The best weekend breaks from London

Need to flee the city? Here’s where to spend the weekend in the UK and still be back in London for work on Monday
By Emma Hughes |
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Maybe you’re saving your holiday allowance or watching the pennies – or maybe you just want to get to know the rest of the country a bit better before you next hop on a plane. Whatever the reason, whether you’re into food, music, history or sightseeing, good old Blighty has you covered.

From quiet rural retreats to city living, here’s our pick of weekend breaks and getaways within easy reach of London – no passport required.

RECOMMENDED: Amazing day trips from London

Great weekend getaways from London

1

Bristol

The West Country’s undisputed foodie capital, Bristol’s got it all. From cheesecake at Hart’s Bakery to modern British plates in a shipping container at Box-E, you could easily spend 48 hours here doing nothing but eating. And then there are the sourdough toasties with a side of Gallic charm at Bar Buvette and Poco’s internationally influenced tapas (don’t miss the merguez with buttered kale at brunch). Make time to visit the Clifton Suspension Bridge, the gorgeously restored lido and Stokes Croft’s street art – and don’t forget to sip some legendary Exhibition cider in The Coronation Tap (it’s so strong it only comes in halves). Bed down in former merchant’s house Number Thirty Eight, or at the utterly lush Bristol Harbour Hotel.

How far? 118 miles.

Get there by train from London Paddington in an hour and 38 minutes. Or if you’re watching your wallet National Express coaches run from Victoria for just £6 one way.

2

Edinburgh

The Fringe in August is of course when the city comes into its own, but Edinburgh’s brimming with things to do and see during the other 11 months of the year. Climbing Arthur’s Seat is obligatory, as is trekking to Edinburgh Castle – then an evening picnic on the Meadows before hitting the dancefloor at small but legendary venue Sneaky Pete’s. Come bedtime, Rabble has gorgeous mid-century ‘rough-luxe’ rooms in the heart of the New Town, with a top-notch restaurant downstairs. While we’re on the subject of food: if you can’t get a table at Norn (Scott Smith’s acclaimed eatery in Leith), pop-up-turned-bricks-and-mortar-venture Ting Thai Caravan is well worth a visit to feast on street food to a soundtrack of, say, The Stooges. Still got itchy feet? Glasgow’s less than an hour away by train.

How far? 395 miles.

Get there by plane – it takes an hour and 20 minutes from London.

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3

Manchester

Whether you’re comparing craft brews in the Port Street Beer House, crate-digging in Piccadilly Records or dancing your socks off on Canal Street, it’s impossible not to get caught up in Manchester’s civic pride. Make former warehouse district the Northern Quarter your base – it’s home to the city’s best coffee (hello, Takk), and both The Cow Hollow Hotel and The Abel Heywood have style in spades. Soak up culture at The Lowry, The Whitworth Art Gallery and the Royal Exchange, refuel on Curry Mile or in the new Mackie Mayor food hall, then party like you never have to go to work again at The Warehouse Project, now back on Store Street underneath Piccadilly Station.

How far? 200 miles.

Get there by train – it takes just over two hours from Euston, with services every 20 minutes.

4

The Lake District

If you don’t feel like you’ve had a weekend away unless you come home with mucky boots and a sunburned nose, this one’s for you. More than 900 square miles of wilderness dotted with chocolate-box villages, the Lake District is wild and wonderful all year round. If the sun’s out, fuel up on Kendal Mint Cake and climb Scafell Pike – it’s England’s highest peak, but not too tricky if you don’t mind a long walk. Less strenuously, you can take a Steamer across Ullswater, visit The World of Beatrix Potter and stock up on toothsome treats in the Grasmere Gingerbread Shop – its world-famous wares are made to a 160-year-old recipe. Gilpin Hotel & Lake House is the last word in luxury, complete with a back-to-nature spa, or sleep under the stars at one of Buttermere’s picturesque campsites.

How far? 260 miles.

Get there by train – there’s a fast one from Euston to Oxenholme that takes just two hours and 38 minutes.

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5

Oxford

Those dreamy spires are just the start of Oxford’s charms. As well as being an ancient university city with history in every brick, it’s a young, thriving cultural hub with plenty of great places to eat and drink (Raoul’s Bar and Liquor Store in Jericho is where it’s at). Tick off the Ashmolean and the Pitt Rivers Museum, then wander through Port Meadow and the University Parks, stopping off for burgers at The Rickety Press. Shop till you drop in the Covered Market, make like Inspector Morse with a pint of Wychwood Hobgoblin at The White Horse on Broad Street (one of the show’s filming locations), then turn in at boutique B&B The Glove House in Woodstock – or bunk up in the Artist Residence, a sweetly chic pub with rooms just outside the city.

How far? 56 miles.

Get there by car – it’s an easy 90 minute drive through the Chilterns (as long as you avoid the M40 during rush hour).

6

Winchester

It’s always had the looks, but Winchester never used to have that much in the way of personality. Suddenly, though, this handsome cathedral city has become Hampshire’s coolest corner. The food’s fantastic, for starters: you can breakfast on cruffins at Hoxton Bakehouse, settle in for craft brews and tacos at Overdraft, then tuck into a chilli beef burrito pie while flipping through a vintage comic at Piecaramba. Winchester’s the perfect base to explore the rest of Hampshire from, too: nose around Jane Austen’s house in Chawton and join a tour at Hambledon, the UK’s oldest vineyard. Accommodation-wise, you’ll get the VIP treatment at Hotel du Vin – or try gorgeous boutique B&B Hannah’s.

How far? 68 miles.

Get there by car – if you swerve the M3 it’s a beautiful drive.

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7

The Cotswolds

Think of the English countryside and chances are you think of the Cotswolds: 750-odd ridiculously green and pleasant square miles straddling Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Somerset, Warwickshire, Wiltshire and Worcestershire. Each county has its own unique charm, but for a textbook weekend stick to Gloucestershire, land of Jilly Cooper, honey-coloured stone cottages and retired rock stars. Immerse yourself in nature: go leaf-peeping at Westonbirt Arboretum, take a clay pigeon-shooting lesson at the Cotswold Clay Club and coo over grazing cattle as you drive into Minchinhampton. Push the boat out with a stay at The Wild Rabbit in Kingham – a Pinterest board come to life – and don’t miss The Wheatsheaf Inn’s superlative Sunday roast.

How far? 95 miles to Cirencester.

Get there by car, so you can explore at your leisure. The drive from London takes between two and three hours, depending on your route and the traffic.

8

Norwich

It may be the home of notable dimwit Alan Partridge, but Norwich is as brainy as they come. There’s the University of East Anglia, whose world-famous Creative Writing MA has turned out the likes of Kazuo Ishiguro, Anne Enright and Ian McEwan, independent booksellers galore and a thriving contemporary arts scene. Of course, a weekend here doesn’t have to be totally cerebral: after a morning making thoughtful noises at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, hit the shops – don’t miss the super-cool retro furniture at Stubenhocker. The Bicycle Shop does great veggie-friendly plates with a side of live music, and Delice on Castle Meadow scoops house-made ice cream. Accommodation-wise, Gothic House has good-value, Grade II-listed rooms right in the city centre. Back of the net!

How far? 118 miles.

Get there by train – it’s an hour and 49 minutes from Liverpool Street.

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9

Padstow

This pretty-as-a-picture port really is the cream of Cornish. It’s synonymous with everyone’s favourite seafood chef, Rick Stein – get to his fish-and-chip shop early to beat the queue, then mosey around the independent galleries and boutiques, before taking the Black Tor Ferry over the water to Rock for a pint at The Mariners, now co-run by chef Nathan Outlaw and local Sharp’s Brewery. Hire bikes and cycle the 18-mile, clifftop Camel Trail to Bodmin, sign up for a lesson at Waves Surf School, or just take a kite for a spin on the beach. All that sea air means you’ll sleep like a log – book one of Georgian townhouse St Petroc’s cool, contemporary rooms, or a luxe tipi at Cornish Tipi Holidays if you have a car.

How far? 281 miles.

Get there by train – catch the Bodmin Parkway train from Paddington (three hours and 43 minutes), then hire a car or get a taxi.

10

York

Get thee to a nunnery! York is full of living history – where else could you sleep in an actual convent? The Bar Convent is England’s oldest working one, dating from 1686, and it doubles as a guesthouse. Rooms are surprisingly stylish – some have been designed by hotelier Olga Polizzi – and as you’d expect it’s a tranquil place to lay your head. (For something a little more secular, Hotel Indigo on buzzy Walmgate ticks all the boxes.) So much of the city offers the possibility of time travel, from the Jorvik Viking Centre to the Shambles, a perfectly preserved street full of 14th-century buildings. Leaping forwards to the present day, there’s thought-provoking, globe-trotting cooking at Skosh – or, for something a little more traditional, sit down to scones and dinky cakes at Bettys, where you’ll eat in a stately tearoom inspired by an ocean liner. Speaking of which, a sunset cruise down the Ouse is a must.

How far? 211 miles.

Get there by train – the direct service from King’s Cross takes an hour and 47 minutes.

More inspiration for escaping the city

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