Autumn weekend breaks
New autumn, new options. This October marks the launch of five new UK and Ireland routes from London City Airport with Flybe, bringing on board a quintet of destinations that includes some of the top city-break choices in the British Isles. Where will you go?
Belfast: Heavyweight heritage and fantasy drama
If ever a city can claim to be defiant in the face of its own, sometimes troubled reputation, it’s Belfast. Culturally confident and constantly evolving, it’s somewhere with a number of hefty attractions. One of the most notable is Titanic Belfast (1 Queens Road, 028 9076 6399), a large-scale museum that opened in 2012 to commemorate the centenary of the ocean liner’s launch – the vessel itself, of course, having been constructed in the city’s shipbuilding yards.
Also tapping into Northern Irish heritage are ornate set-piece sights such as Belfast City Hall (Donegall Square, 028 9032 0202) and the Crown Liquor Saloon (46 Great Victoria Street, 028 9024 3187), the latter being a near-legendary National Trust-owned pub. For something more modern, the on-trend Howard Street Restaurant (56 Howard Street, 028 9024 8362), open since late 2013, serves high-quality local dishes.
And if you’d rather deal in fantasy drama? Belfast is home to the studio in which the epic Game of Thrones TV series is shot, and various parts of the surrounding coast and countryside feature as filming locations. Take a guided tour of the most significant spots.
Flight time from London City: 1 hour 35 minutes
Exeter: Cathedral greens and West Country food
Given that it’s the county town of visitor-friendly Devon, Exeter draws relatively little tourist attention. Those who do come calling, however, will find an increasingly arty city that not only gives a jumping-off point to the local countryside but offers 2,000 years of history in its own right.
It retains some eye-catching old-world architecture, not least in the form of the excellent Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery (Queen Street, 01392 265 858). Elsewhere, the city’s rejuvenated quayside area provides a focal point for a fine spread of pubs, cafés and independent stores – The Coffee Cellar (22 The Quay, 01392 410 000) has Italian coffee, homemade cakes and great canal views.
Also in town, book a table at the upscale Michael Caines Restaurant (Cathedral Yard, 01392 319 955), named after a local celebrity chef and specialising in West Country ingredients – try the sirloin of Devonshire beef. And to work it off the next day? Saddles & Paddles (4 Kings Wharf, 01392 424 241) hires kayaks for trips down the River Exe.
Flight time from London City: 1 hour 15 minutes
Dublin: Literary tradition and fresh innovation
Where to begin with Ireland’s heady capital city? Dublin remains a place of its own making, dealt a body blow by the global financial crisis but still standing as a proud and polished destination. It’s a city of riverside laneways and mansion-ringed squares, chattering markets and clattering pubs, winding tales and big dreams.
The likes of the Guinness Storehouse (St James’s Gate, +353 1 408 4800) and the small but stirring Book of Kells (Trinity College) tend to top the must-see lists, but no less rewarding are attractions such as Kilmainham Gaol (Inchicore Road, +353 1 453 5984), a former prison highlighting the turmoil of generations past, and the aptly named Little Museum of Dublin (15 St Stephen’s Green, +353 1 661 1000), which tells the city’s story in enjoyable fashion – there’s a guided tour on the hour, each hour.
Those of an active disposition can try their hand at hurling and Gaelic Football through Experience Gaelic Games, while Fabulous Food Trails offer an indulgent way to refuel, with a tasting trail that takes in cheesemongers, street markets, food halls and delis. And if you’re thirsty? Call in at The Church (Jervis Street, +353 1 828 0102) a one-time place of worship reinvented as a unique eatery-cum-drinking hole.
Flight time from London City: 1 hour 20 minutes
Edinburgh: Whisky bars and traditional tales
Its rammed cultural calendar and craggy billboard-friendly looks have long made the Scottish capital a colossally popular visitor destination. But the city itself – hilltop castle and all – is full of the kind of nookish charms and one-off treats that make a trip here far more than just a chance to tick off sights.
A good place to start is at the Scottish Storytelling Centre (43-45 High Street, 0131 556 9579), where a seasonal programme of live storytelling brings the destination to life in heartfelt style. For a fresh insight into a traditional local icon, visit the working looms behind the Edinburgh Old Town Weaving Co store (57-59 High Street, 0131 557 0256) to watch kilts being made.
Whisky is another inescapable component of Lothian heritage. Take a dram or two at WHISKI Bar and Restaurant (119 High Street, 0131 556 3095), where you’ll find 300 malts and blends on offer, or head slightly further afield to Thomson’s Bar (182-184 Morrison Street, 0131 228 5700), which serves up good real ales alongside single malts.
Flight time from London City: 1 hour 30 minutes
Inverness: Highland scenery and historical attractions
Best known to travellers as the gateway to Loch Ness, the city of Inverness offers more than the opportunity to indulge in monster-spotting. Standing as both the de facto capital of the Highlands region and the northernmost city in the UK, it has roots stretching back to the sixth century – so if Scottish history and cascading countryside get you going, you’ll find much to enjoy.
The site of the Battle of Culloden sits a few short miles to the east, and there’s heritage of a different sort to be explored at the Titanic Inverness Maritime Museum (16 Clachnaharry Road, 01463 716 839), brimming with quirky nautical artefacts including a replica submarine. To try West Coast seafood – or the excellent local lamb and venison – book a table at the family-run Riverside Restaurant (10 Bank Street, 01463 714 884). Elsewhere, The Eden Court Theatre (Bishops Road, 01463 234 234) has a strong year-round arts calendar.
Flight time from London City: 1 hour 50 minutes