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The best autumn day trips from London

From gothic chapels and haunted villages to country pub crawls, here are 13 amazing reasons to leaf London this autumn

By Ellie Walker-Arnott and Lucy Lovell |
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Autumn leaves at Winkworth Arboretum
Photograph: Tan Zi Han/Shutterstock.com

Ah, autumn. The air is crisp, the leaves are turning gold and we’re rooting through our wardrobes for warmer coats and scarves. 

Central 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, 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. 

RECOMMENDED: The best day trips from London

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.

2
Ossuary, St Leonard's Church, Hythe, Kent. Artist: R Pilgrim
Photograph: Heritage Image Partnership Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo

The really creepy one

As the nights draw in, there’s no better time to get some spooky chills. The first stop for freaky daytrippers? The local church of the pretty Kent market town of Hythe, obviously. From the outside, it’s a perfectly unassuming house of worship. But venture into the crypt of St Leonard’s Church, and you’ll discover the largest and best-preserved collection of ancient human bones in Britain, with more than 1,000 skulls eerily arranged in the grand archways. No one is entirely sure who they were, or even how they came to be there. Recruit your bravest bunch of friends and go and pay your respects.

Get there: around one hour 30 minutes by train from St Pancras International to Sandling, then ten minutes by bus. 

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3
Winkworth Aboretum
© Leiminide

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. 

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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5
Apple picking
Attractions, Farms

The apple-picking excursion

icon-location-pin 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.

6

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.

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7
Pluckley

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.

8
Lewes bonfire night
Photograph: Kurt Pacaud/Shutterstock.com

The humongous bonfire party

On one night a year (November 5, unsurprisingly), the typically peaceful Sussex town of Lewes turns into a kind of mad medieval Mardi Gras, in what is the largest Bonfire Night celebration in the UK. The burning crosses, controversial Guys and numerous marching bands all add up to a rowdy, fiery, townwide spectacle like nothing you'd expect in modern-day England.

Get there: One hour by train from London Victoria to Lewes; around two hours by car.

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9
Tony Tree

The arty destination

Charleston House near Lewes was where Virginia Woolf’s sister, the painter and interior designer Vanessa Bell, and her art critic husband Clive Bell lived. Now, it’s a Bloomsbury group property, museum and gallery – an ideal destination for a rainy day. Take a tour around the beautifully designed space, have a peek at sculptures and artworks in the garden or settle down in the Threshing Barn Cafe for homemade soup and wedges of Sussex plum cake. The National Trust-owned Monk’s House, Virginia and Leonard Woolf's seventeenth-century country retreat, is just a few miles down the road if you want to extend your autumnal adventure.

Getting there: One hour on the train from London Victoria to Lewes, then a taxi; around two hours 30 minutes by car.

10

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.

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11
Fungi foray
© Jess Pac

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.

12
Lavenham

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.

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13
Watts Gallery Chapel

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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