Whoever launched London – and we think it was Jeff Bezos, but it might’ve been Facebook – conveniently decided to put it smack bang in the middle of a bunch of great road trip destinations to places outside of London, all under two hours away by either car or rail.
They positioned it well.
So on the off chance that you fancy a change of scene at some point, we’ve updated our convenient list of the very finest day trips out of London with useful information like how long it takes to get there; what to do; where to eat & drink; and where to stay…
If you can excuse a rare moment of pride, it’s a good list.
This mind-bogglingly cute little chocolate box town is where much of Four Weddings and a Funeral (and a dozen other films) was shot. It’s split into the New Town, which sprang up around the tube station in the early 1900s, and the Old Town, home to dozens of timber framed pubs and coaching inns, and the 13th century St. Mary’s Church (so, yeah, pretty old). Start by wandering along the High Street with its picturesque medieval dwellings. This is where you’ll find the Market Hall, which still runs a teeny tiny market on Saturdays, and the Amersham Museum, housed in a creaky 15th century building, shares the stories of local residents spanning more than half a millennium, from protestant martyrs burnt at the stake to the town’s perfume factory.
Nestled in the Chilterns, it’s a good starting point for walks through this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – this leaflet has three suggested walks that’ll take you across chalk hills, through ancient woodland, and past the poet John Milton’s cottage where he finished writing Paradise Lost – and started Paradise Regained, which goes some way to describing how peaceful this patch of England is. Venture a little further, and you’ll find the Chiltern Open Air Museum, where 30 quirky and interesting buildings have literally been picked up and reconstructed in a big field for you to walk through; and the wonderful Bekonscot model village, whose buildings are much more difficult to walk through. Finally, Amersham’s Steam Organ museum opens only on the first Sunday of the month, has no website, and will tell you next to nothing about steam organs. But if you manage to get in, you can have a cuppa and a slice of cake surrounded by vibrant, animatronic, and extremely loud vintage steam organs.
How far are we talking? It’s literally on the Metropolitan line, so, not very far (and not expensive, either). About 90 minutes from central London, and it’s an easy drive.
Anywhere good to eat and drink? Five or so minutes from Amersham station is The Artichoke, a local favourite, rolling in awards (including a Michelin star, awarded in 2020). Highly-rated Pluma serves authentic Spanish tapas, while Darmon Deli offers a well-executed globe-trotting menu in cosy café surrounds. The town’s rammed with old village pubs, but on Saturday afternoons the Griffiths Brothers run a pop-up bar at their small-batch distillery, where they also run behind-the-scenes tours and tastings.
The Crown Inn
What if I want to stay? The Crown Inn combines picturesque cobbled courtyards with interiors designed by Ilse Crawford (Soho House) from around £110 a night. The Nag’s Head (£115+) is a similarly stylish boutique inn with an award-winning restaurant attached, while De Vere Latimer Estate (£110+) is a luxury manor house hotel with the facilities to match. A little further out, Crazy Bear Beconsfield (£280+) lives up to its name with flamboyant interiors including velvet ceilings, stuffed peacocks, and copper roll-top bathtubs that fill from the ceiling.
In 2011 Margate became home to the Turner Contemporary art gallery, which in turn provoked a wider refresh. Open Tuesday-Sunday, the beachside gallery is free to visit and plays host to around half a dozen small visiting exhibitions at a time. Margate’s century-old amusement park Dreamland has also undergone a £25m revamp, and now houses vintage rides (including a 1960s ghost train and Britain’s oldest wooden rollercoaster), two seafront restaurants, bars, street food stalls, an outdoor stage featuring big-name music acts, a roller disco, and er, a giant inflatable rendition of Tina Turner’s head.
Tucked away from the beachfront is a subterranean Shell Grotto (open Wed-Sun, £4.50). Stretching along 70ft of underground tunnels, it was discovered in 1835, and nobody has any idea when it was made or what it was for. The town itself is packed with independent cafes, restaurants, and shops to explore – especially vintage and antique shops like RG Scott (closed Wed & Sun); Junk Deluxe (currently open by appointment only – email ahead); Peony Vintage; Cliffs records (open daily till 3pm), where vinyl starts at 50p; and Fort Road Yard (open daily), a salvage yard filled with old fairground signs and dodgem cars. Finally, the beach is big, and sandy, and you can walk the Viking Coastal Trail to nearby Botany Bay (with a Cinnamon Baked Pear ice cream from Melt).
How far are we talking? It’s about an hour and a half by train from St Pancras. Or a two hour drive from central London.
Anywhere good to eat and drink? Angela’s takes care of the shellfish, but for fish and chips it’s Peter’s Fish Factory (and the queues out the door agree). The Greedy Cow does some pretty hefty grilled cheese toasties, as well as number of other laid-back lunchy options, or on a sunny day, hit the Dive shack for tacos and margaritas. Batchelor’s serves sausage rolls and frangipane on formica tables – but unlike most hipster caffs, everything here is genuinely unchanged since the 1960s. For drinks, local favourite Fez is a micropub crammed to the rafters with eclectic bits of vintage decor, while Little Swift offers cocktails and sunsets over the sea.
What if I want to stay? The Sands Hotel was recently refurbished and offers plush rooms with views of the sea or the old town (£140+). And if you’re not staying over but just want to relax for an hour or two, Hæckels House is a mini spa squeezed into a house with breathtaking views, offering treatments inspired by the sea.
So, obviously the big draw here is Windsor Castle, but there’s a lot going on here besides. You can take a horse-drawn carriage ride through the Savill Garden (a huge ornamental park that’s beautiful whatever time of year you visit); go boating along the Thames at Cliveden; visit a haunted Tudor mansion where the first pineapple was grown in the UK; mooch around Eton College’s five museums (there’s even one dedicated to life at Eton); or take a boat to a racecourse on an island.
How far are we talking? 40 mins by train (direct from Waterloo, or change at Slough for a faster journey), 45ish by car.
Anywhere good to eat and drink? Literally push the boat out and head to The Waterside Inn for triple Michelin star French cooking overlooking the river, or head to the Two Brewers for a fancy take on pub grub.
What if I want to stay? Take a 15 min taxi out of the city to The Winning Post, a village pub with a winning combination of roaring fires, cosy dining rooms and a handful of stylish bedrooms upstairs (£104+).
If you don’t like your grapes being messed with and prefer your pours of vino to surprise, then it’s only natural to make your way to Tillingham. It’s a 70-acre natural wine-focused estate – one of Britain’s select few – a tick under a two and a half hour drive down to the East Sussex countryside. Sitting pretty on a slope with rolling views of the river and woodlands, the 40,000 vines owner Ben Walgate tends to here are all planted with a sustainable philosophy. Your first mode of attack should be to take the 90-minute tour where you get to test four varieties of the vineyard’s biodynamic and organic wines, before wandering the grounds and settling into the blissful farmland surroundings. Besides swirling and sipping, the property hosts a broad scope of weekly events that include tastings, special dinners, workshops, foragings and yoga.
How far are we talking: Just shy of two and a half hours by car, roughly 2 hours and 45 minutes by train (followed by a brief taxi).
Anywhere good to eat and drink? Oh yes. The restaurant’s allegiance lies in simple but scintillating seasonal dishes (like hispi cabbage, fava and walnut tarator or beef rump with tomatoes and carlin peas) often sourced straight from Tillingham’s soil or otherwise from their favourite local growers in and around the area. Then there’s the sourdough pizzas – worth making the trip for alone; conjured up in an outdoor wood-fired oven and served outside under a restored Dutch barn that’s taken on a second identity as a seriously scenic dining room.
What if I want to stay? The thought boy, I would not mind sleeping here is going to cross your mind and good news, you can. Option one sees the eleven-roomed hotel (£165+) – a former hop-barn – fitted with farm-chic furnishings and luxury bathrooms (one room also allows for your dog to join). Option two is the outdoorsy route: a bell tent (£190+) that comes with a king-size bed, a log burner, your own personal fire pit and the best part… an outdoor loo with a view.
Built in 1270, this was Anne Boleyn’s childhood home, and it’s been amazingly well preserved since then. As well as the castle itself, there’s a hedge maze, walled rose gardens, a wisteria-laden pergola, a lake (with a floating maze), a Japanese teahouse, and a cracking gift shop. Also, live jousting. From here, it’s a zippy 10 minute drive (or 10km country walk) to the village of Chiddingstone, which has a decent claim to being the most picturesque oldey-timey village in England. Impressively for a one-road town, there’s another castle here, which has regular live events from jazz on the lawn to talks by famous authors, a 568-year old village shop filled with odds and ends, and afternoon tea served in an old coach house.
How far are we talking? Only 45-ish mins by train (from London Bridge, and with a 20min walk from the station), or an hour by car.
Anywhere good to eat and drink? It’s got to be a country pub – the King Henry VIII if you end up in Hever, and The Castle Inn in Chiddingstone.
What if I want to stay? Hever B&B (£100+) is run by a local couple and has rooms in converted potting sheds looking onto their thatched cottage and country garden, while these shepherds’ huts (£130+) are parked up next to fields full of llamas and little hairy pigs, both of which you can feed.
If you like fancy architecture, then Winchester Cathedral, Winchester College (they claim to be the oldest school in the UK), and Winchester City Mill would all like a word. While you’re there, you can drop by Jane Austen’s house, see the actual round table of King Arthur in the 13th century Great Hall, and – if you time it right – mooch around the largest farmers’ market in the UK.
How far are we talking? 1hr by train (direct from Paddington), 90mins by car.
Anywhere good to eat and drink? The Wykeham Arms is a beautiful 18th-century pub, five minutes from the cathedral. Otherwise there’s The Chesil Rectory, a beautiful 600 year old grade II listed Medieval house turned Modern British restaurant.
What if I want to stay? Stumble upstairs at The Wykeham – the cosy rooms start at £99/night. These suuuper-luxurious secluded woodland cabins come with their own hot tubs as standard (£810+ for 3 nights), while Lainston House, a 17th century manor house, offers cooking classes, archery and falconry (£300+).
Yes, we all know about Stonehenge. And frankly, it’s getting a little old. But Salisbury also has other stuff, you know, like the Magna Carta and a cathedral boasting Britain’s tallest spire.
How far are we talking? 90 mins by train (direct from Waterloo), 2hrs by car.
Anywhere good to eat and drink? Pythouse Kitchen Garden is a Petersham Nurseries-esque restaurant where all the veg is grown in on-site. After your meal, you can even explore the gardens and pick your own bouquet.
What if I want to stay? The Red Lion Freehouse (£195+) has just five, simply decorated rooms – and they’re conveniently close to the pub’s Michelin-starred restaurant. A little further out is the Dog & Gun Inn (£130+), a good starting point for walks and visits to the other historic town nearby, Marlborough.
Previously under the radar, this little Kentish coastal town is about to become… well, a big Deal. Luckily, their town motto is ‘Befriend the Stranger’, so they surely won’t mind the hordes descending this summer. The pebbly beach is home to a brutalist pier, whose restaurant overlooking the Channel turns into a lobster and steak house on Friday nights – or you can forage for your dinner along the coast with The Wild Kitchen. Back on shore you’ll find dozens of pastel-coloured shops selling antiques, ice cream and bric-a-brac; not one but two castles built for Henry VIII; a dinky museum covering the town’s primary income-drivers, from smuggling to baking; independent art galleries Linden Hall Studio, Don’t Walk Walk and Taylor-Jones & Son (housed in Deal’s old smuggling tunnels); the fascinating Museum of the Moving Image; and a Victorian bandstand where bands play in summer.
How far are we talking? Under an hour and a half by train, or two by car.
Anywhere good to eat and drink? Overlooking the sea, with wallflowers cascading from every windowbox, The King’s Head is the prettiest spot for a pint. Le Pinardier is a bottle shop and wine bar in one, run by wine aficionado Benoit Dezecot and his partner Sarah Ross (whose restaurant a few doors down, Frog & Scot, has a Michelin nod). The Dining Club offers a weekly-changing, globe-trotting menu in individual dining rooms – and they’ll just as happily organise you a BBQ on the beach.
What if I want to stay? Would The Rose by any other name smell as sweet? Yes, yes it would. Breathtakingly beautiful rooms (£145+), hallway honesty bars, hireable tandems, a sun-filled courtyard… and a great restaurant, where uber-chef Nuno Mendes is currently conducting his first collaboration in the UK outside of London.
Exactly as relaxing as it sounds, Bath made a name for itself as a spa town…3000 years ago. You can walk around the Roman hot spring baths, then try the water yourself at this naturally heated rooftop pool (or drink it, while dropping razor-sharp Jane Austen-style witticisms, at The Pump Room). There are a dozen galleries and museums to take in – from the house where Herschel discovered Uranus (stop it) to the incredible Fashion Museum. And that’s before you watch something at the esteemed Theatre Royal Bath, see the city by hot air balloon, hike through meadows around the city, take a day trip to the quaint town of Lacock, and climb to the top of Bath Abbey’s tower to watch the sunset with a glass of Champagne.
No. 15 Great Pulteney
How far are we talking? 1h20 by train, or a longer 2.5hr drive.
Anywhere good to eat and drink? The Scallop Shell for no-fuss, but brilliant, seafood, and incredible Vietnamese at Noya’s Kitchen. The Dark Horse is an award-winning, low-lit cocktail bar, while Komedia’s your place for some evening entertainment, covering comedy, music and cabaret.
What if I want to stay? Broad Street Townhouse offers plush rooms above its cafe-cocktail bar from £145 a night, but if you’re really pushing the boat out, No. 15 Great Pulteney (£145+) is a stunning boutique hotel in a grand old townhouse, with a spa attached (of course).
Slightly smaller than Oxford, its spiritual sibling, Cambridge gets a double-first in amazing museums & jaw-dropping architecture. Poke your head into the beautiful old colleges where such luminaries as Sir Isaac Newton, Sylvia Plath and Jimmy Carr once studied; go punting along the Cam (don’t get a tour, it’s more fun to fall in); soak in some culture at the Kettle’s Yard gallery or The Fitzwilliam Museum; cool off at the Jesus Green Lido and take a picnic to the Botanic Garden.
How far are we talking? 45 mins by train (direct from Kings X), an hour by car.
Anywhere good to eat and drink? We like The Garden Kitchen for an easy bite after Kettle’s Yard; Trinity for oysters, Champagne and a slew of fancy British food to follow; and of course Fitzbillies for the best Chelsea buns in all the land. Vegans should get excited about Vanderlyle’s tasting menus and natural wines, and for good coffee there’s nowhere else but Hot Numbers. There are a lot of good pubs here – try the Fort St. George by the river on a sunny day – but The Eagle is especially snug (and is where Francis Crick ran in proclaiming he and James Watson had “discovered the secret of life” when they identified the structure of DNA in 1953).
What if I want to stay? University Arms (£170+) has been welcoming travellers since 1834 and recently got a design reboot by Martin Brudnizki – they even offer complimentary bicycle hire, if you ever leave your room. The Varsity (£325+) may not have that boutique feel, but it does have a very persuasive rooftop bar, as well as a jacuzzi with views onto the river. The elegant Gonville Hotel’s perfectly located and even hosts pop up film screenings on its verdant lawn in summer (£130+).
Slightly larger than Cambridge, its spiritual sibling, Oxford gets a double-first in amazing museums & jaw-dropping architecture. You can walk round the colleges here too, but for the best view, climb the tower at St. Mary’s to look out across the dreaming spires and the iconic Radcliffe Camera. Then check out the shrunken heads and Irish bread stamps at the Pitt Rivers Museum; find Guy Fawkes’ lantern at the Ashmolean (then go for lunch on the rooftop); see how the Botanic Garden measures up to The Other Place; punt along the river (or take a boat cruise past the countryside that inspired Alice in Wonderland); browse the Restricted Section of the Hogwarts – sorry, Bodleian Library; take afternoon tea at the oldest coffee house in England; wander round the Museum of Natural History (the building itself is reason alone to visit); listen to the choirs sing at candlelit Evensong or the bands play at the Jericho Tavern… and feel grateful you don’t have an essay to do.
How far are we talking? 1hr by train (direct from Paddington), 2 by car or coach.
Anywhere good to eat and drink? Arbequina offers critically-acclaimed, Barrafina-level tapas in an old chemist’s. For pubs, it’s the Turf Tavern, the old haunt of many a famous alumnus and a student favourite where you can weigh in on Nietzsche’s radical rejection of truth for perspectivism – or failing that, have a pint. And if a hunger for ice cream grips you at ten to midnight, you can always nip out to one of the G&D cafés.
What if I want to stay? The Head of the River (£130+) has cosy rooms above a pub right by the river, and a little further out is Mollie’s, the Soho House motel (£85+)… but Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons (£1055+), with its two Michelin-starred restaurant, vintage car hire and 5* rooms, is the ideal place for sweeping someone special off their feet and popping that magical question… “can I borrow £1055?”
If you like learning about world leaders who helped save civilisation itself from the Nazi menace during the ’40s, and seeing where they grew up, then look no further than Blenheim Palace. It’s an easy 30 minute drive from Oxford if you fancy combining the two, but there’s easily a day’s worth of grounds, lakes and fancy interiors to explore – plus there’s a regular calendar of events, from Luna Cinema pop ups to music festivals, horse riding, light trails, Christmas markets, and more.
How far are we talking? 2-ish hrs by car, 1hr by train (going to Hanborough station)
Anywhere good to eat and drink? The palace itself has a number of food and drink options, although The Orangery is by far the nicest – an elegant cream-coloured dining room with a glass panelled roof and huge floor-to-ceiling windows, flooding it with light. The food’s Modern British, while drinks include a global wine list with both rosé and regular Champagne. They also have a short selection of classic cocktails and and nine different varieties of G&Ts.
What if I want to stay? Macdonald Bear Hotel’s 13th century rooms, with their exposed beams and original fireplaces, are so romantic that Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton used to check in there (£139+). The Crown (£200+) only has five rooms, but they’re all beautiful, stocked with freshly ground coffee, fluffy robes and Cowshed products in the bathrooms.
Deck chairs. Big wheels. Fish & chips. If you’re into these things, you need to go to Brighton. The pier here has been standing for over 120 years now, somehow holding up dozens of arcade games, fairground rides and snack stands. But back on dry land you’ll also find a cluster of independent shops in quaint old buildings along The Lanes; nearly 100 flea market stalls at Snooper’s Paradise; the world’s oldest aquarium; the world’s oldest electric railway; the amazing, Indian-styled Brighton Pavilion; a toy museum tucked into Victorian cellars and a country walk through an abandoned village (with its own soundtrack).
How far are we talking? 1hr by train, 2 by car.
Anywhere good to eat and drink? The Mash Tun for a beer. Otherwise The Ginger Pig for something a little more laid-back; Burnt Orange for smoke-scorched dishes in a stylish courtyard; Food For Friends for veggie; The Salt Room for fish; and 64 Degrees for intimate theatrical dining.
What if I want to stay? The Grand Brighton‘s like a real-life Grand Budapest with views over the sea (£170+), while Snooze is a gloriously retro boutique hotel where you can text for breakfast in bed (£100+).
Home to a little thing called Canterbury Cathedral that people literally make pilgrimages to. And if that doesn’t float your boat, the punting tours along the city’s waterways will: floating past the cottages, gatehouse turrets and flowers is like something out of a Disney film. Culture buffs can find Hockney artwork, the original Bagpuss and a crow wearing a coat at The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge; or catch a show before dinner at The Marlowe. There’s also City Feast, a new weekend and night market perched by the riverside and packed with street food stalls and pop up bars. And if you can venture a few miles out of the town, you can go on a vineyard tour and English wine tasting with the Goodenough family (whose wines are more than adequate). Finally, Huckleberry Woods is a farm that only has micro animals – micro pigs, mini donkeys, teddy bear sheep, tiny bees (?) – most of which you can take out for walks. But if you’re after something more heart-racing, you can spot arctic foxes, wolves and bears (oh my!) at night at Wildwood.
How far are we talking? 90mins by car/train.
Anywhere good to eat and drink? Foodies should make their pilgrimage to The Goods Shed, a cathedral to locally grown veg; artisan cheeses; home-made pickles; freshly baked bread and ethically sourced meat; all of which is rustled up into mouthwatering dishes in the attached restaurant. For pubs, squeeze into The Dolphin or The Thomas Becket, and roll into Refectory Kitchen the next morning for a slap-up brunch followed by a Garage coffee.
What if I want to stay? The Falstaff has beautifully designed bedrooms arranged around a central courtyard, with a cocktail bar and pizza restaurant to boot (£84+). Even more decadent is The Pig (£170+), three miles outside of town but boasting atmospheric bedchambers in a beautiful old house where Led Zeppelin played gigs in the 70s. There’s a great restaurant, kitchen garden, snugs with open fires and spa treatments in potting sheds, too. And it’s worth stopping over in Canterbury, since you can take a long walk the next morning to…
As seaside day trips from London go, Whitstable is tough to beat. All along the pebbled beach you’ll find shacks and restaurants hawking oysters, mussels and lobster that’ve been hauled fresh out of the sea in front of you. Go for a bracing dip, take a canoe or paddleboard out on the water, or just relax with a takeaway pint before wandering along the High Street, where independent bookshops, antique furniture shops and vintage clothing stores stand shoulder to shoulder (our favourites include Vita Stores, Harbour Books, Frank and Anchors Aweigh). Finally, grab a cone from Sundae Sundae and head up to Whitstable Castle (really more of a big castle-shaped house) and have a nose around the rooms and gardens – they play host to occasional events from farmers’ markets to witches’ fairs.
How far are we talking? 90mins by train or car.
Anywhere good to eat and drink? Wheelers Oyster Bar doesn’t have to rely on its pretty pink exterior – the seafood pulls the punters in. If you’re not an oyster fan, JoJo’s, followed by The Twelve Taps – or if you’re booking far enough ahead, score a table at the thoroughly unpretentious (and Michelin starred) pub The Sportsman. For pitch-perfect coffee and a slice of cake, try the house roast at Blueprint café, or the quaint Windy Corner Stores for a table in the sun.
What if I want to stay? These converted fishermen’s huts (£85+) are right by the harbour and overlook the oyster bays. The Driftwood Beach House only has three rooms (£150+), but they each come with their own private outdoor jacuzzi.
Birthplace of William Shakespeare, it’s safe to assume that this sweet little town is at least a little bit inspiring. The quaint town centre, with its thatched cottages, boasts not one but six ye olde places connected with the bard – his birthplace, Anne Hathaway’s cottage, their daughter Susanna’s house and his mother Mary Arden’s farm (both still closed, currently), his school and Holy Trinity Church, where he was baptised and buried beside Anne and various other relatives. If after all that you need a reprieve (Shakespeare’s word, by the way), you can take a rowing boat out along the canal, watch satisfying marble runs at this museum of mechanical art, and watch the bard’s work performed at one of Britain’s most prestigious theatres, the home of the RSC.
How far are we talking? 2hrs by car/train.
Anywhere good to eat and drink? Salt is a Michelin-starred, crowd-funded restaurant by Paul Foster (who cut his teeth at Le Manoir and Restaurant Sat Bains).
What if I want to stay? Pick your time period at Hotel Indigo (£93+), which has bedrooms in Tudor, Georgian and modern buildings, all sumptuously decorated to suit. The White Swan (£107+) is a cosy wood-panelled tavern with rooms upstairs, where exposed beams and four-posters abound.
Chartered by King John in 1205, this town is filled with comparatively cutting-edge Tudor houses. Also, Oliver Cromwell was born here, and they have the only museum to him, literally anywhere. Houghton Mill ground flour between 1600 and 1930, and has recently been started up again – you can have a nose around, then try it out in their teashop. From here, you can rent a canoe and paddle up to St Ives. The bridge here has a tiny chapel hanging off the side, which over the years has been used as a surgery, a pub and a brothel. Borrow the key from the Town Hall to have a look around.
How far are we talking? 1hr by train, 2 at least by car.
Anywhere good to eat and drink? The Samuel Pepys specialises in real ale and homemade pies, with live music on some nights. Right by the bridge, the River Terrace Café in St. Ives serves big brunches and small plates for dinner right on the river.
What if I want to stay? The Old Bridge has 24 boutique rooms (£130+, £240 for a four poster), a brilliant restaurant and a wine shop attached, where Enomatic dispensers allow for DIY wine tastings.
If the name rings a bell, it’s because they have a regatta here every year in which Oxbridge students race each other on the Thames. You can take a more leisurely trip by hiring your own boat or hopping on a cruise. There’s even a rowing museum. Meadows line the river beyond the town centre – Mill Meadows has deckchairs for hire and live music from the bandstand in summer; Marsh Meadows is a good spot for wild swimming in the Thames down by the lock. After that you can take in an exhibition at the contemporary art gallery, Informality, then tour the town’s independent shops: Mary Berry’s a fan of Machin’s, a butchers with its own smokehouse attached; Wild & Rust stocks dried flower bouquets and handmade candles; Jonkers has beautifully bound rare books and Tudor House Antiques is packed to the eaves with centuries-old odds and ends. And if you can venture a bit further into the countryside, you can tour Fairmile Vineyard for wine tastings overlooking the rolling hills.
How far are we talking? 1hr by car or train.
Anywhere good to eat and drink? Crockers has two chef’s tables (one Modern British, one pan-Asian) that have received a nod from Michelin, as well as a more relaxed grill restaurant. Also highly rated is the Bistro at the Boathouse, for all day dining on a riverside terrace.
What if I want to stay? Henley’s Hotel du Vin (£119+) is housed in a 17th century brewery and has a festoon-lit courtyard for dinner and drinks. And upstairs at Crockers you’ll find The Quarters, a set of beautiful rooms with claw-foot baths and minibars stocked with pre-made cocktails from the bar downstairs. They’re available to book as part of a package where you’ll be treated to sparkling wine on arrival, a Chef’s Table experience for two and a three-course Chef’s Table breakfast the next morning for £450 (for two people).
Scotney Castle | David Aiken, Flickr
Okay, so there are tons of London workers who visit Tunbridge Wells every day, you know, to go home. But for those who don’t, you’re missing out on one of the great destinations for day trips from London, thanks to its gorgeous Pantiles shopping arcade, some stunning parks, and the restorative waters known to cure any 18th century disease. Take a long walk across the 6500-acre Ashdown Forest (the inspiration behind Winnie-the-Pooh’s more modest 100 Acre Wood), or cycle along this old railway line where nature’s taken over again. Scattered around the town there are some romantic old manor houses, including Groombridge Place with its ‘Drunken Garden’, Penshurst Place, and Scotney Castle, a fairytale ruin and manor house with turrets, a moat and walls overgrown with ivy and white wisteria.
How far are we talking? 1hr by car or train, direct from Charing Cross/Waterloo.
Anywhere good to eat and drink? Juliet’s serves seasonal café fare and a slap-up breakfast, while occasion spot The Warren rears wild boar, cattle and deer for its dishes just outside Ashdown Forest. For fine dining, try Thackeray’s, or take a 15-minute drive to The Poet at Matfield. And on a warm night, book a table on The Beacon‘s terrace for amazing countryside views.
What if I want to stay? The Tunbridge Wells Hotel (£70+) is perched on the Pantiles, with a cosy candlelit bistro and rooms filled with antiques.
So, this one’s a biggie – it’s 800 square miles. But apparently every inch of those miles looks stunning. If we were a betting publication, we’d put money on the fact that the term “rolling hills” was invented here. This site has 124 walking routes of varying lengths, which you can filter by your starting location and accessibility requirements. And it’s not just the countryside – Cotswolds villages are ridiculously picturesque, with cobbled lanes, honey stone cottages and babbling brooks. You could pretty much pick a place on the map at random, but some of the most popular villages are Castle Combe, where the most modern buildings are from the 1600s; Kingham, easily accessible from London; Broadway, where you’ll find some great restaurants; Bourton-on-the-Water, known as the ‘Venice of the Cotswolds’; and Bibury, home to cottages covered with flowers and a trout farm where you can catch your own dinner.
Barnsley House Spa
How far are we talking? 2hrs by car if you hustle… train is more problematic, and you’ll need to prep ahead if you’re hoping to plan a day trip from London. You’ll need to go from Paddington to Worcester, and it’ll take a couple of hours minimum. Luckily it seems to have more boutique hotels per capita than any other part of the country, so you could take a weekend to do it.
Anywhere good to eat and drink? Ox Barn At Thyme for seasonal plant-based food in a rustic farmyard setting: otherwise The Wild Rabbit for Michelin-starred Modern British from the comfort of a 1750s inn.
What if I want to stay? Thyme (£400+) really has the whole package: it began as a cookery school and now has beautiful rooms and a spa attached, with in-house workshops on everything from cooking to floristry. You can also borrow wellies and bicycles to explore the surrounding towns and countryside. The Village Pub at Barnsley (£184+), near Cirencester, has half a dozen cosy rooms and use of its sister spa at Barnsley House. Cowley Manor (£173+) has stylish rooms in a palatial setting, while No. 38 (£140+) is set in a Cheltenham townhouse for a more urban base. Finally, The Wild Rabbit (£125+) has relaxing rooms in neutral tones, conveniently close to their restaurant.
Ray in Manila/Flickr
A quaint cobbled town in East Sussex, Rye offers up everything from up-cycled furniture shops and timber-framed inns for boozing, to ancient moated castles and long beach walks along nearby Camber Sands. This is a place where the itinerary will look after itself – climb the tower at St. Mary’s to get the lay of the land; head to Mermaid Street, frequently voted one of the prettiest in Britain; then follow your nose along cobbled lanes to find vintage shops, tea houses and independent bookstores scattered throughout the town.
How far are we talking? An hour and forty by car
Anywhere good to eat and drink? Landgate Bistro is a critically acclaimed eatery serving modern and classic British dishes, but for something more relaxed, The Fig does great brunch, lunch and sharing plates for dinner. For drinks, The Mermaid Inn is said to be haunted by 18th century smugglers (and does good beer), while Rye Waterworks is a colourful micropub in an old water pumphouse. And you’re almost legally obligated to get a hot chocolate from Knoops.
What if I want to stay? Whitehouse (£135+) has half a dozen dog-friendly rooms above a charming bakery. Jeake’s House (£100+) has an authentic old-school feel to it, like the setting for an Agatha Christie novel. Or, you can just stay in this windmill (£100+).
Looking for something to do IN London? Look no further than our guide to the Best London Walks…