Discover the secret delights that Barrow has to offer for your next weekend break

Growing up in the North West, I’ve spent many weekends enjoying quaint holidays in Cumbrian villages, so I was excited to visit the region again for a more urbanised trip as my partner and I set our sights on Barrow-In-Furness.

We started off in the height of luxury, arriving at our hotel Abbey House, we were immediately impressed by the Grade II listed building’s grand outward appearance, which was only reinforced by its interior.

A four star hotel set in 14 acres of gardens, we stayed in the Contempo suite, and with a two night stay with breakfast costing £220, it was definitely worth the price, although you could stay there for as cheap as £70 a night.

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Our room had stunning panoramic windows overlooking the fields around us, as well as a king size bed with an inbuilt plasma screen tv, ample sofas, a cosy bath, and plenty of refreshments and toiletries to ensure a comfortable stay.

For our trip to Barrow, we stayed in the Abbey House Hotel, and we could see why it was the top rated hotel in the area.

That evening, we enjoyed a meal at the hotel’s restaurant Oscar’s, which had the setting and food quality of a high end establishment, but with a more relaxed atmosphere.

I went for the smoked salmon and beetroot starter which felt exceptionally elegant, the lamb shoulder which fell apart gloriously (although there was a lack of gravy for my liking), and the caramel pineapple dessert - a refreshing end to a rich meal.

My vegetarian partner went for the parsnip soup which he claimed was the tastiest he’d had, the vegan burger which had plenty of buck for its £14 price, and the sticky toffee pudding- the best we’d both ever tasted.

After a good night's sleep, we ventured downstairs for breakfast, which included a generous cold buffet and an extensive hot food menu- I opted for the full english on Saturday, and eggs royale on Sunday, with both being delicious.

Food at Abbey House: our three course evening meal with a cheese platter was £71 (minus drinks), whilst breakfast was inclusive of the room rate, and afternoon tea cost £18.95 per head.

Afterwards, we took a visit to the world renowned South Walney Nature Reserve, run by the Cumbria Wildlife Trust, a perfect chance to walk off our large breakfast in the bracing Cumbrian wind.

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Situated at the far end of Walney Island, it is impossible to get to by public transport or foot, but worth it if you are into your walking, wildlife, or merely fancy some stunning views of the Cumbrian coast.

Although we didn’t have time to see their famed grey seal colony, we had a pleasant time taking in the views, cattle and birds that we did spot, and the volunteers were kind and helpful with their advice, knowledge and storytelling.

We then visited the free Dock Museum back in Barrow town centre and enjoyed a leisurely hour finding out about the town’s past, from its significance during the industrial revolution, to its social history, and even its prehistoric background.

At South Walney Nature Reserve, visitors can stroll amongst sheep and other wild life, although the seals are not to be disturbed
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The Dock Museum was uniquely set within the old dock itself, which was fun to see, whilst other highlights included the fact the museum is home to the oldest northerner on record, and that the cafe had some extremely delicious cakes!

Our final activity stop for the day was the 12th century Furness Abbey, which is the oldest building in Barrow, and costs only £6.90 for the public, or is free for English Heritage members.

Inside the information centre, you can learn all about the Abbey’s history from displays or the knowledgeable staff, and see some impressive ancient finds, including the first crozier to be excavated in Britain in over 50 years, found under the abbey in 2012.

We were both very impressed by the ruins’ size, and the hour spent there was a fairly unique experience, in fact I was ashamed I’d never heard of it before once I’d taken in its majesty.

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The Dock Museum featured a raft of interesting historical displays, as well as Wind In The Willows art exhibition on its lower floor. Image: Harry Atkinson.

After a busy day we were looking forward to afternoon tea back at Abbey House, and whilst the food was tasty and good value for money (from £18.95 per head), we were disappointed by the service, having not been informed of what we were eating, nor asked for drinks, and it took three staff members to get some tap water.

Nevertheless we enjoyed a fun night in Barrow afterwards, where we were happily surprised at our £3 pints in a sports bar, before we visited the Townhouse 211 for food.

The town centre restaurant and bar had a strong party atmosphere, but we found the food to be excellent (I went for the seabass), and could stand quite proud alongside the higher end Abbey House.

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On our final day, we visited South Lakes Safari Zoo in nearby Dalton-In-Furness and it truly was a case of saving the best for last.

We were booked on to the rhino experience first thing, which was amazing, I’d never had such close contact with a wild animal, and the keeper’s knowledge and passion was impressive.

The close encounters continued as we walked around the zoo as many of the animals could roam easily, plus we paid for hand feedings of lemurs, otters, jaguars, penguins and giraffes- which I would highly recommend.

The 12th century Furness Abbey is a must-see for anyone visiting Barrow.
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Living close to Chester Zoo, it was hard not to compare the two, and although South Lakes Safari Zoo had a smaller selection of ‘inmates’, it was more intimate and immersive, the day was more leisurely, and overall it felt less commercialised. I would definitely recommend a trip to Barrow if only for the zoo alone, especially if you have little ones.

Finally, we ended our visit with some tasty chippy chips on a park bench before catching our train and dare I say the finale sums up the trip- Barrow is a cheap and cheerful weekend away. However with plenty of historical, luxurious and cultural venues on offer, you can enhance your stay in a way to suit any guest and any budget- there truly was something for everyone.

For more inspiration for things to do in Barron-In-Furness visit

You can enhance your day at South Lakes Safari Park by paying for numerous animal feeds and keeper experiences.