It is no secret that the nightly price
for a hotel in London has skyrocketed for the Olympic season. Budget hotels are
charging upwards of £125 a night and even generic four star chains are going
for £300 or more.
But room prices elsewhere in the UK have
not seen the same mark up, giving savvy budget-conscious travellers the option
of staying in another English city that has plenty to offer in its own right and
commuting into London as required for the world’s biggest sporting carnival.
The below hotels in Norwich, York,
Nottingham, Birmingham and Bristol – all of which had availability at the time
of publication -- are less than two hours away from London by train and cost
less than £100 per night.
time: one hour 50 minutes with Greater Anglia
Norwich, the archetypal English market
city, is liberally dotted with medieval churches. While Norwich Cathedral's towering spire may initially
grab your attention, it is the Gothic vaulting and two-storey cloisters inside that
The town’s top cultural hang out is the
Norman Foster-designed Sainsbury Centre for
the Visual Arts. This public art museum’s eclectic collection puts an
emphasis on modern art from the early 20th Century, mainly by the
likes of Francis Bacon and Pablo Picasso, and international sculptures from as
far afield as Africa, South America and the Pacific islands.
Sportier types can head to the nearby
Norfolk Broads, where a network of navigable waterways criss-crosses scenic wetlands.
Boating trips and birdlife are the major attractions, and the Canoe Man runs outings with themes like otter-spotting
Stay: the Maid’s Head Hotel is 800m away from
the train station and offers contemporary rooms in a building that dates back
to the 13th Century. Doubles from £89 per night.
Roger Hickman’s is the
city’s top fine dining establishment, pulling off a vibe of classic elegance
without the stuffiness. A three-course dinner costs about £40 per person, with
dishes including John Dory and squid with red pepper and chorizo risotto.
time: two hours with East Coast
York probably has the best range of
attractions of any English city outside London, although simply wandering the
maze of cobbled, medieval streets within the well-maintained city walls is
enough for many. York Minister is
arguably the most stunning cathedral in Britain, while the Jorvik Viking Centre provides
an engagingly interactive romp through the city’s Viking history. Ghost
train-like rides pass through mocked-up cityscapes, while the archaeological
section is brought to live with touch screen displays.
Railway Museum at York train station is a great stop too – both the
collection of historic trains and the exploration of railway history are
superb, even for non-obsessive fans.
Stay: Hotel 53 is a slick three
star accommodation within the city walls that offers a smart, independent
alternative to the ubiquitous chain hotels. Doubles from £86.
the Blue Bicycle offers
excellent French-infused dished in a romantic-yet-homely setting overlooking
the river. Mains -- such as Yorkshire sirloin steak with fondant potato, cauliflower
purée, pork and black pudding bon-bon -- cost between £15.50 and £23.
time: one hour 45 minutes with East
Nottingham Castle is the perfect place to live out all of those Robin Hood fantasies
– and the tours around the secret tunnels and passageways are particularly
If Batman is more your thing, head to Wollaton Hall. This stately pile is
surrounded by expansive parklands full of deer and wooded walking trails. The
hall itself contains the city’s Natural History Museum, but it also doubles as
Wayne Manor in the movie The Dark Knight Rises.
The Galleries of Justice is the town’s
top attraction; it is a grim, illuminating journey through the often gruesome
British justice system of years gone by. The attraction starts with a mock
trial in the former courthouse and descends towards the horrific dungeons that
prisoners were kept in.
Stay: the Lace Market Hotel is
a textbook example of how to convert a Georgian townhouse into a hip four star
boutique hotel – and there is excellent dining and drinking onsite. Doubles
Eat: Iberico brings together an inventive,
globe-spanning tapas menu under gorgeous vaulted roofs. Tempters include a torn
pasta, ham and manchego cheese concoction. Expect to pay £20 to £25 a person.
time: one hour 40 minutes with First Great Western
Often overshadowed by nearby Bath (which
is just 11 minutes away by train for day-trippers seeking thermal baths,
imposing Georgian houses and Jane Austen heritage), Bristol has a more modern
buzz. The Clifton Suspension Bridge
provides photogenic postcard shots, but it is another of Islambard Kingdom
Brunel’s creations that offers the best visitor experience. The SS Great Britain – one of the
mightiest steamships ever built -- has been restored next to the Maritime Heritage
Bristol is a good city for walking
tours. On the darker side, local tourism board Visit Bristol has put together
an MP3 guide to sites
in the city that were linked to the slave trade. There is also a guide
to Banksy’s artworks – the guerrilla street artist started out in Bristol
and many of his pieces can still be seen around the city.
Stay: the Brooks Guesthouse defies the
stuffy image of a bed and breakfast, with chic, modern furnishings, organic
breakfasts and a near-unbeatable central location. Doubles from £70.
Eat: the Clifton Sausage gastropub shows off
regional produce, specialising in high quality bangers and mash. Mains from
£9.50 to £18.
the best train fares
Paying for a ticket the day of can be
painfully expensive. Booking online in advance is strongly recommended, and off-peak fares (generally after 9:30am)
are usually much cheaper. Considerable savings can also often be made buying
two singles instead of a return ticket.