Just one day out of life, it would be, it would be so nice. You know it. We know it. Madonna certainly knew it. Holidays are what keep us on top of the weekly grind and enable us to recharge, ready for the next challenge life throws at us. They're indispensable.
But they don't always need to be the same. Sometimes it's good to try something new. If a change is as good as a rest, just think how restful a holiday change will be. You'll feel so refreshed and rejuvenated you'll be bouncing back into work like a yogic flyer. Well, nearly.
Let's look at the most singular places to stay before taking in the world of unorthodox activities. But first, we'll start with a bold statement.
Odd is God
Unusual holidays have never been so popular. One of the reasons for this is that people have done the usual hotel thing to death and are, frankly, a little bored with it. Yes, a lovely little boutique B&B somewhere gorgeous has appeal, but compared with a night in a treehouse? Call me Squirrel Nutkin, but I'm heading for the acorns.
A major spur to the growth in the popularity of unusual holidays is the increased concentration on having breaks at home, mainly due to Covid-19 and the dreaded Dover traffic jams.
The thinking goes that when you go abroad, you're immersed in a new and somewhat strange environment that re-awakens your senses. Unusual holidays can have much of the same effect, with their novel flavour giving you a bit of a jolt. In a good way.
Holidaymakers who are preparing for a staycation say to themselves: 'So, we're in this country, which is fine because it's lovely, and besides, we're being uber-positive about everything, even the weather, which is refreshing, not wet, since you ask… anyway, while we're here, we might as well try something a bit off-piste'.
Actually, the inimitable UK weather is a significant reason for the growth in unusual holidays. If you're going to be stuck somewhere while you wait out a brief but invigorating thunderstorm, you need to be engaged in an activity that doesn't depend on the weather or, at the very least, be staying in a place with enough personality to cheer you up a bit.
Let’s check out some of the places with personality to spare.
Unusual places to stay
So, you want check-in somewhere out-of-the-ordinary, somewhere outlandish, and perhaps even a little outré? The usual hotels are fine if you just want to get your head down, maybe for a work do or a stop en route somewhere else. But this time, you fancy something you can bore everyone about for weeks when you return.
As part of the boom in unusual holidays, quirky accommodation has rocketed in popularity recently, as people have tried to seek out the peculiar and personality-filled, perhaps as an antidote to the increasingly corporate nature of life and the ever-homogenising look of our town centres.
A bonus worth woofing about is that most of the holiday accommodation options we'll explore are dog friendly, so your furry friend can come along too.
Prepare to be enchanted by converted buses, trains, riverside dens and slices of Scandinavia, but we’ll start with, to quote Tolkien, the two towers. Note - no smoking is allowed in any of these properties. It’s a filthy hobbit. Sorry.
1. Appleton Water Tower, Sandringham, Norfolk
One of the Landmark Trust’s collection of historic properties with stacks of character, Appleton Water Tower gives plenty of curio appeal to those with a head for history and heights.
Built in 1877 as a functioning part of the brand spanking new water supply to the Royal Estate, the tower offers two bedrooms (it sleeps four) and a spiral staircase up to 360-degree views of the sumptuous surrounding landscape.
It was built in a neo-Byzantine (i.e., very fancy) style, which, at the same time as once providing the water pressure needed for Queen Victoria to have her hot tub, manages to look just splendid. It no longer has any wet work to do, so it can concentrate on giving you a place to stay with comfort on tap that you'll gush about for months.
2. The Tower, Friskney
When you get here, you'll know you've landed somewhere special. The first indication of its super-unusual character is on its website: https://rafwainfleet.uk/, which refers to its previous incarnation as a Royal Air Force base.
Getting the idea now? Yes, The Tower is, in fact, a conning tower that used to overlook the runway of an RAF weapons facility. Wowzers. Can you imagine anything more exciting, especially for plane-obsessed infants of all ages?
To soup up the thrills, there's a plane outside the tower, parked next to a chopper! (Note - we mean helicopter, not the iconic but lethal bike from the 1970s.) Both of these aero-vehicles are kitted out so you can stay in them if you wish, or you can sleep up in the tower, surveying the mile upon mile of breathtaking scenery all around. In total, a squadron of 22 can be billeted here.
Just the ticket
3. Dinobus Glamping, Cornwall
Have you always fancied hopping onto one of those classic US yellow school buses? Now's your chance. And you don't need to have the correct change! Dinobus Glamping consists of three historic vehicles parked in a gorgeous field on a Cornish farm a stone's throw from the idyllically sandy Polzeath Beach.
Each bus has a kitchen and eating area and plenty of room down the back for up to six passengers to sleep. Bathrooms are communal, but you can hire the whole fleet of buses if privacy's your thing.
On-site, you’ll find ping pong, soft archery and many other games, and a cafe for when your little drivers need a rest from all that route-mastering.
4. Derwent Flyer Carriage, York
Those of a rail-bent will know that York's a bit of a Mecca. Not only does the city feature the National Rail Museum, but when the day's over, a wannabe driver doesn't have to hang up their cap - they can climb aboard the Derwent Flyer railway carriage and keep the trip going all night long!
Nestled in beautiful North Yorkshire, this static train puts a new spin on the idea of a sleeper service, giving comfy overnight accommodation to up to four passengers. There's a fully equipped kitchenette for those in-transit hot bacon and tomato rolls and a bathroom and living area.
5. Coed y Bleddiau, Gwynedd
The train odyssey can carry on, into the heart of Wales, at this old station superintendent’s cottage, perched next to the famous Ffestiniog steam railway on the edge of Snowdonia. The sublimely picturesque Victorian accommodation features a cosy lounge warmed by a wood-burning stove, a slate kitchen diner and sleeping room for four.
The best bit about this Landmark Trust property, though, is it has its own private halt, so you can request one of the plucky little steam engines to set you down and pick you up from your front door. Toot toot!
6. Den by the Stream, Ceredigion
Wales has an awful lot to offer the quirky accommodation seeker. This is another excellent example of something truly out of the ordinary. The Den by the Stream is basically a log cabin full of homemade rustic furniture and upcycled features, set in a breathtakingly beautiful spot in a flower meadow by a crystal clear stream.
You can explore unspoilt countryside before returning to cook over a fire pit and then retiring to a sumptuous four-poster bed. It's bucolic. It's perfect. It's the most peaceful off-grid waterside retreat you can imagine.
But it’s not for everyone. If you want WiFi or a big telly, move along - this one's not for you. What it does offer a couple of adults is a romantic getaway full of perfectly undisturbed bliss in a natural Welsh wonderland that you can't fail to be moved by. One final thing to note - West Wales is largely devoid of industry, so it's an excellent spot for stargazing. Who needs the TV?
7. Hudnalls Hideout, Gloucestershire
Treehouses are super-popular among those who want to sleep amid the warm embrace of a forest in, crucially, a nice comfy bed with extremely fluffy duvets, thanks very much. Hudnalls Hideout, set amid the woods in Gloucestershire’s Wye Valley, is an excellent example of the childhood dream that, inside, we're all yearning to revisit.
Full of retro charm and far from any trace of civilisation, this is the ultimate in well-appointed treehouse dwelling, suited to the most decadent couples who want to mix leafiness with luxury.
Inside is a fully equipped kitchen, a double rainfall shower, and gorgeously comfortable soft furnishings. Outside, there's a deliciously decadent copper bathtub with enough room for two. And don't worry - the only onlooker is likely to be the odd over-curious badger.
Camping it up
To some, the epitome of the unusual holiday is glamping. A great combo of rough and ready and comfort, glamping really is the best of both worlds.
8. Secret Cloud House
Want a yurt but can’t do without your sauna fix? No problem! Staffordshire’s Secret Cloud House is cirrus about your well-being, offering billowingly beautiful top-spec yurts and a wood-fired sauna to soothe you.
9. The Shepherd’s Hut Retreat
This is an increasingly popular option - people are flocking to them! What are they? Well, they’re little cabins based on the bijou bedding stations that sheep tenders used to use when on the job.
As is the case with The Shepherd's Hut Retreat, the accommodation usually features bedding for a couple, together with a small kitchen and bathroom. These lovely examples include a hot tub, too, for added luxury. Ewe deserve it.
10. Lilla Stugan, Worcestershire
This one’s for those Bjorn again Scandi-fans. Lila Stugan (meaning Little Cottage in Swedish) is a very pretty wooden cabin that sits amid an apple orchard and is the last word in cosiness. Inside, you'll find room for four in an open-plan sleeping and living area, with some cooking facilities and a more comprehensive kitchen area just outside.
It's all gloriously Swedish, brightly painted in reds and blues, and, to top it all, the toilet's decorated with ABBA records! What a loo! Couldn't escape if I wanted to!
There’s also a guitar in case you want to try your hand at Fernando around the campfire. No neighbours, which might be just as well.
Unusual things to do
Whatever activity you’re into, the chances are you can go on holiday to do more of it.
Oil have some of that
If your yearning for canvas is more about painting than camping, an art holiday might just be your pot of pigment.
They’re a great way of learning a new skill, or developing a talent you already possess, in the company of like-minded daubers, gleefully dabbing the day away amid the finest views the UK can offer. And at the end, there’s no need to buy a postcard - you’ve made your own (admittedly too big to get through a letterbox) one!
11. West Dean College, Sussex
Set amongst the magnificent South Downs scenery, this famous college offers Creative Escapes to decorative folk into painting or any number of crafts. You can stay a day or dip your brush for the whole weekend.
12. Inspired Painting Holidays, Devon
Devon’s long been a favourite of painters, not least because of the sheer variety of eye candy the county offers up. With Inspired Painting Holidays, you can set your easel down in a vast range of beauty spots, from moorland magic to superlative sea views, before returning to a lovely hotel in the picturesque town of Bampton to get all Brian Sewell with your fellow guests.
13. Introduction to Watercolours, Cotswolds
If you fancy trying watercolours, this is a great way to learn the basics. You can't beat the Cotswolds for canvas-worthy cottages and heavenly hillocks. This Introduction to Watercolours course will have you painting it all like a pro in no time.
Don’t mind if I do
Mindfulness is huge right now for no better reason than it offers a chance to completely relax the brain and body. If that's not what holidays are about, I'll eat my deep breathing manual.
14. Aruna Ratanagiri Monastery, Northumberland
This is the Rolls Royce of retreats, the Rolex of relaxation, the creme de la creme of calm, the… well, you get the idea. It’s all very peaceful. Aruna Ratanagiri is a Buddhist monastery set in the wild countryside on the borderland between England and Scotland. So if you want to get chummy with your chakras and be at one with your Om, get your soul to this incredible place.
15. Dorset Fitness Retreat, Lyme Regis
This one's a bit more what you might call gestalt, if you were prone to using such expressions instead of perfectly straightforward words like whole, being a mix of what's good for your mind and body.
For the former, Dorset Fitness Retreat gives breathwork classes and yoga sessions. For the latter, there are beach and boxing boot camps, wild swims and bouldering. I'm unsure what the last one is, but I bet it rocks.
Can I dig it?
Garden holidays are a must for the fan either of wondrous spaces created by others or those who want to get their gloves dirty and find out how to become the next Capability Brown or Charlie Dimmock.
16. Gardens of the Lake District
If you’re happy leaving your trowel alone for a few days, and you just want to take in the work of others for a few days, you’ll find much to enjoy in the Gardens of the Lake District guided tour through the splendours of three of the finest tended landscapes in Cumbria’s National Park.
You’ll also get to visit Wordsworth’s home before wandering lonely as a cloud over to Lake Windermere, which, as fans of vast bodies of water will no doubt know already, is the largest lake in England.
17. Allt Y Bella, Monmouthshire
For those who want to brush up on their bushes and polish their pruning, the remote farmhouse Allt Y Bella, owned by garden designer Arne Maynard, offers horticulture classes that will titillate your inner Titchmarsh.
You can stay in the 15th-century terracotta farmhouse, enjoying the simply superb SSSI surroundings while you dream of rummaging among the roots and comporting yourself amid the compost.
Sail hello, wave goodbye
Nautical types will love the chance to get on the briny, and these breaks offer every Captain Pugwash all the maritime mirth they could wish for.
18. Sea Kayaking, Scottish Highlands
If kayaking floats your boat, you can’t go wrong with this holiday. Six days of sea kayaking, blissfully bobbing about among the pristine islands off the magnificent Scottish coast? Aye, aye, Cap’n! Your daytimes will be full of untamed seascapes and mountainous horizons, and your evenings will be spent back in your cosy lochside accommodation.
This is an excellent break for both serious paddle maniacs and nautical novices, as you'll be in the care of an experienced guide and instructor throughout.
19. Essex to Edinburgh Sailing Holiday
If your timbers are used to a good shivering and your mainbrace is no stranger to a regular splicing, you’ll be raring to get at the rigging on this sailing adventure from the marshlands of Essex all the way up the East coast, past Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, to a mooring alongside the Royal Yacht Brittania in Edinburgh’s Leith Marina.
You get your own cabin, but you'll be expected to pitch in when the deck needs swabbing, or you'll be keelhauled like a scurvy landlubber. I shouldn't wonder.
One for the bangers
For those who like that shooting sensation, you can have an absolute blast learning clay pigeon shooting or just have fun behind the wheel on these holidays.
20. Activity Break, Powys
On the border with Shropshire, Bulthy Farm offers a host of high-octane pursuits, from quad trekking to paintball and laser clay shooting. Open fire!
And when it’s time to shoulder your weapon and turn in, you get to stay in a local pub, so refreshment is guaranteed.
21. British Legends Tour, North of England
If you've always wanted to do a Clarkson and thunder through the best bits of England behind the wheel of an Aston Martin or Lamborghini, this one will get you revved up and no mistake. Five days of roaring around incredible beauty spots in deafeningly loud thoroughbred sports cars. The locals will love you.
Cruising for a boozing
Spirits will be kept aloft in these trips to where the magic happens, from the glens of Scotland to the ale producers of Kent. Large measures of fun are guaranteed as you distil a whole tun of learning into a swift hit or find out just what’s brewing in the hills.
22. Hampshire Gin Stay
Those who thought Bombay Sapphire was made in or near the city now known as Mumbai are in for a surprise, as one of its distilleries is, in fact, no further away than Hampshire. This weekend away is built around a masterclass experience where you learn how gin is made and how to mix cocktails like Tom Cruise.
Being close to the celebrated Hampshire coast, you're well located for a quick jaunt over to the Isle of Wight, where you can carry on the cocktail theme by having yourself a Wight Russian. Then pop back over the Solent, where you can stick a port in your mouth in Portsmouth.
23. A Taste of Somerset
Say Somerset to somebody, and they'll immediately think of cider. Unless you're talking to a literature pseud who replies 'Maugham'. Don't waste any time on further discourse with them - instead, tread the cider path to A Taste of Somerset, a holiday that soaks you in scrumpy and takes you around more of the appley stuff than you’d find in Farmer Bean’s cider cellar.
On top of this, you get to stay in the sensational seaside town of Weston-Super-Mare, go on a tour around the Mendips, and discover Wells, Cheddar and the market town of Taunton. Cheers!
So, hopefully, you've got the picture that holidays in the UK, from Suffolk to Strathclyde, don't have to be traditional. There are so many options that we've barely got started here. Like the best holidays, it's all over too soon, but with some research, you'll find your perfect unusual holiday.
Whether staying in a windmill or learning to be a baker, the UK holiday scene is brimming over with go-getting getaways. And you don't have to sacrifice the little touches that make a holiday special. It's perfectly possible to combine your rustic hideaway holiday cottage idyll with luxurious touches like en-suites and even saunas.
So, whether your holiday is full of petrol-driven pursuits or wood-fired wonders, there’s an unusual holiday just waiting for you in the good old United Kingdom.