London boasts enough sights and attractions to satisfy the most demanding of travellers or day trippers. But if you dare to leave the double decker buses and cockney accents behind, the surrounding counties are definitely worth a visit too. Step foot inside a train or a coach and some of Britain’s best cities are a mere hour away.
Oxford – the capital of education
Renowned for its stone buildings, winding waterways and extensive history, Oxford, the ancient capital of education, is only an hour outside of London. Known as the city of dreaming spires, Oxford was the inspiration for the Small Faces’ classic Itchycoo Park. Try climbing the Carfax tower to get a bird’s eye view of the town’s impressive and lyric-worthy architecture.
Act like a scholar and take a guided tour around one of the city’s thirty eight colleges. The college where Lewis Carroll met the real Alice, boasting Hogwarts’ own Great Hall, and with famous Alumni such as W.H. Auden and Rowan Williams, Christchurch is probably the most impressive of Oxford’s colleges.
The Bodleian library is another must see. One of the oldest libraries in Europe, the library houses one copy of each book ever published in the United Kingdom including an impressive four copies of the Magna Carta! The Ashmolean Museum and the Pitt Rivers also both boast a remarkable array of art and archaeology exhibits, as well as the odd shrunken head.
Punting and eating
If all these intellectual activities are a bit much, why not relax and take a punt down Cherwell River which brushes past the famous botanical gardens. Afterwards, packed with an array of quirky shops and tempting cafes, the covered market is an unmissable shopping experience. Stop at Georgina’s Coffee Shop for a well earned break.
Getting there cheaply
The cobbled streets of Oxford are just a £1 Megabus trip away (a bit more if you book last minute). You can also get a bus service, oddly named the Oxford Tube, which travels between the two cities every 10 minutes, 24 hours a day. Tickets are £13 for a student or £16 return for an adult. If you book in advance, trains between London Paddington and Oxford, which go every 15 minutes, can also be affordable. They start from £4.
Winchester – Britain’s ancient capital
Trains from London to Winchester are a little pricier, but luckily a quick stint on a National Express coach will get you there for just £5. Steeped in a history which goes back as far as King Arthur and the Roman Empire, Winchester is Britain’s ancient capital. The city prides itself upon its medieval cathedral, in which Henry VIII’s daughter Bloody Mary wed her Spanish prince.
The walk up St Giles hill to see the rooftops of Winchester is well worth getting a bit out of breath for. And if you’re a Thomas Hardy fan, you can climb up the other end of the high street to see Winchester as Angel Clare did at the tragic end of the rural novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles.
To fully immerse yourself in Winchester’s literary history, you can take part in a Jane Austen trail which charts the author’s life in Hampshire, visiting the house in which Austen died and her tomb in the Cathedral.
Walking through the Cathedral close, past the quaint book shopP.G. Wells (a look round is an absolute must) and the walls of Winchester College, it is surprisingly easy to meet the green edges of the Hampshire countryside as the city turns into water meadows. A favourite with dog owners and picnic-goers alike, a walk from the centre of town takes you past the College cricket grounds and out to the old St Cross Hospital.
Shopping and eating
Back in town, the pedestrianised city centre is lined by pretty historical buildings that house a tempting array of independent and boutique shops. A visit to Winchester wouldn’t be complete without a drink in the Black Boy, Winchester’s kookiest pub, or a cream tea in one of the town’s many cafes and coffee shops.
Brighton – Victorian seaside relaxation
Also an hour outside of London and just a £5 ticket away on the train is Brighton and the beach. On a nice day, Brighton’s pebbly shore is more than enough to keep you entertained. Dotted with fairground rides and ice cream sellers, Brighton’s beautiful beach front alone is enough of a reason to visit this seaside town. Nestling in Victorian arches, there are plenty of bars and cafes along the sea wall where you can enjoy your cold pint of cider or fish and chip tea out by the water’s edge.
Independent shops and creative galleries
Brighton is famed for its shopping. The Lanes, a winding maze of streets edged by independent shops, is any shopaholic’s paradise. Teeming with retro and kitsch stores, North Laine is equally as tempting.
Visit the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery to soak up some of the creativity that Brighton is known for. Current exhibits include ‘Couture Brighton’ a set of dresses inspired by the city and a collection of Art Nouveau memorabilia.
The Royal Pavillion and the Pier
Described by Brighton and Hove tourism website as “one of the most dazzling and exotic buildings in the British Isles”, The Royal Pavilion is another must see, even if you don’t make it inside. Another essential sight is Brighton’s pier where you can fritter away your savings on the 2p machines and have your future read… if you dare.
Getting there cheaply
National Express tickets start at £2.50, if you book well in advance. If you book for the weekend ahead, expect to pay around £8-10 each way.
These cities house only a few of the attractions that lie just outside of London. Book in advance or use cheap coaches and day trips out of England’s capital don’t have to leave a hole in your pocket!
Published on www.thefirstpint.co.uk on June 17th 2011.