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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

Padstow, best weekend breaks
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

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Great weekend getaways from London

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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 wellies-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.

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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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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 Brick Pizza is the place to carb-load. Accommodation-wise, Gothic House has good-value, Grade II-listed rooms right in the city centre. Back of the net!

Get there one hour and 49 minutes by train from London Liverpool Street; around two hours 30 minutes by car. 

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Padstow, best weekend breaks

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 Paul Ainsworth. Hire bikes and cycle the 18-mile 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.

Get there three hours 43 minutes by train from London Paddington to Bodmin Parkway, and a bus; around five hours 30 minutes by car. 

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The Scottish Highlands

If lush landscapes, craggy castles and spooky standing stones are your thing, a weekend in the Highlands is a must. Get the train direct to Fort William for quad-bike tours, wildlife safaris, gorge walks, white-water rafting and bushcraft workshops. It’s also handy for the Glenfinnan viaduct (of ‘Harry Potter’ fame) and Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest peak – if you’re reasonably fit you can make it to the top and back in six to eight hours. Of course, no Highland fling would be complete without a visit to a distillery for a wee dram or two – the Ardnamurchan Distillery runs tours throughout the day. Stay at The Lime Tree, a comfy hotel-slash-arts venue with an award-winning restaurant.

Get there: 12 hours 30 minutes by train from London Euston to Fort William on the Caledonian Sleeper Highlander service; around 10 hours by car.

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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.

Get there one hour 50 minutes by train from London King’s Cross; around four hours 30 minutes by car. 

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Hay-on-Wye

It’s world-famous for its literary festival, but the Welsh border town of Hay-on-Wye is a delight all year round. Nestled between the Black Mountains and the Brecon Beacons, it’s the perfect base for a back-to-nature weekend: take a canoe trip down the River Wye or hire some wheels from Drover Cycles and go off road. Browse in Richard Booths Bookshop, and whatever the weather, don’t miss a sheep’s milk ice cream from Shepherds (the brown bread one is dreamy). Accommodation-wise, book Westbrook Court, a boutique B&B three miles outside the town centre. It’s simple, stylish and incredibly reasonably priced for what you get – breakfast is delivered to your door in a hamper, and you can book in-room treatments with local beauty products.

Get there: four hours 10 minutes by train from London Paddington to Hereford, with one change, and then a bus; around three hours 30 minutes by car.

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