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10 Best Day Trips from London by Train with Everything You Need to Plan

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4 weeks ago

One of the best things about visiting England is that it’s relatively small, especially if you’re coming from Australia, the US or Canada. To put it into perspective you could put England into Alaska six times and still have some space left over.

London is at the top of most visitor’s must-sees when in England and you could easily spend your entire vacation there. But thanks to England’s size, it’s really easy to take day trips from London by train to some of England’s most interesting towns and cities.

As the hub of Britain’s rail network, traveling by train from London is a great way to explore the south of England and even South Wales. Plus, railways were invented right here in England back in 1821, so there’s no better way to get around the country.

Tips for Train Travel in England

Tickets

The general consensus is that the most off-putting aspect of train travel is purchasing your ticket. British railways are known for having tickets designed to confuse us all, but all you need to know is that there are three main ticket types that you should be aware of when planning a train journey.

Advance Singles

Advance Singles are usually the cheapest tickets. These are available from 12 weeks before the date of travel and are priced just like airplane tickets. In general, the earlier you book, the less you pay. Advance singles are valid on the train you book only and are non-refundable, but the date and time of travel can be amended for a fee.

Off Peak Returns

Off Peak Returns are mid-range tickets. These allow you to travel on any service with certain time restrictions. In general, you can’t arrive in London during the morning rush hour or leave London during the afternoon rush hour. Off Peak tickets can be purchased in advance or at the station.

Anytime Singles and Returns

Anytime Singles and Returns are the most expensive tickets. These allow you to travel on any service on the date you choose. The return portion of your ticket is valid for 30 days from the outbound journey. Anytime tickets can be purchased in advance or at the station.

Travel tip: Whichever ticket you choose, it’s always best to buy online as you can often reserve a seat even on the day of your trip.

Plus, on most routes, you get the option of having an e-ticket which saves the hassle of collecting (and possibly losing) a paper ticket. All train journeys in England can be booked through Trainline.

If you’re going to be making a few train journeys during your time in the United Kingdom, a Railcard might save you money. Find out more and purchase one online.

Which station?

London has 12 main railway stations and several smaller ones, so knowing which one your train leaves from is very important. When booking your journey on Trainline, the journey planner will show you which station you need to go to. In the list below, we’ve included which station your train will depart from.

Top 10 Day Trips by Train from London

Oxford

Home to the oldest university in the English-speaking world and one of the most prestigious, Oxford is revered the world over. Aside from the university, this picturesque riverside city has a thriving culture and food scene, world-class museums and stunning natural scenery. Oxford is one of the easiest day trips from London by train.

Christ Church College is a must-visit on any visit to the City of Dreaming Spires. Founded by King Henry VIII in 1546, it is the most important of the Oxford colleges. Through its history, the college has educated Lewis Carroll, W.H. Auden and 13 British prime ministers. Its chapel is the city’s cathedral and its dining hall (Great Hall) was the seat of British parliament during the English Civil War.

More recently though, Christ Church has become famous as a filming location, serving as the dining hall for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films.

Local tip: Just opposite the entrance to Christ Church, G&D’s Café is an Oxford institution.

It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but G&D’s ice cream – made in their Oxford creamery – is unmissable. If you don’t have much of a sweet tooth, try one of their pizza bagels.

After visiting the college, head out the back of the college to Christ Church Meadow. Oxford’s most scenic park stretches right down to the banks of the river and is a popular spot for students to have picnics. A great way to see the river is to take a trip on a traditional punt or a sightseeing cruise along the course of the famous University Regatta course.

This river is frequently referred to as the Thames but to get a little pedantic, that’s wrong. The river you see here isn’t the Thames, but the Isis, a tributary which merges with the River Thame around ten miles south of Oxford to form the Thames.

In recent years, given the other association with the river’s proper name, intentionally misnaming it the Thames has become more commonplace among locals.

Oxford’s best museums include the Bodleian Library (the official University library), where you can take a guided tour for a more in-depth viewing. The Ashmolean Museum, the oldest museum in the country, contains a collection of treasures from around the world. Just a few of the other top museums in Oxford are Pitt Rivers, the Museum of Oxford and the Museum of National History.

Local tip: For the best view in Oxford, climb Carfax Tower.

Built as the bell tower of St Martin’s Church, when the church was demolished in 1896, the 23m tall tower was saved. There are 99 steps to the top, and admission costs £3.

Getting to Oxford

Trains to Oxford depart from London Paddington and London Marylebone. Trains from Paddington take around 50 minutes, whilst from Marylebone the journey lasts around an hour-and-a-quarter. Advance tickets start from just £12 round trip.

There’s a lot to see in Oxford, so to make the most of your day, we’d recommend taking an early train and returning late in the evening. To avoid the commuter rush, aim for a train around 8 am from London. The last train back from Oxford is just after midnight, so take your time to explore the city.

Cambridge

The rivalry between Oxford and Cambridge is intense. Everyone you meet in England will have their opinion on which is best, so it’s only right to visit both cities to form your own opinion!

The University of Cambridge was founded by scholars from Oxford who had fallen out with the local townspeople, so it’s no surprise that there are some big similarities between the two cities. The city center is given over to the colleges, which back on to the River Cam and, just like Oxford, there’s more museums here than you could shake a stick at.

If you’ve only got time to visit one college, it has to be King’s. Founded by Henry VI in 1441, King’s is home to King’s College Chapel which hosts probably the most famous Evensong in the world every afternoon during term time. (Evensong is an evening church service characterized by the singing of psalms.)

Local tip: King’s College Chapel tickets are often sold out. You’ll want to make sure you reserve them well in advance.

As grand as all of Cambridge’s colleges are from the front, the best views are actually from the river behind. The sloping lawns running down to the Cam are known as ‘The Backs’. The best way to see them is to take a punting tour of the city (most of which are run by students looking to make money for the summer).

When it comes to museums, Cambridge’s finest is ‘the Fitz’. Fitzwilliam Museum was built to hold Viscount Fitzwilliam’s treasures which include antiquities from all around the ancient world. Entrance is free. It’s one of the reasons why Cambridge is one of the best day trips from London by train.

Another excellent – and unique – offering is the Polar Museum which tells the stories of famous explorers such as Captain Scott and Ernest Shackleton.

Getting to Cambridge

Trains to Cambridge depart from London’s Kings Cross, St Pancras and Liverpool Street stations. Journey times vary depending on the number of stops; the fastest trains take 50 minutes, whilst stopping services take around 85 minutes.

Tickets purchased on the day of travel are £38.50 round trip, so make sure to book advance tickets which start from £16 return (available from Liverpool Street only).

Just like with Oxford, it’s a good idea to give yourself a full day in Cambridge. Aim for a train from London around 9 am. The last train back from Cambridge leaves between 11:30 pm and midnight.

Bath

Hemmed in by seven hills, the Roman spa town of Bath is an overload for the senses. With divine Georgian architecture, a buzzing food and bar scene and bucket-loads of history, there’s no question as to why Bath is one of the best day trips from London by train.

Aside from losing yourself in the riverside parks and admiring the grandiose buildings, a visit to the Roman Baths which gave the city its name is a must. With the Mendip Hills providing a natural hot spring, the Romans established the bathhouse here in the 1st century CE.

It remained active until the end of Roman rule when the baths fell into disrepair. During the Middle Ages, they were given a new lease of life and today attract over a million visitors every year.

The best of Bath can be seen with a guided walking tour. Make sure to choose a tour which allows you to add on a visit to the Roman Baths. This way, you’ll be able to skip the queues (and they get very long in summer).

The best example of Georgian architecture in Bath is Royal Crescent. A sweeping crescent of 30 terraced houses, it was completed in 1774 and looks just as majestic today as it did in the 18th century.

Another of Bath’s claims to fame is that author Jane Austen lived in the city from 1801 to 1806. The Jane Austen Centre offers a snapshot of life in Georgian Bath and pays homage to her work. You can even take a guided walking tour to discover more about Austen and how her time in Bath inspired her work.

Getting to Bath

Trains to Bath depart from London Paddington, with a journey time of around an hour-and-a-quarter. Advance tickets start from around £48 for a round trip. To make the most of your day, and avoid traveling at the busiest times, aim for a train leaving Paddington at around 9 am. The last train back to London is at around 10:45 pm.

Brighton

There’s few places which can claim to be all things to all people, but Brighton can. From leisurely walks on the beach to moonlight raves, the south coast’s seaside playground has plenty going for it. And that makes Brighton an unmissable stop on your England vacation.

The walk from Brighton Station to the seafront is fascinating in itself. The streets, no matter the time of day or year, are always buzzing. Brighton’s bohemian, hipster culture is immediately apparent. As you near the seafront, look to your right and you’ll see the city’s most famous building: The Royal Pavilion.

Built as a coastal retreat for King George IV, the Royal Pavilion one of the most recognizable buildings in all of England.

The only building which looks anything like the Royal Pavilion elsewhere in the world is the Taj Mahal.

The Royal Pavilion left the hands of the royal family in the 1850s, when Queen Victoria chose Osborne House on the Isle of Wight to be her seaside residence. The Pavilion is open daily, and tickets can be purchased online as part of a tour or at the entrance.

Down at the seafront, Brighton Palace Pier is the main attraction. Reaching 525 meters out into the English Channel, it was built in 1899 to replace the old pier which had been destroyed in a storm three years earlier. Another pier, West Pier, remained in operation until the 1970s before it closed and was eventually destroyed by fire. The shell remains, and walking along Palace Pier gives great views of it.

Brighton Palace Pier is everything you’d expect of the British seaside. Stalls sell every type of unhealthy delight imaginable, the screams from rollercoasters echo all around and the penny falls provide hours of fun.

Back on dry land, head across the road to the Sealife Centre, the world’s oldest aquarium. Get the best deals by booking ahead online. For the best view of Brighton, head west along the seafront to the British Airways i360. This enclosed glass viewing platform rises 137 meters above the ground and offers a panorama of the city and coastline.

Book here to get a ticket with a free drink from the onboard Sky Bar.

If you’re in need of a slightly quieter way to spend the afternoon, head to The Lanes. These narrow shopping streets are my favorite area of Brighton. Explore the quirky independent shops and squares with alfresco restaurants and hipster cafes.

If shopping isn’t your thing, take a walk along the promenade to Brighton Marina, a recently redeveloped spot with some top name shops and restaurants.

Local tip: You can’t visit the British seaside without sampling some Fish & Chips.

For some of the best Fish & Chips (it rivals even that of the Isle of Man), head to Captains on the Lower Promenade to dine with a sea view in this Brighton institution. If you fancy trying Fish & Chips but don’t eat fish, The No Catch Co serves an excellent vegan version.

To sample the best of Brighton, you need to stick around for the evening. The city’s electric nightlife is why it’s such a favourite.

If a traditional English pub is your tipple, head into The Lanes for a pint at The Great Eastern. For something a little different, try out one of the beach bars on the Lower Promenade – Ohso Social is a great spot to watch the sunset.

If you want the full Brighton experience, Revenge is the place to go. The city’s premier LGBT nightlife venue is fun, friendly and inclusive. It is split into three areas: a cozy rooftop terrace with great views of the pier, a classy cocktail bar and an underground nightclub where the party goes on until 5 am.

Getting to Brighton

The fastest trains to Brighton depart from London Victoria, with a journey time of one hour. Slightly cheaper services operate from London Bridge, and the journey takes around ten minutes longer. Brighton is almost a suburb of London, making it the easiest of the day trips from London by train.

Advance fares start from £14 and on the day fares will set you back up to £40. For the best ticket prices, book in advance. Trains depart every 15 minutes or so with the last return train at midnight.

Margate

The jewel of the Kent coast, Margate is just an hour and a half by train from Central London. Ranked as Europe’s top family seaside destination by Lonely Planet, Margate is the quintessential British seaside experience.

Aside from the golden, sandy beaches, Margate is renowned for the recently revamped Dreamland. One of England’s oldest surviving amusement parks, Dreamland is home to some seriously cool retro rides including vintage Gallopers, Cups & Saucers and a Helter Skelter.

A must for art lovers is Turner Contemporary, Margate’s hip and trendy modern art gallery. No matter when you visit, there’s always a quirky exhibition on – and entry is free!

Margate has undergone quite the facelift in recent years. Long gone are the dingy seaside cafes; chic brasseries and bistros serving up some real delights have taken their place. L’olivo is the place to go for classic Italian – their woodfired pizzas are divine. If you’re craving something slightly different, Mullins Brasserie brings the flavours of the Caribbean to Kent.

Local tip: Don’t worry, there’s still plenty of places to get Fish & Chips in Margate! Try Peter’s Fish Factory for some of the freshest fish around.

Margate has also become the haunt of young Londoners of artistic ilk looking for a place to spread their creative wings. It’s no surprise that up-and-coming high-end British brands like Haeckels have their roots in Margate.

Getting to Margate

Trains to Margate leave from London St Pancras and London Victoria with a journey time of between 90 and 105 minutes. Journeys from St Pancras are the quickest, and allow you to travel on a comfortable high-speed train. It’s one of the easiest day trips from London by train.

Tickets start from around £23 return when booked in advance. To avoid the crowds, aim for a mid-morning train from London. The last one back leaves Margate at around 10 am.

Rye

Where Romney Marsh meets the English Channel, Rye is the town where time has stopped. Crooked Tudor buildings, cobbled lanes and medieval walls make Rye one of the quaintest places in England. One of the Cinque Ports – a historic confederation of ports which became vital trading posts in the Anglo-Saxon era – Rye’s picturesque harbor is still a hub of activity.

Rye is all about aimless wandering. Lose yourself on the cobbled streets, buy things you never knew you wanted in antique shops and have morning coffee in a traditional tea room.

Local tip: The most quintessential English Tea Room experience is The Cobbles Tea Room where you’ll be transported back to the 1940s.

13th century Ypres Tower is Rye’s most famous landmark. Ypres Tower was built to protect against invasion by the French and served as the town’s castle. The castle is very well preserved and is open to visitors daily (£5, pay on arrival).

Another must-see is Lamb House, a gorgeous Georgian townhouse which was once home to the author Henry James. James lived in Rye from 1898 to 1916 and wrote The Wings of the Dove during his time in Lamb House.

It’s only in the last few years that the house has been open to visitors, giving you all the more reason to visit. Lamb House is open every day except Wednesdays and Thursdays (£8.50, pay on arrival).

Getting to Rye

There are no direct trains from London to Rye, so you’ll need to change along the way. Start from London St Pancras and change at Ashford International for a local train to Rye. The change is simple and you’ll only need to wait around 10 minutes at Ashford.

The total journey time is one hour and ten minutes. Tickets start from as little as £20 round trip when booked in advance. Aim to leave London around 10 am for a leisurely day trip. The last train back is at 10:45 pm. Despite the train change, Rye is still one of the classic day trips from London by train.

Arundel

Arundel is a beautiful market town on the Sussex coast worthy of a visit, but in truth, it’s Arundel Castle which blows everything else out the water.

Built in the 11th century, Arundel Castle was a major point of defence during the Norman conquests of Britain. The castle played an important role in the English Civil War, too.

It was largely rebuilt in the 1800s in preparation for a visit by Queen Victoria and, to this day, it is one of the grandest castles in England. You could quite easily spend all day visiting (open Tuesday to Sunday from the end of March to early November, full entrance tickets are £29 on arrival).

Local tip: Whilst you can purchase cheaper tickets to enter the castle gardens only, Arundel Castle is such an important piece of British history, so it really is worth going inside.

If you do manage to leave the castle with time to spare, pay a visit to Arundel Cathedral, the grand seat of the Bishop of Arundel and Brighton. It’s almost as imposing as the castle. Whichever way you look in Arundel, you can see one of these two grand buildings.

If you have time to get out of the town center, Arundel Wetland Centre is the perfect spot to soak up nature and some peace and quiet. It’s easily one of the best and easiest day trips from London by train.

Getting to Arundel

Trains to Arundel depart from London Victoria and take around 90 minutes. To make the most out of your day, aim for a train around 8:30 am. The last train back is at 11 pm. Make sure to buy advance tickets which start from just £14.

Dover

Closer to France than London, Dover is probably best known as the starting point for Cross Channel ferries to Calais and Dunkirk. If you were feeling really adventurous, you could nip over to the French coast for a day trip, but maybe best to keep this as one of your day trips from London by train.

Assuming you decide to stay on dry land, there are two excellent attractions in Dover which are really worth a visit.

As soon as you arrive in the town, you won’t be able to miss Dover Castle. Built just after the Battle of Hastings of 1066, during the Norman conquests, the castle is dubbed the “Key to England” due to its huge significance in the defence of the country.

The castle grew during Henry II’s reign and saw its first action defending England against the French in the Barons War of 1216. Since then, it’s seen fighting during the English Civil War, the Napoleonic Wars and even World War Two. The castle is open daily, year-round and admission costs around £20. You can save 15% by booking online.

Dover’s other unmissable landmark is the White Cliffs of Dover. These imposing chalk cliffs are both impressive in themselves and the views which can be had from them. On a clear day you can see right across the Channel to France.

The Cliffs are home to an intriguing network of wartime tunnels – known as Fan Bay Deep Shelter – which were built to accommodate soldiers working on defences in 1940. There’s a Victorian lighthouse plus an excellent visitor centre which has a great little café.

Entrance to the Cliffs is free (unless you arrive by car, but these are day trips from London by train, so that would be cheating).

If you have any time leftover and decide to head into the town centre, there are a couple of excellent little museums in Dover. Dover Museum tells the story of the town’s history with its highlight being a Bronze Age boat which was uncovered by archaeologists in the town in 1972.

And just outside the centre (accessible by taxi or bus), Dover Transport Museum houses a huge collection of vintage vehicles including the world’s largest collection of Norman motorbikes. It also showcases model railways and ferry memorabilia (open Sundays and Wednesdays, admission £12).

Getting to Dover

Trains to Dover Priory leave from London St Pancras, London Victoria and London Charring Cross. The quickest trains are those from St Pancras, taking around 70 minutes. The cheapest journeys leave from Charring Cross, with a journey time of just under two hours. It’s a little longer, but Dover’s white cliffs are worthy of one of your day trips from London by train.

Advance tickets start from around £25 return. To make the most of your day, aim for a train leaving London around 9 am. The last one back is at 10.45pm.

Canterbury

“Of Engelond to Caunterbury they wende”, so said Geoffery Chaucer in the Canterbury Tales, and wende to Canterbury you should.

Home to England’s finest and most important cathedral, the city of Canterbury is a history overload with a youthful soul, thanks mainly to the large student population.

Canterbury Cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Church of England. Built in 1070, the cathedral is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Worship is held daily and everyone is welcome, or you can simply go in for a look around. Book online to avoid the queues, entrance is £17.

Canterbury was an important city in Roman Britain, known at the time as Durovernum Cantiacorum. The Romans built a theatre, temple and roman baths in the city. If you’re interested in that history, Canterbury Roman Museum tells the story of Roman Canterbury and is built on the site of a Roman mosaic. Head inside to see it in its original location (admission £11 on the door or online).

Geoffrey Chaucer immortalized Canterbury in 1483 with the publication of The Canterbury Tales, a collection of short stories written in Middle English. You can discover more at the interactive Canterbury Tales museum.

Once you’re all historied out, pause for a bite to eat. Canterbury’s restaurant scene is anything but historic. Pinocchio’s is best for authentic Italian, still owned by the same family who opened it in 1987. Despite the cheesy name, The Cook’s Tale is a great place to go for Indian and their bottomless Thali is excellent.

If you fancy something more traditional, Old Weavers House dishes up British classics including Fish & Chips, homemade pies and prime steaks.

Getting to Canterbury

There are two stations in Canterbury: Canterbury East and Canterbury West. Neither are far from the center but Canterbury West is slightly closer and the journey is quicker. Trains depart from London St Pancras, with a journey time of just over an hour.

Return tickets start from £26 when booked in advance. Aim for a mid-morning train from London, the last one back leaves at around 10:15 pm, making it one of the most ideal day trips from London by train.

Cardiff

With a modern waterfront, historic castle and an overload of Welsh culture, Wales’s capital city is a must. And just 150 miles from London, it really is one of the best day trips from London by train. Plus, you’ll be ticking another country off the list.

As well as being great for one of your day trips from London by train, Cardiff is a fantastic place to go for a weekend city break. Check out our guide to the ultimate weekend in Cardiff.

Cardiff Castle is the city’s top attraction. Having protected the city since the 11th century, it became a private home in 1766 and as a result has a lavish interior. Standard admission grants you access to public areas but for the ultimate experience you can book a guided tour to get behind the scenes.

The castle is open daily and admission costs £15.50 (guided tours are £4.50 extra).

National Museum Cardiff is another excellent exhibition, housing some fascinating natural history artefacts and a great collection of modern art (Tuesday-Sunday, free admission).

St Fagan’s National History Museum is a great place to learn more about Wales. The museum comprises a collection of over 40 buildings from around the country which have been reassembled here (open daily, admission free).

Whilst in Cardiff, don’t miss the opportunity to try out some traditional Welsh food. Head to The Welsh House to try classics like Welsh Faggots, Lamb Cawl and Welsh Rarebit. To treat your sweet tooth, pop along to Cardiff Market to pick up some Cyflaith, a traditional Welsh toffee.

The best way to round off your day in Wales is with a wander around Cardiff Bay, the city’s ultra-modern waterfront. The Bay’s centrepiece is the Millennium Centre, Wales’s national event space and the home of the Welsh National Opera, National Orchestra of Wales and the National Dance Company.

Getting to Cardiff

Trains to Wales leave from London Paddington, with a journey time of just under two hours. The trains on this route are modern, high-speed trains and offer all the comforts you’ll need for the longest of the day trips from London by train on our list.

Return tickets start from £62 and should be booked in advance. To get a full day in Cardiff, plan an early start and catch a train at around 8 am. The last train back to London leaves at 9:30 pm.


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