6 “Big City” Alternatives When Traveling Through the UK and Ireland

by Erin Browne

When you tell your friends you are going to the United Kingdom, most of their minds will jump right to London. Rightfully so, as it is the largest city in the UK and notably the most iconic. However, there are tons of smaller cities all over the U.K. and Ireland that are worth visiting if you are willing to make the trek. Here are six places scattered across the UK and Ireland that deserve a visit if you have the time during your travels. 

the cliffs of moher, ireland
The Cliffs of Insanity. Photo by Lucy Remitz

1. Nottingham, England

Some history rich cities located in the midlands just a few hours away by train are worth a visit. One of these cities is Nottingham. Yes, home to Robin Hood and his band of merry men, Nottingham is exactly what you would expect. Nottingham Castle sits high up on a hill over-looking the city. You can tour the caves that sit below the castle and have a drink in Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, one of England’s oldest pubs. The town itself is quaint, and if you are a lace fan, Nottingham is the place to be. 

2. Cardiff, Wales 

Cardiff, the capital city of Wales, is easily accessible from all over England. Cardiff, while significantly smaller than London, has the amenities of a large city with the charm of a small town. Cardiff Castle is impossible to miss and worth taking a tour through its environs. The city centre is filled with shops and pubs, and Barry Island is only a quick train ride away. Barry Island, where iconic films like Submarine were filmed, is a tiny seaside town that is the perfect place to spend a summer afternoon. 

3. Isle of Wight, England 

Located just off the coast of southern England, Isle of Wight is England’s largest island. Wight is home to two major U.K. music festivals: Isle of Wight and Bestival. It is also home to three breweries. The scenery on the island is breathtaking with great hiking and wildlife. If you are looking to get off “the mainland” for a bit, take a ferry ride to Isle of Wight, hit up a festival, take a brewery tour, or go on a hike. The island will not disappoint no matter what you’re looking for. 

4. The Burren, Ireland

If you happen to find yourself in Ireland during your travels, pry yourself away from Dublin for one day and head to The Burren. This rocky region of Ireland has many breathtaking landscapes and tiny villages that will give you a greater understanding of the country. The Cliffs of Moher, also known as “the cliffs of insanity,” (for any of The Princess Bride fans out there) are located on the western coast of the island. If you appreciate jaw dropping views and quiet coastal towns, take a tour through The Burren and to the Cliffs. It will be worth the day away from the Dublin pubs. 

5. Edinburgh, Scotland 

If you head to Nottingham, why not continue your way north to Scotland? Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland, is not only overflowing with history, it is overflowing with art and culture as well. Home of Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the International Book Festival, there is always something going on in Edinburgh that warrants a trip. The city also has amazing Christmas markets. Just remember to bring an extra layer when going up there in the winter. It can get quite cold. 

6. Leicester, England 

Also located in the midlands, Leicester is one of those places you only really hear about if you need to go there. History buffs will enjoy visiting the site where King Richard III’s remains were found. Leicester is also a great place to see a rugby match, catch a horse race, or view art at the New Walk Museum. Leicester is home to two major universities, so the prices for most things are friendly for students or people traveling on budgets. Whether you want to grab a pint or do some shopping, you can do so without the large city stress, congestion, and price tag. Plus, since it is in the center of the country, it is easy to get anywhere else you might want to go.