Boats bobbing on the waves, pastel-washed beach huts, atmospheric lanes – yes Whitstable’s lovely looking but the real reason to come here is to eat. The town is home some of the UK’s best seafood, a fact celebrated each summer with its oyster festival. Head to centuries-old Wheeler’s or get your oysters cooked right in front of you at The Forge. Top it all off with a drink and dose of salty air at the Old Neptune – a charming white timber structure that’s one of the only pubs in the UK to be set right on a beach.
Getting there: One hour 20 minutes by train from London Victoria or one hour 10 minutes from St Pancras International; around one hour 40 minutes by car.
Charming and compact, this East Sussex town is a delight to explore. Amongst the history-steeped Georgian and medieval buildings that grace its cobbled streets are flashes of newness: high-end interior shops, independent coffee shops and some fantastic eateries have all carved out a home here. Duck into a quirky bookshop, gorge on seafood at The Ship Inn, check out the nearby Chapel Down Winery or just dig your toes in the sand – the rolling, sugary dunes of Camber Sands are only a ten-minute drive away.
Getting there: One hour 10 minutes by train from London St Pancras International; around two hours 30 minutes by car.
Trade in congested city streets for a rather different traffic issue: wild horses. These magnificent beasts with their windswept manes rule the roads here. Make peace with the leisurely pace and embrace what the New Forest does best: getting back to basics. Amble through sunlight-speckled woodland lanes, cycle across open pastures or explore the charming market towns that dot the area. Fallen under the New Forest’s spell? Luckily this is a great place to stay: soak your limbs at The Lime Wood Hotel’s spa or hunker down at the original The Pig hotel.
Getting there: One hour 30 minutes by train from London Waterloo to Brockenhurst; around two hours by car.
“The hipsters Brighton”, “Shoreditch-on-Sea” – revitalized Margate is throwing off its various labels and etching out its own identity: a moreish blend of salt-aired nostalgia and artsy plaudits. Get your culture fix at the Turner Contemporary, stride along the beach’s golden sands, delve into a vintage store or go full-throttle on the retro vibes with a ride at Dreamland. Wash it all down with a craft beer, then head for lunch at Hantverk & Found, Margate’s top seafood spot.
Getting there: One hour 25 minutes by train from London St Pancras International or one hour 45 minutes from Victoria; three hours by car.
Spend a day in Bristol and you might find yourself upping sticks fulltime. After all, the city is frequently voted the best place to live in the UK. Dynamic and vibrant, Bristol’s a creative powerhouse embraced by nature – the River Avon weaves through its middle, an enormous gorge lends a dose of drama, while the great outdoors beckons from the city’s edge. And it’s effortlessly cool: ice-cream hued houses stack up its slopes, Whapping Wharf’s shipping containers form a foodie heartland, while a buzzing arts scene permeates street-art splashed Stokes Croft. Feast on small plates at the Jamaica Street Stores or take in the view from the Clifton Suspension Bridge – however you spend your day, just try to remember to return home again.
Getting there: One hour 40-minute train from Paddington to Bristol Temple Meads; two hours 20 minutes by car.
With its twisting medieval lanes and willow-laced riverbanks, Cambridge exudes age-old charm. At its core is its university, a proud history embodied in its fourteenth-century colleges – a tour of their spiral staircases and rooms stacked with well-thumbed books is a must-do on a Cambridge trip. Academic pursuits ticked off, continue at a leisurely pace with a punt down the meandering River Cam, take in the art at the Fitzwilliam Museum or pair you newly acquired bookish spirit with a slice of afternoon tea.
Getting there: 50-minute train from King’s Cross; one hour 40-minute drive.
Both Hastings and neighbouring town St Leonards-on-Sea are filled with art-deco architecture and an array of caves and attractions that belie the region’s heritage as a smuggler’s paradise. East along the shingle seafront of Stade beach you’ll find Hastings Fishermen’s Museum and Shipwreck Museum – both a hit with kids – while Hastings Contemporary focuses on contemporary art. We recommend heading to Maggie’s for fish and chips before roaming the town’s pretty cobbled streets and vintage shops. AG Hendy & Co is a must for on-trend industrial interiors finds, while Butler’s Emporium and Robert’s Rummage are best for second-hand gems. On a hot day, we love tucking into one of Tush & Pat’s fisherman’s rolls – two pieces of pan-fried fish in a soft roll – while The Crown serves great Sunday lunches modern surroundings.
Getting there: One hour and 52 minutes from Charing Cross; around two hours 30 minutes drive
Thanks to newly direct trains from the capital, the beautiful Somerset town of Bruton offers Londoners the option of muddy walks, country pubs and the possibility of a little celeb spotting –both Alice Temperley and Phoebe Philo own houses in the area. World-renowned contemporary art gallery Hauser & Wirth opened in late 2014 and has become a hit with both daytrippers and locals. Matt’s Ktichen, Roth Bar & Grill and At The Chapel are the places to head for an early dinner before the train home. Don’t leave without popping your head into Caro, an incredible Scandi-inspired homeware store filled with Hay and Aesop products, and Westcombe Dairy for really good cheese.
Getting there: One hour and 50 minutes from Paddington to Bruton; around three hours 40 minutes drive (take the train!)
Stroud is a market town in Gloucestershire, located below the Cotswold Hills. The Saturday farmers market is a great spot to pick up picnic supplies ahead of a walk along the Stroudwater canal or across the hundreds of acres of land belonging to the National Trust just outside town. Avid readers will love leafing through local bookshops R&R and Inprint or combining a secondhand book with a decent coffee at Black Book Cafe. When it comes to food, Woodruff’s Organic Cafe on the high street is the UK’s first fully organic restaurant, while Winstones Ice Cream and The Golden Fleece are the places to go for ices and G&Ts accordingly. Both Stroud Brewery and gastropub Bisley House are great spots for a late afternoon drink.
Getting there: One hour and 32 minutes from Paddington; around two hours 40 minutes drive