13 of the best breakfasts in the UK

This article was produced by National Geographic Traveller (UK).

The UK’s most famous breakfast is undoubtedly the fry-up, but what it involves depends a lot on where you have it, with the core quartet of eggs, bacon, sausages and black pudding served up alongside numerous regional additions: fried bread or bubble and squeak in England; square sausage, tattie scones and white pudding or haggis in Scotland; cockles and laverbread and a fried slice in Wales; and potato and soda breads in Northern Ireland. But this, of course, isn’t the whole story, and from Turkish eggs to French toast, there’s never been a bigger choice for those heading out for breakfast. Here’s our pick of the best ways to start your day.

1. Fjarå, Lerwick

Shetland star Alison O’Donnell says she left a bit of her heart in this cafe overlooking Bressay Sound — and at breakfast time, it’s easy to see why. The islands’ distance from mainland Scotland is reflected on the plate; rather than the usual Lorne sausage, the local fry features sassermaet, a juicy beef patty that’s one of the few British products to feature in Slow Food’s Ark of Taste collection of culturally important foodstuffs. Small breakfast, £8.75. 

Hog’s pudding, a boldly spiced white pudding, is a West Country speciality that’s rarely seen these days, so it’s worth ordering if you do find it on the menu. And you won’t find it done much better than at award-winning Cornish chef Jeffrey Robinson’s new venture a short ferry ride from Falmouth, where it shares the plate with Cornish new potatoes and homemade sourdough toast as well as the usual sausage, eggs and bacon. Full Cornish, £12.

boats on the water featuring parked car

The harbour views at the Harbour House in Falmouth only add to the charm.

Photograph by Alex Brier

overhead shot of colourful Muesli, compote, kefir

The breakfast menu at the Harbour House features lighter dishes such as muesli with compote and kefir, too.

Photograph by Nik Read

Climbing up Calton Hill should be good preparation for a breakfast tray so crowded with delicious things that it’s hard to know where to begin — though traditionalists should be warned that this elegant space, from the team behind the feted Gardener’s Cottage, is a tattie scone-free zone. Instead, expect cured meat, smoked salmon, cheese, Edinburgh honey, sourdough and boiled eggs, all enjoyed while admiring what’s almost certainly the best view in the city. Continental tray, £16.

An Ulster fry is distinguished from the cooked breakfasts of Great Britain by its joyfully free hand with the carbohydrates — not only should it involve both potato bread and buttermilk soda farls, (preferably cooked in bacon fat) but, more often than not, it’s served with toast on the side, too, or, if you’re in Belfast’s St George’s Market, sandwiched between two hefty slices of Belfast bap. The crusty roll is a local institution — see how much you can fit inside. Belfast breakfast bap from £4.

Hummus eggs, the perennially popular signature dish at this hip Gosforth cafe, is a mash up of British and Middle Eastern breakfast traditions. The hummus, which is made in-house every morning, is paired with poached eggs, confit tomatoes, chilli and crispy shallots, all balanced on a chunky slice of sourdough — proof that almost everything’s better on toast. Go all out by adding rashers of bacon, avocado or crumbled feta. Hummus eggs, £9.

One of the beauties of the traditional cooked breakfast is its ability to absorb other traditions — in this case, desi chana, a tamarind-laced chickpea curry, in place of baked beans, and fried Polish potato bread standing in for standard white sliced, alongside local sausages, bacon, mushrooms and eggs. But if you want to keep things simple, check out the bacon baps, which Jay Rayner described as ‘the size of a side plate’. The Leeds breakfast, £13.

There’s no denying that this 21st-century recreation of a classic greasy spoon in Tufnell Park does a cracking fry up, but some mornings demand more simple comforts, like their rather superior beans on toast. Chef Elliott Kaye caused something of a tabloid storm when he prepared it on Channel Four’s Sunday Kitchen last year, though really there’s little to argue about when it comes to thick-cut white toast topped with homemade beans and melted red Leicester cheese. Beans on toast, £5.

overhead shot of beans on toast

Beans on toast is a signature dish at Norman’s Cafe, a modern version of a traditional greasy spoon.

Photograph by Norman’s Cafe

You’ll find a huge range of pastries and morning buns on the counter at this handsome bakery and cafe in the Northern Irish seaside town of Ballycastle, but as the 20-25 available daily change with the season, it’s safest to recommend their slow-fermented croissants made with Irish spelt and Scottish butter – always there, and always a sound choice. Don’t miss their bread either, which has been described as some of the best sourdough in Ireland. Croissant, £2.70.

Though this much-loved Cambridge institution serves arguably the finest full English in the Fens, it’s best known for its ridiculously sticky Chelsea buns, which regularly sell out by mid-afternoon, much to the disappointment of the inevitable queue. Beat the rush by having them for breakfast instead, where they’re fried and served with a choice of crispy bacon and spiced bun syrup or whipped Greek yoghurt and berries. And maybe take one away for later, too. Chelsea bun French toast, £11.50.

street view of restaurant entrance, featuring cyclists

Fitzbillies on Trumpington Street in Cambridge is a must-visit breakfast spot.

Photograph by Fitzbillies Restaurant

10. Crwst, Cardigan 

Changing tastes mean that sweet, minerally cockles and iodine-rich stewed seaweed have largely disappeared from the Welsh breakfast menu. Perhaps mindful of the fact they’re not to everyone’s taste first thing, Crwst offers them as an optional extra on a proudly all-Welsh fry up that also includes homemade baked beans and bread. Frankly, however, the creamy, crunchy gratin could quite happily stand alone, as it often does at lunch. Full Welsh brekkie with cockle and laverbread gratin, £15.

‘Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dine like a pauper’ is the ethos at this Pakistani restaurant (until it comes to dinnertime anyway), which offers a weekend brunch menu of puffy deep-fried poori breads with chana masala and aloo ki takari (curried chickpeas and potatoes) and syrupy semolina halwa. Bigger appetites can add eggs, lamb, chicken or spiced rice pudding on the side, but a cup of karak chai is a must. Halwa poori, £6.95.

If you think it’s difficult to improve upon a simple plate of eggs on toast, you probably haven’t tried the Turkish-inspired version at sustainably minded Cardiff coffee specialists KIN+ILK, where the eggs sit on a snowy bed of rich, garlicky yoghurt drenched in molten chilli butter. A generous helping of chewy local sourdough is served on the side for dipping. Crispy bacon is a popular addition, but really, there’s no need to gild the lily. Turkish eggs, £7.90.

You don’t need to be vegan to appreciate the charms of a plant-based feast free of the usual ultra-processed suspects. Instead, the plate is crammed with good things: cauliflower pakora with a creamy tahini sauce and fiery gunpowder spice, and roast potatoes with their own cashew cheese plus sautéed mushrooms, grilled peppers and tomatoes, locally sourced greens, homemade British beans and a slice of sourdough porridge toast. And some say vegetables don’t fill you up. Vegan breakfast, £13.

To subscribe to National Geographic Traveller (UK) magazine click here. (Available in select countries only).