15 dreamy day trips from London
In Chaucer’s day this was where people came for a big old knees-up. Today its default is a little more sedate, but a large student population means there’s still a pleasingly rowdy edge. Kick things off with a leisurely stroll down the King’s Mile, home to boutiques a-plenty. Lunch-wise you’re spoilt for choice, from gourmet Scotch eggs with slaw and fries at Pork & Co, bento boxes at Tamago or pizza straight from the oven at indoor farmers’ market The Goods Shed. Round off your very own Canterbury tale with a visit to the Beaney House of Art and Knowledge, which features one of the world’s most important collections of cow paintings and an Egyptian mummified cat.
How far? 61 miles
Get there one hour by train from London St Pancras International; around one hour 30 minutes by car.
A trip to the New Forest is about as close as you can get to going on safari without buying a plane ticket. As you make your way down dappled lanes and across the heather-covered heath you’ll be watched the famous ponies, which have grazed there for thousands of years, plus free-ranging Highland cattle and pigs hoovering up fallen acorns. Don’t fancy being stuck in the car day? Hire a two-seater electric Twizzy buggy to explore in, or book a beginners’ hack at one of the stables. Don’t forget to make time for a proper ploughman’s lunch at the Royal Oak in Fritham.
How far? 90 miles
Get there one hour 30 minutes by train from London Waterloo to Brockenhurst; around two hours by car. Just remember that animals, not drivers, have right of way.
It doesn’t get as much attention as Margate and Whitstable, but with its tidy rows of Georgian townhouses, quirky independents and thriving Saturday market, Deal ticks all the day-trip boxes. Start at Deal Castle (built by Henry VIII as part of an ambitious chain of coastal forts), then treat yourself to lunch at 81 Beach Street or Victuals & Co. Parisian-style bottle shop Le Pinardier is great for stocking up on gluggable goodies, and make sure you stop by gallery-cum-homewares boutique Taylor-Jones and Son, where Delilah the sheepdog will welcome you with open paws.
How far? Just over 80 miles
Get there one hour 20 minutes by train from London St Pancras International; around two hours by car.
The Turner Contemporary opening in 2011 was the long-neglected Margate’s invitation to the ball. Today, the Kent coast’s most famous Cinderella story is awash with cold-brew coffee and craft beer, with just enough salty charm to still give it an edge. Start at the Turner, then mosey over to retro theme park and roller-disco Dreamland. Once the effects of the Waltzer have worn off, head to Hantverk & Found for a lunch of the freshest seafood and natural wines. Spend the rest of the afternoon shopping: browse immaculate vintage piece in Breuer & Dawson, and stock up on seaweed-based skincare at Haeckels.
How far? 76 miles
Get there one hour 25 minutes by train from London St Pancras International; around three hours by car.
If Brighton were a stick of rock, it would have GOOD TIMES! running right the way through it. With its perfect pebble beach, wall-to-wall live music venues and buzzing LGBT+ scene, there’s nowhere like it for topping up your Vitamin Sea levels. Start by dodging seagulls on the Palace Pier, then shop up a storm in the Laines, which are packed with independent boutiques, record stores and vegan eateries. Sit down to a zero-waste late lunch at Silo, and finish up with a couple of pints in the Brighton Beer Dispensary, which champions small Sussex breweries like the Hand Brew Co.
How far? A little over 50 miles
Get there one hour by train from London Victoria, Blackfriars or London Bridge; around two hours by car.
Heads up, horror fans: Guildford’s cathedral starred in cult bone-chiller ‘The Omen’. That being said, everything else about Surrey’s county town is bucolic in the extreme: if it’s sunny you can lounge by the water at pretty Dapdune Wharf, or actually get in it at the Guildford Lido. Lunch on locally-sourced nacho boxes at Burrito Loco, before checking out the 400-year-old Star Inn. Still thirsty? Hop on a train to tour the nearby Hogs Back Brewery.
How far? 31 miles
Get there 30 minutes by train from London Waterloo; around one hour by car.
With its antique shops and higgledy-piggledy cobbled lanes, Rye feels like a little piece of the Cotswolds on the coast. After a browse in The Tiny Book Store (does what it says on the tin), treat yourself to a seafood lunch surrounded by lobster pots at Globe Inn Marsh, followed by Sussex real ale or a glass of local wine at The George Tap – the Chapel Down vineyard is just up the road and well worth a visit. Ten minutes away are the pillowy dunes of Camber Sands: roll your trousers up and splash through the shallows, take a kite for a spin or just park your towel and stretch out.
How far? 79 miles Get there by car.
Get there one hour 10 minutes by train from London St Pancras International, with a change at Ashford; around two hours 30 minutes by car.
Water wonderful day awaits you here! Start as you mean to go on with a tour of the baths the Romans built (no paddling allowed), before making a splash in the Thermae Bath Spa – the rooftop pool has stunning views of the city. Once you’ve dried off, make like Jane Austen and stroll along the Royal Crescent, then try on some reproduction Georgian garms at the Fashion Museum. Peckish? Sally Lunn’s teahouse is home to the Sally Lunn Bun, a kind of sweet brioche bap – for a Bath take on the cream tea, order one toasted and spread with strawberry jam and clotted cream.
How far? 115 miles
Get there one hour 30 minutes by train from London Paddington; two hours 30 minutes by car.
It’s hard to think of a lovelier seaside spot than Whitstable. Kick off a day there at Blueprint Coffee and Books with a pot of something strong and ethically sourced (and maybe a mini orange-and-rosemary bundt cake). Next, rent a bike from Whitstable Cycle Hire and pedal your way along the five-mile seafront Oyster Bay Trail. And for lunch? Oysters, natch – watch them being shucked in front of you at The Forge. Stay on the beach for a drink as the sun sets: Whitstable is one of the few in the UK with a pub, the Old Neptune, right on the shingle.
How far? 61 miles
Get there one hour 20 minutes by train from London Victoria or one hour 10 minutes from St Pancras International to Whitstable; around one hour 40 minutes by car.
Dungeness’s shingly, shipwreck-dotted beach is so spookily empty that it’s often described as Britain’s only desert (though the Met Office refuses to recognise it as such, the party-poopers). But look a little closer and there’s plenty going on. It’s a nature reserve, for one thing – follow the two-mile trail around RSPB Dungeness for the chance to glimpse glossy ibises and marsh harriers. Come lunchtime, queue up at the famous Dungeness Snack Shack: they’ll serve you their catch of the day in a warm bun, lobster and crab rolls or smoked cod chowder. Finally, go in search of the huge concrete ‘sound ears’, which date from the First World War and were designed to listen out for planes.
How far? 86 miles
Get there one hour by train from London St Pancras International to Folkstone, with a one hour 30 minute bus ride to Dungeness; around two hours by car.
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