There are a million and one wonderful things about summer in London – the riverside restaurants, the afternoons spent in the park, all those lush pub gardens to lounge around in. But sometimes you can’t beat getting out of the city for a few hours. Luckily, there’s actually a ton of ace summer activities to enjoy outside London (who knew?). Check out this lot – all less than two hours from central London – and plan your next escape.
RECOMMENDED: The best day trips from London
Summer day trips from London
Sights don’t get much sweeter than a sweeping carpet of bluebells. Come May, the woodlands at Winkworth Arboretum are transformed by a spectacular show of the bright blooms. Go down to the Bluebell Wood and you’ll see the purple swathes at their most stunning. You might spot magnolia flowers, riotous azaleas and pretty clusters of camellias, too. Beats trudging along city pavements, eh?
Winkworth Arboretum. Godalming, Surrey. From late April onwards. From £9.05.
Get there: 40 minutes by train from London Waterloo to Godalming, then bus; around one hour by car.
Here’s a novel way to cope with the less-than-balmy British seaside: a wood-fired sauna right on the stones of Brighton beach. The hot box is inspired by authentic Scandinavian saunas, complete with birch branches and body scrubs. A second, bigger sauna is set to open in May and will be the setting for immersive, guided bathing experiences at Brighton Fringe Festival. Watch the waves and spy Brighton Pier while you sweat before using the sea as a plunge pool. It’s the beach, but hygge.
Brighton Fringe Festival. May 3-Jun 2.
Get there: one hour six minutes by train from London Bridge to Brighton; around one hour 30 minutes by car.
Need a kickstart after months of social hibernation? Dive straight into summer with a refreshing dip in Pells Pool. A popular spot for splashing around since 1860, it’s the oldest freshwater outdoor public swimming pool in the UK. You can picnic on the lawn, chill out on the terrace or brave the lido’s spring-fed waters. It’s only heated by, erm, the sun – so expect it to be a tad chilly at the start of the season.
Pells Pool. Lewes, East Sussex. May 4-Oct 27. £4.50.
Get there: one hour 21 minutes by train from London Bridge to Lewes; around one hour 30 minutes by car.
There’s a chance that living in London has dulled your sylvan senses. Embrace a rural Celtic past with an ancient celebration to mark the start of summer. Beltain Festival is held at Butser Ancient Farm – a real working farm that was set up to show how the people of ancient Britain lived. Welcome the new season with mud, mead, maypole dancing and the ceremonial burning of a wicker man. Live your best pagan life.
Beltain Festival. Butser Ancient Farm, Chalton, Hampshire. May 4. £28.
Get there: one hour five minutes by train from London Waterloo to Petersfield, then bus; around one hour 20 minutes by car.
Begone warming stews and soups, summer is the season of the salad – and nowhere knows it quite like the Hampshire town of New Alresford. Every year the town’s pretty pastel-painted centre is transformed by a street festival celebrating the peppery veg, which is grown locally. Expect a watercress-eating competition, the crowning of a watercress King and Queen and food stalls selling local fare. Watercress fudge, anyone?
Watercress Festival 2019. New Alresford, Hampshire. May 19. Free.
Get there: one hour by train from London Waterloo to Winchester, then bus; around one hour 30 minutes by car.
A wander through Mottisfont Abbey’s walled rose garden is like a sweetly fragranced daydream – all soft, pastel petals and trailing greenery. The garden is home to the National Collection of pre-1900 old-fashioned roses. Unlike modern varieties, these blooms only flower once a year, so there’s a brief window to see the garden in all its glory. Swerve floral fomo and poke your nose into more than 500 varieties when they reach their heady peak in June. Your weekend: coming up roses.
Mottisfont Abbey. Mottisfont, Hampshire. From £16.50.
Get there: two hours 10 minutes by train from London Waterloo to Mottisfont and Dunbridge; around one hour 30 minutes by car.
You don’t have to dance around standing stones to celebrate the summer solstice (though we’re totally on board if you want to). Instead, make the most of all that glorious extra daylight by staying up all night and witnessing the super-early sunrise – on a bike. Brake the Cycle are setting off on an overnight ride from London to Hastings, via a pub and a couple of wild swimming spots. You can expect to roll into the coastal town around 6am for a wheely well-deserved breakfast.
Summer Solstice Night Ride. Peckham to Hastings, East Sussex. Jun 21-22. Free.
What’s better than a picnic on the beach? A feast on a pier, of course. The dramatic glass-and-timber structure perched above the surf at the end of Deal’s 1950s concrete pier has a brand new occupant, Deal Pier Kitchen. Go for generous brunch dishes with ace sea views on the side (or to the front). This Kent town should already be on your radar – the hipster honeypot is an emerging fave with daytripping Londoners, thanks to its buzzy art scene and photogenic seafront.
Deal Pier Kitchen. Deal, Kent.
Get there: one hour 22 minutes by train from London St Pancras International to Deal; around one hour 45 minutes by car.
Not content with jazzing up the English wine scene, the lads at Chapel Down are opening a brand new brewery, with a bar and lush gardens to explore. Take a tour of the production site before sampling pints, or visit the restaurant to try super-fresh unpasteurised beer, piped directly to the restaurant from the tanks on-site. The brewery is right in the middle of Ashford in Kent, opposite the train station. Perfect post-session stumbling distance, then.
Curious Brewery. Ashford, Kent. Tour and tasting experience from £20.
Get there: 37 minutes by train from London St Pancras International to Ashford International; around one hour 20 minutes by car.
Whitstable didn’t get the memo about not playing with your food. The picture-perfect Kent town, filled with quaint shopfronts and technicolour beach huts, holds an annual Oyster Festival where a haul of oysters is symbolically landed on the pebble beach and paraded through the town. Swing by to watch oyster-eating competitions or the afternoon mud tug and stay into the evening to see grotters – small candle-lit domes of spent oyster shells piled up on the beach by locals – start to glow in the gathering darkness.
Whitstable Oyster Festival. Whitstable, Kent. July 27-29. Free.
Get there: one hour 14 minutes by train from London St Pancras International to Whitstable; around one hour 20 by car.
This summer, all the world, or, at least, the grand eighteenth-century Blenheim Palace, is a stage. It’s playing host to Europe’s first ever pop-up Shakespearean theatre. A 13-sided playhouse staging four of the Bard’s plays will appear in the palace grounds, complete with covered seating and an open courtyard for lifelong groundlings. Raise a tankard in the Shakespearean village afterwards to keep those Elizabethan vibes alive. London’s pop-up obsession has officially left the confines of the M25.
Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre. Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire. Jul 8-Sep 7. From £15.
Get there: one hour 15 minutes by train from London Marylebone to Oxford Parkway, then bus; around one hour 30 minutes by car.
When there isn’t a free patch of green left on London Fields, you don’t have far to travel for a slice of some real rural action. The South Downs, stretching from the hearty hills of Hampshire to the bright white cliffs of the East Sussex coastline, is London’s closest National Park. Pick a section of the 100-mile South Downs Way for a wholesome day hike, ending in a quaint country pub. Last one to the bar buys the first round.
South Downs Way. Free.
’Tis the season to surround yourself with bright blooms, plump produce and towering greenery – and a visit to The Pig’s Kent outpost should do the trick. The newly opened Pig at Bridge Place in the lush Kent Downs has a huge kitchen garden, so work up an appetite marching around their verdant acres before sitting down to mega-fresh homegrown produce. If it’s not from the garden, it’s still travelled less than 25 miles to get to your plate.
The Pig at Bridge Place. Bridge, Kent.
Get there: one hour by train from London St Pancras International to Canterbury West, then bus; around one hour 20 minutes by car.
The city’s bins in the summer heat can be an assault on the senses. Get a whiff of something fresher at Hitchin’s fragrant fields of lavender. You can wander through the purple waves and pick your own bag of lavender or an armful of sunflower heads before settling down for a BYO picnic. Don’t miss the shop for stocking up on scented treats. Lavender fields forever.
Hitchin Lavender. Hitchin, Hertfordshire. Mid Jun-end Aug, but check before you visit. £6.
Get there: 36 minutes by train from London King’s Cross to Hitchin, then bus; around one hour by car.
Harness everything this season’s reflective Jupiter Retrograde has taught you and sign up for an evening of astral gazing in the stunning surroundings of Petworth Park. Setting off after dark, you’ll discover some of the deer park’s nocturnal residents on a guided walk before settling down under a blanket to spot stars and watch the annual Perseids meteor shower in the dark night’s sky.
Perseids Meteor Shower and Nocturnal Wildlife Guided Walk. Petworth, West Sussex. August 12. £6.
Get there: one hour 10 minutes by train from London Victoria to Pulborough, then bus; around one hour 30 minutes by car.
Done with sunshine, soft-serve and vintage fairground rides? Head underground to discover Margate’s newest attraction. Margate Caves, an eighteenth-century chalk mine decorated with unusual carvings and paintings, will reopen to the public this summer. The caves have been used as a wine store, an air-raid shelter and now they’re the seaside’s shadiest spot. The Shell Grotto has competition.
Margate Caves. Margate, Kent. £4.50. Opening summer 2019.
Get there: one hour 30 minutes by train from London St Pancras International; around one hour 35 minutes by car.
Think wild animals, think foxes rooting through your wheelie bin? The UK used to be home to way wilder creatures, such as the wolverine (not just a Marvel mutant, it turns out). And they’re all making a return this summer. Bear Wood in Bristol will be home to the European grey wolf, the brown bear, lynx and wolverine. They’ll roam freely like they would have done centuries ago. You’ll watch from a safe distance on an elevated walkway through the woodland. Ow-woooo!
Bear Wood, Wild Place Project. Bristol, Somerset. £9.95. Opening summer 2019.
Get there: one hour 19 minutes by train from London Paddington to Bristol Parkway, then bus; around one hour 50 minutes by car.