Although there are scores of things to see and do in the capital, some budget travelers like to take London day trips on British trains to nearby points of interest.
Oxford is probably the most common of these trips. If you're only interested in a single day away from London, buy point-to-point tickets. But if you plan to take several of the trips suggested here, consider rail passes.
A four-day BritRail pass is $274, less than $70/day. It is possible to do four days of trips for less than what the passes cost, but you will be spared shopping and purchasing duties, which is worth something. Weigh the savings against possible inconvenience.
Round-trip tickets from London's Paddington to Oxford are available at times for as little as $10 if you catch the right train at the right time of day. Those are second-class, non-refundable tickets for the trip, which takes about an hour each way. Expect to pay $40-$60 each way at peak times.
Oxford is among the world's most respected seats of higher education. Once you arrive, you'll discover that Oxford (as well as Cambridge) is comprised of several dozen small colleges and universities that offer various specialties to top students from around the world.
Public walking tours of Oxford start at about $20/adult, and are good for getting your bearings and learning the basics about one of the world's most famous "college towns." Plan your day trip carefully to ensure that you hit places of greatest interest, because there are definitely more than a day's worth of attractions in Oxford.
A day trip from London to Cambridge by train usually starts at either the Kings Cross or Liverpool Street stations. As with Oxford, it is possible to snag very low one-way fares at low-peak times of the day and in the off-season. You might pay $20-$35 for a one-way, second-class ticket to Cambridge. Some trains cover the distance in as little as 45 minutes, while others might require twice that amount of time.
Start your Cambridge tour with a look inside Kings College Chapel, a spectacular work of architecture that features a vaulted ceiling like few you'll ever see. Many of the small colleges that make up the greater Cambridge will charge admission to see their grounds, gardens and buildings. These charges are usually reasonable, but it pays to do some research and settle on which places interest you the most.
Punting along the River Cam (for which Cambridge is named) can be a fun diversion. You ride in a flatboat propelled by a oarsman who uses a lengthy floating pole to push off from the river bottom. The experts make it look easy, but it isn't. Hire a guide rather than trying it yourself. If the weather is agreeable, it's an expensive but memorable Cambridge experience.
If you think you'll see William Shakespeare's gravesite at Westminster Abbey, think again.
There was a plan to move the body, but a note was found warning anyone who moved the remains that they would face a curse. Those very words appear above his final resting place in his hometown of Stratford-Upon-Avon.
Tourism is a key industry here, and at times in the summer you'll shake your head in amazement at the steady stream of tour buses. But this is a great destination for not only Shakespeare lovers, but also those who want more insight into the times in which the great author lived.
You can tour Shakespeare's birthplace, as well as the estate of his wife's family. The Anne Hathaway cottage, with its distinctive thatched roof, and the Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare and Hathaway are buried, are all within a small area connected by a hop-on, hop-off bus.
One of the key attractions here is the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. If you can time your trip for a Thursday, there are sometimes matinee performances you could catch on a day trip.
Although Stratford-Upon-Avon is a substantial distance from London, it's possible to find bargain rail tickets at certain times of day. For example, some of the second-class morning departures are as cheap as $13 one-way. Afternoon returns can be even cheaper. Keep in mind these are non-refundable tickets and that these low fares are much less common during the busy summer months.
Trains depart London's Marylebone Station for Stratford, and the travel time approaches two hours. The rail station in Stratford is a 5-10 minute walk from attractions in the center of town.
Bath is not all that far from the border with Wales, but it's still relatively easy to reach on a day trip from London. If you're willing to ride second-class and purchase a non-refundable ticket, prices for a one-way trip from London's Paddington Station are in the $25-$50 range. The train trip averages about 90 minutes each way.
The Romans established baths here about 43 A.D. But long after the Romans left, the baths here were a key attraction for British royalty, and the wealthy aristocrats who wanted to be associated with the top levels of society. You can tour the bath facility, which doubles as a museum. The cost is $22/adult, and there is a $65 family ticket that covers two adults and up to four children.
Free guided tours are available in Bath, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The architecture and the local history should prove fascinating to most visitors.
If you're a Jane Austen fan, set aside time to see her home. Although she lived in Bath for several years, local historians say she didn't particularly enjoy her time here.
Bath Abbey, not too far from the train station, is described as one of the final medieval cathedrals of England.
Historians and spa lovers will find more than enough here to fill a day of discovery.
York is about as far as you might want to go for a London day trip by rail. The one-way distance is about two hours. Trains leave from London's Kings Cross Station. Tickets each way start at about $70. The most expensive times are early morning, when business travel creates a great demand. Work around the peak times for business travel and you'll find lower prices.
Among the attractions here is the 250-year-old York Minster, which costs £15/adult ($22 USD) for admission to the minster and tower, but £10 ($15 USD) for the minster only. Admission fees include a guided tour. Outside, you'll find abundant shopping and the best collection of Roman city walls in England. The York Visitor Center can arrange an audio tour of the Roman sites at single or family rates.
York has scores of volunteer guides who will provide free walking tours at various times of year.
Another York plus: inexpensive food can be found in bakeries and small shops within the city.