London is like travel Marmite to most people: you either love it or hate it. It excites the senses or overwhelms them, raises spirits or crushes them.
But even those who love the place need to get away every now and again, to escape the hustle and bustle, the Tube delays and the crowds – even just for one day.
It’s fortunate, then, that London boasts the best rail links in the United Kingdom. You can be in central London at one moment and on a train out of the city the next, arriving in an entirely new town in only a few short hours – and you can be back in London again in time for tea.
Here’s a rundown of five of the best London day trips by train.
The “city of dreaming spires” is about as pretty as they come. Medieval churches and gothic architecture dominate the city, while ornate university buildings demonstrate very early examples of English architecture.
It’s most famous for being home to the oldest university in the English-speaking world, of course, but Oxford should also be familiar to Harry Potter fans – its university buildings being the inspiration behind Hogwarts.
Oxford is roughly 50 miles (80km) west of Central London – just an hour by train from London Paddington station.
British beaches tend to leave a lot to be desired but the sea-side city of Brighton sure doesn’t.
Just an hour from London Victoria by train, Brighton boasts many sea-side attractions: a beach (stony rather than sandy), tons of fish-and-chip shops, decent restaurants, pubs and cafes, excellent shopping and a pier packed with rides and amusement arcades.
It’s not a good beach for swimming but you can easily whittle away a morning or afternoon strolling the famous Brighton Pier, having a go on the penny-pushers (a uniquely British activity) or taking part in the many carnival-based activities such as throwing rings around bottles or balls into buckets to win soft toys.
The cathedral city of Canterbury is just one hour from London St Pancras station but it’s a world away in terms of beautiful old buildings, quaint pubs and peace and quiet.
Life moves quite a bit slower in Canterbury – think history and heritage rather than shops and night life – which isn’t a bad thing. The Cathedral, the oldest in England, is itself worth venturing to Canterbury for the day – as is St Augustine’s Abbey and St Martin’s Church.
The city’s boat tours, too, are a highlight. The river Stour runs past many of Canterbury’s most historic and fascinating buildings, affording travellers a different perspective of what life may have been like in England hundreds of years ago.
Well-known for its golden sandy beaches and temperate climate, Bournemouth could just about be a beach-town in New Zealand if not for its two piers.
A British beach-side oddity that’s likely to baffle international tourists, it seems that most beaches in England have them. Bournemouth has two: the sleek and stylish Boscombe Pier and the family-friendly Bournemouth Pier, which has an amusement arcade.
Just two hours from London Waterloo, Bournemouth is more laid-back than Brighton but no less as fun. Whether you hire a bicycle to ride along the beach or you choose to relax on the sand or outside a nearby pub, a day trip to Bournemouth is a holiday from London.
One hour from London’s Fenchurch Street train station and home to the largest pleasure pier in the world, Southend-on-Sea is a day-tripper’s paradise in spite of what you may have heard.
Unloved by many Londoners for being a “poor-man’s Brighton”, Southend is nevertheless a fun seaside resort in Essex. Sure, the seafront is kind of on the tacky side – amusement arcades, fast-food shacks and fair-ground rides abound – but you’re unlikely to ever get bored.
The Southend Pier has to be seen to be believed, stretching more than 1.3 miles (2km) towards the horizon. It’s so long, in fact, that you can catch a train out to the end.
Whether you’re in London for the Olympics or Wimbledon, you’re a Londoner or just another Antipodean calling the place home for a few months or years – you can’t go wrong with these London day trips.
We took a day trip to Oxford early last year – it was a Sunday in January or February – and can’t say I really enjoyed the experience.
I was surrounded by large groups of tourists at pretty much every point of the day. It just didn’t find it relaxing, calm & charming – it felt like I was caught in the middle of the road on Oxford Street with buses & taxis whizzing by on both sides. I’ll give it a go again sometime, just not sure when – I’ll probably opt for a lesser known but equally interesting destination for my next day out of London.
Fair enough! I had a similar experience in Bath and I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. Years later, when I returned, I liked it a lot – either it had change or I had!
Woah that picture of the Cantebury canal is stunning!