Date of Publication: 30 November 2020
When most families visit the UK, their travel itinerary includes a family trip to London. There’s no denying it, the city of London is one of the best in Europe. Vibrant, busy and buoyant with culture, there’s so much to see and do.
However, if you’re looking to escape the capital for a short while and explore some of the United Kingdom’s other beautiful sights, then you won’t be disappointed. London is a city that makes a great base for some really interesting day trips, especially with its great rail and road connections.
Your options for day trips from London are limitless, so we’ve compiled a list of the 15 best day trips for families to make the itinerary preparation that little bit easier.
1. Blenheim Palace
Located around 60 miles to the northwest of London, Blenheim Palace sits nestled next to the idyllic small town of Woodstock.
Dating back to the early 18th Century, the historic Blenheim Palace is one of England’s largest country houses, and serves as the principal residence for the Dukes of Marlborough. It is most famous for being the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, but the grandiose building has also starred in a number of TV shows and films, including Spectre, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and, Black Beauty.
Today, the palace and its grounds still welcome visitors, with the money raised from visitor’s tickets going towards maintaining its impeccable condition and decor. You can book tickets to its grounds and the palace, and opt to add a private or group tour around the site. There’s also a cafe and restaurant on-site, so no need to worry about taking a packed lunch with you.
The tour offers extensive information on the Palace’s history, in particular on the Dukes of Marlborough family heritage, and their connections across the world. It’s a great educational site, with interactive activities for those of all ages – making it a great day trip for families. With its closeness to Oxford and London, it’s also one of the reasons why we include it as one of our educational day trips for our summer courses.
By car, the journey takes around 1 hour and 30 minutes (depending on traffic) from London. Although renting a car may not be on your itinerary, driving offers the easiest (and prettiest) route for accessing The Cotswolds. If you were to travel by bus or train, you would need to connect to the Palace via taxi or the local bus service, but these run regularly from the station.
2. Oxford City Centre
With a train journey that takes just under an hour, the city of Oxford is a hugely popular and family friendly day trip from London. There are so many things to do in Oxford, but thanks to the city being so compact, you won’t waste much time trying to navigate your way around.
One of the biggest attractions for children is the Harry Potter filming locations that are dotted around the city, including the famous Christ Church Dining Hall which inspired Hogwarts’ Great Hall, and Duke Humfrey’s Library, which starred as Hogwarts’ main Library in the film series.
There are also plenty of museums to explore, with interactive displays to keep children entertained. One of the most famous in the Ashmolean, which, having opened in 1683, is considered the oldest public museum in England. There’s also the Oxford Museum of Natural History and Pitt Rivers, which showcase an acclaimed collection of artefacts, skeletons and oddities from around the world.
Of course, even just spending your day strolling through the city is a great way to use your time. There are plenty of parks and green spaces to explore, and the golden ‘dreaming spires’ are as architecturally impressive as they are inspiring.
This is what makes Oxford such a popular place to study on our summer courses. Its revered academic institution is hugely motivational, and the idyllic beauty of the city makes it great for exploring on a free afternoon.
3. Brighton & Brighton Beach
For easy access to the UK’s coast, a day trip from London to Brighton and its beautiful beach are a must for families looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the capital.
Brighton is a large, thriving city, nestled between the sea and the Sussex countryside, meaning there are a wealth of things to see and do. It’s a popular destination for Londoners who want to spend the day at the seaside, particularly because the city has its own Palace Pier, which is filled with rides, arcade activities, and plenty of food and drink facilities. There’s also free deckchairs outside, where you can sit back, relax and enjoy taking the view in.
Next door, there’s also Sea Life Brighton, a Victorian aquarium, where you can learn about the creatures of the sea and watch them swim up and over your head in the underwater tunnel.
Your family day trip should also include a visit to the iconic Royal Pavilion in the centre of Brighton, which is a place like no other. This exotic palace was built as a seaside pleasure palace for King George IV in 1787, but combines Indian and Chinese inspired aesthetics in its design.
Brighton is very easily accessible, with train journeys taking just under an hour from London. There are also plenty of parking spots available for those who want to drive, as well as a direct coach trip via the National Express.
The English Heritage site of Stonehenge is one like no other. This spiritual stone circle is an awe-inspiring site, and one of the most famous in the whole of Europe, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.
You can visit the prehistoric site and book a private or audio tour, allowing you to discover how the Stronehenge builders worked to create its construction. There’s also a world-class exhibition which transports you back to Neolithic times, giving you perspective on life in the area for the builders and their families.
The Stonehenge site is situated in the south of England, in the county of Wiltshire. For London day trips, there are a number of transport options available. By train, the journey takes around 2 hours in length, with families needing to take a train from London to Salisbury, before catching the tour bus to the stone site. You can also travel by National Express coach from the Victoria Coach station, which runs regularly throughout the day.
The fastest and most direct route from the capital would be via car, where the journey can take between two and two-and-a-half hours (depending on traffic).
5. Great Missenden and the Roald Dahl Museum
For fans of Roald Dahl and his great literary works, then a visit to his picturesque hometown of Great Missenden is a must.
Roald Dahl lived in the small town of Great Missenden for 36 years of his life, which had great influence on many of his stories. As such, there is a dedicated museum in the village which is packed full of insights into his life and the things which inspired his work. It’s a great visit for families, with plenty of live storytelling and interactive exhibitions, including a chocolate-scented Wonka wall.
After your trip to his museum, there’s plenty of options for lunch stops, including a few historic 16th Century pubs, as well as the aptly named Cafe Twit.
Before heading back to London, you should then follow one of the village’s scenic walking trails which passes the author’s grave at the local parish church. This wonderful walk is also filled with lots of nods to his inspiration, including Sophie’s ‘norphanage’ in The BFG, and the library which was visited by Matilda whilst her Mum went to play bingo in Aylesbury.
Great Missenden is nestled in the beautiful Chiltern Hills – an area recognised for his outstanding natural beauty. The village is easily accessible by train, taking around 45 minutes from London Marylebone station. You can also hire a car and drive from London, taking around an hour and a half, depending on traffic.
6. Cambridge City Centre
Home to more Nobel Prize winners than any other city in the UK, Cambridge is brimming with culture, inspiration and discovery.
Often compared to Oxford with its world-renowned university and impressive architecture, the city of Cambridge is much smaller than Oxford, but is still brimming with plenty of entertainment. A choice of museums, galleries, festivals, theatres, and shopping centres means there is always something to do, no matter what time of year you visit.
For those looking to feel inspired by the city’s academia, there are over 30 colleges which make up the iconic University of Cambridge. You can get the best views of these from the River Cam, where you can hire a boat and punt yourself along – or by a guided tour with a pro punter. Depending on the time of year for your visit, you can also go inside some of the colleges themselves, with a trip to King’s College Chapel highly recommended.
Elsewhere, there are also some lovely green spaces which are perfect for a sit-down or picnic on a sunny afternoon, including the university’s Botanical Gardens.
From London, Cambridge is easily accessible, with trains taking under an hour from Kings’ Cross station. Driving takes twice as long with parking limited in the city centre, so you need to arrive early should you wish to choose this option.
7. High Wycombe
The thriving market town of High Wycombe, famous for being ‘the furniture capital of England’ is filled with history. Originally a mill town which made it well-known as a manufacturer of cloth and linen, today it is most famously known for being a famous furniture making town because of the influx of factories which appeared during the 19th Century.
With a bustling atmosphere, great retail experience, and unique cultural and heritage calendar of events, there is always so much entertainment on offer for those looking to get out of London and explore one of the most famous towns in Buckinghamshire.
But beyond its vibrant town centre, High Wycombe offers so much more. Set on the edge of the stunning Chiltern Hills, the town is surrounded by lush beechwoods and rolling countryside, which makes beautiful and scenic views for those travelling by car.
It’s also home to one of the UK’s most renowned boarding schools, known as Wycombe Abbey. Set in 170 acres of stunning parkland, this prestigious school offers both state-of-the-art facilities and plenty of outdoor space. As such, it’s one of the accommodation options we offer for our junior summer courses (for students aged 9-12). Offering tranquillity, tradition, and a centre for academic excellence, it’s the perfect location for an authentic British boarding school experience.
For family day trips from London, High Wycombe is easily accessible by car via the M40. There is also a train line which runs from London Marylebone station, with some faster routes taking as little as 30 minutes. Coaches also operate between Stansted and Luton to the town with regular service throughout the day.
8. Portsmouth & Spinnaker Tower
Portsmouth is a historic port city in the south of England, with a dockyard and naval base making it a popular destination for maritime lovers. The area is filled with wartime ships, submarines and even a maritime museum, which will teach you everything you need to know about England and its naval history.
It’s the city’s vibrant history and naval attractions which make it a great educational site for visitors. We offer it as one of our excursions on our courses, though it’s also one of the great day trips for families visiting the UK.
Portsmouth is also home to Spinnaker Tower, a 557ft tall sail-like tower, which can be seen from over 20 miles away. It’s open to the public who can climb its 587 steps (or take the elevator) to see unparalleled views of the historical harbour, the Isle of Wight, and its surrounding sea.
For those looking to start their day trip from London, there are plenty of trains available, all dropping you off at the station near the end of the Quay, which is conveniently located next to the Spinnaker Tower and historic dockyard. You can also travel by coach from Victoria Station in just a little over 2 hours.
Of course, you could also consider renting a car for your day trip, which can be more cost effective for family day trips from London. Hiring a car will also allow you to drive through some of the beautiful countryside which surrounds the city, without having to worry about time restrictions.
9. Warwick Castle
Filled with over 1,000 years of history, Warwick Castle is a great day trip for families looking to explore further than London.
This traditional motte and bailey castle was constructed in 1068 by William the Conqueror, as a means of holding the area of The Midlands after his invasion of 1066. Today, the castle is recognised as one of the ‘Top 10 Historic Houses and Monuments’ by the British Tourist Authority, making it a very popular site to visit.
You can book tickets online, which will give you access to its grounds and gardens. There are also plenty of additional options available, including a traditional afternoon tea on-site, a tour of the castle’s dungeons, or even a night’s stay in its historic accommodation.
Keep an eye on the castle’s daily show times (included in your ticket price), as you can also catch a Birds of Prey demonstration outdoors, or discover how a traditional Bowman would use archery as a form of defence.
By car, the journey is fairly straightforward, with the castle located less than two miles off the M40 motorway. You can also travel by rail from London Marylebone Station, with Warwick Castle situated approximately one mile from the city’s station.
10. Bath City Centre
Immerse yourself in the city built for pleasure and relaxation with a day trip to beautiful Bath. Originally designed as a destination for wellbeing in Roman times, it’s home to the ancient Roman Baths, which were used as a place for people to socialise and clean themselves each day.
Within the city’s stunning honey-coloured Georgian architecture is a vibrant collection of things to see and do, including a remarkable collection of museums and galleries, theatre, music events, dining facilities, as well as a number of independent shops.
Though there’s enough to see and do over an entire weekend, you can easily see the city’s exterior and Baths within a day, due to it being so compact. In fact, it’s often one of the cities we offer as part of our day trips, because of its density. Must-see areas include the iconic Royal Crescent and the Circus, both iconic in terms of their 18th-century architecture.
For a day trip to Bath from London, travelling by train is recommended. Services run around every 30 minutes from London’s Paddington Station, and take approximately 90 minutes in travel time.
You could also travel by car to capture views of the North Wessex Downs (an Area of Natural Beauty), with a journey length of around two and a half hours.
Alternatively, there is also a Nation Express coach service which runs daily, though this takes between 3-4 hours in length, so isn’t recommended for those looking to travel there and back to London in a single day.
11. Bristol City Centre
Recently named the one of the best places to visit in the world by the New York Times, Bristol is full of fun and fascinating things to see and do, and is well worth a visit for those looking for family day trips from London.
One of the most visited places in the city is the famous SS Great Britain – a well-known relic of Britain’s maritime past. This giant naval shop is a stunning site to explore and holds a long and impressive history, which you can learn about via ticketed entrance to its on-board museum.
When looking for somewhere to stop and grab a bite to eat, be sure to visit Stokes Croft, which shares a similar vibe to London’s bustling Shoreditch and Dalston. With its abundance of cafes, restaurants and bars, it’s a bustling community filled with culture and vibrancy – a great atmosphere to soak up over lunch.
A trip to Bristol isn’t complete without a stop at The Christmas Steps. This famous 17th century stepped lane is a snippet of the city’s history, giving insight into what Bristol may have looked like all those hundreds of years ago. Today, the area is a warped combination of the old versus new, with the steps surrounded by a unique collection of shops, galleries, boutiques and many more modern amenities.
Bristol is easily accessible from London by car, coach, and train. Trains run almost every quarter of an hour from London Paddington and Waterloo station, taking around one-and-a-half hours in time. Driving and coach journeys are a little longer, taking around two-and-a-half to three hours in length, depending on traffic.
Whilst in the UK, be sure to pay a visit to William Shakespeare’s birthplace with a day trip from London to Stratford-Upon-Avon. With over 800 years of history, there is plenty to explore and learn about in this thriving market town, particularly if you are a fan of Shakespeare’s works.
There are plenty of walking tours available to try which will have you pass some impressive landmarks, including Shakespeare’s grave at the Church of the Holy Trinity, his place of birth, as well as the school in which he studied from 1571 to 1578 (between the ages of 7 and 14).
No trip to Stratford is complete without a viewing of one of Shakespeare’s most famous works at the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre. Having recently undergone a major renovation, the theatre now houses a thrust auditorium with over 1000 seats that are no farther than 15 metres away from the stages. Shows are performed almost daily, so there is plenty of opportunity to watch something, no matter what time of year you visit.
Next to the theatres, you will also find ‘The Other Place,’ which is a great creative hub for learning, research and development. There’s a café on site, as well as regular music, poetry, and family events. On every second Saturday of the month, they run free family drop-in activities, making it a great place to take children, particularly those with a love of theatre, literature and creative writing.
Travelling from London to Stratford-upon-Avon is fairly straightforward, with trains leaving London Marylebone almost every hour. You can also drive there within two-hours, taking the M40 north past Oxford and into Stratford.
Did you know that from the Middle Ages until the Industrial Revolution, Norwich was the second largest city in England? And did you also know that it is the most complete Medieval city in the United Kingdom? This makes Norwich a great place to visit for a day trip, especially with the city only being a 2-hour train journey from London.
Norwich is an eccentric student city, filled with unique shops, independent cafes and antique stores. Its famous cobbled lanes are particularly iconic, brimming with an eclectic mix of the old and new. Biddy’s Tea Room, in particular, is famous for its vibrant interior design, delicious homemade cakes, and diverse collection of tea samples.
There’s also a resident market in the city’s centre, which has been in operation for over 900 years. Filled with around 200 independent traders and stalls, you can buy everything from delicious street food to vintage clothing and rainbow-coloured roses!
But if you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and immerse yourself in its history, then you should definitely take a short walk to Norwich Cathedral. Built in the 11th century, the cathedral is the second-largest in England, with a spire which also makes it the second-tallest in the country.
If you have time, you should also try to take an educational tour of Norwich Castle. Known as ‘the Square Box on the Hill,’ this Norman showpiece was founded by the Normans between 1066 and 1075, constructed as a way to control the largest population in England (at the time). Today, the castle is open to the public, and, although, you can walk around the grounds free of charge, it’s definitely worth purchasing a ticket to get inside and learn about its rich history.
14. York City Centre
If you’re in search of even more cobblestone streets, Gothic buildings and hordes of history, then a day trip to York is a must. In terms of day trips for families, there are plenty of things to see and do, particularly those looking for educational sites. So you will need to carefully plan out your itinerary to ensure you can do as much as possible in a single day trip.
One great destination families is the York Chocolate Story, which will educate you on the history of the city’s most famous chocolate brands, including Rowntree’s and Terry’s. Children can also make their own chocolate lollipops to take home with them – a great souvenir to take back from their day trip!
There’s also the York Castle Museum which features the Kirkgate street scene, an indoor recreation of a cobbled Victorian Street which includes a schoolroom, police cell, and traditional Hansom cab. The museum is fully interactive, keeping young minds entertained throughout the day, with options to book onto group or private tours with museum guides, should you wish to learn even more about its history from an expert.
Don’t forget to leave some time free to explore the beautiful outdoors in York, including the famous city walls and a visit to York Minster – an imposing Gothic cathedral with an underground museum. There’s also the option to climb its tall tower, which offers spectacular views over York and its cityscape.
Access to York is easily done by rail, with high speed trains departing from London Kings’ Cross and taking under two hours in travel time. Travel by coach or car takes substantially longer (over 4 hours), so isn’t recommended for those looking to travel to York and back to London within a single day.
15. Kent & Spa Valley Railway
Take a trundle back through time on the heritage railway line which runs from Tunbridge Wells to Eridge or Groombridge. The journey will take you through the beautiful Kent countryside, with options for you to stop off at a few picturesque locations along the way. For example, you could visit the magnificent High Rocks, and take a scenic walk through the tranquil woodland setting to view the National Monument.
Alternatively, you could hop off the train at Groombridge for Groombridge Place, a beautiful country estate which is filled with sculpted gardens, 200 acres of parkland and a 17th century moated manor house. There’s also plenty of playgrounds and a treetop walk on-site, making it the perfect place to visit with the whole family.
The station is easily accessible, taking just 50 minutes from London Bridge to Tunbridge Wells via train. But if you’ve hired a car, you can also drive, with the journey taking around one hour fifteen minutes, depending on the traffic.
Before you travel, just check the steam trains are running on the day you intend to visit. The train line is run by local volunteers, so services can be subject to change at short notice.
Looking for More Ways to Spend the Summer Break ?
The UK is a great destination for summer adventures, with so many places to visit and sites to be explored.
Part of what makes our summer courses so enriching is the ability to combine academia with an extensive range of extracurricular activities and day trips to some of the best UK heritage sites.
In particular, our courses for students aged 9-12 offer an authentic British boarding school experience, with students staying in the historic Wycombe Abbey. To make their time as fulfilling as possible, their timetables are filled with exciting on-site extracurriculars and sporting events, as well as day trips to some of the best educational sites on this list.