Summer is a good time to escape the sweaty heat of the capital and explore some of the rest of the country. Whether you want to soak up some sunshine by the sea or sit under some trees – there are lots of places to explore. From hiking trails and cycling routes to old cities, here are a few easy summer day trips from London.
South Downs Way (Sussex trails)
The UK is filled with vast national parks, and one of the biggest within close reach of London is The South Downs. The South Downs are a large range of chalk hills in south-east England. A large part of it is The South Downs Way which is a 100-mile-long national trail stretching between Eastbourne in Sussex and Winchester in Hampshire. It’s a trail that attracts lots of cyclists and walkers of all levels, but obviously, even the most athletic visitors won’t cover the whole thing in a day.
The start is officially on the Hampshire end, but for the purpose of this guide, we’re focussing on trails in Sussex. One of the most dramatic landscapes in the area is Devil’s Dyke, a short distance from Brighton. At almost a mile long, Dyke Valley is the UK’s deepest and widest ‘dry valley’. Local legend attributes the name to the devil digging a chasm to drown unfortunate parishioners in. The more scientific explanation is that it was formed over 10,000 years ago during the last ice age. For panoramic views and a moderately challenging, 3 hr hike, take the Ditchling Beacon to Devil’s Dyke walk where you can expect beautiful landscapes, old windmills, and ancient woodlands.
Getting there: Train to Brighton then Bus no.79 to Ditchling Beacon (Return via no. 77 from Devil’s Dyke)
Cost: £21.60 off-peak on Thameslink, return (super off-peak weekend tickets from £14.50) the £5.00 return bus ticket redeemable on either 79 or 77 bus routes.
Journey time: Approx. 60–90 minutes from London Bridge, Blackfriars, St Pancras or Farringdon
The New Forest, Hampshire
If you like vast forests filled with roaming ponies, then hop on a train and head to The New Forest. It’s a stunning National Park in the south east which is perfect for walks, picnics and long cycling routes. The New Forest also has over 40 campsites, if you’re tempted to get away for a weekend to explore more, and there are several train stations around the National Park depending on which part you would like to visit.
But as this is a day trip, we recommend heading to Brockenhurst, as it’s just 90 minutes from Waterloo and there’s plenty to enjoy when you get there. Brockenhurst is a picturesque village that is a gateway to winding walking trails, woodlands, nature reserves and cycling routes. If you don’t fancy taking your bike on the train, you can hire a range of pedal and electric bikes from Cyclexperience (from £22.00 for a standard All Terrain Bike), which all come with an app giving 10 different routes to pick from.
Getting there: Approx 1 hr 30 mins from Waterloo to Brockenhurst
Cost: Cheapo tip: If you commit to a specific train, the cheapest option is to buy two advance singles for £26.60, this is significantly cheaper than an off-peak day return which will set you back £58.50.
Most famous for being the birthplace of none other than William Shakespeare, Stratford-upon-Avon is a beautiful, riverside city in the West Midlands. The Bard is certainly the main draw here, with the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre, Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Anne Hathaway’s cottage, and Hall’s Croft (where his daughter Susanna lived) all attracting large crowds. If you want the whistle-stop version, with a slice of Tudor ham (acting that is) – you can take the Shakespeare tour, led by ‘Master Shakespeare’ himself, which takes around 90 minutes and costs £7.00.
But, aside from all the literary history, you can also visit Hidcote Manor and Gardens, which is a National Trust manor house, Bancroft Gardens, take canal and river boat tours and visit The MAD Museum (Mechanical Art and Design). As you might expect, the town is filled with old pubs, including the Old Thatch Tavern, if you fancy stopping off for an ale or something non-boozy in the beer garden.
Getting there: Approx 2 hrs from Marylebone to Stratford -upon-Avon (change at Leamington Spa)
Cost: Cheapo tip: If you commit to a specific train, the cheapest option is to buy two advance singles for £26.00 in total, which is a £10.00 saving on the super-off peak return – although the latter gives you a lot more flexibility, so bear that in mind when booking.
Not quite your typical coastal town, the moodily-named Dungeness is a seaside trip for people who like their beaches windswept and eerie. You won’t find rows of pastel-coloured beach huts here. Another thing you’re unlikely to find here is large crowds, it’s often referred to as the English desert and has one of Europe’s largest expanses of shingle. But, what you will discover is far more interesting, especially if you’re keen on photography and conservation.
Despite the slightly post-apocalyptic presence of not one, but two former nuclear power stations – the area is a nature reserve, home to wet grassland, wildflower meadows and many species of birds and rare bees. You can also visit the imposing, decommissioned lighthouse which is also a viewpoint. Dungeness was also home to experimental film director, stage designer and gay rights activist Derek Jarman and you can visit Prospect Cottage, the black and yellow building where he lived and worked before his death in 1994.
For all its weirdness, you can still stop off for fish and chips on the beach in Dungeness at spots including The Pilot Inn or the Snack Shack.
Getting there: There is no direct train line from London to Dungeness, but one of the easiest ways to get there is to take the train from London Cannon Street to Folkestone and hop on the 102 bus to RSPB Dungeness.
Costs: Around £46.10 – Anytime day return London to Folkestone
Journey time: Approximately 2.5 hrs (1hr train + 90 min bus from Folkestone)
One of the easiest day trips from London is to the University city of Cambridge. Yes, it’s also possible to do a lovely day trip to Oxford too, but Cambridge is closest. But we’re not interested in academic rivalry around here – Cambridge is another beautiful English city, perfect for a day of strolling, cycling, and even a bit of punting along the River Cam.
You can take tours of the world-famous university buildings, guided by Cambridge students and take in sights including King’s College. One of the best value options is the walking and punting tours, which costs £55.00 and takes 3-4 hrs. And if you’re able to make the steep, 123 steps climb at Great St Mary’s Church – you’ll be rewarded with panoramic city views at the top.
For something more contemporary, visit the Centre for Computing History to geek out on vintage electronics, or look at modern art at Kettle’s Yard, a former home filled with artworks by artists including Joan Miro and Barbara Hepworth. Like any decent university city, there’s no shortage of old pubs, the oldest of which is The Eagle, a 17th century former coaching inn.
Getting there: Approx 1hr from St Pancras or Liverpool Street (you can also catch trains direct from Finsbury Park if you’re in north London)
Cost: Cheapo tip: You can nab advance singles for as little as £8.00 each if you travel from Liverpool Street. But, if you prefer to be a little more spontaneous, an off-peak day return is around £23.00 from any of the stations above.