Life beyond London: a locals’ guide to six UK cities

Sure, London is one of the UK’s best-loved cities, adored by travellers the world over for its history and hedonism. But what about the UK’s other, just as magical metropolises? We ask the writers who know best which are the urban players ready to steal back the show

01 Leeds


Says who: Sarah Bartlett, Leeds-based public relations manager and travel writer
Leeds is a powerhouse northern city with the breathtaking Yorkshire Dales just a short drive away. Shop high-end fashion at Victoria Gate; drop by Mrs Atha’s for Leeds’ best coffee and graze on ‘proper Yorkshire' delights at Wapentake bakery – all in a morning’s work. For some architectural awe, call into the historic Corn Exchange (pictured), designed by Hull-born architect Cuthbert Brodrick after his visit to the Halle au Blé in Paris. As dusk falls, grab skyline views at Sky Lounge before getting your sax on at The Domino Club – a ‘secret’ jazz bar beneath a barber shop. If alternative theatre’s your thing, seek out Slung Low for a pay-as-you-feel performance, before heading to Northern Monk for a taste of Yorkshire’s own brew.”
Lost on London: The city’s Kirkgate Market is Europe’s largest covered market and, as the birthplace of M&S, has arguably more to it than London’s Borough…

02 Manchester


Says who: Faith Strickland, associate editor at DesignMyNight Manchester
“Epitomising Manchester’s indie spirit, the Northern Quarter is a maze of quirky joints. Start with Home Sweet Home’s towering cakes, before getting lost in Affleck’s Palace – a behemoth of record stores and vintage finds. Those looking to learn should get creative at Manchester Craft and Design Centre, soak up Harry Potter vibes in Grade-I listed John Rylands library, or stop by the National Football Museum to celebrate one of the city's best exports. Refuel at iconic burger spot Almost Famous or try Mexican-Japanese fusion at Peter Street Kitchen, before enjoying a nightcap at beautiful Cottonopolis (pictured). Not done? Find yourself a secret bar, be it the Washhouse (in an old laundrette) or the Tiki Liars Lounge in Cane and Grain.”
Lost on London: Subterranean jazz clubs, The Academy and The Patron’s basement: London has a lot going on, but Manchester’s live music scene is unbeatable.

04 Glasgow


Says who: Glasgow-based journalist, Gary Armstrong
“While some may find London a little overwhelming, Glasgow prides itself on offering visitors a home away from home. Warm greetings aside, Scotland’s biggest city is bursting with culture, a revered music and arts scene, and some of Europe’s best urban green spaces. Take to Glasgow’s stylish East End for a hard-to-beat brunch at Wilson Street Pantry or Singl-end, before snaking to the top of the Lighthouse (pictured) – a gallery celebrating Glasgow’s world-renowned architecture, art and design. Across the road, expert mixologists ensure eminently cool Tabac is where weekend crowds gather. Last but not least, sample the city’s best street food under the railway arches at Platform.”
Lost on London: Marvel at magnificent Highland cows in Pollok Country Park, a 10-minute train ride from Glasgow Central.

03 Newcastle

Newcastle Upon Tyne

Says who: Steph Fox, local blogger and social media manager
“A warm Geordie welcome always awaits in Newcastle, the northern ‘toon’ that mixes industrial grit with sweeping Victorian grandeur around every cobbled street corner. Take in the iconic bridges that stretch across the River Tyne, a quayside walk that will showcase an array of cocktail bars and high-end eateries, before a leisurely brunch at the newly opened St Vincent wine bar and café. Shop at the elegant Edwardian Central Arcade or Grainger Market, before mingling with open-hearted locals at the creative container communities, By the River Brew Co or Stack. These quirky social hubs serve up entertainment, street food and casual cocktails in the heart of the city.”
Lost on London: The UK’s largest commercial gallery, the Biscuit Factory (pictured) – a strong contender to Tate Modern any day.

05 Edinburgh


Says who: Travel writer and long-time Edinburgh resident, Madévi Dailly
“Edinburgh could win prizes on good looks alone, blessed as it is with a medieval Old Town, a well-heeled Georgian New Town and a rather impressive castle in between. Art-school graduates and a festival-packed summer bring a cultural edge, but life beyond its famous Fringe is one of earthly pleasures. Browse for vintage gems at Herman Brown, sip zero-mile brews and gin at The Royal Dick, or pootle down the Water of Leith to the shore, where Kitchin (pictured) and Martin Wishart show off their respective Michelin stars. For swoon-worthy views (and a superlative tasting menu), new culinary hotspot The Lookout on Calton Hill is hard to beat.”
Lost on London: Edinburgh’s real treasure is an abundance of fresh air, whether you’re playing golf in Bruntsfield, climbing city-centre volcanoes or rambling in the Pentland Hills.

06 Belfast


Says who: Jeff MeredithNorthern Ireland writer and magazine editor
I’m not sure you can visit Belfast just once in your lifetime, people always want to come back again for more. That’s no surprise given what we have to offer. There’s the world-class visitor attraction Titanic Belfast (pictured); the multi-award winning St George’s Market every weekend (named the UK’s Best Large Indoor Market 2019 by the NABMA Great British Market Awards); a buzzing Cathedral Quarter, plus a host of Michelin star restaurants. My favourite, however, is a little place called Jumon on Fountain Street, a cool and funky plant-based restaurant with a ton of vegan options.”
Lost on London: Belfast is the home of Game of Thrones, where the worldwide phenomenon was filmed and where you can jump on a tour to visit some of its most iconic filming locations.

This article has been tagged Destination, Travel Tips