Get us in your inbox

Photograph: Shutterstock

10 chocolate-box villages in easy reach of London

They’re pretty, they’re quaint and they’re a lot closer to London than you might think – here are 10 picture-perfect English country villages to visit

Written by
Yolanda Zappaterra
Sophie Dickinson
Ellie Muir
Rhian Daly

As much fun as London is, sometimes it’s refreshing to get out of the capital and into one of the many picturesque villages within easy reach of the city. Swap cramming onto the tube for relaxing country walks, plunging into London’s lidos for a dip at a seaside town, and city parks for fields of outstanding natural beauty – you won’t regret it.

The UK’s countryside offers up a wealth of worthwhile day trips year-round, but where should you head on your next venture into the great outdoors? We’ve collected ten of the prettiest villages you can easily visit, taken from the book ‘Escape London’ by Yolanda Zappaterra. You may have experienced their period charm in a film or TV show, but nothing beats a leisurely stroll through their winding streets, followed by a well-earned pint by a roaring pub fire.

This article includes affiliate links. These links have no influence on our editorial content. For more information, click here.

10 unbelievably cute villages near London to visit

1. Ashwell, Hertfordshire

Human habitation can be traced back 4,000 years in Ashwell, proving that Bronze Age man was just as adept at finding a top slice of country life as commuter-belt man. Stroll down the high street, and you’ll find fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Forester Cottages to explore, while the junctions of Rollys Lane and Mill Street are home to sixteenth-century timber-framed cottages. For more modern architecture fans, Victorian residence the Bury, designed by Edwin Lutyens with a garden by Gertrude Jekyll, won’t disappoint. When you’re done drinking in the scenic views, head to Ashwell Springs to refuel with a picturesque picnic.

Get there: Trains run from King’s Cross to Ashwell and Morden, taking about an hour. By car, it’s 45 miles from central London.

2. Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire

Great Missenden has some big claims to fame. Its good looks have been heavily featured in ITV’s ‘Midsomer Murders’, while it was also the home and workplace of Roald Dahl. It’s changed a little since the storyteller’s arrival here 70 years ago, but its cobbled alleys and handsome high street still take in Gipsy House, where he lived, and many of the sites that inspired his stories.The easy charm of the large village, established in the late Middle Ages as a major stop on the coaching route between London and the Midlands, coupled with its setting in the pretty Misbourne river valley, makes it hugely appealing whatever your age.

Get there: Trains run from London Marylebone to Great Missenden, taking about 45 minutes. By car, it’s 38 miles from central London.


3. Alfriston, East Sussex

Alfriston is so full of charm you might leave here feeling musically inspired. That was the case for author Eleanor Farjeon, who was so captivated by the village she penned the classic hymn ‘Morning Has Broken’ (later recorded by Cat Stevens while staying here. Regardless of your songwriting urges, this spot is a real walkers’ delight, set as it is in the beautiful Cuckmere River valley and with the South Downs Way going through it. But you could do no more than walk around the village and still have a great day out; highlights include the fourteenth-century thatch-and-timber Clergy House (the National Trust’s first purchase, in 1896), the lovely St Andrew’s church, from the same period, and the village green it’s set on (the Tye). End your day with a pint or two at the obligatory Tudor-style inn, the Star. 

Get there: Trains run from London to Polegate or Lewes, taking about 1hr 15mins. From both, the 125 bus reaches Alfriston in about 15 minutes. By car, it’s 80 miles from central London.

4. Chilham, Kent

If you’re looking for picture-postcard appeal, look no further than Chilham. Overlooking a bend on the chalk downs above the river Stour, the village is as pretty as they come. Much of its architecture dates back to medieval times, with the best of it to be found around the elegant village square. Standouts include the beautiful fifteenth-century timber-framed houses on its north side, St Mary’s church (whose tower offers great views of the surrounding countryside and Canterbury Cathedral, six miles away) on its east side, and the entrance to the grounds of Chilham castle on its west side. White picket fences, perfectly clipped cottage gardens and quaint tearooms and pubs complete the scenic beauty of the village.

Get there: Trains runs from St Pancras to Chilham, with a change at Ashford, taking about 1hr 30 mins.  By car, it’s 60 miles from central London.


5. Cookham, Berkshire

Exploring the places that inspired an artist is always interesting, and doing it in as pretty a spot as Cookham is a rare delight. Sir Stanley Spencer lived here for most of his life, and painted many of the village’s features. It’s easy to see why. Cookham has lots to offer, including the church of the Holy Trinity, where Norman features are still visible and the cherry orchards at Cookham Dean, which was once home Wind in the Willows author Kenneth Grahame. There are plenty of interesting spots to visit around the village, too. Head out on a nice three-mile round walk to Enid Blyton’s childhood home at Bourne End, or treat yourself to some tasty grub at Heston Blumenthal’s world-famous restaurant, The Fat Duck, which lies just four miles away.

Get here: Trains run from Paddington to Cookham, with a change at Maidenhead, taking about an hour. By car, it’s 30 miles from central London.

6. Lavenham, Suffolk

‘Harry Potter’ fans, pay attention – Lavenham is home to a landmark you might recognise. Its De Vere House and Corpus Christi Guildhall starred in ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ as central locations in the young wizard’s hometown of Godric’s Hollow. There’s much more to this Suffolk village than Potter links, though. It gained its market charter from Henry III in 1257 and offers a perfect picture of prosperous medieval England, thanks to its high street of half-timbered houses and more than 340 listed buildings. The lime-washed and brightly coloured buildings are a delight, while the richly decorated fifteenth and sixteenth-century St Peter & St Paul Church dominates the village with its soaring 141ft tower.

Get there: Trains run from Liverpool St to Sudbury, seven miles away, taking about 1hr 20mins. From there, the 753 bus runs to Lavenham. By car, it’s 76 miles from central London.


7. Castle Hedingham, Essex

Castle Hedingham might not get quite as many tourists visiting as some of the other villages on this list, but it’s not lacking in stunning scenes. Close to the more famous Constable Country in the equally lovely Colne Valley, this Essex village boasts the winsomely picturesque 150-year-old Colne Valley Railway. At just one mile, it must surely qualify as one of the shortest lines in Britain, but you’ll still get a thrill from seeing its stream trains puffing through green fields. Oh, and the Norman church and castle are pretty special, too.

Get there: Trains run from Liverpool St to Braintree, eight miles away, taking about an hour. From there, the 89 bus runs to Castle Hedingham. By car, it’s 64 miles from central London.

8. Brockenhurst, Hampshire

Brockenhurst is a must for animal lovers. On any given day, you might catch a wild pony wandering down Brookley Road, or glimpse a deer in the woodland, or donkeys grazing on the green, and if it’s been raining heavily, even find your route blocked by cows wandering through the flooded streets of the village. The village also boasts the unusual sight of a beach in the heart of a forest. Just out of town, outside the Balmer Lawn Hotel, you’ll find the small sandy Brockenhurst Beach on the banks of the stream that runs through the heart of the village. Neighbouring Beaulieu is an equally pretty spot which is home to Palace House, an imposing Thirteenth-Century pile, and the National Motor Museum.

Get there: Trains run frequently from Waterloo to Brockenhurst, taking about 90 minutes. By car, it’s 90 miles from central London.


9. Lurgashall, West Sussex

You can’t really go wrong enjoying a pint in the sixteenth-century Noah’s Ark inn, but there are plenty of other pleasures here. A relaxing walk through Lurgashall will let you stumble upon picturesque half-beamed cottages, a watermill and a beautiful row of village green cottages. Take a 15-minute stroll west along Dial Green Lane, and you'll even find a winery selling mead, honey, gin and raspberry liqueur. Pretty and delicious.

Get there: Trains run from Waterloo station to Haslemere, taking about an hour. From there, it’s two buses or a short taxi ride to Lurgashall. By car, it’s 50 miles from central London.

10. Shere, Surrey

Surrey has a ridiculous number of swoonsome villages to choose from, but we’ve plumped for Shere because, with its riverside setting and super-cute cottages, it’s as quintessentially English as a bulldog in a bowler hat. Hollywood agrees – its churches (St James’s Church), manor houses (Manor House Lodge, designed by Edwin Lutyens), pubs (the fifteenth-century White Horse) and general chocolate box loveliness have starred in heaps of British movies, including ‘A Matter of Life and Death’,Bridget Jones – the Edge of Reason’, and ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’. Pay it a visit and who knows what A-list actors you might run into.

Get there: Trains run from Waterloo to Gomshall, with a change at Guildford, taking about an hour. From there, it’s a 30-minute walk to Shere. By car, it’s 35 miles from central London.


    More on getaways

      You may also like
      You may also like