Two years into the pandemic, either you have gone on a staycation by now or you’re one of those people banging on about how we’re using the term incorrectly.
Either way, chain hotels and English cottages are all very well, but after a few of those you might find yourself looking for something a bit different. If you are looking to stay somewhere weird, wonderful, and relatively affordable, check out these quirky staycations near London, or “interesting accommodations for holidays within one’s own country” for the language pedants.
(The Secret Campsite, Sussex)
The Secret Campsite’s not-so-clandestine location is about thirty minutes from Brighton, in a peaceful spot with all you need for a rural escape. Escape is the point – The Secret Campsite call their campers ‘escapees’ and try to create a fantastic habitat for wildlife where you can get away from other people for a bit. No cars or pets are allowed on the site, group sizes are restricted, and if you like you can put your phone in one of their lockboxes to truly disconnect.
For those who don’t fancy bringing their own tents, there are a few fun glamping options available, and the quirkiest is definitely the Tree Tent, the first of its kind in England. This green pod is suspended on three oak trees on the edge of an ancient meadow, bringing real Lothlórien vibes. You’ll climb a wooden ladder to get in, and can enjoy a view of the South Downs National Park through the tree tent’s windows.
Talliston House and Gardens
(Great Dunmow, Essex)
Talliston House and Gardens calls itself “Britain’s Most Extraordinary Home” and they have a pretty good claim. Author John Tarrow bought the house, then a regular council home in Essex, and transformed it into a fairy-tale wonderland with thirteen themed rooms. As well as attending tours, afternoon teas and the like at Talliston, you can stay in two of the rooms on selected dates.
For romance and mystery, book the gorgeous Room of Dreams which will make you feel like a Spanish princess. If you want a more intense experience, stay in The Haunted Bedroom, a dark, Scottish Art Noveau styled room, complete with a very goth story of a deceased Edwardian child.
Talliston is located in Great Dunmow, a historic Essex market town, filled with cute old buildings, independent shops, tea rooms and pubs, and a museum. It’s also a great starting point for walkers.
Surrey Hill Yurts
You couldn’t have a list of quirky staycations without including a yurt, and the Surrey Hill Yurts do not disappoint. These yurts are located on a working farm, so you have the added bonus of meeting some cows, pigs, and chickens during your stay, along with Bob and Whizz the working dogs. Surrey Hill Yurts pride themselves on being eco-friendly and provide biodegradable toiletries, linen and a basket of logs for your wood burner. The campsite is located in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, making it perfect for walks, including a couple recommended in our cheapo guide to hikes within easy reach of London.
Why stay in a bog standard flat when you could stay in a dome? I found this place while looking for an AirBnB with a hot tub for as cheap as humanely possible, and it exceeded expectations.
The Dome in Hatfield is exactly what it sounds like: a glamping dome in Hatfield. It’s heated, comfy, and located in a beautifully maintained garden complete with a koi pond and a… “surprising” statue (don’t want to ruin it, but if you don’t have a sense of fun maybe don’t come here).
The decor style in the dome is wonderfully whimsical in a way that works, with a comfy four poster bed. The hot tub is a little extra, but well worth it.
Hatfield might not have been on your mind as a tourist destination (though The Galleria is an outlet centre in Hatfield where cheapos can find great bargains), but stroll through the unremarkable town centre and you will find Hatfield House, a gorgeous Jacobean country estate. If you’re too cheapo to pay the entrance fee for the house and gardens themselves (between £6 and £21 depending on how much you want to see), the area surrounding Hatfield House is very pretty and free to enter, including the Stable Yard. There are charming cobbled streets to stroll, cafes, and independent shops. Pro cheapo tip: you can park at Hatfield House for free, even if you don’t pay to enter.
Belle Tout Lighthouse
Beachy Head, East Sussex
As quirky staycations go, you can’t really do much better than staying in a lighthouse. You may have read about the Belle Tout lighthouse in our guide to hikes within easy reach of London, but did you know you can stay there? Belle Tout lighthouse was built in 1832 on the cliffs of Beachy Head, a dangerous spot where many shipwrecks had occurred and sailors’ lives had been lost. It was decommissioned in 1903 when a new lighthouse was built at the base of the cliffs, but continued to have an interesting history: from being used as target practice during WW2 to being the setting for shows on BBC and Channel 5.
Admittedly some of the rooms aren’t strictly cheapo, but stay in the Keeper’s Loft, or bring your thermals and visit during the winter, for cheaper prices. The views from the lighthouse are, as you would expect, fantastic, and the food and the hospitality from the hosts complete this truly unique experience.