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As world renowned and exciting as London is, it would be a shame to overlook the south of England when staying in the English capital.
And given London’s crazy traffic volumes, train is the best way to do this. Here I’ve listed some great options for day trips from London by train.
For general UK travel information, check out my UK Travel Planning post.
With a history that mixes religion and royalty, an architecture that reflects that past, and an average journey time of 1 hour 37 minutes from London, Canterbury is an excellent choice for a day trip from London. Canterbury is a historic town located south east of London in the county of Kent.
Much of Canterbury’s history revolves around its top sight, Canterbury Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. When Benedictine monk Augustine introduced Christianity to England in the 6th century, he chose Canterbury as the site of his cathedral. The Archbishop of Canterbury is currently the most senior cleric in the Church of England.
Canterbury was a popular pilgrimage site. Geoffrey Chaucer’s literary masterpiece The Canterbury Tales is a series of stories of pilgrims travelling to visit the shrine of Archbishop Thomas Becket, murdered on the orders of King Henry II in the 12th century.
Canterbury is a lovely town for a stroll, whether it’s along the River Stour or on the streets of half-timbered houses. The town has plenty of cafes, restaurants and shops to cater for visitors.
There are two train stations in Canterbury: Trains from London Victoria serve Canterbury East while trains from London’s Charing Cross and London St. Pancras International serve Canterbury West.
Journey times and prices vary considerably depending on time of day and station. Both train stations in Canterbury are a couple of minutes’ walk from the town centre. The Trainline website lists train times and sells tickets.
Brighton is the fun and sun capital of the UK. This coastal city overlooks the English Channel and is located directly south of London in the county of East Sussex.
Brighton is night-time party-central and much of its revenue comes from the wallets of pleasure-seekers. But its sea air, energetic vibe and outstanding selection of shops and eateries makes it a refreshing day trip from the capital city. Brighton has one of the largest LGBT communities in the UK with the city hosting several festivals to celebrate diversity.
Brighton Pier and the adjacent beach are the main landmarks of the city. Brighton’s Royal Pavilion is easily the most flamboyant royal palace in the country. The i360 Viewing Tower has outstanding views of the surrounding countryside and coast.
Trains from London Victoria and London Blackfriars serve Brighton. The average train journey is 1 hour 21 minutes. Tickets can be booked directly from the Trainline website.
Oxford is a by-word for academia and is more like a university with a city attached. It is inevitable that the majority of sites to see in Oxford are university-related. Dating back to 1096, not only is Oxford University the oldest in the UK but it’s the oldest university in the English-speaking world.
The university comprises 38 individual colleges dotted around the city. It’s possible to visit some of the colleges individually.
The benefit of taking a group tour booked at the Tourist Office is the information on former students the tour guide can dispense. This bit will be of particular interest to those who follow politics given the number of British Prime Ministers and international heads of state that have studied at the university.
Other than the individual colleges, I recommend visiting the Bodleian Library including the Radcliffe Camera, the Ashmolean Museum (the UK’s oldest), the Bridge of Sighs on New College Lane, and the Sheldonian Theatre,
Located North West of London in Oxfordshire County, trains from London Paddington and London Marylebone serve Oxford. The average journey time is 1 hour 7 minutes. Tickets can be purchased from Trainline’s website.
I couldn’t include Oxford in a post about day trips from London by train and omit its rival, Cambridge. Cambridge is also a university city with its 31 colleges dotted around the city. Peterhouse is the oldest college (1284) while Trinity College is the largest.
Like Oxford, the amount of history associated with the city means Cambridge is perfect for a guided walking tour. The guides also dispense information on famous former students. And while the university teaches all disciplines, it’s best known for its science alumni such as Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, David Attenborough, Rosalind Franklin, Stephen Hawking and JJ Thomson to name a few.
Given the number of public parks in Cambridge, the city is ideally suited for a day trip from London during the sweltering summer months. Punting on the River Cam is a popular activity with guided punt tours and self-hire punts available.
Located north of London in Cambridgeshire County, the average train journey from London is 1 hour 19 minutes. Trains from London King’s Cross and London Liverpool Street serve Cambridge. Trainline’s website has further information and tickets on London to Cambridge trains.
WINDSOR & ETON
Windsor Castle, which towers over this historic town of the same name, is the obvious starting point for a day trip. It’s an official royal residence and guided tours are possible. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were married in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.
Windsor is a pretty town and is perfect for a stroll. Another landmark to visit is the Victorian-era Windsor Royal Station Shopping Arcade.
Neighbouring Eton town, located on the opposite side of the River Thames, has also a picturesque centre. Eton is known for its college, a boarding school founded in 1440 by Henry VI. Past pupils include Princes William and Harry, writers George Orwell and Ian Fleming, and 20 British Prime Ministers.
A trip to Windsor and Eton is easily one of the most convenient day trips by train from London. Located west of London in Berkshire County, trains from London Paddington serve Windsor and Eton Central. Trains from London Waterloo serve Windsor and Eton Riverside.
Journey times from London Paddington average 30 minutes but a change at Slough is required. The journey time from London Waterloo is over one hour and can require two changes on some services.
Tickets can be booked directly on Trainline’s website.
With half-timbered houses leaning over cobbled streets, Rye is one of the quaintest small towns in southern England.
Small in size but big on atmosphere, Rye is a medieval town that once had a harbour. It was both a smuggling centre and subject to attack by invaders. Over the centuries, the sea receded and the foreshore silted up.
Rye is located south east of London in East Sussex County. Trains from London St. Pancras International serve Rye with journey times of just over an hour. A change is required at Ashford International. Tickets for this route are quite pricey so book well in advance on Trainline for the best prices.
DAY TRIPS FROM LONDON BY TRAIN: FINAL THOUGHTS
Having visited many places on the outer regions of London over the years, the above places are a list of my favourites. I found all to be safe.
Some guides include further away fields such as Manchester and Birmingham as day trips from London but I recommend overnight stays for these long trips. Holidays should be stress-free as possible and not endurance tests. Check out accommodation options on booking.com for overnight stays.
Have you done a day trip from London? How was your experience? I would love to hear your feedback.