This historic city is only two hours from London but has everything you’d want from a mini-break; beautiful architecture, top-notch restaurants, and shopping options that include the lovely Clarendon St. Famous for the university, but equally popular with literary and history buffs, you can even drink in the tiny pub that JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis used to meet in for their writing group, The Inklings.
There are 28 nature reserves you can get lost or picnic in, as well as countless college gardens you can try to sneak into. A city that deservedly earns its 10 million visitors a year, the Covered Market in Oxford is a particular gem to explore – home of the first-ever Ben’s Cookies, which has now become a global success story.
Also just two hours from London, but this time, on the Southern coast, Brighton has excellent dining options (especially for vegetarians and vegans) as well as a glorious pier full of entertainment. The Lanes are a brilliant place to get lost in for shopping and souvenir hunting with all its cute independent boutiques, and then of course you can lounge on the beach and take in the sea air.
There is even a beach-side volleyball pitch and basketball court where you can admire the athletic – or even get involved in yourself if you’re so inclined. They are located right by the Upside Down House which is a great selfie spot for those looking from Instagram-friendly locations. Fish and chips can precede your big night out – Brighton is especially known for its vibrant and inclusive music scene.
Academic rivals to Oxford, the University of Cambridge dominates this picturesque town but there are some glorious buildings and grounds to explore, and all only an hour from London by car. Have an Afternoon Tea at one of the many adorable cafes or splurge at The Varsity Hotel and get spectacular views of Cambridge at the same time.
Go punting in the summer (with strawberries and champagne) or even peek at the students celebrating their May Balls in all their finery. Alternatively, visit at Christmastime and take advantage of the gorgeous outdoor markets selling artisan minced pies and quirky gifts for the family and friends you need to shop for.
Another one for history buffs, Winchester’s medieval castle is home to King Arthur’s Round Table and a huge cathedral where Jane Austen is buried. Behind the cathedral, you’ll also see Winchester College, one of the country’s best and oldest boarding schools.
You’ll also find artisan shops and rickety pubs for a truly English experience – it was the country’s ancient capital after all. It’s only an hour and a half from London and you can even take in a chance to marvel at the ancient site of Stonehenge nearby, in Salisbury.
Named for its health-giving hot springs and Roman baths, this picturesque city is quite literally bathed in history. These days you can even lounge in a rooftop pool at the Thermae Bath Spa and take in the views across the city. Only three hours from London, it is another special spot for Jane Austen fans who can visit the home she once lived in.
The Herschel museum of Astronomy is a lovely site that you must see (dedicated to William Herschel who discovered Uranus in 1781). Bath is also known for craft beer and you can visit local breweries to learn the art of the craft, whilst getting a little merry.
A beautiful foodie city that’s only 3 hours from London, Bristol is worth combining with your trip to Bath. The cathedral here is majestic, and you want to make sure you visit the iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge to take in the glorious vistas there. If you are a fan of maritime history, you can visit the SS Great Britain steamship and explore its hull under a glass sea.
On the more contemporary side, Banksy has roots here and you can see his graffiti murals on the walls of the city. You can even stay at a luxury lodge onsite at the Bristol Zoo Gardens, adding onto your visit an optional ‘breakfast with the gorillas’.
By Dr Sunny Kleo