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Unusual holidays

Unusual holiday destinationsGreece

By Mark Hodson, Sunday Times Travel Writer and Editor of 101 Holidays

Not everybody wants to take a plain vanilla holiday, whether it’s a bucket and spades break in Spain or a cruise in the Caribbean. For many people, the joy of travel is to get away from the crowds and get off the beaten track. That could mean taking a jungle adventure or a desert trek, or it could simply mean finding an obscure holiday destination in the UK, or a different type of accommodation. If you’re travelling with kids, see our editors pick of the best unusual family holidays.


Note: all the travel companies featured are personally recommended by our team of specialist editors.

Stay in a lighthouseThe Jurassic CoastChy-Aber log cabin, LiskeardStone-wall restoration

Unusual holiday destinations in the UK

Bored with hotels? You could sleep in a lighthouse, or rent a luxury lodge with woodland views in Sherwood Forest.

Or get down on the farm. We love these farm holidays for children with Holiday Cottages, or you could stay in a luxury tent on a working farm at Feather Down Farms.

In Cornwall, Gwel an Mor is a charming place to stay with Scandinavian-style wooden lodges and its own wildlife centre.

For an unusual holiday on a budget this summer, get on the water. Choose from a selection of self-drive boating trips with Waterways Holidays – you can rent a motor cruiser, sailing boat or narrowboat to explore some of the many beautiful waterways of Britain. No previous boating experience is required.

You have a good chance of spotting Minke Whales, otters, seals and porpoises off the west coast of Scotland on a four-night Mull Wildlife Experience. Details here. Other unusual holidays ideas in Scotland include a whisky tour of Islay and a steam train journey on the West Highland Line.

If you have a large group of friends or family, you can rent out a historic house in England, Scotland or Wales with Oliver’s Travels – a great way to celebrate a birthday or anniversary.

Explore Britain’s ancient history on an archaeology holiday with Andante Travels including this popular trip to Hadrian’s Wall. Or join an expert-led small-group tour in Britain with Martin Randall focussed on the country’s musical, architectural or artistic heritage.

Saddle Skedaddle has a great selection of escorted and independent cycling holidays in the British countryside, including road cycling and mountain bike weekends. Destinations include the Lake District, Wales, the Scottish Highlands and the Cotswolds.

Find more UK holiday ideas.

Dresdenwine tours France 2012

Unusual holidays in Europe

Most visitors to Spain head for the Costas in the south, but Northern Spain is an especially attractive part of the country with wide unspoilt sandy beaches, rolling hills, historic medieval towns, vineyards and buzzing cities. Find out more from Casas Cantabricas. Its sister company Caminos offers budget tours of the region. Find more unusual holidays in Spain.

Other lesser explored destinations include the Italian Lakes and Croatia.

If you enjoy gentle exercise, try a self-guided cycling holiday in Catalonia with Inntravel. Or join a group of like-minded people for a cultural walking tour. If you like to be independent, take a hotel-to-hotel walking holiday which allows you to explore classic trials, such as the Costa Vicentina coastal walk in Portugal, and the Lycian Way in Turkey. Details here.

Take a wine tour – a wonderful way to explore the French countryside. Arblaster & Clarke runs expert-led group tours with vineyards visits, tastings and stylish accommodation in Burgundy, the Rhone or Chablis. Or try a champagne weekend.

Renew your mind and body at a luxury spa retreat in the South of France or Andalucia with in:spa. You can take a fitness holiday in the Italian Dolomites or a yoga holiday in idyllic destinations around the Mediterranean. Details here.

Did you know you can also go by rail to Venice via the Alps. If you want a real treat, fly to France by private jet. A day trip starts at under £1,000 per person from your local airfield. Details from Jet Escapes.

Get tickets to a festival or cultural event in Italy, such as the Carnival of Venice in February or the Verona Opera Festival where you can sit in a Roman amphitheatre to witness candlelit performances of classic arias.

Indulge in a wellness weekend at L’Albereta, a boutique hideaway in a beautiful setting in Lombardy, Italy. You’ll get spa treatments, nutritional advice and exercise along with fabulous healthy food.

There are many wonderful hotels in Tuscany where you can combine healthy pursuits, spa treats and great food. Try the five-star Castel Monastero Tuscan Resort & Spa which was converted from an ancient hamlet near Siena, and features a cookery school, Gordon Ramsey restaurant plus a range of detox and weight loss programmes.

Find more holiday ideas in France and Italy.

If you want an unusual city break destination, how about Cairo, or Dubrovnik? There’s St Petersburg, where the sun never sets in summer, or head for a traditional Christmas market break in Cologne, Munich or Prague.

If you love deep crisp snow, check out this selection of winter breaks including cosy hotels in the Alps and snowshoeing in Switzerland.

You could head north to Norway where you can enjoy the Midnight Sun in summer and the Northern Lights in winter. Take a coastal voyage on a ship used by local people with Nordic Experience or cruise around the undiscovered Lofoten Islands.

Sweden is startingly beautiful in summer – sparkling lakes, midnight sun, an archipelago of forested islands and elegant stylish cities. See this selection of summer holidays in Sweden.

In the same part of the world, Iceland is an unusual destination that offers natural wonders including glaciers, hot springs, volcanic craters, lava flows and waterfalls. Choose from a city break in Reykyavik, a fly-drive tour or jeep adventure.

See our pick of the best adventure holiday ideas.

Camp life

Unusual long haul holiday ideas

Want something completely different? Why not take a volunteering holiday in Costa Rica, Thailand, New Zealand or India? You can combine unique travel experiences with luxury accommodation and voluntary work in a local community or wildlife project. Details here.

For cheap winter sun, try the Cape Verde islands where you’ll find superb beaches, islands and colourful local culture. There are six islands you can explore, all very different, from Sao Vicente – the cultural heart – to volcanic Fogo and lush green Santo Antao.

In the Canaries, avoid the busy islands of Tenerife and Lanzarote and instead discover the charming little islands of La Palma (which has direct flights from the UK), La Gomera which is reached by ferry crossing from Tenerife or tiny La Graciosa just north of Lanzarote.

South America is neglected by many British tourists. Argentina is an amazing country packed with treats, such as the glacier fields of Patagonia and the wild pampas regions. Brazil has vibrant cities, paradise beaches, jungle, wildlife parks and mountain adventures. Meanwhile, the Galapagos is on many people’s bucket list.

You’ll find some unusual holidays in America. Discover your inner cowboy on a dude ranching holiday in Colorado or go grizzly bear watching in Alaska. You can explore the backroads of America on a motor home holiday. The Canadian Rockies are home to some of the world’s greatest rail journeys including the Rocky Mountaineer.

In Asia, Japan is one of the world’s most exciting destinations. Choose from an amazing selection of self-guided and group tours from InsideJapan Tours. Or take a bespoke trip to Thailand designed for foodies.

A few years ago the idea of visiting Iran would have seemed reckless in the extreme, but this beautiful fascinating country is now firmly back on the tourist map. The best way to see the exquisite palaces, mosques, temples and ancient cities is on a group tour. This Treasures of Persia tour is the ideal introduction.

Borneo is packed with treats including orangutan tours, tropical beaches and jungle. You can go hiking in the forest, stay in local long houses and experience an overnight climb of Mount Kinabalu.

Sail south to Antarctica to explore one of the last great pristine wilderness regions on earth – take a 9-day classic cruise or be more adventurous with an expedition on a Russian research trip.

In Chile you can explore the salt canyons and volcanoes of the Atacama Desert – one of the driest places on Earth  and discover the 887 mysterious statues on Easter Island.

Head to India in search of tigers. Combine a stay at Bandhavgarh National Park with private safari drives at dawn and dusk, plus an overnight train journey. Details here.

If you have some time on your hands and are looking for a personal challenge, how about joining an overland adventure by purpose-built truck. You can pick from Africa, South America or Central Asia with itineraries from five days to 40 weeks and more.

Last updated: 5 February 2017

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