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32 no-fly holiday ideas

Holidays often conjure up images of jetting off to a sunny resort. But does every holiday have to start at the airport?  Flying – short or long haul – is one of the most unsustainable modes of transport. The solution is to choose other ways to travel, and to holiday closer to home – but where to start?

In his book Beyond Flying, editor Chris Watson brings together 14 seasoned travellers who have found some solutions. Inspired by their stories, we hope these holiday ideas will inspire you to fly less.

1. Camping and caravanning

There’s nothing like camping to help you slow the pace and reconnect with nature. Whatever your preference – from glamping in a yurt to a simple family tent – camping is always great fun.

Start your search for great campsites with the Camping & Caravanning Club. See our range of camping gear and get experts’ recommendations from our camping books.

2. Stay local, go global

Get a taste of other countries without even leaving the UK – you might be surprised by some of the UK’s most stunning landscapes.

Large cities are particularly good for enjoying the rich experiences of other cultures. London alone has the largest Chinese New Year festival outside China.

Other celebrations include Vaisakhi (Sikh New Year), Diwali (the Hindu Festival of Lights) and the Shubbak festival of Arab culture.

For festivals of all kinds try Visit Britain.

Hire a bike, or take your own - by train, ferry or car. Image: istock

Hire a bike, or take your own – by train, ferry or car. Image: istock

3. Cycling holidays

‘We began to experience a sense of timelessness on the journey, as though we had entered a different dimension. From then on we didn’t compare cycling to driving or flying: it just became what we did. Lowanna Doye in Beyond Flying.

Whether you’re looking for family-friendly routes, or challenging terrain for mountain biking, UK cyclists are spoilt for choice. Check the Guardian’s best bike rides.

If you’re planning to travel by rail to destinations in the UK and Europe, find out more about how to take your bike by train.

Fancy a really big trip? Read the amazing story of a single-handed bike ride taking 18 months, in Chris Smith’s cycle to China.

Greece? No, Porthcurno, Cornwall. Image: Marie Reynolds

Greece? No, Porthcurno, Cornwall. Image: Marie Reynolds4. South West England

4. South West England

Cornwall and Devon deserve some special attention. They’re well-known for their wonderful beaches and wild walks, but you can also enjoy the Tate at St Ives, boat trips, Falmouth Week Regatta, Land’s End, Dartmoor, and an industrial past – not to mention The Eden Project.

5. Go wild in National Parks

Europe has a fine heritage of National Parks, which cater for a variety of interests, from independent ramblers to families. See UK National Parks and The Ecologist’s 10 best European national parks.

Heron by narrowboat, Kennet & Avon canal. Image: Flickr/Chris37111

Heron by narrowboat, Kennet & Avon canal. Image: Flickr/Chris37111

6. Canals and rivers

For some, canal boats are merely a means of transport between one lock-keeper’s pub and the next. But canals throughout the UK also offer a chance for anyone to enjoy a slower, more relaxing way of life. Find out more with the Canal & River Trust.

European rivers and waterways, including the Rhine and Dordogne, also offer excellent wildlife, and the chance to explore towns and villages along the riverbanks. Find out more about cruising on European canals.

7. City breaks

Europe’s cities are packed with culture and entertainment, and are becoming more popular thanks to Eurostar. Find out more from rail specialists Loco2.

Add an extra treat to your holiday with UK and European night trains, an adventure in themselves.

8. Try something new

Do you want to learn a new skill, or introduce the kids to a different experience? Whether it’s map-reading, survival skills, cookery, or painting watercolours, the chances are there’s a specialist company that will cater to your need. Get googling and book a holiday you won’t forget. Lying on a beach never looked so dull.

9. The best of British

Discover more of what’s on our doorstep in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. For short breaks or longer holidays, start at Visit Britain.

Love skiing? Eurostar is a fun way to start your holiday. Image: Dreamstime

Love skiing? Eurostar is a fun way to start your holiday. Image: Dreamstime

10. Europe by Eurostar

Eurostar’s high-speed rail connection has opened up the continent, making holidays by train an affordable and attractive possibility. Travel by train is usually far less stressful than flying, and allows us to savour the journey, as well as the destination. Read what rail specialist Kate Andrews loves about rail travel.

For rail travel to Europe and beyond, is a fantastic resource. Be inspired by the amazing variety of destinations, and find all the advice you need to plan a memorable holiday.

If you need some inspiration for new places to explore, see Lonely Planet’s top 10 European travel destinations or seven startling sights of Eastern Europe.

11. Festivals and events

We love a festival here in the UK, or any opportunity for an event or show. If you haven’t already got one in mind, find out what’s on and plan your holiday around it. Visit Travel About Britain or the Festival Calendar.

12. Museums and galleries

Lottery funding has provided regional cities with some magnificent visitor attractions. Find some of the best in The Independent’s 50 best museums and galleries, and soak up the culture.

13. Gardens to visit

Find out the experts’ favourite gardens, then plan your holiday around the ones you fancy visiting.

Harris, Outer Hebrides. Image: Amelia Collins

Harris, Outer Hebrides. Image: Amelia Collins

14. Island hopping

The UK is a seafaring nation of islands where canoeing, rock climbing, hill walking, birdwatching, scrambling, swimming, and even whisky-tasting are all on offer.

Even a trip to the Lake District will introduce children to the inland island-hopping adventures of Arthur Ransome’s ‘Swallows and Amazons’. See TripAdvisor’s top 10 UK island destinations.

Europe also boasts countless islands reachable by train and boat. All you have to do is choose what you want from your holiday – from heat, sand, and centuries of rich history in southern Europe, to the midnight sun and watersports in Sweden.

15. Beaches – not just for sunbathing

There are fabulous beaches all over Europe, including in the UK, Denmark, France, Spain, Italy, Croatia and Turkey, all reachable by train.

If you’re not one for sunbathing, how about exploring what’s under the water? Try these snorkelling spots.

Brecon Beacons - perfect for walking holidays. Image: Amelia Collins

Brecon Beacons – perfect for walking holidays. Image: Amelia Collins

16. Walking holidays

‘Walking seems one way of trying to recognise all parts of the world, in its sickness and its health.’ Adam Weymouth in Beyond Flying.

Organised walking holidays are a wonderful way to make the most of a short holiday. You can book hotels in advance, and have your luggage sent on ahead, then carry little more on your walk than lunch and plasters.

For UK breaks, including weekend rambles, see The Independent’s 50 best walking holidays.

By train, Europe has plenty to offer, with both easy and more ambitious terrains. Suitable destinations include the Pyrenees and the Swiss, Italian and Julian Alps. Get ideas for self-guided walks with On foot holidays.

17. Pack the teenagers off

Want to walk the hills without the cry ‘This so boring!’? Well-established UK adventure and activity holidays might be just the thing – try PGL and YHA.

Working on a farm makes a satisfying 'holiday'. Image: Ian Jackson

Working on a farm makes a satisfying ‘holiday’. Image: Ian Jackson

18. Conservation work and farming

The National Trust and a number of environmental charities run ‘working holidays’ where you can undertake practical conservation projects. Or learn more about organic farming techniques, in exchange for accommodation and food, with World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.

19. Holiday parks

Holiday parks are a great solution if your group or family have different interests, as they offer such varied activities and entertainment. There are hundreds around the UK, but you can get an idea of what’s on offer with Forest Holidays, Center Parcs or Bluestone Wales.

Once you’ve decided where you want to holiday, check TripAdvisor for a more comprehensive list of holiday parks, including smaller independent parks, along with invaluable customer reviews.

20. House swaps

House swap, home exchange, sofa surfing – whatever you want to call it. Staying in someone else’s home, on a formal or informal basis, is a budget-friendly and usually sustainable way to take a break.

There are lots of online options, including Love Home Swap, HomeBaseHolidays and Airbnb.

21. Still can’t decide?

Check The Guardian 50 no-fly holidays.

Friends of the Earth staff picks

The Netherlands is great for relaxing cycling holidays. Image: Thinkstock

The Netherlands is great for relaxing cycling holidays. Image: Thinkstock

22. Cycling in The Netherlands – Fran

An amazing and cheap ‘no-fly’ holiday. I took the ferry over to the Hook of Holland then cycled to Amsterdam. Cycling in the Netherlands is beautiful: segregated cycle lanes alongside canals, through fields, forests and along beaches.

Just my normal commuter bike, some panniers and flat roads. Bicycle friends let cyclists stay in their spare rooms for a modest fee.

23. Germany by train – Kenneth

London to Frankfurt is 5.5 hours on the train. Deutsche Bahn do a really good London-Spezial* ticket – originally meant for Germans traveling to London, but also works the other way round. This gets you from London to any German station and back at a great price. (*The site is in German but should open with a “Translate” option.)

24. Beach holidays in Northern FranceSimon

Eurotunnel followed by a short hop to Normandy – good climate, great beaches and incredible history.

Anyone fancy lunch in Paris? Image: istock

Anyone fancy lunch in Paris? Image: istock

25. Overnight train to Europe – Nikki

Rome, Venice, Florence, Sardinia and Lake Garda – hop on Eurostar to Paris, then overnight train. For Sardinia, we caught the boat from Naples, and travelled back by overnight boat to Marseilles, TGV to Paris, then Eurostar.

So breakfast in Marseilles, lunch in Paris, and dinner in London! Champagne and a fancy picnic on the train make the journey feel like part of the holiday.

Last year we drove to Germany and picked up a camper van for a week. Great fun and a fab way to travel round the country. Oh, and Lille by Eurostar is a great weekend get-away!

26. Getting back to nature – Phil

Treehouses, yurts, hand-delivered breakfast hampers, treetop bathtubs – that’s my idea of a great holiday.

Charmouth - great beaches and coastal walks. Image: Jannat Hossain

Charmouth – great beaches and coastal walks. Image: Jannat Hossain

27. Cardiff and Dorset – Jannat

Cardiff gets my vote! A city by the coast(ish). Great place, great people and amazing things to do! I recommend: a picnic in Bute park, lunch by the bay and cultural activities at Cardiff Castle and the Millennium Stadium.

I also loved Charmouth in Dorset. Easy to get to, great coastal walks and sandy beaches, and really friendly people.

28. Southern France by train – Liz is always my guide. Overnight by train from Paris to the walled Medieval fortress of Carcassonne, then on to Montpellier to see flamingoes on the south coast of France. Mmmm happy days!

Ice cream shop, Sennen Cove, Cornwall. Image: Marie Reynolds

Ice cream shop, Sennen Cove, Cornwall. Image: Marie Reynolds

29. South West England by train and car Marie

We took the train to Penzance, then hired a car. We stayed in a farmhouse near stunning Sennen Cove and visited the Minack Theatre.

30. Pembrokeshire National Park Matthew

We had a great family holiday at Bluestone Wales, a Center Parcs-style resort in the Pembrokeshire National Park. It had a fantastic leisure pool and flume, and was car-free, so the kids could happily run around.

31. Rotterdam by rail and sail – Joseph

Stena Line’s ‘rail and sail’ deal was great fun and cheap, off-season (October). Coming into the Hook of Holland, the biggest port in Europe, was awesome – especially for the wind-farm lovers amongst us!

32. Corsica – Michael

You can do a lot on Corsica by train, and you can get there by train to Nice (via Paris) and boat. On the way, enjoy where you are passing through . . .

Going from London to Milan via Paris, stop off in Paris or Chambery (by mountains and lake). We’re also thinking of trying Bardonecchia or Oulx in the Italian Alps.

Beyond Flying

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