10 exciting UK city breaks for food lovers
Explore cafés, restaurants and bars while sightseeing in the UK's lively cities, from Brighton to Bristol and Edinburgh, and treat yourself to an overnight stay
Looking for a foodie city break? Read on if you want to explore the UK's vibrant cities, then check out our pick of the UK's best gastro pubs with rooms, top 10 UK culinary escapes for 2022 and the UK's best boutique hotels for food lovers.
Best UK city breaks for food lovers
Manchester – for trendy Northern charm
Mooch around Manchester’s Northern Quarter and adjoining trendy Ancoats neighbourhood for the weekend. Start at antipodean-style Federal, and brunch on French toast laden with summer berry compote or corn fritters piled high with toppings. Work your way through the Northern Quarter’s network of shops, cafés and bars – Beermoth is jam-packed with local brews. Amble over to Ancoats’s New Islington Arena to scandi-cool Pollen Bakery to enjoy canalside Manchester tart cruffins and cuddles with Maru the chow chow. For dinner, Rudy’s is the local go-to for Neapolitan pizza and refreshing aperitivo with pals. The next day, hop on the bus to Hatch, a trendy foodie outlet near Manchester Met University. Strings of exposed light bulbs cast a hipster twinkle over the self-contained courtyard, and there’s a sun-soaked garden filled with long wooden tables where you can while away afternoons with Öl nanobrewery craft beers, Takk iced lattes and Firebird Hope chicken sarnies.
Where to stay
Converted textile warehouse, The Cow Hollow Hotel, has a reception that doubles as a cocktail bar, where guests can enjoy complimentary early evening prosecco and snacks. Rooms come kitted out with impressive marble fireplaces, super comfy beds and a round of milk and cookies delivered to your room each night.
Doubles from £129 per night, check availability at booking.com
Brighton – for a seaside city break
Brighton and Hove’s mini baking empire Flour Pot Bakery specialises in artisan breads, inventive bakes and fresh pastries. Try a slice of Brighton blackout cake at the original Sydney Street branch, then mooch down to the shore through the atmospheric Lanes, via Gelato Gusto for a seasonal scoop. Explore global cuisines from the independent traders offering diverse cuisines with live local music at restored Victorian seafront food hall, Shelter Hall. Original The Open Market is home to some great little independents for an afternoon of grazing, including snug Greek café Kouzina, Smorl’s falafel and Mexican tacos at family-run Casa Azul.
Come dinner time, head over to Hove for a five-course seafood tasting menu from one-man-band Duncan Ray at his restaurant, The Little Fish Market. Back in town, sit at the counter at Cin Cin to sip on negroni sbagliatos and watch staff assemble seasonal Italian small plates and fresh pasta dishes, or tuck into regional Indian dishes at kitsch Brighton institution, The Chilli Pickle. Finally, the all-day, late-night restaurant Burnt Orange is a great spot for cocktails and seasonal sharing dishes cooked over fire.
Where to stay
Quirky boutique hotel Artist Residence has unique rooms decorated by local artists that overlook the iconic West Pier. There’s a cocktail bar hidden in the basement serving bespoke drinks, and ground-floor restaurant The Set hosts brunch and great-value set menus in the evening.
Doubles from £129, check availability at booking.com
Bath – for contemporary gems amongst the Georgian architecture
Start the day at small but thoughtfully formed Landrace Bakery and choose from the counter heaving with fresh-from-the-oven Eccles cakes and cinnamon buns. Stroll up through the stunning Circus crescent to Berdoulat, an impeccably restored grade-II listed food emporium complete with over 50 spices from the jar, shelves of small-batch wines and a concession from Frome’s Rye Bakery. Amble back down into town, via the sweeping grandeur of the Royal Crescent, for croquetas and a glass of sherry in Basque-style tapas bar Pintxo’s hidden garden. For a more substantial lunch, unpretentious Scallop Shell offers hake in crisp batter with proper ‘chippie’ chips.
Around the corner is contemporary tea house Comins, a serene spot to while away an hour or so making your way through its single estate teas. Or, find a weekly rotation of serious espressos recommended by the baristas at Colonna & Smalls. Check out funky illustrations hand-squiggled onto the walls of Scandi-inspired Kingsmead Bottle, while sipping craft beers from Bath and beyond, paired with a local cheeseboard.
For dinner, try OAK’s exceptional meat-free feast in a little alcove with views of an unseen angle of Bath Abbey. Or if you want something meatier, try venison tartare on squidgy brown butter crumpets and other wild game dishes in The Elder’s intimate, green-panelled dining rooms.
Where to stay
A honey-hued Georgian terrace in the heart of Bath is home to Hotel Indigo, boasting quirky nods to the city’s past. Before dinner in The Elder’s cosy rooms, prop up the bar on a plush red leather stool with a Kamm & Sons English spritz or a barrel-aged negroni.
Doubles from £135 per night – check availability at booking.com.
Leeds – for market vibes and craft brews
Start the day browsing fresh produce stalls at lively Kirkgate Market before popping into dinky café Owt for its hearty fishmonger’s breakfast of smoked haddock, hash browns, soft boiled egg and greens. Prefer a more leisurely start? Take time over exotic brunch dishes at Layne’s Espresso, from shakshuka with dukkah and harissa butter, to sweetcorn fritters with halloumi and chimichurri. Leeds’s riverside regeneration extends to Leeds Dock, where calm, contemporary North Star Coffee Shop is home to a roastery, geeky coffee equipment, and a concession for Noisette Bakehouse’s Sarah Lemanski to freshly bake her legendary Morning Cake, four-cheese buttermilk scones and warm custard tarts.
North Brewing Co’s city-centre craft taproom houses headliners including Transmission IPA and crisp American pale ale Sputnik. If you’re peckish, order pillowy-soft bao buns from Little Bao Boy’s hatch beside the bar. Dinner options are aplenty – devour plates of handmade pasta at Sarto’s speckled quartz counter, or Szechuan dishes at family-run Chinese restaurant, Wen’s. For sophisticated tasting menus, try Elizabeth Cottam’s modern British creations at HOME, or make your way through sushi from the robata grill at glitzy Japanese, Issho.
Start your day at the stylish Söderberg, located in the heart of the Quartermile, where you can enjoy your morning coffee with cardamom-laced buns. Walk around the Old Town, then head to modern Japanese bistro Harajuku Kitchen for Kaori Simpson’s tempura, sushi, gyoza and noodle dishes.
As evening approaches, pay a visit to small plate-focused Noto, a minimalist restaurant located down a cobbled New Town alley where New York meets Asian cuisine (don’t miss the char siu pork bao with teriyaki and spring onions). Or try nose-to-tail dishes at brand-new The Palmerston, housed in a former 20th-century bank in Edinburgh’s West End. Alternatively, check out Fhior for Scandi-chic dining, where you can choose from four- or seven-course tasting menus that let seasonal ingredients sing. End the evening with martinis and bespoke cocktails at Lady Libertine, in the atmospheric basement of the Edinburgh Grand.
On a Sunday, make your way to intimate restaurant The Little Chartroom, where they swap out the meat main course on the set menu for a twist on a classic Sunday roast.
Where to stay
Top and tail your day at the Market Street Hotel, with breakfast from the gourmet pantry or the chef’s counter, then return for a glass of fizz and Queenie scallops as the sun sets over Edinburgh’s dramatic skyline.
Doubles from £130 per night, check availability at booking.com
Bristol – for funky soul and independent gems
For a food-fuelled weekend, start at Cargo, Bristol's foodie development made up of shipping containers, and take your pick from veg-focused small plates at Root, slow-braised chicken tacos and margaritas at Cargo Cantina and glistening ice-cream baos at Asian street food bar WokyKo. Stokes Croft, Bristol’s thriving indie community and home to the UK’s longest stretch of independent shops, offers a string of local gems, including ethically focused tapas joint Poco, Neapolitan pizza and craft beer haven Crofter’s Rights, and the sleek open-plan kitchen of Jamaica Street Stores. Treat yourself to silky, bourbon-laced panela tart, raisin-studded babka swirls and famous soft serve topped with crunchy croissant honey crisps at specialist bakery, Farro. Or, work up an appetite via a brisk bout of swimming at the picturesque Bristol Lido in Clifton before choosing from the Mediterranean-inspired menu at the adjoining restaurant.
For a dinner to shout about, work your way through hyper-seasonal and refined British dishes at Wilsons, nestled in a leafy residential area, or dine at one of Bristol’s most talked about openings Little French, a family-run restaurant serving hearty, regional French dishes and engaging wines. A trip to Pasta Loco, Bristol’s treasured Italian establishment, is a must-visit for negroni fiends and fresh pasta enthusiasts.
Where to stay
The unstoppable Artist Residence team has restored a Georgian townhouse, right by Bristol’s eclectic city centre. Rooms boast original features, luxurious ensuites and quirky furniture. Onsite dining spot The Boot Factory is open all day, for colour-themed smoothies breakfast to pizza and tapas-style sharing plates at dinner.
Doubles from £125, check availability at booking.com
Oxford – for neighbourhood spots and historic colleges
Oxford’s Jericho neighbourhood is a great place to start the day, with independent favourites including Jericho Cheese Company and G&D’s ice cream, an Oxford institution, all on your doorstep. Stop for lunch at French-inspired Pompette or contemporary wine bar Wilding. Head into town to explore the streets amongst the colleges and soak up the atmospheric old-school style, with Society Café providing the perfect pitstop for coffee and a slice of cinnamon and walnut loaf.
For more food-fuelled exploring, wander down the aisles at Oxford Covered Market, where you can stock up on seasonal produce before heading to Teardrop, a tiny micropub (part of West Oxfordshire Church Hanbrewery) serving cask ales to drink in, as well as local draught and bottled beers to takeaway. Be sure to check out Objects of Use while you’re on Market Street, a treasure trove for cooks, too. Dinner options are aplenty: for Asian dining pay a visit to Edamame for authentic Japanese home cooking, or Oli’s Thai for a unique neighbourhood restaurant boasting impressive East-meets-West techniques.
Where to stay
The Porterhouse, a seven-bedroom boutique hotel and restaurant, offers king size beds and smart bathrooms with double showers, wall mounted TVs and coffee machines. It’s a convenient two-minute walk from Oxford train station and five-minute walk to the Castle Quarter, too.
Doubles from £156 per night, check availability at booking.com
Cambridge – for a truly British weekender
If you’re looking for a relaxed brunch spot to kickstart the weekend, take a 15-minute stroll from the city centre to Cambridge Cookery School, a modern café serving Scandi-inspired food including platters of herring, beetroot, dill-cured cucumber and house rye bread. After, satisfy your sweet tooth at Jack’s Gelato and choose from a roster of alluring flavours such as hazelnut brittle, sweet-salty treacle or refreshing alphonso mango sorbet. For coffee aficionados, Hot Numbers Coffee Roasters serves the best coffee in Cambridge, with the menu split into two sections – black coffees or espressos with milk. Fitzbillies is a Cambridge institution for a reason: go for the historic 1920s feel and stay for the signature Chelsea buns, gently spiced and bursting with currants and sticky sugar syrup.
Dinner-wise, Parker’s Tavern is the place to be for filling British classics, or head to Steak and Honour Burgers for towering American burgers and casual communal and counter seating. Alternatively, a detour down a residential street will take you to vegan haven Stem and Glory, where you can tuck into inventive sharing plates or hearty meat-free mains.
Where to stay
Historic Cambridge hotel University Arms is located in the heart of the city centre, offering cosy double bedrooms with private bathrooms along with views of Parker’s Piece, Regent Street and the hotel’s inner courtyard.
Doubles from £195 per night, check availability at booking.com
Nottingham – for urban drinking and artisan bakeries
Kickstart the weekend at Tough Mary’s Bakehouse for some of the best baked goods in Nottingham – you won’t miss it, with its sunshine yellow paintwork standing out against the otherwise grey Derby Road. After taking your pick from light fluffy doughnuts, babka and cinnamon buns, head to Outpost for the best cup of coffee in Nottingham. For lunch on the go, browse the large deli at Delilah Fine Foods, where fridges are filled with cheeses, whole counters are dedicated to charcuterie and freshly baked bread is on offer every day, or head to Kiosk for Middle Eastern soul food such as the kedgeree, topped with egg, garlic yogurt and chilli jam.
Nottingham’s Michelin-starred Restaurant Sat Bains is the go-to spot for a special occasion, or for something more casual, check out Kushi-ya for alluring Japanese small plates such as chicken katsu sandos, edamame beans spiked with soy and chilli and juicy chicken meatball skewers, all washed down with a pint of Asahi (or two). Round the evening off with craft beers at the lively Junkyard, tucked down one of Nottingham’s charming cobbled alleys.
Where to stay
The quirky Mama’s Inn Boutique Guest House is situated on the Northern fringe of Nottingham city centre, boasting lavishly designed and eccentric rooms inspired by cities such as New York, Vienna and St. Petersburg. All bedrooms are en suite and fully-equipped with bathrobes, slippers, and coffee making facilities.
Doubles from £81 per night, check availability at booking.com
Exeter – for old-school charm and comforting British fare
This small southwest city is never short of good food thanks to its cluster of exciting independent cafés, bars and restaurants. For towering burgers and old-school shakes pay a visit to Hubbox, an American street food inspired restaurant complete with sinkable leather booths and 50s-diner-style chairs. For straight up English comfort, book a table at The Fat Pig, where smoked pulled pork and apple in brioche buns, Dartmouth sirloin steak and truffle chips grace the menu. The Flat, an independent restaurant based on Exeter's lively Fore Street, focuses on planet-friendly vegetarian fare in the form of hand-stretched pizzas and meat-free deli boards. For a late-night tipple, choose from over 60 wines at Rendezvous, an intimate wine bar tucked away under one of the grand terraces with charming flagstone floors and exposed brick walls.
Beyond the city centre, you’ll find crisp, lip-smacking batter and pearly fish and chips at Fish Shed and Michelin star fine dining at Michael Caines’ renovated 18th-century mansion, Lympstone Manor, starring luminous views over the Exe Estuary.
Where to stay
Recently converted 200-year-old original mill house, Mill on the Exe is located on the tranquil banks of the river Exe, while being a 10-minute walk from Exeter Cathedral. All rooms are en suite and feature flat-screen smart TVs, luxury beds and bedding, with some rooms offering picturesque garden and river views.
Doubles from £135 per night, check availability at booking.com
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