Budget Day Trips From London
Matthew Arnold’s description of Oxford as ‘that sweet city with her dreaming spires’ is famous worldwide. While the city is known for its university, boasting alumni from David Cameron to Michael Palin, there is more to it than its colleges. The town has been used as a location for films ranging from The Italian Job to Bollywood musical Mohabbatein, and an inspired Lewis Carroll wrote Alice in Wonderland here.
Getting here: London Paddington to Oxford. From £12 for a return ticket (often cheaper if you book in advance).
Less than £10: Commonly known as Carfax Tower, St Michael’s is a popular meeting point for locals. Built in the 13th century, it is one of the oldest buildings in the city. Climb up its 97 steps and you are rewarded with a beautiful view of the city (£2.50; smng.org.uk). The first Blackwell’s was created in Oxford’s Broad Street in 1879. Head inside to see Europe’s largest single room devoted to books: the Norrington Room. The shop also offers walking tours, which include a Literary Walking Tour and Historic Oxford Tour (£7; blackwells.com).
Round off the evening with a drink at The Eagle and Child near St Giles. Here, The Inklings – better known as CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien and other famous writers – would meet to discuss their latest works over a pint of beer (nicholsonspubs.co.uk).
For free: Amble around Oxford’s cobbled streets and you’ll be struck by the architecture, from the gargoyle statues to quadrangle colleges. Sir Thomas Jackson, who designed many colleges, created one of the city’s most famous landmarks: Hertford Bridge. Popularly known as the Bridge of Sighs, like the famous bridge in Venice, it runs between two colleges. The Ashmolean Museum began life in 1678 as a cabinet of curiosities for Elias Ashmole. Today it boasts Egyptian mummies and Raphael’s drawings. Currently on show is Titian to Canaletto: Drawing in Venice (to 10 Jan), and next month Andy Warhol: Works from the Hall Collection (from 4 Feb) opens (ashmolean.org). There are plenty of green spaces to visit, but Port Meadows, which has not been ploughed for almost 4,000 years, is a must. Here you can spot horses and cows, and walk alongside the River Thames.
Originally a small fishing village, Brighton grew to prominence during the 1770s when it became fashionable to visit to take in the health benefits of fresh air and bracing sea water. The Prince of Wales (later Prince Regent and George IV) often visited the town to bathe in its rejuvenating waters. After the construction of the railway in 1840, day trippers headed to Brighton. Today it remains one of the south coast’s busiest destinations, famous for its shops, nightlife, and pebbled beaches.
Getting here: London Bridge, St Pancras and Victoria. From £10 for a return ticket (often cheaper if you book in advance).
Less than £10: Wander around the Lanes, famous for its independent stores. If you want to recreate the Mod look often associated with Brighton, head to Jump the Gun for its well-priced 1960s fashions and accessories (jumpthegun.co.uk). Brighton is all about café culture, so sit back with a coffee and do some people-watching. Tea shops are in vogue: Metrodeco in Kemptown is a wonderful 1930s Parisian-style tea shop serving cream tea for £5.80, and the lunch menu offers hearty sandwiches from prawn and avocado salad to toasties, which start at £5. Gaze at sea creatures at Sea Life, where a ticket bought in advance costs £9.95 (visitsealife.com).
For free: Three million people visit the Pier each year. Best known for its dolphin racing, karaoke and doughnuts, photographers flock here for wish-you-were-here images.
When you visit Stratford-upon-Avon, it feels like you’re stepping back in time. This is a town that shows off England at its most traditional, with cosy pubs, tearooms and, of course, world-class theatre.
Getting here: London Marylebone to Stratford-upon-Avon. From £12 for a return ticket (often cheaper if booked in advance).
Less than £10: England has many churches, but Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon is the country’s most visited parish church for one reason: William Shakespeare’s grave. Located in the Clopton Chapel, it is a modest grave (£2; stratford-upon-avon.org).Kids will love Wendy & Peter Pan (to 31 Jan) at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, while there is also the Restoration comedy Love for Love (to 22 Jan) at the Swan Theatre. (From £10; rsc.org.uk). Head to The Dirty Duck as you may spot an actor having a celebratory pint after a show. Order fish and chips for £9.99, or sausage and mash for £8.99 (oldenglishinns.co.uk).
For free: Hidden behind the Bard’s home, the Elizabethan Knot Gardens feel like a secret garden. What makes this place especially idyllic is Stratford-upon-Avon Canal – spot the swans.
With its rolling hills, chocolate-box villages and relative proximity to London, the Cotswolds is a national treasure. Once you are there you will fall in love with the beauty of the English countryside. The area is characterised by a rural landscape, footpaths, dry stone walls and limestone buildings throughout its villages. The name – formed from sheep enclosures (cots) and gentle hills (wolds) – is apt as it’s the luscious grassland habitat that led to a thriving wool trade in the Middle Ages, creating the area’s wealth.
Getting here: Trains depart from London Paddington. Moreton-in-Marsh, from £12 for a return ticket; Kemble from £25 for a return ticket; Chippenham from £26 for a return ticket (often cheaper if booked in advance).
Less than £10: The Cotswolds’ highest castle, Broadway Tower, is located in Broadway. The Gothic tower was created in the 18th century by Capability Brown. Climb to the top for a view, go below for the nuclear bunker or outdoors for the Deer Park (from £5; broadwaytower.co.uk). Painswick’s Rococo Garden was designed by Benjamin Hyett in the 1730s and contains snowdrop flowers, a children’s nature trail and maze (from 10 Jan; £6.50; rococogarden.co.uk). Chipping Campden once had the Market Hall, which was built in 1627 and was where townsfolk would trade. Today you can visit Sheep Street for independent stores offering jewellery, pottery and second-hand books (chippingcampden.co.uk).
For free: Gloucester Cathedral is more than 1,300 years old and was once used as a setting in the Harry Potter films. Take a fascinating guided tour of the cathedral and crypt (gloucestercathedral.org.uk). There are plenty of beautiful places to walk in – Painswick, known as the ‘Queen of the Cotswolds’, is one of the most famous, and as it is surrounded by National Trust woodlands, it is a great place for spotting an abundance of wildlife. There is also the idyllic Cotswold Way, a protected path that runs 102 miles from Bath to Chipping Campden (painswicktouristinfo.co.uk).