London is one of the most interesting and vibrant cities in the world so it’s nearly impossible to run out of things to see and do in this historic capital. However, if like us this is not your first visit, or if you have more than a few days in London, then exploring further afield is a must. You may be surprised at the number of fabulous and easy to do day trips from London by train, bus, car or tour.
Whether you crave the English seaside, countryside, historic cities or charming villages you can have it all within as little as a one to two-hour commute.
Easy day trips from London by train
England’s small size and excellent railway system make getting out of London on a day trip by train an easy thing to do. In fact, it’s usually faster and definitely more scenic to travel by train in England, especially if you’re coming out of the big city.
Here are just a few of our favorite easy train trips from London:
“The City of Dreaming Spires” is home to the oldest university in the English-speaking world and is one of the top easy day trips from London.
Getting to Oxford: Just 1 hour by train from Paddington Station. Driving can take double the time and there are tolls.
What to do in Oxford:
- Walk the city center and admire the gorgeous architecture. We really enjoyed taking a walking tour with University Alumni.
- Wander around some of the 38 colleges of Oxford University. Christ Church College, Exeter College, and Trinity College are three favorites.
- Find the many landmarks around Oxford seen in the Harry Potter movies. Don’t miss the amazing Bodleian Library and the beautiful Christ Church.
- Visit Oxford Castle and learn about its turbulent and dark past as a prison
Go for a punt down the River Cherwell.
- Shop on Cornmarket Street where you’ll also find the Covered Market dating back to 1774.
Like Oxford, Cambridge is known for the exceptional colleges of Cambridge University. However, the city of Cambridge is smaller and more quaint than Oxford and it’s one of our personal favorite city day trips from London by train.
Getting to Cambridge: Less than 1 hour by train from King’s Cross or Liverpool Street Station. Driving will take double the time and some routes have tolls.
What to do in Cambridge:
- Stroll or cycle the pedestrianized streets of Cambridge center and take in all the amazing and historic architecture. Be sure to visit the outdoor Cambridge Market.
- Visit some of the many lovely colleges and consider attending Evensong at Kings College.
- Stop in at one of the old pubs for lunch and/or a drink. The most famous is The Eagle where the ceiling and walls are covered with graffiti from WWII airmen.
- Go punting through Cambridge down the River Cam and admire the backs of the beautiful colleges.
- Enjoy a walk through the Botanic Gardens.
Home to the Queen’s official residence of Windsor Castle this scenic town is a great destination that can even be done on a half-day trip from London.
Getting to Windsor: Under 1 hour by train from Paddington Station. Driving takes about the same amount of time but there are tolls.
What to do in Windsor:
Of course, the number one thing to do in Windsor is to visit Windsor Castle. Visitors can see many of the lavish rooms and pristine grounds of the 12th Century Royal residence.
- Take a stroll along the River Thames and stop for a picnic or a bite at a riverside pub and watch the boats glide past.
- Walk or take a carriage ride through Windsor’s Great Park and be sure to stop in at Savill Gardens.
- Shop and eat at one of the many charming shops and restaurants around town.
- If you have kids you’ve got a perfect excuse to visit the fun and unique Legoland Windsor.
At one time the capital of England, Winchester is a popular tourist destination offering historic sites and architecture, good shopping and dining options plus nearby country walks.
Getting to Winchester: A little over 1 hour by train from Waterloo Station. Driving will take about 2 hours.
What to do in Winchester:
- The top sight is the famous medieval Winchester Cathedral, one of the largest cathedrals in Europe. Learn the stories of the cathedral and the many historic figures who have connections to this awe-inspiring structure.
- Walk part of the 100-mile trail of South Downs Way which begins in Winchester and runs to Eastbourne on the East Sussex coast.
See the replica of King Arthur’s Round Table in the Great Hall, the only part of Winchester Castle still standing.
- Shop on the pedestrianized High Street and wander off onto the charming side streets and alleyways.
Colchester is the oldest recorded town in the country and was once the most important Roman location in England. Here you can walk through 2,000 years of Britain’s interesting past which includes the Romans, Saxons, Normans, and Victorians.
Getting to Colchester: Greater Anglia Rail out of Liverpool Street Station will get you to Colchester in just over 1 hour. Driving time will be about 2 hours.
What to do in Colchester:
- Circled by the longest standing Roman town wall in the country and with so many historic sites, exploring the town center itself is the main attraction.
- Learn the fun way with the fascinating exhibits, interactive displays and storytelling at Colchester Castle Museum, with the largest Norman castle keep in Europe.
- Enjoy a pint or traditional meal at one of the old English pubs. Some of our favorites are fish & chips, steak & kidney pie, bangers & mash.
- Find a green oasis in the middle of the city at Castle Park and be sure to stop in at the free Hollytrees Museum.
Step back in time in Canterbury’s medieval center with its cobblestone streets encircled by a Roman wall. This city is all about history, architecture, culture, and literature and its an easy day trip out of London that feels a world away.
Getting to Canterbury: Train from St Pancras will get you to Canterbury in about 1 hour. By car it will be closer to 2 hours.
What to do in Canterbury:
- Visit the Canterbury Cathedral, which at more than 15,00 years old is one of the oldest in England and is the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Gothic towers and stained glass windows are exquisite.
- Go to St Augustine’s Abbey and St Martin’s Church which are both part of the same UNESCO site as the cathedral.
- Canterbury is also home to one of the oldest gardens in the country: Westgate Gardens. As you stroll watch for the Victorian Tower House and London Road Gate.
- View Canterbury’s medieval sights from a boat on the Stour River.
- Enjoy Medieval poet Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales brought to life with animatronic scenes at an attraction all about his writings.
Countryside day trips from London
Other than the city of London, the beautiful English countryside is what England is best known for. Picture green fields and rolling hills, stone walls and farmhouses, plus a slew of charming villages with cobblestone streets, quaint cottages and historic buildings and you will be envisioning England’s natural side.
If you’ve dreamed of walking through story-book towns and medieval villages full of thatched cottages and idyllic country scenes then a trip from London to the Cotswolds is what you need.
Getting to the Cotswolds: Best as a day trip from London by car or tour as the Cotswolds is made up of towns and countryside across 6 counties and isn’t easily navigated by train. If you do have a car we highly recommend incorporating a couple of days in the Cotswolds as part of a longer UK road trip. Allow about 90 minutes to drive to the start of the Cotswolds from London.
What to do in the Cotswolds:
- Visiting the fairytale-Esque villages is the number one thing to do in the Cotswolds. Here are just a few of our favorites:
Bourton-on-the-Water with the picturesque waterways is often called “Venice of the Cotswolds”
- William Morris described Bibury as “the most beautiful village in England.” Home to Arlington Row, an iconic Cotswold scene of 14th-century weaver’s cottages.
- Burford is known for antique shops, beautiful 17th-century buildings on the High Street, and a medieval bridge crossing the River Windrush.
- Cirencester is a market town and is referred to as the “capital of the Cotswolds.”
- Walking the Cotswolds from village to village is a popular activity. The Cotswold Way National Trail covers 102 miles of breathtaking countryside but you can choose to do just a portion of it.
- Indulging in a traditional English tea is a must in the Cotswolds. Expect delicate sandwiches, delicious baked goods and thick cream with homemade jams.
- Lunch and /or a pint in an old English pub is another must-do in the Cotswolds.
- If you’re visiting the Cotswolds with kids check out Birdland & Jurassic Journey or Cotswold Wildlife Park.
Stratford Upon Avon
Stratford-Upon-Avon is a scenic market town on the banks of the River Avon and is also the birthplace of William Shakespeare.
Getting to Stratford-Upon-Avon: Reached by Chiltern Railways in about 2.5 hours or a little longer by car.
What to do in Stratford-Upon-Avon:
- Take in a Shakespeare play at the Swan Theatre or the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.
- Visit the house where Shakespeare was born and raised more than 500 years ago.
- See the 500-year-old cottage of Anne Hathaway, Shakespeares’ life-long-love.
- Enjoy a relaxing and scenic boat ride along the River Avon. You can either take a tour or rent your own rowboat.
- Have a riverside lunch at one of the lovely restaurants or pop into a bakery or food shop and make up your own picnic.
The New Forest
If immersing yourself in the beautiful English countryside is high on your list The New Forest is sure to please with its iconic heathland, forest trails, and wildlife.
Getting to New Forest: This is another countryside day trip from London that’s best done by car or tour. Driving time will be about 2 hours.
What to do in The New Forest:
- Taking a long walk through the New Forest National Park and breathing deeply of the fresh air is the main reason people take a day trip out of London.
- Horseback riding is another popular activity in the New Forest and there are several riding stables that will take you out on the trails.
- Spotting the New Forest wild ponies is my absolute favorite thing about a visit to this area.
Rye is a well preserved medieval town in the countryside near the East Sussex coast and in our opinion, it’s a very underrated London countryside day trip. However, that’s probably why we love it.
Getting to Rye: It will take 90 minutes to 2 hours by train and just over 2 hours by car.
What to do in Rye:
- Wandering the labyrinth of picture-postcard-perfect cobblestone streets is the best thing to do in Rye. Look for the enchanting names like Wish Street, Watchbell Lane, and Mermaid Street.
- Learn the smuggling history of the area at the Rye Castle Museum and climb the Wipers (Ypres) Tower.
- Seek out the historic pubs and learn their secrets. Hint: The Mermaid Inn and Ye Olde Bell Inn used to be connected by a secret passageway used by smugglers.
- Climb the tower at St Mary’s Church for great views and to see the workings of the oldest functioning church turret clock in England.
Set in the rolling Chiltern Hills the market town of Amersham is an easy countryside day trip from London offering both urban and nature-based activities.
Getting to Amersham: It’s easy to get to Amersham in 1 hour by train or car. Some of the sights nearby Amersham are easier to reach with a car.
What do to in Amersham:
- Wander the quaint streets of Old Town Amersham and stop in at the Amersham Museum in the Tudor Hall House on High Street.
- Go for a walk among the round grassy hills of the Chilterns, named as an Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
- Pay a visit to the Chiltern Open Air Museum which displays 30 historic buildings that were saved and relocated to this spot.
- If you have a car drive to the nearby Bekonscot, the oldest original model village in the world.
Seaside day trips from London
Going to the beach may not be the first thing you think of when you picture England. However, the fact that the UK is a relatively small island means that there are miles upon miles of fabulous coastline and lovely seaside towns within easy reach of London.
Brighton is a decent sized seaside town just 47 miles south of the city making it the most popular seaside day trip from London.
Getting to Brighton: Take the train from Victoria Street or London Bridge station and you’ll be in Brighton within 1 hour. Driving will take up to 2 hours.
What to do in Brighton:
- Obviously going to the beach is a given when visiting Brighton for a day. Especially if you get dry weather. Bring a towel or rent a deck chair and enjoy the view and sea air.
- As a kid, my favorite thing about Brighton was the Brighton Palace Pier with all the enticing games, rides and fair food. It feels like a bit of a tacky tourist trap these days but you can’t go to Brighton without checking it out.
- Visit the unique Royal Pavillion for a peek at the eccentric style of King George IV who had the exotic pleasure-palace built over 200 years ago for his seaside holiday entertainment.
- Have a wander through the labyrinth which is The Lanes, full of interesting shops and restaurants.
Margate is on the southeast coast and is loved for its sandy beach and cool, arty spirit.
Getting to Margate: Train from St Pancras or Victoria station takes about 2 hours. Driving time is about the same.
What to do in Margate:
- Spend some time relaxing or walking on the large Mains Sands beach and enjoy paddling in the pools created by the dramatic tide changes.
- Explore the trendy, bohemian Old Town with its quirky and vintage shops, specialty foods and art galleries.
- Visit the mysterious Shell Grotto which is an underground tunnel with chambers all decorated with over 4 million shells. It was discovered in 1835 but nobody knows the history behind it.
- Have some fun at the retro Dreamland theme park and fair. It first opened in 1880 and was dubbed “Dreamland” in 1920. Today it’s home to many events and festivals as well as the traditional rides, games, and food you’d expect to find at a fair.
White Cliffs of Dover
The White Cliffs of Dover are one of England’s most iconic and famous natural sights, there’s even a song about them!
Getting to the White Cliffs of Dover: It is possible to travel by train to Dover from St Pancras and then take a bus to the cliffs in about 2.5 hours but a car or tour would be the preferable form of transportation.
What to do at the White Cliffs of Dover:
- Walking along the cliffs themselves and taking in the spectacular views is understandably the top thing to do. Take a look at this map for a walking route.
- Watch for herds of adorably chubby Exmoor ponies as they go about their business of keeping the grass mowed.
- Visit the Victorian lighthouse constructed in 1846 which was in use until 1988. There has been a light on this spot since the 1300s to warn sailors of the massive cliffs.
- Outside of the winter season, you can tour the fascinating Fan Bay Deep Shelter. This network of tunnels was built in 1940 as accommodation during the war for the gun battery above.
Southend is a fairly big seaside town on the southeast coast within easy reach of London making it a popular vacation spot in the summer.
Getting to Southend-on-the-Sea: Train from Liverpool Street Station will get you there in just over 1 hour. Driving time should be about the same or a little longer.
What to do at Southend-on-the-Sea:
- Take a long walk or rent a deck chair and relax on one of the several beaches in the area.
- Stroll the Southend Pier which is the world’s longest pleasure pier and was first constructed in the 1830s and 1840s. Take the pier train to the end of the pier and enjoy all the fun activities and yummy food.
- If you have kids they’ll love Adventure Island full of games and rides, including 5 rollercoasters and a Sky Drop.
- Take a ride on the historic Southend Cliff Railway which runs up and down between Clifton Terrace and the Western Esplanade.
A large Victorian seaside town on the south coast, Bournemouth in the county of Dorset is both a popular place to live and to visit from London. It’s not as well known as Brighton and is also more refined and less touristy.
Getting to Bournemouth: Train from Waterloo Station takes about 2 hours and driving will take 2-3 hours.
What to do in Bournemouth:
- Bournemouth Beach is said to be one of the best in England and can get very busy on a summer day so plan to get there early for a good spot.
- Ride one of the three funiculars down the cliff to the beach. The Westcliff Lift is the steepest offering great views.
- Walk out on the Bournemouth Pier which has been an integral part of the seaside town since 1880.
- Visit one of the three gorgeous gardens: Central, Upper, and Lower Gardens.
- Enjoy a traditional English Tea in a non-traditional way aboard Frieda’s Tea Bus which cruises up and down the seafront between Bournemouth Pier and Boscombe Pier.
More top day trips from London
There are many more wonderful London day trips including these UNESCO World Heritage Sites, vibrant cities, castles, historic monuments, and even movie locations and sets. Many of these destinations are also great additions to a full UK road trip itinerary.
Once an important seaport, Bristol is now a trendy city buzzing with life and a big music and culture scene. Not only is Bristol a great weekend or day trip from London it’s also considered one of the best places in England to live.
Getting to Bristol: Train from Paddington Station will get you to Bristol in under 2 hours. Driving will take about 2.5 to 3 hours.
What to do in Bristol:
- Take a walk across iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge which spans the River Avon and offers amazing views, especially at sunset.
- Visit the impressive Dockland Museum and step aboard Brunel’s SS Great Britain, “The ship that changed the world.”
- If you enjoy street art, searching for the many Banksy works adorning the walls and buildings around Bristol is a must.
- Climb to the top of Cabot Tower for great views of the city and River Avon.
- Explore Bristol Harbour which is now full of fabulous restaurants, bars, and shops.
Being a UNESCO site steeped in history and with a reputation as one of the most beautiful cities in England Bath is understandably one of the top short trips from London
Getting to Bath: Train from Paddington Station takes about 90 minutes. Driving time is about 2 hours.
What to do in Bath:
- Visiting the ancient Roman Baths is one of the top things to do in this historic city. You can’t bathe in this bath but you can at the Thermae Bath Spa.
- Take in the impressive 18th-century Georgian townhouses of the Circus and Royal Crescent that were built in a semi-circle terrace formation.
- Visit the gorgeous gothic Bath Abbey and be sure to look up when you step inside at the incredible vaulting of the ceiling. You can also climb the tower for incredible views of the city.
- Cross the Avon River on the beautiful Venetian Palladian Pulteney Bridge and make sure to look for the Pulteney Weir which dates back to 1603.
This UNESCO World Heritage site is definitely one of the most famous sites in England and well worth making the journey from London.
Getting to Stonehenge: You will need to drive or take a tour to visit Stonehenge. Travel time by car is about 2 hours from London to Stonehenge.
What to know about Stonehenge:
- Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument consisting of a ring of massive standing stones.
- There are many theories around the meaning and building of Stonehenge but historians and archaeologists are still puzzled by the exact purpose.
- There’s a great exhibition and museum but it’s well worth taking a guided tour of the site itself to learn more about what they do now know.
- When I was a kid you could actually play on the rocks which is kind of crazy. Understandably now they are roped off but you are still close enough to get great photos.
Tip: Bath and Stonehenge can be combined on a day trip tour out of London. Check here for pricing and reviews.
Leeds Castle in Kent has been called “the loveliest castle in the world” and it’s accessible as a day trip out of London.
Getting to Leeds Castle: It’s best to go by car or tour to Leeds Castle as it would take a series of train and bus to get there by public transit. Driving time from London to Leeds Castle is about 90 minutes.
What to know about Leeds Castle:
- The original castle was built in 1119 but has been expanded and altered over the past 900 years.
- The castle has influences from medieval, Norman and Tudor times as well as the 19th and 20th centuries.
- Sitting on 500 acres of lovely parkland it’s a great spot for long walks and/or picnics.
- There are lots of year-round activities and attractions like a castle-themed playground, a maze, a grotto and falconry exhibits.
- Tickets to Leeds Castle are good for 1 year.
Tip: Canterbury, The White Cliffs of Dover and Leeds Castle can be combined on a day trip from London tour. Click here to check pricing and reviews.
The impressive 18th-century baroque style country house is the residence of the Dukes of Marlborough and is considered to be Britain’s greatest palace. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site and the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill.
Getting to Blenheim Palace: Although you can take a train to Oxford and then a bus to the palace it’s preferable to drive which takes about 90 minutes.
What to know about Blenheim Palace:
- Just 30 minutes from Oxford by car or bus you could combine both sites in one visit although it would be tough to see them both properly in just a day trip from London.
- You can visit the State Rooms inside the palace displaying some of the finest antique furnishings, tapestries and artwork in all of Europe.
- Blenheim Palace sits on over 2,000 acres of landscaped parkland and gardens designed by the famous Lancelot “Capability” Brown. Some consider it a “naturalistic Versailles”
- Tickets can be purchased for the Palace, Park, & Gardens or just the Park & Gardens
Hever Castle was built as a summer house in the 13th-century and was the home of a young Anne Boleyn, second wife of King Henry VIII. It’s now open to the public.
Getting to Hever Castle: It can be reached by train and then bus in about 90 minutes or 1 hour by car.
What to know about Hever Castle:
- Along with the antiques, delicate furnishings and tapestries, it holds one of the best collections of Tudor portraits in the country.
- Be sure to visit the Book of Hours Room which beautifully showcases prayer books that belonged to Anne Boleyn.
- The castle was purchased in 1903 by William Waldorf Astor who funded the restoration and expansion of the castle at a cost of $100 million.
- You can actually spend the night within the castle in one of 28 beautiful rooms.
- During the summer months, there are jousting tournaments and medieval games.
Harry Potter Studio Tour
Harry Potter fans will love the Warner Brothers Studio Tour London which has activities, displays, sets, and costumes from the making of the much-loved Harry Potter movies.
Getting to Warner Brothers Studio: A train out of Euston station will take you to Watford Junction in 20 minutes then a shuttle service will take you on to the studio with a total travel time of about 45 minutes. Driving time is 1 hour to 90 minutes. You can also take a tour out of London which is our recommendation.
What to know about the Harry Potter Studio Tour:
- There is a limited number of visitors allowed on the tour so you need to book in advance.
- You can choose from several ticket options, some include transportation to and from London and others are just for entrance to the studio tour.
- Once in the studio, the tour itself will take 2.5 hours.
- Some highlights of the studio include Diagon Alley, the Great Hall, Platform 9 ¾, the Forbidden Forest, Gringotts Wizarding Bank, Potions Classroom, Dumbledore’s Office and thousands of costumes and props.
Downton Abbey filming locations
Downton Abbey fans will enjoy visiting filming locations and spots of inspiration for this popular television series and movie.
Getting to Downton Abbey filming locations: You can do your own tour by car but it’s easier to go on an organized tour.
What to know about Downton Abbey filming locations:
- Downton Abbey is actually Highclere Castle in Berkshire and is home to the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon. It’s only open to visits 60 days a year, mostly in the spring and summer.
- Bampton Village in Oxfordshire was used as the village of Downton. Here you’ll see St Mary’s church which was the site of Mary’s wedding to Matthew.
- Cogges Manor Farm is seen as the Yew Tree Farm where Lady Edith’s daughter lived with the Drewe family.
- There are many more Downton Abbey filming locations in London and the English countryside but many of them are not open to the public.
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Born in England, Sarah developed her wanderlust at a young age as she traveled around Europe with her parents. As a young adult she spent every penny she could on experiences as opposed to possessions. Eventually she found a way to earn a living doing what she loved: traveling, writing and capturing images of the wondrous world we live in. When not on the go Sarah enjoys time in her “sometimes home” of Vancouver.