It’s a beautiful time of year, and London has no shortage of parks, green spaces and woodlands for kicking through crisp leaves and general appreciation of autumn. But, if you feel like getting out of the city to see the season in all its golden glory, here are some autumn day trips from London where you can see the changing foliage, beautiful old country houses, windmills and wildlife—all within an hour or two of the city.
Note: Prices listed are approximate, and may change. Additionally, you are strongly advised to check opening hours and restrictions, as they may vary with the ongoing COVID-19 situation.
1. Ashridge Estate: Ancient trees, sweeping views and a windmill
Take a short train ride from London to get to the marvellously onomatopoeic Hertfordshire town of Tring (always fun to say), home to the National Trust’s Ashridge Estate. It’s a short walk to the estate which has 5,000 acres of woodland, chalk downs and meadows.
There are lots of self-led walks available, with maps on the website or in the estate shop. One of the easiest is through the Golden Valley, where you’ll see Ashridge House. There are beautiful old trees and roaming deer for maximum autumn vibes.
Access to the estate is free: the only charge is to climb to the Bridgewater Monument (£2.50)—a huge granite column with a 172-step spiral staircase inside. At the top, if you’re not too dizzy, you can see the surrounding countryside, and even look back over at the London skyline. From there, it’s a short stroll to Pitstone Windmill.
Train from Euston to Tring for £16.90 day return.
2. Hughenden Manor: Ornate gardens, natural beauty and an evergreen forest
Another National Trust estate within easy reach of London is Hughenden Manor, a Victorian home with a secret WW2 story to discover.
Hughenden is nestled in the Chilterns, just outside of High Wycombe, and there are plenty of grounds to explore without going into the house itself, if you’re short on time and cash.
There is a small charge to access the grounds (£5.75), but once you’re there, you can roam for hours through ornate gardens, vast parklands, hiking trails, farmland, a chalk stream and dark evergreen woods inspired by forests of Northern Bohemia.
For the Halloween season, you can offset the wholesome daytripping, with a bonus visit to the nearby Hellfire Caves for subterranean creepiness.
A train from Marylebone to High Wycombe (32 mins) is £20.50 for an off-peak day return, then it’s just under a two-mile walk, or a short taxi ride up a very steep hill.
3. Canterbury: Ancient city, Roman walls, ancient parkland and complimentary wine
An ancient cathedral city (Canterbury Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage site, no less!) made famous by Geoffrey Chaucer in the Middle Ages. Entrance to the Cathedral is £12.50, but there are plenty of free places to explore, while you admire it from afar.
The medieval centre is surrounded by Roman walls and filled with cobbled streets and old houses. Head along the River Stour to bathe in orangey red seasonal hues and follow the tree trail at Westgate Gardens, which, at 600 years old, is one of England’s oldest parks.
For more outdoor wandering, explore the Blean Wildart Trail in beautiful, ancient woodland, and pop into Barnsole Vineyard for a short tour and some free wine tasting.
By train from London Victoria to Canterbury East takes 1.5 hrs and costs £27.20 for a super off-peak day return.
4. Lewes: Winding alleys, monastic ruins and a massive bonfire parade
Brighton residents may balk at Lewes’ claim to be “almost definitely the best place to live in Sussex”, but historical landmarks and light festivals (usually) draw plenty of visitors at this time of year.
Lewes is close to Ditchling Beacon, the highest point of the South Downs, so there are dramatic views above, and winding alleys (or ‘twittens’ as they’re known locally) on the ground in the ancient town.
Visit on a Tuesday, and you might see dray horses from the town brewery, Harveys, delivering beer.
Lewes Castle is 1,000 years old, and costs £8 admission, but the Priory of St Pancras is totally free, and you can explore ancient monastic ruins, visit the herb garden and apple orchard.
Pro tip: Download the Lewes Gallery Guide to make your away around local galleries (all free).
Lewes is also home to the UK’s biggest, and most infamous Bonfire Night celebrations, with seven different bonfire societies, flaming torches, burning effigies and more than 30 processions. If you’re planning on attending, heed the local info and warnings first—this isn’t your average town fireworks display, folks.
Trains take approximately 1 hour from London Victoria. On the day train fares are pricey, but if you plan a week ahead you can get two singles instead of a return ticket for £13.50.
5. Box Hill: An old folly, woodland wildlife, and country pubs
Sussex has the South Downs, and neighbouring county Surrey has the North Downs. For autumnal appreciation of the latter, head for the heights of Box Hill.
One for the serious walkers, Box Hill has an 8-mile hike route. Some routes are steeper and muddier than others, but for strolling through some seasonal scenery, take the Cockshot Cottage via Whitehill to Mickleham village walk. On that route, you can wander through the golden beech trees in the woodlands, see the Surrey Hills and stop off at The Gallops pub for some rest and refreshment.
If you have the energy for some steep steps, check out the brilliantly named Happy Valley circular walk, which will take you past shepherd’s huts, up to Broadwood Tower (or Folly) for dreamy views and to look at the Holm Oak tree growing in the tower, then on to Happy Valley, before continuing on through woodlands.
Get the train from Waterloo to Box Hill & Westhumble, which takes around an hour. The cheapest off-peak day return fare is £12.30.
This post was first published in November, 2018. Last updated October, 2020.