9 Cheap day trips from London

There are more things to do in London than can be explored in a single visit. Spending too much time in London, though, can rob you of the opportunity to see what lies beyond this vast wonderland of a metropolis. Often only within an hour’s journey from Central London you can find fantastic attractions, rich heritage and natural splendour.

From King Arthur’s round table to the summer retreat where Dickens wrote his most famous novels, next time you come to London, take the time for a cheap but enriching day trip to the countryside.

1 – Stratford-Upon-Avon – Shakespeare’s birthplace

The majority of Stratford-upon-Avon attractions are related to Shakespeare’s life and times. You can see the house where the bard was born, visit the churchyard where he was buried and watch a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or whatever else is on, at the Royal Shakespeare and Swan Theatres. In late April every year the city hosts Shakespeare’s Birthday celebrations – a weekend pageant of Elizabethan extravaganza, entertainment, performance and food.

Should you get weary of all that Shakespeare stuff, pop into the Butterfly Farm where you will be instantly transported to a tropical world filled with colourful butterflies and diligent ants, and for those who like more dangerous creatures, there is a whole section with venomous spiders – all safely locked. Finally, take the time to stroll the scenic river bank, the serene streets lined with period houses and quaint boutiques.

How to get there

Train from London Marylebone. Tickets start at £6.00 advance single. Journey takes between 2 and 2.30 hours.

2 – Windsor – the weekend residence of the Queen

Even though it is more than one thousand years old, Windsor Castle still serves as an official royal residence. The stern medieval exterior hides magnificently decorated halls and chambers, innumerable works of art and treasures, all of which belong to the Royal collection. To make the most of your visit, take a guided tour, oh, and do not miss an opportunity to watch the Changing of the Guard.

Later you can take a breath of fresh air and spread a picnic blanket in the Great Park. The most picturesque part of the park is the Savill Garden, which is in fact not one but a maze of different gardens filled with beautiful exotic and native flora. The Legoland Windsor Resort is the other major attraction in the area and a great destination for family trips. Ticket prices can set you back a bit but if you really want to indulge your kids, you couldn’t find a better treat outside of London.

How to get there

Train from London Paddington. Tickets start at 10.20 advance for off-peak return. Journey takes between half an hour to one hour max.

3 – Brighton – surf, sand, festivals and an exotic palace

This seaside town has a thriving artistic community and a vibrant nightlife. Visit in May for a chance to enjoy the Brighton Fringe or the Brighton Festival, both of which encompass a wide array of events, from performance to visual arts. Throughout the rest of the year, the beach, the pier lined with arcade amusements and the magnificent Royal Pavilion are the biggest draws.

The Royal Pavilion is one of the most exotic palaces on British soil. The interior, fashioned after Chinese and Indian architecture, can make you feel as if you are in the Far East rather than good old England. It takes about an hour to see the palace but even in that amount of time you get quite a feast for the eyes. After sightseeing, take a stroll through the maze of streets known as the Lanes. Here you will find plenty of charming independent boutiques and cosy cafes. The beach is only a short stroll away from here, so you can wrap up the day with one final stroll along the ocean shore.

How to get there

Train from London Bridge, London Victoria or Blackfriars. Tickets start at £8.00 single advance. Journey takes a little less than an hour.

4 – Canterbury – a pilgrimage to the Canterbury Cathedral

In this picturesque town you can watch the Canterbury Tales performed in the setting that inspired Chaucer to write them. The performance, delivered in atmospheric venues with actors dressed in period costumes, has become an attraction in its own right. Canterbury is full of history – from the towering spires of the imposing medieval cathedral to the charming old-time houses.

You can learn more about all the ancient landmarks and turbulent local history on a walking day tour or by visiting the Roman museum where you will see artefacts from the Antiquity. As a tourist destination and a university town, Canterbury has a lively cultural life with several theatres, a host of annual events, numerous dining and entertainment outlets. Rest assured that you will find plenty to see and do at any time of year.

How to get there

Train from London Victoria, St, Pancras International or Charing Cross. Tickets start at £30.00 return advance fare. Journey takes between 56 mins and 1.36 hr. Alternatively a coach trip takes 2 hours to Canterbury with prices starting at £5 single.

5 – Thanet district – picture-postcard beaches

This tiny district on the west coast of Kent is famous for its scenic sandy beaches that inspired Turner, Van Gogh and Dickens to create some of their timeless masterpieces. Today the area draws visitors who love serene seaside recreation and water sports enthusiasts. Thanet comprises the towns of Broadstairs, Margate and Ramsgate, all within short driving distance from one another.

Ramsgate captivates with its splendid architecture and rich history going back to Saxon times. In Margate you can see many of Turner’s famous landscapes at the Turner International. The town also boasts a variety of sporting and cultural events throughout the year, while the seafront is an excellent spot for wining and dining. From among the three, Broadstairs stands out with its sandy beaches and seven alluring bays ideal for relaxation all year round. If the weather does not permit outdoor activities, visit the Dickens house and hear about the works the author wrote while staying locally.

How to get there

Train from Victoria or St. Pancras to Broadstairs. Ticket fares starts at £32 and journey time lasts for 1.22 hours.

6 – Winchester – King Arthur’s round table

Have you ever fantasised about sitting at King Arthur’s round table? Strictly speaking you cannot sit at the legendary round table but you can still see it. Today it adorns a wall of the Great Hall, the sole remaining part of the Medieval Winchester Castle. The city is steeped in ancient history and has plenty of atmospheric sites, such as the oldest college in the country and a medieval almshouse. You can also visit the 1000-year-old cathedral, a stunning example of Gothic architecture and Jane Austen’s final resting place.

Whether you are a fan of Lancelot and Guinevere or Elizabeth and Mr Darcy, you will find plenty of magic and romance in Winchester. Time slows down here, allowing you to savour every moment and with plenty of cosy inns, delightful restaurants and charming architecture all around, you will have a lot to savour.

How to get there

Train from London Waterloo. Ticket fares start at £33.50 return. Journey takes about an hour.

7 – Oxford – “the city of dreaming spires”

The lyrical description that poet Mathew Arnold used to refer to Oxford has caught on. Oxford is dominated by its numerous colleges, many of which are breathtakingly scenic. Two must sees are the Bodleian library with its ornate Gothic ceilings and the Bridge of Sighs at Hertford College. Many of the premises are free to enter but bear in mind that students and lecturers live and study here, so be considerate when you visit.

Another cultural attraction is the Ashmoleian. The museum houses several millennia of human art and history under its roof, yet it is relatively small and easy to tour in an hour or two, depending on how long you linger. The shops of the covered market are well worth a visit, too, although prices here are a tad too high. Beyond the market Oxford has plenty of delightful shops, bars and restaurants worth a visit.

How to get there

Trains from London Paddington. Ticket fares start at £24 return. Journey takes about an hour.

8 – Cambridge – palatial colleges and punting tours

Cambridge is no less fascinating than Oxford. Two of its most mesmerising sites are the Great Court at Trinity College and the King’s College Chapel. The former is considered the largest enclosed court on the continent and has a somewhat royal vibe, while the latter has some of the most elaborate stained glass windows you will see in a Gothic cathedral.

A punting tour of Cambridge is a highly popular local activity for tourists. Punts are funky, square boats used in Cambridge and Oxford and particularly good for navigating small rivers. Besides the novelty of the activity itself, punting tours can allow you to see hidden sides of Cambridge by taking you through the inner and back courts of colleges, not ordinarily accessible or easily seen when touring on foot.

How to get there

Trains from Kings Cross or Liverpool Street. Advance fares start at £6 single. Journey takes a little less than an hour.

9 – Hampton – visit magnificent Hampton Court Palace

The major attraction in Hampton is the magnificent Hampton Court Palace with its grandiose buildings and expansive gardens, which are at their brightest and leafiest from May through September. Henry VIII was one of the most notorious monarchs to live at Hampton Court, while nearby Bushy park (right across the street from the palace) served as his hunting grounds.

Today Bushy Park is a great spot for outdoor recreation and when you go into the park you might even spot packs of deer. The Thames winds its way around the Palace gardens so you can easily take a walk along the banks, which are far less crowded and much leafier here than in Central London. For a bit of shopping and dining, take a bus from the stop outside of the palace gates to nearby Teddington. The village has many cosy eateries and quaint boutiques.

How to get there

Train from London Waterloo. Cheapest fare is £8.90 return. Journey takes 45 mins. Hampton is a village that lies on the very outskirts of London and as it is within the limits of Greater London (Zone 6), you can use your Oyster card or any other London travel pass to get there.

By Teodora Gaydarova

Teodora Gaydarova is a London travel and lifestyle writer. You can see more of her work at teodoragaydarova.com

Additional photo credits: Stratford upon Avon by Martin Pettitt on Flickr, Windsor by konqui on Flickr, Canterbury by Jean Mottershead on Flickr, Thanet by FraserElliot on Flickr, Winchester by Neil Howard on Flickr, Oxford by bishib70 on Flickr, Cambridge by Paul Fenton on Flickr

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  1. Jo Ann Rabin says:

    Planning a trip to London in gif Fl. I haven’t
    been in several years. 3-4 weeks in Central London
    I enjoy, galleries, museums, markets, theater and wandering through interesting neighborhoods . Food tours!

  2. Mother Courage says:

    A cheaper – and more convenient – way to get to |oxford is to take ‘the Oxford tube’, which is a bus departing round the clock from near Victoria station.
    You can use a return ticket that day or the next and there’s no need to book in advance. Just turn up and get on the next departure. You DO need to download (and perhaps print out?) a ticket before you travel, and to state your first day of travel, too.
    It takes very little more time than the train, has a more scenic rute, has discounts for seniors, kids (max 2 per adult) go free … in short, no contest.