Brighton is by far my favourite getaway from the capital when I want a change of scenery. Despite being a city itself, its seaside location and eclectic vibe make this a much more relaxing place to wander about than the average city. The Lanes are filled with independent shops showcasing unique jewellery, gifts, home ware, food and clothes, whereas Churchill Square features most traditional high street stores if you want to pop into your favourite one or hide from the rain in a covered shopping mall. There are also plenty of cafes, restaurants and lunchrooms to satisfy your tea and cake cravings while exploring, and to sit down in for a proper meal at the end of the day. And of course you can't go to Brighton without hitting up some of its most famous sights; from the pebble beach (which is a rich source of sea glass) and the games and rides on Brighton Pier, right through to Brighton Museum & Art Gallery and next to it the Royal Pavilion, an eye-catching Eastern inspired building in the heart of the city.
Brighton is an hour's journey away by train from London Terminals Victoria, London Bridge and Blackfriars. A return ticket is £10 (though once I was able to buy it on special offer for just £2!).
The first thing anyone thinks of when you mention Oxford is of course the prestigious colleges. And while this is certainly a big part of the city's appeal and I love wandering around them, soaking up the incredible architecture, there is far more to explore as this is such a picaresque and very walkable place. There are a lot of waterways in the city, including Oxford Canal and the rivers Cherwell and Thames, and while punting is a big thing, I personally prefer just wandering along the riverside, snapping photos of the colleges and other buildings along the way. Another thing I highly recommend in Oxford is doing a walking tour. I did one a few years ago and yes, a lot of it is about the colleges, but the facts you hear along the way are fascinating and well worth joining for. Make sure your tour includes the Hall at Christ Church, which is what served as the Great Hall in Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films and is well impressive, Finally, the high street in Oxford is wonderful for some retail therapy so if time allows, definitely browse the shops too. I'm hitting up Oxford again over Easter and I'll be sure to blog about my experience afterwards!
Oxford is just over an hour from London Terminals Marylebone and Paddington, and a return is around £11.
I've only been to Bath once so far and this was year ago (I clearly need to rectify this), but I still remember how wonderful it was. One of this lovely city's main attractions is of course the Roman Baths and I have to say they are very impressive. We aimed to be there for an hour or two, but we hired audio guides and all the information was so fascinating (and the baths themselves so stunning) that we spent half a day inside admiring it all. It was wonderful. Of course this didn't leave us an awful lot of time to explore the rest of the city but we did walk along the River Avon (I love my rivers), which has an adorable bridge running across it, up to the impressive Royal Crescent (buildings in the shape of half a ring), admired the Abbey, and popped inside the Jane Austen centre (because, of course). Finally, we sat down for some tea and cake in the adorable The Bath Bun Tea Shoppe (located in a quiet square behind the Abbey).
Bath is an about 90 minute long journey from London Paddington station, and you can snap up a return from £29 (usually as two singles for £14.50 each).
Cambridge I find very similar in feel and experience to Oxford. A large part of the city is taken up by colleges and for many it's the key appeal. While the architecture is wonderful (and makes some great photos for Instagram, not gonna lie), I actually far prefer walking along the River Cam, popping back and forth across the bridges, and having a picnic in some of the grassy parks along the river bed. It's a very compact city, making it again easy to walk around and just explore without having any set destination in mind. Though when you visit I do recommend you check out the King's College Chapel, Wren Library in Trinity College, the Botanical Gardens, and one of Cambridge's many museums. Again, this is a great city to browse the shops as they have both main stream high street ones and cute independent shops in abundance.
Cambridge is a little over an hour away from London's King's Cross and Liverpool Street, with a return ticket starting from £12.
The final day trip from London in this post is very different from the ones mentioned before. Manchester is not picturesque like Oxford, Cambridge and Bath, nor does it have the seaside like Brighton does. This is a big city very much like London, and yet it doesn't feel as hectic or crowded. There is a lot to see and do in Manchester and I've been for weekend breaks before to pack everything in. However, if you only have a single day, the short-ish journey time from London definitely makes this one doable. I recommend doing some sightseeing by going to the John Ryland Library (very impressive and gorgeous), Manchester Museum (you can easily spend half a day here but try to do a whirlwind visit of an hour or two) and pop by the Alan Turing memorial. After that, give yourself a little break with a brunch or afternoon tea at the gorgeous Richmond Tea Rooms, before heading into the city for some retail therapy. Top tip: Manchester is amazing at Christmas time as there are a ton of Christmas markets, so if you go only once this year definitely time to do this in December. I'll be going to Manchester again in June, this time for just a day, so I'll be sure to jot down my experience in a blog post then.
Manchester is just over a two-hour journey from London Euston Station with average return tickets being £20 (though you can get them for £10 during offer times as well).
How to Get the Lowest Train Fares
The above train fares are some of the cheapest ones I've been able to score for these journeys and here are some top tips for you to be able to do the same:
- Book early (up to 3 months in advance) and try to get yourself a Super Off Peak Day Return (this isn't linked to a set train time, just a day, so you can decide to leave earlier or later than initially planned).
- If you're flexible with dates, use the Trainline cheap fare finder to see which dates have the best available fares left when booking.
- Sign up to the Virgin Trains emails, they often do special offers such as London-Manchester (or Liverpool) for £5 one way. And when you're looking at Weekend Breaks, London-Edinburgh can be as cheap as £28 return.
- Also use the Virgin Trains website to book tickets for other rail providers as they are the ones that I have found have the lowest booking fees (none) and you can collect your tickets for free from the station rather than having to pay for shipping. And if you have a Nectar card you can link it to your account to collect points too and/or use your points to pay for the tickets.
- If you live in London or commute to London for work, consider getting an Annual Season Travel Pass as it'll come with a Gold Annual Rail Card that cuts your fares in the South East of England even further (for example, a Brighton-London return could be as cheap as £7.15).
One Final Note...
You'll notice that all day trips I choose for this post are cities themselves, but despite this they all feel far more small-town and relaxing than London does – and so they make the perfect escape from hectic city life. The reason I went for cities opposed to the country side is that while I love forest hikes and exploring mansion houses they're not always as easily reachable by train as the above examples are. There are exceptions of course, but that is for another post.
What are your favourite day trips from London? Let me know in the comments below!