As one of the most popular city destinations for travelers, you’re bound to cross paths with the city of London at one point or another. Even if you’ve never been before, you’ve likely heard of some London’s best known spots. That being said, you’d be surprised how many other great things to do in London there are beyond the classic attractions.
While London can delight and fascinate for some time, there’s also an endless list of things to see in England outside of London. Some of the best destinations are actually close enough that you can see them as a day trip while you’re visiting the capital. To help you narrow down your options, we’ve assembled our list of the best day trips from London. With a range of variety covering castles, cities, and the coast, all you have to do is take your pick.
How to Get Around
Although many of these day trips can be undertaken with public transport, consider renting a car for the day to give yourself more flexibility and independence. Your own four wheels allow you to be in control of your time and schedule, and depending on how many people are in your group, renting a car might even work out cheaper than other forms of transportation. You can compare car rental deals and find the cheapest prices at Rentalcars.com, an aggregation site that searches and displays prices and availability from hundreds of car rental companies so that you can be sure of getting the best possible car for your budget.
Don’t want to drive or deal with the hassle of public transport? No worries, we’ve listed the best tour for each day trip (where available).
World famous for Oxford University, the city of Oxford remains one of the best places to visit from London, and not just for its academic history. Still, you shouldn’t start your visit in Oxford anywhere but at the university. Walking the grounds of Oxford University, you’ll be charmed by its grand architecture, from the elegant Radcliffe Camera to the striking Sheldonian Theatre. The university also houses several great museums, such as the Ashmolean Museum for art and antiquities and the Museum of Natural History with its archive of scientific specimens. It’s not far from there to Oxford Castle, a medieval castle with quite a story to it. You can spend the rest of your day exploring more of the university, shopping at the Covered Market, or simply lounging on the grassy banks of the River Thames.
Getting there: Reaching Oxford from London is very simple with frequent trains making the hour-long journey. However, if you hope to cover several destinations in a day, a guided tour is your best option.
The other big university city of England is Cambridge, and it too is a stunningly beautiful place to visit. Naturally, the grounds of Cambridge University are likely going to be where you spend much of your time here. Walking about, you’ll be able to admire the different university buildings including some of the institutions prestigious colleges. Make sure to see the ornate Gothic interior of the King’s College Chapel, and don’t miss the views of Cambridge from the tower of the Great St. Mary’s Church. The River Cam gently flows through Cambridge and boasts several gorgeous bridges including the Mathematical Bridge and the Bridge of Sighs. There are also some fascinating museums in town, such as the Classics exhibits inside the Fitzwilliam Museum, the modern art of the Kettle’s Yard, and the University Museum Of Zoology.
Getting there: Cambridge is one of the easy train trips from London, thanks to frequent trains and a travel time of just 50 minutes. To see both Oxford and Cambridge in a single day, a guided tour is the way to go.
There may be no single landmark in all of the United Kingdom more famous than the mystical Stonehenge. This ring of standing stones has baffled people for centuries but it is known that the stone formation and earthen mounds around it are 4,000 to 5,000 years old. On a visit to Stonehenge you can admire this phenomenon and read about what little is known about the site in the detailed exhibits at the visitor center. Inside, they not only have a vast amount of ancient artifacts and information but also a forensic reconstruction of a 5,500 year old man from his unearthed remains. To actually walk among the stones of Stonehenge you’ll need to organize a Special Access visit which is usually performed outside the regular opening hours.
Getting there: Stonehenge is one of those London day trips that you really ought to take a guided tour for. Not only do you get more information about the site, but you also get transport to Stonehenge, which isn’t that easy to reach on your own with public transport.
The town of Stratford-upon-Avon would seem a strange choice to visit from London were it not the birthplace of William Shakespeare. Given its connection to one of the most famous playwrights in the world, it’s no surprise that many of Stratford’s attractions focus on that. In this market town you can see not only the house where Shakespeare was born but also his burial site at the Holy Trinity Church. There are also many other quaint Tudor houses in town that have connections to the writer and his family. If you time your visit right, you can even see a play performed at either the Royal Shakespeare Theatre or Swan Theatre. For a change of pace, there are also sights in town with no connection to the playwright, such as Bancroft Gardens and the tropical Stratford Butterfly Farm.
Getting there: Getting to Stratford-upon-Avon from London by public transport can take up to 2 ½ hours by train and/or bus. Going with a guided tour can be a simpler option as it will allow you to see other destinations around London as well.
A common stop on many day tours from London is the town of Windsor. The big draw of visiting Windsor is to see Windsor Castle, one of the main residences of the country’s current royal family. Visiting the castle you can watch the changing of the guard, walk through the lavish State Apartments, and see royal tombs inside St. George’s Chapel. You can even find a replica castle on the grounds which hosts Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House. Elsewhere in town you can take a boat ride along the River Thames to see the town and castle from a different perspective. Alternatively, you could spend the day outside town at the nearby Legoland Windsor theme park which has rides and Lego attractions.
Getting there: Frequent trains travel from London to Windsor, with the trip taking between 45 minutes to an hour. You can buy your skip-the-line ticket to Windsor Castle here. However, if you’d like to see more attractions during your day, you’d be better taking an organized tour.
One look at the lovely city of Bath and you’d surely agree that it’s one of the best places to visit in England. There’s really no better place to start in Bath than with the landmark that gave it its name, the Roman Baths. The museum here will take you through the ruins of the baths built by the Romans almost 2,000 years ago. Next, it’s a short walk to the beautiful sight of Bath Abbey with stained-glass windows which are best seen from inside. Take a stroll past the beautiful stone buildings of the city to the picture perfect Pulteney Bridge, then head over to the Jane Austen Centre to learn more about the famed novelist. For a classic English scene, hunt down The Royal Crescent and its arc of Georgian-era houses. Finish your visit with a bit of pampering at the Thermae Bath Spa as a reward for all the walking.
Getting there: You can take a train from London to Bath every 30 minutes, with the journey taking around 1 ½ hours. However, tickets can be expensive and you might find it better value to take an organized tour which also visits several other destinations.
For travelers looking for important cultural destinations just a short trip from London, the city of Canterbury is a perfect option. This is because Canterbury is home to the Church of England, not to mention a great deal of history. Start your time in Canterbury’s world heritage historical center at Canterbury Cathedral, an exquisite place of worship dating back to the Normans. Next, see the ruins of the St. Augustine’s Abbey and learn about it at the small museum there. Once a walled city, places like the Westgate Tower give you a sense of what medieval Canterbury must have looked like. Take in the views from the top of the tower and stroll through the delightful Westgate Gardens nearby. Over at the Canterbury Tales Museum, learn about Geoffrey Chaucer’s famed book which featured pilgrims traveling to Canterbury.
Frequent trains travel between London and Canterbury, with the journey lasting less than an hour. Another option though is to take a guided tour as they can easily include other stops like the nearby Cliffs of Dover.
After several days in the middle of London, heading to somewhere on the coast such as Brighton can be a well needed seachange. What makes Brighton one of the best side trips from London is that it’s an easy place to unwind and really not that far from the city. Start with a walk down Brighton Pier, taking in the calming seaside scenery, before having some silly fun with its arcades and rides. Afterwards, head into either The Lanes or North Laine, depending on whether you like your boutique shops and cafes classically vintage or alternative. No matter where you go in Brighton though, options for food and shopping won’t be far. A recent addition to the town is the futuristic British Airways i360 observation tower with its special moving viewing platform.
Getting there: Frequent trains travel to Brighton from London and take around 50 minutes to reach the seaside town.
Another interesting English city which you’ll want to make time to see is the Midlands city of Birmingham. As a former industrial city, the kind of attractions you find in Birmingham may not be the usual sort, but that doesn’t make this destination any less interesting. Set out with a walk along the city’s many canals, inspecting the various cafes and bars as you go through to Sherborne Wharf. For a dose of culture, venture over to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery for its vast art collection or check out the Shakespeare collections inside the Library of Birmingham. Shopping is also big business in Birmingham, with the Jewellery Quarter and the Bullring & Grand Central shopping complex both vying for your attention.
Getting there: Trains make the 1 hour 20 minute journey from London to Birmingham three times an hour. Going by bus may be an hour slower but will be considerably cheaper.
10. Seaford and Seven Sisters Cliffs
A classic image of the English countryside is large white cliffs by the coast, and you’ll find just that if you head to the seaside town of Seaford. The beach at Seaford is nice enough, but the big reason to journey down to the coast here is to see the Seven Sisters Cliffs. Along the coast to the east lie chalk white cliffs with seven distinct hilltops, giving this coast in the South Downs National Park their striking look. While it’s nice to explore the country lanes and grassland of Seven Sisters Country Park above the cliffs, you’ll want to stop at Birling Gap to get up close and personal with the eroding cliffs. Then head for Beachy Head to get a proper view of this majestic stretch of coastline in all its glory.
Getting there: To reach Seaford and the Seven Sisters from London you can take regular trains that get out to the coast in 1 hour 45 minutes. However, the country park is quite large and to comfortably see all of the sights there you may find going with an organized tour is easier.
You should now have a pretty great starting point for planning your days out from London. There’s clearly loads to see in England beyond London and plenty of variety as well!