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Best weekend getaways from London: Spend the summer somewhere special

Pete Clark Aleksha McLoughlin
24 Mar 2021
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Relax and recharge for a few days at these ideal spots for a weekend away from the capital.

With the summer looking more optimistic, and with restrictions easing over time, would-be holiday makers will finally be able to let loose somewhere different. It may be a visit to some picturesque town or city, or a steady drive outside the country’s borders to discover somewhere new and exciting to rest and recharge.

London has been one of the worst hit areas in England, with many boroughs being ravaged by COVID-19 for over a full year. For the most part, Londoners have been stuck at home with nowhere to go. But with falling infection rates and an efficient vaccination program underway across the country, travel is starting to look like an appealing prospect once again. Wherever you choose to go, leaving London (and lockdown) behind will surely be a welcome change of pace.

Outdoor venues and non-essential retail shops are looking to welcome people back on 12 April, with hotels and indoor hospitality establishments set to reopen on 17 May. With so many options available, it can be overwhelming to know where to go and what to do outside of London’s embrace. Fortunately, we’ve compiled our list below for the best places to visit around the country and beyond.

Current lockdown restrictions, according to Government guidelines, state that you must not leave your home unless the journey is essential. Also remember to abide by social distancing where possible, consistent hand washing/sanitising, and wearing a mask at all times when in a public indoor space or transport such as a train, coach or bus.

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The best weekend getaways from London

1. North Cornwall: Best seaside getaway

The most famous area of Cornwall is arguably its southwestern tip, around the golden beaches of St Ives and the surfers’ haven that is Newquay. However, the northern coastline of this famous old county, stretching from around Padstow to Bude, also has plenty to offer. The former, made famous by TV chef Rick Stein, is the archetypal harbour village, boasting some of the best fish and chips in the country (although you’ll have to get to Stein’s own takeaway early to beat the queues).

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Drive further up the coast and you’ll pass through Tintagel, home to one of the UK’s most storied castles and supposedly the birthplace of the legendary King Arthur. Stray into neighbouring Devon and you’ll find the picturesque (and wonderfully car-free) village of Clovelly, where you can indulge in some the most delicious fudge imaginable whilst gazing out at the spectacularly beautiful Hartland Heritage Coast. Put simply, everything that’s great about the UK seaside can be found in North Cornwall.

How to get there: 4hrs 30mins by car; approx 7hrs by train from Paddington to Newquay (including two changes); 1hr flight from Heathrow to Newquay

Where to stay: Atlantic House, overlooking the fantastic Summerleaze Beach in Bude

What to do: Explore the legendary Tintagel Castle with an English Heritage membership

Find Accommodation in North Cornwall on Booking.com


2. West Wittering: Best beach near London

West Wittering is the jewel in the crown of a row of glorious sandy beaches stretching all the way from the eponymous beach’s western tip to Bognor Regis and West Sussex beyond. It offers the best of both worlds in terms of its stunning natural scenery: on one side is a vast expanse of golden sand stretching out towards the English Channel, and on the other sits the Chichester Harbour Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The latter is a perfectly untouched area of marshland famed for its birdwatching opportunities.

The village of West Wittering is charming and we’d recommend a stop off at the beautiful Itchenor Harbour on the drive down. If you fancy a break from the beach, the Roman city of Chichester (featuring one of the UK’s largest Gothic cathedrals) is just a 20-minute drive away.

How to get there: 2hrs 10mins by car; 1hr 30mins by train from Victoria to Chichester, then a short bus ride

Where to stay: Wittering Holiday Home, a homey place to stay near the beach.  

What to do: Soak up some rays on the glittering sands of West Wittering Beach

Find Accommodation in East Wittering on Booking.com


3. Pembrokeshire: Best getaway for dramatic coastline scenery

It might be a bit of stretch to label the Pembrokeshire coastline an “undiscovered gem”, but Wales’ westernmost county certainly doesn’t suffer from an oversaturation of tourists in the way other UK seaside destinations do. The shoreline in this part of the world is defined by soaring, jagged cliff sides that descend steeply into the Atlantic Ocean. Contrastingly, Pembrokeshire is also home to some of the most expansive sandy beaches the UK has to offer, with the gorgeous Whitesands Bay just one example.

Venture inland and you’ll discover day trips to suit young and old. Whether it’s riding the giant wooden rollercoaster at Oakwood Theme Park, or discovering the famously mysterious cathedral in St Davids (officially the UK’s smallest city), Pembrokeshire really has something for everyone.

How to get there: 5hrs by car; 5hrs by train from Paddington to Haverfordwest (including at least one change)

Where to stay: St Davids Cross Hotel, an affordable hotel right in the centre of the famous city of St Davids

What to do: Jump off some seriously high rocks at the stunning Blue Lagoon, Abereiddy

Find Accommodation in Pembrokeshire on Booking.com

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4. North Yorkshire: A great all-round getaway

Yorkshire is comfortably the UK’s biggest county so it’s no surprise that you can find all manner of day trips and activities there to busy yourself with during the summer months. The eponymous county town, York, is a great place to start: you can marvel at the gothic architecture of the famous York Minster, engage with the region’s Scandinavian heritage at the Jorvik Viking Centre or visit the National Railway Museum – one of the best in the country.

After all that, it’s time to have a rest at the seaside but, if you’re going east, you’d be foolish not to pass through the North York Moors National Park first. The area is home to some of England’s most stunning natural scenery, as well as spectacular man-made sights such as Rievaulx Abbey (pictured above). Once you reach the North Sea, a lunch of fish and chips in the historic harbour village of Whitby is a must, and then you can explore some of the highest cliffs in England along the North Yorkshire and Cleveland Heritage Coast.

How to get there: 4hrs 5mins by car; 2hrs by train from King's Cross to York.

Where to stay: The Mallyan Spout Hotel, nestled in the scenic Yorkshire Moors and conveniently situated between York and Whitby

What to do: Explore the wonders of Rievaulx Abbey with an English Heritage membership

Find Accommodation in North Yorkshire on Booking.com


5. Lake District: Best for stunning mountain views

A weekend in the Lake District is the archetypal British getaway. The region’s reputation precedes it – and with good reason. There’s nowhere better in England to take in breathtaking mountain views, towering either side of rippling crystal-clear lakes. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the area is culturally rich, too, famed for its association with William Wordsworth and the other Lake Poets, as well as the legendary Peter Rabbit author Beatrix Potter. If you can avoid the rain, the Lake District is home to some of Europe’s best hikes and, if you can’t, there are plenty of watersports and other activities on offer as well.

How to get there: 4hrs 50mins by car; 2hrs 50mins by train from Euston to Oxenholme (including one change)

Where to stay: The Daffodil Hotel & Spa, a beautiful converted manor house on the shores of Lake Grasmere, in the heart of the Lake District

What to do: Make the most of all that the Lake District has to offer with a National Trust membership

Find Accommodation in the Lake District on Booking.com


6. The Cotswolds: Most typically English getaway

The Cotswolds might have a reputation as a hideaway for Britain’s wealthy elite (David Cameron, Jeremy Clarkson and Rebekah Brooks are all known to be part of the “Chipping Norton set”), but there’s still plenty on offer there for the average daytripper. This rolling range of green and pleasant hillsides stretches over six English counties, after all.

To enjoy the most quintessentially English experience you can, it’s probably best to stay within sight of one of the most storied cities in the Cotswolds: Bath. That way, you can go hiking and clay pigeon shooting on Saturday, and check out all that the famous Roman city has to offer on Sunday.

How to get there: 3hrs by car to Bath; 1hr 30mins by train from Paddington to Bath Spa

Where to stay: The Slaughters Manor House, which is much less threatening than the name suggests

What to do: Take a dip in Britain's only natural thermal spa at Thermae Bath Spa

Find Acommodation in the Cotswolds on Booking.com


7. Cambridge: Best getaway for absorbing culture

There are few locations in the UK that are as culturally and historically significant as Cambridge. The world’s greatest minds have famously been convening there for more than 800 years and, as a result, the area is home to some of the country’s best museums and galleries. There’s the world-renowned Fitzwilliam Museum, the Scott Polar Research Institute, the Museum of Archaeology, the Sedgwick Museum of Geology and more.

To rest your weary mind, you can take a stroll along the beautiful college “Backs”, or hire a punt and drift down the river Cam towards Grantchester Meadows (the area that inspired much of Pink Floyd’s music, no less). If you fancy something a little bit different, the beautiful cathedral city of Ely is just a 40-minute drive away.

How to get there: 2hrs by car; 50mins by train from King’s Cross to Cambridge

Where to stay: University Arms, set on the city’s historic Regent Street with views over Parker’s Piece

What to do: Punt yourself along the river Cam and try not to fall in

Find accommodation in Cambridge at Booking.com

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8. Center Parcs: Best getaway for families

If you have kids, a stress-free holiday experience might seem like nothing more than a distant pipe dream. However, a trip to Center Parcs could be just the tonic if yours is a busy household. The upmarket holiday park chain has five (soon to be six) locations across the UK and Ireland, with Woburn Forest being the closest to London geographically – just an hour and a half away.

The beauty of Center Parcs is that you have everything you need in one place, leaving you with very little to worry about. The main plaza encloses a range of bars and restaurants, as well as an in-house supermarket. Kids’ activities – such as horse riding, quad biking, ziplining and more – are suitably easy to organise, meaning you can spend more time doing what’s most important: nothing.

How to get there: 1hr 30mins by car to Woburn; 1hr by train from St Pancras to Flitwick, followed by complimentary shuttle bus service

Where to stay: Center Parcs, obviously…

What to do: Swim, cycle, play tennis, ride a horse – do whatever!

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Book now on Center Parcs


9. Paris: Best getaway for splashing the cash

Looking to splash out? Where better than the European capital of glitz and glamour to do just that. Travelling from London to Paris for a weekend getaway has never been cheaper, or easier – so much so that it’s actually quicker to reach the French capital than it is a number of the destinations listed above.

Upon arrival, you can opt to take in all of Paris’ most famous sights, whether it’s the Eiffel Tower, the Sacre Coeur or the Arc de Triomphe, or you can head off the beaten track and wander around the French capital’s trendier districts, such as Pigalle or Ménilmontant. Paris is also the perfect launchpad for a number of day trips. It’s only 45 minutes by car to the famous old palace at Versailles or 40 minutes to an even more enchanting destination: the Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland Paris.

How to get there: 1hr 10min flight from Gatwick to Charles de Gaulle; 2hrs 20mins by Eurostar from St Pancras to Gare du Nord; 6hr drive (via Eurotunnel)

Where to stay: Select Hotel, featuring classic architecture and set in Paris’ historic Latin Quarter

What to do: Spend a morning spotting famous graves at the beautiful Père Lachaise cemetery

Browse flights to Paris at Skyscanner


10. Bruges: A fairytale getaway

Fans of Martin McDonagh’s classic 2008 black comedy film In Bruges will already be well aware that the Belgian city is a “f***ing fairytale town”. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bruges is defined by its cobbled streets, winding canals and medieval buildings, which combine to lend an element of truth to the sentiment peddled by Ralph Fiennes’ character Harry in the aforementioned film.

In its centre, the Markt features an imposing 83m 13th century bell tower. You can climb it, but you’ll have to tackle 366 steps before being able to admire the impressive views from the top. The town centre is small and mostly walkable, but you’d be better served getting around via Bruges’ extensive canal system – a boat tour will set you back around €10 for an adult and €6 for a child. To recoup your energy, you can indulge in a famous Belgian tradition: moules (that’s mussels to you and me). The Jan van Eyck restaurant, named for the famous Renaissance painter, serves some of the best you’ll ever eat.

How to get there: 4hr 30mins drive (via Eurotunnel), 3hrs 25mins by Eurostar from St Pancras to Brussels, then a short local train (included in the price of the Eurostar ticket)

Where to stay: Hotel Dukes’ Palace, the only five-star hotel in Bruges, situated in a 15th-century building just metres from the Markt

What to do: Sample some brilliant Belgian beer at De Halve Maan Brewery

Find accommodation in Bruges at Booking.com


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