This post has been written with all Londoners in mind, however, it’s probably most useful to foreigners who have just moved here and want to get to know the UK. I think getting out of the city and breathing in the fresh country air is an occasional must if you don’t want to end up on a ventilator at age 28…
The Gower, Wales
The Gower has to be one of the most beautiful parts of the UK, in fact it was the first to be named an “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty”. There are now 46 AONBs, but I’m not sure any of the others can compete.
Rhossili Bay is one of my favourite beaches. It’s a world class surfing destination and a great place to learn. There is a nice campsite nestled in the dunes here, and you can watch the sunset over the horizon because the bay faces west (http://www.hillendcamping.com/). Three Cliffs Bay is another perfect spot for some rock climbing or a walk. You can quite clearly make out the points of the three cliffs in my photo below. It takes about 5 hours to drive to the Gower from London; public transport isn’t really an option unfortunately.
You might think that a trip up to Scotland is a bit unrealistic for the weekend, but think again. Edinburgh is only 4h20 on the train from London Kings Cross, and if you buy tickets in advance it’s actually a fairly affordable roundtrip. Edinburgh is a wonderful city, and it’s much more relaxing to mooch around than London. There’s loads to do here:
– Take a walk up to Arthur’s Seat and enjoy the views over the city and the Firth of Fourth.
– Visit the gothic and very impressive castle:
– Sample some proper Scottish wiskey. May I suggest Talisker from the Isle of Skye.
– Eat weird scottish food. Go for a deep fried mars bar or some haggis. Very healthy. Then wash it down with a local Brewdog beer (I like the Punk IPA): https://www.brewdog.com/bars/uk/edinburgh
– Don’t miss the best fudge shop in the world either, The Fudge House. So gooey. So good! http://fudgehouse.co.uk/
– Catch the famous “Fringe Festival” in summer with a mix of theatre, comedy, street performance and other events. https://www.edfringe.com/
– Stay at Castle Rock Backpackers, next to the castle with fab views over the city and a friendly vibe. http://castlerockedinburgh.com/
Oh I’m totally in love with Bristol! It has an interesting music scene (leaning towards garage and reggae) making it a really fun night out. Bristol is a bit reminiscent of East London with all the graffiti, and it has a similarly diverse population, but it’s definitely less hipster.
King Street and the adjoining Marsh Street seem to be good areas to go out in. I like the Beer Emporium http://thebeeremporium.net/ — they have a ping pong table and loads of craft beer. If you’re looking for cheap accommodation, Full Moon Backpackers is a cool place to stay http://www.fmbristol.co.uk/, last time I was in Bristol we watched some live music in their courtyard. In May the city hosts Love Saves the Day Festival as well, I went in 2014 and it was excellent. A very memorable, muddy, messy day out. The best bit about Bristol? It’s only about an hour and a half on the train from London Paddington.
If you are looking for a pleasant beach to lounge on in summer I wouldn’t really recommend Brighton (there are pebbles, lots of seagulls and the usual throng of tourists), but if you are looking for a seaside town with nice little cafes and a vibrant arts scene then it’s perfect.
Those arriving by train can walk straight out the station and down the hill to get to the main shopping area, it’s about 5-10 minutes away. Turning left out of the station will take you to “the Mews”, a charming network of cobbled streets lined with bunting and second hand shops. This is my favourite area. You could quite easily do Brighton as a day trip from London, especially if you live in Putney. It’s dead easy to get to. Just get the train to Clapham Junction and then there are regular trains to Brighton taking about 50 minutes. Or stay overnight and treat yourself to a sea front hotel, http://www.lastminute.com/ sometimes has good deals.
Surfs up, dude! The sweet little village of Croyde in Devon is one of the UK’s best surf spots, and it has everything you would want from a seaside holiday destination. There’s a glorious sandy beach, a scenic coastal walking path and an excellent pub, The Thatch: http://www.thethatchcroyde.com/
Last time I was here I stayed at The Thatch because we knew the chef (who is now living in Australia, but I’m sure the food is still awesome). If you want a peaceful nights sleep then take a room in their cottage over the road.
There are a few surf shops in the village if you need to rent surf gear: http://www.croyde-surf-hire.co.uk/. It’s probably best you drive here, which takes about 4 hours. If you don’t have access to a car and you can’t rent one, then there is a train to Exeter from Paddington. From Exeter you can get the train to Barnstaple, and then a bus or a taxi. That would be a bit of a mission for just a weekend though, so I really advise driving.
Bath is undoubtedly one the prettiest cities in England, with lots of beautiful architecture. It makes an ideal weekend break from London. You can amuse yourself by sampling some West Country cider in one of the local pubs, wandering the cobbled streets and going shopping, visiting the thermal baths (above) and the Roman baths… or taking a trip to Stonehenge or Glastonbury. There are direct trains to Bath from London Paddington which take an hour and a half.
There are plenty of historic sites in Durham, but the cathedral is really the crowning glory. It’s been voted the UK’s favourite building and I can see why. Bring your broomstick along and pretend you’re at Hogwarts, you’ll probably recognise it as one of the main filming locations. Afterwards head to one of the olde-worlde pubs in the market square or have a look around the castle. There are frequent trains from Kings Cross, and the journey is under 3 hours, which is impressive considering how far north it is. Make sure you book an advance ticket to save money because buying a return on the day is going to be painful.
The Lake District
I used to live up in Cumbria, and it will forever hold a special place in my heart. It’s one of the most amazing and unspoilt areas in the UK. You will particularly like it if you appreciate nature, the mountains and hill walking.
Lots of tourists come here in summer, but they tend to congregate in the main towns/villages: Windermere, Kendal and Ambleside. They don’t usually stray far from their coach and just visit the main hot spots, so it’s quite easy to avoid them.
Beatrix Potter’s house “Hill Top” is particularly popular with snap happy Japanese tourists. The cottage is worth a visit though if you are interested in that sort of thing, especially if you are a National Trust member.
While were on the subject of historic attractions, Wordsworth’s family home, Dove Cottage, in Grasmere is also worth going to see, and is a good backup plan if it’s pouring down with rain. Anyone visiting from the US or abroad will be suitably charmed by how quaint and English it is. Wordsworth was part of a circle of Romantic writers in the 19th century who wrote about the beauty of the Lake District, and he is still celebrated today as one of England’s greatest poets. http://wordsworth.org.uk/visit/dove-cottage.html
If the weather is fair then it’s definitely a good idea to go for a walk in the fells. Buy an OS map from one of the many local outdoor shops and then use this great website to plan your route: http://www.walkingenglishman.com/lakes.htm
My favourite spots include Blencathra, Helvellyn, the Coniston range, the Langdales, and the area around Wastwater. There are so many great rambles though, the list is endless.
The Old Man of Coniston is quite an easy walk with a well defined path. At 803m it’s one of the highest peaks in the Lakes, so you do really need to set aside a whole day, especially if you would like to take in some of the other hills in the Coniston range on your way. It is possible to begin and finish the walk from Coniston itself, a lovely village at the northern end of a lake (well actually it’s a ‘water’ if you want to get technical about it). There are a few good pubs to end the day in, the best is The Black Bull Inn, which brews their own beer, ‘Bluebird Bitter’ and ‘Old Man Ale’. They serve top pub grub too.
If you are looking for something a little more invigorating and challenging, try Helvellyn or Blencathra. Helvellyn is probably the most mountain-like. It has two ridge lines leading to the summit, Swirral Edge and Striding Edge (pictured below). In winter it often requires crampons and an ice axe, so it’s a serious undertaking. Sharp Edge on Blencathra is possibly even more demanding and the end can feel quite exposed, but it’s a beautiful route, and there is an easy path up to the top if you’d rather not scramble.
I would recommend staying in one of the cottage B&Bs, they are usually quite good value at about £60 for a room including cooked breakfast. My favourite has to be Ambleside Lodge because it has parking, it’s right in the middle of Ambleside and they have rooms with jacuzzi baths for £45! I had an amazing weekend here a few years ago. Breakfast is included as well. http://www.ambleside-lodge.com/
If you are coming up by train you can get the train from Euston to Windermere, it takes about 3h30.