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
Cotswolds town in winter
Photograph: Magdanatka/Shutterstock.com
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: The best day trips from London

Great weekend getaways from London

1

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.

Get there one hour by train from London Waterloo; one hour 45 minutes by car.

2

North Norfolk

With its vast skies and meandering waterways, North Norfolk has an eerie beauty all of its own. Start off with a visit to see the seals at Blakeney Point (the pups arrive in the winter), then head to Cromer, where you can tuck into the famous crab at The Jetty, stroll down the pier and stock up on local preserves at the farm shop. Make time to chuff along the North Norfolk Railway from Sheringham to Holt, and see if you can book a tour of Voewood House, an arts-and-crafts masterpiece. After all that fresh air, bed down at The Chequers Inn in Thornham, a gastropub with luxe rooms in a building that dates back to 1499. Or for a splurge, head inland to The Gunton Arms, a plush inn set in a deer park with a magnificently meaty menu.

Get there: three hours 30 minutes by train from London Liverpool Street to Cromer, with changes; around three hours by car.

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3

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.

Get there one hour 30 minutes by train from London Paddington to Moreton-in-Marsh; around two hours 30 minutes by car.

4

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.

Get there one hour and 38 minutes by train from London Paddington or if you’re watching your wallet National Express coaches run from Victoria for just £6 one way; around 2 hours 30 minutes by car. 

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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.

Get there one hour by train from London Paddington; one hour 30 minutses by car. 

6

The Yorkshire Dales

It’s probably the UK’s most famous national park, and for good reason – the Dales has staggering good looks and drama in spades. A weekend gives you plenty of time to roam the vast Bolton Abbey Estate near Skipton and be wowed by the Ribblehead viaduct and the natural amphitheatre of Malham Cove (see if you can spot the pair of resident falcons). The Dales are heaven if you live to stuff yourself silly – it’s well worth touring the Wensleydale Creamery, home of the famous cheese, and nosing around Theakston’s brewery. Speaking of pints, The Black Bull near Sedbergh is in a class of its own, with a fantastic, modern kitchen. Stay there, or nearby at The Malabar, an award-winning B&B that started life as a dairy – think Roberts radios in every room, fluffy towels and free afternoon tea when you check in.

Get there: two hours 15 minutes by train from London King’s Cross to Leeds; around three hours 30 minutes by car.

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7

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.

Get there One hour and 20 minutes by plane; four hours 20 minutes by train from London King’s Cross; around eight hours by car.

8

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.

Get there two hours by train from London Euston; around four hours 30 minutes by car. 

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9
Nigel Jarvis/Shutterstock.com

Frome

There’s a reason Britpop’s top tier (Pearl Lowe and Danny Goffey, Brett Anderson) and Nicolas Cage (yes, really) have swapped London for Somerset. Within a welly’s-throw of Glastonbury, it’s gorgeous and peaceful but still has a bit of an edge. Make Frome, a Georgian beauty a with loads of cool stuff on its doorstep, your base: go vintage shopping in Bruton, leaf-peep in Stourhead’s majestic gardens and hike up Cley Hill as the sun sets (it's a UFO hotspot). Back in the cobbled streets you can tuck into galettes at Bistro Lotte, pair craft beers with an artisan cheese board at Palmer Street Bottle and book a Scandi-inspired Sunday lunch at Fat Radish. Stay at The Merchant’s House, a Grade II*-listed B&B in the centre of town – breakfast by the Aga makes for a delicious start to the day.

Get there: two hours by train from London Paddington; two hours 30 minutes by car.

10

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.

Get there two hours and 38 minutes by train from London Euston to Oxenholme; around five hours by car. 

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