January might be the time for saving money, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a trip outside of London. We round up the best day trips that cost a lot less than you think.
Oxford: University City
When Matthew Arnold described Oxford as "that sweet city with her dreaming spires" in his 1865 poem, this image of the city has become famous worldwide. It is known for its university, boasting famous alumni, but there’s more to it than colleges. The town has been used as a location for films, including “The Italian Job” and inspired Lewis Carroll to conjure up “Alice in Wonderland” (150 years old last year).
Known as Carfax Tower, in the city centre, the 13th century St Michael is one of the city's oldest buildings and a popular meeting point for locals. Cimb the 97 steps for breathtaking view over the city (£2.50)
The first ever Blackwells bookstore opened in Oxford’s Broad Street in 1879. Head inside to see the largest single room devoted to books in Europe: the Norrington Room is 10,000 square feet. The shop also offers walking tours, which include a Literary Walking Tour and Historic Oxford Tour (£7).
Round off the evening with a drink at the literary Eagle and Child pub near St Giles. Here the "Inklings"—better known as CS Lewis, JRR Tolkein and other famous writers—would meet to discuss their latest works over a pint of beer.
The Ashmoleon Museum is the world’s first university museum and opened in 1678 as a cabinet of curiosities for Elias Ashmole. Today, it boasts Egyptian mummies and Raphael’s drawings. On show is "Titian to Canaletto: Drawing in Venice" (to 10 Jan), and later “Works from the Hall collection: Andy Warhol” (from 4 Feb).
Amble around Oxford’s cobbled streets to explore the architecture, from the gargoyle statues to quadrangle colleges. Sir Thomas Jackson, who designed many colleges, created one of the city’s most famous landmarks: Hertford Bridge. Popularly known as the Bridge of Sighs, like the famous bridge in Venice, it connects the two colleges.
There are plenty of green spaces to visit for a peaceful walk, including Port Meadows, which has not been ploughed for almost 4,000 years. Here you can spot horses and cows and walk alongside the River Thames.
Getting there: London Paddington to Oxford train. Tickets from £12 (day return).
Brighton: City By The Sea
Originally a small fishing village, Brighton grew to prominence during the 1770s when it became fashionable to visit to take in the health benefits of fresh air and bracing water. It grew even more popular since the construction of the railway in 1840. Today, it’s a busy destinations, famous for its shops, nightlife and pebbled beaches.
Ride the Brighton Wheel to take in all the city at once. Rising 50 metres above the ground, it offers panoramic views and three turns on the wheel (£8).
The Lanes is famous for its independent stores. Recreate the mod look often associated with Brighton at Jump the Gun. With its 1960s fashion, for teddy boys and punks, accessories such as braces and belts start at £10.
Brighton is all about café culture, so sit back with a coffee and do some people watching. Tea shops are in vogue: Metrodeco in Kemptown is a 1930s Parisian-style tea shop serves cream tea for £5.80, and the lunch menu offers hearty sandwiches starting at £5.
No trip to Brighton is complete without for a walk down the Pier, best known for its penny arcades, dolphin racing and doughnuts. Capture your own wish-you-were-here photo, from beautiful sunset views to sparkling beaches.
The Royal Pavilion, which was influenced by the grandeur of India and China, has picturesque gardens with flowers, shrubs and trees that are open to visitors.
Getting there: London St Pancras, London Bridge and London Victoria by train. Tickets from £10
Stratford-Upon-Avon: Literary Heritage
William Shakespeare is England’s most famous writer—lines to his plays have been spoken by actors across the ages, from Laurence Oliver to Kenneth Brannagh. A trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon is like stepping back in time, especially its cottages, such as Shakespeare’s own and his wife’s, beautifully restored. There’s a taste of traditional England: cosy pubs, tearooms and, of course, world-class theatre.
Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-Upon-Avon is the most-visited parish church in the country, mainly as it has Shakespeare’s modest grave here (£2).
No trip to the town is complete without visiting the theatre, preferably to watch a play by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Kids will love “Wendy & Peter Pan” (to 31 Jan), while there’s also the Restoration comedy “Love for Love” (to 22 Jan) from £10.
Looking to spot a famous face? Head to the Dirty Duck for a pre- or post-theatre meal. It’s close to the Swan Theatre, and the choice of pub for actors after their performance. Sample a traditionally British dish: fish and chips (£10) or sausage and mash (£9). (www.visitstratforduponavon.co.uk)
Tucked away behind Shakespeare’s former home are the Elizabeth Knot Gardens. Stratford-upon-Avon is idyllic also for its canal and bridges – look out for swans on the water. Running through the town, the canal was built between 1793 and 1816 and was conceived as a transport link to Oxford and London.
Getting there: London Marylebone to Stratford Upon Avon. From £12
Cotswolds: England's Green & Pleasant Land
With its rolling hills, chocolate box villages and relative proximity to London, the Cotswolds might be more expensive to reach from London, but once you are there it’s the a wonderful place to discover the English countryside. At 800 square miles, it’s the largest of the 38 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England and Wales, characterized by a rural landscape dotted with footpaths, dry stonewalls and limestone buildings throughout its ancient towns and villages.
Located in the quaint village of Broadway is the Cotswolds’ highest castle, 18th century Gothic Broadway Tower, the brainchild of Capability Brown. Climb to the top for views across the village, and below to see the nuclear bunker built during the Cold War. Outdoors is the Deer Park (from £5).
Painwick’s Rococo Gardens was designed by Benjamin Hyett in the 1730s, and is famous for its landscaped design. Each month there are horticultural delights: in January see the early snowdrops. There’s also a children’s nature trail and maze. (from 10 Jan; £6.50).
Chipping Campden, built in 1627, once housed the Market Hall, where townsfolk would trade cheese, butter and poultry. Today, Sheep Street is a great area to visit for independent shops offering jewellery, pottery and second-hand books. (http://chippingcampden.co.uk)
Gloucester Cathedral is more than 1,300 years old, and open year round. Free guided tour include the Crypt, where you can find the earliest remains of the building, and tours of the cathedral that was used as a setting in the "Harry Potter" films.
No trip to the Cotswolds is complete without a walk in the glorious countryside. Painswick, known as the "Queen of the Cotsworlds", is one of the most famous. Surrounded by large areas of National Trust woodlands, it is a great place for seeing wildlife. It’s also got good access to the Cotswold Way footpath, a protected countryside path running 102 miles from Bath to Chipping Campden. (http://www.painswicktouristinfo.co.uk)
Getting there: London Paddington to Moreton-in-Marsh from £12. London to Kemble from £25.