The Best Winter Getaways from London
Where the city's residents go for a much-needed mini-break.
The city of London has no shortage of reasons people love it: world-class art and museums, an award-wining dining and cocktail scene, and gorgeous, historic attractions a-plenty. But even the most entrenched of urbanites want to take a short break here and there, or explore outside the city lines. For those occasions, look to these five great getaways, a quick trip from the capital.
Seaside Escape: Brighton
An hour or so from Victoria Station by train, Brighton is a day trip so popular that it’s become known as London-on-Sea. On hot summer days, the city can be packed with sunburnt visitors who throng the cheap seaside bars. Which makes its shingle beach and buzzy vibe even more attractive come January, when you can walk for miles along the blustery seafront (past the controversial new i360 viewing tower and the beautiful Victorian pier, now with funfair and arcades) or wander the narrow streets of the Lanes, which are jammed with tiny clothing shops, antiques emporiums, and cafes.
Places to stay are plentiful—we recommend the Kemp Townhouse for smart, affordable style on the outskirts of town—and the food scene is excellent, particularly for vegetarians and ethical eaters. Current local hotspots include Silo, a zero waste restaurant where chef and founder Douglas McMaster has turned a warehouse space into a coffee roastery, brewery, and magical modern showpiece for local ingredients on a menu that nods to influences from the likes of Rene Redzepi.
Village Charm: Amersham and the Chilterns
This small market town is as far as you can get from the city on the tube (40 minutes or so on the Metropolitan line) and its charms are obvious. Historic Tudor and Victorian buildings, bustling independent shops, pretty scenery and a veritable list of worthy attractions on the doorstop all help enhance the atmosphere of a bygone era that seems to nearly be operating in the 21st century.
The town is on the edge of The Chilterns Area of Natural Beauty (fantastic walking and biking through ancient woodland landscapes dotted with National Trust properties), and just up the road from the excellent Roald Dahl Museum at Great Missenden and the cottage in Chalfont St. Giles where John Milton completed Paradise Lost. Stay at the Crown Inn, a stylish renovation of the once fusty old pub that starred in Four Weddings & A Funeral.
Spa Break: Bath
The arrival of the glamorous Gainsborough hotel has added some five-star pizzazz to historic Bath’s accommodations and makes an excellent base for a therapeutic break, which could incorporate plenty of skin-wrinkling opportunities in the Thermae Bath Spa, whose steamy rooftop pool is a wonderful place to soak up misty views on the hills beyond.
For smaller pockets, the Berdoulat & Breakfast is a two-bedroom bed and breakfast that’s also a showpiece for architect and owner Patrick Williams. It’s an easy walk through town, whose historic charms are well known, to Menu Gordon Jones, a tiny restaurant whose experimental, international tastings menus are an increasingly poorly kept secret. Other spots to seek out include the charming Bartlett Street, where concept store The Loft, selling rustic home wares and directional fashion labels alongside a café, is the hub of a thriving independent scene of galleries and interiors shops. For a heartier vibe, stay at the Pig Near Bath, an old manor house located in the rolling countryside, for romps through muddy fields, followed up with a well-made cocktail by a roaring fire and a slumber in a cozy wooden cabin.
City Alternate: Manchester
The UK’s second city is booming right now and makes for a great cultural stopover a two-and-a-half-hour train ride from London. The once industrial waterways now link attractions ranging from the Science Museum and the fantastic Bridgewater Hall (home of the Hallé orchestra) to the avant-garde new HOME, a multi-functional performance space for local and international film-makers, playwrights, and other creatives.
The buzziest neighborhood is the Northern Quarter, where locals crowd to cafes such as Home Sweet Home, known for its rockabilly style and cupcakes, and bars such as Ply, the post-industrial hangout. There are excellent record shops and design boutiques (the Manchester Craft Centre is a brilliant showpiece for independent potters, artists, and jewelry makers); and at night, join the revelers hopping between speakeasies and urbanite hipster bars.
Football is always a big draw in the city and it’s hard to avoid the influence of Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville, the entrepreneurial ex-footballers behind the Hotel Football at Old Trafford and a forthcoming five-star hotel in the city center (they’re currently letting out the building as a hostel for the homeless). In the meantime, high-class accommodation comes in the form of The Gotham, a ritzy Deco-themed hotel in a former bank, and King Street Townhouse, a new boutique hotel, seemingly inspired by Soho House and the Firmdale group, with a suave but low-key restaurant and a rooftop infinity pool.
Country Idyll: The Cotswolds
Cozy pubs, roaring fires, and rollicking in the damp fields and vales are all features of a cold-weather getaway in the Cotswolds. This is the area to the west of the capital where wealthy urbanites live out country fantasies wearing Hunter wellies and Barbour jackets, relaxing in stylishly done-up cafes and excellent restaurants. Visiting in January means you can escape the busloads of summer tourists.
It’s not the most accessible spot to reach by public transport, but trains run regularly between Paddington and Moreton-in-Marsh, from where you can taxi to Stow, the quintessential Cotswolds town, all pale stone, tea shops, and vintage stores filled with old books, maps, and furniture. Don’t miss Vintage & Paint for antique home wares and a stay in Britain’s oldest inn, the Porch House, which also has a great British menu that reflects some of the area’s excellent food purveyors. Close by is Daylesford Organic, the upscale lifestyle shop, farm, and spa overseen by Lady Bamford.
Emily Mathieson is on the U.K. beat for Travel + Leisure. Based in London, you can follow her at @emilymtraveled.