Boy jumping off yacht (Dreamstime)
List Words : Emma Higgins | 17 July

10 fun ways to cool off in the UK this summer

From slurping ice cream and G&Ts to swimming with seals off the North Devon coast – make the most of the British summer weather with these incredibly fun things to do across the country...

1: Dive with seals in Devon

Seal in Lundy, off the coast of North Devon (Nick Blake)

Seal in Lundy, off the coast of North Devon (Nick Blake)

There are plenty of places to go scuba diving in summer in the UK, but take to the sea at Lundy Island in Devon and you could be joined by some curious friends, swimming alongside you. There's a colony of around 200 Atlantic grey seals here, who are not only seen basking in the sun on rocks, but are also quite used to getting in the water with divers.

Be respectful as they hop in, making sure you give them time to get used to you. However, if and when they do, it’s a magical experience to have these mammals gliding right by you.

There are plenty of other places to see seals around the UK’s shores, including several areas up in Scotland where seals congregate each year to breed and to moult. The most important of these are the Orkney and, to a lesser degree, the Shetland Islands, the Hebrides (including North Rona), and the Monach Isles, which is the second largest breeding colony of grey seals in the world. 

Seals are also born at some sites on the Scottish mainland each year, including the sea caves around Helmsdale and at Loch Eriboll, both good places to see cute pups.

2: Get to know the humble gin and tonic

Sip on gin and tonic (Dreamstime)

Sip on gin and tonic (Dreamstime)

A classic UK tipple, a good old G&T kicks off a summer evening or afternoon like no other. At the end of August each year, one of Britain’s biggest gin festivals is held at the Tobacco Docks in London to celebrate the drink sometimes known as ‘Mother’s Ruin'. Taste from countless different kinds of gin or join in on a masterclass to become a true connoisseur.

Alternatively, make your own gin with a choice of botanicals at Black Friars Distillery in Plymouth, the oldest gin distillery in England, or at Salcombe Gin School, where you can also create a personalised label for your unique creation.

In Belfast, hop on the Gin Jaunt, a three-hour tour that includes tastings of seven different gins, three of which are local, to polish up your gin-tessential knowledge.

3: Go foraging along the coast by kayak

Kayaking in Dorset (Fore / Adventure)

Kayaking in Dorset (Fore / Adventure)

There’s nothing more natural than collecting your own ingredients for cooking, but foraging by kayak around the coast is the next-level experience. The most popular place to do this is in the UK’s southwest, such as around Dorset where you can join Fore / Adventure to collect edible plants, seaweed, and shellfish around the stacks and sea caves.

You can also go kayaking for your supper in Pembrokeshire with Dragon Activity Guides, who will help you brush up your kayak techniques while searching for food. The day is polished off with a beach barbecue to cook your freshly caught produce.

4: Taste Britain’s best ice cream in Cornwall

Ice cream on beach in Cornwall (Dreamstime)

Ice cream on beach in Cornwall (Dreamstime)

Traditional ice cream parlours are strewn across Britain’s sout-west, making it arguably the best place in the country to try this sweet treat. For the full cow-to-spoon experience, visit Roskilly’s on the Lizard Peninsula, a Cornish ice cream producer with an organic dairy farm where you can try flavours like apple crumble, pear and elderflower, or wild cherry and chocolate, as well as the old favourites. There are walks around the meadows on the farm and you can watch the Jersey cows being milked.

If you can’t make it down the Cornwall, London has its fair share of off-beat ice cream parlours too: Chin Chin Labs in Camden makes their weekly-changing menu using liquid nitrogen, Yorica! is the vegan’s answer to ice cream in Soho, and Bubblewrap in Chinatown fills waffles with gelato and fruit, whipped cream, nuts or just about anything else you can think of.

5: Learn to surf in Yorkshire

Heading out to catch a few waves (North Yorkshire Tourist Board)

Heading out to catch a few waves (North Yorkshire Tourist Board)

You might think Cornwall wears the crown when it comes to surfing in the UK, but the popular shores of Newquay in summer can mean you're sharing the waves with more boards and riders than you'd like. If so, turn your attention north.

The waves in North Yorkshire in autumn and winter are ideal for more experienced surfers, but if you’re just starting out the gentle summer waters here are good for beginners. A handful of surf schools run in the Scarborough area who will help you improve your technique.

Also consider Pease Bay, under an hour by car east of Edinburgh, where there are waves of a decent height in summer and plenty of instructors to teach you. You often need a wetsuit here, even in summer, as the waters are on the brisk side.

6: Find a beer garden with a difference

Enjoy drinks with a view on the River Thames (Tamesis Dock)

Enjoy drinks with a view on the River Thames (Tamesis Dock)

Beer gardens are a national tradition in the UK and there are plenty of them. Several across the country stand out from the crowd, though. The winner of Britain’s Best Pub Garden in 2017 was The Waterside Inn in Hertfordshire, which charms pub-goers with its idyllic riverside setting and a whisky passport to tempt tastings of its smoky flavours from around the world.

If you’re in the English capital, swing by for a pint at the Tamesis Dock floating pub, set up on a permanently moored 1930s Dutch barge. From here, you can not only enjoy a cooling pint on the Thames, but also views of the Houses of Parliament and London Eye.

7: Try some unusual camping and glamping

Comrie Croft (Comrie Croft)

Comrie Croft (Comrie Croft)

Cool camping and glamping have taken off in the last decade, giving you more options than ever for a unique stay with a breeze by the sea or some shade deep in a forest. Blackberry Wood campsite in Sussex has a range of oddball things to sleep in, including a fairy tale treehouse, a double decker bus, and a converted helicopter.

Scotland also has a good crop of unorthodox boltholes, perfect for a cool retreat. The Beermoth in Cairngorms National Park is one of the most fun to look at, a converted fire truck kitted out for two people. 

If you’d rather go old school with your own tent, stay at Comrie Croft in Perthshire, a co-operative-run communal campsite that has secluded pitches in the forest and an on-site tea room.

8: Go on a paddleboarding microadventure

Paddleboarding along the River Great Ouse (GlobalShots)

Paddleboarding along the River Great Ouse (GlobalShots)

Why wait until the weekend for an evening of action-packed fun, when you can have a microadventure any day of the week. With summer in full swing, there is every reason to make the most of the long daylight hours. Microadventures are all about enjoying overnight outdoor thrills that can be experienced by working people with a 9-5 schedule.

Whether you're seeking a woodland campout or to explore the city by moonlight, there's an adventure waiting to be had closer to home than you would believe. Search for hidden containers while geocaching, take a dip with a wild swim, or paddleboard upriver to a firelit campout – the list of options for microadventures is endless.

9: Cycle along a brewery route

Cyclists at pub in Turville (Chris Smith)

Cyclists at pub in Turville (Chris Smith)

Combine a love of fine British craft ale with the gentle breeze of a bike ride through the countryside and you have the makings of a fine summer’s day in the UK. There are now an estimated 1,700 breweries across the country, the boom making it easier than ever to hop on a bike and take multiple stop-offs for a refreshing pint.

The Chilterns is home to no less than a dozen breweries, and there are six suggested brewery bike rides, ranging in difficulty, taking you from one to the next with country rides in between.

If cider’s more your thing, try the Herefordshire Cider Routes, two trails that cover 20 and 19 miles, stopping off at some of Britain’s best cider makers along the way.

10: Swim at a Victorian tidal pool

Aerial view over Tunnels Beaches, Ilfracombe (Tunnels Beaches)

Aerial view over Tunnels Beaches, Ilfracombe (Tunnels Beaches)

The Victorians did a lot for the British great outdoors, but few more refreshing than the network of seawater pools across the country. Carved out of the surrounding coastline, these offer a novel way to take a dip in the summer.

Go for a swim at The Rock Pool in County Down, one of the last seawater pools in Northern Ireland. Stop by the lesser-visited Trinkie in Caithness, Scotland, for an often bracing dip. Alternatively, navigate the four tunnels in Ilfracombe, carved by Welsh miners in the 1820s, to reach the Tunnels Beaches. The experience should be a whole lot better than a chlorine-clogged pool.