The eight best day trips from London

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With so many world-class things to see and do in London, planning a day trip away from it can feel akin to lounging on a sunbed in Mauritius researching beach holidays. But England is spoilt rotten with attractions meaning a day away from the capital is definitely worthwhile and generally just a short train ride away.

Stonehenge is a mystery waiting to be explored © Danita Delimont / Getty ImagesImpressive and mysterious, ancient Stonehenge is one of the best days out from London © Danita Delimont / Getty Images

Stonehenge

Why go

Stonehenge is like an amazing magic trick – delightfully mind-boggling, but you don’t really want to know how it happened. Which is convenient, because no one’s quite figured it out yet. Here’s what we do know: it’s a massive, prehistoric stone circle, believed to have been constructed around five thousand years ago, which makes it older than the Great Pyramid of Giza. The largest stones weigh 25 tons and stand 30 feet tall. Epic.

What to see

Although you can’t touch the stones (to protect them from erosion), you can stroll among them on walkways. The visitor centre has an interactive presentation that allows you to sit amongst the stones as the seasons change. If you have your own transport, you could drive north to Avebury, home to another famous stone circle – you can touch those ones.

Where to eat and drink

The onsite cafe serves sandwiches and soups. Your best option is a picnic. If you make your way to Avebury, Circles is a good cafe.

How to get there

Trains from London Waterloo to Salisbury depart twice an hour, taking 90 minutes. From Salisbury, hop on the Stonehenge Tour Bus, which takes you directly to the monument.

Brighton's pier is popular with visitors © Alex Robinson / Getty ImagesPromenade along the pier in Brighton, Britain’s quintessential seaside resort © Alex Robinson / Getty Images

Brighton

Why go

Stuffed with originality and independent businesses, Brighton is often referred to as London-on-Sea, though that’s more a nod to property prices than a reference to its character. This place has a personality all its own – grungy, creative, bohemian.

What to see

Start in the North Laine neighbourhood, packed with pubs, cafes and theatres, then delve into The Lanes a little further south for a great shopping experience. Look out for the eccentric Royal Pavilion – built by King George IV as a seaside retreat – and take a walk along the pier, checking out the amusements.

Where to eat and drink

Brighton has a fantastic array of bars and restaurants. Food for Friends offers superlative vegan dishes and is a great spot for lunch, while the Walrus pub is a good place to grab a beer.

How to get there

Frequent direct trains from London Victoria and London Bridge; journey time about an hour.

The original Bath bath, built by the Romans © Juan Jimenez / EyeEm / Getty ImagesSee how the Romans got clean in appropriately named Bath © Juan Jimenez / EyeEm / Getty Images

Bath

Why go

Bath is arguably Britain’s most beautiful city. Founded by the Romans, who used the area’s thermal springs to create a spa retreat, it’s now the premier tourist attraction of Southwest England. It’s also celebrated for its magnificent Georgian architecture, with grand squares and crescents defining the city.

What to see

Start at the beginning with the Roman Baths complex, which is divided into four main parts – the Bath House, the Sacred Spring, the Roman Temple and the museum, which displays fascinating finds from the ruins. Next, have a wander around Bath Abbey, a huge medieval church that you can climb to the top of if you have the energy. Lastly, see two of the city’s Georgian masterpieces: Pulteney Bridge and Royal Crescent.

Where to eat and drink

The independent Café Retro is a nice little spot for a coffee and snack, while the Marlborough Tavern gastropub serves seriously impressive, more substantial dishes.

How to get there

Direct trains travel from London Paddington twice an hour; journey time about 90 minutes.

Canterbury Cathedral's magnificent ceiling © Travel Ink / Getty ImageFor soaring medieval architecture and historical importance you can’t beat Canterbury Cathedral © Travel Ink / Getty Images

Canterbury

Why go

Canterbury is one of England’s most attractive and important cathedral cities, with its star building considered one of the finest in Europe. The town itself is absurdly quaint, with narrow alleyways following the original medieval street plan, and the River Stour idling past Tudor facades.

What to see

Canterbury Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an absolute must. As the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the Church of England, it’s the most important Christian site in the country. Just outside, you can see the ruins of the sixth century St Augustine’s Abbey. Other highlights include the Beany House of Art and Knowledge, and a boat trip on the River Stour.

Where to eat and drink

Tiny Tim’s Tearoom is one of the best cafes, though be prepared to queue for a table. For heartier fare, head to Boho – the burgers are huge.

How to get there

Fast trains from London St Pancras depart once an hour taking one hour. Slower trains (90 minutes) run from London Victoria and London Charing Cross.

The exterior of Winchester Cathedral © David Clapp / Getty ImagesFormer capital of England, Winchester is now one of the country’s prettiest cities © David Clapp / Getty Images

Winchester

Why go

Winchester is just lovely. Technically a city, on account of its fabulous cathedral, it has the feel of a friendly, small town. England’s capital about a thousand years ago and home of King Alfred the Great, today it boasts a variety of excellent pubs, countryside walks and a lively high street.

What to see

At the top of the high street is an imitation of King Arthur’s Round Table hanging in the Great Hall. Just off the high street, through a short alleyway, is Winchester Cathedral, a stunning building with the longest nave of any gothic cathedral in Europe. Back on the high street, head past the statue of Alfred the Great to the River Itchen – follow it to get to Winchester College.

Where to eat and drink

The Wykeham Arms is a quirky pub (the ink-stained tables are old school desks from nearby Winchester College) as is the Black Boy, which is covered top to bottom with taxidermy and other random furnishings. The Chesil Rectory is probably the best restaurant in town, located in a 600-year-old building.

How to get there

Trains leave London Waterloo several times an hour; journey time about an hour.

Skyline of Oxford © Max Dannenbaum / Getty ImagesOxford’s dreaming spires have attracted students and tourist for centuries © Max Dannenbaum / Getty Images

Oxford

Why go

Best known for its world-famous university and forest of ochre spires, Oxford is a grand old place, steeped in privilege and prestige. The large student population keeps the atmosphere young and fresh, though there’s no shortage of history if you want it. Highlights include the museums, punting along the River Isis, and the 30 colleges that make up the university itself – the most famous are Christ Church and Magdalen.

What to see

A tour of the university colleges is a must – Harry Potter fans will recognise various locations used in the movies. If you visit in summer, punting is a quintessentially English experience. Another highlight is Blenheim Palace, a monumental residence and the birthplace of Winston Churchill, a short bus ride from the city.

Where to eat and drink

Vaults & Garden is a popular local café in a lovely venue, while Fishes is a decent gastropub, worth travelling 1.5 miles from the city centre to visit.

How to get there

Trains from London Marylebone and London Paddington to Oxford run several times an hour; journey time about an hour.

Punting on the river Cam in Cambridge © Geography Photos / Getty ImagesTake a punt along the river in Cambridge for a row with a view © Geography Photos / Getty Images

Cambridge

Why go

With its world-class university, clutch of ancient colleges and love for punting, Cambridge shares many similarities with its Oxfordshire counterpart. But with more green space and less traffic, this city is a more tranquil affair. A walking tour of the university is a must, but don’t ignore the town itself – there’s plenty going on there.

What to see

The university colleges are the highlight, with Corpus Christi, Clare College, Kings College and Christ’s College being the most popular. Once you’ve had your fill of academia, a punting trip along the River Cam is a lovely way to see the city. On a summer’s day, a picnic on The Backs is highly enjoyable.

Where to eat and drink

Sandwich bar Urban Shed is a good place for a quick bite. Alternatively, try Chop House, where both the steaks and views of King’s College are superb.

How to get there

Train from London Kings Cross several times an hour; journey time about 45 minutes.

Changing of the Guard at Windsor Castle © Andrew Cowie / AFP / Getty ImagesEnjoy some proper British pomp with the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Windsor Castle © Andrew Cowie / AFP / Getty Images

Windsor

Why go

Most people who visit Windsor do so to see Windsor Castle, the largest in the world, where the Queen spends most of her time. Along with its towers, beautiful chapels and a dolls house on a scale you’ve never seen before, you can also see the Changing of the Guard.

What to see

The best way to appreciate the full majesty of Windsor Castle is to approach via the aptly-named Long Walk. This arrow-straight road (there are no cars, but you might see some deer) cuts through Windsor Great Park. The castle itself could keep you busy for days but must-sees include Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, the Albert Memorial Chapel and the State Apartments. Across the river, Eton is a pretty little town, quieter than Windsor, and worth a stroll.

Where to eat and drink

The Two Brewers is a great pub, creaking with history and serving homemade food. The Windsor Grill is also recommended for its atmosphere and hearty portions of meat dishes.