For three-quarters of tourists visiting the UK, their experience of life in Britain starts and ends in London. They go to Buckingham Palace, watch the changing of the guard, go for a spin on the London Eye and then they leave.
While London offers a plethora of wonderful sights that mustn’t be missed, Britain is so much more than it’s capital. Sure, you get world-famous landmarks and a constant electrifying buzz of activity that you’d expect from any global city, but that doesn’t necessarily reflect what Britain is all about.
If you’re after a taste of authentic British life with an added splash of quaint Englishness, it’s closer to London than you think.
In this post, we’ve gathered together five suggestions for excellent day trips from London that’ll allow you to find out for yourself how different London is from the rest of the country.
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Our Recommended Day Trips from London
Our list of great day trips from London begins with a firm favourite among both international and domestic tourists.
Cambridge is a perennial tourist favourite and for good reason. The historic city centre provides stacks of fabulous things to see and places to visit. With direct train services from capital, it’s easy to see why Cambridge is such a popular day trip from London.
The main draw
Visitors come to Cambridge to soak in the historic architecture, most of which is owned by the University of Cambridge. King’s College Chapel and it’s elaborate fan-vault ceiling is one of the main highlights, along with St. John’s, Queens and Trinity Colleges. One of the wonderful things about Cambridge is that despite its popularity, it’s really easy to get away from the crowds in the centre by exploring the plentiful green spaces. See the city from a completely different angle via a relaxing punt along the River Cam, a quintessential Cambridge experience.
The Cambridge University Botanic Garden is well worth a visit at any time of year. Its grounds offer plenty of themed displays and the greenhouses are home to a wide variety of flora and fauna that prefers warmer climes. The nearby Lammas Land is a popular green space where locals relax and play and where cattle can be seen grazing.
How to get to Cambridge from London
Cambridge railway station is very well connected to stations all over the South East, East Anglia and the Midlands. Thameslink and Great Northern services run from St Pancras International and Kings Cross (head to Kings Cross first to view departures from both stations), while Greater Anglia services run from Liverpool Street station.
Get your tickets: Buy your train tickets to Cambridge on Trainline*.
Hitchin attracts many tourists from London, but most skip the town centre in favour of the nearby lavender fields. Little do they know the quaint, cobbled cuteness that they’re missing out on.
The main draw
Hitchin Lavender is unquestionably the main reason for visiting Hitchin. At the height of the flowering season, the 8 hectares of vivid, purple lavender are a stunning sight. As well as walking through the rows and taking hundreds of photos, visitors can cut and keep as much lavender as their bags will carry. A disused barn serves as the on-site cafe, providing drinks and excellent lunches.
The historic town centre boasts pretty cobbled streets lined with a mixture of buildings from the Tudor and Georgian periods, housing more than the town’s fair share of independent cafes, restaurants and shops. A visit to the town centre perfectly complements a visit to the lavender fields.
How to Get to Hitchin from London
Hitchin is easily accessible from London by Thameslink and Great Northern train services from both St Pancras International and Kings Cross. We recommend heading to Kings Cross station first as the departure boards display services from both stations.
Get your tickets: Buy your train tickets to Hitchin on Trainline*.
3. St Albans
Out of all of the towns on this list, St Albans is the closest to London and therefore one of the easiest day trips from London. Despite its proximity and it’s rich history, St Albans doesn’t attract too many tourists (certainly not as many as Cambridge), so it’s a good place to visit if you’re interested in seeing an authentic slice of British life without the crowds.
The main draw
St Albans main draw in undoubtedly St Albans Cathedral. Dominating the city’s skyline, the cathedral is a wonderful mixture of architectural styles from many periods of history. Free guided tours occur every day and are a brilliant way of learning all about the cathedral’s history since its inception in 1077.
Considering it was built between 1403 and 1412, the Clock Tower looks in remarkably good condition. Scaling the tower costs just £1 and is well worth the effort for its splendid views over the city and beyond to the surrounding countryside. The roman ruins in the expansive Verulamium Park are also well worth seeing.
How to Get to St Albans from London
Frequent Thameslink services can be caught from platform B at St Pancras International, making it one of the easiest day trips from London. Some trains terminate at St Albans, but these tend to be slow urban stoppers. Most services to Bedford have a first or second call at St Albans and are normally the quickest route.
Get your tickets: Buy your train tickets to St Albans on Trainline*.
Bedford doesn’t make it on to many lists. Locals would say there’s good reason behind that. Bedfordians are highly adept at talking down their own town. I know, because I was one of them. It took me until I moved out of the town for me to appreciate that Bedford deserves to be on our list of day trips from London.
The main draw
The jewel in Bedford’s crown is its riverside area, running along an avenue called The Embankment. Spacious greens, tree-lined paths, well-tended flower beds and decorative bridges spanning the River Great Ouse all combine to create a lovely, relaxing parkland area. The Longholme cafe, situated in between the river and the embankment, not only serves hot drinks and cakes, but also hires out bikes and boats.
The Panacea Museum tells the amazing and peculiar story of the Panacea Society, a religious community formed in the early twentieth century that created its own Garden of Eden in the centre of Bedford. Weird and fascinating!
How to Get to Bedford from London
Bedford is easily reachable by train from St Pancras International. Fast trains, operated by East Midlands Trains, run from platforms 1-4. Semi-fast and slow services, operated by Thameslink, run frequently from platform B.
Get your tickets: Buy your train tickets to Bedford on Trainline*.
Find more things to see and do in Bedford in our Local’s Guide.
5. Letchworth Garden City
Little heard of Letchworth Garden City is delightful. As the world’s first garden city, you’d expect it to be on tourist radars. As it is, this beautiful, leafy town enjoys a tranquil and local feel. The town is small, so we recommend combining a visit to Letchworth with a visit to Cambridge further up the line, or to Hitchin, which is just 4 minutes away to the south.
The main draw
The town itself is the main draw in Letchworth. The street layout and architecture, particularly in the centre of town, were meticulously designed according to a scrutinised ideology. The ideas behind Letchworth inspired urban design all over the world, so it’s really interesting to see where it all started. Letchworth even pioneered the roundabout, it being home to the UK’s first.
There aren’t many independent cinemas left in the UK, but Letchworth is holding out with a particularly gorgeous example. Drenched in art deco detail inside and out, The Broadway also hosts theatre and music performances.
How to get to Letchworth Garden City from London
Letchworth is served by frequent Thameslink and Great Northern services from St Pancras International and Kings Cross stations. The departure boards at Kings Cross station displays services from both stations, so we recommend heading there first.
Get your tickets: Buy your train tickets to Letchworth on Trainline*.
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Do you have any more suggestions for day trips from London? We’d love to hear them. Drop us a comment into the box below.