10 of the best UK birdwatching breaks

Combining areas rich in birdlife with birder-friendly places to stay, these breaks offer truly immersive birdwatching experiences

Rathlin Island, County Antrim

Puffins prefer to nest on uninhabited islands, including the Farne Islands and Isle of May, but they make an exception for Rathlin. The year-round human population of 150 is swollen by thousands of puffins arriving from Iceland and Greenland each April. They lay eggs and raise their young on the island before flying off again in August. The Manor House on Rathlin, reached by ferry from Ballycastle, is an ideal place to park your binoculars for a few days; during a summer visit here, you’ll normally get to see black guillemots, corncrakes and the exceedingly rare red-billed chough.
Two nights B&B, £200; manorhouserathlin.com

North Uist, Outer Hebrides

North Uist, Outer Hebrides

Enjoy the seclusion of this remote Scottish isle along with delightfully diverse birdwatching. North Uist is home to Britain’s largest bird, the white-tailed eagle, and its smallest, the goldcrest, which weighs the same as a 20p piece. Uist Forest Retreats has a handful of luxurious cabins in the forest near Griminish. Cuckoos are here for May, while short-eared owls, merlins and hen harriers are likely in residence.
A week’s stay in summer costs from £1,250; uistforestretreat.co.uk

Rutland Water

Fish supper: an osprey on Rutland Water.
Fish supper: an osprey on Rutland Water. Photograph: Mike Denton/Alamy

England’s smallest county is the perfect place to dip your toe into birdwatching. Made up of lagoons and wetlands, meadows and woodlands, the Anglian Water Birdwatching Centre is a fundamental part of this 293-hectare reservoir. There are egrets, waders and kingfishers, but look out for the stars of Rutland Water, the ospreys, often seen diving for fish. There are more than 30 birdwatching hides with experts on hand to answer questions. The Finch’s Arms in Hambleton is a handy human nest close by.
B&B doubles from £110; finchsarms.co.uk

The Wild Boar, Lake District

The Wild Boar, Cumbria

For a hotel, birds make attractive neighbours. This one, part of the English Lakes collection near Kendal, recently started its own bird sanctuary on its 70-acre estate. Take a stroll in its ancient woodland and you should be able to spot mistle thrush, greater spotted woodpeckers, eagle owls and peregrine falcon. There are also webcams set up to see the bird eggs hatching.
B&B doubles from £132; englishlakes.co.uk

Guided tours, north Wales

South Stack Lighthouse, Holyhead, Anglesey, Wales.
South Stack Lighthouse, Holyhead, Anglesey, Wales. Photograph: Joe Daniel Price/Getty Images

There are around 120 native and migrant birds to notch up on this trip by North Wales-based Birdwatching Trips. A five-day tour in the autumn is based at the Prince’s Arms in Conwy. There are also trips to Anglesey and the Great Orme headland, where you may spot peregrine falcons and seabirds as well as owls and the Arctic skua.
Five-night birdwatching trips from £995pp, including full-board accommodation, guiding and entrance to reserves; birdwatchingtrips.co.uk

Spurn peninsula, East Yorkshire

Spurn Peninsula, Yorkshire

At the mouth of the River Humber, this three-mile-long sandbar, cut off by high tides, is one of the best places to see seabirds. Spring and summer brings whimbrels, wheatears, avocets and oystercatchers, with little terns arriving soon after. At the start of the peninsula, the Spurn Bird Observatory has hostel accommodation and can be hired in its entirety in winter.
Beds from £22 a night; spurnbirdobservatory.co.uk

The Levels, Somerset

Male Kingfisher perching, Somerset.
Male Kingfisher perching, Somerset. Photograph: Charlie Bishop/Alamy

The Naturalist company runs bird-minded holidays around the UK. One of its highlights is the Somerset Levels. Its wetlands attract herons; there are also plenty of kingfishers. With a base at Worth House Hotel near Wells, bird expert Mike Dilger leads expeditions to spot the ever-expanding populations of cranes, marsh harriers, bitterns, Cetti’s warblers and water rails.
From £795pp including all accommodation, half board and guiding; naturalist.co.uk

Minsmere, Suffolk

Pied avocet, Minsmere, Suffolk.
Pied avocet, Minsmere, Suffolk. Photograph: Kevin Elsby/Alamy

After a 3,000 mile journey from west Africa, nightingales arrive in the south of England by the end of April. Few birds have inspired so many poems and stories, thanks to the male singing to attract a mate. Their time in the UK is fleeting – about six weeks. At RSPB Minsmere, celebrating its 75th birthday this year, there’s a 1,000 acre reserve for them to share with bitterns (an endangered species of heron), rare avocets, marsh harriers and bearded tits. For a cosy stay, the 16th-century Eel’s Foot Inn, with log fires and great food, is nearby.
B&B from £110; theeelsfootinn.co.uk

Grant Arms, Cairngorms

Red Grouse, Cairngorms.
Red Grouse, Cairngorms. Photograph: pr

Britain’s highest mountains house some of the UK’s rarest birds. Speyside is filled with ancient pine forest, home of colour-shifting ptarmigans (white in winter; grey, black and brown in summer), grey-footed woodpeckers and, if you’re very lucky, you can see capercaillies – large, black grouse that are both endangered and exceptionally good at hiding. Until February, the Grant Arms Hotel in Speyside was owned by the Birdwatching and Wildlife Club; the new owners are offering the same programme of fascinating talks and lectures.
B&B from £113pp; grantarmshotel.com

The Lake, Cornwall

The Lake, Cornwall

For a truly immersive bird-watching experience, try this off-grid converted shipping container at the end of a rough track that faces a private lake – more hide than a holiday let. Bring your binoculars to catch a glimpse of Canada geese, sand martins and falcons. You’ll have wild ponies for neighbours, and there’s a rowing boat to rent, plus a cage that lowers into the lake so you can keep beer and wine cold. Other creature comforts include a woodburning oven and solar power, and at night visitors are treated to a spectacular display of stars.
From £125 per night; canopyand stars.co.uk

  • This article was amended on 18 May 2022 to change the name of Canadian geese to Canada geese


Sarah Turner

The GuardianTramp

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