10 top UK city breaks

From the Eisteddfod to the Edinburgh Arts Festival, this summer is jam packed with cultural delights


The European Capital of Culture continues to boast a seemingly endless array of activities. Next week’s Tall Ships’ Races ( tallshipsliverpool.co.uk, July 18-21) should be an impressive spectacle with 70-odd international vessels. Quayside events kick off at Wellington Dock and lead up to the Parade of Sail down the Mersey. Next month, things brighten up with the carnival weekend parade (Aug 2) and Imagine festival for kids (Aug 1-10), featuring a firework folk story in Newsham Park, and Sensazione, a theatrical performing fairground.

· Liverpool08.com. The Malmaison (0151-229 5000, malmaison-liverpool.com), by the river, has a summer offer (until Sept 7) with room-only from £79 or DB&B from £129.


The summer jazz festival (July 18-26) kicks off at the Trof bar’s newest venue, The Deaf Institute. Freedom Principle hosts a night representative of the festival’s encompassing sounds – from nu-jazz and funk to world beat and electronic/big band fusions – from over 60 bands at the mostly free and open-air gigs. The Manchester Pride festival (Aug 15-25) offers a slew of fun and varied events – treasure hunts, poetry evenings, a “glamorageous” parade and “78 hours of non-stop partying”, plus cheerleading lessons.

· manchesterjazz.com, manchester pride.com. City Base Apartments (0845 226 9831, citybaseapartments.com) has cool pads with exposed brickwork and designer kitchens from £130 a night.


Martha Wainwright, k.d. lang, Joan Armatrading, Billy Bragg, Allen Toussaint and Laura Marling are appearing at the Cambridge Folk Festival (July 31-Aug 3). Always a sell-out, returns are now on sale, or try seatwave.com for tickets. Otherwise, head for Jesus Green park, where you can catch comedy, music and kids’ theatre during its Live season (Aug 5-13) and/or splash out in its 1920s lido, one of the longest in the country.

· cambridgefolkfestival.co.uk, cambridge.gov.uk/public/summerinthecity. The Hotel du Vin Cambridge (01223 227330, hotelduvin.com) has doubles from £140 pn room-only.


The annual Poetry Festival (Sept 4-14) presents performances, workshops and slams from local, national and international literary figures including Anne Stevenson, Maura Dooley and Simon Armitage, who may be sharing his recently publicised admiration for Paul Weller. During its first weekend you can also grab some healthy grub at the harbourside Soil Association Organic Food Festival (Sept 6-7).

In addition to the usual talks, cooking demonstrations and tastings, you can take a food cruise around the harbour. As Europe’s largest celebration of all things organic, the event expands beyond food and drink with plenty of exhibitors offering skincare, cosmetics, clothing and products for the home.

· poetrycan.co.uk, soilassociation.org. The Berkeley Square Hotel (0117 925 4000, cliftonhotels.com) has doubles from £115 pn.


Planes can’t get much greener than those the Japanese art collective Tokyo Picnic Club will be launching next month to turn Newcastle-Gateshead into Picnopolis (Aug 16-25). Visitors can take a seat on an 85ft grass-covered Motherplane resting on Baltic Square at Gateshead Quays, while smaller baby planes scattered through the city create picnic locations as requested by the public. It’s all part of Newcastle’s ongoing East08 celebration of Asian culture, which also sees the making of artist Tatzu Nishi’s Hotel Monument (Aug 15-Sept 15), a one-roomed “guerrilla” hotel built around Grey’s Monument which will offer panoramic city centre views by day and the opportunity to spend the night with the statue of Earl Grey.

· picnicclub.org, hotelmonument.org.uk, newcastlegateshead.com. If you can’t get a booking in Hotel Monument, try the greystreethotel (0191-230 6777, greystreethotel.com), doubles from £145 room-only.


The National Eisteddfod of Wales (Aug 2-9) makes its first visit to the capital in 30 years with a huge programme of performances and competitions in music, dance, theatre, poetry and more taking over Pontcanna Fields. English speakers fear not, for there will be translation services available throughout the week, which also features behind-the-scenes tours of Wales’ Millennium Centre and Millennium Stadium, the annual Golf Day (Aug 7, Whitchurch Golf Club) and a special observatory in the Science and Technology Pavilion with a live link-up to powerful robotic telescopes based in Hawaii and Australia.

· eisteddfod.org.uk. The Jolyons Boutique Hotel Cardiff (029-2048 8775, jolyons.co.uk) has doubles from £85 pn.


Mercury Prize-nominated New Young Pony Club make their only festival appearance of the year at the Loop festival of innovative music and digital art in Victoria Gardens (Aug 16). And new this year, Beachdown (Aug 22-25) gives you the option to camp on the South Downs or get the quick shuttle to and from town. Featuring De La Soul, the Young Knives and DJs Pat Mahoney from LCD Soundsystem and Andy Weatherall doing his bit for the local Born Bad club.

· loopbrighton.com, beachdownfestival.com. Pelirocco (01273 327055, hotelpelirocco.co.uk) has music-inspired rooms from £95 B&B.


There’s plenty to explore at the fifth annual Edinbugh Art Festival (July 31-Aug 31), with Tracey Emin taking the spotlight with a 20-year retrospective at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Aug 2-Nov 9, artist in conversation Aug 3), and the new 6,000sq ft Ingleby Gallery featuring the first Scottish showing of work by American artist Kay Rosen (July 31-Sept 27). An exhibition of Pop artist Richard Hamilton’s Protest Pictures opens at Inverleith House in the Royal Botanic Garden (July 31-Oct 12, artist in conversation July 31). Or take part in Edinburgh artist Joshua Sofaer’s scavenger hunt (Aug 16) for objects that will become part of an exhibition at the City Art Centre (Aug 18-25).

· rbge.org.uk, festivalscavengers.co.uk, edinburghartfestival.org. The Scotsman (0131-556 5565, thescotsmanhotel.co.uk) has a special summer offer (to Aug 7) with rooms from £160 B&B.


Somerset House ( somersethouse.org.uk, July 31-Aug 9) hosts a programme of open-air film screenings including Fellini’s 8½ and Dr Strangelove; the Serpentine Gallery ( serpentinegallery.org, Aug 15-16) screens Two-Lane Blacktop and The Honeymoon Killers; and Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro will be shown in Trafalgar Square ( roh.org.uk/bp, July 16). The London Literary Festival ( londonlitfest.com) has high-brow discussions and lectures at the South Bank Centre until July 19. Meanwhile, music gets wet and wild at the London Fields Lido in Hackney, where artist Joel Cahen finishes off the UK’s first underwater sound festival ( newtoy.org/wetsounds.html, July 19), where the audience floats or dives through water, immersed in sound.

· The Zetter in Clerkenwell (020-7324 4444, thezetter.com) has two-night weekends from £310 per double B&B.


This year’s multicultural Belfast Mela has a health and wellbeing focus, with a big relaxation marquee “Chai Serai” doing teas and therapies, yoga, Indian head massages, plus Bollywood dancers, bangra, a food bazaar, a craft village with art displays and a showcase stage featuring local ethnic groups; Lithuanian, Irish, Chinese, Hawaiian, African ( belfastmela.org.uk, free, August 24). If that doesn’t pop your pakora, Flaming Lips, Mystery Jets, Go! Team et al play the Belsonic music festival (August 11-15, belsonic.com from £27 per day) in the Cathedral Quarter, and there’s Belfast Pride ( belfastpride.com, July 25-August 2).

· Ten Square (028-9024 1001, tensquare.co.uk) does oriental opulence from £119 per double.