Travelling alone is one of the most liberating ways to explore the world – set your own pace and indulge your own tastes with no one to please but yourself. Using London as your base, follow these tips and tricks to venture further afield and make the most of your me-time across Britain.
1. Pick a station, pick a destination
Getting around Britain solo couldn’t be easier – or speedier! London’s rail stations are the starting point for countless adventures: from Paddington explore Harry Potter’s Oxford (1 hour), Banksy’s Bristol (1 hour 25 mins), Roman Bath (1 hour 35 mins) and Welsh capital Cardiff (2 hours); from Kings Cross get to bookish Cambridge (50 mins) and historic York (2 hours); from Euston reach buzzy Manchester (2 hours 5 mins) and Birmingham (1 hour 20 minutes) and from Marylebone visit Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon (2 hours). ‘London by sea’, as Brighton is known, is one hour from Victoria.
Many rail services offer free Wi-Fi and most have an at-seat refreshment service, as well as a Quiet Carriage. Get the free Trainline app to book easily and skip the queues at the station by downloading your ticket to your phone; handily, it also tells you which carriages have the most free seats. Settle in to enjoy peace, super-scenic countryside views and a cheeky G&T as you whizz out of London...
2. Pound the pavement
On arrival, meet new people and get the lay of the land on a guided walk. Cardiff, Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol, Bath and York all have fantastic free city tours led by locals, whose enthusiasm for their cities is contagious; you’ll be oriented in a couple of hours and it’s a great way to get to know like-minded travellers. The Stratford Town Walk has been hailed the ‘best use of £5 spent in England’ (£6 for adults) – running daily, its lively guides know all there is to know about Shakespeare’s old stomping ground.
3. Live like a local
Of the many pleasures of independent exploration, meeting friendly locals and getting hot insider travel tips is up near the top – along with people-watching, of course. Areas that attract colourful characters to strike up conversations with, and which harbour a dense concentration of indie cafés, bars and boutiques, include the Northern Quarter in Manchester, the Custard Factory in Birmingham, Brighton’s LGBT heartland Kemptown, and street art-soaked Stokes Croft in Bristol.
4. Expand your mind
Museums and galleries are magnets for the solo traveller, offering the chance to lose yourself in centuries-old art or be energised by contemporary works – and as a bonus, more than 50 institutions across the UK are absolutely free to visit. See a shrunken head in Oxford’s Pitt Rivers, fall in love with Impressionist art at National Museum Cardiff and score a lesson in soccer history at Manchester’s National Football Museum.
5. Table for one – far more fun
Who wants a lunch companion when you’re absorbed in a riveting read? Scriptum in Oxford sells fine stationery downstairs and classics like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (which was penned in the city) upstairs; take yours to bustling Quod for British classics served under eye-catching art. Cardiff newcomer Octavo Books is a bookstore and café combined, and serves a delightful Book Lover’s Afternoon Tea for One, which is the perfect way to spend a few delicious hours.
When it comes to dinnertime, pick the right restaurant and solo dining can prove more satisfying than eating en masse – for one thing, you don’t have to share dessert! Vietnamese food fans will love Pho, with locations across Britain – the Brighton branch has bar stools overlooking the busy kitchen, whose creative chefs provide all the entertainment you need.
Up the ante at acclaimed El Gato Negro in Manchester, savouring kitchen theatre and delicious tapas at the chef’s table, where dishes are plated up right in front of you and you can get chatty with the chefs. If you’re in the mood to socialise and learn a new skill, try an evening cookery course; at Simi’s Kitchen in Bath, learn how to whip up a gorgeous Iranian feast in Simi’s home and then spend a leisurely evening enjoying it with fellow classmates afterwards. And if evening is the best time to connect with people back home, Manchester’s hip, huge restaurant The Refuge is ideal; as well as a great buzz (thanks to the in-house DJ) and excellent people-watching opportunities, there’s Wi-Fi and plenty of sockets to plug into while you feast on sumptuous small plates and gorgeous cocktails.
6. Get connected
It’s easy to keep in touch with friends and family whilst on your solo adventures around the UK; hundreds of cafés across Britain offer free Wi-Fi, usually sporting a handy window sticker to advertise the fact, and it’s increasingly popular at museums and galleries too. Visiting Manchester or Liverpool and need net time? Head to the Ziferblat cafes, where you pay 8p per minute for unlimited cake, tea, coffee and Wi-Fi, with pianos, record players and board games thrown in for good measure.
In addition to Trainline, essential apps for your explorations include Citymapper, a must for getting around London, Birmingham and Manchester; Tablepouncer, live in several UK cities and offering last-minute discounts on fabulous eateries; and the National Trust app, which will inspire you to visit 585 special places rich in history and beauty – well, you might tick off one or two!