Day trips from London

Tired of London? There’s Plenty to Explore Beyond its Borders

The UK is oozing with history, and though London is the country’s prime cultural hotspot, there are so many reasons why you should ditch the city for a day and experience what this tiny little island is all about.

Luke Abrahams
20 May 2023

Roman ruins, pretty market towns, provincial villages, country pubs, nature reserves, dreamy forests, heath-flecked heaths, and stellar university towns – these are just some of the reasons you should say bon voyage to London Town and see what else the UK has to offer. In just a few hours by car or train you can be transported into another world. One minute you are traipsing through ancient York; the next you’re walking in the footsteps of Jane Austen; and then you are suddenly devouring fish and chips off the pier in Brighton. The point is, it’s well worth taking a break from all the hustle and bustle to experience all the things that make Great Britain…great. From Cambridge to the rolling hills of Somerset and Shakespeare’s stomping ground, here are just a few of the places worthy of an Instagram story, or two.

Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Make Sure to Book in Advance

There's only one tip I will give you and one alone, book your train tickets in advance. One of the best places to do that is online from the National Rail. Prices jump, especially closer to the departure date, so you'll be saving bucks as well as stress.

Cambridge is one of the most visited and beautiful cities in the UK. Though some might say it’s heresy, the market town is far prettier than rival university pundit Oxford. It’s much smaller and as a result, easier to navigate especially if you’re pressed for time. The other major draw to this 800-year-old city is its wildly photogenic University campuses, some of the prettiest you’ll see on the entire planet. It’s best to start your Cambridge pilgrimage at King’s College to take sights of its 15th-century Gothic stained-glass chapel, home to its claim-to-fame fan vault (the largest of its kind in the world), Then there’s the good old traditional art of punting. While most prefer to bike the city, it’s the simplest way to see all the major sights, including the Bridge of Sighs and Trinity College, on the cheap and with someone who knows the city very well. There are also loads of great pubs to dine in, many of them once frequented by former city greats, including the likes of novelist E.M. Forster and more.

How to get there: Taking the train is the fastest way to get to Cambridge from London. It takes about 45 minutes to reach the city on direct services departing from either London King’s Cross or Liverpool Street stations. Driving takes about 1h 40min, dependent on traffic. It is also notoriously expensive to park in Cambridge, so taking a train is your best option.

Brighton, Sussex

For years Brighton has remained in the top spot of easy day trip destinations from London Town. It’s easy to see why. You can get there by train in as little as one hour, and as the unofficial gay capital of the UK, is the place to go if you’re looking to let loose and have a little fun. Like most seaside towns in the UK, Brighton is packed full of classic bed & breakfasts, dizzying alleyways, eclectic arcades, fairgrounds, never-ending piers, and more. Wall-to-wall live music venues always put on a very good show from local and international acts, from jazz to indie, rock, and punk. A shopping spree down The Lanes is also a must. Expect lots of fun little alleyways, cute pubs selling homegrown Sussex hops and ciders, pizza shacks, vegan eats, and lots and lots of vinyl and record stores. A Mr. Whippy (a traditional coned whipped ice cream) on Brighton Pier is also a non-negotiable pastime as is a stock of rock (candy). Best time to go? The summer, simply because the vibe is infectious and the sea is not as bone-chilling.

How to get there: There are several stations in London that have trains to Brighton start from, Including London Blackfriars, London St. Pancras, and London Victoria. For those departing from Blackfriars or St. Pancras, regular Thameslink services can be booked in advance or at the station. Southern operates near direct Brighton trains every hour or so from London Victoria.

If you choose to drive, expect a journey time of roughly 1 h 30 min from central London to the coast.

The New Forest, Hampshire

London can get a little hectic sometimes, so if you need a little escape for a few days, there’s nothing quite like a trip to the New Forest. There’s everything from heaths covered in the loveliest of purple heather, winding country lanes and fields dotted with the best of Britain’s safari scene: cows, highland cattle, horses, sheep, deer, and if you’re super lucky, badgers that have lived and grazed here for thousands of years. This is also prime country pub territory. Traditional grub from sarnies (sandwiches) to ham and chips and gourmet burgers are delicacies to be reckoned with and respected. The Royal Oak in Fritham is a go-to favorite, so if you’re heading up to these lush green pastures in a car, make sure you take the time to pull up here and get your foodie freak on. It’s near the perfect day trip for traveling families, too.

How to get there: The New Forest is 1h 30 min away from London Waterloo station. Take the train to Brackenhurst and follow the signs or hop on a local tour. If you are driving your own car, head for the same spot. Depending on the roads, it takes roughly 2 hours to get here from central London.

York, York

While it might be a good 200 or so miles away from the dead center of London, York is easy to get to from the capital. High-speed trains bound for the Gothic city take just under two hours to pull and run so frequently that you can even decide to head up to this northern wonder at the very last minute. Small and compact, the ancient walled city is one of the UK’s greatest treasures. It’s perhaps best known for its medieval masterpiece York Minster, one of the country’s oldest and most ornate cathedrals, which dates to the glory days of the seventh century. The adorable creaky lop-sided shops here are also super cute as are the tea houses that rustle up fresh scones every day. Be warned, they pull in the crowds day and night so get there early to grab a table. Clifford’s Tower is well worth a visit to get some epic views of York and beyond, and if you love nothing more than stocking up on souvenirs and unique mementos, hit up the Shambles for the coolest storefronts in town.

How to get there: Several train services depart London King’s Cross station to York every hour. It’s well worth booking tickets in advance to avoid steep fares and if you prefer to have a reserved seat.

Several tour operators also run regular coach services from London to York, though this option is better suited to those in search of an overnight stay as the drive up can take anywhere from five to six hours.

Bath, Somerset

Just like Londoners, you might forget there's a world outside of their city. A day trip will give you a little perspective and show you what the UK is all about: the simple life.

Jane Austen land, as some Londoners call it, is a slice of the good life. The Romans knew it, too. It’s here in provincial Somerset where you’ll find their prime open-air wellness spa, the world-famed Roman Baths. Touring the baths is just one of the major watery highlights to experience here, but be warned, there’s no swimming allowed as the water is now deadly toxic. That said, it’s still worthy of a good post on the good old Instagram feed. Elsewhere in the spa town, you can see all the amazing Roman temples, sweeping crescents, beautiful Georgian houses, and doting Victorian Gothic structures that have sprung up over the years. The arts and culture scene is also fantastic in these parts with all sorts of theatrics from shows to live music and comedy stand-ups. If you’re driving, don’t forget to explore the green Somerset countryside. In a word, it’s simply stunning.

How to get there: You can hop on a direct train to Bath from London Paddington Station. The journey takes 1 hour 30 minutes. Drivers, set off early to make the most of it as it will take you between two and three hours before you hit Bath city center.

Stratford-upon-Avon, West Midlands

The home of Shakespeare is a real treat to discover. The medieval market town is a literature buff’s definition of a bookish paradise with all its storied taverns, thatched cottages, and adorable shops. The playwright William Shakespeare used to call the place home, along with his wife Anne Hathaway whose house you can still visit today. A little over two hours from central London, it’s best to make a day out of it, so leave early to catch everything from a flamboyant theater show at Royal Shakespeare Company’s playhouse (tickets sell out fast so book way in advance) and for a ride on a boat tour along the very pretty canal basin. For extra special memories, reserve a seat on the Countess of Evesham, Stratford-upon-Avon’s answer to the Orient Express. Expect great food and excellent views from the comfort of your seat as you’re whisked down the River Avon.

How to get there: The journey to Stratford-upon-Avon takes exactly one hour and 56 minutes from London Marylebone station. Chiltern train services depart every 60 minutes. To avoid high fares, it’s well worth booking your train ticket before you visit.

Whitstable, Kent

Whitstable is often at the top of every Londoner’s day trip bucket list. Why? It’s quintessentially British in every way imaginable. Think winding streets full of colorful houses oozing character, cutesy beach huts, lively restaurants plating up local delicacies from freshly caught lobster, and long coastal walks that are good for the soul and clear the mind. Another big reason people come here is because of the town’s famous oysters. Devouring these tasty mollusks is a must and one of the best times to try them is during the annual Whitstable Oyster Festival, a marvelous show full of stalls selling local arts and crafts, bio-organic wines, and food that takes place in the town every summer. Aside from all the pretty shops, flower markets, and fish shacks, Whitstable’s stretch of beach (the water is very cold, so beware) is well worth exploring as are its ancient castle ruins. End the day with a bag of fish and chips – they are some of the tastiest wrap-ups you’ll find in this part of the country.

How to get there: The easiest and most efficient way to get to Whitstable from London is by train. Southeastern trains run regular direct train services from London Victoria station to Whitstable with journey times taking roughly 2h 7min.

About the author

Luke AbrahamsLuke Abrahams is a London-based freelance journalist specializing in news, luxury lifestyle, and travel features. Luke was previously the features social media editor at the London Evening Standard. His work has appeared in more than 25 U.K. and U.S. publications, including British Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, The Times, Town & Country, The Telegraph, Condé Nast Traveller, Time Out, House & Garden, Suitcase, Elite Traveler, Insider, and more. So far, Luke has visited 82 countries. His favorite is Italy, and it always will be.