“When a man is tired of London,” so the famous line from Samuel Johnson goes, “he is tired of life.” So it may be, but it’s a shame that one city hogs so much attention. If you fancy getting out of the capital, and venturing just a little farther afield than the usual daytrip attractions of Oxford, Bath, and Brighton, consider spending a night in one of England’s other cities where the crowds are fewer and prices tend to be lower.
Just over an hour by train from Central London, Bristol is most deeply beloved by Brits of all ages for its brilliant musical and street art scene. A diverse demographic and large student population creates a culture that is uniquely Bristolian and ever-innovative. If that’s not your scene, though, the city is also home to fine examples of Georgian and Victorian architecture, as well as the SS Great Britain, the world’s first steam-powered passenger liner, built by in 1843 and now occupying a dry-dock along the harbor. If you happen to be in town during summer, you might catch the annual Bristol Balloon Fiesta, Europe’s biggest hot air balloon festival.
Bristol is just half an hour from the heavily-touristed Bath, but your money will stretch much farther here. Rates at the arty boutique Berkeley Square Hotel in the city’s Clifton area start as low as $40 and include access to the basement-level members-only bar. And, speaking of money, while in Bristol you can exchange your British pounds for Bristol Pounds (rate 1:1). The Bristol pound was introduced by the city as a means to encourage shopping locally and can be spent in the city’s independent stores.
Another English city with a rich musical history, Manchester (less than two and a half hours by train from London) has spawned many of Britain’s most well-known bands from the past few decades. To spot the newest arrivals on the Manchester music scene, take a tour through the many bars and clubs of the Northern Quarter. To delve further back into Manchester’s history, visit the The Lowry, which houses a collection of works by L.S. Lowry, an English artist famous for his depictions of mid-20th century life in industrial England. Across from the Lowry, a striking work of architecture houses the Imperial War Museum North, which, through exhibits and tours, tells the stories of life during wartime.
With rates starting at around $130, The Midland hotel is handily close to the train stations of Oxford Road and Piccadilly. The hotel also hosts a popular afternoon tea service and has two restaurants, both helmed by Chef Simon Rogan.
The much-maligned seaport town of Hull (Kingston upon Hull, to use its proper name) got a new lease on life when (two months ago) it unexpectedly won the title of U.K. City of Culture 2017. As a result, major redevelopment is underway, which will likely bring a cluster of new cultural venues and bring much-needed boost to tourism and the economy. In the meantime, Hull’s attractions include a number of parks such as the 120-acre East Park, which features a deer park, aviary, and lake where (in summer) you can hire a boat to pedal along., and the grand historic buildings of the Old Town. For a sense of the city’s maritime history, take a walk along the docks and around the marina, where you’ll see the 1927-built Spurn Lightship, a lighthouse and ship that houses a museum.
Located five miles outside of the city center, the Mercure Hull Grange Park Hotel is housed in a 19th century manor house set within 12 acres of landscaped gardens. Rates start at $90. As somewhere between two and half to three hours by train from London, Hull requires a little more of a time commitment so consider making a few days of it and head out to the dramatic landscape of nearby Yorkshire Moors and Dales while you’re there.