Everyone needs a break from the capital now and again, and whether you want to recharge in the countryside or take the family to the beach, London dwellers are just a short train ride away from some of the UK’s best tourist traps. All reachable in under two hours, here’s our pick of the best day trips out of London…
Thanks to its glut of laid back seafood restaurants, the spectacular Turner Contemporary art gallery (supported by British artist Tracey Emin) and newly revamped Dreamland – a retro-style theme park that’ll have you wanting to tuck into pink balls of candy floss and ride the Big Dipper – this kitsch seaside locale is the place to head on a sunny Saturday. Ride the rollercoaster, stop off in one of the cafés and soak up the blissful summer rays, this is a seaside escape with staying power.
Getting there: Trains from London Victoria and St Pancras take 1 hour 30 mins, from £23.70 return
Steeped in history, this internationally renowned city welcomes flocks of visitors to its famous university grounds, with the city’s quaint English village vibe and thriving culture scene giving you even more of a reason to wander its cobbled streets. With ancient pubs dating back to 1242, Oxford is a place of history and allure. Expect beautiful architecture and an array of museums, restaurants, markets, cafés and independent shops, an enormous library, and breathtaking venues that host festivals and cool concerts. There's more than enough to do to make a day of it.
Getting there: Trains from London Paddington take 1 hour, from £25.70 return
Smaller than Oxford, Cambridge’s honey-stone colleges are just as striking, with many set against the beautiful backdrop of the River Cam, where swarms of tourists and slightly inebriated students take to the water each summer for a bit of clumsy punting. If you’re a cyclist, be sure to bring you bike along with you – Cambridge is the most cycle-friendly city in the south, with cycle paths aplenty and bikes chained up against almost every iron fence in the city. There are some great gastropubs and independent eateries for foodies, too.
Getting there: Trains from London Liverpool Street and King's Cross take 1 hour/1 hour 20 mins, from £21.70 return
Salisbury’s cobbled streets, towering cathedral and glorious Wiltshire countryside all add to the allure of this charming rural bolthole. Home to one of the most historic sites in Britain, Stonehenge is an obvious visit – regular buses run from the station will take you directly to the ancient stones – and in the heart of the city centre is the soaring cathedral and its surrounding gardens, where you can sit and bask in the sun and soak up the breath-taking surroundings. Peppered with quaint shops, independent eateries and charming period properties, Salisbury is less than two hours from Waterloo, and if you visit on a Saturday, you’ll catch the weekly food market, where you can stock up on award-winning cheese, charcuterie and fresh organic farm produce. If you fancy exploring further afield, you can reach the beautiful landscapes of the New Forest in just under 30 minutes.
Getting there: Trains from London Waterloo take 1 hour 20 mins, from £26 return
Dreaming of golden sandy beaches? Brighton’s shingled shores are the next best thing, particularly when you can hop on the train from Victoria and be there in just under an hour. With cool hotels, quirky cafés, a boho arts scene and one England’s biggest, brightest festivals, this eccentric seaside city is one of the best places to venture for a change of scenery. Whether you’re after gourmet grub, live music or beachfront yoga, Brighton has everything you could ever wish for, and plenty more. The beach is always buzzing, with live music and street performers swarming up and down the promenade, whilst cocktail drinking crowds spill out from the beachfront bars, as they sip on sundowners making the most of the afternoon sun.
Getting there: Trains from London Bridge, Victoria and St Pancras take 58 mins/1 hour 30 mins, from £17.60
Just half an hour from London, Windsor’s charming riverside town makes the perfect afternoon getaway. As well as the famous Eton College and historic castle – an official residence of Queen Elizabeth II – you can take a quiet stroll along the banks of the River Thames, or in one of the many gorgeous parks in the area. A blissful bucolic retreat, Old Windsor is just ten minutes by taxi, where you’ll find endless stretches of beautiful green landscapes, But the city centre's buzz, full of expensive boutiques, grand cafés and bustling restaurants, is enough to keep you occupied if you’re just visiting for the day.
Getting there: Trains from London Paddington take 38 minutes, from £10.80 return
Visit Windsor.gov.uk for more information
If there’s one thing Bournemouth is famed for, it’s glorious stretches of soft sandy beaches. A stunning seven-mile strip of soft, golden sands and sparkling seas provide the backdrop to one of the most appealing coastal spots in the south of England. Just two hours from London, the sunny coastal town of Bournemouth is a city slicker’s dream. During the day crowds flock to bask in the sun, but Bournemouth really comes alive at night, with plenty of cool restaurants and slick cocktails bars to relax and unwind in with a glass of wine. The only worry is you might be tempted to miss the last train home…
Getting there: Trains from London Waterloo take 1 hour 45 minutes, from £26 return
Famed for its diverse, offbeat character, Bristol is a hub of culture and creativity. It's do-able in a day, but once you’re there, you might not want to leave. You'll find a wealth of cool hangouts, community-run cafés and music venues dotted around – not to mention the graffiti-covered streets left behind by the city's notorious street artist Banksy. Steeped in history and culture, Bristol is full of fabulous quirks and with a great food and drink scene to boot.
Getting there: Trains from London Paddington take 1 hour 25 minutes, from £57.50 return
One of the most idyllic rural spots in the UK, the Cotswolds is home to some of the country’s prettiest towns and villages – complete with stone houses, thatched cottages and sweeping views of the rolling countryside. You’ll find a plethora of old pubs to hole up in after a brisk afternoon walk, and gorgeous rural landscapes that will leave you breathless. Steeped in history and English charm, the Cotswolds’ dreamlike villages are high up on our list as some of the most magical places in the UK. Play at being a country dweller, for the day at least. Hotspots to visit? Moreton-in-Marsh, Chipping Norton and Kingham.
Getting there: Trains from London Paddington to Moreton-in-Marsh take 1 hours 36 minutes, from £39.60 return
Just an hour from London, Henley’s romantic riverside setting makes a delightful day trip out of the city. The pretty centre has an array of charming restaurants, bars and quaint cafés, so you can enjoy a quiet stroll, but its main attraction is the world-famous Henley Royal Regatta. Eat alfresco on the banks of the Thames or even better, test your rowing skills where many pros have rowed before.
Getting there: Trains from London Paddington take 57 minutes, from £16.30 return
A weekend mecca for busy metropolitan types, this quiet British fishing village is the ultimate escape for those looking to take refuge from London’s buzz. A beautiful backdrop of pebble beaches, rickety old pubs and weatherboard houses make this coastal haven a joy to visit. Old-fashioned streets boast galleries and eclectic vintage shops, and during the summer the beach is crowded with tourists, patiently queueing at the beachfront oyster shacks, which serve up some of the best oysters in the country. It’s also really close to Canterbury, so if you set off early enough, you might even be able to fit two day trips in one.
Getting there: Trains from London St Pancras and Victoria take 1 hour 13 minutes/1 hour 25 minutes, from £23.20 return