You may think that New England has the monopoly on autumn greatness, thanks to its legendary show-stopping foliage, but it doesn’t. Good old Blighty has many charms to fall for – ideal for a range of autumn breaks in the UK.
Red stags rutting, carnivals bursting to life, beaches quieting to a hush and trees bursting into flame – they’re just some of the treats that await you as you steal away during the holidays for a mini UK weekend getaway.
So, thumb your nose at New England: here are 12 autumn short break ideas that prove the UK does autumn brilliantly.
All of these autumn UK breaks are independently selected by our editor. Please check all the suggestions below in case there changes or cancellations due to Covid.
Autumn UK break No 1:
Sleep with ghosts in Northumberland
Chillingham Castle claims to be England’s most haunted house. Try it out for size, if you dare, durign the October holidays and you may bump into its resident spooks: The White Pantry Ghost; the Ghost in the Chamber; voices in the chapel; the Blue Boy; the ghost of Lady Mary Berkeley.
With 5 richly furnished self-catering apartments in the castle itself and more in the castle’s coaching rooms, Chillingham Castle is just the thing for supernatural enthusiasts keen for a tête-à-tête with the undead on an autumn break in the UK.
A mini break in the castle comes with free access to its fierce medieval interior, its distinctly less pleasant accommodation: the dungeons and torture chamber, as well as the run of the castle’s stunning grounds. If you don’t wish to stay, Chillingham Castle host ghost tours from October through to November, but they get booked up fast.
Stay: Chillingham Castle, Northumberland
Costs: From £150 for 2 nights. Apartments sleep 2 – 6 people.
Autumn UK break No 2:
Watch stags rutting in Exmoor
Journey deep into the heart of rural Devon and watch one of nature’s greatest spectacles this autumn: the dramatic rutting of Exmoor’s red deer.
October and November are the best months to see the deer, not least because this is the mating season when the ‘rutting’ takes place. This striking show of superiority between male stags is really something special; a brutal, raw battle of locking horns and guttural roars that makes your rib-cage echo.
Although red stags are common on Exmoor, they’re notoriously difficult to locate. Partner with the expert guidance of Andrew Turner from Red Stag Safaris, as I did for my Red Stag Weekend on Exmoor, and you’ve more chance of seeing the show on this UK autumn break.
Afterwards, head back to the beautiful village of Dunster – one of the best-preserved medieval towns in England – and enjoy a hearty lunch, before exploring the village and heading into Dunster Castle.
Stay: The Luttrell Arms Hotel
Costs: From £110 for 1 night in a standard room. Red Stag Safari from £30 per person.
More info: Red Stag Safari
Autumn UK break No 3:
Wonder at the Maples in Gloucestershire
Home to some 15,000 trees, Westonbirt The National Arboretum has to be one of the most outstanding places in England to see autumn blaze into life.
Go in October and November for a short break and take the STIHL Treetop Walkway. It sweeps you along a gentle 300-metre route, 13 metres up, and offers the best views of the saffron and mulberry maples, Japanese acres and witch hazel. Along the way there are 7 interactive spots, a crow’s nest and a rope bridge for smaller weekenders to enjoy.
You’ll find The National Arboretum at Westonbirt tucked into the serene Gloucestershire countryside. A trip to Westonbirt can easily be tied to a stay and some serious antiques-hunting in the market town of Tetbury for the October holidays, just 5 miles from the arboretum.
Stay: The Priory Inn Tetbury
Costs: From £99 for 1 night in a double room. The National Arboretum at Westonbirt: £9 adults/£4 children.
More info: National Arboretum at Westonbirt
Autumn UK break No 4:
Catch the Northern Lights in Kielder Water
For unpolluted skies and uninterrupted views of the galaxy, make your way to Kielder Water in Northumberland (Europe’s largest dark sky park) for an out of this world autumn mini getaway. It is here that you find one of the best observatories in England – the Kielder Observatory – and some of the darkest skies in the country.
The observatory runs many star-gazing nights, including their highly popular Aurora Night, from September – November (£25.30). If you’re not lucky enough to bag a spot, there are plenty more star-studded evening events to chose from: Saturn and the Moon; A Universe Full of Stars; Full Moon Party; Night Sky Safari.
Kielder Water itself lies within the great wilderness of Northumberland National Park, which stretches from Hadrian’s Wall to the Cheviot Hills. During the day explore Kielder’s 27-mile art trail around the lake or, for more high-octane thrills, try the 150-m zip wire!
Stay: Battlesteads Hotel
Costs: From £100 B&B for 1 night in a double room. Aurora Night at the Kielder Observatory: £25.30
More info: Kielder Observatory
Autumn UK break No 5:
Press your own cider in Somerset
Take yourself to Burrow Hill in the Somerset Levels this October holiday for a traditional UK autumn mini break. Home to the Somerset Cider Brandy Company and Burrow Hill Cider, Burrow Hill Farm’s owners have over 50 years’ experience of making cider – so you’re in good hands.
Wander the rows of apples in the orchards following the trail, then make your way to the cider brandy distillery where copper sills whir protected by armour-plated glass and 68 locks and seals.
Afterwards, head to the farm shop where you can sample the different ciders and cider brandies amongst the cider-making paraphernalia: oak vats, barrels and presses. Don’t forget to call a taxi to get you back to your mini-weekend base.
Stay: The Wheelhouse at Gawbridge Mill
Costs: From £85 B&B for 1 night in a double room.
More info: Somerset Cider Brandy Company
Autumn UK break No 6:
Celebrate Halloween at Beamish
For a fright fest October mini break you’ll never forget, head to Co. Durham’s astonishing Beamish Museum this October holiday.
Beamish is The Living Museum of the North – an open-air historical wonderland with real Victorian houses, shops, streets and public buildings; each masterfully transported from its original historical home to Beamish and rebuilt brick-by-brick.
Beamish is worth a visit at any time of the year, but come Halloween it puts on a ghoulish experience that’s not for the faint-hearted. Zombies prowl its streets, madmen stalk its woods, ghosts haunt its homes and clowns loiter in the depths of its vaults.
Yes, they may be actors, but you’ll be screaming blue murder as they come for you from the black of a lonely side alley. Not to worry, you can calm your nerves in the local Beamish pub with a bloody gin and tonic before you brave the woods back to the car park.
Stay: Lumley Castle Hotel
Costs: From £115 B&B for 1 night in a Courtyard Double
More info: Beamish Museum
Autumn UK break No 7:
Surf the waves in Cornwall
Watergate Bay on the Cornish Coast has to be one of the most impressive beaches in Cornwall for surfers and non-surfers. And early autumn is the ideal time to visit for a short break if you’re keen to catch a wave. With the summer flocks virtually all gone, the beach stirs quietly with a new sense of peace and tranquillity.
Its 2-mile stretch of biscuity-sand is lapped by long, slow-rolling waves, ideal for novices and well-seasoned surfers. Head to the Watergate Bay Extreme Academy for its Surf and Hire course (£47). Master surfing in the morning then keep your gear and spend the rest of the day practising.
Once you’re done riding the waves, fill your belly at The Beach Box Cafe, one of Cornwall’s most unique beach-side hangouts.
Stay: Watergate Bay Hotel
Costs: Surf lessons start from £35. Seaview rooms start from £225 per night.
More info: Watergate Bay Hotel
Autumn UK break No 8:
In search of the Brontës in Yorkshire
Haworth in Yorkshire is a neat little village with soot-brown brick buildings and a small cobbled street that politely tumbles downhill to the edge of the moors – and autumn is a magnificent time to visit.
Literary fans will know it as the home of the Brontë sisters. They lived in the village Parsonage for most of their short lives, publishing some of the finest works of literature the world has known: Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey.
Set your sights on an autumn weekend getaway to Haworth and start at The Brontë Parsonage, a fine Georgian house which is now an excellent and immersive museum. Here you can see the original dining table the sisters wrote at (and engraved their initials into), the sofa where Emily died, as well as a brilliant recreation of the bedroom and study of their brother, Branwell Brontë– a tortured poet, artist and opium addict.
Afterwards, grab a hubcab-sized Yorkshire parkin biscuit from the local bakery, and head off onto the moors in the direction of Top Withins – the supposed inspiration for Wuthering Heights.
Stay: Poden Hall (on the edge of the moors, visited regularly by the Brontë and quite possibly the inspiration for Linton Grange in Wuthering Heights).
Costs: Choose from one of three double rooms: Earnshaw, Heaton, Giddings. Rooms start at £65 pp, with B&B.
Autumn UK break No 9:
Food festival in Conwy, Wales
2020 marks another food extravaganza in Conwy, North Wales, from 23rd Oct – 25th. This 2-day feast is the largest culinary event in the Welsh calendar, bringing together the very best Welsh food and suppliers.
Expect street food, food halls, cooking demonstrations, wine tasting, live music and a local food market all set on the working quayside and against the spectacular backdrop of Conwy’s 13th century castle and town walls.
As well as food, there are arts and crafts on offer, including workshops where you can try your hand at sculpture, lantern making and origami. It’s a great excuse to head to Wales for your autumn UK mini break!
Stay: The Castle Hotel is set in the heart of historic Conwy on the site of a Cistercian Abbey. Elegant and stylish, with luxurious touches throughout the rooms, the hotel is a perfect base for an autumn weekend getaway and for enjoying the food festival.
Costs: There are 29 rooms divided into three room categories (Classic, Superior and Deluxe). Classic rooms start at £1020 per night at weekends, including breakfast.
Autumn UK break No 10:
Fossil foraging in Charmouth, Dorset
The breath-taking Jurassic Coast offers autumn weekenders 185 million years’ worth of geological history and ancient treasures to uncover. It’s a remarkable stretch of the UK, rolling on for 95 glorious miles and boasting many beautiful beaches.
One of the best beaches to potter along during October and November, in my opinion, is Charmouth, although I’m a little biased because I went to primary school there! It’s a beach and town that’s quiet all-year-round compared to its well-known neighbour, Lyme Regis, and as off-season hits, it falls blissfully still.
What’s more, the unsettled autumn wind, rain and storms dislodge the fossilized remains of animals that swam in the sea along this stretch of coastline during the Jurassic period. So it’s ripe for fossil-hunting on an autumn getaway, although visitors do need to abide by the Fossil Collecting Code.
Stay: The beautiful Outbuildings near Bridport is a collection of luxury rustic self-catering rooms on a family farm in Dorset. There are four chic and stylish double rooms, stunningly designed and ready to keep you cosy this autumn.
Costs: 2 nights’ stay, Friday and Saturday, from £100.
Autumn UK break No 11:
Road-tripping on the Isle of Skye, Scotland
Towering mountains, dramatic moorland, staggering wildlife – it can only be the Isle of Skye off the West coast of Scotland. This place has been on my autumn weekend getaway bucketlist for ages, and it didn’t disappoint! And one of the best ways to experience this beautifully elemental place, is on a road-trip from Portree to the coastal nook of Applecross on the Scottish mainland, 74 miles away.
Start your autumn mini weekend away in Portree – the main harbour town on the Isle of Skye. From here, take the A87 through the Cuillins mountains, a twin mountain range that bisect the island at midpoint.
Head onwards to join the Wester Ross coastal route and the spectacular unspoilt scenery that accompanies you for some 20 miles. Turn then for Bealach na Bà – the Pass of the Cattle (check it’s open before you so). You’ll rise to 2053ft before plunging back down to Applecross Bay.
Stay on this road until you reach the town itself, a sweet strip of houses hugging the seafront. Stop, pour yourself a Isle of Skye Gin and congratulate yourself: Middle Earth, done.
Stay: The Applecross Inn is bang on Applecross Bay, with views of Raasay and Skye. The seafood here come fresh from the bay it sits on and the views can come with sight of a golden eagle or basking shark.
Costs: Stay as long as you can, because it takes a while to reach Applecross Inn. Plus, the surrounding area is stunning. Rooms start from £130 per night for 2 or more nights.
Autumn UK break No 12:
Narrowboating in Leicestershire
Experience the beauty of autumn by stepping aboard a luxurious narrowboat for an autumn getaway weekend cruising the tranquil Leicestershire canals. At this time of year, the canals are blissfully quiet, which is ideal cruising conditions for the novice boater who can practise their boating skills in relative peace.
Start your weekend in Leicester with a historic city sojourn, then head to Debdale Wharf Marina, to collect your narrowboat, Leslie Anne, from Boutique Narrowboats.
Easily as luxurious as a boutique hotel, Lesley Anne has all the comforts you could want for an autumn getaway on the water: real wooden floors, a deluxe king-sized bed with shutters opening onto the water, to watch the stars together, a pot-bellied wood burner, rainfall shower – and of course, wi-fi throughout.
Meander your way along the waterways at your own pace, heading for Market Harborough. And remember to stop at some of the cosy towpath pubs and restaurants on your way – although disembarking from the beautiful Lesley Anne may be harder than you imagine.
Stay: Lesley Anne is a 2-person narrowboat from Boutique Narrowboats fleet. She’s been lovely restored to a very high-spec, with luxury touches throughout.
Costs: An autumn or winter mini-break onboard Lesley Anne starts from £391, from Friday afternoon until Monday morning.
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