Visitors will never find themselves short of things to see and do in London. But it is also an excellent base for those who want to see a bit more of the country. I asked a number of travel bloggers to give me their recommendations for the best day trips from London by train.
All of the places in this list can be reached from London mainline stations in around an hour and a half or less. Note that you will save money if you book your train tickets in advance.
Rye, East Sussex
The pretty little town of Rye is located near the coast of East Sussex and can be reached from London by train in just over one hour. Rye has retained much of its medieval charm: strolling through the maze of cobbled streets is like an immediate passage through time. Admire the well preserved half-timbered buildings that line the streets as you explore the town, Rye is considered to be one of England’s most beautiful villages.
A trip to Rye isn’t complete without a stop at Mermaid Street, a picturesque little alley that is well known for its historic houses; it’s truly a postcard perfect scene. While you’re there, you must visit the famous Mermaid Inn for some lunch or a few drinks. This charming old inn is full of character and dates back to the 12th century. It’s one of the oldest inns in England and it also claims to be haunted!
Before you catch the train back to London make sure to check out The Ypres Tower, a small castle that was built to protect the area in the 14th century. Inside is the castle museum, where you’ll find medieval artifacts and a fascinating insight into Rye’s history.
Visiting Rye makes a perfect day trip from London by train. To get there you should take the high speed train from London’s St. Pancras Station to Ashford International, a 37 minute journey. From there you will take the train to Rye which is a further 21 minutes.
Ann from The Road Is Life
Spending a day in Brighton is one of the best short trips from London. Brighton is one of the most popular seaside destinations for tourists in the UK, thanks to its location and a cheerful vibe. This seaside city, called the “English Riviera” has a lot to offer. Located one hour south from London (Victoria or London Bridge) by train, it is very easy to get to.
One of the main symbols of Brighton is Brighton Pier. It was previously named Palace Pier, and was opened in 1899. It’s a place always bustling with life, full of shops and eateries, as well as the amusement park, and a small casino. From the pier, you can make your way down to the beach where you can stroll along the sea and admire the high waves. The beach in Brighton is wide and long but full of pebbles. From here, you can visit the British Airways i360. This is the world’s tallest moving observation tower, from which you can admire panoramic views of the town.
During your visit to Brighton, don’t miss the Royal Pavilion, an oriental palace with 200 years of history. You can visit the inside of the Royal Pavilion, or just admire its architecture from the outside. For those of you with an artistic soul, a visit to Kemptown is a must. This small community, close to the beach, is a centre for many artists, musicians, writers and activists.
Aga from Worldering Around
Whitstable is a charming fishing and harbour town located on the north coast of Kent, and is a great day trip from London. Getting to Whitstable is really easy – the high speed train from London Kings Cross or Stratford station takes just over an hour, or you can take a slightly slower train from London Victoria station that takes 1 hour, 30 minutes.
Whitstable is famous for its rich maritime history and excellent seafood scene. The town is a great spot for foodies with plenty of busy fresh fish markets and cute oyster shacks in the harbour, plus a handful of beachfront seafood restaurants serving hot and cold seafood platters with lobster. Whitstable also holds an annual weekend oyster festival every summer with hundreds of food and drink stalls, live bands and a town parade.
Other things you can do in Whitstable include taking a walk along the coast which is lined with colourful beach huts, or visit Harbour Street which is filled with pastel-painted craft and antique shops, independent galleries and cafes. If you are into history then check out nearby Whitstable Castle or visit the Whitstable Community Museum & Gallery, which displays the history of the local oyster trade.
End your day trip with a drink at the Old Neptune, which is the most famous pub in town. It is located right on the beach, so you can enjoy a delicious pint of locally brewed oyster stout beer or wine, and eat fish and chips with a beautiful sea view.
Caroline from CK Travels
Hever Castle, Kent
Located approximately one hour away by train from central London, Hever Castle makes a fantastic day trip for history lovers. To get there you should board a train to Uckfield from London Bridge, and get off at Hever (a 45 minute ride). The castle is located around a mile from the station, which makes a lovely 20 minutes’ walk through the village of Hever.
Hever Castle is famous for being the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII. It is one of the best maintained Tudor mansions in England, with an original ceiling dating from the 16th century. The castle has portraits of all the wives of Henry VIII, one of the best collections of Tudor portraits in the country. Visiting the inside of the castle takes around an hour and a half, and the ticket includes a very comprehensive audio guide that takes you through history and the story of Anne Boleyn.
The grounds at Hever Castle are a natural paradise, with gorgeous gardens, woodland, and a lake on which visitors can relax by renting rowing boats and kayaks. Many people come to Hever Castle for the day, to enjoy the grounds, bringing with them picnics, and strolling along the beautifully landscaped gardens. In summer the castle organises a medieval jousting tournament in which the Knights of Royal England compete for the title of season’s champion.
Joanna from The World In My Pocket
Winchester was Alfred the Great’s capital of England. It’s a small city with a lot to see, a wonderful day trip for anyone who appreciates history, art, or literature.
When you only have a day, there are a few things you must do in Winchester. First, visit Winchester Cathedral which was founded in 1046. It has the largest nave in Europe outside of Italy and is an example of English Perpendicular Gothic at its best. Inside you can see Jane Austen’s grave, the Winchester Bible, a modern sculpture by Antony Gormley, and more. During the holiday season, they also host a popular Christmas market.
Next, you will want to visit the Great Hall which is the only remaining building from Winchester Castle. The Great Hall served as a courtroom for many centuries: those tried here include Sir Walter Raleigh and, in more recent time, members of the IRA. The main attraction at the Great Hall now is the Round Table. While this is not actually from King Arthur’s time, it is a large, well preserved and impressively decorated medieval table.
If you have more time in Winchester, you should also see King Alfred’s Statue, the house where Jane Austen died, or one of the many museums. The High Street is also worth a wander.
You can catch a train from London to Winchester at Waterloo. The journey takes about an hour. Once you get to Winchester, everything is within walking distance.
Anisa from Two Traveling Texans
My own recommendation is the UNESCO World Heritage town of Bath, where a day will give you a taste of what this unique city has to offer. You will find Roman history, Georgian architecture and an eclectic mix of museums. This is the city of Jane Austen, and a host of other writers who visited and wrote about Bath. You can bathe in England’s only natural hot springs and browse in the city’s independent shops. And, of course, you can eat in a choice of historic pubs and gourmet restaurants.
To see as much as possible in a day, start with the Roman Baths (go early to avoid the crowds and allow around an hour and a half for your visit). Then use the Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus to take a tour of the city and stop at the Royal Crescent and the Assembly Rooms. The bus has two routes: the outer skyline loop shows the city’s spectacular setting in the valley of the River Avon. (Tickets for either route give discounts on entry to a number of sites including the Roman Baths.)
Bath is just under an hour and a half by train from Paddington Station.
Bristol is one of the UK’s largest cities, with the “London feel” but more compact. If you’re looking for a day out that’s full of history and places to explore but without feeling like a fish out of water then Bristol is the perfect day trip. From London Paddington take the direct train: it is 1 hour 40 minutes to Bristol Temple Meads.
Bristol is a city full of history, which can be seen around every corner – it’s particularly regarded for being a port city as well as for engineering. The city’s most famous landmark is the Clifton Suspension Bridge, built by Brunel, who also built the railway you’ll be riding along to get to Bristol. The bridge can feel a little touristy but it’s a must-see if it’s your first time in the city. A visitor centre has recently been built and tours are held of the bridge so you can learn more about it. Clifton is a 20 minute walk or short bus ride from the city centre so it’s easy to get to, and Clifton Village is a great place to wander and explore independent shops. Back in the city centre you can visit the SS Great Britain (a ship designed by Brunel), and there’s a museum about his life next door.
As well as Bristol being a historic maritime city, in recent years it has become a hub for arts and culture. You may have heard of the graffiti artist Banksy? He’s Bristolian! The city is full of free to visit art galleries, both big and small, meaning there’s always something to see for every taste. Centrespace Gallery on Corn Street regularly hosts smaller artists’ exhibitions, while places like Arnolfini, MShed and Bristol Museum and Art Gallery are the places to see more well known creatives display their work.
Bristol has become a place that’s well known for its links to the arts, history and education so when you visit make sure to check out Facebook and Eventbrite to see what talks or events are happening that day. Bristol is a busy city so there’s always something to see, do or explore.
Becky from The Owlet
Moreton-in-Marsh is a charming town in the Cotswolds with a busy High Street and intriguing back lanes filled with picturesque stone houses. It’s a scenic destination for a day trip from London and if you’re keen on soaking up the local atmosphere, plan your day trip for market day. Moreton-in-Marsh’s High Street has elegant 18th-century inns, and each Tuesday, the local market is a lively and colourful place to wander around. It’s the Cotswolds’ largest street market, and locals from nearby Cotswolds villages have flocked to the Moreton-in Marsh market since the 13th century. These days, you will find stalls selling a variety of items such as local crafts, gifts, clothing, baked goods and other food items.
History lovers should visit Chastleton House, which is a well-preserved Jacobean house built in the early 17th century and decorated with antiques and tapestries. Another place to explore is the Batsford Arboretum & Garden Centre, which has over 1600 species of trees and plants including Japanese cherries, that were planted before World War II. Nearby is the Cotswold Falconry Centre, a fascinating place to learn more about the role birds of prey played in the history of the area. It’s home to hundreds of falcons and other birds of prey such as owls, eagles and vultures. A quaint museum for those interested in WWII is the Wellington Aviation Museum, which has an excellent collection of RAF memorabilia.
The train ride from London Paddington to Moreton-in-Marsh takes about 1 hour and 29 minutes. It is a popular route, and there are regular train services throughout the day. The High Street is a couple of minutes’ walk from the railway station.
Christina from Travel2Next
St Albans is a medieval historic town located at the heart of Hertfordshire. It is popular with tourists for its great selection of restaurants, cafes, shopping and vast park with Roman remains. It makes the perfect day trip whether you’re traveling as a couple, with friends or as a family with kids. When weather allows, Verulamium Park is the perfect place to spend the day walking around the lake and admiring the remains of the city’s ancient Roman wall. The park is located next to The Cathedral & Abbey Church of Saint Albans, a magnificent Norman building. St Albans is also home to the oldest pub in the UK, Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, which was first established in 793 CE.
For food lovers St Albans has also a lot to offer. For example, Waffle House is the best option for those with a sweet tooth or if you’re after something more fancy you can go to The Ivy or Lussmanns. Or try Megan’s for amazing brunches. St Albans also has a street market with a variety of other cuisines.
Travelling to St Albans by train from London is easy. The journey takes around 20 minutes from St Pancras station using the Thameslink train.
Hadas from Luxury Voyager
Tring is a quaint little market town in Hertfordshire about 70 km (40 miles) north of London. It is situated right on the edge of the Chiltern Hills which is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The town itself is quite unassuming, characterised by mock Tudor houses, but it is home to the Tring Natural History Museum which is the biggest draw for visitors to the town.
Lionel Walter Rothschild, the 2nd Lord Rothschild, who resided in Tring, built up the largest collection of stuffed animals in the world and upon his death in 1937 he left it all to the Natural History Museum in London.
The Tring Natural History Museum is very much like the London Natural History Museum, but on a smaller scale. And while it does not have any dinosaur specimens (except for a giant sloth and the occasional temporary exhibitions), it has an enormous array of other interesting animals. As well as some of the larger, more well-known African animals, they have curious creatures like the zebroid (half horse, half zebra). The location of the museum next to Tring Park which backs onto the Chiltern Hills means that you can enjoy a lovely scenic walk after visiting the museum if you want to make it a full day out from London. There are ancient woodlands to explore and you’ll also see the stunning architecture of Tring Park Mansion, designed by Sir Christopher Wren who also designed St Paul’s Cathedral in London.
Tring is easily reached by train from London on a direct train on West Midlands Trains out of Euston Station. The journey takes around 40 minutes which makes it the perfect destination for a day trip from London.
Jacquie from Flashpacking Family
Oxford is the perfect day trip from London, packed full of so many fun activities. Head out of London from Paddington Station and around an hour later find yourself in amongst the dreaming spires of Oxford. If you’re a Harry Potter fan then head to Christ Church College where you can see the inspiration for the Great Hall in the form of their 16th century dining hall. Even if you’re not a fan it’s an impressive building for a wander around and you can see the door with the words “no peel” hammered into it in the 1840s as a protest against the then Prime Minister, John Peel.
Head in to the centre of the city for a wander through the amazing Oxford Castle which tells the history of the city through the ages as you explore its various uses through time, including as a prison. The Pitt Rivers Museum is one of the best museums around, full of so many wonderful artefacts from around the world, you could easily spend a day just here. With the wonderful Blenheim Palace (once home to Winston Churchill) just on the outskirts of the city, there is more than enough to fill your time. There are some great family hotels in Oxford, so while you can see plenty on a day trip, after a taste of this great city you may well want to plan a return trip for a weekend or longer.
Nichola from Family Hotel Expert
Cambridge is one of the best cities to visit close to London. It has a great mixture of historical locations and tranquil riverside trails. Cambridge is most famous for its university that draws many students and visitors from all over the world.
The city has many interesting places to visit. The most popular is the Chapel at King’s College. Other popular colleges worth visiting are Peterhouse and Trinity College. Note that some colleges may charge an entry fee and restrict their opening hours based on academic events. Museum-wise, you should visit the Fitzwilliam Museum, which houses extensive art and antique collections. After you have wandered along the picturesque streets, head to the River Cam. You can choose to walk along the river or try punting (either on a tour or on your own) and explore a different aspect of the city.
Before leaving, don’t forget to pass by the Mathematical Bridge, which is said to have been built without using nuts or bolts, and the Corpus Clock. Spend some time looking at the clock to notice all the little details about its design, the curious movement of the grasshopper on its top and the fact that it is only accurate once every five minutes.
To visit Cambridge from London you need to take a train from London King’s Cross, St. Pancras or Liverpool Street stations and get off about an hour later (an hour and a half if you depart from Liverpool Street). The city centre is a short walk from the train station, with lots of bakeries and cafes along the way.
Elina from Empnefsys & Travel