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By Hanna Woodside
e love London – but sometimes we’re in the mood to mix it up, jump on a train and explore a little further afield. Here are five easy day trips for the early May bank holiday (or be an early bird and book now for the bank holiday at the end of May).
Don’t worry, we’ve checked all the train routes are running – no rail replacement nightmare here. The venues we’ve highlighted have all reopened but some have reduced hours, so do check times before you set off to make the most of your day out.
The Margate Alternative: Deal
Aka “Margate’s Little Sister” — and, let’s face it, Margate will be rammed on a bank holiday — Deal is 1hr 40mins by train from St Pancras (change at Ashford). You can do all the classic seaside stuff on Deal’s beach (FYI, it’s pebbly not sandy): get an ice cream from Deal Beach Parlour, walk the pier — stop at the Deal Pier Kitchen Shack for a takeaway lobster roll – or dodge hungry seagulls with your fish and chips from Sea View Fish Restaurant or Middle Street Fish Bar.
The town itself – a mix of fishermen’s cottages and smart Georgian townhouses – has lots to offer too. There’s the Saturday Market on the Union Road car park (8am-2pm) and The Village Community Market (Saturdays, 10am-4pm) for food, furniture, vintage fashion and antiques. Smugglers Records for vinyl and takeaway craft beer. The Hoxton Store and Will & Yates for chic homeware. And Linden Hall Studio for a culture fix (as a commercial art gallery they’re already open, Tuesday to Saturday). Looking for no-fuss pubs near the waterfront? The King’s Headhas outdoor tables on a first come, first served basis, as does The Walmer Castle Pub, and The Bohemian has a garden and a few tables out front. The super chic Rose Hotel is already booked up this bank holiday, but it’s definitely worth trying to book ahead for the next one, so you can sip on apricot Negronis and blood orange margaritas, and tuck into a menu of slow-roasted hake and scallops on the shell.
The Zone 9 Surprise: Amersham
The no-hassle day trip. Just get on the Metropolitan line, travel to the very end, and you’ll be transported to the picturesque old market town of Amersham (Zone 9; you can tap in and out at the station as normal). Cut down Rectory Hill, a little path across open fields, to get to Old Amersham, where you’ll find a charming high street, a mashup of higgledy-piggledy buildings from the 15th,16th and 17th centuries. There are 150 listed buildings in the old town including some classic Tudor-style architecture for maximum olde worlde vibes.
For a pint in a proper boozer, try The Eagle, The Elephant & Castle, or The Saracen’s Head Inn – which all have decent-sized beer gardens (needless to say, it’s best to try to book ahead). For lunch, there are a handful of tables left on the pretty terrace at Zaza, where you can sip a raspberry or strawberry Bellini or an elderflower spritz, or head to The Grocer at 15 or The Grocer at 91 for takeaway salad boxes and posh “supersarnies”: we’re talking ricotta, mortadella and pistachio on freshly baked focaccia. You can walk for about an hour up the River Misbourne via Shardeloes Lake, to the village of Little Missenden where there are two pubs, The Crown and The Red Lion, which both have gardens, then slowly amble back to Amersham as the sun starts to set.
The Seafood Haven: Whitstable
Whitstable’s super-fresh seafood makes it a go-to destination for foodies – and you can get a direct train to the working fishing town from St Pancras (1hr 15mins) or Victoria (1hr 20mins). Start at Whitstable Harbour, where you’ll find fishing boats bobbing in the marina, stalls serving freshly shucked oysters and the Harbour Market huts. The Lobster Shack on the East Quay has outdoor tables (first come, first served) for prawn tacos, seafood platters and cocktails.
From the harbour, you can head to the slightly quieter Tankerton Beach or walk down towards the main Whitstable beachfront via Harbour Street, home to the award-winning Sundae Sundae ice-cream shop and the pink-fronted Wheelers Oyster Bar (you can pre-order and collect one of its epic picnic boxes; think crab tartlets, smoked tiger prawns, haddock mac ’n’ cheese croquettes).
On the beach, you’ll find the iconic Old Neptune pub, aka ‘The Neppy’, which has loads of outdoor benches (call ahead to book). If you take a walk through the town, check out Blueprint Coffee, which roasts its own beans, Grain & Hearth bakery for sourdough sandwiches and viennoiserie, and indie bookshop Harbour Books.
The Lazy Day By The River: Cambridge
If you want a change of scenery but still the buzz of a city, Cambridge is only 50 minutes by rail from King’s Cross, so you can pack a lot in one day. Soak up all the atmosphere and architecture as you stroll through the narrow lanes of the university town, stopping by the 100-year-old bakery Fitzbillies for one of its famous sticky Chelsea buns, popping into the The Haunted Bookshop in St Edward’s Passage (Mon-Sat) or visiting the Cambridge Satchel Company flagship store on St Mary’s Passage.
When you’re done wandering and window shopping, head down to the river and hire a punt from Scudamore’s or relax on the Backs, the public lawns by the riverbanks. For food and drink, along the riverfront you’ll find Café Foy serving small plates (walk-ins before 4pm at weekends), La Mimosa pizzeria, an independent restaurant that’s been going for 30 years (walk-in tables in the garden plus takeaway) and MillWorks brasserie (walk-ins for the terrace and rooftop bar), voted one of the most romantic spots in the city.
The Outdoorsy One: The New Forest
Finally, for a proper escape from it all, take the train from Waterloo to the village of Brockenhurst (1hr 30mins direct), which is slap in the heart of the New Forest National Park. Right next to the station you can hire a bike from Cyclexperience (you can pre-book online) and within five minutes you’re on one of eight forest trails of varying lengths, depending on how much energy you’ve got. Download the app, so you can follow the pre-planned routes, which include the ‘Deer and Beer’ trail (you can see which pubs you’ll pass on each of the routes here). It’s important to have your priorities straight.
Make the most of the May bank holiday and venture outside London for a change of scene.
By Hanna Woodside