Yes, London is brilliant, and there’s a load to see and do, but like all major cities it’s good to see the wood for the trees (sometimes, literally). This is why we are recommending six of what we consider the handiest day trips from the capital. To make things much more time-efficient, all of our suggested day-trip destinations have direct train connections from London, which means more time for you to experience what’s on offer. You’re welcome.
Why go?: Oh, come on – have you never seen the city’s historic centre, which has been a magnet for many television series (from Brideshead Revisited to Inspector Morse) and movies (from Harry Potter to Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again)? Have you never seen the University, which is the oldest in the English-speaking world? Have you never heard about the Bodleian Library (Broad Street; www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk), which is a safe haven for over 11 million books sitting on 120 miles of shelving?
Day trip tips: There are several walking tours to choose from. If you’re the bookish type, you’ll especially love the tours that focus on the Inspector Morse, Harry Potter, and Alice in Wonderland books, and authors Philip Pullman, CS Lewis and JRR Tolkein. After the walking tour, pay a visit to the Eagle and Child pub (49 St Giles; no website), which is where a literary group known as the Inklings (its member included CS Lewis and JRR Tolkein) gathered to talk about their works-in-progress.
How long should it take from London?: Just over one hour.
Why go?: You have the tradition and history of an extraordinary university town that tightly packs in centuries-old colleges – over 30 in number. Similar to its equally picturesque rival, Oxford, there is an unending sense of learning here, from strolling around the riverside college greens/gardens and getting out of the way of cyclists loaded down with books to overhearing student chatter in one of the several historic pubs.
Day trip tips: Pop into the Fitzwilliam Museum (Trumpington Street; www.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk), a true wonder of resonant architecture that houses a large range of antiquities from Greece, Italy, and Egypt, as well as artworks by the likes of Gainsborough, Turner, Rembrandt and Rubens. After you’ve had your fill of culture and art, pop into the Espresso Library (210 East Road; www.espressolibrary.com), a bicycle-themed speciality coffee shop/café and art gallery.
How long should it take from London?: About one hour.
Why go?: Brighton was a fashionable seaside resort in the 19th century and it’s a fashionable seaside resort now. The reason for this is not that style doesn’t go out of fashion (sadly, it does) but because it has continued to provide exactly what day-trippers (and, indeed, weekenders) look for: a mix of quirky shopping areas, a vibrant arts/cultural scene, seaside shenanigans (it is the most popular seaside destination in the UK for overseas visitors) and a sensibility that is equal parts hip and exciting.
Day trip tips: You can’t visit Brighton without getting lost in The Lanes, a labyrinthine collection of small independent shops located along narrow streets. Expect to see (in what was originally, many decades ago, a fishing village) idiosyncratic clothes, crafts, antiques shops, and individualistic restaurants and pubs. Another must-see is the amazing Royal Pavilion (4/5 Pavilion Buildings; www.brightonmuseums.org.uk), formerly a seaside retreat for the Prince Regent, George, Prince of Wales.
How long should it take from London?: Less than one hour.
Why go?: As a World Heritage Site, Bath is catnip for lovers of heritage and cultural sights. Book lovers, of course, will know the city’s reputation from the works of writer Jane Austen (her novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, are set here), while its Therma Bath Spa, which opened in 2006, is world-famous for offering visitors the chance to bathe in naturally heated spring waters.
Day trip tips: Take a curved stroll along the Royal Crescent, a row of 30 terraced (and very grandiose) houses, built over 240 years ago, that is among the greatest examples of Georgian architecture to be seen in the UK. For a posh coffee, pop into Number 16, which is the acclaimed (and very pricey) Royal Crescent Hotel and Spa (www.royalcrescent.co.uk), and either before or after that, visit Number 1 (www.no1royalcrescent.org.uk), a vivid, historic house museum.
How long should it take from London?: About one and a half hours.
Why go?: For over 250 years, this charming Kent seaside resort has been a magnet for visitors, and via an ongoing regeneration project – which began about ten years ago – the town has continued to add contemporary tourism ideas to its traditional seaside fun and fish’n’chips offerings. This has turned the town from what it was (a faded, jaded town that could barely stand on its own) to what it is now (a thriving arty destination that is like London’s hip Shoreditch with added salt and vinegar).
Day trip tips: Seriously good culture is provided by the Turner Contemporary (Rendezvous; www.turnercontemporary.org), a deservedly acclaimed international art gallery that celebrates its 10th birthday in 2021. A world-class programme of temporary events has included works from Turner Prize nominees and winners Tracey Emin, Antony Gormley, and Paula Rego. After soaking up the art, visit Dreamland, a reimagined amusement park with vintage rides, street food, bars, and restaurants.
How long should it take from London?: About one and a half hours.
Why go?: The seaside port town of Whitstable is hands-down picturesque. Famous for its shingle beaches (admittedly, not great to walk on without footwear) and oysters (admittedly, one big yum), the place known as the Pearl of Kent brims over with galleries, independent boutique shops, cute little laneways, artisan bakeries, atmospheric coffee stops, and impressive seafood restaurants. The town also has The Old Neptune (Marine Terrace, www.thepubonthebeach.co.uk), one of the best pubs in which to soak up the salty ambience. If you’re a local, you are allowed to call it The Neppy, but friend and stranger alike are treated to a terrific seaside/beach experience that includes hearty traditional British pub food and a good selection of local ales.
Day trip tips: If the weather is in your favour, pick a spot at Duncan Down, at 52 acres the largest village green in England. And if you fancy a day trip within a day trip, remember that the elegant, celebrated city of Canterbury is five miles away, and the pretty seaside town of Herne Bay is two miles away.
How long should it take from London?: Just over an hour.
Feature By: Tony Clayton-Lea