Our alternative guide to UK city breaks for 2018

Fancy visiting somewhere new in 2018? We’ve compiled a shortlist of our favourite UK city breaks, with a rundown of the most popular attractions and hotspots. For those who prefer to avoid the tourist traps, here are some hidden gems to be found off the beaten track.

The best thing is, you can reach all these destinations via our Nectar travel partners – meaning you can collect bonus Nectar points in your booking,  and even redeem them with Virgin Trains East Coast.

Edinburgh: Volcanic Athens of the North

If you’re looking for tourist attractions and tradition, Edinburgh has the lot. A quick Google search, and you’ll be spoilt for choice. Bagpipes – tick. Men in kilts – tick. ‘See You Jimmy Hats’ – tick. Fine dining, stunning architecture and scenery to die for – top of the tick list! However, if you’re looking for an alternative Edinburgh, then book your ticket and collect Nectar points with TransPennine Express, and read on…

Ever fancied scaling an ancient volcano? Well, it just so happens that the breath-taking Edinburgh Castle sits upon Castle Rock, a volcanic plug formed an incredible 350 million years ago.

Edinburgh's abandoned acropolis

Or how about exploring an abandoned acropolis? Climb to the top of Calton Hill, and you’ll find the National Monument of Scotland. Commemorating the Scottish soldiers who died in the Napoleonic wars, the 1820s building project ran out of money, leading outraged locals to rename the unfinished structure ‘Edinburgh’s Disgrace’. With its resemblance to the Parthenon, it helped Edinburgh earn its flattering nickname as ‘the Athens of the North’. It’s one of the most accessible and significant historical sites in Edinburgh and offers an unrivalled view over the city.

You’ll have more than likely heard about Edinburgh’s warren of old underground alleyways. For an alternative subterranean adventure, visit the Barnton Quarry Nuclear Bunker – a long-abandoned underground complex built to keep royals safe from the nuclear war that never happened.

And if you’re still not entirely done with exploring Edinburgh’s past, then head down to the Grassmarket area, for a plethora of vintage boutiques, pubs and restaurants. It’s like the seventeenth century revisited – but with a stylish twenty-first-century twist.

York: Cool cats and craft beer

York is famous for many things: York Minster and Jorvik Viking Centre are of particular note. But, did you know it’s also renowned for its copious cat carvings?

The Fabulous York Cat Trail provides visitors with the opportunity to find and photograph the numerous statues of cats which can be seen on and around York's old buildings. Put there to frighten away rats and mice; the marble moggies were also thought to ward off wandering evil spirits and to give good luck and good health. Highlights of the trail include Clifford’s Tower, Shambles and York Minster itself. Feline up to it?

York's 365 Pubs

York is also proud of its 365 pubs – one for every day of the year!

However, be sure to avoid the chain bars filled with stag and hen parties, and instead acquaint yourself with local favourites like the Three-Legged Mare or the intriguingly-named House of Trembling Madness – that serve some of the finest craft ales in the world.

No visit to York is complete without a shopping trip, and just minutes away from the city centre, in a beautifully landscaped garden setting, McArthurGlen York Designer Outlet is a must-visit fashion and shopping destination. The indoor centre is home to over 120 leading the UK and international designer and high-street brands, all with up to 60% off.

All that shopping is hungry work, and fortunately, there’s a Pizza Express on hand – so don’t forget to get some vouchers with your Nectar points before you go. And with the savings you’ll make by spending your Nectar points on advance train tickets to York with Virgin Trains East Coast – the rewards just keep on coming!

Bath: Silly walks and scenic cycling

Bath is a small city, and the main attractions are within a short walk of each other.  Leave the car at home, take the train and collect Nectar points with Great Western Railway, and then explore on foot.

Famous for its Roman baths and Georgian architecture, Bath’s main tourist attractions need no further promotion. However, if you fancy getting to know the alternative Bath, keep reading!

Part historical walk, part comedy show, ‘Bizarre Bath is a unique evening tour that takes an irreverent look at the city. The organisers promise you'll experience unforgettable mysteries, thrills, and surprises, in an event that combines the hysterical with historical.

UK's longest cycle and walking tunnel

If you prefer to get around by bike, you can follow the Bath Two Tunnels Circuit – a 13-mile cycle loop that leaves the city via two dramatically-lit former train tunnels that were opened for cyclists and walkers in 2013. Explore the Devonshire Tunnel, the Combe Down Tunnel, the spectacular Tucking Mill Viaduct, and the Dundas Aqueduct, until you return alongside the River Avon, back into Bath.

The Combe Down Tunnel is over a mile long – the UK's longest cycle and walking tunnel. It may sound like an ambitious expedition, but with beautiful scenery and several pubs en route, the rewards are more than worth it.

Liverpool: More to see by the Mersey

Liverpool is packed full to the brim with exciting music and culture venues, and you’ll have no problem stumbling upon an abundance of independent places to eat and drink. So, once you’ve experienced Scouse hospitality at its finest, in the form of football stadium tours, The Beatle’s Story tour, ferry rides down the Mersey to the Royal Liver Building and Museum of Liverpool, or strolls to Albert Dock and the Cavern Club, make sure you save some time for these top alternative activities.

If you’re looking for something for the whole family, then Liverpool's Route 66 drive-in cinema boasts one of the biggest cinema screens in the UK. It shows a host of children's films and screenings of classic movies and will appeal to anyone who wants to turn a typical cinema trip into an adventure!

Family activities in Liverpool

Shopaholics would do well to take a stroll down Church Street, the main shopping area, with a rich mixture of high-street brands and independent boutiques. Of course, you’ll also meet chirpy market traders selling football scarves, Beatles paraphernalia and other Liverpool-themed souvenirs.

For a stylish evening out, Constellations and The Observatory is an award-winning, independent venue in the heart of the Baltic Triangle. From grabbing a bite to eat to late night parties and art exhibitions – this unique space has it all.

Make sure you pre-book your Virgin Trains West Coast train to Liverpool to collect Nectar points. Whichever city breaks you plan to enjoy in 2018, don’t forget to check out the latest offers on the Nectar app for an even more rewarding experience.