Sometimes the best way to truly appreciate a place is to leave it for a short while. We suspect that's the case with London – much as we adore life in the Big Smoke, we also relish the occasional change of scene.
Helpfully, England is really quite small, which means getting from the city to the coast is a doddle – grab a coffee, hop on the train and you'll be breathing in fresh, salty sea air before you know it.
Whether you're in the mood for pony-filled forests, picture-postcard towns or pebble beaches, here are fifteen sweet spots, complete with cute pubs and ace restaurants – and all close enough to the capital to get there and back in a day.
Scroll down to the bottom of the page for more cracking day trip ideas, from floral getaways to boozy breaks, and check out our guide to the best weekend breaks from London if you fancy escaping the city for more than a day.
RECOMMENDED: 101 incredible things to do in London instead
15 dreamy day trips from London
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.
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 two hours 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.
Biking to green and pleasant Surrey is a wheely nice way to spend a Sunday (sorry) – plus, Box Hill was part of the 2012 Olympic road-cycling route. Start in Richmond Park and pedal down past Hampton Court – it should take you about two hours. After a 1.6 mile climb and some hairpin bends (easier than it sounds!), you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of the North Downs from the top of Box Hill itself. Grab a slice of cake from the National Trust café, but save space for lunch at The Tree, which serves homemade pies and crumbles. Your last stop is Box Hill and Westhumble station, where you can load your bikes on to a train back to Waterloo. Whewf!
How far? 30 miles
Get there by bike (obviously). Plan the route carefully before you set out, and take a map and a puncture repair kit, plus water and snacks.
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 all 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.
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.
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.
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 by car.
Looking for more day trips from London?
Check out this lot – all less than two hours from central London – and plan your next escape
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