Traveling by train can be the ideal stress-free weekend getaway. With a new London to Edinburgh high-speed train service being launched, Lonely Planet looks at the best short breaks by train from London. Be inspired to take a spa day in Bath, spend time on the river in Cambridge, or hunt out Bristol's best street art. Here are the best weekend breaks that are less than two hours from London by direct train.

Groups of people sit on a pebbly beach, with a Victorian pier stretching out to sea in the background
From the beach and pier to amazing nightlife, Brighton can keep you busy all weekend © Westend61 / Getty Images


Best for a busy weekend by the sea

The seaside city of Brighton is the classic weekend getaway from London and has been since the railway opened in the 1840s.

Do: Head downhill from the station towards the sea via the Lanes, Brighton's premier spot for independent stores. Admire the opulent Royal Pavilion, a Regency-era party palace for the royals, and get on board with the seaside kitsch of Brighton Pier, packed with amusements and arcade games. 

Eat: Brighton is one of the top places in the UK for vegan and vegetarian food: try plant-based pizza at Purezza or quality veggie cuisine at Terre à Terre. For classic fish and chips on the seafront visit The Regency

Stay: Several large chain hotels line the seafront. If you'd prefer a highly-rated independent boutique hotel, stay at Hotel Una near the West Pier. Legends Hotel is one of Brighton's top gay-friendly places to stay in Kemptown, the hub of the city's LGBTQ+ scene.

Flat-bottomed boats being pushed along by large wooden poles float down a river under an ornate stone bridge
Cambridge's stunning architecture is best viewed from the water © AlexKozlov / Getty Images


Best for a peaceful city break

45 minutes to an hour from King’s Cross Station

The university city of Cambridge is full of ancient colleges with striking architecture that are best viewed from the water.

Do: Punting is the ultimate Cambridge experience. Book a spot with one of the many punting companies that ply their trade along the River Cam, and enjoy a tour through the picturesque "Backs" in a flat-bottomed boat piloted by a knowledgeable guide. Once you've got the lay of the land, explore the city's cobbled passages and ancient pubs further on foot.

Eat: If you’ve got cash to flash, pay for the best of British at Midsummer House. If you’re on more of a student budget, fill your boots at Pint Shop.

Stay: Spending a night at immaculately designed Clayton Hotel will make you feel like a Cambridge scholar from yesteryear, one that was bankrolled to stay in the fanciest halls, anyway.

A Banksy mural of "The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum" in Bristol.
Take a street art tour of Bristol, Banksy's hometown © Federico Zovadelli / Shutterstock


Best for street art

1 hour 40 minutes from Paddington Station to Bristol Temple Meads

Bristol’s cobbled streets are flanked by red-brick buildings often adorned with vibrant art.

Do: Take yourself on a street art walking tour and see how many Banksy works you can spy. In the evening, book a music or comedy gig in Bristol Beacon (formerly called Colston Hall after slave-trader Edward Colston, and renamed in 2020 following the city's Black Lives Matter protests) or get your theater on in Bristol Old Vic, the longest continuously running theater in the English-speaking world.

Eat: Riverstation combines a stunning waterside location with top-notch grub; think pan-fried turbot with squid-ink sauce, or rum and coconut panna cotta with mango sorbet. 

Stay: For a bit of luxury, stay at the 18th-century Hotel du Vin. If you're looking for something a bit more budget, the Ibis Temple Meads Quay, near the train station has basic but well-appointed rooms. 

Read more: Bristol through the eyes of city poet Vanessa Kisuule

Two people lounge on the edge of a rooftop swimming pool with their backs to the camera. Steam rises from the water. A cathedral building is in silhouette in the distance
Relax in the rooftop pool on a spa break in Bath © Matt Cardy / Thermae Bath Spa


Best for a city spa break

1 hour 20 minutes from Paddington to Bath Spa

Bath is one of Britain's most lovely cities. The huge semicircle terrace of town houses, the Royal Crescent, built between 1767 and 1775, is a dazzling example of the grand Georgian architecture that the city is known for. 

Do: Visit No1 Royal Crescent, which has been restored with original materials to give visitors a sense of what life was like in Georgian Bath. One of the city's most popular sights is the Roman Baths, an elaborate spa complex dating from 70 AD surrounded by 18th- and 19th-century buildings. You can't swim in the waters here, but you can (and should) spend a day at Thermae Bath Spa, with gentle whirlpools, various therapy rooms, and best of all, a rooftop pool with views over the city and surrounding countryside.

Eat: Bath has many quality places to eat from delightful historic tea rooms like Sally Lunn's, to gastropubs, such as the Marlborough Tavern.

Stay: There are lots of independent accommodations, as well as a few hostels in the city. Grays boutique B&B is a Victorian building with a blend of modern designs, or stay in the luxurious Three Abbey Green, a spacious family-run Georgian town house.

A street scene with a huge Gothic cathedral in the background
The center of York has medieval history at every turn © David Ionut / Shutterstock


Best for medieval history

1 hour 50 minutes from London King's Cross

Further from London than Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester, yet served by faster trains, the medieval city of York has a rich heritage to explore.

Do: Follow the city's 13th-century walls, which enclose a spider's web of narrow streets, including the atmospheric Shambles. The city's heart is the huge York Minster, a beautiful Gothic cathedral. The undercroft has displays on the cathedral's history, but to learn about the city itself before the cathedral became its center, go to Jorvik Viking Centre, which takes you on an interactive journey back to when Viking settled in York around 1000 years ago.

Eat: Choose from the myriad restaurants, cafes and traditional pubs throughout the city. There's an eclectic and frequently changing British menu at Skosh, or if you're looking for a lunchtime light bite on the move, all kinds of street food is on offer at Shambles Food Court.

Stay: The central Grade-I-listed Grays Court, with direct access to the city walls, has luxurious rooms each with their own individual design. More budget centrally-located options include St Raphael guesthouse and dorm rooms in Safestay York hostel.

Read more: 48 hours in historic York – 2000 years in two days

A round stone castle on a mound of green earth
Cardiff Castle showcases over 2000 years of history © Billy Stock / Shutterstock


Best for live music and nightlife

1 hour 50 minutes from Paddington Station to Cardiff Central

You might be drawn to Wales' capital by an event at the Principality Stadium, but you should stay for its history, thriving nightlife, and the Welsh cakes.

Do: Admire the opulent interiors of the impressive Cardiff Castle. This was once the site of a Roman fort, then a Norman castle, and later became home to the aristocratic Bute family, one of the richest families in the world. Take a walk in the nearby Bute Park and Arboretum, a lovely green space along with Taff River, and stop-off at the tiny Pettigrew Tea Rooms, which serves up some of the city’s best Welsh cakes (a small, circular sweet bread) as well as tea by the pot-load. As the sun goes down, join the crowds funnelling into live-music venues like The Moon or – local nightlife institution – Clwb Ifor Bachin.

Eat: Both herbivores and carnivores will be well served at Indian restaurant Mint & Mustard. Alternatively, Cardiff Bay’s Mermaid Quay has around 30 different waterfront restaurants and bars to choose from.

Stay: Hotel Indigo is a pretty slick, central option which also boasts a rooftop Marco Pierre White restaurant.

Two pigs in the forest snuffle around in the leaves on the floor of the forest
Look out for the New Forest's free-roaming residents on a weekend visit © Ricky Howitt / Getty Images

New Forest

Best for wildlife and nature

1 hour 35 minutes from Waterloo Station to Brockenhurst

Visiting a national park without a car isn't usually an easy thing to do, but with good rail connections to the charming village of Brockenhurst in the New Forest, you could be lacing up your hiking boots on the train.

Do: If you’re visiting in autumn you may see roaming pigs released to hoover up the fallen acorns and fatten up, as well as cows and the eponymous ponies. This sprawling national park is pretty flat with a network of smooth roads throughout, so hire a bike or book a horseback tour and see the area from the perspective of its most famous residents.  

Eat: Brockenhurst has many cafes, bakeries, restaurants and pubs to choose from. A bike ride away is Burley Manor, with an extensive menu of locally sourced ingredients, making it a lovely pit stop in a day packed with outdoor activities.

Stay: The towns such as Lyndhurst, Brockenhurst and Beaulieu are good places to base yourself with many B&Bs, boutique hotels and cottages for rent. If you're looking for something a little more special book well in advance for a unique room at The Pig in Brockenhurst.

A busy sandy cover with lots of groups of people enjoying a sunny day by the beach
Broadstairs has a lovely sandy beach and is easily reached by train from London © diane10981 / Getty Images


Best for a family-friendly sandy beach

1 hour 20 minutes from St Pancras International, 1 hour 40 minutes from London Victoria

The charming seaside town of Broadstairs is one of Kent's top beach destinations, perfect for a family weekend away from the city.

Do: If you're traveling with little ones, most of your weekend could be spent on the beach hut-lined sands of Viking Bay. In peak season there are deck chairs for rent, with swings and bouncy castles on the beach. On the clifftop at one end of the beach is Bleak House where Charles Dickens wrote David Copperfield. A refreshing walk along the coastal path offers great views out to sea and leads to various nearby coves.

Eat: Take your pick of the cluster of family-friendly pubs along Harbour Street. A stone's throw from the beach, Wyatt & Jones serve the freshest, drool-inducing seafood, including locally-sourced Whitstable Native oysters. 

Stay: Dog- and family-friendly Cintra B&B near Viking Bay welcomes children of all ages. Boutique B&B Belvidere Place is ideal for couples, providing stylish, comfy accommodation with a warm welcome. The breakfast is also sublime, and if you end up staying indoors here all weekend, it would still be time well spent.

You might also like:
Top 10 day trips from London  
Sleeper trains are back on track in Europe with exciting new routes to travel
Top 9 road trips in England   

This article was originally published on November 6, 2019.

This article was first published Nov 6, 2019 and updated Sep 15, 2021.

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