10 Easy day trips from London
We take a look at the best and easiest day trips for when you feel like a little break from the big capital
Lewes and Firle
Best for: Stepping into Britain’s artistic and literary past
1 hour 7 minutes by train from London Victoria to Lewes
The Bloomsbury Set retreated to this part of the South Downs in the early 20th century, lured in by its otherworldliness and relative isolation. Nostalgic literarians can retrace the steps of Virginia Woolf at Charleston Farmhouse, which also curates rotating exhibitions of some of Britain’s most notable colourists. Weather-permitting, a hike through the famed chalky landscapes to Firle Beacon rewards with far-reaching sea views, while Glyndebourne Estate and Opera House is a 20-minute bus ride away.
Best for: Street art, culture and breathtaking topography
1 hour 44 minutes by train from London Paddington
Photo by Martyna Bober
International street art, spectacular topography and a thriving theatre scene are all here for the taking, for Bristol has risen to become one of the UK’s foremost cultural hotspots. Browse rare vinyls and other treasures at St. Nicholas Market and scour the city for politically charged murals by Banksy, stopping only for coffee at Full Court Press. An evening here is best spent watching sunset over the 300ft Clifton Suspension Bridge, and eating with ethical conscience at The Ethicurean.
Best for: Picture-perfect scenery and people watching
2 hours 10 minutes by train from London Paddington
There’s far more to this Regency town than the Cheltenham races: Cheltenham oozes cultural charm and is an understated base from which to explore the Cotswolds’ chocolate box villages. Start at The Coffee Dispensary on Regent Street, pick up one-off pieces at boutique Monty Smith, and stop at The Wilson gallery and museum to see Arts and Crafts gems including furniture by William Morris. A hefty sandwich from La Scala Delicatessen is near-enough essential before a two-hour ramble to Devil’s Chimney for spectacular views over the rolling hills.
Best for: A nature-filled seaside dystopia
2-hour drive, or 2 hours by train to Rye followed by 20-minute taxi
A short schlep from Rye lies Dungeness, a desert-like dystopia that’s home to one third of the UK’s plant species. It is marmite in 468 hectares: all abandoned fishing boats, endless shingle, crumbling buildings and a post-apocalyptic power station that featured in Dr Who. Potter about in the garden of late filmmaker and author Derek Jarman and eat the freshest of fresh seafood at Dungeness Snack Shack, where the menu revolves around the day’s catch. If seafood doesn’t appeal, The Ambrette in Rye serves up brilliant regional Indian dishes and Landgate Bistro favours foraged produce.
Best for: Chocolate box village idyll
1 hour 10 minutes by train from London Liverpool Street
More often than not people pass through this Medieval market town en route to the depths of Essex countryside, but it’s an architectural gem of a place that’s well worth a pitstop. A hodge-podge of 15th century cottages line its streets, some of them transformed into independent boutiques and twee tea rooms (Connie’s Pantry is a must). Nearby Audley End House and Gardens embodies Jacobean splendour, and Fleur De Lys is a quaint place to end the day with a local pint.
Best for: Whiling away the hours Thames-side
20 minutes by train from London Waterloo
Photo by Ming Jun Tan
An astute choice for when any longer than 30 minutes on a train is too long, Richmond feels a million miles from the capital’s eternal thrum and yet is just 20 minutes away. National Trust properties Ham House and Strawberry Hill House are worth perusing – member or not – and Kew House and Gardens is a day trip in its own right. When the sun’s out, nothing tops a Gelateria Danieli ice cream and walk along the river towards Richmond Park, where you’ll likely spot the famed deer (and maybe even local resident David Attenborough).
Best for: The Great British seaside with extra edge
1 hour 30 minutes by train from London St. Pancras
Photo by Matteo Di Iorio
Once written off as a bit too rough around the edges, over the past few years the tides have turned for Margate and it’s now the weekend fix for urbanites in need of salty sea air. Its appeal is manifold: there’s the revamped Dreamland Margate, the Turner Contemporary and the newly opened Carl Freedman gallery championing emerging British artists. Heart-stoppingly good vintage steals fill the rails of Peony Vintage, opposite which sits charming brunch spot The Hungry Donkey and bistro-turned-supper club The Kentish Pantry. Cold water hedonists can take to the tidal pool, and there’s Melt Gelato for those who’d rather spectate from afar.
Best for: Architectural heritage
2 hours by train from London Paddington
Gleaming Georgian crescents, historic tea rooms and preserved Roman baths are synonymous with this spa city and UNESCO World Heritage site. Ancient history and royal ties aside, Bath is fast forging an identity as an artisanal hub and Britain’s vegan capital. Makers sell designer homewares and one-off art in London Road’s artisanal quarter, while Acorn gives fine dining a vegan makeover and Chaiwalla’s Indian street food has reached city-wide cult status. First timers shouldn’t miss the Thermae spa or much-photographed Pulteney Bridge, as seen in Les Miserables.
Best for: An unexpected contemporary art scene
1 hour, 50 minutes by train from London King's Cross
Contemporary art and King’s Lynn are four words increasingly said in the same sentence. Affordable studios have birthed a community of around 800 local artists, and the town’s location at the remote end of the Fens has preserved its independence. King’s Lynn Festival is on until August 3 and features work by auto-destructive artist Gustav Metzger and an extensive music and talks programme, while GroundWork gallery curates intimate year-round exhibitions. Arty aesthetics continue into dinner at Socius, where the focus is on marvellously fresh British small plates.
Best for: A calming slice of Kent coast
1 hour, 20 minutes by train from London St Pancras
A seaside town reserved for those in the know, Deal has retained a quiet, grounded spirit thanks to its location slightly further along the Kent coast from the likes of Whitstable. This is a place for fresh battered cod, chips and mushy peas from Middle Street Fish Bar, eaten on a beachside bench; real ale at the Ship Inn, once frequented by smugglers; epicurean treats at the Saturday Market; and art without pretension in a handful of small local galleries. Take a look at our mini guide to Deal for the best places to see, eat, drink and stay.
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