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London is as busy and dynamic as it’s always been, even post-Brexit. The trouble is that sometimes it can be a little too dynamic. Sometimes even the most energetic of travelers needs a bit of a slower pace. Thanks to a remarkably swift and thorough British rail system, taking a day trip to any number of amazing towns and villages is as mellow as afternoon tea. Here are five locales where you can exit the London bustle and enter the English countryside, home to welcome doses of rolling hills, ancient history and, of course, lots of fish and chips.
1. Bath, A UNESCO World Heritage City
In just a 90-minute train ride from London, you could be in a hot bath — or at least, in Bath’s natural hot springs. The Romans built what was essentially England’s first spa back in the first century A.D., and today, you can visit the same Roman Baths that earned the city its UNESCO World Heritage status. To experience the relaxing, natural thermal waters, spend some time soaking at the Thermae Bath Spa, where a $45 ticket (Monday through Friday; $49 on weekends) will get you a two-hour spa session, including the use of a towel, bathrobe and slippers. When you’re done schvitzing, grab your camera and wander through what is easily one of England’s most beautiful ancient cities. Literature lovers should reserve afternoon tea time at the Jane Austen Centre’s Regency Tea Room.
2. Salisbury, Gateway to Stonehenge
Take the train 90 minutes from London’s Waterloo Station to Salisbury, a popular stopping point on the way to Stonehenge, located just eight miles away. Many a legend surround the 5,000-year-old global landmark, and while theories about its purpose and construction abound, everyone can agree few other places evoke such a sense of enchanting mystery. While the town of Salisbury benefits greatly from Stonehenge tourism, it has plenty of bucolic appeal all on its own, from its marvelous Cathedral — which dates back to the 1200s and boasts the tallest spire in Britain — to an original, preserved copy of the Magna Carta (one of only four remaining) and age-old streets lined with Medieval pubs.
3. Brighton and Hove, Two Foodie Cities by the Sea
These famous seaside towns are located about an hour south of London (maybe a bit longer, depending on the train) and are often referred to jointly since they’re practically indistinguishable — together, they form a quintessentially English seafront scene complete with a long promenade. Colorful summer-rental huts and snack bars line the pebble beach, while scents of fried delights fill the air. The Brighton Pier, which opened in 1899, is the star here — a massive, colorful hub of rides, games and eateries, an amazing place to stroll down at sunset on a clear day. Nearby, British Airways i360, the world’s tallest moving observation tower, also opened this summer and is worth checking out.
Brighton and Hove have recently seen a bit of a culinary explosion, with an array of restaurants popping up for every palate. For the all-important Sunday roast, head to The Better Half on the Hove border for a smashing new take on an old neighborhood pub. Light-yet-authentic Indian cuisine here doesn’t get any better than Azaro on Church Road. “The Lanes” area of Brighton is home to one of the town’s best new restaurants, 64 Degrees, where you can interact with masterful chefs as they do their thing from the bar facing the open kitchen. Paying with the Chase Sapphire Reserve card will reward you with 3x the points for dining and other travel expenses like hotels, plus 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. After your feast, walk off a few calories and marvel at Mughal-meets-Chinese architecture at the 1823 Royal Pavilion, or wander the streets of nearby Kensington Gardens and explore the neighborhood’s amazing vintage shops.
4. Kent County, Home to Canterbury and the White Cliffs of Dover
At the southeastern tip of England is the County of Kent, reachable by train from London’s St. Pancras International Station in about an hour. Lovers of bivalves may already know about theWhitstable Oyster Festival, where coastal campers set up for 10 days of music, games and all things shuckable.
Slightly more reverent is Canterbury, the ancient city familiar thanks to Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales,” and as the town where Christianity took root in England during the 6th century. Its massive Cathedral remains home to the Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the Anglican Church, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Kent has several more points of interest, like Margate’s Turner Contemporary Modern Art Gallery, or its recently re-energized Dreamland “pleasure park” for kids of all ages. Just don’t miss a trip to the puzzling (and somewhat claustrophobic) Shell Grotto, a centuries-old subterranean series of rooms and passages, every inch adorned with mosaics of English coastal seashells. Nature-lovers should head to Dover to check out the famous White Cliffs along the coast, which are even more impressive when viewed from the water.
5. Dorset County, for that Classic English Countryside Feeling
If the term “English countryside” conjures peaceful images of green meadows dotted with grazing sheep, you might be dreaming of Dorset, the southwestern county less than three hours from London. It was this serene setting that inspired many of Thomas Hardy’s writings — in fact, you can visit the very cottage where he wrote some of them just outside the county seat of Dorchester.
Evershot is among the rustic little towns that feel “far from the madding crowd,” as Hardy wrote. Though you can still eat well there at the historic Acorn Inn, referred to here as “the town pub,” or at the refined restaurant of the Summer Lodge Hotel, home to Sommelier Eric Zwiebel — for a real treat, ask about a special wine and local-cheese pairing in the conservatory beside the hotel’s flowering English garden. Don’t leave Dorset County without stopping at By the Bay restaurant in Lyme Regis for the best fish and chips (and mushy peas) you’ll find on the coast.
Also worth a look at Lyme Regis, the colorful, oft-patterned seaside huts, pictured below.
Have you visited any of these places? Tell us about your experience, below.
Featured image of houses in Shaftesbury, Dorset County, UK, courtesy of Shutterstock.
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