Summer is the perfect season for a whistle-stop tour of England’s historic towns and seaside resorts. These five destinations are less than two hours by train from London, making them ideal for a day-long escape from the Big Smoke.
Brighton is a seaside playground with a vibrant personality, a love of live music and a sophisticated restaurant scene. It was recently named by MoveHub as “the most hipster city in the world”, thanks to its numerous vegan cafés, cold-drip coffee bars, tattoo studios, vintage boutiques and record stores. Soak up the city’s free-spirited energy at the Palace Pier, a historically listed arcade and amusement park. Then, head to the Lanes, a clutch of alleyways lined with antique shops, independent boutiques and eateries. For great views of the city and the sea, head up the British Airways i360 observation tower, which soars 162m above the pebble beach.
How to get there: Brighton is about an hour by train from several London stations, including Victoria and St Pancras.
2. Royal Leamington Spa
This riverside town lives up to its name with its elegant Georgian architecture, Victorian gardens and the colonnaded Royal Pump Rooms, a 19th-century bathhouse that is now home to an art gallery and museum. Hire a canoe for a leisurely paddle down the River Leam to Jephson Gardens, which showcase a subtropical greenhouse and manicured flowerbeds. The town’s biggest event of the year is the Leamington Food & Drink Festival (8–9 September), which celebrates local chefs and regional specialities like ale and pork pie.
How to get there: Royal Leamington Spa is about an hour by train from Marylebone station.
Rich in history and diversity, Leicester is set to become Britain’s first minority majority city. You’ll find two vibrant universities, Indian sari shops, Chinese noodle bars and a centuries-old cathedral alongside lovely botanic gardens and a new museum celebrating King Richard III (the medieval monarch whose remains were discovered here in 2012). Head on down during the annual City Festival (17–27 August) for colourful performances, cycling events, a family-friendly medieval-themed fair, a street food bazaar and many other events highlighting Leicester’s unique cultural heritage.
How to get there: Leicester is about 1.5 hours by train from St Pancras station.
This retro beach town on the Kent coast offers a host of summertime diversions. Take a stroll down Marine Terrace and Marine Drive from the nostalgia-inducing Dreamland amusement park to the jarringly modern Turner Contemporary art gallery, and then along the curved Harbour Arm for views of the town from across the bay. On a sunny day, cycle the Viking Coastal Trail past low chalk cliffs and secluded beaches. If the weather turns, duck into vintage shops, tea parlours and Margate Museum, located in a former police station complete with Victorian prison cells. The Shell Grotto, a mysterious underground network of tunnels covered in seashell mosaics, is worth a visit rain or shine.
How to get there: Margate is about 1.5 hours by train from St Pancras station.
Bath’s natural hot springs attracted the Romans way back in 43 AD; today, the ruins of their temple and bathing complex are a Unesco World Heritage site. To experience the warm, mineral-rich waters, head to Thermae Bath Spa, a natural thermal spa comprising five glass-encased and historical buildings and a rooftop swimming pool. The town’s honey-hued limestone is ubiquitous in buildings like Bath Abbey, a Gothic church with a fan-vaulted ceiling and grand stained-glass windows, and the Royal Crescent’s 18th-century Georgian terraced houses. Don’t forget to visit the Jane Austen Centre and the interactive Fashion Museum too.
How to get there: Bath is about 1.5 hours by train from Paddington station.