There’s much more to the UK than London. From historic palaces and ancient university cities to the rolling countryside beyond, there is an immense choice of day trips available to those staying in the capital. Here is a selection of destinations within an hour’s travel from London:
You’ve seen Buckingham Palace, but have you visited Windsor Castle, another of the Queen’s official residences? With its immediately recognizable ‘Round Tower’, the building is both the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world. The Queen spends most of her private weekends here, and stays for longer periods at certain times of year. You too can visit the castle, with adult tickets costing £18.50. Highlights include the famous ‘Changing of the Guard’ and the State Apartments, which house paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens and Canaletto. Other attractions in and around Windsor include Eton College, one of the most famous and exclusive schools in the world, the Legoland Windsor theme park and Ascot Racecourse.
BY TRAIN: Windsor & Eton Central (around 30 minutes via Slough from London Paddington) or Windsor & Eton Riverside (around 55 minutes direct from London Waterloo)
Another royal palace is located at Hampton Court, on the River Thames to the south-west of the capital. With a history spanning all the way back to 1494, Hampton Court Palace has been associated with monarchs such as Henry VIII, Queen Mary I and James I. Though it has not been inhabited by the British royal family since the 18th century, there is plenty to do and see at the palace. Highlights include the medieval ‘Great Hall’, King Henry VIII’s Tudor Kitchens, and the world-famous maze. Adult tickets cost £18.50, or £17.05 if booked in advance online.
BY TRAIN: Hampton Court station (38 minutes from London Waterloo)
The ancient University of Cambridge has a history going back more than 800 years – and is one of the many highlights of this attractive city. The university’s many historic buildings – including King’s College Chapel and The Wren Library at Trinity College – are among the must-see attractions of Cambridge, which is accessible in less than an hour by train from central London. Other attractions include a chauffeured ‘punt’ tour – in a flat-bottomed boat manually propelled by a long pole – along the River Cam.
BY TRAIN: Cambridge (45 minutes+ from London Kings Cross; slower trains from London Liverpool Street)
An even older university is located at Oxford, which has been a centre of learning since 1096, predating Cambridge. Almost 10 million tourists flock to Oxford each year, making it the sixth most visited city in the UK. Known romantically as the ‘City of Dreaming Spires’, Oxford is a big draw for architecture lovers, notably the intricate buildings of Christ Church College and other university properties. The city’s buildings survived World War II because, it has been claimed, Hitler admired the architecture and avoided bombing Oxford, which he wanted to use as a capital city should Germany win the war.
BY TRAIN: Oxford (around 1 hour from London Paddington)
The stunning Canterbury Cathedral, the oldest in England, dominates the skyline of this historic city. With a history going back to 597, the cathedral – along with St Augustine’s Abbey and St Martin’s Church – is designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Admission to the cathedral costs £10.50 per adult. Other attractions of the city include guided walks and boat trips along the River Stour. The nearby seaside towns of Herne Bay and Whitstable are also worth a visit if staying in the area for longer than a day.
BY TRAIN: Canterbury West (56 minutes direct from London St Pancras) or Canterbury East (1 hour 34 minutes direct from London Victoria)
Known by some as ‘London-by-the-sea’, Brighton is known as a place where residents of the capital come to escape the city. Vibrant, colourful and fun, the seaside city is known for its nightlife and party atmosphere. It also boasts some stunning heritage such as the ornate Royal Pavilion, a former royal residence used as a seaside retreat for George, Prince of Wales (later the Prince Regent) in the nineteenth century. The beach at Brighton is pebbled, rather than sand – but is nonetheless packed during the summer months.
BY TRAIN: Brighton (1 hour from London Victoria or London Bridge)