Cities to visit on day trips from London
While London is a great place to visit, if you have some extra time it’s also a convenient base to explore some of the other towns and cities England has to offer.
Whether you’re looking for university cities, a bit of beach and sun, or historic castles and gardens, there are several cities that make great day trips for a change of scenery.
The best part? They’re all accessible by train!
Just 45 minutes by train from London King's Cross, Cambridge has a lot to offer. Of course there’s the University of Cambridge, the third oldest university in the world (behind the University of Bologna and Oxford University).
But there’s so much more to see as well.
Within the University, one of the top sites is Kings College. Step inside the chapel to see the awe-inspiring architecture and beautiful stonework. The chapel is one of the most famous sites in Cambridge for good reason.
If it’s a nice day, consider a punt on the River Cam. Punting in one of the flat-bottom boats is a tradition in the city, and is a lovely way to spend an afternoon and see sites that are harder to see from land.
While you’re along the waterways you’ll want to make sure to see Cambridge’s two most famous bridges, the Mathematical Bridge and the Bridge of Sighs (not to be confused with the bridge in Venice with the same name).
The Mathematical Bridge is probably the most famous wooden bridge in southern England. While the tale that it’s built without nuts and bolts is untrue, it’s still a beautiful bridge that seems to float above the water below.
The Bridge of Sighs is rumored to have been Queen Victoria’s favorite spot in the city. When you see it you’ll understand why. It’s best seen from the water, so the best way to see it is while you’re out on a punt.
If you enjoy art, the Fitzwilliam Museum is worth a visit. Its collection contains over half a million works of art, including masterpieces by Titian, Modigliani and Picasso.
For nature lovers the Cambridge Botanic Gardens hold over 8,000 species of plants. Depending on the time of year you may see wildflowers blooming in the dry meadow, or breathe in the many aromas of the scented garden.
Oxford is home to the oldest university in England and the second oldest in the world. Take a tour of one of the university’s 44 colleges, or browse one of the 28 libraries that make up the Bodleian Library. You can reach the city by train from London Paddington in approximately an hour.
When you’re ready for some refreshment, stop and have a pint at The Eagle and Child. This historic pub is where C.S. Lewis and JRR Tolkien met with The Inklings to have a beer and discuss the works they were writing.
While you’re in Oxford can visit the graves of both Lewis and Tolkien. Lewis is buried at Holy Trinity, just outside the city, and Tolkien is buried at Wolvercote Cemetery in the north of the city.
Harry Potter fans will want to take the time to visit some of the many filming locations in the city. Numerous scenes were filmed in Christ Church, and the Christ Church dining hall served as inspiration for Hogwarts Great Hall. New College was also used in several scenes throughout the series, as were the Divinity School and Duke Humfrey’s Library in the Bodleian Library.
While you’re in the neighborhood you can also visit Blenheim Palace, located not far outside of the city. The palace was the boyhood home of Winston Churchill and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Other sites include Oxford Castle (if you’re a history buff you’ll want to stop here); the Ashmolean Museum to see art and artifacts in Britain’s oldest public museum; and the picturesque Radcliffe Camera to see one of the oldest examples of a round library in Britain.
Bath is also easy to reach from London Paddington, taking about an hour and 15 minutes by train. A beautiful Georgian city built largely of Cotswold stone, the entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bath is the only city in Britain to hold that status.
The most famous individual buildings and sites in Bath include The Royal Crescent, the Roman Baths, Pulteney Bridge, Prior Park Landscape Gardens, and the Assembly Rooms.
Fans of Jane Austen will love the city, as it was her place of residence for several years and is mentioned in several of her books.
Spend some time at the Jane Austen Center, or follow in her footsteps and take tea at The Pump Room. You can also visit the Assembly Rooms, where she would have attended balls and musical performances.
To see what life would have been like during the Georgian period you'll want to visit One Royal Crescent. You'll follow the story of an upper class Bath family as they prepare for the season, and see what it would have been like for those employed below-stairs as well.
When it’s time for a bite to eat you’ll want to try a Bath Bun at Sally Lunn’s. Sally Lunn was a Huguenot refugee who came to the city in 1680. You can still enjoy one of her buns, either sweet or savory, in her former home and bakery. The house is the oldest in Bath, built in 1482. It’s amazing to think that when she lived there the house was already 200 years old!
To see her kitchen head down the narrow stairs to the basement, where there's a small museum. You can visit the museum even if you don't eat in the restaurant, but I highly recommend taking some time for tea or a meal upstairs. My favorite buns are the Welsh Rarebit and the lemon curd.
For more things to see and do in Bath check out this post.
An easy hour trip by train from London Victoria, a journey to Brighton takes you to all that the British shore has to offer.
One of the most popular attractions in Brighton is the Royal Pavilion, commissioned by then-Prince George in the late 1700’s. It was designed and built by John Nash, who was also the architect for London’s Houses of Parliament and Regent Street.
No trip to Brighton is complete without a visit to Brighton Pier, a classic seaside pleasure pier. Take a stroll down the pier, grab a bite to eat and enjoy some of the amusement park rides at the end.
To see the older side of Brighton, take a stroll through The Lanes. Formerly the center of town when Brighton was a quiet fishing village, the winding streets are full of small shops, narrow alleys and local pubs.
If you want to see Brighton and the East Sussex coast from above, take a ride up the Brighton i360. You’ll ascend 450 feet in the enclosed viewing pod, giving you 360 degree views up and down the coastline.
On a nice day it’s worth it to spend some time on the beach. Keep in mind that many of England’s beaches are stone, not sand, and Brighton is no exception. But that doesn’t stop people from claiming their patch of pebbles and hopping in the water if it’s a warm day.
If you’re feeling peckish you can follow your nose to one of the many restaurants and stands along the waterfront selling fish and chips. Does it get more British than that?
Brighton is also the starting point for many tours to the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head, some of the most popular views in southern England. It’s easy to take the train from London in time to join a guided tour, or if you prefer to go on your own you can take the Brighton and Hove bus from the train station toward Eastbourne and get off at Seven Sisters Park.
It’s a beautiful walk out toward the cliffs, very quiet and peaceful with lovely country views. However, if you’re wanting to get the postcard perfect view of the cliffs from behind the Coastguard Cottages in Seaford I do suggest doing it as part of a tour. It can be difficult to figure out where to get off the bus to find the right spot.
A bit farther from London, an hour and a half by train, you’ll find the charming city of Canterbury. The city was made famous by Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and the cathedral is well worth a visit.
The Canterbury Cathedral is the center of the Anglican church, and the Bishop of Canterbury is the leader of the Church of England. The cathedral is over 1,400 years old, first established by Augustine in 597 AD.
You can take a guided punt tour along the Great Stour River, enjoying beautiful gardens and medieval architecture along the way.
Canterbury’s central museum is the delightfully-named Beaney House of Art and Knowledge, better known as simply The Beaney. It’s named after James George Beaney, who gave the city the money to start it. It houses a museum, library, art gallery and visitors center.
Formerly a walled city, Canterbury’s Westgate is the last of the seven medieval gates in the walls. Today the structure houses a museum, surrounded by some of the most beautiful gardens in the city.
Also worth a visit are St. Martin’s Church, the oldest church in England still in use today, as well as St. Augustine’s Abbey, which was founded by St. Augustine himself and served as the burial site for the Anglo-Saxon kings of Kent.
While not someplace you think of as a day trip from London, on the Eurostar it’s possible to reach the City of Light in a bit over two hours. That means you can leave London in the morning, have lunch and take in some sites in Paris, and be back in London for the night.
The British Pullman
While not a specific destination, Belmond's British Pullman is a great way to see either the British countryside or one of the smaller cities or towns. With a variety of destinations as well as scenic train rides, each journey is unique. Some are even pulled by steam engine, a treat for any train lover.
You can visit cities like Bath and Oxford, see historic homes like Chatsworth House and Blenheim Palace, or enjoy a multi-course tea or meal while watching the countryside roll by.
The Bottom Line
If you’re looking for a break from the big city, there are lots of options within easy reach of London.