If you’re based in London but want to explore, we’ve got the best alternative day trips for you. Here we’ve put together a collection of the places you can reach within two hours of the capital to enjoy a day trip from London by train. UK day trips from London are easily achievable. In two hours of traveling, you can cover a surprising distance and still have time to see the sights.
- 1 What do we Mean By An Alternative Day Trip From London?
- 2 Colchester: The Former Capital of England
- 3 Hastings: 1066 And Beyond
- 4 Cardiff: Capital of Wales
- 5 Lewes: Centuries of English Life in One Small Town
- 6 Royal Leamington Spa: England’s Happiest Place
- 7 Salisbury: Old Sarum, Stonehenge, water Meadows and Hauntings
- 8 South Downs National Park: Big Chalkland Walks and Coastal Cliffs
- 9 Margate: Arty Renaissance and Roller Coasters
- 10 Gloucester: A Port With A New Lease Of Life
- 11 Canterbury: Charming Cathedral City
- 12 New Forest National Park: Four Hooved Companions in Ancient Woodlands
- 13 Birmingham: Vibrant, Bustling and Walkable
- 14 Brussels: Celebrating the City of Chocolate, Waffles and Belgian Beer
- 15 Cheap Day Trips From London
What do we Mean By An Alternative Day Trip From London?
There are some clear and immediate contenders for daytripping from London. No one can deny the great attractions of Brighton: green, vibrant, and absolutely full of things to enjoy from pier to Pavillion. The beauty of the Cotswolds, or the historical interest of Shakespeare’s home in Stratford-upon-Avon are also great day tripping options. But here are some alternatives you might not have considered, and all of them within a two hour train ride (ok, I’ve stretched to 2 hours 10 minutes) to give you time to enjoy a full day at your destination. And if you’ve got a little longer to spend away, why not check out the best weekend getaways in the UK?
Colchester: The Former Capital of England
From London Liverpool Street Station – 48 minutes to 1 hour travel time
Colchester’s got a fascinating history. It is the oldest recorded Roman town in Britain, and is also claimed to be the oldest town in Britain. As the capital of Roman Britain, it can be argued that it out-capitaled London at one point in time. Colchester is home to two of the five Roman theatres in Britain, with Gosbecks (open to the public as an Archaeological Park) able to seat 5,000 and undoubtedly a fine night out for your local centurion.
Colchester Castle has an eleventh century Norman keep built on top of a Roman temple. Medieval fortunes were built on woollen cloth and later fabric production, Colchester being famous for its russets across Europe. In fact the town was so prosperous and populous that it lost more of its citizens to the Black Death than was the case in London. When you visit now, you’ll see brilliant Victorian architecture including the Town Hall and the “Jumbo” (named for its size) Water Tower. The town is also said to be the home of three classic English nursery rhymes including Humpty Dumpty. If you get time on your trip, try to pop across to Mersea Island, home to wild beaches and wild oysters.
Hastings: 1066 And Beyond
Around 2 hours from London St Pancras Station or London Victoria Station
Hastings is one of the medieval Cinque Ports, and the site of the Battle of Hastings of 1066. Today it’s a fishing port, with a fleet beached at low tide. The Battle of Hastings is seen as the start of the Norman Conquest, with the battle taking place 8 miles north at Senlac Hill. William the Conqueror is responsible for the castle built after the battle. Hastings is mentioned in the Domesday book.
The town expanded with the growth in fashionable seaside holidays as demanded by Victorian England. The beach itself has plenty to offer. The fishing fleet – the largest beach-launched fleet in Europe – is based at the Stathe. There has been fishing here for at least four hundred and possibly six hundred years, perhaps reason for the town celebrating three fish festivals. Wander down to the base of the cliffs, and you can find fossils and even a dinosaur footprint. There are two funicular railways, and also a link to the Saxon Shore Way: a long distance footpath. Coombe Haven has the largest reed bed in the country: a place of great interest to bird watchers. The town is surrounded by the High Weald Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty, full of farms, woodlands and historic parks.
Cardiff: Capital of Wales
Two hours from London Paddington
I can’t pretend you can fit into one day even a tiny fraction of everything there is to see in Cardiff. As the capital of Wales, home to its National Assembly and the largest city in the principality, Cardiff has an incredible amount to offer. But choose your most inspiring itinerary, and Cardiff rewards the day visitor with beautiful vistas, surprising finds and a whole lot of Welsh warmth.
Cardiff Castle is a major city landmark. Nearby, the Castle Quarter contains many fascinating Victorian and Edwardian shopping arcades. Cardiff Bay is home to many of the big sights. Here you’ll find the Wales Millennium Centre, the Coal Exchange, the Cardiff Bay Barrage, and the small sweet Norwegian church. Take the Centenary walk for 2.3 miles to see 41 of the city’s landmarks and historic buildings. Bring home vinyl from Spillers Records, the world’s oldest record shops, Welsh wool goods and maybe a few Welsh cakes for the train ride.
Lewes: Centuries of English Life in One Small Town
Just over an hour from London Victoria Station
Lewes is the county town of East Sussex, home of the Glyndeboune Festival and proud celebrant of the Lewes Bonfire, the UK’s biggest Bonfire Night. Here you can find a number of fascinating buildings. There’s the castle, Bull House (belonging to Founding Father Thomas Paine), Southover Grange, and Anne of Cleves House, a Wealden Hall House awarded to Henry VIII’s Queen as part of her divorce settlement. The writer Virginia Woolfe owned the Round House, a former windmill in Pipe Passage.
The wonderful Fifteenth Century Bookshop does all it says in its name. The Prince Regent once drove his carriage past, which must have rattled the windows a little. There are many streets with 18th and 19th century houses, making the town an illustrated guide to English housing over many centuries. Lewes has its own brewery, Harvey and Sons, producing 3-5 different beers at any one time. Don’t forget to grab a picture of yourself on the Greenwich Meridian Line, which also passes through the town.
Royal Leamington Spa: England’s Happiest Place
One hour, 20 minutes from London Marylebone station
As typically English as a Jane Austen tea dance, Leamington was voted Britain’s happiest place to live. And you can see why. It’s a town filled with independent shops and restaurants, fine Regency architecture and lots to do. Leave the train station, and walk into town across the River Leam via the park. To your right, you’ll find the Pump Rooms, restored from the days when visitors came to take the cure from the spa waters. You can see the hammam, and understand the roles of the spa staff in Georgian times, including the recognition that colonic irrigation is nothing new.
Heading up the gentle hill past Leamington’s splendid town hall, you’ll find the town’s elegant Georgian terraces. Today they are crammed with independent shops selling a plethora of interesting goods. Leamington also has a vibrant restaurant and cafe scene, with plenty of opportunities to dine well and dine often. If you’re visiting during the renowned Food Fair, you’ll find even more deliciousness available on every corner.
Salisbury: Old Sarum, Stonehenge, water Meadows and Hauntings
One and a half hours from London Waterloo Station
Wiltshire is serene English countryside, rolling hills, market towns and the vastness that is Salisbury Plain, with three hundred miles of chalk plateau. Near the edge of Salisbury Plain, you’ll find the cathedral city of Salisbury. This is a part of England that has been settled and inhabited for the longest time. You’ll find the incredible UNESCO World Heritage site of Stonehenge a mere 8 miles from Salisbury, and the neolithic site of Old Sarum is also close by. But don’t let this distract you too much from the glory of Salisbury itself.
The first time I visited, above the tendrils of grey mist rose the sterner dusk grey of the cathedral itself, on a site said by legend to be chosen by the flight of an arrow fired from Old Sarum. Here you’ll find the tallest spire in the UK, the oldest surviving mechanical clock in the world, and the best preserved of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta. Visit on Tuesday or Saturday for the Charter Market, or walk the water meadows at any time. The Haunch of Venison pub contains a mummified hand, said to have been severed during a game of cards. The department store Debenhams is reportedly haunted by the second Duke of Buckingham, beheaded there (in that location, I hasten to add, not the store itself) in 1483.
South Downs National Park: Big Chalkland Walks and Coastal Cliffs
One and a half hours to Chichester from London Victoria Station
If you’re in need of vast open coast and towering cliffs, this is the day trip for you. Take the train to Chichester and you’ll be at the heart of a network of public transport to take you to key parts of the South Downs. The National Park area extends to take in parts of the Weald, the whole area being made up of rolling chalk downland. This is a land of walkers, mountain bikers and horse riders. Up here, you’ll feel the sheer pleasure of being alive.
From Chichester, you can head to the Weald and Downland Living Museum near Singleton. There are 50 historic buildings in the open air environment here, plus opportunities to try activities such as cooking and weaving. Kingley Vale National Nature Reserve has one of the finest yew forests in Europe. Then onwards to the South Downs Way, a long distance footpath which runs for a hundred miles from Winchester to Eastbourne.
Margate: Arty Renaissance and Roller Coasters
An hour and a half to an hour and three quarters from London St Pancras or London Victoria stations
Margate is a coastal town fifteen miles from Canterbury in Kent. It was a “limb” of Dover as one of the Cinque Ports, and has been a seaside resort for at least two hundred and fifty years. It once had bathing machines, conveying women to the water’s edge with due regard to modesty. The Dreamland park contains the Scenic Railway wooden roller coaster, Grade II listed, and the second oldest in the world. This coaster, the oldest in the UK, is unique, requiring a brakeman to travel to control its speed.
There’s plenty to interest elsewhere in Margate too. There’s the sixteenth century Tudor House on King Street, and the Jubilee Clock Tower which contains one of the few working time balls still in operation in the world (1pm, if you’re in town). Drapers Mill is a restored smock mill open to the public. The Grade I listed Shell Grotto is covered in decorations of over four million shells. If you’re fascinated by art, you’ll be delighted to hear of the Turner Contemporary Gallery, the artist having described the local skies as the “loveliest in all Europe”. Here you’ll also find the UK’s second oldest theatre, the Theatre Royal, and one of the smallest in the world, the beautifully named Tom Thumb Theatre.
Gloucester: A Port With A New Lease Of Life
Around two hours from London Paddington Station
Gloucester is a county town with a port linked to the Severn Estuary by the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal. The wharfs, warehouses and docks have now been regenerated into a large public space known as Gloucester Docks. There are apartments, bars, shops and entertainment along with the National Waterways Museum, the Gloucester Yacht Club and the Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum. The RNLI Lifeboat stationed at Gloucester Docks is the furthest inland in the United Kingdom.
If Gloucester Cathedral looks familiar, its cloisters appear as corridors in several of the Harry Potter films. The Three Choirs festival is held at the cathedral every third year, sharing duties with Hereford and Worcester. You’ll find several medieval and Tudor galleried and half timbered houses, including the New Inn, built by the monk John Twyning. The Tailor of Gloucester house, dedicated to Beatrix Potter, is near the cathedral.
“Doctor Foster went to Gloucester in a shower of rain. He stood in a puddle right up to his middle and never went there again.” Traditional Rhyme
Canterbury: Charming Cathedral City
From 1 hour 30 minutes to 2 hours from London Charing Cross Station, London Victoria Station or London St Pancras Station
Canterbury is a historic cathedral city in Kent, and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The primate of the Church of England is the Archbishop of Canterbury, giving you some idea of the importance of Canterbury to the church in England. The cathedral has long been a site of pilgrimage following the murder of Thomas Becket by the forces of King Canute. The journey of a group of pilgrims is set out in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
Today you’ll find Roman city walls, abbey and castle ruins, Kent County Cricket Club and the oldest extant school in the world, the King’s School. The Westgate is a museum telling of its past life as a jail. You’ll find checked trousers and jaunty scarves aplenty at the Rupert Bear Museum, part of the Canterbury Heritage Museum. The city has the highest student/citizen percentage of population in the UK, speaking volumes to the availability of reasonably priced things to do, see and eat there.
New Forest National Park: Four Hooved Companions in Ancient Woodlands
From London Waterloo Station – journey time around 1 hour 40 minutes to Brockenhurst
Feeling the need for somewhere green and peaceful, and a chance to really stretch your legs? The New Forest has that and more. Here you’ll find woodland, heathland, open moor and a wonderful chance to meet free-roaming ponies, donkeys, cattle and deer. The village of Brockenhurst is your destination from London, and you may even find your first four-hooved travel companions grazing on the village green here.
Hire a bike or simply set off on foot to enjoy paths and bridleways through the New Forest. There are many trails starting from Brockenhurst. Here you’ll also find the Watersplash Ford, and “Brockenhurst Beach”, the name for a swimming spot on the Lymington River. The village has plenty of independent shops and two churches. The graveyard at St Nicolas’s Church has the memorial to Brusher Mills, the snakecatcher of legend for the New Forest. Cyclexperience, located at the train station, has over 300 bikes for hire plus helmets, maps and an app to guide you. They have plenty of suggestions for good trails, both on and off road. There are two riding stables nearby if you’re looking for a day hack. If you want to walk, we’d suggest the South Taste Trail: seven miles of pubs and tea rooms in glorious countryside.
Birmingham: Vibrant, Bustling and Walkable
An hour and a half from London Euston to Birmingham New Street or two hours from London Marylebone to Birmingham Moor Street. Both Birmingham stations are in the city centre.
Birmingham’s got lots of what makes London great, but in a much more compact centre. So if you’re interested in seeing some fascinating history, or simply getting some shopping under your belt, then England’s second largest city has plenty to offer you. Starting with the history, Birmingham has a Victorian heritage so beautiful you’ll be entranced by its architecture. From the Town Hall, which could be dropped in Italy with no one finding it out of place, to the glorious Museum and Art Gallery (where you’ll find pre-Raphaelite paintings and a lot of Anglo-Saxon gold), there’s a potted history of England within steps.
If you want to shop, then the redesigned city centre has all you could desire and more. From the magnificent Selfridges building in the Bullring, resplendent with silver discs and styled on a tight sweater, to Harvey Nichols in the Mailbox, Birmingham covers all the famous shopping names. Ten minutes walk from Moor Street Station, you’ll find arty space, the Custard Factory, full of vintage and design. Digbeth, between the two, has all you could wish in street food. If literature makes your heart happy, you’ll have time to take the Tolkien Trail and see The Shire hidden deep in the green heart of Birmingham.
Brussels: Celebrating the City of Chocolate, Waffles and Belgian Beer
Just over two hours from London St Pancras International by Eurostar
And why not? England has much to offer, but in two hours, you could also find yourself in Brussels after taking the Eurostar from London St Pancras. Arriving into Brussels Midi, you’re in the area of Brussels noted for Art Nouveau. Wander through the commune of Saint Gilles for a look at Horta’s renowned architecture, and to visit the last remaining city gate of Brussels, the Porte de Hal, now full of armour and with a brilliant battlement walk.
A quick metro trip to Brussels Central will have you ten minutes walk from the celebrated UNESCO World Heritage Site of Grand Place. I guarantee it’ll take your breath away. Then its time for wandering the beautiful cobbled streets, exploring the shopping galleries, and enjoying some Belgian delicacies of beer, frites, waffles and chocolate.
Cheap Day Trips From London
To make the most of your travel funds, don’t forget to check out our advice on how to find affordable travel in the United Kingdom. Booking (even slightly) and advance and travelling off peak will help keep costs down. We’ve also got you covered for how to eat well for less here.
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14 thoughts on “The 13 Best Alternative Day Trips From London”
I love it when your blog posts include places from books and movies! The cloisters from Harry Potter!
I’m always wondering why things look familiar. So I’m on a mission to find out! 🙂
Bernie, this is fantastic! As an American who lived in London many years ago as a cash-strapped university student, I was able to travel some of the places you mentioned but not all. Love that you mentioned how quickly one can travel to Brussels as well. I enjoyed my quick trip there so long ago, where I gorged on Guylian chocolate, visited an old lace factory, and had ice cream from a street vendor in a freshly-made waffle cone. Such a fun day trip!
So many day trips from London. I think I am going to need more days there :O). I think my real takeaway was Birmingham. I love London, but it’s not really compact. What’s more, the Themes corridor is so packed with travelers that it fees rather produced. Having a compact, authentic option would be splendid.
Great and very helpful list. The cathedrals look amazing–Gloucester does indeed look familiar!
Wow, what an amazing collection of ideas. I love that they aren’t the usual set of suggestions for visitors. My only comment is that so many of them deserve at least an overnight if not two, and I wonder if trying to visit as a day trip does these places a disservice. Of course, if one only has limited time in the UK, then a day trip is better than no trip! 🙂
As soon as I saw the photos of Lewes, I knew that is where I would love to take a day trip. I love the buildings and who wouldn’t want to see UK’s biggest bonfire? I read Virginia Woolf’s essay “A Room Of One’s Own” when I was in college and would love to visit where she lived.
These are nice, not-so-well-known (alternative as you said) day-trips from London. Since I am hoping to visit the UK for the first time next year, I want to see all the common, well-known “touristy” sites, but I was particularly drawn to five of these places: 1) The small town of Lewes-I love the colorful buildings and the streets seem to have a lot of personality! 2) I would have to check out the happiest place to live-Leamington! 3) Salisbury for the cathedral (I love that style of architecture) and well Stonehenge isn’t far! 4) Canterbury for the cathedral again and 5) Gloucester-yep, the cathedral!
I love London and have visited several times. But I always stayed within its borders. Who knew I was missing out! Next time, I’ll check out South Downs National park, it looks amazing!
Gloucester and Canterbury look incredible! That cathedral in Gloucester looked super familiar right away! I’m glad you said it was featured in Harry Potter, otherwise that would’ve bugged me for a long time trying to figure it out, haha.
London is one of my very favorite cities and I had not considered several of these cities. What a great post! On my next visit I definitely want to check out Colchester, Lewes, and New Forest National Park. I love the idea of seeing free roaming animals!
London has so much to offer to visitors. I have been there twice and glad to have done a few of these day trips. Wish I had known about Lewes. From the picture it looks very appealing with a beautiful rustic feel to it. Hope I plan a visit again and when that happens. this will be my guide for the next exploration!
I haven’t gotten much of a chance to explore the UK, but of all of these, I think Lewes looks the most attractive! I’m also a Doctor Who fan, so I’ve wanted to visit Cardiff just to say I’ve been there 😛
What great ideas for day trips out of London, I live here and I have now added a few things to my list that I have not done yet on a week like visiting Gloucester and Colchester. I never knew that it was the Former Capital Of England very cool. I only heard about The Dreamland park the other day which is now on the list too