6 Top Sightseeing Destinations Near London – And Where To Stay

A cultural getaway within easy reach of home is a great way to spend an autumn weekend – but where you stay can make or break your trip. Whether you’re after some luxe touches, a foodie experience, a relaxing spa or something simpler, we’ve done the hard work for you and picked some lovely hotels in Canterbury, Oxford, Cambridge, Bath, Windsor and opposite Hampton Court to suit all budgets.

CAMBRIDGE

Getting there

60 miles from London via the M11, the drive takes 90 minutes; the train from King’s Cross takes about 50 minutes.

Visit 

Cambridge is a wonderful year-round destination and, just like Oxford, is probably best known for its centuries-old university, beautiful architecture and well-preserved historic buildings. As a student town, there is a very relaxed atmosphere. Don’t miss King’s College Chapel, Queen’s College and Trinity College; and for good views of the city you can climb to the top of the world-famous tower of Great St Mary’s Church. A walk along the river Cam and a punt tour is a great way to explore the river, see the bridges and view the town.

Sleep

Affordable luxe: In a row of pretty townhouses alongside Christ’s Pieces in the very heart of the city, Duke House is a boutique B&B offering outstanding accommodation. The name comes from the Duke of Gloucester who lived here in the 60s as a student and renovated the house to create a light-filled house. Today, there are five lovely ensuite bedrooms and a self-catering apartment. The rooms have heaps of character and charm, each individually decorated with elegant period pieces and muted colours. It’s all about breakfast here (there’s no restaurant) and the choice of seasonal produce is mostly sourced locally – the award-winning sausages and bacon from Clarks of Ware and salmon cured by River Farm Smokery in Bottisham come highly recommended.

Luxe: University Arms has been a Cambridge stalwart since 1834. The property recently underwent a huge two-year renovation and reopened in 2018 having recaptured the literary and academic spirit of the city. Home to 192 beautiful and playfully designed rooms and suites across four floors, with views over Parker’s Piece, Regent Street and the hotel’s inner courtyard, each has impressive period features – think leather-padded writing desks, low ottomans and chandeliers; and the suites (all named after famed Cambridge alumni) come with a bespoke library. The hotel’s brasserie is inspired by the communal dining halls synonymous with Cambridge colleges and serves seasonal British dishes like Norfolk seafood, suckling pig with wild mushrooms and the head chef’s special spaghetti bolognese. The hotel can also arrange afternoon tea or a picnic hamper to enjoy on the nearby common. For a moment of calm, guests can either head to the hotel’s library and relax by the wood-burning fire or to the serene treatment rooms for some pampering. Beyond the hotel, you can discover an array of complimentary outdoor activities, including private walking tours, cycling adventures or a special punting experience down the Cam. And if you are literary-minded, book a stay between 17th and 21st November when the Cambridge Literary Festival is holding five events in the hotel, including a lunch with best-selling novelists Jill Dawson and Sarah Vaughan and hosted by writer and broadcaster Alex Clark.

The Pig at Bridge Place

CANTERBURY

Getting There

67 miles from London via the M20 and M2, the drive takes about 2 hours. A high-speed rail service from London St Pancras takes under an hour; you can also get trains from Victoria and Charing Cross. 

Visit

Made famous by Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, this university city in Kent boasts some of England’s finest medieval architecture, including the spectacular Cathedral which is steeped in over 1,400 years of history and houses the famous shrine of Thomas Beckett – you can even stand on the spot where he was murdered. Be sure to pre-book your ticket which grants access to the gothic building and its gardens. Visit The Roman Museum, then head to West Gate Towers, the city’s last remaining medieval gateway. If you’ve got a car, you could also drive the 20 miles to Leeds Castle, often described as ‘the loveliest castle in the world’ and one of the most visited historic buildings in Britain. It was once the home of six medieval queens and was used as a palace by Henry VIII.

Sleep

Affordable luxe: Set in a contemporary building within the cathedral’s peaceful walled gardens, Canterbury Cathedral Lodge is undoubtedly in the best location. The 35-bedroom property is owned by the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury and built in local stone to reflect the gothic architecture of the cathedral. Interiors are modern yet elegant, and most of the rooms have lovely views of the cathedral. Access to the cathedral is included in the room price and the friendly staff can recommend plenty of nearby restaurants, as they only serve breakfast.

Luxe: Just a few miles from the city, The Pig at Bridge Place has everything you need for a luxury overnight stay. Sleep in the main house or the Coach House or, for something more rustic and cosier, opt for a Hop Pickers’ Hut. All rooms have four-poster beds, spacious ensuites and the stylish interiors you’d expect at a Pig hotel. After a day’s sightseeing, book a spa treatment in the Potting Shed, then enjoy dinner in the restaurant – dishes are seasonal, with all ingredients sourced within a strict 25-mile radius or from the hotel’s kitchen garden.

Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons
Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons

OXFORD

Getting There

60 miles from London via the M40, the drive takes just under 2 hours; the train journey from Paddington takes 1 hour 15 minutes.

Visit

Known for its ‘dreaming spires’, Oxford is a beautiful city of stunning architecture, history and culture, plus the centre is small enough to cover on foot. Must-dos include: the Ashmolean Museum, a light-filled space packed with treasures, from works by Michelangelo, Pissarro and Turner to Chinese porcelain, medieval musical instruments and everything in between; a behind-the-scenes tour of the university by Oxford students – book here; and seeing the city from the water on a punt – book here. If time allows, head out to Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill and now home to the 12th Duke of Marlborough – it’s about nine miles away near Woodstock. 

Sleep

Affordable luxe: In the leafy village of South Leigh, ten miles from the city, Artist Residence Oxfordshire looks like a typical thatched Cotswold country pub from the outside. Inside, it has more of a bohemian twist: the inglenook fireplace, flagstone floors and William Morris wallpaper sit comfortably next to Andy Doig neon signs and colourful kilim cushions. There are five comfy bedrooms nestled under the thatch, a further three in the converted farm outbuildings and a quirky shepherd’s hut at the end of the garden – each room is individually designed, peppered with limited-edition art prints, and vintage and reclaimed furniture. Book into the Masons Arms downstairs for supper – the easy-going menu is simple and homely, and mostly seasonal with ingredients sourced from the local countryside wherever possible. 

Luxe: Behind the Georgian façade of the one-time Barclays bank building, The Old Bank is a smart 43-room boutique hotel bang on the High Street. Surrounded by some of the oldest colleges (Merton, All Souls, Christ Church and University) and opposite the iconic Radcliffe Camera and Bodleian Library, the rooms are large and modern and most have unrivalled views of the city’s most famous landmarks. The Quod brasserie, which is set in a former Georgian banking hall, is popular with both residents and locals, and buzzes with character all day. The menu features European classics with an emphasis on British produce. Once you’ve booked, the hotel will share its ‘Staycation Menu’, a selection of things to do in and around Oxford, from a walking tour with its resident guide to visits to other must-sees and hidden treasures in the city.

Uber luxe: Under 30 minutes from Oxford, heading back towards London, Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons is the ultimate hotel for foodies. You could just stop for dinner an enjoy an unforgettable meal, but an overnight stay is the ultimate treat – we love the Blanc de Blanc garden suite, a serene eco-friendly space in shades of white cream with a distinctively French feel. In the morning you can wander the incredibly pretty kitchen gardens where Blanc grows more than 70 traditional and exotic herbs, 90 varieties of vegetable and 20 species of mushroom. Or book into a short half-day cookery course to round off your weekend.

Fairmont Windsor Park

WINDSOR

Getting There

20 miles from London via the M4, the drive takes about 45 minutes. Trains from Paddington and Waterloo will take you to Windsor & Eton Riverside and Windsor & Eton Central stations; be sure to aim for a fast train which takes about 25 minutes; slower services take over an hour. 

Visit 

The largest occupied castle in the world, spectacular Windsor Castle has been home to the royal family for 900 years – kings and queens have been buried here and today it’s one of the King's official residences. Open year round, it’s a great way to explore royal history: visitors can take a peek inside, watch the Changing of the Guard and view the State Apartments as part of a tour. You can’t go to Windsor and not check out Windsor Great Park. This 5,000-acre parkland was a 13th-century deer park and royal hunting ground that’s open to the public from dawn to dusk – it’s where you’ll get the best views of the castle. Don’t miss Savill Garden, which was built in the 1930s and 40s and features a huge collection of trees and flowers from around the world. If you fancy a walk, the Heritage Walking Trail will take you past the castle, across the Thames to Eton College and along cobbled streets (click here for the route).

Sleep

Affordable luxe: The Castle Hotel is on the busy High Street in a 16th-century Georgian building opposite Sir Christopher Wren’s Windsor Guildhall, the venue for the wedding of King Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles. The décor is warm and elegant with dark wood panelling and big windows in the restaurant and bar. The 108 rooms are decorated in pastels and period furniture and have large bathrooms; the five suites have a private sitting room and look out on to the high street and castle walls. The restaurant, Leaf, has a wide-ranging, modern menu showcasing the finest locally sourced produce – think grilled English asparagus, seared scallops, herb-crusted rack of lamb and roasted sea trout. 

Luxe: Just ten minutes’ drive outside Windsor, Oakley Court is on the banks of the Thames. This gorgeous gothic Victorian pile underwent a complete overhaul under new ownership a couple of years ago and is now the epitome of cool with a Soho House restaurant and bar in a safari tent, complete with sun loungers and riverside terraces. The rooms are individually designed and each blends traditional English fabric with modern furniture, and most have a view of the Thames. Choose from rooms in the main house, the mansion house, the boathouse or the garden wing. To unwind after a day of sightseeing, there is an infrared sauna, steam room, indoor swimming pool and a fully equipped gym. There are also daily classes in the gym including yoga, boxercise and Pilates, as well as riverside classes featuring various levels of running, walking and stretching. For foodies, you are within a stone’s throw of three world-famous fine-dining restaurants: Alain Roux’s The Waterside Inn and Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck in Bray and Tom Kerridge’s The Hand and Flowers in Marlow.

Uber luxe: Set beside the Great Park, the very grand Fairmont Windsor Park opened earlier this year. The 251 sumptuous rooms and suites are spacious and elegant – the décor is restrained featuring natural stone and soft textures – and most rooms have sweeping views of the surrounding 40 acres of manicured grounds. Home to several restaurants there is something to suit all occasions – 1215 (named after the year the Magna Carta was signed at nearby Runnymede) serves high-quality British cuisine, using only the finest locally grown produce from the royal farms, Windsor artisans and the hotel’s vegetable and herb gardens; all-day dining restaurant MOREISH serves a fusion of European and Middle Eastern cuisine; the Orchid Tea Room is the perfect place to enjoy an afternoon tea; for the health-conscious, Greens is a wellbeing café serving a selection of freshly made nutritious produce. The jewel in the crown has to be the seriously glamorous state-of-the-art spa which has 18 treatment rooms, a hammam, a cryotherapy chamber, a 20m indoor pool, a Himalayan salt room, a courtyard hydrotherapy vitality pool and a Japanese Ashiyu foot ritual bath. 

The Mitre
The Mitre

HAMPTON COURT PALACE

Getting There

15 miles from London, the drive from central London takes about an hour. The train from Waterloo takes 35 minutes. You can also take a Thames River Boat from Westminster Pier, which takes approximately 3 hours – because of the tides on the Thames exact times of arrival and departure vary. 

Visit

One of the Tudor Palaces, Grade I-listed Hampton Court was home to Henry VIII. Take a tour around the vast estate, including the beautiful gardens and historic maze; visit the impressive State Rooms and private apartments to get a glimpse into life at court in the 16th and 17th centuries. Another highlight is the Great Hall.

Sleep

Luxe: On the banks of the Thames overlooking the Palace, the Mitre is a charming boutique hotel that underwent an extensive makeover during the pandemic. The Grade II-listed property was built in 1665 by order of King Charles II to house some of the King’s courtiers who could not find accommodation in the Palace. The interiors are a delightful mix of colour and clashing prints, a clever blend of old and new, with a quirky layout featuring several little rooms and nooks, and a cosy library where you can relax. The 36 rooms are all different in style – some with a private terrace and jacuzzi, a courtyard and fire pit or a hand-forged copper bathtub. There are also two suites with butler service. During an Indian summer, enjoy a picnic riverside or a glass of wine at the Whispering Angel bar; later in the year the afternoon tea is a must. The Mitre has two dining options to choose from: the all-day restaurant and wine bar Coppernose (Henry VIII’s nickname after he issued cheap copper-coated currency) is stylish yet relaxed with lovely views of the river; sample dishes include charred broccoli, golden raisin and red onion salad; aged ribeye and chuck brioche burger; and Maldon rock oysters. The more sophisticated 1665 brasserie (named after the date the Mitre was built) has a central bar, open kitchen as well as an alfresco terrace by the river. Some of the delicious options include Devonshire squid, rocket and chilli salad; seared sesame tuna bang bang salad; lobster and crab tortellini; pan roasted hake and palourde clams; and be sure to leave space for a pudding – the dark chocolate nemesis is unbelievably good.

The Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa

BATH

Getting There

115 miles from London via the M4, the drive takes 2 hours; or take the A303 and stop off at Stonehenge; the train from Paddington takes 90 minutes. 

Visit

If you’re driving down via Salisbury Plain on the A303, prehistoric marvel Stonehenge is a must-see but beware traffic can be quite busy on the surrounding roads. In historic Bath, once home to Jane Austen, the main attraction has to be the famous Roman Baths but, thanks to stunning honey-coloured Georgian architecture, the city is also regarded as one of the most beautiful in the world and is now a Unesco World Heritage Site. Other highlights include Bath Abbey with its ‘ladder of angels’ on the west front; the iconic Royal Crescent – 30 Grade I-listed houses built in the late 18th century arranged in a crescent; the Circus – townhouses also built in the late 18th century to form a circle; romantic Pulteney Bridge; and the quirky Herschel Museum of Astronomy – the astronomer William Herschel discovered Uranus in 1781 when living in Bath. You could also take a boat trip on the Avon from which you can view the city’s main sights or book a walking tour.

Sleep

Affordable luxe: Boutique hotel No.15 By GuestHouse has recently had a mini makeover and, while the outside Georgian façade remains virtually unchanged since Jane Austen’s time, inside you’ll find murals, mish-mashed patterns and modern art. The rooms are all about understated elegance, yet very romantic, with high ceilings, marble washstands and large sash windows. Indulge in the subterranean spa set in the vaults below the hotel, where you can choose from a range of pampering treatments. There’s a restaurant where the chef serves what he calls ‘wild British food’ and a lovely front-room bar for morning coffee, cocktails and nightcaps. You can also opt for a traditional afternoon tea, something that seems particularly big in Bath.

Luxe: The Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa is a grande dame of the hotel world which encompasses two townhouses in Bath’s showpiece Georgian crescent, a large garden and further buildings to the rear. There is a range of bedrooms and suites to choose from, each with unique interiors that combine 18th-century heritage with 21st-century indulgences. For a special stay, book one of the master suites that have stunning views over the hotel’s gardens or Royal Crescent lawns. Take afternoon tea in the gardens, enjoy a glass of champagne in the Montague Bar before dining in the Dower House Restaurant where you will be served from a ‘farm to fork’ menu, with everything made from locally and sustainably sourced ingredients.

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