Easy excursions for a London-based holiday to explore beyond the city and see some of the southern English countryside.
If you have decided to base a stay in London for several days or a week or more, you might still like to get beyond the city into the southern English countryside on a day excursion or two. Here are 10 great day destinations by train, with journeys of no more than an hour or so from London. Rail stations are centrally located in each case and a historic provincial destination easily accessible on foot.
To Brighton station, from Victoria
It’s the classic English kiss-me-quick holiday, the seaside escape for generations of Londoners. You may not want to lie on the shingle beach, but play on the pier, stroll the amusements of the waterfront, people-watch, eat fish & chips, and do visit the Royal Pavilion and the Lanes.
To Bath station, from Paddington
It’s a lovely ride through the Thames Valley to Bath Spa Station. Visit the Roman Baths, Bath Abbey, the Assembly Rooms, Jane Austen’s haunts, and the city’s glorious Georgian architecture—all within easy walking distance of the station. A renowned profusion of pubs and classic tea rooms, too.
To Cambridge station, from King's Cross
It’s the ultimate English university town. Do visit justly renowned King’s College Chapel, explore a college quad or two and stroll along the Backs by the River Cam (take a punt in season). There’s oodles of charm in the shops, architecture, museums, pubs and public spaces that have known so many historic figures.
To Canterbury Station, from Victoria
Allusions to Charles Dickens and Geoffrey Chaucer abound in the small city’s attractions and shops. The ancient town’s crowning glory, though, is majestic Canterbury Cathedral, mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Visit Westgate Tower and its small museum for the best views and pictures of the cathedral and the city.
To Norwich station, from Liverpool Street
Take a ride across the East Anglian countryside to medieval Norwich, Norfolk’s county town, and cathedral city. Visit cobbled Tombland, medieval Elm Hill, England’s largest open-air market, and only Mustard Museum. Don’t miss the 13th-century Norwich Cathedral and the pretty riverfront at the back of the close.
To Oxford station, from Paddington
England’s oldest university dominates the center of a modern city. From the station, head for Carfax Tower, visit Christ Church College and Cathedral and stop in the TIC on The Broad for local maps and bumph on museums and colleges. Don’t miss Oxford’s Covered Market or a pint in one of the historic pubs.
To Winchester station, from Waterloo
Begin with Winchester Cathedral, with the longest medieval nave in Europe. Duck in the TIC at the Guildhall and stroll up the cobbled, pedestrian the High Street to the Great Hall of Winchester Castle. Then, down to the River Itchen, perhaps, and a visit to the old city mill and the ruins of Wolvesey Castle.
To Peterborough station, from King's Cross
One of the “New Towns” that grew rapidly in the decades after World War II, Peterborough’s historic center is largely unchanged. Just make for beautiful (and much underrated) Peterborough Cathedral. The old pedestrian area is a delight to explore, crowned by Queensgate, rated among one of Europe’s finest shopping centers.
To Portsmouth Station, from Waterloo
Home of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth is the destination for maritime interest. Portsmouth’s historic dockyard includes Nelson’s Victory (now under refurbishment), HMS Warrior, Henry VIII’s flagship Mary Rose and the Royal Navy Museum. Then, head for the Spinnaker Tower for amazing views of The Solent.
To Salisbury station, from Waterloo
Stroll from the station toward Salisbury Cathedral. It will be hard to miss, with the largest close and tallest cathedral spire in Britain at 404 feet. Poke around the museums in the close, or walk the river path through the water meadows. There’s great shopping and much to explore in the compact 13th-century city.
For more information visit www.nationalrail.co.uk.
* Originally published in British Heritage Travel's print magazine in July 2013.