Visiting the UK’s capital city London is an awesome experience. But the hustle and bustle of the Big Smoke can be a lot, especially over a long UK holiday.
That’s why we assembled this guide to the best day trip destinations from London. You’ll find historic castles, beautiful countryside walks through rolling green hills, sweeping sandy beaches, and much more. All within a 2-hour train journey from any of London’s many train station hubs. So, get away from the city for a bit and enjoy one of these beautiful English day trips. Enjoy!
For some weird and incredible things to do in London itself, see our list of 14 Unusual Things to Do in London.
There aren’t many finer castles near London than Leeds Castle. Which is nowhere near the city of Leeds in Yorkshire, but instead in the county of Kent. This 13th-century mansion comes surrounded by a picture-perfect moat, a hedge maze, and a falconry centre. Basically everything you’d want from a Medieval castle experience!
Take a relaxing morning walking around the castle grounds and then head inside to explore the beautifully kept interiors. During the 16th century famous king Henry IV gave over the castle to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, who lived there for several years until her divorce from Henry in 1533.
Today Leeds Castle is one of the most visited attractions in the south of England, and for good reason. As well as all the above history, you’ll find a dog-collar museum, an adventure golf course, and some absolutely stunning garden walks.
The nearest station to Leeds Castle is Bearsted in Kent. Direct trains run all day from London Victoria, taking about an hour and a half. The castle and grounds are open from 10 am until 4.30 pm in summer and from 9 am to 3.30 pm in the winter months.
The highest hill within a few hours of London, and the second highest in south England, Leith Hill is a great nature-based day trip from the city. The walk to the top is a relatively easy but scenic one through lovely woodland – and there’s an 18th-century tower on the top too.
On clear days you can actually see the skyscrapers of London, some 30 miles away, from the top of Leith Hill. Visitors can also walk up the tower during the summer months, from April to October, where you can enjoy “the glory of the English countryside”. Just as its builder Richard Hull intended!
The nearest station to Leith Hill is in the quaint village of Holmwood. There you’ll find frequent services to and from London Victoria, taking about an hour.
One of the most historic towns in southern England, people come from all over the world to visit the incredible spires of Canterbury’s epic cathedral. You can literally see this incredible 10th-century church from all over town, acting as a convenient landmark.
Today you can follow in the footsteps of the famous pilgrims of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Medieval Canterbury Tales, as you head here from London. The Cathedral is far from the only attraction here though.
Try a gorgeous afternoon tea in the supposedly haunted Tiny Tim’s Tearoom, for a classic English experience done the absolute right way. After that, take a visit to the famous Crooked House on Palace Street, which has looked on the verge of toppling over for the past several hundred years. Inside you’ll find a charitable bookshop, with all proceeds going to disadvantaged local people.
Trains leave from London’s St. Pancras and Victoria stations throughout the day, with the journey taking about an hour and 10 minutes. That’s a lot faster than Chaucer’s pilgrims, who took a whole three days to do the same route some 600 years ago!
One of the most popular holiday destinations for Londoners for hundreds of years, Brighton is also a great day trip destination today too. This bohemian seaside town has wide Victorian avenues, an 1887 royal residence in the Brighton Pavilion, and an iconic wooden pier on its stony beachfront.
As well as the traditional seaside attractions, Brighton is also known as a party town. There are several art universities here, and pubs and clubs line the beachfront promenade offering vibrant nightlife every day of the week.
For something a little calmer, try a casual morning walk through The Lanes shopping district. It’s stacked with unique and locally-owned shops to suit all tastes and interests.
Getting to Brighton is easy too, with trains from many of London’s biggest stations leaving all day. Just remember, if you do decide to sample the Brighton nightlife – the last trains back are around midnight!
Hampton Court Palace
OK, so this one is technically just on the very edge of Greater London. However, if you’re staying in the centre it still makes a great day trip out. First built in 1514 this iconic Tudor-era palace has some of the most impressive royal gardens in the country.
The palace is best known as the Royal Residence of King Henry VIII, and some of his famous wives. Many of the rooms in Hampton Court Palace have been lovingly and authentically recreated as they would have been in the Tudor era. For example, the grand Great Hall and its awesome tapestries, or the working Medieval kitchen.
As well as historic rooms, the Palace also has some truly beautiful gardens – some 60 acres of them. Along their winding paths, you’ll find the world’s oldest Hedge maze, a huge grapevine (for some time the largest in the world), and a wild garden first designed by King Charles II in the 1680s.
Hampton Court Palace is easy to get to from central London, by bus or by train. Hampton Court Station is in London Zone 6 (so you can use your London transport passes) and trains leave Waterloo station heading here throughout the day. The grounds and palace are open from 10 am until 3 pm in winter, and 9 am until 5 pm in the summer months.
Eastbourne & Beachy Head
For a chilled seaside day out from London, try East Sussex’s Eastbourne. This sleepy resort town was first made popular in the 1750s, as a holiday destination for well-to-do Londoners.
As well as its lovely Victorian building lined beachfront and pier, Eastbourne is also known for being the closest town to Beachy Head. These cliffs are the highest in Great Britain at 162 meters, which is some 50 meters taller than the famous White Cliffs of Dover. You can take an hour or two walk from the town centre to the top of Beach Head, enjoying impressive views along the way.
On your walk, you’ll pass the 18th-century Wish Tower on the very edge of town. This impressive fortification was originally built to keep a lookout for a potential invasion from the French, which never happened. Today, you can grab a bite to eat and a drink from the Wish Tower Café, offering panoramic window views of the seafront.
Trains leave for Eastbourne directly from London Victoria throughout the day. They take about one hour and a half.
The North Sea seaside town of Margate was hugely popular with tourists over the last century. However, for a long time, it was in a sad state of decline. But all that’s changed recently!
Over the past few years, the town has become one of the most popular seaside spots for Londoners moving away from the big smoke. The unmistakable modern architecture of the Turner Contemporary gallery, which opened in 2011, was a starting point. Margate has been on the up since then.
Try grabbing a late full-English breakfast at the Dalby Cafe, which opened in 1947 and has barely changed a wick since. After that tour the winding streets of Margate’s old town, with some lovely craft brew pubs and vintage clothing stores. Finish your day down at the main sandy beachfront, for a classic slice of slightly naff but loveable British seaside charm.
Trains leave from London Victoria and St. Pancras to Margate regularly throughout the day, taking about 2 hours.
Cambridge is among the most famous and beautiful university towns in the world, and it’s less than an hour’s train ride away from London! Founded in 1209, the University of Cambridge is one of the world’s most prestigious schools – and tens of thousands of students compete for minimal places here every year.
The town of Cambridge is thus a super historic one, with a lot going on. Especially if you’re interested in science history. Here’s a Mathematical Bridge, supposedly designed by Isaac Newton himself, and there’s the pub where Watson and Crick first had their eureka moment on the way to discovering the double-helix structure of DNA. The first-ever game of Association Football was also played here!
On top of all that history, Cambridge is on the banks of the River Cam. So you can explore the city on a traditional “punting” boat tour along it too, an activity that is always popular in the summer months.
Great Northern Railway runs high-speed trains direct from London to Cambridge. They leave from King’s Cross every half hour throughout the day, taking just 45 minutes!
If we put Cambridge in this guide, we’d be amiss not to mention their University town rival – Oxford. If you like literary history, as opposed to the science of Cambridge, Oxford might be the London day trip for you!
Oxford University is officially the oldest in the English-speaking world. It’s regularly voted as one of the best universities today as well. Massive figures in literature like C.S Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien (of Lord of the Rings fame) have called these historic streets home. Both of them are buried in the city today.
Try visiting the iconic and imposing Bodleian Library, the second largest in the UK. Alternatively browse the Norrington Room at Blackwell’s bookshop, which holds over 150,000 books in one room. A bibliophiles dream!
There’s also the Oxford Museum of the History of Science – the oldest dedicated museum building in the world. Here you’ll find the notebooks of early computing pioneers Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace. As well as a whiteboard used and written on by Albert Einstein himself.
Direct trains leave from London Paddington to Oxford (and back) every half an hour throughout the day. These high-speed services cover the 52-mile journey in just 50 minutes!
Lewes & Glynde
The picturesque village of Glynde, and the nearby town of Lewes, are slap bang in the middle of the South Downs. They offer some fantastic hilly walking routes. Try hiking up Firle Beacon, with impressive sweeping views of the surrounding countryside and ancient burial mounds to explore.
The nearby Wilmington Long Man is a unique piece of local history too. This huge ancient drawing carved into a hillside (warning: it’s a bit rude) is as mysterious as it is impressive.
Consider visiting Lewes during the first week of November, when the town hosts the biggest Bonfire Night festival in England. Celebrating the failure of Guy Fawkes’ explosive attempt to destroy Parliament in 1605, some 30,000 people flock to the town for a night of fire, bangers, and drinking.
Trains go directly to Lewes every half an hour from London Victoria, taking about 1 hour 20. Or, hop on a train to Brighton and change there to get to Lewes. Glynde is about a five-minute train journey from Lewes too.
Famous as the current Royal Residence of the House of Windsor royals, Windsor is one of the most visited towns in the UK. The stunning Long Walk towards Windsor Castle, through beautiful parkland lined by my majestic trees, is a particular highlight.
Touring the fantastic Windsor Castle, the largest permanently occupied castle in the world, is possible from 10 am until 4 pm on Thursday to Monday each week. There are also some excellent chocolatiers, a horse racing course, and a royal museum to check out.
Direct trains run from London Paddington to Windsor throughout every day, about once an hour. Indirect services are more frequent, although they involve changing at Slough which is just outside of London. Either way, the whole journey should only take 45 to 50 minutes.
The Bluebell Railway
A picturesque three-hour vintage railway ride through beautiful green forest and rolling Sussex countryside? Yes, please! This 12km section of railway was converted to a private track in the 1960s. It runs some of the country’s best-preserved steam trains, which is extra cool as England was where the steam engine was invented.
Plus points if you visit in Spring. From March to early May the tracks of the Bluebell Railway are lined with, you guessed it, beautiful bluebell flowers! There are also special events throughout the year, including a specially lit-up neon train for a beautiful night ride!
Today you can join the railway just a short walk from East Grinstead station, which you can get to on the regular direct trains from London Victoria and London Bridge. It’s a private tour though, so be prepared to pay a bit more – but it’s totally worth it.
Next, we have the beautifully calm seaside town of Whitstable. Long considered a seafood hub, Whitstable has many lovely beachfront pubs and restaurants where you can try a locally-caught oyster lunch with a craft brew.
Chief among those is the iconic Old Neptune, which is literally on the beach. So, you can get a thoroughly relaxing view of the shingly surf while you eat.
Alternatively, try and book a table at The Sportsman for the most renowned food spot in town. If that sounds like a hassle, either The Forge or The Lobster Shack are less booked up but offer equally fresh and delicious meals.
Once you’ve filled your boots with the local catch, take a slow walk through the town’s quaint high street with independent shops aplenty. There’s a thriving art scene here, as the awesome rustic fishing village vibes bring in talented creatives from all over the country. Grab a locally-made print, or full-on original, for a souvenir that you’ll treasure for a long time!
Trains leave from London Victoria to Whitstable throughout the day, taking about 2 hours. Whitstable isn’t far away from two other London day trip destinations on this list, Margate and Canterbury. So you could do a little tour of them in one day!
The Cotswolds is a certified area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, only an hour or so from London. Visit this area for rolling green hills with picture-perfect villages, and you can enjoy some of the best nature hikes in the south of England.
We recommend visiting Castle Combe (sadly without a castle) or the busy village of Bourton on the Water. Either of which is right up there with the prettiest villages in the whole of the UK. Try hiking the fantastically named Lower Slaughter loop, a 10-mile hike from Bourton on the Water through the villages of Upper and Lower Slaughter and back.
To get to the Cotswolds, where there aren’t any large stations, take a train from Paddington to the town of Cheltenham. From there, the major villages of the Cotswolds are not far away. However, this one London day trip we might recommend you rent a car for if you can.
So there you have it, our guide to the 14 best day trips from London. Featuring charming countryside villages, palatial country houses, traditional seaside towns, and historic university cities – plus much more.
We hope you’re inspired to explore these beautiful parts of the UK, all within a few hours’ travel from the well-connected capital. Enjoy, and stay #EarthCurious!
For a detailed look at the best regions to visit in the rest of this charming country, try our guide to The 11 Best Regions to Visit in the UK.