Three night escape near London
June 6, 2014 8:58 AM   Subscribe

My family and I are looking to spend three days, somewhere near London, between our visits in London and Paris later this month. We will be in London until the 28th, and have Eurostar tickets to Paris on July 1. No car. We are leaning towards Bath, but are open to other ideas.

There will be two adults, and our 17 year old daughter. As I've posted previously, she's all about fashion, so the fashion museum in Bath sounds great (as does all the cool history-type stuff to see). We are also open to other relatively nearby areas-Windsor? We are coming from the US and this is her first trip abroad. We would be fine staying someplace and booking some day trips (like Stonehenge). My husband will have finished about 10 long days of working in London, so a relatively mellow experience is high on his list-wandering and exploring and some good food and pubs. If you have been to Bath, any lodging or other recs? Thanks!
posted by purenitrous to Travel & Transportation around Bath, England (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Treatments or a soak in the pools at Bath Spa.
posted by brujita at 9:00 AM on June 6, 2014

Oxford and Cambridge both make good day trips; you can wander around the colleges, take out a punt (the latter has better views from the river), and have a nice dinner. Both are easily accessible from London.
posted by katrielalex at 9:02 AM on June 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yes, I would stay in Oxford and make day trips from there. You can go to the Lake Country, you can go south to the ancient sites, you can visit Blenheim, and you can explore Oxford itself.
posted by feste at 9:14 AM on June 6, 2014

My enthusiastic vote would be Oxford or Cambridge, both of which are absolutely glorious in summer. I would particularly recommend Cambridge, as it is a slower and less urban place than Oxford - Cambridge feels less industrial and more small town than Oxford. Cambridge has beautiful expansive green lawns and gardens along the river where you can walk (the "Backs"), which Oxford doesn't have as much of. Summer will allow you to take advantage of all the best things to do, including seeing the colleges in sunshine (rather than grey and driving rain, as is too common), wandering around the colleges' extensive gardens and the Backs, get a guided tour on a punt to see the colleges and town from a different vantage point, walking out of town along the river to the next village over - Grantchester - and having afternoon tea and scones at the Orchard, and having a pub dinner at the Eagle, which is a charming pub in the center of Cambridge where Watson and Crick announced their discovery of the structure of DNA. You could easily spend a very pleasant few days in Cambridge (or Oxford, if you decide to go that direction), and a few days would be about the right amount of time to enjoy it at a nice pace. Not much fashion there, unfortunately, but in my opinion, any trip to Britain would be remiss without at least a quick visit to one of these two towns. If you were very set on Bath, however, that would be a good reason to pick Oxford over Cambridge, as it is much closer (Oxford is about an hour and a half from Bath via either train or car). If you were happy with a faster pace for the few days, you could base yourself in Bath (or Oxford), see Oxford for a day, see Bath for a day, and another day trip or two as well.
posted by ClaireBear at 10:33 AM on June 6, 2014

Bath is great for leisurely wanderings and there is so much to see - the city itself and its architecture would be enough. Even the suburbs are gorgeous. If you just want to wander around soaking it in, get the Pevsner guide which might be a bit too much information at first but has really good suggestions for self-guided walks.

I love doing the canal walks which the tourists seem to give a miss. It's home to one of the best independent bookshops in the country. The main house of Theatre Royal is a cute gem. It's home to the magnificent Bertinet bakeries. Bath Ales has its own restaurant which serves really good meat.The King William has great food and it's very cute in a modern gastropub way. And, as expected, the Roman Baths are the most amazing place. Visiting the American Museum might seem a bit of a parochial thing to do but it features really interesting quirky exhibitions (and quite a few frocks as well) in a beautiful setting so it's worth a look.

If you do go to Stonhenge make sure your day trip goes by Avebury and Silbury Hill which are less iconic/well-known but really interesting.

Very close to Bath is a proper English aristocracy country estate: Longleat (Safari park is totally optional!) The house is beautiful in a downtown abbeyish style and the owner a properly eccentric Marquess who sometimes leads tours of the house himself. Or only a few miles North there's Dyrham Park with very well preserved interiors and a great park with deer roaming around.

Friends have stayed at the Queensberry and loved it.
posted by Marauding Ennui at 1:51 PM on June 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yes, come to Bath! Thankfully, I'm writing this after Marauding Ennui, so I don't have to cover everything, but she didn't mention everything.

The Roman Baths are an amazing place, and I try to go there at least once a year. Make sure to do a lot more standing around taking in the atmosphere and imagining what they were like 1900 years ago than everyone else does, because, honestly, most people are just listening intently to their audioguides like they're 10 year olds who are going to get told off by teacher if they look like they have the slightest carefree thought. The free hourly guided tours you get once you're down by the water's edge at the Baths are well worth it, though.

Next to the Baths is the Abbey. It's a fairly standard large old Anglican church, but I highly recommend the tower tour, which takes about half an hour and is a lot of fun if you like seeing buildings from above. Also leaving from outside the baths are the Mayor of Bath's guided tours, which are free, and people say are very good. If you want to eat outside the baths, the Roman Baths Kitchen makes tasty food well, and not pricey. Jacob's coffee shop is good, too, but I'll cover cafes later.

There is another bookshop (Topping's) than Mr B's if you feel like spending time on books. Both are spectacularly good. You'll find plenty of shops selling miscellaneous nice things if that's your thing, too. I like Rossiter's and Bloomsbury, but there's no shortage of other things.

If you don't want to travel too far, but do want to see (the grounds of) a stately home, Prior Park is about 20 minutes walk from the city centre, or you can get the number 1 bus, but buses aren't cheap in Bath (£2.70 each way, £4.20 for a day ticket). Another thing that's a bus ride and a walk away (on the number 14, to the hospital) is Kelston Round Hill, which is an amazing place to view a sunset. Walk along the Cotswold Way from the back of the hospital. Google Maps will be helpful for this.

Anyway, on to food and drink. I blogged about coffee shops in Bath 6 months ago, and pretty much all my advice there stands. There's no need at all to go to any chains, and most independents are pretty good. For eating in the city centre, pubs I'd recommend are (cheapest and actually a chain, but spacious and central, and the food's very good) the Westgate, Bath Brew House (slightly hipster, but really friendly, fun and skillful food and drink) and (pretty posh) Gascoyne Place, as well as the 2 that Marauding Ennui recommended and The Marlborough Tavern and its sister pub The Chequers. For fine dining, Allium Brasserie is tipped for a Michelin star soon, and The Kilted Chef is excellent. For fish and chips, I'd go for Pollocks who also do a gluten free batter and are eat in or take away. For curry, Rajpoot is the only worthwhile place in the city centre.

For day trips, if you go to Stonehenge, it's so much nicer to see Avebury on the same day so you see standing stones in a much more informal environment. If you want to go to the coast, Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove are gorgeous but an hour and a half's drive, and Bristol is worth a day as well (15 minutes by train). A great short cycle ride is through the Two Tunnels, which is a 13 mile loop, and beautiful. Hire bikes from Tom at Green Park Bike Station, or sign up for the (launched at the end of this week) hire by the hour bikes that are on the street, CitiBike/Bixi/Boris Bike style.

So yeah, there's probably enough to fill your time in Bath. Sorry I didn't get round to reviewing all the museums for you. If you can't tell, I love it here.
posted by ambrosen at 4:55 PM on June 6, 2014 [6 favorites]

York is another place you might like, very doable for a short break from London, just 2 hours on the fast trains.

It's small and walkable with lots of character and enormous historical interest, including Roman, Viking and medieval ruins and museums.

Here's a good video guide which catches the vibe well and shows you the major sights.
posted by philipy at 6:20 PM on June 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

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