“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life,” Samuel Johnson once said, and after seven years of living and working in this vibrant city, I have to agree. Even I have not discovered a fraction of what it has to offer.
But whether you have an extended stay and are needing some fresh air, prefer smaller places to the city, or maybe you are a Londoner yourself looking for something new to do – sometimes you need a day trip. There are plenty of great ones where you don’t need to rent a car, overpay for a tour, or exhaust yourself trying to get to.
One of the great things about the UK is that there are so many trips you can take in a day, but if I’ve spent about 5 or 6 hours of it travelling, I’d prefer to spend the night.
Therefore, I’ve kept all the average journey times (each way) to under 2 hours. Even better, all the places on this list can be reached directly from one of London’s major stations with trains leaving less than every hour.
Journey: 1hr 7mins from London Victoria (or hop on at Clapham Junction). Trains leave for Brighton about every 10-15 minutes.
Why go? Brighton deserves (and no doubt will eventually get) a few posts of its own on this blog, but it remains my favourite place for a day trip from London. Not only is it easy to get to but it has a fantastic vibe. Expect funky street art, quirky cafes, nightlife, great shopping, and a famous pier set on a pebbled coast.
Highlights: Brighton Pier, the Lanes, the Royal Pavilion, Preston Park
Journey: 54 mins from London Waterloo (to Windsor & Eton Riverside).
Why go? Royal residence Windsor Castle is the main draw to this Thames-side town, while St George’s Chapel has hosted a number of royal weddings, including Harry and Meghan’s wedding in 2018. Meanwhile, its parks, shopping, and afternoon teas add to a packed day out.
Highlights: Windsor Castle, Windsor Great Park, Savill Gardens, shopping.
Journey: 30-38 mins. Trains leave about every 15 mins from London Waterloo.
Why go? Set along the Thames, this pretty area surrounds Hampton Court Palace. The 16th-century former residence of Henry VIII is surrounded by gardens and a huge maze visitors can get lost in.
Highlights: Hampton Court Palace dominates this day trip and takes a few hours to see it all. Relax afterwards in a nearby pub or cafe.
Journey: 1hr from either London Paddington or London Marylebone
Why go? World famous Oxford needs no introduction from me and visitors flock here to see the University and historic sites.
Highlights: Oxford University buildings and Bodleian Library, Blenheim Palace, Oxford Botanic Gardens, Radcliffe Camera, Oxford Castle, Oxford National History Museum, and a plethora of other museums
Journey: Approximately 2 hours. Trains leave approximately every 15-20 minutes from London Waterloo. There is a stopping service and faster service for Portsmouth Harbour. If you don’t mind changing, you can take the Portsmouth & Southsea trains and swap over to a Portsmouth Harbour train (1 stop) when it terminates.
Why go? Portsmouth is a frequent day trip for me to go with my mom whenever I’m in need of some sea air and a little retail therapy. What I like about Gunwharf is that unlike some other outlet shopping centres, the train station is right next to it.
Highlights: The harbour, Gunwharf Quays, views the Emirates Tower, boating
Stratford upon Avon
Journey: 2hrs from London Marylebone
Why go? In my mind, Stratford upon Avon always seems much further from London than it actually is.
Highlights: Shakespeare’s birthplace, Anne Hathaway’s cottage, canal boat cruises, Jacobean architecture, see a play at either the Royal Shakespeare Theatre or Swan Theatre, or visit the Butterfly Farm.
Journey: 30 mins to 1hr depending on whether you opt for the fast journey running to Portsmouth Harbour or the stopping service (although often quieter) terminating at Guildford.
Why go? When I told Matt I was making this post, the Guildfordian said it wouldn’t be complete without the Surrey town. Its cobbled high street has been previously named the luxury shopping capital of the UK. In addition, famous former residents such as Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll and filming locations such as the cathedral used in the original Omen movie make it a worthy addition.
Highlights: Shopping, the Cathedral, strolling along the River Wey, Guildford Castle (located right in the middle of town), Stoke Park, Lewis Carroll sights including statues of his famous characters.
Or stay on for a few more stops to visit the charming village of Godalming.
London day trip tips:
Journeys are usually cheaper when you travel off-peak (generally after 10 am/before 4 pm Monday to Friday and anytime on weekends).
Since you are going away from London (as opposed to the millions travelling into London) once you board the train you’ll find the journey fairly quiet. Saturdays tend to be more crowded with other day trippers, while trains run less frequently on Sundays and are more likely to have rail replacement buses or other annoyances.
Are you a super planner? If you know your dates, you can book tickets in advance through somewhere like trainline.com but just know you usually HAVE to get the trains you signed up for.