If you need a break from London after a week of
hectic sightseeing, England’s compactness means there are many day trips on the
doorstep of the capital. From the dreaming spires of Oxford to
sophisticated, sexy Brighton, from upper crust Windsor and Eton to classy Bath,
you can easily hop on a train or bus to a range of real gems.
The Victorian poet Matthew Arnold called Oxford “that sweet city with her
dreaming spires”. For visitors, the superb architecture and unique atmosphere
of the university – made up of more than three dozen colleges and synonymous
with academic excellence – and their courtyards and gardens remain major
The town dates back to the early 12th Century, having
developed from an earlier Saxon village, and has been responsible for educating
some 26 British prime ministers, including Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and David
Best sight: Pitt
Rivers Museum is an Aladdin’s cave of explorers’ booty spread over
three floors, crammed with fascinating items like blowpipes, magic charms,
voodoo dolls and shrunken heads from the Caribbean, Africa and the Pacific.
Best place to eat: The Jericho Tavern is a chilled out
venue with big leather sofas, a large beer garden and a live-music venue
upstairs (supposedly Radiohead played their first gig here). This old coaching
inn just outside the city gates in the trendy Jericho district is also an
Best place to drink: Turf Tavern is hidden away down a
narrow alleyway off Holywell Street. This tiny medieval pub is one of the
town’s best-loved, and bills itself as “an education in intoxication”. Home to
real ales and student antics, it is always packed and is one of the few pubs in
Oxford with plenty of outdoor seating.
Getting there and away: Oxford Tube and Oxford Express buses depart every 10
to 30 minutes from London’s Victoria coach station and the journey takes about
one hour 40 minutes. There are two trains per
hour from London’s Paddington station, with a journey time of around an hour.
With its large student population, the country’s biggest gay scene outside
London, and working-class families down for a jolly, this city by the sea
caters to everyone. It offers atmospheric cafes, excellent restaurants,
old-style beach seafood huts and a good-for-a-laugh amusement pier.
The town’s character dates from the 1780s, when
the dissolute, music loving Prince Regent (the future King George IV) built his
outrageous summer palace, the Royal
Pavilion, here as a venue for lavish parties by the sea. And that
charmingly seedy “great-place-for-a-dirty-weekend” vibe lasted throughout the
gang-ridden 1930s of Graham Greene’s novel Brighton Rock and the mods
versus-rockers rivalry of the 1950s and ‘60s.
Best sight: The Royal Pavilion Palace , Brighton’s
primary attraction, is an extraordinary folly – Indian palace on the outside
and over-the-top chinoiserie within. The first pavilion, built in 1787, was a
classical villa. It was not until the early 19th Century, when Asian things
were all the rage, that the current confection began to take shape under the
direction of John Nash, architect of Regent’s Park and its surrounding
crescents. The entire over-the-top edifice, which Queen Victoria sold to the
town in 1850 (apparently she found Brighton “far too crowded”), is not to be
Best place to eat: Family-owned restaurant Sam’s of Brighton in easternmost
Kemp Town is well worth the journey for its innovative take on dishes like
roast breast of guinea fowl and braised Southdowns lamb. Brunch is served from
10 am on the weekend.
Best place to drink: The Basketmakers Arms Pub, which
has eight ales on tap, is probably the best traditional pub in Brighton, located
in the North Laine district, southeast of the train station. Food (like fish of
the day and Mexican chilli) is way above average and served daily from noon to
8:30 pm (7 pm on Saturday, 6 pm on Sunday).
Getting there and away: National Express runs
hourly buses from Victoria coach station (two hours). There are about 40
fast trains each day from
London’s Victoria station (slightly less than an hour), and slower ones from
Blackfriars, London Bridge and King’s Cross.
Windsor and Eton
With its romantic
architecture and superb state rooms, Windsor
Castle is one of Britain’s premier tourist attractions and, since it is so
close to central London and easily accessible by rail and road, it crawls with
tourists in all seasons. If possible, avoid visiting on weekends and during the
peak months of July and August when the queues to get into Queen Elizabeth’s humble
abode are at their longest.
If you cannot avoid these periods and need a
respite from the crowds, cross the pedestrian Windsor Bridge over the Thames
and head for Eton, which by comparison it is far quieter. And while it, too, is
a one-trick pony in the form of the world’s most prestigious boys’ school, its
pedestrianised centre is lined with antique shops and art galleries.
Best sight: British monarchs have inhabited Windsor Castle for more than 900 years.
It is also well known to be the Queen’s favourite residence and the place she
calls home after returning from her work “week” (now just Tuesday to Thursday)
at the “office” (Buckingham Palace). A disastrous fire in 1992 nearly wiped out
this incredible piece of English cultural heritage, but luckily damage , though
severe, was limited. A £37 million pound restoration, completed in
1997, returned the state apartments to their former glory.
Best place to eat: Just beyond the bridge
in Eton is one of the area’s finest restaurants. Terracotta tiling and a sunny
courtyard garden lend Gilbey’s a Continental
cafe air, but the understated decor and menu are indisputably British.
Best place to drink: The Two Brewers pub, a17th-century
inn perched on the edge of Windsor Great Park and the Long Walk is close
to the castle’s tradesmen’s entrance and supposedly frequented by staff from
the castle. It is a quaint and cosy place, with dim lighting, obituaries for castle
footmen and royal photographs with irreverent captions hanging on the wall. It
does great pub food too.
Getting there and away: Green Line buses 701 and
702 link Victoria coach station with Windsor at least hourly every day (65
minutes). Trains from Waterloo
station go to Windsor Riverside station every 30 minutes, or hourly on Sunday
(55 minutes). Trains from Paddington go via Slough to Eton and Windsor Central
city of honey-coloured stone has always been renowned for its architecture,
especially its fine Georgian terraces. Nowadays though, it is celebrated in
equal measure for its association with the novelist Jane Austen – not so much
for her actual works but for the films based on them. Sometimes it seems the
crowds just cannot get enough.
Best sight: Ever since the Romans arrived in
Bath, life has revolved around the three natural springs that bubble up near Bath
Abbey. The 2,000-year-old baths, today part of the Roman Baths Museum, form one of the
best-preserved ancient Roman spas in the world.
Best place to eat: The appropriately named
restaurant Circus on
the western edge of the
Circus is a favourite place in Bath.
The food, prepared by chef/owner Alison Golden, is excellent and beautifully
presented, the welcome is warm, and you can choose to eat on the ground floor overlooking
a small courtyard or in the intimate cellar dining room.
Best place to drink: The Star Inn retains its original
19th-century bar fittings and is the brewery tap for Bath-based Abbey Ales. Some
ales are served straight from the barrel into traditional jugs, and you can ask
for a pinch of snuff in the “smaller bar”.
Getting there and away: National Express buses links
London’s Victoria coach station with Bath up to 10 times a day (around three
and a half hours). There are direct trains from
London, Paddington and Waterloo stations at least hourly (two and a half hours).
The article 'Four unmissable day trips from London' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.