London is fantastic – as we’re always saying in the blog. But sometimes when the city gets too much we just want to escape, so we’ve found some retreats. From York to Brighton, these all provide a chance to relax and clear the mind after a hard week exploring the capital – with some more unusual additions.
And if you find yourself harking back to London life, don’t worry: at most two hours from the city, before you know it you’ll be greeting the grand terminal at King’s Cross. So have a read of our favourite places outside London.
Brighton and the South Downs
Long a haunt of London commuters and those seeking life away from the stresses of the West End and the City, Brighton probably has the greatest claim to being a London-on-sea. That doesn’t stop the town being a wonderful getaway, however: rolling hills are topped with quirky shops, boutiques and cafés, never far from the beautiful stretches of pebbly beach that buttress the Atlantic. Shoreham and Hove are not too far either, though they can’t beat just relaxing in the sun (weather-permitting, naturally).
We recommend: The Salt Room for fish and chips
Something more unusual: Brighton City airport
Yes, seriously. The terminal and runway form part of the world’s oldest running commercial airport, and such history is evident in the fantastic Art Deco architecture of the Grade II-listed main terminal building. The views are also stunning, running out to the South Downs. The airport’s restaurant also features regular concerts and performances.
For something completely different to the capital, the historic centre of Yorkshire (and the North more generally) is certainly worth the two-hour train journey up England’s East Coast. A small city whose highlights can be reached within a day, York is packed with stunning architecture and outsized monuments to its extensive history: from the magnificent Yorkminster to the compact Shambles (a small street lined with overhanging buildings dating back, in some cases, to the 14th century). It’s not the most art-filled city, but York Art Gallery is home to Britain’s most extensive collection of ceramics, while According to McGee is a wonderful and welcoming independent gallery.
We recommend: The Shambles Tavern on the Shambles for an extensive range of locally brewed craft beers
Something more unusual: York’s Cold War bunker
For a city steeped in the history of the enlightenment and medieval periods, it is slightly strange to discover York was made the region’s centre to resist the worst effects imagined of the Cold War. A bunker was built in the early 1960s that could shelter about 60 people to monitor the outcome of a nuclear fallout, complete with underground kitchen and 1980s communications equipment. Now managed by English Heritage, it’s the only bunker still in its original operating condition.
Surrey and the countryside
It’s hard to imagine that only 45 minutes from Clapham Junction lies the open, rolling and stunning British countryside. Box Hill is a prime example of what the Home Counties can offer in the form of gentle strolls and hill-walking, where sometimes water can be traversed by hopping over stepping stones. It is also a world-class area for road cycling, acting as the hardest stage during the 2012 London Olympics road race.
We recommend: The Tree on Box Hill for an indulgent pub lunch
Something more unusual: Painshill
The English countryside is dotted with stately homes, normally replete with large gardens and historical niceties. Painshill in Surrey is, however, slightly different. Its designer, Charles Hamilton, wanted to create a home and park unique in Europe, and the resulting development did not fail to live up to his grand vision. The 250-acre gardens are filled with bizarre creations: a Temple of Bacchus inspired by Ancient Rome, a purpose-built ruined abbey, Turkish tent, Gothic tower, and a custom-made crystal grotto constructed in 1760 from quartz, calcite and gypsum.