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Ideas & Inspiration Fabulous and easy day trips from London by train
Fabulous and easy day trips from London by train

Fabulous and easy day trips from London by train

How to follow in SMTJ's footsteps and head off to a multitude of wonderful locations, all of which are a simple rail journey away from the UK capital.

| 26 days ago
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London is inevitably the focal point of Britain's railway network and thanks to it's role as business-centric commuter hub, the overwhelming majority of those routes from the capital have comparatively frequent trains.
Some of those railways just happen to pass through beautiful and historic locations hence the likes of Cambridge, Canterbury, Oxford and Salisbury being popular day trip destinations.
London is also located comparatively close to the coast, hence the eternal popularity of Brighton, but dozens of other seaside towns are within two hours by train.

Though this guide focuses on some less obvious locations in which to happily spend a few hours, that also happen to have convenient railway stations with fairly frequent trains,
For those reasons they are some of ShowMeTheJourney's favourite places to head to, when feeling the need to escape the capital's hustle and bustle.

And for all the suggested journeys except those to Liverpool and York, you can use Network Railcards to save money on the train tickets, even if you will be only visiting London on holiday.

The idea to also expand this guide over time, because with literally 100s of day trips from London by train options to choose from there are always yet more places to be explored; next up on the list are trips to The Amberley Museum, a return to The Cotswolds and a trip to Flatford Mill.

As always all images were captured by ShowMeThejourney on our travels.

Broadstairs:

You can be on this beautiful beach within two hours of leaving London You can be on this beautiful beach within two hours of leaving London

A casual glance at a map of the UK will show you that London is near the coast, so there are dozens of coastal towns and villages, which have easy access by train from the capital.
Of those on the Kent coast Deal, with its lovely old town area, was nearly our top-pick for a day on or by a beach, and charming Whitstable is always a delight, but Broadstairs ticks all the boxes.

Young and old will delight in its picturesque sandy bays, which look exactly as one would hope a seaside town to be, enclosed by their charming buildings beloved by Charles Dickens.
There’s numerous opportunities to partake in seaside cuisine from locally caught seabass to donuts; ShowMeTheJourney is particularly fond of the retro atmosphere of Morelli’s Gelato.

Broadstairs station is an easy 10 – 15 min walk to the seafront; though steps lead down to the sandy beach; and what can be the icing on the cake is that it’s reached by taking a hi-speed train from St Pancras, the fast trains via Ashford are hourly and the journey takes only 1hr 20mins.

Alternative slower direct trains also leave hourly from Victoria station, so if you will heading off from the western side of central London they can be a quicker end-to-end option.

Whether you set off from St Pancras or Victoria you'll save by booking Advance tickets, so it's best to either book at least a couple of weeks ahead to get the cheapest prices; or if you want to wait check the weather, you'll still save by booking a couple of days before heading off.
The train operating company Southeastern also offers a Kids For A Quid deal, which is great value for money when adults are travelling with those aged 5-15; because that age group typically has to pay 50% of the adult ticket rate.

Didcot Railway Centre

A must do day out from London for steam railway fans A must do day out from London for steam railway fans

How easy these places are to reach by train is a key criteria for the selection of these days out from London ideas and as can be seen, there also often happens to be a railway element to the locations, so the Didcot Railway Centre had to be included.
It used to function as the steam engine shed for the station at Didcot, now named Didcot Parkway, which has three or four trains per hour from Paddington station, the fastest of which complete the journey in just 40 minutes.

So for steam railway fans who want the opportunity to get close to the magnificent engines, it has the fastest access by train from central London.
Though if the words Great Western Railway and its ‘Kings’, ‘Castles’ and ‘Halls’ don’t fire up your imagination, then this probably isn’t the place for you, as the only reason for going here is to wander around the old railway yard.
But for others this soot covered piece of ground will be heaven on earth!
Steam train fans will love a day out to Didcot Railway centre

Though if you will be travelling with those with a limited interest in railway nostalgia, Didcot can also be easily combined with Oxford, as it's only 20 mins on by train.

On the day you want to head to Didcot (and/or Oxford) you can simply book tickets at the station, this isn't a route on which you can save by booking ahead online.

Eastbourne and the Seven Sisters

Easy access to this stunning walk by train + bus Easy access to this stunning walk by train + bus

Eastbourne is to the east of Brighton along the Sussex Coast and also has frequent direct trains from Victoria railway station in central London; trains operated by Southern Railway depart every 30 - 60mins and the journey to Eastbourne station takes 1hr 25mins.

For those who want a day on the beach, the seafront at Eastbourne has easier access from the trains compared to Brighton, the pier in Eastbourne is a 10-15 min flat walk from the station.

Though for many the primary reason for heading to Eastbourne for the day is the easy access into the stunning South Downs National Park.

Bus routes/lines 12A and 12X, the 'Coaster' bus services depart daily at least hourly from a stop in Cornfield Road which is a five minute walk from the railway station.
Twenty minutes after departing Eastbourne they arrive at the Seven Sisters Visitor Centre.

The Seven Sisters are a series of white cliffs, of the same type which are at Dover; and a stunning walking route across them, leads back to Eastbourne.
Waking along the Seven Sisters
As can be seen in this charming image of a friend of SMTJ and his dog, the walk doesn't require any special equipment, but the slopes up and down the clifftops are fairly steep.
At a leisurely pace it will take around two to three hours to reach Eastbourne; and there is an opportunity to take a refreshment break half way at Birling Gap; where steps also lead down to a beach.
To Birling Gap from Eastbourne

For those who won't want to hike across the cliffs, on Sundays and national holidays, there is an hourly open topped bus service provided by route/line 13X.
It departs from a stop by Eastbourne Pier and calls at Birling Gap, and the buses heading pack to Eastbourne stop right by the railway station.
The route 13X also stops by the stunning Beachy Head clifftop, which the walking route to Eastbourne also passes by.
To Beachy Head on a a day trip by train from London

Ely

It was this view of Ely from a train which inspired a visit It was this view of Ely from a train which inspired a visit

This cathedral city is a favourite day trip destination for ShowMeTheJourney, partially because the terrace of The Cutter Inn with its views of the river boats and passing trains, is such a beguiling location for a weekend lunch
We always end up there after a few hours of wandering.

The other reasons why we choose it over Cambridge and opt to remain, for an additional 10 minutes, on one of the frequent trains which depart twice per hour from Kings Cross, are:

  • Ely is a less crowded location;
  • it’s railway station is closer to the town centre;
  • the cathedral is at least the equal of any of the most beautiful buildings in Cambridge; and you don't have to clamber into a punt to see the best of Ely.

On arrival at Ely leave the station and turn right when you reach the main road and use the level crossing (the road traffic goes under the railway).
On the left, you’ll soon see some steps which lead down to the river then walk along the towpath until you have passed The Cutter Inn pub.
On the left you’ll see a winding footpath through some gardens, which will take you into the city centre and the cathedral.
Ely's stunning cathedral is an easy day trip from London

Advance tickets aren't available on the Great Northern trains which will take you from London to Ely in 1hr 15mins, so Day return tickets at the Super Off-Peak rate are the cheapest way to go and they can be easier to find at weekends.
Though because you won't save by booking ahead online, you can be spontaneous and book last minute at the station.

Folkestone

Who needs trains when you can have a path to bars and cafes instead Who needs trains when you can have a path to bars and cafes instead

Prior to the launch of Eurostar services through The Channel Tunnel, the station at Folkestone Harbour was where travellers could transfer between boat trains and ferries over to France.
The fact that The Golden Arrow used to come this way is sufficient to fire up my imagination, but for those with zero interest in railways, the harbour station and its pier have been beautifully restored; and re-imagined as a gateway and home to numerous venues which serve food and drink by the sea.

Eating, drinking and railway history ticks pretty much ticks off all of my days out wish-list, but Folkestone has more to offer than its echoes of railwayana.
Its old town has also been revived as a charming shopping destination packed with independent retailers and yet more places to eat.
Though something to be aware of is that the main street in the old town, which leads down to the harbour area, is steep.
The route down to Folkestone harbour through its old town

Also don’t be put off by the area by the station being devoid of seaside charm, the old town is within a 10-15 min walk.

Folkestone can be reached in under an hour by taking a hi-speed train from St Pancras.
Alternative slower direct trains also leave hourly from Charing Cross; Waterloo (East) and London Bridge.

Whether you set off from St Pancras or the other stations you'll save by booking Advance tickets, so it's best to either book at least a couple of weeks ahead to get the cheapest prices; or if you want to wait check the weather, you'll still save by booking a couple of days before heading off.
The train operating company Southeastern also offers a Kids For A Quid deal, which is great value for money when adults are travelling with those aged 5-15, as that age group typically has to pay 50% of the adult ticket rate.

Liverpool

James Street station is a two minute walk from the Liverpool Waterfront James Street station is a two minute walk from the Liverpool Waterfront

With hourly trains from Euston station which complete the journey in around 2hr 15mins, visiting Liverpool is easily done on a day trip from London by train.
Magnificent Lime Street station has a fabulous location in the heart of the city and the final train of the day back to the capital usually departs Liverpool after 8:30pm.

ShowMeTheJourney’s itinerary on our visit was to first walk from Lime Street station to the stunning Anglican cathedral and from there we headed to the waterfront along Duke Street where The Brunch Club lived up to its name.

Following a visit to The Albert Dock and The Museum Of Liverpool we took the iconic ferry across the Mersey and then had a spontaneous trip to the Wirral Transport Museum, having spotted an old tram waiting by the ferry pier!
From nearby Hamilton Square station in Birkenhead we then took a train up the coast to Blundellsands & Crosby station in order to see the artist Antony Gormley’s Another Place.
Another Time And Pace is less than 30 mins from Liverpool by train

From there we took a train back to Lime Street in order to head home.

There’s also a fabulous itinerary for seeing the best of Liverpool on this guide by Time Out and for fans of The Beatles this two hour organised tour ticks all the boxes and as it doesn’t set off until 14:00, you won’t have to make an early start in order to reach Liverpool by train in time.

Though you’ll make big savings if you plan ahead and book Advance tickets for the train journey to and from Liverpool, but bargain prices can be tricky to track down on trains which leave London before 10:00 on Monday to Friday.
So it can be a good idea to head off to Liverpool on a weekend, but when looking up journeys for Saturday and Sunday travel, look out for journey times of much more than 2hr 30mins.
Longer journey times can be an indicator of works being carried out on the railway and when that is happening the cheaper Advance tickets may not be available at all.

Margate

For thrills with an echo of day's gone by head into Dreamland For thrills with an echo of day's gone by head into Dreamland

An annual visit to Margate was a fixture of my childhood, as my parents took full advantage of the wide sandy beach being literally across the street from the railway station.
The beach was where we remained for the day, because back then, millions of years ago, the town’s other attractions were rather limited.
Now thanks to the opening of the Dreamland amusement park, with its retro aura, along with the ultra-modern Turner Contemporary art gallery, the town is now more popular than ever.
The Turner Contemporary Art Gallery is a 15 min walk from Margate station

Those two attractions and a charming old town area packed with vintage and chic shops and a multitude of places to eat and drink, are all within a 10-15 min easy walk from the station along the sea front.
Margate Old Town is 2 mins from the sea

Though something worth knowing is that on Mondays and Tuesdays many of the shops, bars and cafes in the old town area aren’t open.

The travel info is the same as the trip to Broadstairs up above; and both it and Margate can also be easily combined on one day out, they’re linked by frequent local bus routes.

Rochester

The castle in Rochester is 10-15 min walk from the railway station The castle in Rochester is 10-15 min walk from the railway station

If travelling by high-speed train for less than an hour from central London so that you can explore a 1000 year old castle would thrill you or the younger members of your travelling party, then heading to Rochester ticks those boxes.
One of the best preserved castle keeps constructed in the 12th century which can be found in the UK or France is right beside a cathedral; much of which also dates back to the 12th century.
Rochester cathedral from its castle
So for those with a passion for medieval history, Rochester is a second to none destination with easy access from London.

Rochester was also a favoured location for Charles Dickens and the town’s wonderfully charming High Street, is little altered since the time at which the town was the inspiration for the settings of Great Expectations and The Pickwick Papers.
Rochester High Street is a 5 minute walk from the station

One of its shops s is the legendary Baggins Book Bazaar, which is England's largest used book store.

The high-speed trains from St Pancras take under 40 mins to travel to Rochester station, which has a convenient location and elevator access between the trains and the street entrance.

Direct trains also take conventional routes from multiple other stations in central London including by St Pauls, London Bridge and Victoria and the journey time by those trains is around an hour.

The ticket info is the same as that for Broadstairs, see above.

Sheffield Park

Sheffield Park looks especially fabulous in the autumn Sheffield Park looks especially fabulous in the autumn

The majority of the glorious gardens and parks designed in the 18th century by Capability Brown and now managed by The National Trust aren’t easily accessible by train due to their rural locations.
However, Sheffield Park is an exception, as it is a 15-20 min walk along pretty country lanes from a railway station
However, what makes taking a day out from London to one of England’s most magnificent gardens extra special, is that to reach this station you need to take a steam train!
Sheffield Park Gardens are around a 15 min walk from The Bluebell Railway
One or two regular two trains per hour depart from Victoria station for a 1hr 25 min journey to East Grinstead, where connections are available to steam trains operated by the Bluebell Railway.
Though look up the timings of the trains on to Sheffield Park on the Bluebell Railway weebsite, as only a few trains per morning from London offer a convenient interchange.

It's not possible to book the discounted Advance tickets on this route to East Grinstead, but combined tickets for the regular and steam trains are a money saver.

On the return trip it can be a nice idea to arrive back in Sheffield Park station in time to look around its collection of lovely trains of days gone by.

Southend and Leigh-on-sea

An opportunity to take Britain's most bizarre journey by train An opportunity to take Britain's most bizarre journey by train

Very few of London’s residents will be aware that there is a station right beside a beach, which is only a 45 min journey by train from the city centre; which is why heading off to this corner of Essex can be such a charming idea.
Stations don't get closer to the sea than this

The first stage of making the most of the day involves travelling beyond that beachside station at Chalkwell to arrive at Southend Central station in Southend-on-Sea.
These trains operated by C2C leave from Fenchurch Street, a somewhat hidden station in London’s financial district which isn’t directly served by the Underground, but they also call at West Ham which offers connections with the District, Hammersmith & City and Jubilee lines.

On exiting Southend Central, turn right when you reach the main road and within 10 mins you will see ahead of you a small amusement park and the UK’s longest seaside pier.
What makes this pier extra special is that it houses a railway, which you can transport you out more than two kilometres away from the shore.

When you have returned to the mainland, turn to the left and walk along the promenade behind the beach for around 20 – 30 minutes, then on the right you will see Rossi’s ice-cream parlour and just beyond it a row of cafes, known as The Arches at Westcliff.
More than 15 cafes lined up in a row in Westcliff-on-sea

They offer a multiple options for a traditional seaside meal of fish and chips and then you can burn off a few of the calories by heading further along the shore until you come to that beachside station at Chalkwell station.

You’ll be tempted to join the train back to London here, but you won’t regret continuing along the flat footpath until you arrive at charming Leigh-on-Sea with its plethora of craft shops and pubs with coastal views, in its Old Town area.
Another summer only option is to take an open topped bus from Southend Pier to Leigh Old Town, it stops by a path which leads down to the seafront area.
The step free path from the bus stop to Old Leigh

Old Leigh is an ideal location for winding down an evening, before boarding one of the frequent trains back to the city from the station nearby.

Despite the comparatively short distance from London, C2C offers discounted Advance tickets which atypically need to be booked at least three days ahead; and at weekends and school holidays those aged 5 - 15 can travel with adults for only £2.

The Watercress Line

Look up the dates of special gala days on the Mid-Hants railway website Look up the dates of special gala days on the Mid-Hants railway website

Holidaying in London is exciting, the city is fast-paced and it’s easy to get swept along in the rush from one attraction to another, so it can also be tempting to take a break from the maelstrom.
Hence the suggestion to take a journey back to an era when life was a little less frantic, which is easily accomplished by a ride through the English countryside on a steam train.

What makes this appealing prospect easily managed is that the station in Alton is shared by two railways; there are trains which twice an hour make the journey from Waterloo station in under 1hr 15mins, and there is also the wonderful Mid-Hants Railway, the operator of The Watercress Line.
So making the transfer between a modern train and the the trains of yesteryear couldn't be simpler, and as Advance tickets aren't available on the London to Alton route, there's no need to book tickets ahead to save money.
Though do look up the connections on the Watercress Line timetable.

This isn't the only heritage railway which is easily accessed by train from the capital, as the Bluebell Railway shares a station at East Grinstead with trains from Victoria (see Sheffield Park above), but the Mid-Hants Railway has been singled out because the views from its trains are particularly charming.
The delightful ride on The Watercress Line
If it’s the steam trains themselves that are the main attraction, then there are opportunities to get up close to the magnificent machines by wandering around the engine sheds at Ropley station.

York

The Minster's stunning interior is a highlight of any visit to York The Minster's stunning interior is a highlight of any visit to York

The fastest departures from Kings Cross take just over 2 hours to make the journey to York, so despite the distance from the capital, the city is a popular day out from London by train.

Of course what drew SMTJ to York like a moth to a flame is it’s the location of the National Railway Museum!
The National railway Museum is right by York station

But even if trains aren’t your thing, York offers a plethora of historical attractions which are all easily access from the railway station.
If you want to imagine how it would have been to walk through an English city centre in the 15th century, then this day out is a must.
York is lovely even in the rain

As with the day out to Liverpool idea (see above) you’ll make big savings if you plan ahead and book Advance tickets for the train journey to and from York, but bargain prices can be tricky to track down on trains which leave London before 10:00 on Monday to Friday.

So it can be a good idea to also head off to York on a weekend, but look out for journey times of much more than 2hr 30mins, they indicate works being carried out on the railway; and when that is happening the cheaper Advance tickets may not be available at all.

Author

Simon Harper

I wanted to share my passion for train travel and explain how anyone can take the fantastic journeys I have taken.

ShowMeTheJourney

This is one of more than 100 train travel guides available on ShowMeTheJourney, which will make it easier to take the train journeys you want or need to make. As always, all images were captured on trips taken by ShowMeTheJourney.