Great Britain has a very easy-to-use and comprehensive rail system. From London you can reach destinations hundreds of miles away, comfortably delivered right near the middle of town—making rail a perfect way to access the storied countryside, castles, ruins, beaches, and cities.
On the National Rail network, trains leave from 11 different stations throughout the city dispatching passengers around the country. Depending on your destination, tickets can be as low as £10 there and back. And so, the tough part is deciding where to go.
Below are just seven remarkable destinations reachable by train in an hour and a half or less from London ideal for a day trip. Even if short on time, a city escape out of London can make it onto almost any itinerary.
Windsor (50 minutes from Paddington Station)
This destination is, of course, most well-known for the impressive Windsor Castle, one of the official homes of the British Royal Family, built in the 11th century. This is the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world. And it is where the Queen herself often spends the weekend. Take the Long Walk up toward the castle and explore the stunning 13-acre grounds. Next, stroll through the historic countryside town of Old Windsor and have lunch. Be back in London for afternoon tea.
Brighton and Hove (1 hour from London Bridge)
This is a lively beach town with an amusement park pier that rivals Coney Island, has surprising architecture like the India-inspired Brighton Pavilion, and an artsy local culture. Go during one of the many festivals or on any not-too-rainy day to enjoy the fresh sea air and seafood.
Cambridge (50 minutes from Kings Cross)
Walk in the footsteps of Sir Isaac Newton and Lord Byron. Imagine yourself attending the renowned Cambridge University in those grand, Gothic buildings. Meander around town through the markets and along the River Cam, visit the stirring King’s College Chapel, and duck into the flower-filled Cambridge University Botanic Garden for a nature escape.
Canterbury (1 hour from St Pancras International)
The main attraction in this beautiful small town is the Canterbury Cathedral originally established in 597 A.D. Make sure to take a docent tour to hear of the Cathedral’s storied past, and poor, old Thomas Becket. Also choose from many other marvels around Canterbury such as the ruins of the old St. Augustine’s Abbey and a performance at the Canterbury Tales.
Viewfinder Tip: When booking rail travel in Britain, be sure to book well ahead of your travel day to save on ticket prices.
Salisbury and Stonehenge (1.5 hours from Waterloo Station)
The medieval town of Salisbury feels right out of a storybook. It is known for the stunning 14th century Salisbury Cathedral where the Magna Carta is now on display. Also visit the site of the city’s original local settlement called Old Sarum dating back to 3,000 B.C. And take a bus—a day trip from your day trip—to the prehistoric monument of Stonehenge.
Oxford (1.5 hours from Paddington and Marylebone stations)
Oxford is a sprawling modern university town adorned with stunning Gothic architecture at nearly every turn. Take an awe-inspiring walk around the grounds of one of the 38 schools. Visit one of the many museums and see exhibits on display from dinosaur skeletons at the Museum of Natural History to contemporary art at Modern Art Oxford. There is so much to experience you might want to consider an Oxford tour to help direct your energy and learn about your surroundings.
St Albans (20 minutes from St Pancras International)
A day trip out of the city does not get more convenient than the quaint cathedral town of St Albans. You could visit in the morning and be back for lunch! Make sure to see the emasculate St Albans Cathedral. Stroll the street markets on Wednesday or Saturday and poke into the many small shops around town. Just promise you’ll have a pint and bite to eat at Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, the oldest pub in Britain.
What are your favorite kinds of day trips out of the city?