Visiting England for the first time? Most people make a beeline for London, without discovering what the rest of Blighty has to offer. So we asked guest blogger (and American) Jonathan Thomas for his top tips for seeing the real England. A self-confessed Anglophile, he came up with a list of unique and cheap day trips around the UK…
London is my favorite city on the face of the Earth – but sometimes you just feel like you just need an escape. Many Brits will tell you that London is not all there is to England and it’s completely true. If you don’t explore further afield, you’ll miss so much of the UK’s unique regional character. So here is my top 10 list of the quickest and cheapest day trips from London, to get a true taste of what England has to offer. Just remember to pre-book your train tickets to get the best deals.
The south of England’s playground by the sea, Brighton has a long history as a pleasure destination. It’s only about an hour from London by train, but it’s a world away. Experience a gentler time on the Victorian Pier, dip your toes in the sea and take in the gaudy Royal Pavilion – the famous home of the Prince Regent. Enjoy fish and chips by the sea and the quirky shopping in the Lanes, then crash in a Brighton hostel so you can experience the legendary nightlife.
GETTING THERE: If you plan in advance you can get train fares to Brighton from London for as little as £5 on TheTrainLine.com. Trains leave from London Victoria Station. Book a hostel in Brighton now!
This is a must-visit if you have any interest in literature. Stratford-upon-Avon is the mother of it all – the home of William Shakespeare. Check out his birthplace, Anne Hathaway’s cottage, go boating on the Avon River and take in a play at the Royal Shakespeare Company.
GETTING THERE: Stratford-upon-Avon is about two hours by train from London. You can get train fares to Stratford-upon-Avon from as low as £5. Trains leave often from London Marylebone and London Euston. Book a hostel in Stratford-upon-Avon now!
York seems a whole world away from London – yet when people try to picture ‘quaint old England’, it’s pretty much Yorkshire they’re seeing. The city of York has many exciting attractions, including York Minster – a massive ancient Cathedral – the National Railway Museum, and the Jorvik Viking Center. One of the coolest things you can do in York is to walk around the city on its ancient city walls. Enjoy shopping in the maze of streets in the city centre and be sure to stop by the Shambles, buildings so old they’re almost falling down.
GETTING THERE: Train journeys to York take about 2 hours – however it’s a little pricier than other day trips. A ticket purchased in advance can run to £37. Trains leave every half hour from London King’s Cross station. If you fancy staying a bit longer, book a hostel in York or the Yorkshire Dales, and see what the rest of the region has to offer.
Oxford is the oldest university in England and is only a quick jaunt from London. Even if you’re not a student at Oxford, there is plenty to take in. Take an amble around and admire the beautiful stone architecture, check out old libraries such as the Bodleian, choose your ‘college’ loyalty and check out the fine museums. The Covered Market on the High Street – the oldest in Britain – is a fantastic shopping destination with plenty of shops and food stalls. Unsurprisingly, Oxford is home to many bookshops. If you’re there in the summer then you must try Punting – navigating a wooden boat down the river with a pole. Very romantic and bucolic, and you can live out your own Brideshead Revisited fantasy!
GETTING THERE: Train journeys to Oxford take about an hour and leave regularly from London Paddington. If you plan in advance, you can get fares for around £6-7. Book a hostel in Oxford now!
If you’re not an Oxford person then check out England’s other ancient university town, Cambridge. Explore the lovely colleges, enjoy the sumptuous architecture and wander the ancient streets of knowledge. Cambridge is home to many exciting museums and galleries, so you’ll have plenty to do while you’re in town. I’m a bookstore guy, so of course, I’d hit up as many bookstores as I can. They have punting as well – so you can enjoy a lazy day in Cambridge by relaxing on the river.
GETTING THERE: Train journeys to Cambridge take less than an hour from Kings Cross in London and cost about £20. Book a hostel in Cambridge now!
The site of a Roman spa many thousands of years ago, Bath is home to some of the finest ruins left in England from the Roman Era, making it the ideal place to learn all about ancient Roman Britain. The city is also incredibly beautiful with classic Georgian Architecture built in beautiful Cotswold stone.
GETTING THERE: Train journeys to Bath take about an hour and a half and leave from London Paddington. An advance train ticket should cost around £20. Book a hostel in Bath now!
Windsor is most famous for one thing – the Queen! She makes her main home at Windsor Castle, which dominates the town. Many people don’t know that there is also a changing of the guard at Windsor as well and it’s much more intimate as you don’t have to fight the crowds to get a good look. The castle is beautiful and well worth the trip. When you’re done with the castle, explore the shops on the high street or cross the river over to Eton – home to the famous private school where Britain’s aristocracy and pretty much all of its leaders are educated.
GETTING THERE: Train journeys to Windsor take about half an hour and leave from London Paddington quite often. A train ticket will run you about £8. Quite a deal! Book a hostel in Windsor now!
Dover was the traditional front door to England if you were coming from continental Europe. Despite being a little sidelined by the Channel Tunnel, it’s still one of Britain’s busiest ports with plenty to do around town. By far the most famous sites are the beautiful White Chalk Cliffs. and one of Britain’s most beautiful castles – Dover Castle. Dover used to be a fort city as it was the first stop for any invading force, so the town is filled with interesting military heritage. It’s also home to a unique display dedicated to the Battle of Britain.
GETTING THERE: Trains to Dover run from Victoria, St Pancras and London Bridge fairly regularly and it takes about an hour and a half. A standard train fair will cost about £25. Book a hostel in Dover now!
Canterbury was made famous by the classic Canterbury Tales by Chaucer. A site of pilgrimage for almost a thousand years, Canterbury is still home to a magnificent cathedral and many other churches. Currently, the city is the spiritual base of the Church of England with the Archbishop of Canterbury at its head. There’s plenty to see and do in Canterbury from touring the ancient city centre and checking out an awesome array of museums, art galleries and restaurants to taking a historic river tour. Canterbury is still a happening place after all these years!
GETTING THERE: Trains to Canterbury run from London Victoria and St Pancras. It takes about an hour and a half. A ticket should run you about £20. Book a hostel in Canterbury now!
OK, so it may not be in England, but you can easily reach Paris by train from London. A day in Paris provides an excellent contrast to to London and you won’t regret visiting the city of lights. Paris is a massive city, so it’s important to plan ahead. I recommend seeing the Eiffel Tower, exploring the shops, visiting the Sacre Coeur and the Louvre is a MUST. Learn a bit of French before you go, be courteous and you can avoid the stereotypical French treatment. If you are pressed for time, stick around the Latin Quarter – there are plenty of fine restaurants, shops and views of beautiful buildings.
GETTING THERE: Trains run from London St Pancras to Paris every half hour. It takes about two hours by train. Return fares to Paris start at £69. For a cheap stopover in the city, book a Paris hostel and come back the next day!
This post was written by Jonathan Thomas who runs the world’s largest Anglophile website, Anglotopia.net. If you’re interested in British Travel, Culture, Expat columnists and history – you can check out his blog.
Thanks to Chad Kainz, amipal, Tejvan Pettinger, Timo Newton-Syms, Les Haines, Moyan Brenn, Cody and leo.wan for the excellent images from Flickr. Please note, all images were used under the Creative Commons License at the time of posting.