Six underrated UK towns and cities that you should visit this year, from Oban to Plymouth

Killing time in a railway terminus or ferry port for your trip’s next leg can be draining. Major transport hubs are seldom the most exciting spots to explore.

But these six exceptions prove the thrill of the journey is not necessarily in the arrival, nor in the getting there, but in that obligatory connection somewhere between A and B.

From a Northern Ireland port with surrounding hikes to an end-of-the-line Scottish station with dolphin-watching nearby, here’s how to make your wait into a mini-trip of its own.

Larne’s lush surrounding scenery

Larne, Northern Ireland’s sole ferry port besides Belfast, sees overseas passengers coming and going from Cairnryan, in Scotland’s Dumfries and Galloway area. But propping up the southern end of the Antrim Coast and Glens Area of Natural Beauty, is tempting for a ramble.

For those travelling by car, the coast road running north passes picturesque Carnfunnock Country Park, which has landscaped gardens, way-marked walks and a Northern Ireland-shaped hedge maze. It then heads to sandy seaside village Ballygalley before hitting Glenarm, the gateway village to the beguiling Glens of Antrim.

Among many trails hereabouts, the best are the magical two-mile loop through Glenarm Forest and the seven-mile circuit brushing the amphitheatre-like cliffs of the Sallagh Braes.

Discover Dylan Thomas’s legacy in Swansea

Swansea is as far across south Wales as regular long-distance trains go. To continue further west to coveted locales like the Gower, the montage of beach and heath comprising the UK’s first Area of Natural Beauty, or Pembrokeshire’s shoreline of cute coves and fishing villages, you’ll likely change here.

Coastal images taken in The Mumbles in Swansea, Wales, UK.
Head to Mumbles, Swansea’s pretty seaside suburb (Photo: Getty)

But Swansea was also the home of Dylan Thomas, and attractions related to the writer, from the Dylan Thomas Birthplace to his legendary haunts like 17th-century No Sign Wine Bar, make for a compelling literary-themed overnight. Jaunt along to the city’s pretty seaside suburb, the Mumbles, for fetching boutiques and restaurants.

See seafaring history in Plymouth

Elevated view of River Tamar and coastline of Plymouth against blue skies in South Devon
Dig into Plymouth’s maritime history (Photo: Getty)

The last decent-sized city before Land’s End, Plymouth is where a lot of public transport connections begin (or end). Carry on by bus or train into Cornwall or embark on big sea journeys to Roscoff in Brittany or Santander in Northern Spain. Yet Plymouth’s importance as a port was still greater during the Age of Discovery. Mosey around the Barbican, the historic Maritime Quarter, claiming Britain’s highest concentration of cobbled thoroughfares.

Fabled seafarers such as Sir Francis Drake and Thomas Cavendish departed on hugely consequential voyages of exploration from here, and plenty of buildings capture the storied old-world atmosphere, such Jacka Bakery, Britain’s oldest, which supposedly served the Pilgrim Fathers biscuits, and Minerva Inn, a tavern part-framed with timber from the Armada fleet.

Ferries cut across the Tamar estuary to Mount Edgcumbe House and Country Park in Cornwall, which is among England’s finest landscaped gardens.

Head to the historic harbour of Harwich

The sun sets over the Essex port of Harwich on the east coast. A Thames barge is just coming in to dock.
Harwich was the only east coast sailors’ haven between the Thames and the Humber (Photo: Getty)

Largely in the limelight for its passenger and freight ferry services to the Netherlands, Harwich in Essex is also a history-rich town with a hotchpotch of interesting buildings that should sway any passing traveller into a stay. Its military fortifications as the only east coast sailors’ haven between the Thames and the Humber include the bulky, circular Harwich Redoubt Fort, designed to defend against Napoleonic invasions.

Charming 1850s-built Ha’penny Pier, the Georgian Guildhall with its intriguing late-18th-century carvings of ships and other images symbolising the era’s events and one of Great Britain’s oldest unaltered cinemas, the Electric Palace, also feature in the trove of architecture.

Get your culinary and cultural fix in Inverness

Inverness has pretty much every onward connection to anywhere else in the Scottish Highlands, but before bee-lining for those bonnie lochs and mountains, consider a sleepover in this vibrant city. The variety of lively cafes, restaurants and bars alone deserve being binged upon by visitors who may soon be heading to lovelier but considerably less facility-blessed locales.

Stroll along the comely banks of the River Ness to the Ness Islands and take trips out to that masterpiece of military architecture Fort George or across to moody Culloden Battlefield, site of the final battle of the last Jacobite uprising. Moray Firth boat trips, meanwhile, offer wildlife-lovers one of the best chances to get up close to dolphins in Scotland.

Absorb Oban’s offbeat attractions

Oban offers tasty seafood and sweeping views (Photo: Getty)

Oban’s roster of onward destinations is impressive. No other spot in the UK hooks you up by ferry to such a diverse range of islands: rugged wildlife Mecca Mull, Scotland’s whisky island Islay, beach-wrapped surfers’ paradise Tiree and several lesser-known isles are all a sail away from this harbour in Argyll. But don’t board immediately.

The two most prominent landmarks here require reconnoitring: Greco- and Roman-inspired McCaig’s Tower, a circular, multi-arched, turn-of-the-20th-century monument cresting the hill above town and the single gangly chimney of Oban Distillery, one of Scotland’s smallest and oldest distilleries.

The town’s seafront is also a cracking place to score fresh seafood. And Oban’s seaward views sweep out to gentle Kerrera, a castle-crowned island that is perfect for day walks. It has a tearoom and is reachable by boat from nearby Gallanach. To further brighten the town’s timely appeal, Oban Winter Festival showcases local culture over a ten-day extravaganza in November.