As much as we love gallery-hopping in London, it can sometimes be a pain, especially in the summer months when you have to negotiate football-team-sized tourist groups and bored kids in London out on family trips. But don't forget that there are plenty of great galleries, museums and institutions within perfect day-trip distance from the capital. So if you are looking for some out-of-town culture here are our 14 of our favourites venues to visit just a train ride away.
RECOMMENDED: our full guide to great day-trips from London
Get outta town: art day-trips from London
Next to the River Yare on the edge of the University of East Anglia campus is the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts. The Grade II-listed building has been displaying art within its striking glass panels and crisscrossed steelwork since its completion in 1978. A visit to the gallery should include a wander around the sculpture garden, where you will spot, among the hordes of University of East Anglia students, a number of sculptures by Henry Moore. The permanent collection includes ceramics, abstract paintings and examples of modern European art by Picasso, Francis Bacon and Jacob Epstein.
Get there: By car in about two hours or by train from London Liverpool Street to Norwich, then take the 25 bus.
Firstsite is a visual arts organisation, founded in 1994, exhibiting both established and emerging artists. Based in Colchester, the crescent-shaped building, which appears to weave around the natural landscape, reflecting light on its shimmering copper-aluminium cladded exterior, is the vision of the design competition winner Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly. In 1996, Firstsite became one of the first visual arts organisations to dedicate an entire gallery to art created by schoolchildren. Whether you are an art buff or just enjoy looking at pretty pictures, Firstsite aims to make contemporary art accessible to all.
Get there: By car in about two hours from central London or by train from Liverpool Street station to Colchester Town, which is a few minutes’ walk from the gallery.
The Grade I-listed Cambridge museum was founded in 1816 and features a mix of ancient antiques and fine art, which stretches from the 13th century to the present day. Behind the grand, pillared frontage of this stunning neoclassical building are five departments: Antiquities, Applied Arts, Coins and Medals, Manuscripts and Printed Books, and Paintings, Drawings and Prints. In Gallery One, you will find 20th-century paintings by Picasso, Cézanne and Monet. During the summer months, you can wander through the outdoor sculpture gallery, and when it inevitably starts chucking it down, you can grab lunch at the café in the (covered) courtyard.
Get there: By car in about one hour 30 minutes from central London, although there is limited parking so the museum advises travelling by train form London Kings Cross to Cambridge, then it is a 20-minute walk or a short bus ride to the gallery.
The restored Strawberry Hill, created by Horace Walpole in the 18th century, is recognised as one of the finest examples of Georgian Gothic Revival architecture. In 2015, Walpole’s private rooms underwent a major restoration for the first time since the 1700s. Now you can admire the lavish decor in Britain’s first Prime Minister’s bedroom, the Turkish motifs on the tented ceiling over the breakfast room and the study in which he wrote one of the most influential works of Gothic fiction, The Castle of Otranto. The house also runs after-hours twilight tours, exploring the unique history of the building. In the garden, visitors can enjoy a rare example of an eighteenth-century theatrical shrubbery, a willow grotto and a woodland trail for children.
Get there: By car in about an hour from central London or by train from London Waterloo to Strawberry Hill station, then a five- to ten-minute walk.
See Henry Moore’s monumental, globular sculptures as he intended them to be seen: against a backdrop of more than 60 acres of rolling hills and woodland. The Henry Moore Foundation in Perry Green, Hertfordshire, was set up in 1977 to preserve the Yorkshireman’s legacy and contribution to visual art. You can touch but not climb (as tempting as that is) the 20 figures on display, or just take a moment to enjoy the landscape, as framed by the holes cut into many of the figures. You can also explore the studios where the master of modernist sculpture perfected his craft, as well as take a tour of Hoglands, his family home for more than 40 years, where he built up an impressive book collection. The gardens, designed by his wife Irina Moore, are also worth a visit. The recently revamped visitor centre includes a plush new café, shop and education room if you like some greens with your bronzes.
Get there: By car in about one hour 20 minutes from central London or by train from London Liverpool Street to Bishops Stortford station, a 15-minute taxi ride from Perry Green.
All bold blocks and dramatic lines, this swish gallery was designed by David Chipperfield Architects and opened in April 2011. Situated on Margate Harbour, the building stands in the same place as the famous ‘Cold Harbour’ guest house, where Turner stayed on his many visits to Margate. The views of the north Kent coastline, which can be seen from the gallery, are the same vistas that inspired much of the painter’s work. There is a rolling programme of temporary exhibitions, often featuring world-class artists.
Get there: By car in about two hours 20 minutes from central London or by high-speed trains from London St Pancras and Stratford International to Margate.
Victorian painter and sculptor George Frederic Watts, a pioneer of the symbolist movement, opened this purpose-built museum, dedicated to his work in 1904. Refurbished in 2011, it is a gem of a gallery that contains a permanent display of more than 100 paintings by Watts, as well as temporary exhibition spaces and a shop. While you are there, take a stroll to the Watts Chapel, the fantastically ornate arts and crafts building that Mary Watts had built in loving memory of her husband. In fact, if you fancy some exercise, the whole outing can be done as an easy, scenic, seven-mile walk from Wanborough to Godalming, across the North Downs Ridge.
Get there: By car in about one hour 15 minutes from central London or by train from London Waterloo to Guildford, then take the 46 bus.
Completed in 1935, the Grade I-listed De La Warr Pavilion is one of the first public buildings to be built in a modernist style in the UK. Designed by Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff, this bold concrete and steel structure reopened in 2005 after an £8 million restoration project. De La Warr’s versatile exhibition space offers a dynamic programme of cultural events and exhibits contemporary art and live performances. The gallery is part of the Culture Coastal Trail, which includes Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne and the Jerwood Gallery in Hastings – all connected by 25 miles of stunning East Sussex coastline.
Get there: By car in about two hours 30 minutes from central London or by train from London Victoria to Bexhill, then it is a 25-minute walk or short journey via the 98 bus.
Located in the ancient woodland of the Sussex Downs, the Cass Sculpture Foundation is the perfect destination for lovers of art and nature. Established in 1992 by Wilfred and Jeannette Cass, the 26-acre grounds are home to an ever-shifting display of sculptures, all of which are up for sale to help fund new commissions, if you’ve got the dollar and the outside space.
Get there: By car in about one hour 35 minutes from central London or by train from London Victoria to Chichester, then bus 55 to the park.
The Swiss-owned commercial art gallery Hauser & Wirth opened its West Country outpost in 2014. On the outskirts of Bruton, the Grade II-listed former farmhouse of Durslade Farm, outbuildings and much of its grounds, were transformed into the multi-purpose art centre by the Argentinian architect Luis Laplace. In addition to the five galleries that showcase a varied contemporary art programme throughout the year – exhibiting heavyweight artists such as Franz West, John Chamberlain and Jenny Holzer – this place also features pretty perennial meadows, designed by the renowned Dutch landscape designer, Piet Oudolf, which are home to the Serpentine Gallery’s 2014 Pavilion, designed by Chilean architect Smiljan Radić. Complement your artistic experience with delicious seasonal fare from the restaurant Roth Bar & Grill, sourced from the gallery’s working farm.
Get there: By car in about two hours 45 minutes from central London or by train from London Paddington to Castle Cary, then it is a 15-minute taxi ride to Bruton and a ten-minute walk to the gallery.