Is Britain the world’s biggest holiday destination?

The staycation boom is well and truly over. Research released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) this month shows that Britons took 55.5 million holidays abroad last year, up from 45.6 million in 2022. Furthermore, a recent VisitBritain trends survey – despite the ongoing cost of living crisis – 60 percent of respondents are planning a trip abroad in 2024, up from 57 percent last year.

After struggling with domestic travel in recent years (not least because, for much of that time, overseas trips have been red-tapered or outright banned), we’re once again flooding to foreign shores .

And who can blame us? Leaving the issue of weather to one side for now, it’s hard not to conclude that UK holidays are not value for money, a key concern amid spiraling mortgage rates, food costs and utility bills.

Imagine you are looking for a summer holiday for your family. You want days on the beach, coastal walks, pleasant meals out – but you’re worried about prices. You might assume, then, that the answer is to stay in Britain. To visit Cornwall, not Corfu; The Lake District, excluding Tuscany. You would be wrong.


I tried to find a two bedroom holiday cottage in Cornwall in August this year. The cheapest result for a week from August 5 on one of the leading sites – – currently costs £890, and that’s for a decent-looking flat. You can spend more than twice as much for some of the most stylish two-bedroom places, and for something smart for a party of eight you’re looking at more than £3,000.

Yes, it is possible to holiday in the UK cheaper. You could camp, stay in a caravan or head to the less desirable coasts of northern England. But then compare the above prices to what you will get on the Continent. A similar search on the Gites de France website (, for the same dates, shows options in Brittany from £350 and Provence from £300. For the same price as that Cornish apartment, you could stay at Venelle de la Croix, self-catering accommodation on the hip Île de Ré, available through Sawday’s (

Airbnb was once touted as a cost-cutting alternative to traditional self-catering properties, but prices, as well as booking and cleaning fees, have risen in recent years. According to the analysis firm AirDNA, the average nightly price of a rental in the UK in 2024 rose 12 percent from 2023, to £153. In France, Italy and Spain the average rates are £107, £124 and £121 respectively.

I searched Airbnb for a two-bedroom property in trendy Southwold, again for 5-12 August: the cheapest option, a cute cottage, costs £1,548. Opt for the cool Peñíscola in eastern Spain, though, and you’ll find a decent apartment for half that price.

You will have to factor in the cost of getting there, of course. But even with rising airfares, you can get peak season flights to Europe for around £50 each, or Eurotunnel returns for £200.

“We holidayed in East Wittering straight after Covid and it was horrible, we’ll never do it again,” says Winchester-based mum-of-two Suzi Love. “The house we booked cost £1,800 from Monday to Friday, it was tired and mediocre at best, there wasn’t much choice of places to eat out and the high prices didn’t reflect the quality of the food or service. In addition, the weather was dirty.”

Ah yes, the weather. Even if British holidays could compete on price, it’s hard to overlook the fact that Cornwall gets around 187 hours of sunshine and 73mm of rain every August, while Andalusia gets around 300 hour, and 1mm.

“My girls are three and six, so all they need is a beach or a pool, but when the weather’s not good, you have to keep them entertained and that’s not a grown-up holiday for us,” says Love. “Heavily polluted roads and sewage-contaminated beaches make it all very unappealing, so we’d rather jump on a plane and go to the south of Spain in three hours when the weather is more certain.”

Eating out

Spain tops the list of Britons’ favorite destinations, says the ONS, with 21 per cent of all visits abroad in 2023 to the country of Sangria, followed by France (11 per cent), Italy (6 percent) followed by Greece. (5 percent). And when you look at the cost of eating and drinking in these countries, it doesn’t take much head scratching to figure out why.

Every year, the Post Office compares the prices of food and drink, as well as typical holiday shopping, in dozens of popular destinations. Buying a coffee in the Algarve will set you back 88p, he says, while on the Costa del Sol the average price is £1.58. For a three-course meal for two, including a bottle of wine, you can expect to pay £ 40 or £ 60 in the two sun-soaked regions, respectively, he says. Compare that to the UK, where a coffee costs between £3 and £4, and an average three-course meal for two (including wine) costs closer to £70 or £80.

Furthermore, while food and drink prices are still rising in the UK (a 7 per cent increase in the year to January 2024 was predicted), it’s a different story overseas. The Post Office’s Holiday Money Report 2024 found that prices for meals, drinks and other items fell from last year in 25 out of 40 destinations surveyed.

Getting around

Another daunting issue is the high cost of train travel within the UK. Say you want to get to your Cornish holiday apartment by train, taking a leaf out of Greta Thunberg’s book and doing your bit for the planet. The cheapest off-peak return from London to Penzance on August 5 currently costs £143 (that’s almost £600 for a family of four), with a journey time of just under five hours. If you are traveling from Manchester, the bill is £236 per person and the journey time is more than seven hours. And that’s before adding the cost of a taxi to and from your accommodation. By comparison, a three-hour high-speed return journey from Madrid to Malaga, on the same date, costs from £55 per person.

The other option, and the choice of most tourists in the UK, is to drive. No one who sat on the A303 on Friday, Saturday or Sunday wants to repeat the experience, but it’s a lot cheaper to fill a family car with four people and drive from London to Cornwall than by train (about £60 for a one-way. journey). I’m sorry, Greta.

The bottom line

Add up the cost of getting to your destination, accommodation and eating out, and a family of four is looking at well over £2,000 – probably closer to £3,000 – for a UK holiday. No wonder then that fly-and-flop packages look so attractive. Go to Tui, and £2,000 gets you a week’s B&B accommodation (flights included) at the Green Forest Hotel in Dalaman, Turkey (departing August 8); £3,000 will secure a week’s all-inclusive holiday at Ibiza’s Invisa Figueral Resort (departing August 7).

UK holiday providers recognize that the glory days of Covid are over, and are looking at ways to improve their offering. Last month, Telegraph Travel reported on how British holiday rentals are upping their survival game, with everything from hot tubs to ax throwing. Prices have also been cut.

James Norton, director of independent holiday business Toad Hall Cottages, confirms the market went “crazy” during the pandemic years, but says prices are now returning to the levels they should be.

“Dynamic pricing, set by automated algorithms, adjusts the price based on demand – how many visits a page gets and so on,” he says. “Some sites are now offering 50 per cent discounts, but that’s a bit misleading. Prices are correcting after a few inflated years, when some properties rented pre-Covid for £1,200 [per week] that they had rates of £3,000 or £4,000.”

One way Toad Hall has improved its offer is to move transfer days to Wednesday, Thursday and Monday instead of Saturday and Sunday, “so people only spend five hours on the A303 instead of eight,” which says Norton. He adds: “Some owners have asked to reduce prices by 10 per cent to get bookings, although there are exceptions. The New Forest is doing very well, with more bookings than ever before, and the best properties in places like Salcombe are booked in the summer.”

Discounts won’t convince many of us to stay in the UK this summer. VisitBritain’s research has shown that holidaymakers are eager to experience new cultures, which is exactly why Anna and Jon Long are taking their teenagers Ella, 17, and Ollie, 15, abroad.

“We didn’t do any detailed or over-the-top comparisons this summer when we got off. Holidays in the UK are for those who are very organized – anywhere beautiful is very busy during the school holidays and is booked well in advance,” says Anna. “Teenagers are much more sensible about holidays, and would rather be at home with their friends than stuck in a cottage in Devon in the rain.

“When the cost of a holiday in the UK is so marginal, we think there aren’t many holidays left with the kids, so it’s nice to do something a little bit special with them. I know we’re lucky to be able to do that, but we love exploring somewhere new as a family while we can.”

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