10 Great Side Trips from London

West Pier in Brighton. Photo by David Hawgood

By Dinah Hatch

London is an unbelievably rich city, but it's still a city, and you haven't fully experienced England until you've gotten into the country for a while. We suggest you hop on the train or jump in the car and go and discover your own green and pleasant land, far from the madding crowd. After all, there's so much more to England than its capital.

Photo Caption: West Pier in Brighton. Photo by David Hawgood/Wikimedia Commons

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View from the river in Bath, England Photo by Mohd Zaini Haniffa
What: Founded by the Romans and rediscovered by fashion-conscious 18th and 19th century spa lovers, there's enough to keep you busy in springtime Bath without hearing mention of Kate's dress once. Take the air at the fabulous Roman Baths and Pump Room, tittle tattle scandalously as you meander through the Jane Austen Centre or simply shop hard and then flop at Sally Lunn's, the city oldest house, for a Bath Bun.

Where: Just over 100 miles west of London.

How to get there from London: Nose the car towards the M4, stick on a CD to avoid radio chatter about The Big Day and drive for about 90 minutes. By train, there are half-hourly services from London Paddington to Bath Spa station, taking about an hour and a half.

Information: www.visitbath.co.uk

Photo Caption: View of the river in Bath, England
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Brightly coloured beach huts in a row on Brighton seafront, England Photo by Neillang/Dreamstime.com
What: Brighton's always maintained an air of irreverence, ever since George Prince of Wales decamped there to indulge his love of gambling, drinking, taking mistresses and eating a lot whilst in residence at the fabulously lavish Royal Pavilion (open to the public, £9.80 and well worth it). George's disdain for the pomp of his own family never really left Brighton. If you don't believe us, check out the city's Dome theatre on April 29 which will be hosting satirist group The Treason Show's NOT The Royal Wedding Show (tickets £12.50).

Where: On the south coast, about 50 miles south of London.

How to get there from London: By car, join the M25 until the M23 turn off and continue driving until the A23 takes you straight to the Palace Pier. Trains leave London Victoria about every half hour and the journey takes just over an hour. From the station, it's downhill all the way, quite literally...

Information: www.visitbrighton.co.uk

Photo Caption: Brightly coloured beach huts in a row on Brighton seafront, England
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Bridge of Sighs and New College Lane, Oxford Photo by Anne Ackermann
What: Lose yourself in the rich history of Oxford for the weekend and we promise you'll emerge on Monday having forgot there was a wedding on Friday at all. From the architecturally breathtaking university colleges to the riverside botanic garden and from the fabulous array of quality pubs -- including The Eagle, where Watson and Crick drank in their discovering DNA days -- to the Ashmolean (check out Guy Fawkes' lantern and Europe's last dodo), there's way too much to do in a weekend. And to think you could have wasted it in front of the telly&

Where: 59 miles west of London.

How to get there from London: A straight drive for an hour along the M40 will deliver you to the city. Direct trains run from London Paddington every 30 minutes and get there in just under an hour.

Information: www.visitoxfordandoxfordshire.com

Photo Caption: Bridge of Sighs and New College Lane, Oxford
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Bristol - boats and buildings seen from Redcliffe Bridge Photo by John Lander
What: April 29, historic? Those young royals don't know the meaning of the word. For a touch of proper heritage and tradition, get yourself along to Bristol where the stately SS Great Britain sits on the River Avon. The once fastest ship in the world is moored alongside a dockland museum detailing all who sailed in her, from gold diggers to the England cricket team. And you get to play deck quoits, just like they did.

Where: 110 miles west of London.

How to get there from London: Head west out onto the M4 and keep going. It'll take about two and a half hours. Trains run direct from London Paddington every half an hour and the journey takes an hour and three quarters.

Information: www.visitbristol.co.uk

Photo Caption: Boats and buildings seen from Redcliffe Bridge in Bristol, England.
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Shakespeare's birthplace in Stratford. Photo by Frommers.com Community
What: There's so many Bard-related attractions to see here you won't have time to think about what's going on elsewhere on this sceptered isle on April 29 (see what we did there?). Check out the courting chair on which Will (not that one) wooed his love at Anne Hathaway's cottage, the idyllic rural gardens at Mary Arden's House and bedroom where the poet was born.

Where: Just over 100 miles northwest of London.

How to get there from London: Bomb up the M40, past Oxford, and exit at junction 15, onto the A46. Local roads lead into the city. It'll take you just over two hours. Trains leave London Marylebone around about every two hours and the journey takes two and a quarter hours.

Information: www.visitstratforduponavon.co.uk

Photo Caption: Shakespeare's birthplace in Stratford. Photo by Picturessence/Frommers.com Community
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Cambridge's Fitzwilliam Musuem Photo by Zylian
Where: Just because the country's fallen into a what-Kate's-dress-like, Hello!-magazine type stupor, it doesn't mean you can't spend your weekend sharpening your intellect. Stroll down Cambridge's central King's Parade, nosing into the various university college entrances as you go, then continue onto Trumpington where you'll find one of the UK's foremost art collections in Britain, the Fitzwilliam Museum. Reward your intellectual endeavours afterwards with a punt along the College Backs and then a mojito-making lesson, organised by Scudamore's Punts. How can this not be more enjoyable than five hours of royal wedding coverage?

Where: 50 miles north of London

How to get there from London: Head for the M11, exit at junction 11 and follow local city centre signs. It'll take about an hour and a half. Fast, direct trains leave London Kings Cross every half an hour to Cambridge, taking 46 minutes.

Information: www.visitcambridge.org

Photo Caption: Cambridge's Fitzwilliam Musuem. Photo by Zylian/Flickr.com
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Willy Lott's cottage -- subject of works by painter John Constable -- in Dedham, England. Photo by crabchick
What: The area around East Bergholt is known as Constable Country, the great artist having painted six of his most celebrated works here including The Hay Wain, The Lock and Flatford Mill. Take a picnic and stout walking shoes and head to the National Trust's Bridge Cottage in Flatford. It feels like it could still be the early 1800s there and roaming the Dedham Vale, spotting scenes from Constable's paintings, makes for pretty much an idyllic day off from 21st century living.

Where: Just north of the Essex border in south Suffolk.

How to get there from London: By car from the north circular, take the M11, M25 and A12. It will take about an hour and a half. Take the hourly fast train from London Liverpool Street to Colchester which takes 46 minutes. The number 93 bus service runs from Colchester to Ipswich via East Bergholt and is a ten-mile journey.

Information: www.nationaltrust.org.uk

Photo Caption: Willy Lott's cottage -- subject of works by painter John Constable -- in Dedham, England. Photo by crabchick/Flickr.com
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Boats along the Sussex shore in Hastings, England. Photo by Frommers.com Community
What: Base yourself in traditional seaside resort Eastbourne and split the weekend between deckchair chilling and castling. A short car drive from this floral coastal town you'll find out how the nation changed for all time during October 1066 at Battle Abbey. Move onto Hastings Castle to learn more about the date that changed the course of history and finish up at Pevensey Castle where William the Conqueror landed two weeks before the battle. Finish up the weekend with a pint at Beachy Head pub, a former WWII listening post.

Where: Eastbourne is 62 miles south east of London

How to get there from London: By car, take the M25, M23, A264, A22, A27 and then A22. It should take around 90 minutes. Trains leave London Victoria for Eastbourne every half hour and also take 90 minutes.

Information: www.visiteastbourne.com

Photo Caption: Boats along the Sussex shore in Hastings, England. Photo by McCubrey/Frommers.com Community
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Canterbury Cathedral Photo by Kmiragaya/Dreamstime.com
What: Make a pilgrimage to Canterbury like thousands before you and time it to take in a recital at the cathedral, the seat of the Anglican church since 597AD, where Thomas Beckett was murdered in 1170. Then wander the cobbled, car-less streets to the excellent Canterbury Tales multimedia exhibition of Chaucer's book. You'll meander through dimly-lit rooms and hear Geoff's ribald stories emerge from medieval mannequins
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The "HMS Victory" in Porstmouth Harbour. Photo by Nigel Swales
What: It'd probably take you until the royal couple had got back from their honeymoon to take in all that this thriving city has. Inspect the Royal Navy Historic Dockyards and learn all about King Henry VIII's fave Tudor warship the Mary Rose at the museum housing rediscovered artefacts or take a tour of HMS Victory where Nelson's writing desk still sits. Don't forget to head up the 170m Spinnaker Tower for lovely 40km panoramic views across the city and the Solent.

Where: On the coast, 57 miles south west of London

How to get there from London: Head along the A3, the A3(M), the A27, the M27 and finally the A3 again. It should take an hour and a half. Direct fast trains leave London Waterloo half hourly and reach Portsmouth Harbour or Portsmouth and Southsea station about one hour and 50 minutes later.

Information: www.visitportsmouth.co.uk

Photo Caption: The "HMS Victory" in Porstmouth Harbour. Photo by Nigel Swales/Flickr.com
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