Who doesn’t like to travel? It’s exciting, adventurous, and a great way to discover new cultures. But sometimes, due to time or price constraints, that’s not an option. In that case, why not take a holiday in our own motherland, the United Kingdom? It has many fantastic travel options that we tend to overlook, so today I’m here to show you some of England’s hidden treasures.
Bristol is one of those cities anyone will tell you is inherently cool. And, long story short, they’re not wrong. I go there at least once a year, and I know I can always expect some relaxing, fun, hipster vibes, which is a nice change from the posh hustle and bustle in South Ken. It’s ideal for a weekend escape from the city, leaving on a Friday afternoon and coming back on Sunday, well-rested and ready for more Imperial deadlines. But how do you fill that magical weekend?
Let’s start with Gloucester Street, one of the coolest, hippest streets I’ve been to. Reminiscent of London’s Shoreditch but much cheaper, it’s filled with independent restaurants and thrift stores, where you can get the cheapest and jazziest clothes. My personal favourite is the Cats Protection store, where all sales go to aiding cat welfare (I bought an acid washed denim shirt and helped animals all in one – you can’t ask for more). There’s also a giant warehouse/thrift store at the end of the street, which is perfect for old records and discarded mannequin parts if that’s what you’re into.
For lunch, St. Nicholas Market is just five minutes away and offers a wide variety of food stalls, ranging from sausages to Korean food. Admittedly, some of them are not the cheapest, but if you live in London you’re used to it. Portions are quite large though, so if you’re smart and can control your appetite, you might have dinner sorted too.
As a student, you’re probably also wondering about Bristol’s nightlife, and – #spoileralert – it doesn’t disappoint. Start with some cocktails at Flipside, with their 2-for-1 days, secret garden, and pun-tastic drinks (“Gin ne sais quoi” is genius). Or if you’re feeling fancy, Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a cocktail bar whose entrance is disguised within a red telephone booth. That says it all. Once you’re feeling ‘happy’, there are plenty of clubs you can check out: SWX is a student-favourite, which boasts three different music rooms and spacious dance floors, so you can get as crazy with your dance moves as you want.
This brings me to my favourite topic: sleep. In terms of accommodation, they do have fancy hotels, like the Marriott and Hilton, and I’m sure there are many Airbnb’s available. But I recommend getting a friend who studies at Bristol University and will let you sleep in their house for free. Plus, they’ll know the ins and outs of the city and can take you to cool places.
“Situated in the middle of a valley, the Clifton Suspension Bridge is an image taken straight out of a travel brochure”
If you do go to Bristol, you must visit the Clifton Suspension Bridge. It’s the Bristolians’ proud badge of honour, and deservedly so. Situated in the middle of a valley, this giant bridge is an image taken straight out of a travel brochure, which will leave you wide-eyed in wonder. There’s a beautiful hill right beside it which proves a nice hike and provides a spectacular view of the bridge. You can walk across the bridge during the day and enjoy the view of the river and the valley, or go there at night when it’s beautifully illuminated and you can see all the lights from the city below (peaceful af).
But Bristol’s charm does not lie only in these great locations. The city itself is an attraction. Just walk around its streets, browse some shops, and enjoy its casual atmosphere. Everyone there seems happy and light, which is very contagious. Stop at any of its great cafes, like the Boston Tea Company, and enjoy a hot drink and a delicious scone (or your sweet treat of choice).
In short, go to Bristol for a fun, carefree weekend, filled with fun and denim jackets.
Surrey, and its main city Guildford, are great for a short day trip and pretending you’re from the rich part of England. It’s super easy to get there: you can take a train from Waterloo for less than £8 and be there in half an hour. It’s the perfect distance: it doesn’t take ages to travel there but still feels far enough that your worries won’t matter.
I recommend getting there around midday, since there’s no rush. The station is right next to the main city area, so you can literally get off the train and straight into the city. There are three main streets, all lined with any shop you can think of, so be ready to browse some clothes or books and comment on how bad inflation is getting. It’s also very easy to find a nice place to eat, although it might be hard to decide since they all look so good. I went to this lovely pub in the town centre with great pigeon decorations and nice vegan burgers – what more do you want?
If you have the time and are not fed up of universities, go have a look at the University of Surrey. It has a completely different vibe from Imperial (people are not running around stressed out of their minds and crippled by the weight of their deadlines), which is interesting to see. They even have a park on campus with a beautiful lake and benches to sit on and think about life. Here’s some Surrey inside knowledge and a possible spoiler alert: the lake is actually fake, built based on a CivEng students’ project. You won’t be able to tell from how realistic and peaceful it seems. Oh, and the ducks are just as nice as in Hyde Park.
Do you want to take a casual stroll around a quaint little town on a sunny day, or at least as sunny as England allows? Then Surrey is perfect for you (you’ll thank me later).
A bit (a lot) farther away than the other two options, Newcastle compensates for the long travelling distance with beautiful scenery and fresh air (which is ironic because it used to be the UK’s industrial centre). Since it’s so far away, you should probably compare train and plane tickets to see which is cheaper for your preferred date. In my case, I bought train tickets about a month in advance and spent around £80 (which is slightly expensive but sometimes you need to treat yo’ self).
Once you’re there, get ready to enjoy the city’s open spaces and impressive architecture. And I mean impressive. Every single building is excellently conserved, and some look like Gringotts Wizarding Bank itself. Speaking of architecture, they are also particularly proud of their bridges, of which there are seven: some of them are true architectural feats spanning the River Tyne. They’re similar to the Thames’ multiple bridges, each different and special in its own right.
One of the best things about Newcastle is its nightlife. There are a bunch of clubs: Tiger Tiger, Illegitimate, and my personal favourite Soho Rooms, which is free entry. Friday nights are filled with uni students, so there’s a great atmosphere and plenty of people to dance with. There are also plenty of food places open late at night right next to the clubs if you’re feeling hungry at 4am after partying.
“Every single building is excellently conserved, and some look like Gringotts Wizarding Bank itself”
For a chill hangover day, why not walk around the main street, filled with shops and restaurants which are fun to browse. I went in December so I’m biased, but the light decorations and the Christmas market made it very jolly and inviting. Five minutes away is the beautiful Sunday market, which has dozens of little stands selling very interesting objects. I particularly remember a shop selling wooden plaques, each fashioned after a different dog breed. Its privileged position right next to the river bed makes it a splendid place for a walk. It’s also right next to the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, a beautiful modern art museum for the artists amongst you. It has some very interesting exhibitions, quite similar to the Tate Modern but far less crowded. And for the Instagram aficionados, it has a fifth floor viewing area where you can see the entire city beneath you, with the river and its many bridges on the side. I obviously took several pictures.
Final word of advice: it’s freezing. They don’t have London’s warming and protective smog, so bring a good coat. But on the upside, it also means the chance of snow is very high, so you might be lucky enough (as I was) to see snow carpeting the city.
Have I convinced you to spend your next weekend in the UK rather than travelling abroad? I sure hope so, I didn’t write this article for nothing, and the UK’s tourism office wants its money’s worth.