Looking to get out of the big smoke?
Stunning beaches, historic towns, chalk caves and even the chance to ski are just a short drive or train journey away.
Check out our top 8 list of the best day trips from North and East London.
This flat, compact city has it all – Oxford University and its 38 colleges, Bodleian Library, museums, a castle, brilliant shopping, more than 1,500 listed buildings and a picturesque canal. It’s a firm favourite with filmmakers – check out the Tudor dining hall at Christ Church that inspired Hogwarts Great Hall and the staircase, which featured in the Harry Potter movies.
Christ Church Meadows, just a little out of the centre, is stunning and offers excellent, views of Oxford’s spires, University Parks, the riverbanks and Port Meadow. Oxford was the birthplace of Alice in Wonderland and provided much of the inspiration for the stories – Alice’s Shop (a charming sweet shop selling Alice-inspired items) is worth a trip – It’s like stepping into her Victorian world.
Contact the Oxford Preservation Trust for details of walking tours and events.
Getting there: By train: London Marylebone to Oxford (1 hour). Driving from London = 1.5 hours)
This pretty, quiet seaside town was Charles Dickins’ writing retreat. It sits on the nub of east Kent, known as the Isle of Thane and is characterised by painted beach huts, award-winning sandy beaches, quaint avenues and charming independent shops. Walkers can trek to Ramsgate or Margate along the cliff top. There are lovely local pubs and restaurants. We recommend Wyatt and Jones on the harborside for lunch or dinner. The menu changes every week and the food is always phenomenal. It’s worth booking ahead!
Getting there: 81 minutes from Kings Cross St Pancras on the fast train.
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3. HEMEL HEMPSTEAD SNOW CENTRE
This place is so much fun! Ski, sledge or snowboard on tonnes of real snow. The 160m-long slope is just enough to get the endorphins going and there’s also a training slope for beginners – while it’s essentially a massive warehouse, mountain views are at least painted on the walls! You can hire gloves and warm clothes there. Once you’ve mastered skiing, there’s an alpine-themed restaurant with brilliant views of the slope, from which to enjoy lunch while laughing at everyone falling over.
Getting there: By train from Euston to Hemel Hempstead or about an hour by car (St Albans Hill, HP3 9NH).
Accessing Brighton from North London just got a whole lot easier.
In March this year the tunnels under Kings Cross were opened up, allowing trains from Cambridge to travel straight through to Brighton. It means you can travel direct from Finsbury Park.
This is one of the UK’s most vibrant seaside towns – for shopping head to the Laines for independent boutiques, antiques and record stores, enjoy rides and entertainment on the Palace Pier or chill out on the pebbly beach.
For a delicious daytime meal we highly recommend Jack & Linda Mills Traditional Fish Smokers (on the waterfront next to the fishing museum). Their smoked fish sandwiches alone are worth the trip.
Getting there: By train from Blackfriars or London Bridge (54 minutes if you catch a fast one) or from Finsbury Park (1 hr 20).
Take a punt on Cambridge – few places feel as quintessentially English or as grand. Potter about on the waters of the Cam (take a guide or hire a boat and do it yourself!), check out the University’s Botanic Garden or visit some of the area’s best museums. Fitzwilliam Museum is a magnificent neo-classical building, home to Egyptian relics, manuscripts, weaponry and paintings but we really love the Polar Museum, which offers a taste of Scott Shackleton’s icy adventure.
Getting there: Train from Finsbury Park (57 minutes) or from King’s Cross (46 minutes).
6. CHISLEHURST CAVES, Kent
This place is incredible: 22 miles of manmade tunnels, 30 metres below the Kent woodlands. They were created to mine chalk for the production of bricks for London in the 19th Century but it’s thought chalk has been mined in this area since around 1250.
If caves could talk these would have some stories to tell! In World War Two these caves were used as an air raid shelter, housing up to 15,000 people. By the time of the Blitz the caves had electric lights, running water and an air ventilation system, people cooked on portable stoves, slept on mattresses and a ‘sanitation squad’ was paid to empty the latrines. The caves had become a temporary subterranean city. Among the musicians to have performed in this quirky venue are Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie and Led Zeppein. Take a 45-minute torch-lit tour and learn all about the caves’ fascinating history.
Get there: By car in about 1hr 10 minutes from central London (Caveside Close, BR7 5NL), or by train from London Bridge to Chislehurst (25 minutes).
Rent a bike and pedal along the 6.7 mile seafront Oyster Bay Trail, take a walk by the harbour and shop for quirky gifts or kick off your shoes, feel the sand between your toes and take a dip in the sea! This is a truly charming seaside town.
If you time it right you can take a walk on ‘The Street’ – a naturally formed spit of land that extends into the sea and can be walked at low tide or head or head to the clifftop lawns of Tankerton Slopes, which provide amazing views of Southend on the opposite side of the Estuary.
Foodies should head to Blueprint Coffee and Books – their cakes are wonderful! Or head to The Forge for the freshest oysters! The Old Neptune Pub is right on the shingle and gets rave reviews.
Get there: By train – 1 hour and 16 minutes on the high-speed Javelin from St Pancras.
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Our little boy thinks this place is called “Down ta Margate!.” We love it here – remnants of the neglected seaside town vibe remain but the area is experiencing a huge resurgence. It fizzes with artistic energy. The opening of the Turner Contemporary (one of the UK’s leading art galleries) in 2011 was a landmark moment. It’s right on the seafront and admission is free.
Head to the bohemian and beautiful Old Town, where historic cobbled streets are home to fabulous shops and restaurants. And, if sitting on the sandy beach and watching the world go by seems too sedate, the retro theme park and roller disco Dreamland offers dizzy-making fun. We recommend Roost for a simple seafood lunch with stunning sea views – and if you’re taking the kids they’ll love the basement with its ping-pong and pool tables and board games.
Get there Catch the fast train from St Pancras (1 hour 36 minutes).
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