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Seven Sisters chalk cliffs South Downs
Photograph: Shutterstock

20 ace out-of-town attractions to visit on a day trip from London

Londoners reveal where they go to get away from all the smog and Prets

Edited by
Kate Lloyd
Written by
Time Out contributors
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The capital is so well-placed that you can zip to the seaside, the countryside or the UK’s biggest Wetherspoon’s and be home in time to sleep in your own bed that night. But where to go? There are so many enticing destinations to choose from, so we asked a bunch of discerning Londoners to tell us all about their favourite day trips and why they love the places they’ve recommended.

Fun day trips from London

‘Previously the top-secret home of British codebreaking in the Second World War, Victorian mansion Bletchley Park has been wonderfully and evocatively preserved and interpreted. Thousands of staff – many of them women – worked here  throughout the war to break enemy codes, including the German Enigma cipher machine.’ Dr Liz Bruton, curator of technology and engineering at the Science Museum

Train from Euston to Bletchley.

‘Growing up, I would happily spend weekends at our holiday home in Maylandsea, Essex. Just across the estuary you’ll find Osea Island. It’s had so many faces it’s hard to keep track: hotel resort, rehab haven, it was even rented out by Rihanna to record one of her albums. There’s something magical about driving there. The causeway is tidal and can only be accessed for a few hours a day, giving the feeling that the island is entirely separate from the rest of the world. I’ve spent hours sitting on the stony beach throwing rocks into an empty Pringles can. Go for a swim in the water if you’re feeling brave. If not, a walk along the beach will leave you smiling.’ Mira Al-Momani, Anissa Kermiche

Train from Liverpool St to Southminster, then bus.

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‘I moved to Margate for a good part of last year and found it a magical place to be. Start your day with a dip in the glorious Walpole Bay Tidal Pool. Whatever the weather, whatever the time of year there is always a group of friendly people having a swim there. Check the tide times first, though, as the pool is only visible during low tide. Be sure to also check out the Haeckels Community Sauna on the side of the pool – the perfect way to follow a crisp swim!’
Grace Regan, founder of SpiceBox

Train from St Pancras or Victoria to Margate.

‘My pick for a day trip would be Lulworth Cove in Dorset. I first went there on a geography trip when I was at school. It’s so beautiful. It has some amazing wildlife: the Lulworth Skipper butterfly is one of my favourites. There are loads of little natural arches to swim through and admire in Lulworth Cove – lovely if you catch the weather on a good day. Just along the coast is Durdle Door, a massive rock arch, which is pretty sick. There are also some other amazing rock formations, if that’s your thing.’ Alexis, DJ

Train from Waterloo to Wool, then bus.

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St Albans is a great spot. It takes around 20 minutes on the fast train. I always like to start with a breakfast roll from Hatch, walk over to the impressive cathedral that dates back to 1077 and stroll around the Roman ruins in Verulamium Park. Afterwards, I have a little coffee and a soft serve at Nkora, before hitting the pubs for the afternoon. My favourite one is Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, which claims – dubiously – to be the oldest pub in England.’ Sam Jones, front of house at Paradise and ex-Wasps rugby player

Train from King’s Cross or St Pancras to St Albans.

An independent  foodie hub

‘I lived in Nottingham for seven years before moving to the capital. For a good day out, go to Hockley, home to Nottingham’s nicest cinema, Rough Trade and a plethora of independent shops. My top picks? Jamcafé, a spot with the wildest beer selection. Hockley Bottle Shop, a pop-up run by the Bistro Boys, whose passion for nattie wine and good grub runs high. (Grab some belters in bottles for a breezy picnic in the arboretum.) And Edin’s, run by big boss about town, Edin Gondzic. His focus is friends, food and atmosphere. Expect pasta and a schmooze with the man himself.’ Matthew Scott, founder of Hot 4 U

Train from St Pancras to Nottingham.

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Lewes has rich anti-establishment roots epitomised by Britain’s largest bonfire night, when giant effigies of the Pope and controversial figures, such as Putin and Clarkson, are paraded through the town. The thirteenth-century East Sussex hillside town is crammed full of antiques shops, cafés and restaurants. A couple of miles north-west, high on a ridge, is the new pop-up Paddock Bar operating from an old horsebox, sited alongside an old racecourse. Before heading home, try and pick up a bottle of award-winning sparkling wine from local vineyard Breaky Bottom.’ ​Orlando Gili, photographer

Train from Victoria to Lewes.

‘It takes just over an hour to get to Rye from St Pancras via Ashford. Go there in the morning and treat yourself to coffee and a pastry at Whitehouse on the High Street. One of my favourite things to do is visit the Tillingham vineyard for produce from its kitchen garden and local farmers, or one of its excellent pizzas, washed down with some of the most exciting English wines around. If you fancy a swim, head to Pett Level where there is plenty of space on the pebble beach to get away from people.’ Ed Thaw, sommelier and owner of Leroy and Royale restaurants

Train from London Bridge, St Pancras or Victoria to Rye via Ashford.

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‘Deal is a lovely seaside town that seems to be going through a bit of a hipster rebirth. I love to go to The Rose, a charming pub with rooms. The food is excellent – it’s currently collaborating with Nuno Mendes. It’s got an excellent courtyard and everything is really reasonably priced.’ Stevie Parle, owner of Joy and Pastaio

Train from St Pancras via Ashford or Charing Cross to Deal.

‘What’s better than a windswept, steep chalk cliff overlooking the Narrow Sea (aka the Channel)? The answer is, of course, seven windswept, steep chalk cliffs, in a row like a naïve child’s idea of what hills look like. Introducing the Seven Sisters on the South Downs. The town of Eastbourne is a nice place to start, but if you’re feeling ambitious, set out from Lewes for an epic, “Lord of the Rings”-esque journey through chasm, field and woods. Also, don’t miss a cream tea in the National Trust café by the lighthouse.’ Joe Mackertich, Time Out London editor

Train from London Bridge or Victoria to Eastbourne.

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A really big lake

‘I went to university at Royal Holloway, and have so many fond memories of walking through Windsor Great Park. I would recommend going to Virginia Water and then doing the four-and-a-half-mile walk around the great lake. We take our two labradoodles and I’m not sure who takes the most pleasure in stopping off at one of the many great pubs after a healthy walk and fresh air.’ David Burke, chief executive of the London Philharmonic Orchestra

Train from Waterloo to Egham.

London Philharmonic Orchestra kicks off its 21/22 season on Sep 25 with new principal conductor Edward Gardner conducting Tippett’s ‘The Midsummer Marriage’.

A foraging hotspot

‘I have been going to Selling in Kent and its woodland for a while now, but there are new discoveries every time, found when walking through radiant fields of yellow-flowering rapeseed plants, hiking in the forest, foraging Japanese bracken ferns to pickle and treading along the most sensational and fine-looking poppy fields.’ Shuko Oda, co-founder of Koya and Koya Ko

Train from Victoria to Selling.

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‘Exit Reading’s sprawling train station, walk along the noisy main road, turn a corner and suddenly you’ll find yourself at the oasis that is Thames Lido. A heated open-air swimming pool fills the centre of this lovingly restored Edwardian public baths. There are two saunas, treatment rooms and a superlative Mediterranean restaurant. Munch on boquerones and sip a cocktail poolside to channel serious foreign-holiday vibes.’ Sarah Cohen, deputy chief sub editor at Time Out

Train from Paddington to Reading.

‘I like to wander down to Studland in Dorset, stopping first at Yoga at The Space to enjoy a class held by Helen McCabe. Then I pop to The Pig on the Beach for some restoratives. Its menu is inspired by sea-foraged food and never disappoints. Plus the coast there is beautiful.’ Melanie Brown, founder of Specialist Cellars and The Laundry

Train from Waterloo to Parkstone, then bus.

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‘I love heading out to Epping, just to chill out in nature a bit, maybe have a beer at one of the many pubs and pretend I’m nowhere near a city (despite being so close). A pro tip is that there are a couple of zero-traffic cycle routes from east London – look on Google Maps for the green bits and find your way. It makes for a great day out with friends without the stress of cycling on busy roads.’ Brodie Meah, co-founder of Top Cuvée

Central line to Epping.

Olde-worlde fields

‘My mum’s family has a small cottage just outside Ashford. It’s really secluded and beautiful. I remember going for walks there as a child and finding shotgun shells, which I found really cool but probably should’ve been a bit wary of, as there was the odd “no trespassers” sign. That aside, the locals have always been friendly. It’s nice to find a farmer’s box filled with fresh berries or veg there for the taking, as long as you leave some change. We’d never have that in Catford.’ Deema, rapper

Train from Charing Cross, St Pancras or Victoria to Ashford.

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‘My husband and I live in Deptford and we like to cycle out of London on our tandem. One of my favourite routes is along the Thames Path past Greenwich and the Thames Barrier through Royal Arsenal and nature reserves to Dartford. I love seeing the shift in architecture and the history of the outskirts of the city unfold as we travel along into more space, more nature and more stillness.’ Sinéad McCarthy, contemporary curator at the Museum of the Home

‘You can’t visit Ramsgate without a trip to the Royal Victoria Pavilion, the UK’s biggest Wetherspoons, for a cheap pint followed by fish and chips from Peter’s Fish Factory before losing all your spare change at the arcade across the road. Make sure you don’t leave without getting dinner from Rakookoo takeaway by chef Rachel O’Sullivan, formerly of Towpath in Haggerston. Delicious.’ Anna Shaffer and Jimmy Stephenson, co-founders of Hector’s

Train from Charing Cross, St Pancras or Victoria to Ramsgate.

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‘Camber Sands and its surroundings are an absolute shout. Check out Dungeness, a flat shingle beach that’s in front of a disused nuclear power station, giving it a post-apocalyptic vibe – you can get in some great practice for the next decade (yay!). Then go to Snack Shack for lobster and crab rolls (all locally caught) with a menu that changes depending on the catch.’ Maria K Georgiou and Rhiannon Butler, founders of Mam Sham

Train from London Bridge, St Pancras or Victoria to Rye via Ashford, then bus.

‘Whenever I go back to my hometown of Cambridge, I treat it like a holiday. I generally avoid the centre and head out to Gwydir Street instead. The star attraction here is David Parr House. It was owned by a Victorian decorator, who did out his own house in eccentric Arts & Crafts style (think lots of William Morris). More than just a pretty pitstop, it’s a trip back in time.’ Huw Oliver, international commissioning editor at Time Out

Train from King’s Cross, Liverpool St or St Pancras to Cambridge.

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