When the temperatures rise, head to these spots a short jaunt from the city.
Many people consider spring the best time to visit London, when temperatures are mild and everything’s in bloom. The season, however, also coincides with the beginning of tourist season, so if it’s a quick getaway from the city you’re after, check out these five great spring breaks nearby.
A one-hour train ride from London’s King’s Cross (where you can tick off a photo at Platform 9 and ¾) whizzes you to this famous city of historic colleges and spires. The ornate 16th and 17th century buildings, many with lovely hidden courtyards and gardens, are easy to explore on foot though are, perhaps, best appreciated by boat. Pick up a boat from Scudamores and head south along the River Cam. This route through what’s known as ‘the backs’ reveals the rear view of several colleges (including King’s and Trinity), as well as quirky sites such as the mathematical bridge (Queen’s College).
Of course, there is a filmic quality to the city that has featured abundantly in cinema, from The Theory of Everything to Chariots of Fire. Enjoy it best from a perch atop the rooftop bar of the Varsity Hotel (reopening spring), which sits rather unpromisingly above a gym but is smartly modern and in a convenient, central spot. Surprisingly, Cambridge’s culinary scene can feel underwhelming, though that may be changing with the arrival of stunning new spots such as Espresso Library, an airy café and coffee shop aimed at cyclists filled with midcentury furnishings and health nuts.
This southwestern corner of the Cotswolds is not as overrun as the rest of the region (perhaps because it’s that extra half hour beyond London) but its charms are many. At its heart is Stroud, a town of cobblestone streets, vintage shops, artisan breweries, and bustling markets that manages to straddle historical charm and modern requirements with aplomb.
Nearby is the village of Painswick, where the lauded hoteliers behind the Barnsley House and Calcot Manor are about to open the 16-bedroom Painswick, a hotel that will champion country charms (hearty walks and afternoon teas) alongside eccentric modern style. It is well situated for oenophiles who can explore the new Beckford Bottle Shop in Tetbury (from the team behind the fantastic Talbot Inn) to the south, and the Three Choirs vineyard in Gloucestershire (car needed).
Small and historic, Rye is not so different from many other market towns across the British Isles. But its location on Romney marshes and at the edge of one of the south coast’s longest beaches makes it an excellent spot to cast off the shackles of winter. To stay in the town, where you can rummage through antique shops and wander its alleys or blustery battlements, try the George, which also has a good, mid-range restaurant serving seasonal, local food.
The seven miles of Camber Sands only are a five-minute drive from town, yet feel remote. Budget vacationers book the tiny caravans in the park, but The Gallivant offers a more sophisticated option in 20 pared-down rooms with nautical hints; it also has direct access to the sea across the dunes. The wonderful creations of the garden at Vita Sackville-West at Sissinghurst are about half an hour away. The route leads through the village of Tenterden, where the Chapel Down vineyard creates some of the best wine in the British Isles.
South Suffolk Coast
For the literati of the north London ‘village’ of Hampstead, Southwold is a regular bolthole, luring wealthy urbanites with its mix of old English civility and salty dog seaside culture. Its appeal is partly in its isolation, on the edge of sleepy Suffolk, and partly in its classic coastal charms, like its heritage pier, pretty colored beach huts, and excellent fish and chips (Mrs T’s is widely considered the best and reopens for spring and summer).
Its cultural scene is buzzing too, with bookish events, classical music concerts, and plenty of arty shops. One of its best restaurants, Sutherland House is also its best place to stay—think frescoed ceilings, chunky beamed rooms with freestanding baths, and a innovative seafood focused menu. Nearby Orford is another of the area’s culinary hubs, thanks to its salmon smokery and nationally recognized Pump Street Bakery and cafe. Beyond Orford and Southwold, what many people love about this part of Suffolk is the abundance of creative endeavor, without pretension or commercialization.
The seaside towns of Margate, Ramsgate, and Broadstairs (the main towns of this Kent region about an hour east of London) create an appealing triumvirate that showcases the broad gamut of British coastal life. Ramsgate is the shabby one, with a working harbor and plenty of great old English pubs, while Margate is the up-and-comer, a rapidly gentrifying town that’s been transformed by the arrival of the Turner Contemporary and the opening of Dreamland, the country’s oldest amusement park.
Broadstairs is the genteel one, all cliff top promenade and Dickensian history (he wrote Bleak House in the town). Base yourself at The Belvidere, a stylish B&B owned by a photographer and frequented by media and entertainment types, or at the smart new renovated Regency building that has become Albion in Ramsgate, and you can hop between the three, embracing the light and scenery that have made the landscape famous.
Emily Mathieson is on the U.K. beat for Travel + Leisure. Based in London, you can follow her at @emilymtraveled.