Have you started thinking about the summer holidays this year? Across the UK there are plenty of great accessible spots that you can visit, whether you prefer a relaxing retreat or a more adventurous affair.
Rough Guides have selected some of their top accessible holiday spots for you to visit this summer – take a look!
From quaint Cotswolds villages to the dramatic cliffs of the Isle of Wight, the greenery of the Lake District Scenic Drive to a luxury castle getaway in Northern Ireland – there is so much to be explored in the UK.
Below, we’ve listed some of the best accessible trips for your summer holidays, which you can get to without the need for a stress-inducing flight. Whether you’re after a sun-kissed beach escape or a cultural city break, there’s something here for everyone.
Hit the beach in Clacton-on-Sea
Though many people bypass the underrated Essex Coast in favour of better-known seaside getaways like Brighton or Cornwall, Clacton-on-Sea is a spot that should be on your radar. It’s the biggest town along Essex’s aptly named Sunshine Coast, and it’s got everything you need for a fun beach break with the whole family. The town’s crown jewel is its pier, with kid-friendly rides, adventure golf and a bowling arcade. It’s fully wheelchair accessible, with ramps to the attractions and everything on one level.
There’s also an accessible seafront walk along Kings Promenade, which sweeps along the back of the beach and offers views of the North Sea. The promenade is dotted with pastel-coloured beach huts, two of which are suitable for wheelchairs (they’re located on the west side of the pier). There are some disabled parking spaces right by the pier, too, although these spaces are limited.
Walks on Wheels in the beautiful Cotswolds
The picture-postcard Cotswolds is studded with historic villages, old churches and handsome mansions, surrounded by beautiful countryside. ‘Walks on Wheels’ is a well-researched collection of fourteen fully accessible short walks in the area, opening up access to some of the most picturesque and historic places in the country. There are no steps, no steep gradients, no impassable terrain and no stiles or narrow bridges.
Though there isn’t a designated website for the collection, you can navigate to Walks on Wheels via the Cotswolds website: click on Visiting & Exploring, scroll down to Self-Guided Walks, filter by Wheelchair-friendly and you’ll see the list of ‘Walks on Wheels’. There’s an excellent two-page download for each walk showing the nearest accessible parking, toilet and cafe, and a handy route map with a clear description of the terrain.
Road trip through the Lake District
Honister Pass in the Lake District
The Lake District Scenic Drive takes you through some of the finest scenery in Britain, with several tempting stops along the way. Starting at Cockermouth, head southwest to Loweswater, where a mile-long, fully accessible path leads from Maggie’s Bridge car park down to the lakeshore – the views to Fellbarrow are lovely.
You can then drive south to Buttermere, where another short, smooth accessible footpath routes to tranquil Lake Buttermere. Back on the road, continue south over the 116ft-high Honister Pass then loop north to Keswick. Here, Theatre by the Lake hosts waterside plays as well as jazz, literary and film events in summer. There are accessible parking bays, lifts and accessible toilets on each floor. You can pre-book a wheelchair-friendly space online.
Next, it’s onto Grasmere, the former home of William Wordsworth. Visit the Wordsworth Museum, which is stacked with books, manuscripts and paintings, and served by ramps and lifts. Continue to Ambleside and Brockhole, the Lake District Visitor Centre, with its wonderful gardens and superb location on the shore of Lake Windermere. A hard-packed, wheelchair-friendly path leads through the gardens to the lake, though note that there are a few steep gradients and (avoidable) step paths. If needed, you can also borrow a mobility scooter while visiting the site.
Boats and blooms in Falmouth
Trebah Beach in Falmouth
Falmouth, home to the world’s third-largest natural harbour, has a rich maritime heritage. Delve into the town’s history at the National Maritime Museum, whose fifteen galleries are filled with full-sized boats, radio-control yachts, a search-and-rescue section, and areas where you can watch craftsmen building and restoring boats. The museum has been built with accessibility in mind: the look-out tower and tidal decks are accessible by lift, and ramps link all five floors. All of the staff there have also been provided with deaf and disability and autism awareness training.
A sea of green bursting with blooming flowers, Trebah Garden tumbles down a Cornish valley to a private beach on the Helfrod River. The garden is a seasonal delight: the rhododendrons, camellias and magnolias dominate in spring, the giant gunnera plants in summer, the hydrangeas in autumn and the ancient champion trees in winter.
Visitors with mobility issues can hire an electric Tramper (pre-booking essential; call 01326 252200 or email firstname.lastname@example.org). Manual wheelchairs are not recommended because of the steep inclines. There is level access to the beach, though some of the paths are tight, and be aware that there’s only one accessible toilet serving the beach and gardens.
Get a dose of history in Chester
If you prefer a city break over a beach escape, then set your sights on northwest England and the lovely city of Chester. In 2017, Chester became the first British city to win the European Access City Award. The award recognises the city’s dedication to making its treasure trove of attractions accessible to all visitors. Its hulking Roman walls are the city’s pride and joy – the defensive structures stretch out for two miles, and wheelchair users can access them via a slope.
Another highlight is The Rows, a gorgeous stretch of historic half-timbered buildings, now filled with independent boutiques, cafés and restaurants. The shopping arcade on Eastgate Street provides access for wheelchair users.
Have a family adventure on the Isle of Wight
Spend any amount of time on the beautiful Isle of Wight and it’s easy to forget that you’re in the UK at all. This is a land of rolling sand dunes with flashes of greenery, lush forests and stark white cliffs. Most people arrive by water, crossing the Solent on a ferry. The various boat operators have lifts and accessible toilets, and you should advise staff 48 hours in advance of your journey if you need assistance.
Once you arrive, there’s a wealth of accessible attractions. Carisbrooke Castle is the ultimate storybook fortress, with its rounded towers and ruined wall. Flat pathways wind throughout the castle’s grounds, and both the well house and the museum’s lower floor have level access. (The wall walk is inaccessible, unfortunately.)
For another fun family day out, take a trip on the Isle of Wight Steam Railway. Steam-train buffs will appreciate the beautifully restored Victorian and Edwardian carriages, watching scenic views unfurl beyond the window. All areas of the railway, from its train carriages to its shop and Train Story Discovery Centre, are accessible to wheelchair users. Book online then contact the team to reserve a wheelchair-accessible carriage (call 01983 882204 or email email@example.com).
Explore the Norfolk Broads by water
The beautiful Norfolk Broads covers some 125 miles of waterways and is one of the UK’s most important wetlands, home to spectacular wildlife including kingfishers and otters. The best way to explore is, unsurprisingly, by water.
Broads Tours offers one- to two-hour guided river cruises on four passenger boats, each accessible via lifts and ramps. There are dedicated areas on board for wheelchair users, though spaces are limited so book ahead to reserve (tel: 01603 782207). Please note, though, that some decks can only be accessed via steps. Alternatively, you could hire the self-drive dayboat, which is complete with a wheelchair lift.
Try a countryside escape in Fife
Dreaming of the ultimate escape-it-all countryside getaway? Then check out The Rings, a cluster of charming holiday accommodations in rural Fife. The family-owned site includes a sprawling 16-bed cottage, plus six peaceful cabins and oodles of space for camping – and it’s committed to accessibility. Across the properties there are lots of thoughtful features, including lowered counters, wetrooms and spacious corridors that will make your stay a comfortable one. Plus, each place offers gorgeous far-reaching views over the Scottish countryside.
You’ll find plenty of accessible attractions in the area, too. It’s just a short drive out to Craigtoun Country Park, with its pretty boating lake and miniature railway (staff can assist disabled visitors on board). Here, the paths are level and wheelchair-friendly, and there are accessible toilets and parking spaces. If needed, you can also hire specialised beach wheelchairs at St Andrews’ West Sands Beach (around 30 minutes away), or strike out on the Loch Leven Heritage Trail, which is mostly flat and accessible.
Enjoy a dreamy beach break in Cardigan Bay
The accessible Poppit Sands
When the summer sun comes out, the blue waters and sandy beaches of Cardigan Bay provide a perfect seaside getaway. And if you’re lucky, you might even spot wildlife such as dolphins frolicking in the sea.
If you’re looking to spend the day on the sand, then head for the strands of Poppit Sands or Newport, both of which have dedicated beach wheelchairs for hire. Aberporth also has wheelchair-friendly access to the beach.
Once you’ve had your fill of sun, sea and sand, head to the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre. This hub for marine research is sure to be a hit with kids – it focuses on educating the public on the bounty of local wildlife, from seabirds to seals. The centre is fully wheelchair-accessible.
Canals and castles in Powys
Brecon Canal is one of the most picturesque waterways in the UK. A two-mile accessible section connects Brecon Wharf and Brynich Lock, which features stunning scenery, community art projects, two picnic areas with wheelchair-accessible tables, and a reconstruction of a horse-drawn Hay Railway tram. A small car park is located at Brecon, where there is a ramp onto the towpath. The start of the trail is narrow and uneven in places, but soon broadens out to become a wide and hard-surfaced path.
From canals to castles, Powis Castle can be found high in the Welsh hills. In a land of ruined castles, the scale and beauty of this Elizabethan palace are staggering. The beautiful statue-peppered gardens are accessible via a step-free path, and wheelchair-accessible vehicles drop visitors around the site. Due to the historic nature of the building, there is no step-free access to the castle, though staff can provide a tablet showing a virtual tour. There are two floors in the castle and the upper floor is accessed via a narrow set of stairs. However, there are seats for visitors to use within each room of the castle if you need a break.
Keen twitchers should beeline for Gigrin Farm, a Red Kite Feeding Station since 1993. The daily feeding of the birds – often hundreds of pairs – is an extraordinary spectacle! The area is awash with colour and noise as the majestic-looking birds squabble over the food and perform natural aerobatics. Kite-viewing hides are accessible via ramps, with designated low-viewing points for wheelchair users.
A stunning beach holiday in Portstewart
You don’t need to head to Europe for a gorgeous beach break. Stretching from the seaside town of Portstewart to the mouth of the River Bann, Portstewart Strand is a glorious two-mile ribbon of golden sand backed by towering dunes. Owned by the National Trust, it’s a Blue Flag beach and an Area of Special Scientific Interest.
Beaches don’t get more accessible than this: visitors are allowed to drive their cars right onto the firm sand. Bring a picnic and take in the spectacular scenery as you listen to the surf crashing in from the Atlantic. Depending on the time of year, you may spot butterflies, wild orchids, pansies and thyme flourishing among the dunes, plus seals in the sea. The western end of the Strand, by the river estuary, is home to plenty of birdlife, which you can view from a wheelchair-accessible hide.
Experience all-out luxury at the Killeavy Castle Estate
Those who want an uber-relaxing holiday should book a few nights at the Killeavy Castle Estate, in Northern Ireland’s southeast. Once a private residence for the Foxall family, the sumptuous hotel dates back to 1836 and its design was inspired by Gosford Castle, also in County Armagh.
The castle is an impressive sight, with its boxy towers and thickly wooded surroundings. Inside are stylish rooms with a dash of old-world charm, an inviting spa and a swish fine-dining restaurant. It’s the perfect treat for those wanting to go all-out on their summer holiday.
The main entrance to the hotel is accessible for wheelchair users, and there are numerous accessible guest rooms here too. Visitors should inform staff of their needs at the time of booking.
Rough Guides would like to thank the following individuals, companies and picture libraries for their kind permission to reproduce their photographs (in order of appearance on the web page):
- Header image: Powis Castle © Crown Copyright
- Beach huts in Clacton on sea © RMC42/Shutterstock
- Honister Pass © Joe Dunckley/Shutterstock
- Trebah Beach © Ceri Breeze/Shutterstock
- The Rows © Nigel Jarvis/Shutterstock
- Isle of Wight Steam Railway © Liz Miller/Shutterstock
- Craigtoun Country Park © VisitScotland / Damian Shields
- Beach wheelchair on Poppit Sands © Crown Copyright
- Powis Castle © Crown Copyright
- Portstewart Strand © Chris Hill/Tourism Northern Ireland
- Killeavy Castle Estate © Killeavy Castle Estate