It’s day trip time again. I’ve gotten a lot of emails lately asking what the best day trips from London by train are, so I want to dedicate a blog post to the subject today. I hope you find it helpful for your travel planning, not to mention exciting for your London itinerary.
Day Trips from London by Train
One of the reasons I’ve never written about day trips from London by train before is that almost any day trip from the UK capital can be done by rail. That said, some are easier to do than others.
Windsor Castle is a good example. It’s accessible by train, but the trip requires a change en route and if you miss your connection—which is not uncommon and happened to me earlier this year—it can add a lot of time to your journey. Similarly, the Cotswolds can be reached by train, but once you’re there it can be tricky and slow to get between towns and villages by taxi or bus.
So today I want to focus on the day trips that have direct train connections from London and stations in the heart of the action.
Like Cambridge. Not only is Cambridge easy to get to by train from multiple London stations, but it’s also less than an hour’s journey from the capital if you take a fast service. That makes this university town one of the easiest day trips from London by train, which is great if you’re pressed for time.
Add to that beautiful architecture, rich history, and stunning streets, and Cambridge is hard to beat for a day out from London. There are colleges to explore and lots of little lanes to wander down, and one of my favorite things to do in Cambridge is go punting on the river behind the colleges. It’s an idyllic—not to mention quintessentially English—way to spend a sunny afternoon.
Cambridge’s academic rival, Oxford is another great option for spending a day away from London. It too is only 60 minutes from London by train and is served by multiple trains every hour.
Oxford has more of a city feel than Cambridge, but its colleges and architecture are just as beautiful. There are covered markets to explore, shops to visit, and bridges to sigh over (or under). And Cambridge doesn’t corner the market on punting, either. There’s plenty of that to be done in Oxford, too.
West of Oxford, Bath is another of the most popular day trips from London by train. An hour and a half away, it has a slightly longer journey time than the universities but is still a straightforward trip.
And it’s worth it, too. Traveling to Bath is like stepping straight into a Jane Austen novel. The architecture is stunning, the yellow stone glows in the afternoon light, and there’s romance in the air. Add to that a Roman spa, an abbey with a gorgeous fan-vaulted ceiling, and bridges with arches, and it’s hard to beat Bath for beauty.
Speaking of Jane Austen, Brighton is another easy day trip from London by rail. Trains leave from multiple stations in the capital and the trip takes an hour or less in many cases.
This seaside gem isn’t just somewhere young girls from Austen’s novels go to chase after their love interests, either. It’s just as fun for modern day travelers. With an opulent 18th-century pleasure palace, an amusement park on a pier, wide beaches, and little lanes crammed with shops, Brighton was created with hedonism in mind.
Margate is another seaside town that’s easily accessible from London by train. Over on the Kentish coast, it’s around an hour and a half from the city and is conveniently served by a couple of London stations.
Often referred to as Shoreditch-on-Sea, Margate brings cool east London style to the waterfront. With a hip amusement park and lots of vintage shops, it’s a great place to play hipster for a day. If that’s not your thing, Margate has a world-class art gallery, beautiful historic houses, and sweet cafes.
Back inland, Winchester is one of my favorite day trips from London by train. It’s an hour or less by rail from the capital and the station is a quick and easy walk from the heart of the city.
Once in Winchester, there’s a wealth of heritage sites and beautiful places to explore. The cathedral is stunning, King Arthur’s round table is legendary, and the ruins of the medieval bishop’s palace are haunting. Add to that the bucolic river walk and gardens of the Hospital of St Cross, and it’s hard to want to take the train home.
Birmingham is another city that’s easy to access from London by train, but for some reason not many day trippers do. It’s less than an hour and a half on fast services, though, and there are multiple train stations right in the heart of Birmingham’s city center.
Birmingham is full of historic architecture and covered shopping arcades, and has a great museum and gallery with diverse collections of everything from art to antiquities. Its library is a feat of contemporary architecture with sweeping views, and at Christmas the markets bring the streets alive with seasonal cheer.
If Birmingham is overlooked, Leicester might as well not exist in most people’s minds. Which is a shame, because there’s a lot to love about this city. So much so that I’ve been twice. And at just over an hour from London, it’s easy to travel to.
So what is there to do in Leicester? There’s an abundance of historic treasures to discover, from Richard III’s burial site to Roman ruins and a beautiful cathedral. There are pretty streets to explore, of which the pedestrianized New Walk is particularly lovely. And there are museums like the New Walk Museum and Art Gallery, which has a great collection of Arts and Crafts Movement pieces.
Back by the sea, Dover is another of the best day trips from London by train. Out on Kent’s south coast, it’s served by a number of London stations and the fastest services arrive in just over an hour.
Once in Dover, there’s everything from the legendary white cliffs to the hilltop castle to explore. The castle itself has extensive history featuring a Roman lighthouse, Anglo-Saxon church, and Napoleonic War-era tunnels that were used as an Allied command center in World War II. And that’s to say nothing of the views across the channel to France.
Another Kentish coastal highlight, Whitstable is equally easy to get to from London by train. It’s served by more than one London station and the fastest services reach the town in less than an hour and a quarter.
Whitstable is famous for its seafood, and for the annual oyster festival that it hosts each summer. But it’s a great place to visit at other times of year for its delicious fresh catches, pretty beaches, and sweet high street full of shops.
Inland in Kent, Canterbury is just as simple to reach as its neighbors on the sea. There are direct trains from London and the fastest arrive in just under an hour and a half. The two stations in Canterbury are both in easy walking distance of the center, too.
The cathedral is the main event in Canterbury, and it’s worth a visit whether you’re religious or not. It’s huge, beautiful, and inspiring, and once you’re done inside there are gardens and cloisters to see outside. But it’s not just the cathedral here. The surrounding streets are full of shops, cafes, and hidden surprises to discover.
Heading west, Bristol is another of the best day trips from London by train. Less than an hour and a half from the capital, this city on and around the River Avon is easily accessible by rail and makes for a great day out from the Big Smoke.
Bristol has a lot to see and do, from large museums to small shops and cafes. There are stunning bridges, colorful houses, and little lanes to explore, and there’s a fantastic zoo as well (the red pandas are adorable!).
13. St Albans
I’ll end with what might just be the easiest day trip from London. St Albans is less than 20 minutes by train from some London stations and is a great choice if you don’t have much time or don’t want to spend too much of it in transit.
St Albans has a lot of Roman history, and is an ideal place to visit if you like Roman ruins. But it has a contemporary side, too, with shops, street markets, and restaurants in town. It also has something in between with St Albans Cathedral, which dates back to Norman times, and the Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, a pub that claims to be the oldest in England.
Whichever day trip you choose, remember to buy tickets well in advance. Prices go up the closer you get to the date of travel, so booking ahead can save you a lot of money.
Also keep in mind that departure times and stations can change, so make sure to look for the most updated information before you travel.
And finally, remember that delays, maintenance work, and cancellations are common so leave yourself plenty of time if you have a connection to make or evening plans in London when you get back from your day trip.
Above all, I hope you have a great day out and that this post has helped you discover some exciting new day trips from London by train. Writing this post has inspired me to book two, so stay tuned for blog posts about them in the coming weeks.
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