Scotney Castle - Steve Payne/Unsplash
Jason Allen 25/01/23
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 from 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, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it’s a great destination if you’re looking for a good walk – there are some great trails here taking 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 on fairly irregular days once a month. 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 for something more nu-school head to the Mad Squirrel craft taproom, with regular live music.
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 £95 a night. The Nag’s Head (£105+) is a similarly stylish boutique inn with an award-winning restaurant attached, while De Vere Latimer Estate (£88+) is a luxury manor house hotel with the facilities to match. A little further out, Crazy Bear Beconsfield (£169+) 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 Wednesday-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 Thurs-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 and Junk Deluxe; Cliffs records (open daily till 3pm), where vinyl starts at 50p; and upmarket accessories from Aarven or Margaux. Finally, the beach is big, and sandy, and you can walk the Viking Coastal Trail to nearby Botany Bay.
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.
Fort Road Hotel
What if I want to stay? One of our favourite Margate hotels is the Fort Road Hotel (£140+), which looks directly onto the Turner and comes with a stylish bar & restaurant attached. No 42 will be opening this Summer and promises equally well designed boutique rooms as well as a rooftop bar. 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 that merits a full day trip. 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 (£109+).
There are a surprising number of vineyards near London that make for a great day trip. But if you’re all about biodynamic wine, 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, foraging trips 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 (£190+) – 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 (£200+) 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 (reopening 2nd April), which has regular live events from jazz on the lawn to talks by famous authors, a 570-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 (second & last Sundays of the month).
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 (£825+ for 3 nights), while Lainston House, a 17th century manor house, offers cooking classes, archery and falconry (£216+).
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 (£215+) 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 (£110+), a good starting point for walks and visits to the other historic town nearby, Marlborough.
Formerly 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. Updown is a recently opened farmhouse – that’s a restaurant with boutique rooms – that’s tucked off the beaten track, but totally blissful (for about £250/night).
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 first saw 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.
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 £127 a night, but if you’re really pushing the boat out, No. 15 Great Pulteney (£176+) 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 King’s Cross), 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 (£199+) 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 (£197+).
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, while Freud sits in a converted church. 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 (£180+) has cosy rooms above a pub right by the river, and a little further out is Mollie’s, the Soho House motel (£75+)… but Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons (£995+), with its two Michelin star 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 £995?”
If you like learning about world leaders who helped save civilisation itself from the
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