Escape London for the weekend
Whether you’re visiting London or are a resident in the city looking for a quick staycation, these ideas for weekend trips to escape London should help your wanderlust cravings! The UK is a beautiful and diverse country, and all too often locals and tourists overlook the many charms on this island – outside of London!
One of the best parts of exploring the UK is that most of its best tourist destinations can be reached from London easily on a weekend trip. All of these London weekend trip destinations take less than three hours to reach and there are enough attractions for at least two full days – more if you have them! Most of these cities and destinations can be reached by train, although some are better with the car.
So, if you’re planning a weekend away or simply want to escape London, why not try one of these Great British gems out?
Staycations from London
Escape London to Bath and Bristol
I’ve included these two cities together, because they really are very close – just 10 minutes away by train, in fact! Bath is without a doubt the most popular, but Bristol is bigger and has more suburbs to explore. You can easily see the best of Bath in a day and then head over to Bristol, or even opt to stay in Bristol (where there are more hotels, better budget options, and it isn’t so touristy!) and a day trip to Bath.
There are so many things to do in Bristol and Bath. Bath is home to the famous Roman Baths, which give the city its name. The Romans discovered that Bath is sitting on the country’s only hot springs, and built an impressive bathhouse, some of which is still present today. You can’t soak in these baths, but the modern Bath Thermae Spa is bookable for guests.
Aside from baths, there are lots of beautiful buildings to admire in the city, from the beautiful crescents, built in the 1800s, to Bath Abbey, which has ancient, Medieval and Tudor origins. Plus, plenty of restaurants, bars, and beautiful hotels, of course!
The top things to do here include walking across the Clifton Suspension Bridge and touring the SS Great Britain, which was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The city is centred on the harbour, and there are plenty of activities to do here, from a tour boat on the river to stand up paddleboarding to eating and drinking at one of the many harbourside restaurants and bars.
Street art is popular in the city, and you can take a street art tour through the city and the quirky neighbourhood of Stokes Croft. Exploring Bristol’s neighbourhoods and watching life go by, enjoying the delightful food and drink scene is undoubtedly one of the best things to do here.
You’ll find tons to occupy your time in Bath and Bristol, but if you do want to go on a day trip, Cheddar and its beautiful gorge, the rolling hills of the Cotswolds, and even south Wales are just a short trip away.
Devon is one of the most popular counties for tourism in the UK, and it’s easy to reach from London. Exeter is the gateway to the region, and from here you can easily travel to beach towns like Exmouth and Torquay from here.
Exeter is a historic city that was first built by the Romans and has retained a strong culture to this day. Top things to do in Exeter include the famous Cathedral, underground passageways from the 14th century, and a Red Coat walking tour detailing the entire history.
Half an hour from Exeter, Exmouth sits at the mouth of the river and has plenty to offer tourists. The best things to do in Exmouth are hiking on the beautiful Jurassic Coast (Exmouth is at the end – and the oldest part of it), travelling up the Exe estuary, and walking across the moors to picturesque villages like East Budleigh and Otterton.
The English Rivera is home to four towns: Torquay, Brixham, Paignton and Babbacombe. These show the beauty of the English seaside – although it’s one of the only places in the country that you’ll find palm trees! As well as a general seaside-y atmosphere and watersports, you can enjoy the 800-year-old Torre Abbey, the caves of Kents Cavern, Babbacombe Model Village, and plenty more!
Canterbury and the Kent Coast
The religious capital of the UK, Canterbury has been the site of pilgrimage for centuries. It is one of the closest cities in the country to the European continent, which has been instrumental to its growth as Britain’s spiritual centre.
Things to do in Canterbury include visiting the famous cathedral where Thomas Becket was assassinated, which caused the site to become a place of pilgrimage to Christians around Europe. Other UNESCO world heritage attractions are St Augustine’s Abbey and St Martin’s church. The River Stour runs through Canterbury’s heart, and there are plenty of places to grab a coffee, a drink, or dinner in the historic centre.
Canterbury is just half an hour from the Kentish coastline, so a trip to this part of the country is the perfect mix of culture and some chilled out beach time! Whitstable is famous for its coloured beach huts and seafood, whereas Herne Bay is a fairly large town with a pier and amusement arcade. Just down the coast is Margate, a cool, arty town that’s been a holiday destination for years – but is recently experiencing a boom in popularity!
An easy weekend trip from London is the city of Brighton. Brighton is a beach break, that’s for sure – but it’s also a wonderful place to enjoy quirky British culture, Victorian history, and it has some excellent gastronomy and nightlife.
Take a stroll around The Laines, where there’s street art, vintage shops, and cosy cafes and restaurants. Another Brighton landmark is its huge pier, full of games and fairground rides. And don’t miss the Brighton Pavilion, which is a fusion of British, Indian and Chinese architectural styles.
For a bit of nature close to the city, the South Downs are nearby and easy to access, with dozens of hikes for all levels.
The main part of Brighton’s charm – and the reason why it’s great to spend a weekend here, rather than just a day trip – is a unique atmosphere. Just a walk around the seafront will find you plenty of things to be amazed at; if you spend the weekend in Brighton, you’ll go back with tons of stories!
Famed for its world-class university, a lot of Oxford’s attractions do revolve around this establishment. You can take tours of different campuses, see libraries like the rad cam, learn about its history, and even go looking for Harry Potter filming locations!
However, there’s also Oxford Castle, lots of museums, and plenty of independent places to eat and drink, including some of the oldest pubs in the country. Just outside the city is the majestic Blenheim Palace, a UNESCO world heritage site.
Stretching from Bath in the south, up to Cheltenham in the north and across to near Oxford, the Cotswolds encompass a huge part of West England and are one of the best weekend trips from London for rural village life.
There are countless small, beautiful villages to visit in the Cotswolds, each with its own personality and character. These include:
- Bourton in the Water, which is known as the ‘Venice of the Cotswolds’ due to the river that runs through the village centre.
- Castle Combe, which was the picturesque setting for Downton Abbey
- Stow on the Wold, home to one of the UK’s oldest inns (built in 947 AD) and the famous St Edward’s Church
- Chipping Camden, which is home to a large National Trust site that encompasses the market hall, dating back to the 17th century
- Bibury, which was been called ‘the most beautiful village in England’
- Bradford on Avon, at the southern end of the Cotswolds and sits on the River Avon
It’s best to have a car to travel around the Cotswolds – none of the villages are very big, and you can visit a few in a day. You could either base yourself in one of these serene villages, or in Bath, Oxford, or Cheltenham and explore the nearby villages.
Heading northwards, York is one of the best weekend trips from London. It’s small in size, but rich in heritage – with influences from most groups and ages in Britain’s history. It is a bit of a journey from London, but if you’re staying here for a weekend trip, it’s well worth the drive or train ride!
Popular things to do in York include York Minster, its famous cathedral, and one of the largest Gothic-style places of worship on the continent. You must walk the city walls (the longest in England), to learn about the history of the city and get an epic view of the centre, and see Clifford’s Tower, which dates back from the 13th century and was originally part of a larger castle.
To put all the history together, the nearby York Castle Museum has exhibits detailing the city throughout the centuries. Other fantastic museums are the Yorkshire Museum, The Chocolate Story, and the National Transport Museum.
From the famous Betty’s Tea Rooms – the best place in Yorkshire to grab afternoon tea – to countless historic pubs such as Ye Olde Starre Inne, which has been licensed since 1644 and is York’s oldest continuously running pun, there are plenty of places to relax, grab some food and drinks in York.
The largest city in northern England, Manchester is one of the best weekend trips from London if you’re looking for a different culture to that of the south. The city was built on the textile trade but has recently become a popular metropolis for business headquarters outside of London, giving the place a lively population and atmosphere that make it the perfect side trip from the capital.
Attractions include touring the Manchester Town Hall and visiting the historic buildings of the Manchester University, museum hopping through the many exhibitions in the city, and browsing the street art and covered markets of the Northern Quarter.
Manchester’s dining and drinking scene is one of the best in the country; try out delicious South Asian cuisine on Curry Mile, or enjoy traditional pub food at the many watering holes of the city.
For some nature near Manchester, the Peak District is about 45 minutes away, with beautiful countryside and plenty of charming villages.
Escape London with a weekend trip
Hopefully this list has given you some inspiration – and practical advice – when planning your next mini-break away from the capital. There are so many places to visit in the UK that it would take years to see them all, but this list is a start!
Claire runs two travel blogs, Claire’s Footsteps, which is about her overland adventures, and Go South West England, focusing on local travel in South West England. Claire travels all over the world – she has driven the whole way around Australia and travelled from Bali to London without flying! However, she loves local travel just as much and considers her home to be the southwestern city of Bristol.
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