14 Best Day Trips From London — From Small Towns to Stunning Forests

Take a break from the big city.

Cobbled Street, Mermaid Street, Rye, Sussex, England

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There’s no denying London is one of the greatest cities in the world for art, culture, history, and theater. But after a week-long trip, you may want to escape its hustle and experience some of the U.K.'s best forests, country houses, seaside towns, and even other European neighbors. Thankfully, all of this and more lies within easy reach of the capital, thanks to its great big railways.

Complete with riverside walks, ancient towns, idyllic streets filled with indie shops and amazing restaurants, here are our picks for the best day trips from London.

Whitstable, Kent

Row of beach huts along the coast in Tankerton, Whitstable, Kent

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Ask any Londoner and they’ll tell often tell you the charming seaside town of Whitstable is at the top of their city escape list. Quintessentially British, Whitstable is famed throughout England for its multicolored North Sea-facing beach huts and restaurants that plate up fresh lobsters. The town’s castle ruins are well worth exploring, too, and the hilly — and sometimes windy — coastal walks will help brush off those cerebral cobwebs.

Another major draw is the town’s oysters. Guzzling half a dozen of these must-try mollusks is almost a rite of passage in these parts, and one of the best times to try them is during the Whitstable Oyster Festival, which takes place every summer. Expect live music, markets selling local wares, and stellar wines.

Margate, Kent

View from beach of Margate, Kent, England

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Margate has had a major makeover over the years, thanks to an arty renaissance spearheaded by celebrities and artists such as Tracey Emin. The Kent coastal town is often compared to the cool grit and harbor glamour of Copenhagen, with all its independent shops, contemporary restaurants, and tidal pool made for a quick summer dip. Though Margate is on the gusty side, the Turner Contemporary gallery will keep you shielded from all the elements, and for those who like a quick and easy adrenaline rush, the retro theme park and roller-disco Dreamland is well worth the admission price.

Cliveden House, Berkshire

Cliveden House, Berkshire, England

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Over its long, illustrious history, Cliveden has been a retreat for royals (Meghan, Duchess of Sussex stayed here on the eve of her wedding, and it played host to the scandalous Profumo affair back in the 1960s). The former home of the Astor family, the house was originally built in 1666 by the Duke of Buckingham as a country pad to rival all others. Now, it’s a great place to get a taste for over-the-top English style (think winding oak staircases and hallways filled with paintings, chandeliers, and armor). Aside from it being a great spot for afternoon tea, Cliveden really is all about stunning riverside walks, park picnics, and if you’ve got the time, a river boat tour down the Thames.

Rye, Sussex

Aerial view of Rye, Sussex

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Instagrammers from across the globe descend upon Rye to snap photos of its cutesy, cobbled lanes and mishmash of Diagon Alley wannabe antique shops and bookstores. Just under two hours from London, the small and hilly town is the perfect place to grab a local Sussex ale or English sparkling wine. Plus, there are plenty of restaurants serving top-notch seafood lunches and scrumptious lobster pots. Another bonus? It's close to one of the U.K.’s best beaches, the beautifully picturesque Camber Sands. Tip: Bring a fancy picnic basket.

Box Hill, Surrey 

Box Hill at Dorking, Surrey, England

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Green and pleasant pastures await in this dreamy part of the Surrey countryside. Less than an hour outside of London, Box Hill is a solid quick option for a day trip with fresh air. Most people cycle here from Richmond Park, but if you're short on time, you can take the train. The walk up takes roughly four hours, and those who reach the summit will be treated to sprawling views of the North Downs. The National Trust Cafe is a great spot for a slice of well-deserved cake, but if you fancy heading further out, the nearby Beaverbrook hotel dishes up one of the most celebrated afternoon teas in the area. 

York, York

The Shambles in York, England

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Despite being more than 200 miles from London, York is actually one of the easiest day trips from the capital. Trains take just under two hours and run frequently enough that you can easily decide the same day if you want to go. The ancient walled city is best known for its Gothic masterpiece York Minster, one of the U.K.’s oldest cathedrals, which dates back to the seventh century.

In addition to admiring this stunner, visitors can walk along the city walls before climbing up Clifford’s Tower for some awesome views of the city and beyond. Learn about 3,000 years of chocolate history at the city’s Chocolate Story museum, then hit up the Shambles for winding, Harry Potter-style streets packed with cool storefronts and tea shops.  

Lewes, Sussex

Barbican and Barbican Gate, in Lewes

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Lewes often gets overlooked for its neighbor Brighton, but there's lots to explore in this quaint town. Lewes Castle, the remains of Lewes Priory, and the former home of Anne of Cleves will keep you busy for a few hours, as will the pubs and local handicraft shops. If you have a few more hours to spare, take a cab to the nearby village of Rodmell. Here, you’ll find Monk’s House, the former 16th-century country retreat of famous novelist Virginia Woolf and her husband, Leonard. The garden is pretty, and you’ll also get to go inside Woolf’s writing lodge where she sat and wrote her most famous novels and essays. And if you’ve got the stamina, the walk to Glynde is well worth the steep hills. Your reward? Spectacular views over the South Downs.

Paris, France

Cozy street in Montmartre in Paris, France

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The beauty of Europe is its excellent and efficient train network. The Eurostar, for example, takes approximately 2.5 hours to reach the French capital from London’s St. Pancras International station, and with little advance planning, you can easily visit some of Paris’s most famous sites if you book yourself on the earliest service out and the latest back. To make the most of your day here, focus on the heart of the city: the Louvre, Notre Dame, and Musée d'Orsay, plus the amazing stores, coffee shops, and restaurants of Saint-Germain-des-Prés are all within walking distance of each other. Round out the day at the Trocadéro to snap a selfie with the Eiffel Tower and relax on the banks of the Seine with a picnic, Emily in Paris style.

Brighton, Sussex

A rainbow of colourful painted houses in Brighton

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The unofficial gay capital of the U.K. is the place to go if you're in search of wall-to-wall live music venues, classic seaside bed-and-breakfasts, buzzing clubs, and the members-only Soho House. The famed Palace Pier, pebble beach, and a shopping spree down The Lanes are musts. Visitors can expect narrow alleyways packed with independent boutiques, record stores, pizza shacks, vegan eats, and small pubs championing local ales sourced from all over the city’s home county, Sussex.

Hastings, Sussex

Hastings castle overlooking the modern town of Hastings

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Hastings has a long, colorful, and somewhat brutal history that’s kept tourists flocking to its gusty cliffs for centuries. The former battle ground of William the Conqueror offers all sorts of to-dos, from the ruins of its Norman castle (no dragons, sadly) to a strip of indie shops to great local restaurants. There's also a long pier stretching out into the English Channel that has sunset walk written all over it. The best views can be enjoyed from atop the cliff just off the summit of the U.K.'s steepest funicular, the East Hill Cliff Railway. It’s worth the short ride from the summit down to bustling George Street, a haven for continental-style cafes, art shops, and bookstores.

Stratford-upon-Avon, West Midlands

William Shakespeare's Birthplace, Stratford upon Avon, England

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Literature buffs will love this medieval town hidden away in England's West Midlands. Shakespeare’s former home, his wife Anne Hathaway’s cottage, and The Bard are the major draws here. A little more than two hours north of London, the town is also a great place to indulge in a boat tour along the plant-flecked canal basin, and if you’re a theater lover, catch a play at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s playhouse (book well in advance). If you’re feeling extra spontaneous, reserve a spot on the Countess of Evesham, Stratford’s answer to the Orient Express, for a whistle-stop dining tour down the picturesque River Avon.

Canterbury, Kent

Aerial view of Canterbury in summer, Kent, England

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If you dig a classic English-style cathedral coupled with a dash of Chaucer, head to Canterbury. Roughly a 45-minute train ride from London, the town is a great option for travelers who are pressed for time. Start off with a walk (or bike ride) down the wiggly King’s Lane to check out the city’s stellar indie shops. When it comes to fueling up, there's lots on offer, from farmers markets to more traditional classics like gourmet Scotch eggs. Walk it off in one of England’s oldest parks, Westgate Gardens, before hitting up the nearby Blean Woods Nature Reserve, an ancient woodland filled with rare flora and fauna. The Beaney House of Art & Knowledge is also worth visiting for a glimpse at one of the world's most important collections of cow paintings.

Cambridge, Cambridge

Punting on river Cam under Bridge of Sighs, Cambridge

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An easy, one-hour train journey from St. Pancras, this over 800-year-old university city is home to some of the world's most photogenic colleges and dorms. Begin your journey at King’s College and stroll through its 15th-century landmark Gothic chapel, home to the world’s largest fan vault and some impressive stained-glass windows. Next, try your hand at punting. Aside from hopping on a bike, it’s the simplest (and most fun) way to explore the city on the cheap. Plus, you’ll see all the top attractions, from Trinity College to the Bridge of Sighs, along the way. When you get hungry, head to the Pint Shop for gourmet pub-style food served in a joint once loved by E.M. Forster. The Sunday roast is great, as are all the beers sourced from hops all over the country.

Bruton, Somerset

Dovecote in Bruton in Somerset, UK

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Somerset is a long day trip from London, but it’s doable and worth the effort if you’re willing to wake up early. One of the most convenient ways to get a taste of it now is via the Great Garden Escape, courtesy of one of England's most celebrated hotels, The Newt in Somerset. The approximately two-hour journey sets off from London’s Paddington station, with breakfast served on board before the train rolls into the hills of the West Country. Next to the hotel’s Georgian façade, explore picturesque gardens and ancient woodlands, plus learn the art of cider making before digging into an afternoon tea overlooking the orchards. It’s basically England summed up in about eight hours.

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