While London is a fabulous place to visit with all sorts of things to do, there’s a ton to explore outside the city limits too. Whether you have a car or prefer to take the train you’ll find multiple options within just a few hours of the city that make for the ideal weekend getaway. From seaside towns to picturesque countryside, fascinating history and grand castles, these escapes offer something for just about everyone.
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Just 90 minutes by train from the London Paddington Station or two hours by car, the Cotswolds are probably what you think of when picturing quintessential English countryside. An expanse of gently sloping green hills and ancient postcard-perfect villages that look as if they’ve stepped out of the pages from another era, it’s the biggest of the 38 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England and Wales. While there are many alluring towns to visit in this hilly region, Bibury is especially impressive with the majority still standing as it did centuries ago. Arlington Row is the most scenic area with its lane of sepia-hued cottages built in the 17th century to house weavers working at Arlington Mill. A lazy afternoon spent wandering among the stone buildings is as close as you can get to an ideal Cotswold experience.
Winchester is an attractive cathedral city that not only makes an ideal base for exploring Hampshire, but it also offers plenty of its own to enjoy. Its most recognizable landmark is the striking statue of King Alfred the Great, erected in 1899 to mark one thousand years since his death. Explore over 1,000 years of history in Winchester Cathedral, Europe’s longest medieval cathedral, including 12th-century wall paintings and medieval carvings as well as a beautiful illuminated Winchester Bible. Visit Fort Nelson, which houses the Royal Armouries’ collection of artillery and historic cannon, and take in panoramic vistas of the Solent and Meon valleys from what is considered to be the best surviving example of a Victorian fortress.
Bath is often named among England’s most beautiful small cities, named for the natural hot springs that served as ancient Roman baths 2,000 years ago. Today, it’s the only destination in the U.K. where you can bathe in hot, mineral-rich spa waters just like the Romans did. There are rooftop spas with gorgeous, a wealth of award-winning restaurants, luxurious hotels. and romantic B&Bs.
The Lake District
If outdoor adventure is what you’re up for, the Lake District is made up of nearly 900 square miles of beautiful wilderness dotted with chocolate-box villages. The picturesque patchwork of lakes, valleys and woodlands make it one of the top spots in England for getting outdoors, hiking across the hills, biking down the country lanes, or paddling across a lake. You can also visit The World of Beatrix Potter and stock up on treats at the Grasmere Gingerbread made from a 160-year-old recipe.
Located in the far southwest corner of England about a four-and-a-half hour drive from London, Cornwall is worth the longer trip to enjoy a weekend along this breathtaking coastline with 300 miles of dunes. cliffs, medieval harbors and oak-forested creeks. Enjoy everything from swimming with basking sharks and seals, and walking down the stepping-stone cliffs to explore tide pools to surfing and body boarding.
This seaside resort town on the southern coast is just an hour and 40 minutes from London. Brighton is a great place to spend a weekend at the beach enjoying old-fashioned fun, from riding the roller coaster on the pier to long strolls. From the Brighton pier, you can enjoy sipping a drink in the Victorian beer hall and catching a sunset over the English Channel. A wide range of nightlife can be enjoyed here too, especially in the Kemptown neighborhood along St. James’s Street and the waterfront.
About four hours from London, Pembrokeshire is home to the only coastal national park in the U.K. Pembrokeshire Coast National Park offers practically endless opportunities for scenic walks along with fabulous beaches, many of them with Blue Flag status. This region is also home to one of Wales most famous landmarks, a remarkable natural rock arch known as the Green Bridge which rises over 82 feet and spans more than 65 feet. You can also visit Pembroke Castle, an impressive medieval castle that was the birthplace of Henry VII was born here, the father of infamous Henry VIII.
New Forest National Park
Thornbury Castle, Thornbury
Located at the edge of the Cotswolds a little over two hours west of London near the border of Wales, it would be easy to spend a weekend at Thornbury Castle and never leave the grounds. The magnificent structure was previously owned by the famous Tudor dynasty which ruled Ireland, the U.K. and France over periods between 1485 and 1603. It even played host to King Henry the VIII and Anne Boleyn. Today, it’s the only Tudor castle open as a hotel, allowing non-royal types to enjoy the splendor of its roaring fires, delicious gourmet cuisine and magnificent rooms with exposed stone walls, canopy beds and aged tapestries.
Isle of Wight
It’s about a 90-minute drive to Portsmouth followed by a 45-minute scenic ferry ride to the Isle of Wight. Once here, you’ll feel like you’re in a totally different world with the tranquil beauty, unspoiled beaches and panoramic views. The longest stretches of golden sands are ideal for walks and horseback rides. Take a boat trip to see the Needles, three spikes of chalk that rise 115 feet above the sea, view the remains of the only surviving medieval lighthouse in England, dating back to 1314, or get active by surfing, kayaking, swimming or windsurfing.