It’s not easy to plan the perfect itinerary through Great Britain, and it is even harder if you only have five days to spare. You want to see the island’s great towns, the bustling capital of London, learn a bit about the history but also delve into the gorgeous countryside. How is is all going to fit?

Long story short, it doesn’t of course – there is way too much to see. However, when Safestay Hostels invited us on a grand tour through Great Britain with stops in three of the island’s most beloved cities connected by train journeys through the countryside of the British east coast, we couldn’t resist. Could you see the best of Great Britain in just five days?

Bring it on!

Seeing 3 of the best British cities in 5 days is easier than ever: with the Safestay Hostels in London, York and Edinburgh & the Virgin Trains East Coast route.

The Challenge

Safestay Hostels is a group of luxury hostels with four UK locations across London, York and Edinburgh, undeniably three of Great Britain’s most gorgeous cities – they have also recently acquired U Hostels: U Hostel Madrid by Safestay is available for stays now while undergoing a rebranding programme. The serviced apartments next door will be ready in 2018. Safestay Paris is expected to launch in 2019. The first Safestay opened in London’s Elephant & Castle neighborhood in 2012, but after a few successful years on its own, the family grew with a hostel in York in early 2015 and a second location in London in the middle of Holland Park in August 2015. The newest member of the hostel group is the Safestay Edinburgh, formerly known as Smart City Hostel.

I was invited to spend one night in each hostel, giving me the chance to explore the local neighborhoods and experience the scope of city vibes the island has to offer. The real challenge however was not to judge which hostel would be the best, but rather to pick up the distinct vibes that each hostel’s location provides.

My journey was made easier by Virgin Trains which connects London with Edinburgh via York on its East Coast route and crosses through some of England’s most beautiful countryside and along the Scottish coastline. The entire journey only takes around 4 hours and 20 minutes with York roughly halfway through, and of course the train drops you off in the middle of London, Edinburgh and York, so long journeys to and from the airport will be a thing of the past.

Seeing 3 of the best British cities in 5 days is easier than ever: with the Safestay Hostels in London, York and Edinburgh & the Virgin Trains East Coast route.

London (2 nights)

Of course staying in two different hostels in one city for only one night each might sound a bit unorthodox, but in fact the two Safestays in London were so different, that I can see the appeal of changing location and experiencing two very different neighborhoods and vibes. So here we go.

Safestay London Holland Park

The Safestay London Holland Park is located inside of Holland Park in a newly renovated listed building, a mansion really. While it is surrounded by the lush green of the park it is also just a stone’s throw away from the bustling lanes of Kensington and Notting Hill, and not too far from Hyde Park or South Kensington either. The closest tube stations are Notting Hill Gate and Holland Park on the Central line which are roughly a 10 minute walk away – it is therefore a bit harder to get to, but the trek through the park is absolutely worth it.

To me the hostel was an easy way into an eventful trip and sleeping with my window open and being woken by birds and peacock songs in the morning was the perfect counter-balance to the busy streets of London.

The surroundings are super relaxing and there are plenty of social areas to hang out – they all open up to the hostel’s garden from where you can listen to some free classical music from the open air Opera Holland Park next doors. And that’s just one of the perks. There is free WiFi (like in all Safestay Hostels) and a bar serving food an non-alcoholic drinks until 10pm – due to its location in the park, the hostel has not received a license to sell alcohol yet, but with so many pubs around the corner that doesn’t really break the deal.

Although the Safestay London Holland Park is really big with 351 available beds and is a favorite for large group bookings, I also met a lot of solo travelers and small groups in the social areas, so it really is a mixed crowd – which btw. also counts for the age range of the guests I encountered.

Seeing 3 of the best British cities in 5 days is easier than ever: with the Safestay Hostels in London, York and Edinburgh & the Virgin Trains East Coast route.

Things to do:

Strolling around Kensington: Kensington might just be my favorite area in London, maybe not as notoriously cool as East London, but with its low buildings and massive parks it just feels a bit cozier and easier to navigate. I love peeking into all the lanes and mews behind the main roads and always find a new door to photograph.

Getting lost in Holland Park: Holland Park is a little gem that many people tend to leave out of their itinerary and explore the much bigger Hyde Park instead. Holland Park however is a bit wilder, with beautiful forested areas and a soothing Japanese Garden. Not to mention the peacocks who are not only lovely to look at, but whose singing also adds a certain layer of exoticism to the park.

Shopping at Portobello Road Market: For more hustle and bustle head to Portobello Road Market which is easy walking distance from the hostel. It is particularly busy on Saturdays when the full market is on, and once you’ve had enough you just need to take a couple of turns and wander through the pastel-colored-house-lined streets of Notting Hill.

Seeing 3 of the best British cities in 5 days is easier than ever: with the Safestay Hostels in London, York and Edinburgh & the Virgin Trains East Coast route.

Where to eat & drink:

You can’t really go wrong with any of the food stalls at Portobello Road Market, although I particularly enjoyed the falafel wraps (and the owner’s chat) at Falafel Zaki Zaki. For a nice pint in the sun head out to the Elephant & Castle pub on Holland St which has outdoor seating.

Seeing 3 of the best British cities in 5 days is easier than ever: with the Safestay Hostels in London, York and Edinburgh & the Virgin Trains East Coast route.

Safestay London Elephant & Castle

From the hostel in Holland Park it is an easy bus ride with the 148 to my next stop, the Safestay London Elephant & Castle. Along the way I passed Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and the House of Parliament, and of course we crossed the River Thames.

The first thing I need to mention is how much easier it was to explore all of London from this hostel (compared to the one in Holland Park). Not only is it just a short bus ride from the mentioned sights, it is also very close to the Northern tube line which is perfect to get to London Bridge & Tower Bridge, Borough Market, Shoreditch (and East London from there) and King’s Cross train station – I doubt you could beat this location!

The hostel in Elephant & Castle was Safestay’s first location which they opened in 2012. It has 413 beds and is the biggest Safestay hostel. Its size and location were probably the reasons why I noticed many more large groups in the common areas, rather than solo travelers, but this didn’t translate into noisy corridors, hasty or impersonal service or long breakfast queues – everything felt just like staying in a small hostel.

As I had arrived before the check in time at 2pm, I made use of the free luggage room and explored the area – luckily there was loads to do!

Seeing 3 of the best British cities in 5 days is easier than ever: with the Safestay Hostels in London, York and Edinburgh & the Virgin Trains East Coast route.

Things to do:

Get a view with London Eye: I wanted to make the most of my accidental sightseeing tour with the 148 bus, so I got off at Westminster, strolled across the bridge and lined up for a scenic ride with the London Eye. With my fast lane ticket I skipped the very long queue though and within minutes I found myself aboard a capsule high above the Thames. The view from up there really is something. If you followed my last trip to London, you will remember how enthused I was about the view from the Shard, but the London Eye was a very different experience. As we were going higher and higher, hidden buildings and corners of London slowly came into sight – it was a little bit like slowly unfolding your Christmas presents.

Seeing 3 of the best British cities in 5 days is easier than ever: with the Safestay Hostels in London, York and Edinburgh & the Virgin Trains East Coast route.

East Street Market: This market is just around the corner from the hostel and boasts mainly stall selling fresh fruit and vegetables. However, there is also a significant amount of stalls with clothes and vintage stuff towards the end of the market, and numerous African supermarkets and eateries tucked away behind the market. I bought a bag of cherries, sat down in the sun and enjoyed summer.

The Cinema Museum: Also not too far from the hostel is the Cinema Museum. When approaching it you feel like you might be in the wrong place, as you walk through a residential area. This is however the neighborhood where a boy called Charles Spencer Chaplin first saw the day of light – and yes, that is the Charlie Chaplin we all love so dearly. Be aware though that you need to arrange a tour with the museum beforehand, and you can’t just rock up and expect to get in.

Seeing 3 of the best British cities in 5 days is easier than ever: with the Safestay Hostels in London, York and Edinburgh & the Virgin Trains East Coast route.

Where to eat/drink:

Seeing that I had a very light lunch at the market, I required something more substantial about halfway through the afternoon. Luckily I was recommended The Electric Elephant Cafe which serves breakfast all day, and particularly on a Sunday dishes up full English breakfasts. I went for the veggie version, and I kid you not those were the best veggie sausages I had ever tasted. The owner Louisa sat down for a chat with me as well – you can read more about her story here.

Seeing 3 of the best British cities in 5 days is easier than ever: with the Safestay Hostels in London, York and Edinburgh & the Virgin Trains East Coast route.

York (1 night)

The next morning I said my goodbyes to London, got aboard the Virgin train at King’s Cross and traveled to my next destination: York.

The train journey took a mere 2 hours, zooming through the lush English country side, and before I knew it, I was in York. Safestay York was opened in 2015 and is located in an impressive listed Gregorian townhouse just 8 minutes from the station. Many parts of the 18th century building remain in more or less original state – of course everything was renovated and modernized, but the entrance hall, the main staircase, the meat cellar turned social area, and dining room turned bar area make you feel like you’re on a majestic holiday.

My room was facing the road, however all I could see were the trees across the street – 10 points for views in my books. Some of the rooms even have a view onto York Minster! The hostel is as close to the train station as it is to the town center. It took me around 10 minutes to walk to the center, and what a walk that was! I actually took a bit of a detour and walked the longer way along the old city walls, but being able to walk home at night after dinner was super easy!

York might not be the most obvious town to include in your UK itinerary, but let me reassure you that it will surprise you as much as it surprised me!

Seeing 3 of the best British cities in 5 days is easier than ever: with the Safestay Hostels in London, York and Edinburgh & the Virgin Trains East Coast route.

Things to do:

York Pass: I picked up the York Pass which gave me access to over 30 tourist attractions, such as York Minster, Clifford’s Tower and YorkBoat. It’s a great little card to have especially if you are here for a full day.

Visiting York’s Chocolate Story: What do Smarties, After Eight and Kit Kat have in common? Well, they’re all made of chocolate, but they are also all from York! Did you know that York is basically England’s chocolate capital and 6 million Kit Kats are produced here every day? I had no clue and because I love chocolate, visiting York’s Chocolate Story was a no-brainer. I learnt about York’s chocolate history, how chocolate is made and even got to make my own chocolate lolly! If you have a sweet tooth like me, this is your kind of museum.

Walking along the Town Wall: Like most medieval towns York prides itself with an impressive town wall which leads around the center and makes for a great walking tour. From the Safestay hostel I walked a few minutes to Micklegate Bar (not a bar actually, but a gate) from where I could climb the wall. Following the path clockwise I would soon enjoy some of York’s most iconic views onto York Minster and finally get off the wall by the river and turn right towards the little lanes of the center.

Seeing 3 of the best British cities in 5 days is easier than ever: with the Safestay Hostels in London, York and Edinburgh & the Virgin Trains East Coast route.

Exploring the lanes: York is a walking city – not only is everything in walking distance, but walking is also the best way to explore the unique vibe of this place. The lanes in the town center are bustling with tourists and locals peeking into dreamy shop fronts or running errands – it all happens side by side here. And then there is of course the Shambles – that famous lane which inspired the makers of the Harry Potter films when designing Diagon Alley.

Seeing 3 of the best British cities in 5 days is easier than ever: with the Safestay Hostels in London, York and Edinburgh & the Virgin Trains East Coast route.

Where to eat/drink:

With every corner you turn in York you stumble across a cozy cafe or a traditional pub, so finding places to rest your feet and indulge in some food is an absolute breeze here. However, with so many tourists frequenting the town center, it is not always easy to tell the tourist traps from the real gems, so here is a little list. Betty’s Tea House might be on top of everyone list, but it’s there for a good reason: best cake ever! For more sweets head to the Luxury Ice Cream Company and try the Malteser ice cream with actual Maltesers inside. For a pub away from the bustling streets try Lendal Cellars, a local favorite tucked away beneath Jamie’s Italian restaurant. And finally, for a vegan dinner to satisfy your empty belly try El Piano, a cozy little Spanish cafe serving all sorts of vegan cuisines.

Seeing 3 of the best British cities in 5 days is easier than ever: with the Safestay Hostels in London, York and Edinburgh & the Virgin Trains East Coast route.

Edinburgh (1 night)

While 24 hours were barely enough to scratch the surface of York, I had to move on the next day and cover the final leg of my journey along the Virgin Trains East Coast route – from York it took 2.5 hours to Edinburgh and just like that I was in Scotland.

Safestay Edinburgh is the latest addition to the family. There had been a hostel in the building for quite a while (which I had actually stayed in before), but last September Safestay took over. Currently it is still operating under the old name of Smart City Hostel but from September 2016 it will officially be called Safestay Edinburgh.

The hostel, like all of Safestay’s properties, is located in a gorgeous listed building rich in history, but also has a modern annex. Arriving by train in Edinburgh Waverley you can reach it within a few minutes of walking, but note that you will have to walk the hill to the Royal Mile and down again on the other side.

In general though, the hostel has a prime location for sightseeing, vintage shopping and nightlife. I have been to Edinburgh on numerous occasions and thought I had seen it all – but don’t ever let Scotland trick you! Of course I found plenty of new things to do and see during my 24 hours stay.

Seeing 3 of the best British cities in 5 days is easier than ever: with the Safestay Hostels in London, York and Edinburgh & the Virgin Trains East Coast route.

Things to do:

Rabbie’s Edinburgh City Tour: I’m not huge on the city bus sightseeing tours, but offer me a seat in a convertible mini van on a sunny day and I’ll go for it. Rabbie’s, one of Scotland’s best tour companies who has taken me on a tour around the lower Highlands before, recently launched their newest tour, a 1.5h city tour around Edinburgh. You can read more about the tour over at my blog, but for now I’ll just say it’s a great tour to get an overview and hear some local stories from the audio guide. On a sunny day, I couldn’t think of a better way to get to know Edinburgh.

Relaxing in the Royal Botanic Gardens: Following the recommendation of my Rabbie’s tour driver I decided to escape the touristy streets of the city center and make my way to the Royal Botanic Gardens in the north west of Edinburgh. From the Royal Mile it takes roughly 30 minutes to walk there, but there is also a bus (you’ll need £1.60 exact change). I’m the happiest version of myself when I’m in the forest, so exploring the ten glass houses inside the gardens was the best thing ever – easily my favorite place in Edinburgh!

Seeing 3 of the best British cities in 5 days is easier than ever: with the Safestay Hostels in London, York and Edinburgh & the Virgin Trains East Coast route.

Royal Yacht Britannia: The Royal Yacht Britannia used to be the Royal family’s ship with which they would travel around their empire. It was in use between 1954 and 1997, and since then has been made accessible as a museum in the Port of Leith. If you’re into the Royals this is definitely for you, but even if you are, like me, a little skeptical about monarchy in general, it is still quite a place to see. The yacht is absolutely gorgeous and learning about life at sea always inspired my wanderlust.

Scotch Whisky Experience: Whisky is a staple in the Scottish diet, so when in Scotland you should not only have a dram (= a drink) but also learn about how it is produced. The Scotch Whisky Experience is not actually a distillery, but more like a museum of whisky. The SILVER guided tour takes you on a ride in a whisky barrel that walks you through the stages of distilling whisky, and you learn everything about the different whisky regions of Scotland before you get to chose one and taste it yourself. The tasting is done in a very impressive room – the museum’s whisky collection of over 4,000 bottles!

Seeing 3 of the best British cities in 5 days is easier than ever: with the Safestay Hostels in London, York and Edinburgh & the Virgin Trains East Coast route.

Where to eat:

Options for food and drinks in Edinburgh are endless and you can find many suggestions in our archive. Safestay Edinburgh actually has its own bar where they serve drinks and food for good value – Bar 50 is indeed the beating heart of the hostel. For the most beautiful, healthy and delicious smoothie bowls, juices and cakes head to Hula Juice Bar. It is really close to the hostel, just a stone’s throw away from the Royal Mile and conveniently close to the vintage shops around the Grassmarket. My pick: the Acai bowl, the Tahiti Kicks smoothie and the vegan berry crumble cake. If you’re still hungry after that – oh, who am I kidding? I could barely walk up the hill after that!

Seeing 3 of the best British cities in 5 days is easier than ever: with the Safestay Hostels in London, York and Edinburgh & the Virgin Trains East Coast route.

And just like that my 5 days in Great Britain had come to an end. Now you might wonder, did I have a favourite Safestay hostel or a favourite city? And I can’t lie: yes, I did. Not that any hostel was actually bad – they were all clean, quiet and very welcoming; the same counts for the cities – London, York and Edinburgh are absolute highlights that shouldn’t be missed on any UK itinerary. I did however find two favourites. Call me biased, but my choice of city must be Edinburgh. Scotland is after all my adopted home and the Royal Botanic Gardens are such an oasis of energy for me that I can’t wait to return.

My favourite hostel though was the first one I encountered – the Safestay London Holland Park. The lush green surroundings of the park, the exotic peacock songs in the morning and the location in one of my favourite neighbourhoods of London just make this one a winner!

If you’d like to follow my footsteps and visit some of Britain’s best cities in just five days, it’s actually really easy to do! If you chose to stay in multiple Safestay hostels you even get a special discount.

Have you ever travelled around the UK? What were your personal highlights?


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Seeing 3 of the best British cities in 5 days is easier than ever: with the Safestay Hostels in London, York and Edinburgh & the Virgin Trains East Coast route.

Disclaimer: This trip was supported by Safestay Hostels, Virgin Trains East Coast, The London EyeThe Electric Elephant Cafe, Visit York, Marketing Edinburgh, Rabbie’s, The Royal Yacht Britannia, The Scotch Whisky Experience and Hula Juice Bar.