Answers from Our Experts (3)
London’s a fantastic city, but it’s important not to forget just how much more of the UK there is to explore, including plenty of fantastic places within easy reach of a day trip.
Brighton is the closest seaside resort to London, just an hour on the train from London Victoria. Home to two left-leaning universities, it has a buzzy student vibe and is known as the UK's gay capital. The city centre, which is small enough to explore in an afternoon, is full of great shopping (including antiques in the Lanes and independent boutiques in the North Laine area), cafés, bars and restaurants. To get a sense of Brighton's Regency past, visit the Royal Pavilion, the palace built for King George IV in the 18th century. And don't miss the famous stony beach and Pier, with its tacky amusement arcades and fun fair.
Oxford, which you can reach by train in just over an hour from London Paddington, has been a university city for over 900 years. It's full of extraordinary architecture – Magdalen College and Christ Church are particularly fine examples, but you’ll find astonishing things to look at wherever you wander in this venerable place. The university’s Ashmolean Museum is well worth a visit for its collections of art and archeology, the Botanic Garden is the oldest in the UK, and punting is an essentially obligatory activity. You can hire a punt (a long, flat-bottomed boat propelled by a punter with a pole that he or she pushes against the river bed) by the hour or for longer periods and explore the River Cherwell at your leisure.
Windsor Castle is the world’s oldest inhabited castle and one of the Queen’s official residences (you can tell when she’s at home because the Royal Standard flies from the Round Tower). It's around an hour from London. Visit the State Apartments, the magnificent Gothic St. George’s Chapel (where you’ll find the tomb of Henry VIII) and watch the Changing the Guard ceremony. The castle also has an excellent art collection, including works by Rembrandt and Canaletto.
Everybody does the same three day trips from London – Brighton for the seaside, Oxford for the university and Bath for the, well, baths. But here are three far more interesting suggestions:
Just 20 minutes by train from London, St. Alban’s has more than enough attractions to fill a day. As well as being home to one of the largest and most beautiful cathedrals in England, it also has a grand Roman theater, a fine 15th century clock tower, the world’s longest-running street market (it’s been going since the 1200s) and a whole host of historic buildings. Oh, and the largest number of pubs per square mile in the EU, including perhaps the oldest in England!
For nature lovers, this is the perfect one-day excursion. Accessible in less than 40 minutes from London’s center, the ancient woodland was once a royal forest; allegedly a hunting ground of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Today, its 2,476 hectares of picturesque woodland, grassland, heath, rivers and ponds are open to the public, and the perfect spot for a stroll.
Windsor may be the Queen’s residence of choice, but when it comes to sheer spectacle the best fortification day trip from London is Leeds Castle. Located just over an hour from the capital, this grand stronghold has a history dating back 900 years and is renowned for its sparkling moat and tricky maze. It’s also en route to Canterbury, if you want to make it into an overnight trip.
Winchester is my favorite day-trip from the city. This historic riverside market town is just one hour by train from London Waterloo Station.
It was the capital of the Kingdom of Wessex—it was from here that King Alfred The Great ruled southern England, between 871 and 899. Relics from King Alfred's time are scarce, but the city's huge Cathedral is a Norman and Gothic construction that dates from the 11th century. Novelist Jane Austen died nearby (in College Street) and is remembered by a plaque in one of the aisles. In the run-up to the festive season, a bustling Christmas market is held right in the cathedral close.
From the centre, it's a pleasant walk across the water meadows of the River Itchen to the Hospital of St. Cross. Medieval almshouses range around a Norman church—check out the ancient graffiti scratched into its choir stalls.
Winchester has also become a foodie destination, and you should reserve ahead of time if you want to enjoy the Michelin-starred, mod-British food at the Black Rat.
For more on the city, bookmark the excellent Visit Winchester website and follow the town's tweeting statue, @King_Alf, on Twitter.