trips are the bread and butter of non-committal travellers.
We’ve set our radar to within two hours’ journey from London
to hone in on the seaside escapes, city breaks and countryside
idylls perfect for Londoners who are short on time or reticent
about straying far from home.
Earmark this lot for when it’s safe to get out exploring
Seaside escapes, city breaks and countryside idylls within two
hours of London
Bray is a go-to for Londoners who like to travel through their
stomachs – quite literally; a meal at the headline-grabbing
Duck unfolds as a journey, not a menu. Not snagged a
reservation at Heston’s three-Michelin starred restaurant? No
worries. This chocolate-box hamlet is also home to Blumenthal’s
more affordable The Hind’s Head gastropub and the three-starred Roux
brothers’ Waterside Inn. Dining aside, there’s not a fantastic
amount to do apart from strolling between the timbered cottages,
perfect for working up an appetite.
Get there: It’s a 50-minute drive from London
to Bray. If you’re travelling by train, catch a 35-minute service
from Paddington to Maidenhead – from here it’s a half-hour walk or
five-minute taxi ride to Bray.
Stay: Cliveden House
Jane Austen‘s Emma, everybody has a “burst of admiration” on
arriving at Box Hill – and we can’t think of a better antidote to
the last few months than pitching up with some sandwiches at
Surrey’s much-loved picnic spot. This wildlife-rich National Trust
estate is prime territory for languorous walks across chalk
downland and endorphin-pumping bike rides (Box Hill gained a
reputation and the toughest section of the 2012 Olympic
road-cycling race). Take stock of vistas over the Weald towards the
South Downs or stretch out those lockdown legs on an hour’s ramble
to Denbies Hillside.
Get there: Trains from Clapham Junction to Box
Hill & Westhumble clock in around 50 minutes; driving takes an
hour. A two-hour cycle route stretches from Central London through
Richmond Park to Box Hill.
This seaside playground has been the UK’s home of hedonism since
the 18th century. Beyond the onion-domed Royal Pavilion, Pride and
the vinegar-soaked chips that scent Brighton‘s
pebbled beach, the city’s indie spirit can be felt at its most
intense in North Laine, between design-forward boutiques, vintage
stores and sustainable restaurants. From here, there are plenty of
opportunities to extend your trip. Pick up the 100-mile South Downs
Way that stretches from Winchester to Eastbourne – Seven Sisters to
Beachy Head is our favourite stretch – or take the 15-minute train
(20 minutes by car) to neighbouring Lewes.
Get there: Trains run regularly from London
Victoria and London Bridge and take around an hour. Driving usually
takes between 90 minutes and two hours, traffic depending.
Stay: Artist Residence
A land of leather-bound books, manicured lawns and ochre spires,
Oxford is a byword for intellectual excellence, a city as famed
for its bright minds as it is for grand buildings. Nevertheless,
between all the history and prestige, Oxford’s large student
population keeps the vibe young and fresh. Between cream teas,
British boozers and punting on the Cherwell (harder than it looks),
you’ll find a set of creative cocktail bars and vegan restaurants
(Happy Friday Kitchen is a local favourite). Of course,
you’ll be on the cusp of the Cotswolds here, too – best to pack
your wellies in case you feel like extending your trip across
undulating hills, passing through twee villages as you alternate
between country walks, pubs and great restaurants such as The Wild Rabbit
Get there: Trains from Paddington and
Marylebone stations take around an hour. Drive from Central London
in just under an hour and a half.
Stay: The Old Bank
The New Forest
A go-to weekend getaway for Londoners, this trips clocks in at
about a 90-minute train ride from Waterloo Station. A designated
national park, days in The New Forest are best spent ambling
through woodland lanes, gawking at thatch-roofed pubs and sampling
pints of bitter as you go. Wild horses and donkeys are known to
stop traffic as they cross between patches of pastureland, so
patience is vital. Made for walking and biking, with furrowed paths
cleared for each, best to go at a leisurely countryside pace. Stop
off at charming market towns for homemade jam or venture to the
coastal cobbled Georgian seaside villages. Brockenhurst and
Lyndhurst, are both end destinations commonly punched into SatNav
thanks to their city-worthy farm-to-table restaurants and hip
boutique hotels – The Limewood and the original
The Pig are two of the best.
Get there: Direct trains run regularly from
Waterloo to New Forest in around 90 minutes. Travelling by car
takes a similar time.
Stay: The Pig
Since Turner Contemporary opened here in 2011, Margate
has undergone a renaissance fuelled by cold-brew coffee, craft beer
and natural wine. Nevertheless, between its vintage stores,
galleries and seaweed-based skincare, there’s a rough-edged salty
charm that makes this seaside town especially loveable. Spend an
hour pondering the Shell Grotto before heading to Dreamland for a
spin at the roller disco – whether you follow that with a 99 on the
beach or fresh seafood in Hantverk &
Found is up to you. For something quieter, nip along the Kent
coast to Whitstable, where seafront bicycle rides are best followed
by plates of oysters from Wheelers
and pints of Kentish ale in one of several micropubs.
Get there: The train journey from St Pancras to
Margate takes around an hour and 30 minutes, as does driving.
Stay: The Reading Rooms
For many, Somerset is synonymous with Glastonbury. Yet what we
love about the county is its villages. A two-hour drive from the
capital, Frome feels worlds away from lockdown London. This
delightful, community-first enclave is best experienced at one of
its markets or on hip Catherine Hill, where winding
streets lined with artisan shops lead to Valentine’s Lamp – bring
stamps; this is the place to send letters to loved ones. Exploring
done, drive 20 minutes (10 by train) to nearby Bruton
where you can peruse Hauser & Wirth Somerset gallery before
worshipping the holy trinity of design, food and drink in At The Chapel.
Get there: There are no direct train services
to Frome, though it’s possible to get there in about 2 hours and 15
minutes from Paddington. Driving takes around the same time and
makes village-hopping around Somerset much easier.
Stay: Babington House
Ever since Prince Bladud cured his leprosy in
Bath‘s healing springs in 863 BCE, wellness seekers have
flocked to the city to take its waters – by the 18th century, it
was the place for the beau monde to see and be seen. Today, the
past mingles with a pleasure-seeking attitude along the city’s
honey-hued streets. The Roman Baths, Bath Abbey and the Georgian
masterpieces of Pulteney Bridge and the Royal Crescent rank highly
among must-see attractions here, though you could as easily while
away the day between artisan shops, cosy cafés and modern spas –
Bath Spa is our go-to.
Get there: Direct trains run from Paddington
twice an hour; journey time around 90 minutes – driving will take
an extra hour on top of that.
Margate’s little sister, Deal is a rugged, seaside town with a
growing reputation for creativity. Compact enough to conquer in an
afternoon,set the high street, brimming with independent shops and
cafés, as your end goal. After lunch, mosey down to the Kent Museum
of the Moving Image, packed with original poster art from Ealing
Studios. At golden hour, walk the long pebbly beach until the pier
comes to an end and then retreat towards town in search of battered
cod and chips. Join a snaking queue for the chipper, add lashings
of salt and vinegar to your order and enjoy your newspaper wrapped
fare shoreside. Later, stop for a pint at The Just Reproach, a
one-room micropub. Those who don’t think a day trip is quite enough
time in Deal should book a room at The
Get there: Deal is a two-hour drive from
Central London. High-speed train services from Paddington take
about an hour and 20.
Stay: The Rose
Take brief refuge in the UK’s happiest place to live. Bristol is
a city that thrives on a cocktail of liberalism, drum ‘n’ bass and
often a little weed – small wonder that locals are so chipper. Spot
Banksy murals between ice-cream-hued terraced houses before
brunching under the star-spangled ceiling of Primrose Café and
pootling about the harbour. Should you be coaxed into staying the
night, make a beeline for Stokes Croft or Whiteladies Road, where
good restaurants and bars are plentiful. Europe’s biggest
hot-air balloon fiesta is held at nearby Ashton Court Estate in
early August – plan accordingly.
Get there: Driving from London can take roughly
two and a half hours. The fastest direct train services between
Paddington and Temple Meads clock in around an hour and 40.
Stay: Number 38 Clifton
Lying on the cusp of London, Richmond is a Surrey town in
spirit. After a lip-smacking lunch at Petersham
Nurseries café – which plates up simple and modern British food
with an Italian slant – make tracks for Richmond Park, the largest
royal park in the city. The park, which is most famous for its
fallow-coloured free-roaming deer, has many gardens, ponds and
grasslands to explore. From meadowy patches to canalised walks,
respite from the city never felt so right. When the inevitable
happens and the urbanite within you starts searching for the
nearest power socket to recharge a fading iPhone, head to The Bingham – a riverside
Georgian townhouse – and order as many rounds as required to bring
your battery life over the 50% threshold.
Get there: Richmond sits at the eastern end of
the District line and is serviced by the London Overground too.
Journey time from London Bridge, about 30 minutes.
Stay: Bingham Riverhouse
Two miles from the sea, this East Sussex town is attracting a
new crop of creatives. City dwellers gone rogue are responsible for
the town’s umpteen high-end interior shops and outlets. Considering
the area is a little over a square mile – and pre-200s Rye’s
interior scene was heralded by Antiques Roadshow expert Andy
McConnell – this swing to cool is an unexpected, but welcome shift.
Wander through the jumble of Georgian and medieval houses that lace
the labyrinthine streets in the historic town. Wind your way around
enough cobbled corners and you’ll stumble across coffee shops,
miniscule book shops and some great eateries. The Ship Inn, owned
by the ex-proprietors of Primrose Hill gastro-pub The Engineer, is
a great spot for lunch (if you like laid-back, vintage interiors).
Head down Mermaid Street, taking in half-timbered houses on your
route with no particular endpoint in mind.
Get there: Driving to Rye takes a little less
than two hours from Central London. To get there by train, catch a
service to Ashford International where you’ll change for a train to
Rye. Journey time around an hour.
Stay: The Gallivant