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Dream Destinations Like Windsor Castle and Hogwarts Are Easy Days Out
These UK day trips are quick, fun alternatives to a day in the city. Castles, famous movie sets, great discount shopping, historic homes, and gardens are all less than two hours from London. And transportation links from the British capital to the suburbs, the countryside and even other nearby cities are easy, fast and reasonably priced.
If you are looking for an alternative to London's hustle and bustle, and a chance to see England from a different perspective, a quick "away day" may be just the ticket. They're all reachable by public transportation too.Continue to 2 of 16 below.
02 of 16
Windsor Castle is everyone's idea of a fairytale castle. And there's plenty to see at the Queen's weekend home (which, we hear, is her favorite). The building alone covers 13 acres and is the biggest inhabited castle in the world. William the Conqueror picked the site, west of London overlooking the Thames and it has been a Royal residence and fortress ever since - almost 950 years.
How to Get There
Continue to 3 of 16 below.
- Take the train - Trains leave regularly from London's Paddington Station to Windsor & Eton Central. The castle, a short walk from the station, dominates the town and is impossible to miss. The trip takes between 25 and 40 minutes depending upon the train you choose.
- By car: Windsor Castle is 24 miles from Central London. Take the A4 and M4 to Junction 6 then follow signs for Windsor town center and parking.
- By bus: Green Line buses (701 and 702) leave hourly from Victoria station, stopping at Windsor Castle and Legoland Windsor.
03 of 16
Warner Brothers Studio Tour London: The Making of Harry Potter
If you've ever wanted to walk in the footsteps of your favorite film characters or look behind the scenes at how all the special effects are accomplished, Warner Brothers' Harry Potter attraction at its Leavesden studios, 20 miles northwest of London is a must see. And if you or members of your family are Harry Potter fans, this is a definite "don't miss".
The makers of the film have pulled together some of the most iconic sets, loads of the actual props used in the films and created a walking tour in two soundstages where the Harry Potter films were made. Even for those of us who have not been dyed-in-the-wool Harry Potter fans, it's endlessly fascinating and entertaining. We spent about five hours there, making the apparently high ticket prices surprisingly good value for money.
Top tip: Don't forget to book your tickets in advance. No tickets are offered for sale at the site.
How to Get There
Continue to 4 of 16 below.
- By train: Trains from London's Euston Station leave for Watford... Junction roughly every ten minutes throughout the day. The trip takes between 15 and 20 minutes. Once at the station, a colorful bus takes you directly to the attraction, while you watch a film to get you in the mood. The bus meets passengers in front of Watford Junction Station. When weighing up travel costs and choosing between car and train, keep those costs in mind. A family of four could spend more than £50 just traveling to the attraction by train. Frequent trains from Birmingham New Street also stop at Watford Junction.
- By car: The attraction is just a few miles from the M1 and M5 motorways and once you leave the motorways, brown signs lead you in. There are detailed directions for travel by road on the attraction website as well as SatNav coordinates.
- By coach: Transfers from London with a preferred transportation partner are regularly scheduled and can be purchased without studio admission.
04 of 16
Brighton - London's Beach
In 2016, Brighton added a spanking new attraction: The BA i360 rises more than 500 feet above the seafront and on a clear day it really does seem like you can see forever. It's only one of the attractions of the funky seaside resort known as London's beach. The Royal Pavilion, Brighton, the splendid summer house built by George IV when he was Prince Regent, is an Arabian Nights fantasy slap bang in the middle of town. In the early 19th century, his architect, John Nash, slapped a cast iron framework around an older, simpler farmhouse and, well, just went to town, really.
How to Get There
- By train: Trains leave about every 15 minutes from either London Bridge or Victoria Station and take about an hour.
- By car: Brighton is 54 miles due south of London. It takes about 1h30 to drive. South of the M25 ring road, the M23 leads into Brighton.
- By bus: Buses from London to Brighton take between an hour and forty minutes to more than three hours. Each journey has a small amount of lowest... fare tickets available. These sell out quickly so it is a good idea to buy your tickets well in advance. Buses travel hourly between Victoria Coach Station in London and Brighton Pier Coach Station.
A Weekend Is Great Too
There's more than enough to do in Brighton to spend a short break. Visitors love to stroll among the antique shops and boutiques of "The Lanes", walk the shingle beach or take some fish and chips out to the end of Brighton's Victorian pier. In winter there's the spectacle of Brighton Burning the Clocks and in May Brighton stages England's biggest multi-arts festival. Why not plan a Brighton getaway?Continue to 5 of 16 below.
05 of 16
Oxford University, England, is the oldest university in the English speaking world, dating back to the 11th century. Graduates have made notable contributions in every form of human endeavor.
Walk these streets and you will be following in the footsteps of Nobel prize winners, kings, presidents, and prime ministers. The university has produced saints, scientists, explorers, artists, authors, and actors.
Another Oxford treat is the recently reopened Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology. Founded in 1683 as Britain's first public museum, its dusty and dark old galleries were reborn with a major, multi-million-pound refurbishment program. The museum reopened in 2009 with 39 new galleries and a 100% increase in exhibition space.
Among the treasures you might see at the Ashmolean are drawings by Michaelangelo, Raphael, and Rembrandt; a Stradivarius Violin; ancient Chinese and... Middle Eastern porcelain and glass; the coins with the heads of Nero and Henry VIII, and lots more. The museum is part of Oxford University and it's free.
Altogether Oxford is a terrific, and easy, day out of London.
How to Get There
Continue to 6 of 16 below.
- By train: Express trains to Oxford from Paddington Station are frequent and take about an hour and round-trip fare. If you don't catch the express train, a conventional journey takes about an hour and 45 minutes.
- By car: Oxford is 62 miles northwest of London via the M4, M25, M40 and A roads. It takes about an hour and a half to drive. Parking is difficult but the city is surrounded by Park and Ride parking lots with cheap bus services into the center.
- By bus: The Oxford Tube is a very popular way to get to Oxford by bus. The company runs buses every ten minutes, 24 hours a day, with pickups from multiple stops in London and in Oxford.
06 of 16
Blenheim Palace - Magnificent Home of the First Churchills
Blenheim Palace is more than another one of England's stately homes. This magnificent palace, home of the Dukes of Marlborough and an easy day trip from London, is:
- A UNESCO World Heritage Site
- A stunning example of 18th century English Baroque style
- A memorial to one great British hero, the first Duke of Marlborough, and the birthplace of another, Sir Winston Churchill.
- One of the finest examples of the work of 18th-century landscape architect Launcelot "Capability" Brown.
- A wonderful backdrop for family activities, virtually year round.
It's in Woodstock - the gateway to the Cotswolds - and less than two hours away from London.
How to Get There
Continue to 7 of 16 below.
- By train: Express trains to Oxford from Paddington Station are frequent and cost under £25; then 10 minutes on the local S3 bus from the station.
- By car: Blenheim is about 62 miles from London via the M4, M25 and M40 motorways and the A40 and A44 roads. The main entrance is at the bottom of Woodstock High Street.
07 of 16
Bicester Village - Discount Designer Outlets
Shopping! If you thought London was the be-all and end-all of fashionable shopping, a short train journey to Bicester Village will open your eyes. More than 100 chic boutiques are all discount designer outlets. All the big European and international designer brand names are there with prices much lower than Bond Street or Fifth Avenue. And there are a few restaurants and coffee shops where you can rest your tired feet (or park your "bag man").
How to Get There
Continue to 8 of 16 below.
- By train: Trains to Bicester North Station leave up to four times an hour, daily, from London Marylebone. The journey takes just under an hour. There is an inexpensive shuttle bus from Bicester North direct to the Village.
- By car: The shopping center is about 64 miles from Central London on the A41. The drive takes between an hour and a half and two hours. Take the A4 to the M4 Motorway, then the M25 north to the M40 west. Exit at Junction 9 and follow the A41 to Bicester Village. It looks a bit like a small town...with a... huge parking lot.
- By bus: Morning and afternoon luxury coach trips to Bicester Village operate daily with pick ups from several London hotels and other Central London points.
08 of 16
Ightham in Kent - A Village With Secrets and a Great Day Trip to Walk or Drive
Ightham is as charming a Kentish village as you can imagine - but it's the sort of place with so many dark happenings in its history that Agatha Christie would have rubbed her hands together with glee.
Besides having picturesque 14th and 15th-century houses and pubs, Ightham is just up the road from Ightham Mote, a fortified medieval manor, and just down the hill from Oldbury Wood, a protected ancient woodland and Iron Age earthwork. There's plenty to see, a good lunch to be had at the George & Dragon and some fine but easy walking.
How to Get There
Continue to 9 of 16 below.
- By train: Trains to nearby Borough Green & Wrotham Station from Victoria Station are frequent and take less than an hour.
- By car: Ightham (pronounced "item" by the way, is about 55 miles from Central London via the A3, the M25, and the M26.
09 of 16
Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral
Nothing can really prepare you for your first sight of Stonehenge. No matter how many pictures you've seen of this iconic landmark, watching it rise up from Salisbury Plain is heart-stopping.
After that, in the past, a visit to the site could be disappointing. But in 2013 the monument was reborn. A new visitor center with a reconstructed Stone Age village and a restoration of the ancient landscape around the stones themselves, plus the opening of an excellent museum and interpretive center shows off Stonehenge in a completely new light.
The road that once passed close enough to rattle the stones was dug up and grassed over as was the old parking area. Now, from the visitor center, you can either walk a mile to the stones or travel in a silent electric buggy to within a few hundred yards.
And a Visit to Salisbury Cathedral
You can book various coach tours to get to Stonehenge but they're typically overpriced and try to cram in too many different places. Instead, especially if you... are an independent sort of traveler, go by train via Salisbury to visit the city's nearly 800-year-old cathedral. Among its highlights are the best preserved of the four remaining copies of the 1215 Magna Carta, the world's oldest working mechanical clock, and - at 404 feet - the tallest spire in Britain.
How to Get There
Continue to 10 of 16 below.
- By train: Trains from London Waterloo to Salisbury leave 20 minutes and 50 minutes after the hour throughout the day. The trip takes about an hour and 20 minutes. Salisbury Reds run regular bus services from the train station to the Stonehenge Visitor Center.
- By car: Stonehenge is about 85 miles from Central London via the M3 and the A303.
10 of 16
A neighboring lord once described Leeds Castle, near Maidstone in Kent, as "the loveliest castle in the world." It's hard to argue once you see this gorgeous, 900-year-old moated castle, surrounded by gardens and parklands.
Unusually, from its beginnings, this castle has been inherited by women. It was the dower house of six Plantagenet Queens, the so-called she-wolves of England. Later, Henry VIII had it updated and made luxurious for his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.
What makes Leeds Castle a particularly fine day out is that there is plenty to please everyone in the family. Besides its glorious interiors and wine cellars, it has a devilish maze with an exit through a scary grotto, two playgrounds for pretending to be knights and ladies, a dog collar museum with more than 100 unusual and historic examples, several restaurants, a covered pavilion for temporary exhibits and a full schedule of family-friendly events.
How to Get There
Continue to 11 of 16 below.
- By train: Southeastern Trails run... regular services, 22 and 52 minutes after the hour throughout the day from London Victoria to Bearsted Station. The trip takes about an hour. A shuttle bus operates from the station to the castle during the summer months. Do be careful, by the way, not to accidentally book a train to Leeds in Yorkshire or you could end up 230 miles away.
- By car: The castle is about 44 miles from Central London via the A20 and the M20. From junction 8 off the M20 motorway, follow the brown and white tourist signs.
- By bus: Several tour companies operate sightseeing tours from London that include Leeds Castle. As these change from time to time, it's best to check the castle website for the latest information.
11 of 16
Hever Castle - Home of Anne Boleyn
Hever Castle, Anne Boleyn's childhood home is a fascinating place. Steeped in the history of Tudor court intrigue, the house was begun in the 13th century and made into a comfortable Tudor home by the Bullen (or Boleyn) family. It later became part of Henry VIII's divorce settlement with Anne of Cleves, his 4th wife. The house has a very good collection of Tudor portraits, lots of family activities, two mazes to wander around in, jousting, romantic gardens, and several restaurants and snack bars.
Strolling through the castle's magnificent gardens before stopping for lunch or a cup of tea makes a really fine UK day out. And there's plenty more to do for every member of the family:
- An adventure Playground
- Yew and water mazes
- Hever Lake walk
- A gruesome exhibition of armor, instruments of execution, and torture
Throughout the summer months, Hever Castle also hosts a variety of events including jousting tournaments, demonstrations of longbow warfare and a summer performing arts... festival in its open-air theatre, with matinee and evening performances.
How to Get There
Continue to 12 of 16 below.
- By train: Trains to nearby Edenbridge Town Station leave frequently from London Bridge Station. Book a taxi on +44 (0)1732 863 800 (Relyon) or +44(0)1732 864009 (Edenbridge Cars) for the three-mile onward journey. It's a good idea to book your ride before you arrive in the town.
- By car: Hever Castle is 44 miles from Central London via the A3 and the M25.
12 of 16
Beaulieu and the National Motor Museum
Beaulieu, a country house in the New Forest, is a great day trip, not far from London, that is jam-packed with things to see and do. Besides offering a look at Victorian upstairs-downstairs life in a manor house, it has beautiful gardens, an abbey ruin, a monorail, vintage double-decker bus, a restaurant, and Go Karts.
But all of that pales before Beaulieu's amazing National Motor Museum. Car enthusiasts from all over the world come to admire more than 100 years of automobiles, plus star cars, movie cars, and James Bond cars. It's a knockout!
How to Get There
Continue to 13 of 16 below.
- By train: Trains to Brockenhurst Station leave every 15 minutes from Waterloo. The journey takes 1.5 hours. Take a taxi from the station. If you arrive all or in part by public transportation, present your travel tickets at reception for a 20% discount on admission.
- By car: Beaulieu (pronounced "Bewley" by the way) is 87 miles from Central London. Take the M3 to the M27 exit 2 and follow the brown and white signs.... There is free parking.
13 of 16
William Morris's Red House - English Home of the Arts and Crafts Movement
Red House was the only building ever commissioned by 19th-century artist and designer William Morris. Now owned by the National Trust and open to the public, the house, in Bexley Heath, just south of London, was designed as Morris's first marital home by his friend and design partner Philip Webb.
Artists and writers of the period were frequent visitors, including Dante and Christina Rosetti, Augustus and Gwen John. Some added their own personal touches, which can still be seen. Pre-Raphaelite Edward Burn-Jones, a frequent visitor, designed some of the stained glass and, inside an upstairs closet, there's a primitive painting attributed to Gwen John.
Morris believed a garden should "clothe" a house and the gardens at The Red House have been landscaped according to drawings and pictures of Morris's original designs.
How to Get There
Bexley Heath is the nearest train station. Trains from London Victoria or Charing Cross Stations take about half an hour. Plan on visiting in... good weather as The Red House is a 3/4 mile walk from the train station.Continue to 14 of 16 below.
14 of 16
Battlesbridge Antiques Center
If your idea of heaven is spending hours poking around an enormous antique center with dozens of dealers trading in everything from junk to treasure, then you will love the Battlesbridge Antiques Center.
It's a collection of buildings, including a former granary and a range of barns, sheds, and cottages, open every day from about 10 am to 5:30 pm. At any one time, at least 80 antique dealers buy and sell a very wide range of items including stamps, jewelry, ephemera, furniture, vintage clothing, lamps, music boxes and musical instruments and, yes, plain old-fashioned dusty junk. Paradise.
This isn't the sort of place where posh interior decorators find elegant 18th-century Italian furniture. It's a real grab bag of antiques, reproductions, and fakes. But there are real treasures to be found.
By the way, in case you are wondering what battle took place here, the answer is none. The village takes its name from a family named Bataille who once looked after the bridge over the... River Crouch beside the Granary.
How to Get There
Continue to 15 of 16 below.
- By train: Regular trains leave London Liverpool Street Station throughout the day. Change at Wickford to the Southminster. Battlesbridge is the first stop on that line. The center is about a third of a mile from the station.
- By car: Battlebridge in Essex is about 40 miles from London, midway between Chelmsford and Southend beside the A130.
15 of 16
The Historic Dockyard Chatham
For 400 years, the dockyard at Chatham in Kent built the ships that built the British Empire. From the mid-1500s to its closure in 1980s, it created, launched and maintained some of the most historic ships of the British Navy. HMS Victory, Admiral Nelson's flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar, was built here.
When it closed, time stood still. And while various interests tried to decide what to do with, it was saved for posterity. And it is an amazing place to visit. The 80-acre site has 100 listed buildings and 47 scheduled ancient monuments. There's
- A Victorian Ropery - still in action, with a "rope walk" that's a quarter of a mile long
- Covered slips where ships hulls were constructed
- A multi-media exhibition in the Mast and Mould Loft (where you can still see the outlines of HMS Trafalgar scribed on the wooden floor)
- Three 19th century drydocks, one of which holds a diesel submarine retired in the 1960s that you can board
This barely scratches the surface. This is one... of the best historic sites you can visit. And if you're lucky, you might get to see some of your favorite film and TV stars at work. The historic buildings of the dockyards are popular backdrops for filmmakers.
How to Get There
Continue to 16 of 16 below.
- By train: Chatham is within the London commuter belt and trains leave from several different London stations throughout the day. The fastest trains are from St Pancras International for a 38 minute trip to Chatham. The Chatham Maritime bus (route 190) makes the 8 minute trip from the station to the Dockyard gates or you can walk - it's just under a mile.
- By car: This is a journey that involves either going through Central London (about 38 miles on the A2) or all around London (68 miles via the M25 to the A2). Not surprisingly, given London traffic, both journeys take about the same amount of time. Best advice - take the train.
16 of 16
RHS Wisley Garden
The Royal Horticultural Society's Wisley Garden is where keen English gardeners go to be inspired. Its world famous collection of plants has been developing for more than 100 years and there is always something new to see, any time of year. Spread out over 240 acres in Woking, Surrey, about an hour's drive from Central London, Wisley is a lovely, peaceful place for a stroll as well as a demonstration garden full of practical garden design ideas and cultivation techniques.
In June 2007, a huge new glasshouse, 40 feet high and covering an area equal to ten tennis courts, was opened to the public. The glasshouse at RHS Wisley covers three different climatic zones - tropical, moist temperate and dry temperate habitats. A winding path, past rocky outcrops, waterfalls, pools, and slopes, leads visitors through the glasshouse to see some of Wisley's most important plant collections. The RHS's tender plant collection is housed there. So are rare and endangered species and... hundreds of varieties of orchids.
A new lake, intended to bring environmental benefits to the whole of Wisley and colonized by mollusks, damselflies, dragonflies, and amphibians, surrounds The Glasshouse.
How to Get There
- By train: Trains from London Waterloo Station leave regularly for nearby West Byfleet or Woking. Take a taxi for the short ride from the station. On weekdays during the summer months, a special bus service operates from Woking Station to Wisley.
- By car: Wisley is about 22 miles west-southwest of Central London on the A3.