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Autumn leaves at Winkworth Arboretum
Photograph: Tan Zi Han/Shutterstock.com

The best autumn day trips from London

From gothic cities and haunted villages to country pub crawls, here are 18 amazing reasons to leaf (sorry) London this autumn

By Ellie Walker-Arnott, Lucy Lovell and Stephanie Phillips
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Ah, autumn. The air is crisp, the leaves are turning gold, we’re rooting through our wardrobes for warmer coats and scarves – and, more importantly, we’re all desperate for a change of scenery. 

London offers plenty of ways to get out and soak up the autumn vibes. Take a walk through one of London's handsome royal parks, pick pumpkins, or wrap up warm for a walk along the South Bank. But to truly soak up those ochre autumn hues (and get a well deserved break from the city) we recommend embarking on one of these awesome autumn days out. From spooky villages to deer spotting in the glorious countryside, there's plenty of reasons not to hibernate this autumn. 

UPDATE, OCT 2020: We’re working hard to be accurate – but these are unusual times, so please always check before heading out.

RECOMMENDED: The best day trips from London

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Autumnal day trips from London

1. The country pub crawl

An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty that covers nearly 800 square miles, the Cotswolds has a fair bit going for it, like those creamy, honey-coloured stone buildings, picture-perfect villages and rolling green hills for starters. It’s perfect for an autumn day out of London, thanks to its pubs, roaring open fires and colourful country walks. Serious hikers can find challenging long distance paths, but you’ll find no judgement here if you’d rather stick to pavements in pretty villages or just amble between pubs like The Black Bear Inn and The Swan.

Get there: One hour 40 minutes by train from London Paddington to Moreton-in-Marsh; around two hour 30 minutes by car.

Amwell Nature Reserve
Amwell Nature Reserve
Photograph: Shutterstock

2. The wholesome afternoon

If a bit of outdoor therapy on those gloomy autumn days is what you crave, visit Amwell Nature Reserve in Hertfordshire. Bring your best raincoat, a pair of binoculars and get ready to spot some of the area’s famous wildlife, including breeding birds and 21 species of dragonfly and damselfly. The reserve also has two lakes, and woodland and wetland habitats. More than enough glorious green space to unleash your inner Attenborough.

Get there: 40 minutes from Liverpool Street to St Margarets; around one hour 20 minutes by car. 

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Sourdough loaves
Sourdough loaves
Photograph: Shutterstock

3. The essential workshop

As the days get shorter and the temperatures start to drop, the best way to get through this season is to gain some serious baking skills and load up on carbs. Make a day of it in Suffolk and take a baking class at Two Magpies Bakery in Darsham. Test your pastry laminating skills in the Scandinavian baking class or learn how to make the perfect, and highly coveted, sourdough loaf. That way you’ll be prepared for Lockdown II. 

Get there: Two hours 15 minutes by train from London Liverpool Street to Darsham; two hours 30 minutes by car. 

4. The gothic city

Canterbury is one historic city – a short train journey and you’ll feel as though you’ve stepped back in time. A Unesco World Heritage Site, the cathedral has been there since the Middle Ages and the medieval centre is surrounded by Roman walls. It’s also filled with timber-framed houses and cobbled streets, ideal for wandering along on a bright autumn day. See the leaves turning gold and orange in the Westgate Gardens, or stop for a leisurely lunch at The Old Weavers’ House, a quaint restaurant overlooking the River Stour.

Get there: One hour and 30 minutes by train from London Victoria; around two hours by car.

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Crooked House, Canterbury
Crooked House, Canterbury
Photograph: chrisdorney / Shutterstock.com

5. The otherworldly bookshop

While you’re in Canterbury, stop by St John Boys House (also known as the Crooked House). It’s well-known for its super wonky, leaning architecture. Built in the seventeenth-century, the three-storey building is now home to Catching Lives bookshop, which sell a range of second hand and collectable books. Treat yourself to a classic novel to read curled up in bed at home and before you leave take a snap of the building. It looks a bit like 2020 feels.

Haeckels sauna
Haeckels sauna
Photograph: Haeckels

6. The big breath out

Right, so after the year we’ve had we all deserve a treat and Haeckels in Margate is where we want to cash in ours. Located right on the seafront, you can book a range of treatments that are inspired by the benefits of the sea, like a detoxifying seaweed wrap or a warm seaweed bath. Bonus: the venue has uninterrupted sea views so you can pretend you’re at the beach without having to deal with those chilly off-season temperatures.

Get there: One hour 25 minutes by train from London St Pancras to Margate; around two hours 30 minutes by car. 

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The Rose, Deal
The Rose, Deal
Photograph: The Rose

7. The long Sunday lunch

The Rose has stood as a landmark on Deal’s high street for over 200 years. These days it’s the kind of place you want to retreat after a long, blustery beach walk and never leave. Leave the shingle and pass picturesque pastel coloured houses, before settling down for a long lunch in The Rose’s plush dining room. Actually can’t bear to drag yourself back to the city? Book a room for the night and all you need to do is make it up the stairs. 

Get there: One hour 25 by train from London St Pancras to Deal; two hours 30 minutes by car. 

Hever Castle
Hever Castle
Photograph: Philip Bird LRPS CPAGB/Shutterstock.com

8. The regal excursion

Located on the border of Kent, Surrey, and Sussex, Hever Castle lays claim to the title of being the childhood home of Anne Boleyn as well as having some of the most beautiful gardens in the country. Wander the grounds and take in the palpable history or, if you like your fun to come organised, sign up to an autumn colour walking trail and a willow weaving workshop.

Get there: 40 minutes by train from London Bridge to Edenbridge Town; around one hour 50 minutes by car. 

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Winkworth Aboretum
Winkworth Aboretum
© Leiminide

9. The ultimate autumn walk

The rich golden hues of leaves that are about to give up on life are what autumn’s all about. Surrey’s Winkworth Arboretum is home to around 1,000 different shrubs and trees – so when the weather turns, their foliage becomes a glorious spread of colour. See whether you can make your cheeks as rosy as the maple leaves as you explore the lake, boathouse and wetlands. If you need to fuel up for your walk, head to The Stag on the River near Godalming, a charming gastropub with a seasonal menu.

Get there: 45 minutes by train from London Waterloo to Godalming; around one hour 30 minutes by car. 

10. The apple-picking outing

Attractions Farms Surrey

‘Tis the season to pick apples, according to country folk. Garsons Farm, in Surrey, is a 155-acre, PYO (Pick Your Own) haven where you can do just that. The Thomsons family have managed the farm since 1871 and used to supply Borough Market, but now we have to go to them. No complaints here, though, as it makes for a perfect autumnal day out. Once you’ve been let loose on the apple trees, take your harvest to the exit tills to ‘weigh and pay’, then smugly glide back to the capital with your basketful. Baking apple crumble and/or apple pie is essential, post-day trip.

Get there: 30 minutes by train to Esher from London Waterloo, then a bus; around one hour by car.

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11. The hills perfect for wildlife spotting

Unless you’re counting Hackney City Farm, your local urban fox or those mice in your kitchen, the wildlife scene in London is pretty barren. Get your fill in the very nearby Chiltern Hills, an area of woodland and open grassland where countless animals happily dwell. From hundreds of species of birds, to deer that could be straight out of Richmond Park, it’s as rich with fauna as the commuter belt can get. Hop off the train at Amersham and jump on the Chiltern Heritage or Chiltern Link trail for a day in the great outdoors.

Get there: 35 minutes by train from London Marylebone to Amersham; around one hour 30 minutes by car.

Pluckley
Pluckley

12. The spookiest village in England

Like something out of ‘Jonathan Creek’, Pluckley in Kent is the setting of so many supernatural stories that it’s widely regarded as Britain’s most haunted village. Its 12 reported ghosts include a highwayman, a monk, a Tudor lady and (God have mercy on our souls) a woman who sells watercress. If you fail to spot any spooks, those who can remember ‘The Darling Buds of May’ can look out for some of the locations from the ’90s TV series instead.

Get there: One hour by train from London Charing Cross or London St Pancras International; around one hour 45 minutes by car.

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13. The quaint Thameside town

Once home to painter Stanley Spencer and ‘Wind in the Willows’ author Kenneth Grahame, Cookham is a sweet little village that sits on the Thames. It’s worlds away from the South Bank, though, with antique stores, narrow streets and a strong community spirit. Make a trip to The Jolly Farmer pub the focus of your visit. It’s run by villagers for the village, and it serves up really rather good, rustic fare. Think pies followed by crumble and custard. The perfect autumnal antidote to life in London.

Getting there: 50 minutes by train from London Paddington; around one hour 30 minutes by car.

Fungi foray
Fungi foray
© Jess Pac

14. The foraging excursion

Wild mushroom foraging needn’t be a terrifying life-or-death lottery. Not if you join a foraging walk with an expert, who’ll help you to find and identify dozens of species on a route through the New Forest, with the rarer and poisonous ones left untouched. Check out Wild Food or Forage London for foraging sessions. Get booking (they sell out far in advance) and cooking!

Get there: One hour and 40 minutes by train from London Waterloo to Brockenhurst; around two hours by car.

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15. The Harry Potter-esque village

The quaint Suffolk village of Lavenham is where they filmed the Godric’s Hollow scenes in the Harry Potter films, which gives you a sense of how magical this place is. Home to wealthy wool merchants in Tudor times, it’s still perfectly preserved, picturesque and stuffed full of half-timbered medieval houses. There are plenty of dreamy buildings to ogle, but make a beeline for the Grade I-listed, fourteenth-century De Vere House, which played Harry’s fictional birthplace (and is currently on the market for a mere £950,000, if you fancy a little shopping while you’re there.)

Get there: One hour and 20 minutes by train from London Liverpool St to Sudbury, then a 30-minute bus journey; around two hours 30 minutes by car.

Watts Gallery Chapel
Watts Gallery Chapel

16. The high-cultural outing

There’s some wonderful art to be seen beyond the M25, and George Frederic Watts’s purpose-built museum in Surrey is solid, charming proof of it. The Watts Gallery houses a permanent collection of more than 100 works by the symbolist painter himself as well as temporary exhibitions. Just down the road sits a beautiful gothic revival chapel created by Mary Watts, Watt’s wife, that’s well worth the short walk, and if you're feeling energetic you can continue along the North Downs Ridge all the way to Godalming. If you’re in need of a pub stop try The Withies Inn, a wood-panelled boozer that dates back to the sixteenth century.

Get there: 35 minutes by train to Guildford from Waterloo, then bus or taxi; around one hour 15 minutes by car

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Southend-on-sea
Southend-on-sea
Photograph: Shutterstock

17. The veggie feast

If you’re looking for a seaside town with an exciting vegan and vegetarian menu then try The Railway Hotel in Southend. Built in 1872, the Railway Hotel has been an essential part of the local area for years. Since 2012, owners switched to a strictly vegan menu and haven’t looked back since. Take a break from a coastal walk and indulge in their PETA award winning take on fish and chips or seitan vegan fried chicken.

Get here: One hour by train from London Fenchurch Street to Southend-on-sea; two hours by car. 

Rye
Rye
Photograph: Shutterstock

18. The sleepover in a windmill

Take a trip to the East Sussex town of Rye to take in the winding historic streets, medieval inns, and quaint independent shops. On the banks of River Tillingham, visitors looking for a place to spend a long weekend can decamp at Rye Windmill four-star B&B. The Grade II-listed building has ten beautiful rooms to choose from and owners Toby and Kat prepare a hearty cooked breakfast for visitors to enjoy in the original mill bakery.

Get there: One hour 10 minutes by train from London St Pancras to Rye; around two hours by car.

Staying in London this autumn?

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