Bottom of a steam train on the tracks

All Aboard: Train Tripping through the UK

The United Kingdom is a beautiful place full of culture, history and rolling hills. It’s a country just begging to be explored. But how do you get about, especially if you don’t have a car? Thankfully, our blog title isn’t just for show. The UK really is ‘united’ by a never-ending, inter-connected rail network. So if you’re looking to go train tripping through the UK this year, we might be able to help give you a few ideas.

On Track To Train Tripping Through The UK

With over 2,000 railway stations in the UK (making it the fifth most used railway network on the planet), the British Railway system also happens to be the oldest Railway Network in the entire world. The Stockton and Darlington Railway opened in 1825, the first locomotive-pulled railway for public use. This means train tripping through the UK is not only viable; it’s one of the most authentic ways of exploring the country.

A network of rail tracks

Rail Tours – A Classic


Rail Tours are widely regarded as excellent value for money. And as the best-known method of exploring the country by train, you’re guaranteed an unforgettable experience. UK Railtours are ‘Britain’s favourite Rail Tour Operator’. They start a number of their tours around London, and then venture further afield on unusual tracks to hidden gems, seaside resorts or quiet trips around the country. They give passengers a chance to soak up the sights. And travellers can even take a trip in a genuine steam train! Offering a choice of seats, a train-bound dining experience and a wealth of sights, why not enrich your year by starting it on tour?

Rail Roving – A Hidden Treat


Rail roving is somewhat of a mystery to many. If you fancy train tripping through the UK, then rail roving is without a doubt a hidden delight. So few people really acknowledge that it exists as a service. Even writing about it now, we expect you’re probably asking yourself what it’s all about.

Rail roving allows you to purchase a ticket that lasts a set number of days. But unlike other rail passes, it allows unlimited travel on any number of stations in a designated area. If you’re looking to book hotels in advance, then this is probably the exploration method for you. And the best part of rail roving? It’s cheap. Making it the perfect way to explore Scotland’s secret history with the Spirit of Scotland Travelpass 4 in 8 Days. For only £149, it covers a number of Caledonian MacBrayne ferries, along with a handful of bus services for four days in an eight-day period. Which means it’s perfect for the well-planned traveller with an eye for adventure.

Man walking away on rail tracks
To sum up, whether you’re looking to get away for the New Year, or excited to spend some time with the family on a train in the New Year, you’re spoilt for choice. Make this year the year of train tripping through the UK and take in the sights, sounds and history around you. However you travel, make sure you try some train tracks on your visit.

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Old Scottish castle in a scenic Scotland

Go Down In Scotland’s Secret History

If visiting the UK and exploring Scotland is one of your top New Year’s resolutions, why not take a trip down memory lane and discover Scotland’s secret history? We’ve looked into the weird and wonderful nooks and crannies of Scotland’s past to bring you some of the most intriguing and curious places and stories that you won’t find in the history books.

 

Secret Tunnels at Inchindown

Excavated out of solid rock in a hillside near the Invergordon naval base are six bombproof tunnels. They were constructed between 1939 and 1941 to secretly store reserve fuel supplies for British warships. The tanks themselves were long corridor spaces with arched roofs, lined with concrete walls 45cm thick. Despite still being in use during the Falklands War in 1982, the tanks were eventually decommissioned in 2002. Not only are these secret tunnels a must-see for anyone with a predilection for the more unusual sites in Scotland’s secret history, but also for those acoustic scientists with a keen ear for all things record breaking. Recently, a team from Salford University placed a new Guinness World Record for the longest echo in a man-made structure with a gun short reverberation lasting 112 seconds. This beat the previous record of 15 seconds by well, a long shot…

Chest filled with gas masks

The Britannia Panopticon Music Hall

You might not expect to find the world’s oldest surviving music hall down the street from a queued out Greggs and hidden above the false ceiling of an amusement arcade. But find it you most certainly will. Ta-dah! The Britannia Panopticon in Glasgow is definitely a hidden gem in the search for Scotland’s secret history, with a fascinating and curious story spanning from its opening in 1857 to its rediscovery in 1997 after sixty years of silence, boarded up and forgotten. In its heyday, the Britannia presented the biggest music hall stars of the time. It gave Stan Laurel his first performance. Thanks to the funds raised by trustees and volunteers, the original 1920s stage has now been restored. It hosts a selection of Victorian themed shows. So if you’re keen on all things nostalgic and fancy a jaunt down memory lane, then this is the place for you.

The Treasure of Loch Arkaig

Ok. Bear with us. In the grand scheme of Scotland’s secret history, the treasure of Loch Arkaig, otherwise known as the Jacobite Gold, ranks pretty highly because, well, it’s still a secret….

In 1746, seven caskets of Spanish gold arrived at Arisaig on French ships to support the Jacobite cause. But, by this point, the Jacobites had been defeated. Bonnie Prince Charlie was hotfooting it back to France. One casket had already been stolen. The remaining six were due to be distributed amongst the clan chiefs by the trustworthy Macpherson of Cluny. But he decided to run off with the money instead. He hid in a cave and lived as a fugitive instead. As you do.

The fate of the money remains unclear, and continues to baffle historians. It was reputedly buried at the head of Loch Arkaig. However a recent discovery of an 18th century deathbed confessional from a Jacobite supporter changed this. He revealed that he stole a bag of gold and buried it near Arisaig under a black rock with a tree root springing from it. And the rest, as the saying goes, is history. So, who needs a lottery ticket when all you need to do is arm yourself with a map and metal detector? The Spanish gold could be yours…

Chest full of treasure

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Spoiling Mum For Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is a special time of year. It’s when we go out of our way to let Mum know how much she is valued. Flowers and a card saying ‘Mum you’re so special’ is a great start. But we at Best UK Hotels want to give you some ideas on how to tell her just how important she really is.

Saying thank you to Mum

The traditional afternoon tea has enjoyed a revival in recent years. It is without question one of the most refined ways to celebrate Mother’s Day. From crystal glasses of bubbly, to fine china tea cups, afternoon tea is the best way to have a little pampered heart-to-heart. With afternoon tea a prominent pastime in Edinburgh, there is a selection of locations almost as wide as the sandwich flavours. All waiting for you, your mother, and the gossip.

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Mother’s Day in Spring

For those who want to make something special for their Mum head along to the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh. Take in the new spring views and stroll around all the beauty and wonder this natural exhibit has to offer. On Mother’s Day, they offer the most quirky and fun alternatives to a Mother’s Day bouquet, all freshly picked and created, there in the gardens. With a restaurant too, it is easy to see how this walk can quickly turn into a full day out.

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Pampering Mother’s Day

Of course, nothing says “I love you Mum” like a hotel getaway. Parliament House Hotel in Edinburgh regularly offers the perfect Mother’s Day retreat that is sure to have you in the good books for the rest of the year. Make the most of beautiful Edinburgh this Mother’s Day or any day with a gift voucher.  Spoil her with dinner on the first night, as well as with a gift voucher for afternoon tea and bubbles at Frederick Street based tea room, Eteaket.

Whatever you decide to do for Mother’s Day this year, we hope you have a great time!

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A field of flowers, the sky is blue. It's spring.

UK Spring Festivals You Don’t Want To Miss

Spring is fast approaching! With it comes a myriad of unique, fun filled festivals that can only be found within the UK. A gorgeous country filled with culture, history and a keen sense of wit, the UK has built up a repertoire of somewhat unusual activities alongside the norm. That’s why there’s always a plethora of strange, yet historic, spring festivals you don’t want to miss in the UK.

Eelin’ Fine

We’ll start with the unconventional – Eels. Each May bank holiday the town of Ely, Cambridgeshire, celebrates their namesake in the only sensible way. They make custom eel toys and have a contest to see who can throw them the farthest. Of course, the festival isn’t just about Eels. The Eel Festival Weekend generally features an (eel-based) food safari and a more vaguely defined food and drink festival on the last day of the event.

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The second day of the event traditionally includes an annual competition for Town Criers. The best cry takes all and we can only assume that they win something suitably Eel related. If Eels aren’t to your tastes, never fear! The festival will also have a hog roast and pizza for those feeling the eel burn – or if you’re just that little bit squeamish!

A Little Cheesy

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The UK might be host to more strange festivals and traditions, but one stands out among all the rest. World-famous, Cheese-Rolling is one of those strange facts of life that many in the UK just (as the saying goes) roll with. The origins of the ceremony are vague, with several different origins noted, from pagan to the more mundane. Today, it’s simply an organic event.

The most popular and well known Cheese-Rolling festival takes place near Gloucester on the Spring Bank Holiday and allows competitors from all over the world to take part: racing cheese down Cooper’s Hill. The cheese has been known to reach speeds of up to 70mph. So standing in the way may not be the best idea!

If you’re in the UK on holiday, or as a resident, there’s all sorts of fun to be had over the spring months. Quirky, zany and just a little bit bizarre, these are the spring festivals you don’t want to miss. In the UK later in the year? Then be sure to check out these Autumn Festivals in the UK.

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Gold background with Christmas tree

Why Booking Christmas in January Pays Off

Christmas in the United Kingdom is a big deal. We enjoy Christmas markets, festive festivals, and a seemingly endless supply of food and drink. It’s lucky for our waistlines that this holly-day comes but once a year!

But once all the decorations have been packed up and this year’s haul of presents are safely stowed away, the end-of-holiday hole is quickly filled with some post-Christmas January sales. As we head online and to the high street to make good on retailers’ January sales promises, it’s important to remember that booking Christmas in January pays off too.

Toasting the Bells in Edinburgh

Over winter, Edinburgh’s beautiful Princes Street is transformed into a labyrinth of markets, festivals, and family festivities. And while Christmas in Edinburgh is big, nothing compares to Hogmanay. From a torchlight procession down ancient cobbled streets, to one of the largest street parties in the world, there’s a reason this three-day New Year’s festival is on every travellers bucket list.

View of Edinburgh from Calton Hill

Tickets sell out fast. Thousands of people from around the world flock to Scotland’s vibrant capital each year to toast the bells and welcome in the New Year. And while you can always count on a few Christmas, Twixmas and Hogmanay deals leading up to December, accommodation in the heart of Edinburgh at a reasonable price is hard to come by. Booking early in January is a clever way to ensure you get the best rates. It also means you’ve got a visit to Edinburgh to look forward to all year!

Getting Jolly in London

Not to be outdone by their northern counterparts, Christmas in London is every bit as magical. Every year, one of the busiest cities in the world ditches the hustle and bustle of business as usual. In its place comes a Christmas season like no other. From outdoor ice rinks and London’s iconic Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. From dazzling lights to endless Christmas fairs and century-old traditions. Christmas in London always leaves everyone hungry for more.

So if you’re looking to stay in the UK next December, booking Christmas in January makes sense. It is the best way to ensure you get a great hotel deal. Enjoy your festive festivities!

Snowman under a tree

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Post-Christmas January Sales You Need To Know About

When Christmas is over, we all feel the blues. But a sombre January is so last year. This year, we wait and hope for the January sales, the style and the bargains. When the January sales have us all rushing around, it’s sometimes best to know when and where to go. What is the ultimate sale? Because at the ultimate sale, we find the ultimate bargain. With the ultimate bargain, we have the ultimate start to the year.

The London Eye for Bargains

Whether it be venturing to another city or finding the best deals in your doorstep, we have it covered. For clothes and accessories, the be all and end all of the January sales to grace is Selfridges. Whether you’re hitting the Trafford Centre, or luckily strolling down the streets of London, Selfridges is the place to be. With its vibrant mix of both designer and high street fashions, you’re on track to find yourself a barrage of steals or the perfect designer splurge that you convince yourself is really a saving.

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The Scottish Saver Spree

Here’s another convincing sale to pull you from the PJs and throw you into January. The Edinburgh sales will turn that crisp cold nose into a freezing but infectious grin. When strolling through Edinburgh, Princes Street is the place to be. For your January Sales, what better place is there to go than that still decorated with the Christmas feel, although it seems like Christmas has been reduced. With all its accompanying bars and restaurants, there is plenty of excuses to stop off, have a gossip and toast a wee dram to that stylish new trend you’ve picked up for less.

And finally, Highland Heaven

Of course, with every sale there is always those extra special bargains. Why not forget the accessories and look for the even more indulgent bargains. Turn your bargain find into a bargain stay. Take a luxurious break into the Scottish Highlands. Let the January blues melt away and get yourself back to the natural, beautiful wonder you are, with the help of the idyllic highlands.

At Ness Walk in Inverness, kick-start the year with a stay in a five-star luxury hotel and enjoy all the pleasures this riverside hotel has to offer. With their beautiful wines, foods and views, this hotel offers luxury stays for everyone.

If you’re looking for a hotel that offers spa facilities in Inverness, then Kingsmills is just the ticket. Take advantage of their regular special offers and treat yourself to a relaxing time in the hands of an expert.

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Don’t let the post-Christmas blues get you down. Get smart with the January sales and stay one step ahead of the game!

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Labrador dog lying down

Pet Friendly Accommodation That’ll Give You Paws For Thought

When planning your next UK city break, there is no reason to leave your furry family behind. No matter your destination, the UK has a number of pet-friendly accommodation options that’ll bring out the animal in you. Enjoy long walks on the beach and scenic escapes, dog-friendly parks, pubs and cafes. It’s a dog eat dog world for anyone offering pet-friendly accommodation in the UK!

Cat lying stretched out on its bed

England: Barking Up The Right Tree

For centuries the English have worked hard to secure their reputation as fierce horse and dog lovers. And while it isn’t always easy to cart your horse around on holiday with you, the many pet friendly accommodation options throughout the country make up for any holiday horsey inconvenience.

Dog under a tree perched with front legs on a stone

Where to stay:

Forest Holidays understand just how important your dog is to you. It’s why they have a number of pet friendly cabins in forests across England and Scotland. Their cabins can accommodate up to 4 dogs in addition to their human companions. All they ask is that your dog is loved, well looked after, never locked up in your cabin and on a lead when you venture out into the forest.

Scotland: Taking The Highlands Highroad

The Scottish Highlands are synonymous with natural beauty and untamed wilderness. It’s not surprising then that this holiday destination offers a multitude of pet-friendly accommodation options.

Dog up the hills looking at the view

Where to stay:

As one of the few carbon-neutral holiday destinations in the world, Eagle Brae is not only eco-friendly, they’re animal-friendly as well. Home to a number of Highland animals, it’s the perfect place to relax, unwind and reconnect with nature.

A very handy website to have up your sleeve in Scotland is Dugs n’ Pubs, which lets you know which pubs, cafes and other attractions you can bring your dog into.

Wales: Pet Friendly Holidays Are A Beach

With some of the prettiest beaches in the UK, the Welsh coastline isn’t just beautiful, it’s fun for the whole family too. With long sandy stretches, rolling dunes, crashing waves, cool rock pools and plenty of seagulls to chase, there’s no end to the fun you and your loving pet can get up to.

Collie dog chasing a ball on a beach

Where to stay:

Culver House has eight luxury apartments with beautiful balconies overlooking breath-taking sea views. With a blue flag beach on your doorstep, their pet-friendly accommodation makes them a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and their lovable critters.

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Wooden train set pulling the word "Love"

Fall in L.O.V.E, with Romantic Places in the UK

Valentine’s Day is a popular event in the UK, where grand romantic gestures combine with smaller displays of affection. But why di everything on just one day? Spread the L.O.V.E. this year with our favourite romantic places in the UK, perfect to visit any day.

L: Look to London

When it comes to love, forget Paris. Rome is history. Athens can take a hike. With an abundance of Michelin-starred restaurants, history streets and romantic hotels, London is one of our favourite romantic places in the UK this Valentine’s day. Enjoy a candlelit dinner at Clos Maggiore. Take in a show in London’s West End. Admire the view from the Shard before booking into one of London’s beautiful boutique hotels. With an endless supply of romantic things to do, fall in love all over again with Valentine’s Day in London.

Couple crossing millennium bridge, London

O: Opt for Oxford

If London is too busy for you, or you’re looking for a more intimate romantic escape, opt for Oxford instead. Only an hour outside of London by train, Oxford is the perfect romantic alternative for couples of all ages. Dubbed “The City of Dreaming Spires”, its ancient cobble-street labyrinth, chiming cathedrals and romantic charms will leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside this winter.

Spiers of an Oxford building

V: Visit Wales

While the rest of the UK gears up for Valentine’s Day, Wales gets ready for the 25th January, otherwise known as St Dwynwen’s Day – the most romantic date in the Welsh calendar. With its Celtic charm and ancient traditions, making your way to Wales for St Dwynwen’s Day is a must for pointless-holiday-sceptics looking to boycott Valentine’s Day. With enchanting castles, charming villages, captivating coastlines and a wealth of gorgeous scenery, Wales is rich in some of the most romantic places in the UK.

Couple walking along the beach

E: Explore Edinburgh

When it comes to romantic places in the UK, all roads lead to Edinburgh, voted one of the most romantic cities in the world. Edinburgh’s ancient architecture, stunning skyline and beautiful parks make it the perfect place to say “I love you”. You can explore Edinburgh’s iconic castle, or take a romantic stroll along the royal mile. Why not enjoy a romantic picnic in Princes Street Gardens, or even a trip to the beach? Nothing says I love you quite like a romantic escape to Edinburgh this – or any other – Valentine’s Day.

View of Edinburgh from Calton Hill

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Fall In Love With Wedding Venues In Scotland

The word ‘Scotland’ evokes images of a wild, untamed and ultimately gorgeous landscape. Lochs and glens abound and the ruins of old castles rest where they were built. Is it any wonder why Scotland is considered one of the most romantic places in the world? Of course, there are plenty of locations in the UK to choose from but if you’re after something truly special, then read on to find out more about stunning wedding venues in Scotland.

Something Old

The southernmost island of Scotland, Islay, is looked at with a mixture of nostalgia and awe. Home to distilleries, wildlife, stunning views and of course, history. One such historic landmark is available for Weddings: Loch Finlaggan. Formerly the home to the Lords of the Isle, the Loch houses a set of ancient buildings that make the perfect backdrop for that special day. Your wedding should be historic, so why not include a part of Scottish lore?

Islay

For accommodation during your stay on the island, Islay Cottages are offering a special Romantic Escape – just the treat for your wedding and subsequent honeymoon.

Something New

Scotland is a varied country. Ruins and modern houses abound and choosing between the traditional and the up-to-date can be tricky. That’s why we’re suggesting the best of both worlds. Located in Inverness, the stunning Achnagairn Castle has been called a ‘fairy-tale wedding venue’ before and was named number one in Harper’s Bazaar Magazine’s Best UK Wedding Venues category.

A bride and groom holding a bouquet of flowers

The castle itself features a grand ballroom that can host up to 260 people. It has 24 luxury bedrooms for guests and an option for more rooms in the lodges set up outside of it. Expansive grounds, individually decorated rooms and all the grandeur of a royal palace… It’s hard not to say ‘I do’ to Achnagairn!

Something Borrowed

There’s no need to fret if you’re still chasing ideas on just how your wedding should go. After all, perfection takes time and plenty of patience. If you’re really feeling stuck, have a read of a few examples: including a DIY wedding in an abbey that’s only accessible via boat!

Something Blue

The venue might be sorted, the wedding plans are underway but what about entertainment? Something romantic to listen to while you’re walking down the aisle or to dance along with during the reception. Fittingly named, Something Blue is a band based just inside of Glasgow that specializes in wedding entertainment. To learn more, or to have a taste of their talent, check out one of the videos up on the Something Blue site!

Organising a wedding can be a hard task, though it’s well worth it in the end. Hopefully these wedding venues in Scotland will give you a few ideas on how best to plan and arrange that lovely day. Your wedding should be perfect – so why settle for anything less?

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A classic hotel lobby bell, next to a set of keys and a sign that reads, 'Check in'.

Why You Should Book Direct with UK Hotels

It’s always tempting to go the online route and book your trip away through an agent – it’s easy, it’s quick and they’re always ready to suggest the ‘cheapest prices’ online to really reel you in. As a matter of fact, that’s probably their only real draw beyond convenience. So why should you book direct when searching for UK hotels? Well, read on and you might just learn something.

Why Would I Book Direct?

It’s a given that booking through a third party might lead to some sort of fuss. After all, you’re not the one in control of your reservation. All sorts of troubles could arise, from reservations not being processed to your room being changed entirely and at that point you’re forced to wonder: who is to blame here? Finger pointing can lead to even more trouble that could have easy been avoided by cutting out the middle man.

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One on one, you build up a rapport with your hotel. It’s no longer just a faceless stepping-stone in the way of your holiday: there’s a voice at the end of the line and more often than not, hotels are more willing to help you out if you’re the one calling.

Price Match

On top of that, there’s always the question of price. That tempting ‘cheapest prices here!’ banner might be seductive, but it’s usually not all that true. Most hotels are willing to match prices with online hotel finder sites over the phone – or even go lower. Usually, the cost difference is negligible.

Of course, there’s also the simple fact that hotels pay commission fees to the agents that advertise their rooms and wares. This can inflate costs by up to 18% of what they should be. Clever hotels take advantage of that and give guests the chance to make savings: but only if they book direct.

There you have it! Booking a hotel room online via a third party might be easier but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be cheaper.  It might not even be the more convenient option should a problem arise. To really get to know UK hotels (and snag the best prices) you’ll want to book direct. If you really want to avoid the hustle and bustle, then there are always alternate holiday ideas that might just catch your eye!

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