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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 and Ellie Walker-Arnott
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A relaxing and inspiring getaway, without the faff of boarding a plane? We're sold. While we can't vouch for the weather here in old Blighty, we have every faith in our restaurants, museums, shops, stunning scenery and ace hotels.

Not to mention, we've got historical attractions aplenty. When you want to get out of London without any faff, look no further than these gorgeous getaways – from cosy rural retreats to proper city breaks.

That's right – all of those holiday feels, with no passport (or factor 50) required... 

RECOMMENDED: The best day trips from London

Great weekend getaways from London

The Peak District
The Peak District
Photograph: Shutterstock

1. The Peak District

The Lake District’s slightly gentler cousin has loads to recommend it: pretty market towns like Bakewell (home of the tart!), miles of undulating hills and stately Chatsworth, home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. If the weather’s fine you could spend a whole weekend exploring the Peak District National Park on foot or on two wheels (bikes can be found at Blackwell Mill Cycle Hire), stopping off at the likes of the Devonshire Arms at Beeley for real ale and venison pie. After all that yomping about you’ll want a comfy spot to lay your head, and The Peacock at Rowsley, a historic country house near Bakewell, the plush four-poster beds will do the job nicely.

Get there two and a half hours by train from London St Pancras; around three hours by car.

Gower Peninsula
Gower Peninsula
Photograph: Shutterstock

2. The Gower Peninsula

It’s official: this south-westerly chunk of Wales is one of the UK’s best-looking spots (in 1956 it became the first area to be hailed as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty). It’s very close to Swansea but much of its coastline feels pleasingly remote – beaches like pebbly Pwll Du, for instance, are only accessible by foot. Explore ruined Pennard Castle and Three Cliffs Bay, and if the waves are beckoning you sign up for a lesson at Progress Surf School near Llangennith. For a meal to remember, The Beach House at Oxwich Bay has a Michelin star and stunning seafood, while Surfside Cafe on Caswell Bay has been hailed as one of Britain’s best beachfront eateries. Come bedtime, head for award-winning barn conversion Slade Barn, which has beautiful Scandi-style interiors and a surfing beach a five minute walk away.

Get there four hours by car. 

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3. 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.

4. 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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5. 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.

6. 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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7. 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. 

8. 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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9. 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: 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.

10. 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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