The barbecue has been covered and stowed away, the clocks have gone back and the nights are drawing in. It’s that time of year when many people choose to switch the heating up and settle down with casseroles and boxsets for the duration. However, autumn and winter is arguably the ideal time to pack your bags and head off on holiday. Why take all your breaks during the sparse few months when everyone else is clogging up the airports, railway stations and motorways?

By Cara Frost-Sharratt

You don’t have to get on a plane to enjoy a winter break – there’s plenty to do in the UK. How about starting with Chester, the first British city to receive the European Access City Award? It has a great deal to offer disabled visitors and it continues to work towards improving access  and amenities. A handy guide produced by Visit Chester lists parking, shopmobility and facilities, and there’s a detailed map for level and ramp access points to the historic city centre.

Journey a couple of hours north-east of Chester and you’ll arrive in the Yorkshire Moors. Celebrated for rugged beauty and popular with outdoor enthusiasts, it’s a stunning part of the UK that’s worth exploring in the quieter winter months. Companies such as Clapham Adventure, offer tailored holidays for disabled visitors so you can wrap up warm and climb, hike and cycle your way around the Moors. If you generally prefer getting out and about on your holidays, rather than lazing on a sunbed with a cocktail, Disabled Ramblers offer a comprehensive resource for walkers in the UK, including accessibility information, links to accommodation and UK-wide disabled walking and rambling associations.

Winter sun 

For many people, a holiday isn’t a holiday without sunscreen and a pile of trashy novels. With a flight time of just over four hours, a temperature low of 20°C and the same time zone as the UK (including daylight saving), the Canary Islands are ideally suited for a quick burst of winter sunshine. Destinations include Lanzarote, Tenerife, Fuerteventura and Gran Canaria, all of which have a positive approach to access and amenities for their disabled visitors.

Tenerife is a particularly popular vacation hub for disabled travellers and it’s easy to see why. Sinpromi is a dedicated society for the promotion of accessibility in Tenerife. The society has worked with local government to massively improve access to beaches, towns and attractions and its guide offers a full account of levels of accessibility around the whole island.

If you’re willing to travel further afield, Egypt is just an extra hour on the plane. Although nowhere near as geared up for disabled travellers in all areas, it shouldn’t be ruled out, especially if you’re looking for a unique dose of culture on your winter trip. You can cruise along the Nile, explore the pyramids, enjoy luxury hotel accommodation and go diving with relative ease – there are a number of guides and agencies that cater for disabled travellers. If you have specific requirements or fancy a multi-destination holiday, it’s worth working with a specialist tour operator, such as Enable Holidays.

If your idea of holiday heaven is a combination of sun, sea and thrill-seeking, Florida has it all. A fantastic family destination, it also ticks a lot of boxes when it comes to accommodating disabled visitors. From hotels and restaurants to beaches and national parks, accessibility is generally good. However, it’s the theme parks that really excel, with Disney sites that can provide valet parking for disabled guests, wheelchair-accessible transport around the parks, and disability access cards (DAS) for specified ride times.

City breaks 

If you’ve only got a few days holiday but want to cram in as much culture, cuisine and credit-card bashing as possible, a European city break could be just the ticket. From exploring Christmas markets in cities such as Cologne or Zagreb, to sampling fine dining in Paris or Lille, there’s an endless list of options just a few hours flight from the UK. And with Eurostar now travelling to more destinations, it’s easier to travel by train. You can book dedicated wheelchair spaces on all Eurostar trains and you can also purchase a companion ticket at a discounted rate. Platform ramps will be in place at your departure and arrival points and you can request special assistance (48 hours notice is required).

If you’re flying, you can book special assistance through the airline or travel agent at the same time as booking your holiday. However, it’s worth knowing that all UK and European airports have a legal obligation to offer assistance to disabled passengers. So, whether you need help making your way through the airport, or boarding the plane, you’re entitled to receive assistance.

When it comes to choosing a destination for a city break, consider what you want to do, how you’d prefer to get around and the logistics of the city’s infrastructure. It’s worth bearing in mind that many European cities have quaint, ‘old towns’ and, while these are great for photo opportunities, the cobblestone walkways and tight alleys are not especially wheelchair friendly. But that’s not to say they should be avoided. One of the quaintest of them all – Bruges – is actually very accessible, largely thanks to the work undertaken by Visit Flanders. The whole city was scoped to map out the most accessible routes for disabled visitors, while attractions, restaurants and cafes have been given in-depth ratings with everything from entrance steps, hallway width and toilet accessibility noted in a comprehensive city guide for disabled visitors, produced by Visit Bruges.

Another city that gets the thumbs-up from mobility impaired travellers is Berlin. As the proud recipient of the European Commission’s Access City Award in 2013 (the same accolade given to Chester in 2017), Berlin takes accessibility seriously and public transport, attractions and thoroughfares are all largely accessible (bar a few cobbled streets and older buildings with limitations on structural work). Other cities that have upped their accessibility game and are increasingly easy to get around include Amsterdam, Prague and Madrid, while in Paris, most attractions and museums offer free (The Louvre) or reduced admission (Eiffel Tower) for disabled visitors.

Many holiday destinations are embracing the needs of all their guests and visitors. Travel is a competitive sector and increasing quality measures such as accessibility standards are set to continue as organisations pursue an increasingly discerning disability marketplace.