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The Radcliffe Camera in Oxford, seen from on high with the city in the background

Best Weekend Getaways from London

Looking to escape the capital for a couple of days? Need to discover a new and exciting place that is quick and easy to reach by train?

There are loads of great places on the GWR network that are perfect for a weekend break or more. Trains from London Paddington to Cardiff, Oxford and Bristol are regular and direct, meaning you can sit back, relax and watch the countryside go by while you’re whisked off to your next holiday destination.

Here are just three of our recommended weekend getaways from London, including short guides to making the most of these thriving destinations.

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London to Cardiff

The Welsh capital is a perfectly compact city, ideal for a short break, with a famously friendly atmosphere and a thriving nightlife.

Kick things off at Cardiff Castle on the edges of the lovely Bute Park, right at the heart of the city. From its Norman keep, proudly perched on a steep mound, to the eccentric and glitzy 18th century interiors, there’s plenty to see at this prime historic attraction.

The Norman Keep at Cardiff Castle, photographed against a blue sky

 The National Museum Cardiff is a must for those looking to find out more about the country’s fascinating history, from prehistoric times to the present day. Come face to face with dinosaurs and woolly mammoths, as well as Wales’s national art, geology and natural history collections.

Formerly a bustling port town, Cardiff has always maintained strong connections with foreign countries, including Norway. Closely associated with the famous Welsh children’s author Roald Dahl, whose parents were Norwegian immigrants, the Norwegian Church – formerly a place of worship for sailors from across the waters – is now an arts centre with a café and great views out over the bay.

Built in the 1990s as part of a larger project to redevelop the Cardiff Docks, Cardiff Bay Barrage was at the time one of the largest civil engineering projects in Europe. It’s open to the public, allowing pedestrians to walk from Queen Alexandra Dock to Penarth Head, with great views over the Severn Estuary.

 One of the best cities in the UK for shopping, Cardiff has everything a bargain hunter might need, from large shopping centres to independent stores, as well the famous Victorian and Edwardian arcades, home to some excellent boutique shops and cafes, including the famed cheese shop, Madame Fromage.

For those looking for a little exhilaration, consider the amazing Cardiff International White Water. Formerly a training venue for the London 2012 Olympics, CIWW offers white water rafting, stand up paddle boarding and the high-wire adventure course Air Trail.

Don’t forget to grab yourself a bite to eat. Cardiff is home to a huge variety of cuisines to suit all kinds of budgets!

Take a GWR train to Cardiff Central

London to Oxford

The city of dreaming spires is one of the prettiest in the country, largely due to the fabulous architecture associated with the university’s 39 colleges.

Unsurprisingly, Oxford is also home to one of the most celebrated libraries in the world. The Bodleian Library, which includes the iconic Radcliffe Camera, is one of the oldest in Europe and the second largest in the UK. Not only is it an amazing and historic source for students, the library was once a location in the Harry Potter films. Book an inexpensive tour and get exclusive access to some of its best interiors.

The University of Oxford’s museum of art and archaeology, Ashmolean Museum, is equally impressive, boasting a collection of artefacts spanning some 3,000 years, as well as top touring exhibitions. It’s a must-see for those visiting the historic city. If you’re looking for something a little further away why not visit the Oxford Bus Museum at Hanborough Station or Rousham Gardens - a short walk from Heyford Station.

At the heart of the city centre stands a titan among shopping experiences. Westgate Oxford has all your favourite outlets – everything from Calvin Klein to Zara – as well as a good range of places to eat, drink and relax.

Make sure you experience the quintessentially Oxford mode of transport – punting. Head over to Cherwell Boathouse Punt Station and hire a punt, canoe or rowing boat for an hour or more and explore the Cherwell River at your own leisurely pace.

Take a GWR train to Oxford

London to Bristol

Bristol is widely regarded as one of the most happening cities in the UK, full of culture and history, including a fine heritage in underground music and graffiti art. It’s also the western end of the Great West Way, a 125-mile touring route from London, ideal for the curious traveller wanting to spend a little more time exploring the idyllic countryside, towns and villages along the way.

One of the city’s top destinations, Bristol Zoo Gardens was established in the Victorian era, making it one of the oldest of its kind in the world. It’s home to a whole host of mammals, insects and more, including a family of gorillas, housed in a specially designed viewing area that allows you to see them move around above your head – all behind toughened glass, thankfully!

Bristol Museum & Art Gallery is a free attraction, packed full of historical artefacts, natural history, classic paintings and more. Keep an eye out for famous graffiti artist Banksy’s Angel with Paint Pot, which was left behind after his 2009 exhibition at the gallery.

Discover more art by the inimitable Banksy with a walking tour of the city, taking in his finest – and some of his earliest – masterpieces, including The Mild Mild West mural on Stokes Croft.

With its rich maritime history, your spoiled for choice when it comes to boarding top historic ships. As well as Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s SS Great Britain, you can visit a reconstruction of the famous Matthew – the ship in which John Cabot sailed to Newfoundland in 1497 – at the Bristol Floating Harbour. You can even book a trip on The Matthew and sail along the Avon Gorge and under the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

The tall ship The Matthew sailing in Bristol, with the city seen behind it

 Also famous for pioneering air travel, Bristol is home to the huge Aerospace Bristol, a museum that takes you through over 100 years of aviation history, exploring the trailblazing planes that helped define our age, from fighter jets to the last Concorde ever to fly – a great fun day out for families.

Being such a diverse city, it’s little wonder Bristol is a great place to dine out, with lots of different cuisines on offer, from top Indian eateries to reliable British gastro pubs. The city has more than its fair share of award-winning restaurants, including five Michelin-starred establishments. Why not check out one of the three Bib Gourmand restaurants on Wapping Wharf: Tare, Box-E and Root?

Take a GWR train to Bristol Temple Meads