20 Top-Rated Day Trips from London
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While London has enough attractions of its own to keep any tourist busy, so many wonderful places to visit lie all around it, that you're certain to be tempted to take at least one day trip while you're here. Some of the best day trips from London are as close as the magnificent palace of Hampton Court, but you can travel farther in a day – all the way to Paris, in fact, thanks to high-speed trains.
Within easy reach from London are the beautiful and historic towns of Bath and Oxford, the soaring cathedral at Canterbury, and the castles of Leeds and Warwick. Legendary Windsor Castle is close, and not far beyond is the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Stonehenge, one of the top attractions in England.
Find the best places to visit and things to do with our list of the top day trips from London.
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High on the list of England's top tourist attractions, Stonehenge has mystified scholars, scientists, and historians for centuries. The giant stones that rise from the Salisbury Plain have been here for at least four millennia.
Before circling the megaliths, spend some time in the visitor center to learn about the stones and the people who built them, through beautifully conceived audio-visual exhibits and more than 250 ancient artifacts. The UNESCO World Heritage site also includes authentic replicas of Neolithic houses illustrating everyday Neolithic life.
An easy way to get to Stonehenge is on a 6.5-hour London to Stonehenge Shuttle Bus and Independent Day Trip, which includes admission tickets to see the stones and all the related exhibits, plus a complimentary audio-guide.
Location: Shrewton, Wiltshire
Official site: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk
2. Hampton Court Palace
Perhaps the most interesting of Britain's royal palaces, Hampton Court lies southwest of London on the north bank of the Thames. The Great Hall and other parts of the palace date from Henry VIII's time (five of his six wives lived here as Queen, and the ghosts of two of them are said to still haunt the palace). It was also where Elizabeth I learned of the defeat of the Spanish Armada.
Highlights of the palace include the Clock Court with its astronomical clock (1540), the State Apartments (including the Haunted Gallery), the Chapel, the King's Apartments, and the Tudor tennis court. Visitors should also explore the Privy Garden, the Pond Garden, the Elizabethan Knot Garden, the Broad Walk, and the Wilderness, especially in mid-May when in full bloom.
One of the other popular things to do at Hampton Court Palace, particularly for children, is wandering through the palace's famous maze. Hampton Court is easy to reach by a 45-minute train ride from Victoria Station.
Location: East Molesey, Surrey
3. Windsor Castle
The summer home of the British Royal Family, Windsor Castle is also the longest-occupied royal residence in Europe. Inside its walls is St. George's Chapel, begun by Edward IV in 1474 and among the finest examples of the English Perpendicular Gothic style. In its vaults and sacristy are the tombs of several monarchs.
One of the highlights of visiting Windsor Castle is a tour of the State Apartments, where the Queen's Gallery and the Dining Hall each have magnificently painted ceilings and wood carvings. The palace's art collection includes works by Michelangelo, Rubens, Leonardo da Vinci, Canaletto, and Rembrandt. Queen Mary's Dollhouse and the beautiful gardens are other highlights of the castle complex.
Windsor Castle is easy to combine with other nearby attractions on a Stonehenge, Windsor Castle, and Bath from London tour by luxury coach. The tour includes visits to both St. George's Chapel and the State Apartments, with an expert tour guide to point out the most important features and fill in the castle's history.
Address: Windsor Castle, Windsor, Berkshire
Official site: https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/windsorcastle
4. Oxford and the Cotswolds
One of Europe's oldest and most beautiful university towns, Oxford is easy to reach by direct train from London. While its main draw for tourists is the university, the town itself is an attractive one, with parks and gardens, the historic Covered Market, and Christ Church Cathedral.
Highlights of the university are the Bodleian Library and Christ Church College, which gained new attention when it was featured in several Harry Potter movies.
Close to Oxford and easy to combine on a day trip from London are the Cotswolds, a beautiful region of rolling landscapes and picturesque villages. The Cotswolds have been named an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty due to the rare limestone grassland habitats and old growth woodlands, but for most visitors, the region's appeal is in its charming villages and towns, such as Burton-on-Water, Castle Combe, and Chipping Norton.
An easy way to visit this beautiful region is on the Oxford, Cotswolds, Stratford-upon-Avon and Warwick Castle Day Trip from London, a 10-hour excursion by motor coach with a guided walking tour of Oxford, including visits to Bodleian Library and Christ Church College.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Oxford: Best Areas & Hotels
- Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Oxford
5. Leeds Castle
Often named as the loveliest castle in the world, Leeds Castle certainly has one of the most spectacular settings, surrounded by water, its stone towers reflected from almost every angle. The first castle was built here in 1089, and Leeds became a favorite royal residence of King Edward I in the late 13th century.
Later, it was the home of Catherine of Aragon, first wife of Henry VIII. It continued as a country house through Jacobean and Georgian eras, finally as the retreat of an Anglo-American heiress and her fashionable friends in the 1920s. You'll see reminders of all these eras and lives in the lavish rooms and in the Gatehouse Museum.
The gardens are known for the yew hedge maze. You can explore Leeds Castle on a private guided tour before the castle is open to the public and have time to stroll in the gardens as part of the Leeds Castle, Cliffs of Dover, and Canterbury Day Trip from London with Guided Cathedral Tour. Traveling from the city on a comfortable coach, you'll have state-of-the-art headphones throughout the tour, so you can easily hear the expert guide's commentary throughout the day.
Location: Maidstone, Kent
Official site: https://www.leeds-castle.com
6. Kew Gardens: Royal Botanic Gardens
Officially called the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew Gardens is situated in southwest London on the south bank of the Thames. The world's most important collection of living plants (more than 50,000), and a library of as many volumes of botanical literature, have earned it a place on the UNESCO World Heritage list. This also makes Kew Gardens the best day trip from London for garden lovers.
An entire pavilion is dedicated to water lilies, and throughout the gardens are a variety of buildings that include a Japanese house, England's smallest royal palace, a thatched cottage, a pagoda, two galleries of botanical art and several conservatories.
The gardens were laid out in 1759 and became government property in 1841. A thatched cottage built for Queen Charlotte between 1754 and 1771 was a long-time favorite of Queen Victoria.
A river cruise down the Thames is a great way to get to this spectacular 300-acre garden with its many musical and cultural events.
Address: Kew, Richmond, Surrey
Official site: http://www.kew.org/
The name of this beautiful city gives a clue to its origins and its most famous site: the remarkable 2,000-year-old Roman Baths built around the city's natural hot springs. But Bath continued to be a spa town long after the Romans left, and became a center for fashionable, wealthy English in the Georgian and Regency periods.
Several Bath tourist attractions recall that era immortalized by Bath's most famous resident, Jane Austen. Recapture her world at the Jane Austen Centre and learn about Regency fashions at the Fashion Museum, located in the stunning and historic Assembly Rooms. Be sure to see the Pulteney Bridge over the River Avon, lined with shops and said to be patterned after the Ponte Vecchio, one of the top attractions in Florence, Italy.
You can visit this UNESCO World Heritage city as part of an 11-hour Stonehenge, Windsor Castle, and Bath from London tour, accompanied by a guide who will explain the history as you explore the famous Roman Baths.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Bath: Best Areas & Hotels
A beautiful medieval city in its own right, Canterbury is best known for the soaring Canterbury Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Home of the Archbishop of Canterbury, this cathedral has been the center of English Christianity since St. Augustine, its first bishop, converted the Anglo Saxons here in 597. The cathedral was the site of the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170, an event memorialized in TS Elliot's Murder in the Cathedral.
Along with strolling the charming streets of medieval houses, step outside the city walls to visit the remains of St. Augustine's Abbey and the graves of St. Augustine and King Ethelbert.
You can tour Canterbury Cathedral with an expert guide on the Leeds Castle, Cliffs of Dover and Canterbury Day Trip from London with Guided Cathedral Tour, a 10-hour excursion from the city by comfortable coach that also includes two more of in southern England's outstanding sights.
- Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Canterbury
With an early morning departure by the fast Eurostar train, you can be across the Channel for a full day's sightseeing in magical Paris. In one day, you can reasonably expect to see several of the top Paris tourist attractions, including the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the magnificent 45-foot-tall stained-glass windows of Ste-Chapelle, and even spend time admiring the highlights of the Louvre or the Impressionist collections at the Musée d'Orsay.
Alternatively, you could spend the day exploring the charming streets and attractions of the Left Bank, browsing in boutiques, pausing in cafes to absorb the Parisian atmosphere, and taking a leisurely cruise on the Seine for views of Paris landmarks.
You can combine several of these without having to find your own way around the city, on a Guided Day Trip to Paris from London Including River Cruise. This hassle-free trip includes train transport; admission to both the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower; and a guided tour of Paris that includes sights like the Champs-Elysees, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Trocadero, before a scenic cruise along the Seine river.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Paris: Best Areas & Hotels
10. Highclere Castle & Downton Abbey Sites
Until the hit British TV series Downton Abbey was filmed here, very few people had heard of the stunning English manor house of Highclere Castle. Now its opulent halls, the Red Stairs, the music room, the sumptuous saloon, and even the bedrooms are a familiar sight to audiences all over the world.
The castle is open to visitors, both for seasonal public viewings and for special tours for smaller groups, themed around food, gardens, or the filming of Downton Abbey. Not far from Highclere are several other locations that fans will recognize as settings, including the Cotswolds village of Bampton, featured as Downton village.
You can tour Highclere Castle with a knowledgeable guide who will fill you in on insider tales from the filming on a Downton Abbey and Highclere Castle Tour from London. After a comfortable coach ride from the city, you'll not only tour the castle and have time to explore its famed gardens, but you'll continue on to visit several other filming locations, including Cogges Manor Farm and the church used as the scene of Lady Mary's wedding.
Address: Highclere Park, Newbury
Official site: https://www.highclerecastle.co.uk
11. Harry Potter Warner Bros Studio
The studio where the Harry Potter films were produced is filled with original sets, costumes, and props used in re-creating the world inhabited by J.K. Rowling's characters. Visitors can step into the Great Hall and Diagon Alley, see the actual Hogwarts Express on Platform 9 ¾, and stand in the Forbidden Forest.
The actual costumes are on display, along with props, including the hundreds of potion jars lining the walls of the classroom, each with its own individually designed labels and spooky contents, from shrunken heads to dried animal bones. Exhibits explain how magical creatures were crafted and brought to life, and how special and visual effects made Harry and other characters fly.
The studios are near Oxford, where many of the scenes were shot. You can experience the studio and visit locations, such as Bodleian Library, Christ Church College, and other university buildings used in the films, on the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London - The Making of Harry Potter and Oxford Day Trip from London.
Address: Studio Tour Drive, Leavesden
12. Brighton Beach & Royal Pavilion
On a hot summer day, when you want to escape the city's soaring temperatures and head for the seaside, Brighton is the place to go. Not only is there a beach and a charmingly retro pier loaded with old-fashioned penny arcades and entertainments, but Brighton has historic attractions and plenty of things to do – like shopping and eating fish and chips from a beachside stand.
The prime tourist attraction is the famous Royal Pavilion, begun by the Prince Regent, who later became George IV. It is pure frothy fantasy, a multi-domed and minareted faux-Indian palace faced in cream-colored tiles and furnished in Chinese wallpapers, silks, bamboo and lacquer furniture, and Oriental-themed art. The chandelier in the banqueting hall is a glittering tower held in place by a dragon.
13. Stratford-upon-Avon and Warwick Castle
The Elizabethan market town of Stratford-upon-Avon is known primarily as the birthplace of William Shakespeare. But even without this famous poet and its importance as a stage and research center for his works, Stratford-upon-Avon is worth visiting for its charming half-timbered homes and the historic Stratford-upon-Avon Canal.
Most tourists come here, however, to follow in the footsteps of Shakespeare, visiting his well-preserved birthplace and several other homes of those associated with him. About a mile from the town center is the lovely thatched cottage of Shakespeare's wife, Anne Hathaway, with its cottage garden.
Close to Stratford-upon-Avon is the medieval Warwick Castle, with its impressive ramparts. You can tour the huge castle complex, from the top of its towers to the dungeons, and watch jousting matches or demonstrations of falconry and other medieval skills. Its theme park atmosphere provides plenty of things to do with children.
The castle and Shakespeare's birthplace are easy to combine with two other highlights of this part of England on the Oxford, Cotswolds, Stratford-upon-Avon, and Warwick Castle Day Trip from London. After traveling from the city by coach, you'll have plenty of time to tour the castle and explore the Shakespeare sights.
14. Hatfield House
This imposing Jacobean manor house is surrounded by beautiful parkland and was designed at the beginning of the 17th century for the Earl of Salisbury (the home remains in the family today). The magnificent interior contains valuable period furniture, paintings and 17th century tapestries in one of the largest and most impressive Jacobean mansions in England.
In addition to the house, the spectacular gardens and park encompass Hatfield Park Farm – complete with animals, a miniature train, play areas, and a restaurant.
Official site: www.hatfield-house.co.uk
15. Chessington World of Adventures Resort
After all that historic sightseeing, Chessington World of Adventures, about 12 miles south of London, is a great place to unwind, particularly for those traveling with kids.
One of Britain's biggest theme parks, Chessington features thrilling roller coasters and rides in its several themed areas, which include the Market Square, Mystic East, Pirates Cove, Transylvania, and Land of the Dragons.
Chessington is also famous for its zoo (it's how the park began in 1931), today split into areas including the Children's Zoo, the Sea Life Centre, and AMAZU Treetop Adventure. The zoo features over 1,000 exotic animals, including tigers, lions, gorillas, monkeys, and penguins.
Location: Leatherhead Road, Chessington, Surrey
Official site: www.chessington.com
16. RHS Garden Wisley
The Royal Horticultural Society's showpiece garden, the 350-acre RHS Garden Wisley, showcases the widest range of gardening styles and techniques in the world. Among its nearly two dozen different gardens are a walled garden, alpine meadow, cottage garden, rose garden, mixed borders, and a Bonsai Walk.
The Glasshouse features plants from tropical, moist temperate, and dry temperate habitats. The woodland garden, Battleston Hill, is its most beautiful in the spring, when its winding paths are bordered in blooming camellias, magnolias, rhododendrons, and azaleas. One of the oldest, constructed between 1910 and 1912, is the naturalistic Rock Garden, showcasing alpine plants with dwarf conifers.
The newest, opened in 2017, is the Exotic Garden, filled with palms, ginger, banana plants, and large vibrant tropical blossoms you might not expect to see flourishing outdoors in northern European latitudes.
Location: Woking, Surrey
Official site: https://www.rhs.org.uk/Gardens/Wisley
17. Syon House and Conservatory
Originally a 15th century monastery, Syon House in Brentford was one of the architectural jewels on the periphery of London - especially from the point of view of its interior, redesigned in the 18th century by architect Robert Adam.
As well as its imposing columns and statues, valuable paintings and fine silken wall coverings, Syon House is noted for its 54-acre park and gardens, which include the magnificent Great Conservatory built in the 1920s.
Two other excellent museums in Brentford are the Kew Bridge Steam Museum with its working steam engines, and the Musical Museum at Kew Bridge with its fine collection of automated musical instruments.
Location: London Rd, Brentford, Middlesex
Official site: www.syonpark.co.uk
18. Claremont Landscape Garden
This lovely 300-year old National Trust property features a serpentine lake, an island with a pavilion, a turf amphitheater, and numerous pleasant viewpoints and vistas. Located within easy reach of London, these grounds are where many of England's best-known gardeners have left their mark, most notably Capability Brown.
Other highlights include a grotto, Camellia Terrace, Belvedere Tower and a café. There's also the Victorian Thatched Cottage, a great place for younger kids to play and dress up in period costumes.
Address: Portsmouth Road, Esher, Surrey
Official site: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/claremont-landscape-garden
19. Brooklands Museum
The Brooklands Museum in Weybridge is one of Surrey's most popular museums and is home to the only Concorde in the southeast with public access. Brooklands opened as a racetrack in 1907 and is now famous as the birthplace of British motorsport and aviation. The museum contains the Malcolm Campbell Workshop, a racing car collection, a Wellington bomber rescued from Loch Ness and an aircraft collection spanning 85 years.
Another excellent display of aircraft can be seen at the De Havilland Aircraft Museum in London Colney, Hertfordshire. The oldest aviation museum in Britain, the museum has three historic Mosquito fighter-bombers as well as a variety of jet fighters.
Location: Brookland Road, Weybridge
Official site: www.brooklandsmuseum.com
20. Osterley Park and House
This National Trust property located near Heathrow Airport is a stunning 18th century Georgian villa set in 140 acres of parkland with an interior designed by Robert Adam. Once the home of Thomas Gresham, founder of the Royal Exchange and described in his time as the "palace of palaces", the house is preserved exactly as it would have looked in the 1780s,
The estate also includes colorful formal gardens, roses and vegetable beds, as well as a lovely summer house with lemon trees and scented shrubs.
Location: Jersey Road, Isleworth, Middlesex
Official site: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/osterley-park-and-house
Frequently Asked Questions
When is the best time to visit?
Southern England's climate is temperate, so extremes of heat and cold are rare. But late March to mid-June, and September to mid-November, are likely to have the least rainfall. If you plant to visit several of the gardens, most are at their height in May and June, but there will be something in bloom and the gardens will be lovely spring through fall. Remember Kew has extensive glasshouses, so there's plenty to see there year-round.
London hotel prices are the cheapest during the off-season: November and January through March. Highest rates are mid-June through August. If you plan day trips to several stately homes, consider December. Even though the weather may be cold, most of them decorate for the holidays, some quite spectacularly.
Which places can I visit with a London transport pass?
A few of the tourist attractions above are accessible on a Visitor Oyster Card, the preferred London transport pass for tourists. You can buy these online or at any Visit Britain shop. Fares are determined by which zones you will be traveling in.
Kew Gardens is in Zone 3 and has its own station, about 500 meters from the garden's Victoria Gate. It is served by the Richmond branch of the District Line.
Oyster cards are accepted on trains to Hampton Court, leaving from London Waterloo station at half-hour intervals. For Syon House and Conservatory, you can take the Piccadilly Line to Boston Manor, then an E8 bus to Brentlea Gate bus stop. Hatfield, unfortunately, is just outside the Oyster Card Zone.
What are the best day trips from London for children?
The two theme parks, Chessington World of Adventures and Harry Potter Warner Bros Studio, are especially appealing to young visitors. But historic sites and even gardens often have features especially designed for children.
Hampton Court Palace has excellent programs and special brochures to engage children, as well as costumed performers who impersonate (often humorously) figures from the palace's history, binging it to life for kids.
Warwick Castle is filled with theme park activities and experiences that include learning sword play and, for older kids, an interactive dungeon tour. The Brooklands Museum will interest auto-crazy teens with its racing cars, and younger kids will like the Hatfield Park Farm animals and miniature train ride.