in the UK.

Aside from London, Liverpool has the most museums and art galleries in the UK - with an impressive 100 free attractions. But compared to the capital’s eye-watering £51.39 daily parking charge, Liverpool’s £9.66 average parking cost is a steal.

Liverpool city centre and museum viewed from across the river

After a busy day visiting the city’s top must-see spots, or wandering among the 2,500 listed buildings the city boasts, enjoy a night of live music in the iconic Cavern Club. Finally, visitors can collapse in one of Liverpool’s 97 places to stay that cost £100 and under.

London offers the most free attractions

While you can spend a lot of money in London, our capital city comes in second place for budget city breaks due to the plentiful free options also on offer.

London offers a jaw-dropping 186 free attractions compared to Derry, for instance, which only offers 11. The biggest challenge is choosing between the overwhelming number of free things to do! You could decide to take in the pomp and circumstance of the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, or the grittier attraction of street art in Shoreditch.

You could spend all day at the British Museum or Natural History Museum, or duck in and out of smaller quirkier options such as Sir John Soane’s Museum in the architect’s former home or evoke some morbid curiosity at the Wellcome Collection of art about medicine.

In the autumn months, this city also offers plenty of parks for you to relax in completely for free, with many offering great views of the London skyline.

Visitors clearly find many moments worth sharing, with an incredible 158 million London hashtags on Instagram.

To stick to your budget however, you will probably need to travel into London on a bus or super off-peak train, with a hefty £51.39 average daily parking charge for drivers. This is 70 percent more than even the second worst offender Brighton which charges £30.46.

Derry’s free parking is a boon for budget travellers

If you can’t stomach high parking charges, the only city on our list which offers completely free parking is Derry. The Northern Irish city comes in third place for the best affordable UK city break.

Ireland's only completely intact historic walled city is compact and highly walkable with so much to see and do - all without splashing the cash.

Panoramic view over Derry at sunrise from atop a hill

It also offers the cheapest coffee amongst our 28 ranked cities, with an average cost of £2.32. In Lincoln, you will pay more than 60 percent extra, with a cappuccino averaging £3.77.

Wells is the best break for eating out on a shoestring

If discount dining is high on your list of priorities, the Somerset city of Wells, in fourth place, offers meals out for an average of just £10. This is half the cost of London’s £20 and Lincoln’s £19.

With parking for around £4 and 47 free attractions, Wells packs a punch disproportionate to its smaller size. Don’t miss the stunning Wells Cathedral, built between 1175 and 1490, and described as “the most poetic of the English cathedrals."

Nottingham is a great all-rounder for saving money on holiday

The Robin Hood legend’s city of Nottingham comes in fifth place, as a great all-rounder for a budget city break. Known as the ‘Queen of the Midlands’ the city offers 95 free attractions, including its picturesque parks, such as the Arboretum, Embankment, and Colwick Park, and of course the nearby legendary Sherwood Forest.

Nottingham university campus building viewed across river and green area

Most affordable picturesque towns in the UK

If you’re looking for a slightly quieter trip to a city break, we also looked at a list of the most picturesque towns and villages in the UK to determine which ones are the most affordable. We analysed the number of free attractions, the average cost of parking, the number of accommodation options available below £100, and the number of Instagram hashtags to help determine how beautiful they are. With all these factors taken into account, we have unveiled the top 10 town and village budget holiday locations.

Rank Town/ Village No. of Free Attractions Cost to Park your Car (daily) No. of Accommodation £100 & Under No. of Instagram Hashtags
1 Southwell 64 £3.60 71 69,701
2 Richmond 20 £3.60 3 4,607,912
3 Knaresborough 65 £0.68 54 182,182
3 Glastonbury 46 £6.02 48 1,086,142
4 Conwy 29 £2.68 2 250,644
5 Henley-on-Thames 75 £3.58 0 197,704
6 Bibury 22 £0.00 51 91,007
7 Cheltenham 32 £11.40 10 1,298,763
8 Brixham 32 £7.32 67 213,110
9 Cartmel 24 £4.24 85 36,548
10 Alnwick 24 £0.00 3 157,593

Note: Knaresborough and Glastonbury tied for 3rd place in our Most Affordable Picturesque Towns league

   

Southwell best town for a budget break

While Nottingham features as one of the top five affordable city breaks, its smaller neighbour Southwell tops the list for budget destinations amongst the UK’s most picturesque towns and villages.

The Nottinghamshire jewel, which sits half an hour from the county capital, is a destination in its own right. It offers a high 64 free attractions, for just a £3.60 daily parking fee. It also has 71 different accommodation options under £100. This is far more than most of the towns on our list - only Cartmel offers more with 85 choices under £100.

Picture-perfect Richmond takes second place

In second place is the proud gateway to the Yorkshire Dales, the town of Richmond. It is no surprise, with the striking Richmond Castle overlooking the River Swale contributing to its title as one of the most attractive towns in the UK. The castle’s £7.50 adult entry fee is worth it for the breathtaking views of the Yorkshire Dales alone.

But Richmond, which sits 40 miles north-west of York, also offers 20 free attractions and a low daily parking cost of £3.60. Simply walking alongside the River Swale which meanders around the edge of the town from the former station to the waterfall, the ruins of Easby Abbey, or through Billy Banks Woods, is a reason to visit in itself.

Another Yorkshire Dales gateway makes the top three

Another little-known town on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales ties in third place. Just three miles east of Harrogate, Knaresborough impresses from the start. Arrive by train for an amazing view from the striking railway viaduct before exploring the warren of medieval streets perched atop cliffs over the River Nidd.

Knaresborough viaduct and small houses in the background of a tree-lined boating river

If you do choose to arrive by car, enjoy parking all day for just 68p! Only three other towns and villages beat this in our list of 32 rankings, by offering parking for free. Knaresborough also offers 65 free attractions and 54 accommodation options under £100.

Glastonbury offers so much more than the festival

Alongside Knaresborough, the much more famous town of Glastonbury ties in third place as an affordable holiday town. Despite being most known for what has become a rather expensive music festival - the town has so much to offer the budget traveller. The spiritual hub of Somerset, Glastonbury is full of ancient and medieval sites which are rich in myth.

A prime free attraction is the Glastonbury Tor, a tower-topped hill linked to the Arthurian legend, with 360 views over the Somerset Levels. It is particularly magical at solstice but is a special place to visit all year round. The centuries-old Glastonbury Tribunal with a museum featuring Iron Age artefacts is also completely free. However, Glastonbury Abbey, known as the burial place of King Arthur, does charge modest entry fees. At the end of a busy day, there are 48 accommodation options under £100.

Conwy makes up for expensive accommodation

The north Welsh town of Conwy makes it into the top five best budget towns to travel to, despite only having two accommodation options under £100. Even with its small stature, it has garnered 250,644 hashtags on Instagram, largely thanks to its imposing thirteenth-century castle and walls.

A world heritage site, Conwy also features a quaint harbour and the revolutionary Telford suspension bridge. At the very top of Wales, it sits close to the popular seaside resort of Llandudno and the majestic Snowdonia National Park. It is surprisingly close to Liverpool - just 65 miles by car.

As well as all the stunning scenery to enjoy, Conwy makes up for its lack of affordable accommodation with 29 free attractions and a daily parking cost of just £2.68.

Bibury is the best affordable village to visit

At number seven on the list, Bibury is the first village rather than town which makes the top 10. The Cotswold gem is frequently described as ‘the most beautiful village in England.’ Bibury is a short drive along country roads from ‘the capital of the Cotswolds’ Cirencester in Gloucestershire.

Bibury charges nothing to park, has an impressive 22 free attractions for a small village, 51 places to stay for under £100 and 91,007 Instagram hashtags.

Small cottage-lined street in Bibury

With all these fabulous affordable staycation options, all that remains is to search our best deals and vouchers for your holiday and get going!

Our top three tips on how to save money on your staycation

Do your research

It pays to be prepared. Before choosing your holiday destination, consider what expenses you are going to face. For instance, you may find an affordable holiday let, but if the only food nearby is a fine dining restaurant you could easily blow any money you’ve saved. Likewise, research your destination options with your holiday occupations in mind. If you like to keep busy, then one of the destinations on this list with many free attractions could be the right choice for you.

Set a budget - and stick to it!

It can be tempting to throw caution to the wind and let money flow freely to make the most of your break, but this can be counter-intuitive. It is no fun to return home to a shock credit card statement immediately undoing all your unwinding. Work out what you can spend in advance and make sure to plan your trip length and activities accordingly so you don’t have tough decisions to make while on holiday.

Search our discount codes and vouchers

Make sure you are not paying more than you have to by searching out any discount codes and vouchers available online for your travel plans. Our website is a good place to start! You can find all the best travel discounts listed on our travel discounts page.



Methodology

 

For our affordable cities analysis, we created a seedlist of 30 places from six lists of must-visit UK cities. For budget town and village destinations, we collated a seed list of 37 locations based on two lists of the most beautiful places to visit in the UK.
We searched each location on visitrevisit.co.uk for free attractions and used numbeo.com for the price of a cappuccino in each place, as well as a meal at an inexpensive restaurant. An ‘inexpensive meal’ includes restaurants where you can get a meal for one for £25 or less, with average the range being between £8-25 for the UK.
On parkopedia.co.uk we searched for each destination, set the date to 5th of August, with parking from 9am to 5pm. We then took the first five figures displayed to calculate an average for the daily rate.
For accommodation costs in each city/town/village, we set the dates to the first weekend in August (04/08/2023 - 06/08/2023) and chose one room with two adults on booking.com, before using the ‘your budget’ section to tally those under £100.
Finally, on Instagram, we searched for each location and took the total number of posts displayed for each hashtag.
Each location was ranked for each of these metrics, contributing to an overall score.