Sometimes life in the capital can feel a bit overwhelming, even for the most dedicated Londoners. Whether you’re longing for a sea view, a forest escape or a historical adventure, make the most of your weekends with one of these joy-inducing day trips. “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of […]
Sometimes life in the capital can feel a bit overwhelming, even for the most dedicated Londoners. Whether you’re longing for a sea view, a forest escape or a historical adventure, make the most of your weekends with one of these joy-inducing day trips.
“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” So said Samuel Johnson, an iconic figure of 18th-century English life. While we happen to agree with Mr Johnson, sometimes life in the capital can feel a bit overwhelming, even for the most dedicated Londoners. Luckily, London’s central location means it’s easy to get a break from the hustle and bustle without breaking your budget or using up half your holiday days.
Whether you’re longing for a sea view, a forest escape or a historical adventure, make the most of your weekends with one of these easy and joy-inducing day trips.
What it’s good for: People watching, beautiful architecture and riverside ambles. Head to Oxford to nose around the prestigious university, stroll through cobbled streets and spot the backdrops to countless films and TV shows.
How to get there: The Oxford Tube coach service takes 1 hour 30 minutes and runs until 3am; trains also run from Paddington and Marylebone stations and take 1 hour.
What to do: It’s difficult to find an unattractive corner in Oxford. From Mediaeval buildings to Palladian domes, the architecture is truly awe-inspiring. Start by getting a coffee from The Missing Bean on Turl Street, before heading to Radcliffe Square to see the Radcliffe Camera and climb the Church of St Mary The Virgin for a view of the city. If you’re peckish, stop in at the Vaults & Garden Café for afternoon tea. Nearby you’ll find the Divinity School and Bridge of Sighs (which links two parts of Hertford College), other famous Oxford sites.
Harry Potter fans will be keen to visit Christ Church College, home to the dining hall which is thought to have inspired Hogwarts’ Great Hall, as well as the staircase used in the first film. Tickets aren’t cheap, though, so if you’re less bothered about getting the specific experience check out colleges like Balliol or Magdalen, which offer the same flavour at a slightly lower price.
For more culture, the Pitt Rivers Museum is full of fascinating artefacts from across the world, while the Ashmolean has everything from Egyptian mummies to modern art.
Oxford is packed with local businesses, including a number of great cafés and bars. Try the Covered Market for a slice of old city life or head to Jericho in North Oxford for a cocktail at Raoul’s or Freud’s. If it’s sunny, grab a takeaway sandwich and head to Port Meadow, Christ Church Meadow or University Parks for a picnic, or hire a boat and go punting (a quintessentially Oxfordian activity).
Finally, don’t miss a trip to one of Oxford’s best pubs: the Turf Tavern is hidden down an alleyway and is always packed with students, the historic Bear Inn is always worth a visit and The Trout Inn has beautiful views of the Thames and can be reached via a gentle riverside walk.
The New Forest
What it’s good for: Woodland walks, pub lunches and pony spotting. Created as William the Conqueror’s hunting ground, the New Forest is one of the UK’s biggest and best-loved national parks, stretching from the Solent to Salisbury.
How to get there: Take the train from London Waterloo to any of the New Forest’s many train stations (the journey takes 90 minutes, on average). If you want to be able to explore further afield, hire a car for the day.
What to do: The New Forest is vast so you won’t be able to cover all of it in a single day. It’s best to pick an area or two to explore, so that you don’t overload yourself.
If you head to Beaulieu — a typical quaint English village — you can’t miss Palace House. Dating back to the 13th Century, this manor house was originally the gatehouse to Beaulieu Abbey and now houses the British National Motor Museum (perfect for petrolheads).
Get your walking boots on and explore one of the trails between Beaulieu and Brockenhurst, winding through moorland and forest. If you want to travel further in less time, hire a bike and enjoy an invigorating cycle (try Cyclexperience in Brockenhurst).Keep an eye out for wild ponies — one of the New Forest’s most famous attractions. There are 3,000 of these creatures living around the national park, so you’re bound to spot some!
After all that exercise, you’ll be ready for some refreshment. The Royal Oak in Fritham offers a mean ploughman’s lunch, or treat yourself to home-grown produce at The PIG (which also has gorgeous rooms available, if you’re tempted to stay over). If you’re trekking back to Beaulieu Road station, stop in at The Drift for a pint of real ale before you jump back on the train.
What it’s good for: Independent shops, beautiful architecture and ancient history. Famous for its Roman Baths, the city is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
How to get there: Head to London Paddington for a train to Bath Spa, which takes around 1 hour 40 minutes.
What to do:With honey-coloured Georgian architecture set amongst rolling hills, Bath is one of the UK’s most beautiful cities. If you’ve never visited the city before, you’ll likely want to check out the famous sites including the Roman Baths, Bath Abbey and the Royal Crescent. The Royal Crescent is free (and offers stunning views of the city) but you’ll need to buy a ticket to see inside the abbey and the baths. For the latter, it’s worth booking in advance to guarantee your preferred slot.
While you can’t take a dip in the Roman Baths, you can treat yourself to a spa day at Thermae, the nearby natural thermal spa. Day passes start from about £40 and include access to two pools (including one on the roof!), as well as the steam rooms and saunas.
Literature lovers will love treading the same streets walked by Jane Austen and many of her characters. The Jane Austen Centre attracts thousands of visitors a year or, for a similar snapshot into the Regency era, visit the town house museum at No 1. Royal Crescent, where you can experience a day in the life of a fashionable family in Georgian Bath. There’s still a thriving literary culture in the city: stock up your bookshelf at Topping & Company, which has over 55,000 titles, and browse Persephone Books, which publishes forgotten women writers from the interwar period.
If all that walking leaves you hungry, grab a delicious cardamom bun at Landrace Bakery, fuel up on modern British fare at the Beckford Canteen, or stop in at one of Bath’s many old pubs.
What it’s good for: Oysters, beach walks and a blast of salty sea air. This little town on the north Kent coast is filled with places to eat, drink and shop.
How to get there: Hop on the train from St Pancras, which takes about an hour and fifteen minutes.
What to do: Unsurprisingly, a day in Whitstable is all about seafood. Pick up a pot of cockles and whelks from the quayside, or head to Wheelers Oyster Bar or The Forge for the freshest oysters you’ve ever tasted and eat them sitting on the pebbly peach (just remember that native oysters should only be eaten when there’s an R in the month).
If you’re craving a classic fish and chips, head to the legendary V.C. Jones. For something really special (and if you’re organised), book ahead to snag a table at The Sportsman in Seasalter for pub vibes with sublime cooking.
Once you’ve satisfied your appetite, go for a wander around the working harbour and watch the fisherman’s boats coming and going. There are also plenty of shops to browse, selling artwork, local produce and other gifts. You can even book a sightseeing boat trip to see one of Whitstables’ famous sea forts. The beach is long and wide, lending itself to a leisurely stroll — just make sure you check Whitstable’s tide times before you go.
Ready for a drink? The Old Neptune is located right on the beach, offering local ales with a sea view. For something a little fancier, the Twelve Taps on the high street sells craft beer and delicious cocktails.
Hampton Court Palace
What it’s good for: Feeling like you’ve travelled back in time — historic Hampton Court Palace was the home of infamous monarch Henry VIII and has provided the backdrop for TV series including The Tudors and Bridgerton.
How to get there: Located just outside London, Hampton Court Palace is easily accessible by train from Waterloo Station, plus a five minute walk at the other end. You can also get one of a number of buses from the city that stop right by the palace.
What to do: While tickets are usually available on the door, it’s best to book in advance to make sure you get the best price and aren’t disappointed by any surprise closures. The palace and its grounds are pretty sprawling so make sure you get there fairly early so that you have plenty of time to see everything and get value for money.
Start by exploring the palace itself. You can grab an audio guide just past the main entrance to help you get up to scratch on the history or can even join a tour led by one of the palace’s guides, dressed in full Tudor costume for the full immersive experience. Don’t be embarrassed to shower them with questions! Check out sights like William III’s apartment, the Haunted Gallery (where the ghost of Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife, is rumoured to linger) and the authentic Tudor kitchens.
Then head out into the grounds, which include 60 acres of spectacular formal gardens and 750 acres (304 hectares) of parkland, all set within a loop of the Thames. As well as a wide variety of wildlife and rare plant variations, you can get competitive in the world’s oldest puzzle maze. Just remember to wear comfortable shoes and pack a raincoat just in case — this is Britain, after all.
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