Have you already seen the best of London and are now looking for day trip ideas, but don’t have a car? With great transportation links and close proximity to Europe, London makes a perfect travel hub. However, that doesn’t mean it’s practical to do Paris, Edinburgh, nor Amsterdam in a day trip from London.
Anything that takes more than 2.5 hours to reach should be an overnight trip. Remember, if it takes 2.5 hours to get to a destination, that’s five hours of your day just traveling.
Though we don’t recommend squishing in far afield destinations, London has plenty of amazing, yet practical, day trips less than two hours away. Plus, you won’t need a car, you can reach all of our picks by public transportation. Let’s start with the closest destination.
1) Day Trip to Kew Gardens
London is huge, so most first-time visitors never make it out of the city center. However, for a day trip, consider heading to the Greater London area.
They call Kew Gardens “the most biodiverse place in the world,” and they may be right. With over 50,000 living plants, this UNESCO world heritage spot is worth seeing.
In addition to the 14,000 trees in the arboretum, there’s a Japanese garden, Great Pagoda, the most beautiful rose gardens, and a few massive green houses. Plus, you can visit the former royal residences of Kew Palace and Queen Charlotte’s Cottage.
Kew Gardens is about a 45-minute train ride from Waterloo Station.
2) Day Trip to Hampton Court Palace
Once home to the infamous Henry VIII, Hampton Court Palace is our favorite UK stately home. Like all British palaces, everything is extravagant. However, the Guard Chamber is what made the biggest impression on us.
When Hampton Court Palace was a royal residence, guests would wait in the Guard’s Chamber before being escorted to the Throne Room. Elaborately decorated with an entire armory, this room was meant to remind guests to behave, and we bet it worked.
In spring and summer, the 60-acre formal gardens come to life in full color. Enjoy the world’s oldest hedge maze or have a picnic under the mushroom topped trees.
Located on the outskirts of Greater London, take the train from Waterloo station, about 45 minutes. Then it’s just a 5-minute walk.
3) Day Trip to the Theme Parks
Dotted along London’s outer ring road (M25) are several theme parks well worth a day trip. Our personal favorite is the thrilling Thorpe Park. Basically, this is where most of the UK’s largest and fastest roller coaster rides live.
Legoland is another popular theme park, located just outside the town of Windsor. Of course, there’s also the Warner Bros. Studio’s The Making of Harry Potter experience. We didn’t have a chance to go to this one, but we’ve heard good things.
4) Day Trip from London to Windsor
Buckingham Palace isn’t the only place the Queen calls home. Built in the 11th century by William the Conqueror, the Queen spends most of her time these days at Windsor Castle.
Visiting the world’s oldest and largest occupied castle takes around 2.5 to 3 hours. Afterwards, we recommend wandering the historic town of Windsor. Not only is it adorably picturesque, it’s also very popular for shopping.
5) Day Trip from London to Oxford
We recommend getting out of London early for this day trip. Though it only takes about an hour from London’s Paddington Station to reach Oxford, there’s so much to see in this prestigious university town. Plus, you’ll want to tie in a visit to one of England’s largest homes, Blenheim Palace.
Everything you need to plan your day is in our day trip guide to Oxford.
6) Day Trip from London to Cambridge
It’s easy to fall in love with Cambridge. A quintessentially English city centered around its famous university.
If you have nice weather, the best way to spend the morning is punting along the River Cam. Afterwards, peek inside one of the world’s most distinguished universities. We recommend visiting King’s College and its Chapel. Just stunning!
For more on how to spend your time in Cambridge, check out our day trip guide to Cambridge.
7) Day Trip from London to Brighton
An historical seaside resort, Brighton is a popular place on a nice day. Especially, since it only takes about 1.5 hours to get to Brighton from London.
With its carnival like atmosphere, most visitors gravitate towards Brighton Palace Pier. It is free to enter the pier. As you walk along, you can buy snacks and play arcade games. Tickets are required for the amusement rides; however, we recommend checking what’s actually running before purchasing a wrist band.
Honestly, we are not huge fans of the cheesy atmosphere along the seaside, but it’s definitely worth seeing once. What we do love about Brighton is the Royal Pavilion. A sanctuary in the city, the former royal palace looks like it belongs in India. It’s free to wander the gardens but requires a small fee to tour the inside.
8) Day Trip from London to Bath
Famous for its Roman bath, Medieval architecture, and yellow limestone Georgian buildings, the city of Bath makes one of the best day trips from London.
Enjoy the scenery as you browse hundreds of cute shops. Visit the ancient Roman Baths and the Abbey. Or just pamper yourself at the luxurious Thermae Bath Spa, Britain’s only natural thermal waters.
You’ll also find lots of places to grab a decadent afternoon tea at more reasonable prices than London.
Getting to Bath by train is easy. From London Paddington Station it takes less than 1.5 hours.
9) Day Trip to Salisbury and Stonehenge
Many UK visitors have seeing Stonehenge high on their bucket list. Though without a car, it’s not as easy as these other day trips from London, but there are ways to do it.
One very popular way to get there is by doing a day trip tour from London. Normally these tours will tie in Windsor Castle or Bath.
If you want to do things at your own pace, the other way to see Stonehenge without a car is to take the train from Waterloo Station to Salisbury. It takes about 1.5 hours.
In Salisbury, there is The Stonehenge Tour Bus. Unlike a tour from London, several buses run a day between Salisbury, Stonehenge, and another historic site worth seeing, Old Sarum.
Salisbury itself is an adorable Medieval market town with one of the grandest cathedrals. Not only is Salisbury Cathedral worth seeing, but it also holds the original doctrine of liberties, The Magna Carta.
10) Day Trip from London to Bristol
Our former home of Bristol holds a special spot in our hearts, but it also makes a great day trip from London. Just one stop past Bath Spa, the train takes only 1.5 hours from London Paddington.
One you’re there, experience Brunel’s SS Great Britain, take in the views from the Clifton Suspension Bridge and grab a bite at the St. Nicholas Market.
Bristol is also known for its free, yet massive, summer festivals. Usually in the third week of July is the Harbourside Festival. In early August is our favorite, the Bristol Balloon Fiesta. For street art fans, every few years, Bristol holds Europe’s largest street art festival, UPFEST.
For more on what to do in this quirky city, check out our post on the Best of Bristol.
11) Day Trip from London to Dover
Dover makes a worthy day trip for anyone living in London who’s looking to escape the city noise but may be less appealing to those on vacation.
The port town is not that exciting. However, one of our favorite walks in the UK is along the ledges of the White Cliffs of Dover and out to the South Foreland Lighthouse. The serene landscape feels a little like walking along the edge of the world. We’ve also been lucky enough to see the wild horses here on a few of our walks.
Before you leave the area, make a visit to Dover Castle. Perched high on the hill above the city, Dover Castle is often debated as England’s largest castle (Windsor Castle also claims this title).
From St Pancras International station it takes about 1.5 hours to Dover. However, once in Dover it’s a little challenging to get around without a car. From the station to Dover castle is about a 30-minute walk. It’s a bit further to start a walk around the cliffs. You may want to consider checking the bus schedule or grabbing a taxi.