Rye, East Sussex
With its winding cobbled lanes and history-steeped buildings, the hilltop town of Rye makes for a relaxing day trip packed with postcard-ready charm. Located two miles from the sea, it’s full of smuggler’s secrets, with streets flanked by medieval inns and antique shops. Drink in the beauty of Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, before exploring the golden dunes of Camber Sands, and walking the sweeping shingle expanse of Winchelsea Beach. A mosey along picturesque Mermaid Street will take you passed half-timbered houses draped with greenery, and don’t miss the redbrick Lamb House – once owned by writer Henry James. Build up strength for an afternoon of shopping for second-hand books and unusual gifts, with lunch at Webbe’s at the Fish Café, the best place for a slap-up seafood lunch in a casual setting.
Getting there: Rye is just over an hour by train from London’s St Pancras International, or a two-hour drive by car.
New Forest, Hampshire
Leafy glades and rugged heathland make the New Forest a firm favourite for tranquil walks or energising days spent horse riding or bike riding. Once a royal hunting ground for William the Conqueror, it’s now one of the UK’s biggest and best-loved national parks, and remains home to a fascinating array of wildlife. Spot wild deer beneath the mighty oaks, grazing cattle, ponies – and, if you’re lucky, a woodpecker. Visitors are spoilt for choice with a variety of walking routes in and around the park, so whether you want to forage for mushrooms or delve into the site’s rich history, you’re covered. Stop for a heart-warming lunch or dinner at Brockenhurst’s The Pig, a homely delight with its walled kitchen garden and greenhouse restaurant serving quality seasonal ingredients. Alternatively, book your spot at The Elderflower in nearby Lymington, located on cobbled Quay Street and serving divine British dishes with a soupçon of French influence.
Getting there: The New Forest can be reached by train from London Waterloo in just 90 minutes. By car, allow for an hour and 40 minutes.
From the moment you pull into this historical city, its rows of yellow stone houses and vibrant cultural scene will have you hooked. Visit in the summer to enjoy panoramic views from the Bath skyline walk, or explore the city’s craft-laden Christmas markets in winter. A trip wouldn’t be complete without a tour of the imposing Roman baths, but advance booking is necessary. Elsewhere, Bath is dotted with iconic architectural landmarks like the Royal Crescent, with its sweep of Georgian terraced houses, and Bath Abbey, the history of which dates back to Anglo-Saxon times. Hole up in historic pub The Raven for an afternoon drink, but leave room for one of Sally Lunn’s buns, a time-honoured snack served from the oldest house in Bath, built in 1482. After exploring the quaint shops on Pulteney Bridge, round off the day with a flavourful dinner at independent, modern European restaurant The Circus.
Getting there: The average train journey time between London Paddington and Bath Spa is an hour and 30 minutes. By car, the journey is around two hours, 30 minutes.
If blustery beach days fuelled by ice cream are your thing, choose Whitstable for a touch of the quintessential British seaside.. This south-east town is popular in summer but underrated in the colder months, when it’s the ideal location for a brisk coastal walk under a low winter sun. Faded red, white and blue beach huts look out on the water, while hungry visitors queue to sample local oysters at the ever-popular Wheelers Oyster Bar. Expansive pebbled beaches are separated by large wooden breaks, which children love to clamber over. Walk around Whitstable Harbour with its colourful bobbing boats and delve into local history at the Whitstable Museum & Gallery. Ideal for a family day out, but equally good for a romantic trip for two (punctuated by share-size portions of hot, vinegary chips) Whitstable marries unique character with old world charm.
Getting there: The average journey time between London and Whitstable is an hour and 58 minutes. Trains depart from London St Pancras or London Victoria. By car, the journey is around one hour, 25 minutes.
Christened ‘Shoreditch-on-Sea’ thanks to its London spill-over, Margate offers a blend of traditional seaside hallmarks and an upbeat, cultural vibe. The sandy beach and its surroundings offer everything you could want from a family day out on the prom, from the arcades to the candy floss stalls, to the vintage funfair rides at Dreamland. Visiting as a couple? Trawl the vintage shops for second-hand gems before getting your culture fix at the Turner Contemporary Gallery, whose white, angular roof cuts a striking figure against the vast sky. Enjoy fresh fish – including divine sushi boxes – veggie dishes and local cheeses at Hantverk & Found and stick around to catch one of Margate’s spectacular sunsets.
Getting there: Depending on the departure station, the train from London to Margate takes between 90 minutes to two hours. Trains depart from London St Pancras or London Victoria. By car, the journey is around an hour and 30 minutes.
Eastbourne, East Sussex
Swap bustling Brighton for a trip to East Sussex’s Eastbourne, which offers quieter days spent on beaches framed by dramatic white cliffs. Eat fish and chips on the pier or pack a picnic and head to Falling Sands Beach, where chalk grassland descends to golden sands and children can scramble among the rock pools, with Eastbourne’s iconic lighthouse in the distance. If time allows, hike along the gently rolling coastline to Beachy Head and on to the breath-taking Seven Sisters Cliffs, a great route for dog walkers that should take a little over two hours to complete. Independent coffee roasters Nelson Coffee serve hot drinks and light bites, making it the ideal place for a pitstop.
Getting there: Rye is an hour and 24 minutes by train from London Victoria station. By car, the journey is a little over two hours.
With its picture-perfect white cliffs, mile-long Leas promenade (great for an Insta snap) and array of inviting galleries, its unsurprising that Folkestone is home to a rising arts scene. Blow the cobwebs away with a morning walk along the seafront to Lower Leas Coastal Park (families: don’t miss the adventure playground) before browsing works by local and international artists in the afternoon. While Folkestone lacks the immediate aesthetic charm of some of its seaside neighbours, it wows in other ways. The area is home to the largest urban outdoor collection of contemporary art in the UK – including Cornelia Parker’s mermaid sculpture, poised high on the rock above Sunny Sands – which form a treasure hunt for children and adults alike. Shop for trinkets, vinyl and vintage textiles in the ‘Creative Quarter’, and head to Folkestone Harbour for a seafood lunch. For history buffs, the Battle of Britain Memorial – a monument to aircrew who flew in the Battle of Britain – is not to be missed.
Getting there: Trains to Folkestone take between 55 minutes and an hour and 32 minutes, departing from London Bridge and London St Pancras. By car, the journey is approx. an hour and 46 minutes.
Synonymous with its historic university and leisurely afternoons spent punting on the river, Cambridge makes for an atmospheric day trip. If you’ve not been before, start with the big hitters, including a tour of the university buildings with their beautiful interiors, courts and landscaped grounds. Next, take a river trip on one of the city’s punts, which will take you through hundreds of years of architectural splendour as you wind through ornate stone bridges and weeping willows. The Fitzwilliam Museum on Trumpington Street, housing art and antiquities of the University of Cambridge, is a must-see, as is a tour of the famous King’s College. Shop for second-hand books at the city’s great independent book shops, such as G. David Bookseller, established in 1896. Enjoy an upscale lunch or dinner at the Cambridge University Arms Hotel, ideally located for a pitstop, or choose Cotto for fine dining with flair.
Getting there: Trains to Cambridge take between 50 minutes and an hour and 30 minutes, departing from London King’s Cross and London Liverpool Street. By car the journey is approx. an hour and 30 minutes.
Community spirit spills over in Gloucestershire’s Stroud, with its farmer’s market on weekends and mix of contemporary arts festivals and events. This historic market town is encircled by five picturesque valleys – The Frome (known as Golden Valley), Nailsworth, Painswick, Slad and Toadsmoor Valleys – giving beautiful walks in every direction. Caution: prepare to tone those legs, as the area is seriously hilly. Sample locally sourced wholefoods at Woodruffs, ‘Britain’s first totally organic café’, and pick up a holiday read at the independent Stroud Bookshop. Stroud’s old centre is lined with cute cottages, townhouses and terraces, while the wider area is excellent for spectacular historic houses like Berkeley Castle, Blenheim Palace and Sudeley Castle.
Getting there: Trains to Stroud take an hour and 28 minutes, departing from London Paddington. By car the route is slightly longer at two hours, 30 minutes.
Make like an Arthurian knight and journey to the historic Cathedral city of Winchester, site of the Round Table and Great Hall, famed for their place in the time-honoured legend. Here you can amble along the beautiful waterside trails of the River Itchen and visit the imposing gothic cathedral, with a history dating back to AD 642. Along with all the Anglo-Saxon heritage on offer, there are literary delights on offer from Jane Austen’s house, where the author spent the last eight years of her life from 1809 until 1817. Grab a pint from cosy pub The Wykeham Arms, or choose the Michelin starred The Black Rat restaurant for upscale dining.
Getting there: Train routes to Winchester take between an hour and 5 minutes, and an hour and 20 minutes, departing from London Waterloo and London Paddington.
Get your fill of all things Shakespeare at his birthplace, the old medieval market town of Stratford-on-Avon. If you’ve not been before, a free walking tour is the best way to get your bearings. Visit the timber-framed house where the Great Bard was born and spent his childhood, and don’t miss the Royal Shakespeare Company, situated on the waterside, alongside the River Avon. Take a walk through the grounds of the National Trust’s Charlecote Park, a grand 16th-century country house surrounded by its own deer park. For traditional pub food that celebrates seasonal produce, the family run Old Thatch Tavern is oldest pub in the town and dates back to 1470. Or, if the weather’s good, pack a picnic and walk out of the town along the river, where you’ll find plenty of leafy spots.
Getting there: The fastest train route to Stratford-on-Avon is two hours, 4 minutes from London Marylebone. The drive to Stratford-on-Avon can take as little as an hour, 45 minutes or as long as three hours, depending on what time you leave the city and your route. The fastest, most direct way is via the M40.
Despite its accessibility from the capital, Dungeness – a headland on the sparsely populated wetland of Romney Marsh – doesn’t often appeal thanks to its remote, wild character. Ideal for beach trips or days spent exploring, the landscape is actually one of the most striking in Britain, a vast expanse of shingle dotted with grasses, hardy shrubs, and battered fishing boats. Looming above the pebbles is the Old Lighthouse, a historic Grade II-listed building painted a distinctive black to avoid it being confused with its replacement. Enjoy lunch at local eatery and fishmongers the Dungeness Snack Shack, where picnic benches spill out over the pebbles. Walk off the chips at Dungeness National Nature Reserve, and visit the photogenic St Thomas à Becket Church in Fairfield, which dates back to the 12th century and stands alone surrounded by watercourses, sheep and wetland.
Getting there: Dungeness is around two hours from London by car. There are a variety of train routes departing London St Pancras, but to get there in two hours, travel to Rye or Ashford and get a taxi the rest of the way.