Sunday, April 14, 2024

10 Best Day Trips from London (by Train and Car)


In this article, you’ll find out about some of the excellent places to visit and things to do outside of London. All of these spots are within easy reach of the capital, and you can even be back in time for dinner in the West End.

London is the perfect base for exploring some of the UK’s most popular attractions. Although many of these are within the city limits, there are plenty of day trips from London to other cities, national parks, and the coastline.

Having lived in and around London most of my life, I can tell you about some great places to discover that are just a short train ride or drive away. From castles to beaches, Roman baths to quaint villages, these London days trips are perfect for escaping the hustle and bustle of the city.

Here are the 10 best day trips from London.

1. Cambridge

The historic city of Cambridge makes for one of the best day trips from London as it’s so easy to reach. The city is home to one of the UK’s most prestigious universities which has seen some of the greatest minds of our time pass through its hallowed halls.

Sir Isaac Newton, Alan Turing, Prince Charles, Hugh “House” Lawrie, and Naomie Harris are just a few of the alumni of Cambridge University. Olivia Newton-John was also born in the city and spent much of her childhood there.

I’ve been visiting Cambridge for many years and it remains one of my favorite places to explore thanks to its fascinating museums, incredible architecture, and pleasant green spaces.

One of the best things to do in Cambridge is to walk along the back of the colleges, (known locally as “the Backs”). This walk takes you through a large park and along the River Cam with exceptional views across the old university buildings.

Another of Cambridge’s top attractions is the Fitzwilliam Museum which houses a collection of over half a million artworks and artifacts from antiquity to the present day. Like many of the UK’s top museums, it’s free to enter.

A great way to get a feel for the place is to take a walking tour like this one which takes in some of the city’s most famous sights.

Cambridge is an easy day trip from London by train with the shortest journey just 48 minutes from King’s Cross/St. Pancras station. A day return ticket costs £19.50.

Best Day Trips from London

2. Brighton

Brighton is definitely one of the best London day trips as there’s so much to see and do in this seaside town. In summer, the city attracts holidaymakers to its wonderful south coast beaches, boutique shops, and eateries.

Brighton Pier is one of the city’s best-loved attractions and is packed with amusements, arcade games, and fairground rides. The pier is a grade II listed building and has survived many catastrophes over the years; storms, fires, and even bombing during the Second World War.

Eating fish chips on Brighton Seafront is an absolute must for anyone visiting the UK, (watch out for greedy seagulls). The city has a great coffee scene too and there are lots of quirky cafes to get your daily fix. Twin Pines on St James’ Street is one of the best in town.

“The Lanes” refers to an area of narrow, cobbled streets packed with bars, restaurants, and independent shops dating back to the 16th Century. This is the beating heart of Brighton and is the perfect place to grab a bite to eat or a drink and people-watch in gorgeous surroundings.

Experience the Lanes with this fascinating walking tour hosted by a 15-year veteran of the city. You’ll learn about local legends and characters, get to explore the city’s unique architecture, and see Britain’s oldest beer brewing site. This is certainly my favorite part of the city.

Trains depart London Victoria station for Brighton every hour, and the quickest journey time is just 58 minutes. A return ticket will cost you £13.70.

3. Stonehenge

Stonehenge is one of the most mysterious attractions in the UK and is one of the best day trips outside of London. This ancient stone circle dates back around 5,000 years. No one knows how it got there or who decided to put it there, and this has been baffling social scientists and historians for centuries.

Stonehenge is truly an impressive sight to behold. These 13-foot stone monoliths weigh an average of 25 tonnes each and cut an imposing scene on the windswept Salisbury Plains.

In years gone by, many people flocked to Stonehenge to celebrate the solstice as the sun’s rays aligned with the stones. Although the stones were cordoned off to prevent damage in 1977, it’s still possible to visit the site and walk amongst this wonder of the ancient world.

This half-day tour from London is a fantastic way to experience Stonehenge and takes the hassle out of visiting. It’s much easier to reach this way than by taking public transport.

Stonehenge is on the A303 so if you plan on driving to Devon or Cornwall from London, you’ll pass right by, just like I did on family holidays as a kid.

Best Day Trips from London

4. Canterbury

Canterbury is famed for its beautiful cathedral and as the diocese of the Archbishop of Canterbury; the highest ranking office in the Church of England, founded by Henry VIII.

The city has three UNESCO World Heritage Sites; Canterbury Cathedral, the ruins of St. Augustine Abbey, and the Church of St. Martin, (the oldest church in the English-speaking world).

The city itself has been inhabited since before Roman times and this is reflected in the architecture and ruins around Canterbury.

Canterbury is just a short trip from London and is a very pleasant city to stroll around and explore. You’ll find cobbled streets and medieval buildings, cafes, restaurants, and lots of boutique artisan stores selling locally made crafts and produce sourced nearby.

The Refectory Kitchen is an awesome brunch spot in Canterbury and serves breakfast and lunch using locally sourced ingredients. It’s also a great place to pop in for a coffee.

This two-hour walking tour gives a great insight into the history and architecture of the city and is a great way to explore Canterbury.

There are hourly trains from Victoria, St. Pancras and Paddington Stations, with the shortest journey time being 54 minutes. A return ticket costs £30.60.

5. Windsor Castle

No trip to Britain is complete without a trip to one of England’s many castles, and Windsor Castle is one of the most impressive. It has the unique distinction of being both the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world.

The castle is an official residence of Queen Elizabeth and has seen 39 monarchs throughout its history.

Windsor Castle was founded by William the Conqueror in the 11th Century, however, the structure as you see it today is mostly Georgian, (1714 – 1830), and Victorian,(1837 – 1901). The castle is set within 13,000 acres of land and contains the palace, fortifications, and even a small town.

It’s possible to visit Windsor Castle and the surrounding grounds. Tourists are even permitted to see some of the state rooms used by Royals, and witness some of the incredible art on display, such as Van Dyke’s portrait of King Charles I.

Visiting Windsor Castle is one of the best day trips from London by car as it takes around an hour to drive depending on traffic. The castle is also easy to reach by train from Waterloo station and takes only 53 minutes, (depart at the Windsor and Eton Riverside station). A return costs as little as £11.00.

Best Day Trips from London

6. Colchester

As part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, the Essex town of Colchester has recently been granted city status. It’s famous for being the oldest recorded town and the Roman capital of Britain. It’s also been my home for many years, so I can certainly recommend it as a great place to visit.

Colchester’s best attraction is its Norman castle, built at the top of a hill surrounding the town. The castle was built in the second half of the 11th Century but dates back to Roman times and is built on the site of the Temple of Claudius.

You can see evidence of the castle’s Roman past in the crypts and basement below but you’ll need to pay a little extra for this.

Castle Park is a large area of manicured lawns, flower displays, and a traditional bandstand with sumptuous views across the Essex countryside. There’s also a cafe which is a very pleasant place to sit and enjoy a coffee or a snack.

Highwoods Country Park is a ten-minute walk from the station and is a beautiful spot and wildlife habitat that’s perfect for walking and picnics. I used to work as a volunteer at the park and it’s still one of my favorite places to relax, (usually with friends, a football, and a few beers).

A few town-center pubs I can recommend include the Kings Arms which serves great food, the Hole in the Wall with a real piece of Roman wall inside, the Castle Inn, and the Purple Dog.

There are hourly trains from London Liverpool Street Station and the journey time is an hour. Tickets cost £31.50. Colchester is definitely one of the best day trips from London by train, but then I am biased.

7. Bath

The UNESCO World Heritage site of Bath is another British city with its Roman past on proud display, nestled in a beautiful valley of the River Avon. The city is named for its Roman baths that were introduced in 60AD thanks to hot springs discovered in the locality.

Bath is one of the best London day trips, but as it’s a little farther than others recommended in this guide, you’ll need to use your time carefully. Be sure to visit the World Heritage Centre to learn a little about the city’s history before exploring the beautiful Roman baths.

Although you can’t take a dip in the ancient baths themselves, you can enjoy the same thermal waters that the Romans enjoyed somewhere like Thermae Bath Spa.

I actually cycled to Bath from London around 10 years ago, however, I don’t recommend doing this if you’re just going for the day, (it took me two days to cycle there). Luckily, there are plenty of daily trains from London’s Paddington Station that take an hour and twenty minutes. A return ticket costs £90.10.

Insider tip: As the trains to Bath are quite expensive, consider taking the National Express coach which can cost under £10.00 each way. The journey time is just over three hours, so you’ll need to leave early, but this is a great option for budget travelers.

Another great option is to take a tour from London, like this one that includes Windsor, Stonehenge, and Bath.

Best Day Trips from London

8. The Cotswolds

If you want a picture-postcard vision of England, then Cotswolds is the place for you. With some of England’s prettiest villages set across miles of rolling countryside, this quaint corner of the country hasn’t changed much in centuries.

You’ll find ancient cottages with thatched roofs, rustic village pubs with wooden beams and roaring fireplaces, and manicured gardens straight out of a period drama.

The market towns of Stroud, Chipping Norton, and Cirencester are all worth visiting, and you can find lots of second-hand bookshops, artisan food stores, and weekly farmers’ markets here. The villages of Slad, Bourton on the Water, and Snowshill all offer a slice of England at its finest.

The Cotswolds are a great option for day trips from London by car, as traveling around the towns and villages is not easy by public transport. Another great option is to take a tour from London to enjoy a full day at the Cotswolds.

9. Southwold

The small town of Southwold on the Suffolk Coast is one of the most charming seaside towns in the country. It’s most well known as the home of Adnams Brewery. You can take a tour of the brewery and sample some of the finest beers in England – I recommend their Ghost Ship ale.

The town has miles of sandy beach, perfect for swimming and sunbathing in summer, and there’s a small pier with traditional Victorian entertainment such as the funny mirrors.

Southwold has more than its fair share of great pubs, (The Lord Nelson is one of my favorites), traditional fish and chip shops, and seaside cafes.

Southwold is one of the best day trips out of London for taking in the fresh, sea air and discovering one of Suffolk’s most famous towns.

There are no direct trains from London, but it’s possible to get there with a change in Ipswich, and then taking a bus from Halesworth. The whole journey should take around two to three hours.

Best Day Trips from London

10. Paris

If you’re looking for something a little different, then how about a day trip to Paris, France? With Eurostar’s daily London to Paris trains taking a little over two hours, getting to the continent has never been easier.

Climb the Eiffel Tower, see the Arc de Triomphe, and spend the day sightseeing in one of the most romantic cities in the world.

London is a wonderful destination for foodies, but I’ll have to grudgingly admit that the French sure know their way around a kitchen, and Paris is one of the best gastronomic destinations in the world.

The Eurostar leaves St. Pancras International station in the heart of London and arrives at Paris’ Gare Du Nord a little over two hours later. Tickets start at just £59.00, but to get the best deal you must book online.

FAQs About the Best Day Trips from London

Here are some answers to commonly asked questions about day trips from London.

Can You Do a Day Trip From Paris to London?

You can absolutely do a day trip from Paris to London. At just 2 hours and 16 minutes, taking the Eurostar from London’s St. Pancras Station to Paris is a piece of cake, (or croissant). You can be sipping Champagne on the Champs Elysee in the afternoon, and be back in London in time for cocktails in the evening.

2. What Places Are 1 Hour Away From London?

Some of England’s most interesting cities are less than an hour from London. Cambridge, Colchester, Oxford, Guildford, and Brighton are all reachable from the city in under an hour.

3. What is the Best Day Trip From London?

For a combination of culture, history, food, and green spaces, Cambridge is the best day trip from London. It’s so easy to get to with trains from both Kings Cross, (St. Pancras), and Liverpool Street.

Now You Know the Best Day Trips From London

London’s fantastic transport network means that getting to some of the UK’s other top cities and attractions is easy by train and bus. If you have a rental car, then visiting some of the UK’s best-loved landmarks from London is simple.

Whether you want to spend a day relaxing at the coast, walking around historic cities, or exploring castles, gardens and national parks, these are just a few of the great things that can be done on a day trip from London.

Looking for more of London? Check out this guide to unique things to do in the city.

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