Stratford International is much more than the terminal of the London 2012 Olympics Javelin trains. This link on the UK's first high speed commuter rail line is also the best East London starting point for dozens of terrific day trips for visitors. The station, located on the Northeast corner of the Olympic Park, is also within a short taxi ride or a ten-minute Underground journey of hotels clustered around the O2 Arena, Canary Wharf and the ExCel exhibition center.
Hot Tip Here are a few trips, just to get you started. Make sure when searching National Rail Enquiries for train times and when booking tickets that you look for Stratford International if that's the station I've suggested below. There is another Stratford mainline train station which may be better for some journeys. Booking the wrong "Stratford" station" for your particular destination can end up costing you money and time.
Chatham and the Medway Towns
- Where: A group of towns clustered around the Medway River, about 30 miles Southeast of London, near the Kent Coast.
- Why Go: There is a lot to do in a relatively small area. The Medway towns, near a strategic river crossing, have been important for thousands of years. The Roman road, Watling Street (now the A2) runs right through the middle of them. The Normans built castles there in the 12th century. And Queen Elizabeth I set up another castle fortresse to defend her fleet. It failed in 1667 when the Dutch sailed up river and torched or captured the fleet.
Attractions reachable from the nearest train stations include:
- Getting There: Hourly fast trains for Chatham and Gillingham take between 35 and 45 minutes and (in 2012) cost £20.40 round trip. Attractions not reachable on foot or cycle are a short taxi trip from either station.
- Where: Colchester is in eastern Essex, about 53 miles north east of the Olympic Park and Stratford International station.
- Why Go: Called Camulodunum by the Romans, Colchester was already a thriving Celtic town before the Romans arrived. It is the oldest recorded town in Britain with evidence of settlement going back 3,000 years.
The town has:
- A Norman castle built on the foundations of a Roman Temple. The castle keep is larger than the White Tower at the Tower of London and the largest surviving example of its kind in Europe. A museum within Colchester Castle is packed with Roman finds plus regularly changing exhibitions.
- Hollytrees Museum - a 300 year old Georgian house that is now a museum of family life. Exhibits include a completely furnished and decorated doll house model of Hollytrees that children love.
- The Town to Sea Trail - a 2 1/2 mile trail from the town center to the seaside at the mouth of the River Colne, decorated with 14 works of public art.
- In season, wonderful Colchester native oysters from nearby West Mersea (about 10 miles away).
- Layer Marney Tower, an Elizabethan house with England's tallest gatehouse. Recent setting for the recent Daniel Radcliffe film, "The Woman in Black."
- Getting There: If you leave from Stratford International, you have to change trains at Stratford London station. Go directly from Stratford London and you can save £10 on the cheapest round trip fair (£31 from Stratford International, £21 from Stratford London). Trains depart every 10 to 15 minutes and take less than an hour.
Canterbury and Whitstable
- Where: Canterbury is about 62 miles from the Olympic Park, southeast of London, near the Kent coast. Whitstable, a village of Canterbury, is 8 miles away, right on the coast.
- Why Go: Canterbury is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is where St. Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, first established his mission to convert the Anglo Saxons. The remains of his monastery can still be visited and his first cathedral lies beneath the nave of the current cathedral. Canterbury Cathedral is where the pilgrims of Chauceer's Canterbury Tales were headed. The martyr mentioned in Chaucer's collection of stories was St. Thomas à Beckett, murdered in the Cathedral in 1170, after a conflict with King Henry II.
Also worth seeing while you're around Canterbury:
- The medieval precincts around the Cathedral are a mostly pedestrian area with narrow lanes, shops, ancient houses and guildhalls.
- The Goods Shed - a daily food market with excellent nosh.
- Whitstable - A short taxi or bus trip from the center of Canterbury, Whitstable is an old fishing village and oyster fishery, known for its shellfish since before Roman times. Whitstable oyster shells have been found in the Coliseum in Rome. The village's main appeal is as a salty day out at the shore. Wander along the beach, look at the working fishing boats and sailboats and eat oysters and freshly landed fish pretty much year round (though the best native oysters are available in the colder months, locally farmed oysters are readily available most of the time).
- How to Get There:
- Trains to Canterbury leave regularly from Stratford International with one change at Ashford International Station. It takes just over an hour and costs (in 2012)about £32 round trip.
- Trains to Whitstable cost about £27 and change at Rochester.
- Local buses 604 and 605 travel regularly between Canterbury Bus Station and Whitstable Center.
- Find Out More:
- Where: About 40 miles Northeast of London in Essex
- Why Go: Antiques, antiques and more antiques, plus plenty of bric-a-brac, tat and junque. If you love poking around in old stuff in hopes of finding treasure, you'll love Battlesbridge. It's a whole tiny village full of dealers and traders. There are a few craft makers and artists but most of what's on offer is what the French refer to as "brocante" - a mix of genuine antiques and flea market finds. When you get bored with poking around in old stuff, there's a nice pub that serves reasonably priced pub grub.
- Getting There: Take the train from Stratford London instead of Stratford International. Strains leave every 40 minutes with one change, at Wickford, for the final 4 minute run to Battlesbridge. The antiques village is about a third of a mile from the station.
- Where: A seaside resort on the Kent coast, about 77 miles from London
- Why Go: Tracy Emin's home town is now home to the new Turner Contemporary, a stunning free public art gallery and installation space on the beach and bathed in soft sea light. The spot was chosen because it was the viewpoint used by 19th century artist J.M.W. Turner when he painted many of his Thanet seascapes. The gallery, which has a pleasant, outdoor cafe, has renewed interest in what had become a somewhat down at the heels Victorian seaside town. While you're there, buy a paper of fish and chips and walk along the golden sand beach or explore Margate Old Town, a small, cobbled area scattered with new art galleries.
Margate is located on the Isle of Thanet, said to be where the Vikings first set foot in England. East of the Turner Contemporary, there's very good cliff walking.
- Getting There: There are a variety of ways to get to Margate from London. Direct trains (hour and 25 minute journey) leave hourly from Stratford International at about 15 minutes before the hour, and trains that change at Gillingham (hour and 40 minute journey) leave hourly from about 5 minutes after the hour, throughout the day. The round trip fare (in 2012) is between £36 and £40.).