11 cool winter day trips from London
London isn’t the only place lit up with shimmering LEDs at this time of year. Swap Oxford Street’s baubles for a magical winter garden in West Sussex. Wakehurst – Kew’s bigger, rural sister site – is all aglow this November and December thanks to hundreds of otherworldly lanterns adorning its trees, water features and forest floor. Expect owls glowing in ancient oak trees, strings of astral shapes, kaleidoscopic blooms and ponds filled with flickering flames. The mellow hues make for a mega afternoon out. Plus you get to enjoy the botanical beauty of Kew Gardens without setting foot on the District line.
Glow Wild 2018 at Wakehurst. Ardingly, West Sussex. Until Dec 16. £14.
Get there: 43 minutes by train from London Bridge to Haywards Heath, then bus; around one hour 30 minutes by car.
Warming your toes by a proper fire is one of the best things to do in the chillier months, and nowhere does roaring blazes better than a country pub. Spend an afternoon hopping from one cosy boozer to another along Rye’s cobbled streets. Grab a log-side seat and a Sussex real ale in The George (High Street) before heading to the Globe Inn Marsh (Military Road) for a toasty hour or two with a warming glass of red in hand. As the temperature plummets, trot back into town and pull up a chair beside the ancient Mermaid Inn’s enormous fireplace (Mermaid Street). Fun fact: it comes complete with priest’s hole (no sniggering, please) and is where local smugglers used to hang out in the 1700s.
Rye, East Sussex.
Get there: one hour eight minutes by train from London St Pancras International; around two hours 30 minutes by car.
Like a marathon runner building up to a race, prepare your body for the festive influx of food with a trip to Chapel Down in the Kent countryside. Visit the vineyards and tour the winery to whet your appetite, before settling down for a tutored wine tasting. Each glass of vino will be paired with an English cheese – we’re talking hard, full-flavoured rounds and seriously strong blue stuff with grapes and crackers. Chuck on your stretchiest trousers and you’ll be in great shape come December 25.
Chapel Down Cheese and Wine Experience. Tenterden, Kent. Various dates. £50.
Get there: 55 minutes by train from London Bridge to Headcorn then taxi; around one hour 45 minutes by car.
Stripping down to your swimmers might not seem like an obvious wintertime activity, but Thames Lido is a real delight, whatever the season. Brave the chill in the air to spend a softly lit evening in this whimsical, Grade II-listed stunner. The pool, heated to around 23 degrees, might feel a little fresh, but you’ll soon warm up after a turn in the open-air hot tub and colourful sauna. Your post-swim reward is a festive two-course dinner in the twinkly poolside restaurant. Who said lidos are just for summer?
Swim & Dine at Thames Lido. Reading, Berkskire. £45.
Get there: 25 minutes by train from London Paddington to Reading; around one hour 15 minutes by car.
Teeming with half-timbered medieval halls, cute cottages and pastel-painted shopfronts, the teeny, time-warp village of Lavenham is lovely-looking at any time of the year. It’s even dreamier during the Christmas fair which runs for three days in early December. Wrap up warm and set off after dark to explore the stalls, funfair rides and late-night shopping in the Market Square. By the time you’re sipping mulled wine and listening to carol singers, Lavenham will have charmed your thermal socks off.
Lavenham Christmas Fair. Lavenham, Suffolk. Dec 7-9. Free entry.
Get there: one hour 20 minutes by train from London Liverpool St to Sudbury then bus; around one hour 45 minutes by car.
John Lewis’s rooftop rink not ringing your Christmas bell? Swap London’s sky-high urban rinks for a trad slab of ice in the shadow of an ancient cathedral. Historic Winchester’s Cathedral Close, uplit in technicolour, is the setting for a festive celebration that attracts thousands of skaters each winter. If you’re a bit like Bambi on ice, swerve the slipping hazard and wander around the seasonal market chalets or pop into a rousing Christmas carol concert instead.
Winchester Cathedral Ice Rink. Winchester, Hampshire. Until Jan 2 2019. £11.
Get there: one hour by train from London Waterloo; around one hour 40 minutes by car.
More comfortable on wheels than blades? Head to the seaside for a spot of festive roller skating to a soundtrack of Christmas bangers. Margate’s retro theme park Dreamland has been given a wintery makeover for the colder months, featuring a festive roller rink, a woodland lodge for craft workshops, seasonal film screenings and a walk-in snow globe. Round things off with a blustery walk on the seafront and a mug of something steaming, and you’ll feel as festive as Rudolph (all that fresh air should help provide the red nose too).
Festive Roller Rink at Dreamland. Margate, Kent. Select dates Dec 1-24. £4.
Get there: one hour 25 minutes by train from London St Pancras International; around one hour 50 minutes by car.
Watching the light fade out of your office window hours before you leave for the day can make even the cheeriest of us feel a bit down. Rather than hibernating till March, channel your inner pagan and embrace the longer nights. The night of Friday December 21 – aka winter solstice – is as long and dark as it gets, and Brighton is marking it by getting lit. The annual Burning the Clocks parade sees the city taken over by brilliant lanterns which snake around the streets before being passed on to a huge midwinter bonfire on the beach. Summer, we’re so over you.
Burning the Clocks. Dec 21. Brighton, West Sussex. Free for spectators.
Get there: one hour by train from London Victoria; around two hour 20 minutes by car.
Everyone loves a bit of seasonal theatre. (Oh yes they do!) But if you’re bored of bellowing ‘he’s behind you!’ at the stage, upgrade your theatrics with a trip to the Bard’s home town. With age-old streets, traditional tea rooms and snug shops, Stratford-upon-Avon is an ideal spot to spend a winter weekend. Explore the well-preserved buildings whose walls can tell the story of Will’s life and death before visiting the riverside Royal Shakespeare Theatre for a heart-warming performance of ‘A Christmas Carol’. Just try not to shout out when the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future turn up.
‘A Christmas Carol’ at Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire. Dec 4-Jan 20 2019. From £16.
Get there: two hours ten minutes by train from London Marylebone; around two hours 30 minutes by car.
With gothic towers, ruined abbeys and crystal caves, Painshill Park has got way more going on than a bit of shrubbery. This winter the Grade I-listed, eighteenth-century landscape is being souped up with twinkling bulbs and piercing laser beams which will make the already ethereal grottos glow in the darkness. Once you’ve had your fill of fairy lights, listen to live music, toast marshmallows and sip hot gingerbread gin. Just be prepared for the sparkly garden to make your wonky Christmas tree look pretty lame by comparison.
Festive Illuminations at Painshill Park. Cobham, Surrey. Until Dec 23. £14.50-£18.50.
Get there: 28 minutes by train from London Waterloo to Esher then bus; around one hour by car.
When the crowds in central London get too much, ditch Zone 1 for a field in the middle of nowhere. For a day of wintery repose, head to the Cotswolds and stride across some frosty fields. The village of Broadway, with its honey-coloured cottages, sweet shopfronts and rustic pubs, is an excellent place to start. Earn a pub lunch by strolling up to the grand turrets of Broadway Tower and admiring the view or, if you’re feeling energetic, hike part of the bucolic Cotswolds Way from Broadway to pretty market town Chipping Campden. Last one to the pub gets the first round in, yeah?
Get there: one hour 35 minutes by train from London Paddington to Moreton-in-Marsh then bus to Broadway; around two hours by car.
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