Brighton Palace Pier - London Day Trips
#GetThrifty,  England,  London,  Travel,  United Kingdom

Scenic (and Affordable!) Day Trips from London

Want to see more of England than just the crowded streets of London? Get out of the city for a scenic day trip! I’ve put together a list of my favourite affordable day trips from London — all just a short drive or train ride away from the city. 
London day trip
Take a stroll along the River Thames in Kingston upon Thames

Don’t get me wrong, London is amazing — I love it more every time I go. (I’ve lost count…) But sometimes it’s nice to get away from the hustle and bustle and find some wide-open spaces. After being in the city, affordable day trips from London are just the ticket. And if you haven’t seen the English countryside from anywhere other than looking down from your plane seat, you’re missing out. England is gorgeous, and the sheep that you will inevitably see from the window are adorable. 

England sheep
Sheep are a common sight in the English countryside. It’s rare to not see them dotted along the landscape.

5 Affordable Day Trips from London

Here are my recommended and favourite day trips from the city. Excursions tend to be my treat days where I know I’m spending a bit more money, but I always try to get the best value for my money. #GetThrifty

Photo: Viator

1. Stonehenge & Salisbury

The first time I went to England, Salisbury and Stonehenge were two of my first stops after London. While a bit touristy, Stonehenge is absolutely worth a visit — I recommend going early morning or for sunset. Regardless of your beliefs, there’s something magical about a circle and the right light. (Can I hear a “Dinna fash, Sassenach” from my fellow Outlander fans?) English Heritage takes care of and preserves the site, and I still can’t wrap my head around how the stones were placed in their formation. I’m going with magic.

Top tip: Be sure to buy your ticket before you get there so you can skip the line!

Salisbury is a cute little city that I would suggest arriving in the day before you want to go to Stonehenge. Check into a cute little bed and breakfast and go visit the stunning cathedral. I happened to be reading Pillars of the Earth at the time, which made the visit extra special.

Options to get there:

  • Car: Approx. a two-hour drive from London
  • Train: Take the South Western Railway line train from Waterloo Station to Salisbury (1.5 hours), and hop on the Stonehenge Tour bus (30 min). Aside from taking a bus (don’t do it), this is the most #GetThrifty way to do it.
  • Tour: Take one of these tours from London

Side note: While choosing photos for this post, I was fairly devastated to discover that most of my photos from my first trip to England (2010, including Salisbury and Stonehenge) have disappeared. They weren’t from my phone, but from my little Canon point and shoot, and I have the feeling they were the victim of my laptop going on the fritz last spring. (Even though I backed everything up…) But it just means that the next time the Brit and I go back to the UK, I’m dragging him to Stonehenge so I can take new photos.

Hampton Court palace England
Moody skies over the grand palace of a moody king (2016) | Photo: The Brit

2. Hampton Court Palace & Kingston upon Thames

Located 12 miles south-west of London and located on a quiet bank of the Thames in Kingston-Upon-Thames, Hampton Court Palace was built for Henry VIII as a very extra and grand country retreat so he could show off during state visits. (And do other things he probably shouldn’t have been doing.) The Brit went in a couple of years ago and raved about it. While we didn’t have time to go in on our last year, the exterior is quite impressive.

Kingston upon Thames is one of those very literally named towns that you will find sprinkled all over much of the UK. With many cycling and walking paths along the river, it’s quite idyllic. The Brit’s cousin lives there with her partner and while we were treated to a fab homemade feast that day, we’ve been told that we are going to the Giggling Squid the next time we visit. (I want to go for the name alone!)  

Options to get there:

  • Car: 1 hour (approx.) drive from London
  • Train: Take the South Western Railway line train from Waterloo Station to Kingston (35 min), and hop on the 461 Kingston Upon Thames bus for two stops (2-5 min). Or if you’d like to walk along the blissfully quiet Thames riverbank, that is a very scenic stroll (35 min). 
  • Tour: Take one of these tours from London
vineyard walk Sussex
Walking the vines in East Sussex wine country

3. Sussex wine country

Yes, England has a wine country! Plural, actually. And the south of England happens to have incredible soil for growing grapes for sparkling and Rosé wines. Who knew? I do (now), and so will you. I wrote a post about our local tour a few months ago, but the short version is that you need to visit Sussex wine country and bring some wine back to London with you. Tour the vines, taste all the lovey vino, and enjoy the spectacular English countryside.

Options to get there: 

  • Driving: If you drive, assign a DD and make sure you buy them dinner and a lovely (read: not cheap) bottle from one of the vineyards you visit.
  • Tour: Take one of these tours
Brighton Palace Pier England
Brighton Palace Pier is a must see and visit while in Brighton

4. Brighton

This resort town on the south coast was once considered the seaside getaway for 18th and 19th-century British royals. The Brit was born in Brighton and we were fortunate enough to get sent on a day of dates around the city. Seaside towns tend to be places for anyone and everyone to enjoy themselves — and Brighton is no exception.

I recommend visiting the Brighton Palace Pier, the stunning Royal Pavilion, going up the British Airways i360, browsing the shops of the Lanes, and walking along every inch of the shore. Brighton is also known for its selection of excellent restaurants (for all budgets), as well as being the home of Brighton Bierhaus

Options to get there: 

  • Car: 1-1.5 hour drive from London
  • Train: Take the Gatwick Express (1 hour) or Southern Line (1.5 hours) from Victoria Station. The alternate option is taking the Thameslink from London Bridge Station
  • Tour: Once you get there, take a tour of the city, or check out the itinerary that VisitBrighton set up for the Brit and I!
Seven Sisters Sussex chalk hills
Visiting the Seven Sisters

Brighton is also your gateway to:

South Downs National Park and the Seven Sisters – While you might initially think that visiting chalk hills sounds boring, the spectacular view of the rolling hills of the countryside at the park and the stunning view of the Seven Sisters and the English Channel will change your mind in a nano-second.

Drusillas Zoo Park – Renowned zoo and family fun park.

Bluebell Steam Railway & Vineyard – This is something we didn’t get a chance to do back in December, but it’s on the list for when we go back next year. The Brit really loves old trains, and I quite like wineries, so it’s really the perfect couples’ activity.

Alfriston – Cute little village with equally cute shops, authentic (read: very old and lovely) pubs, short and long hikes, and many a photo op. If you plan on staying for a couple of days,  Deans Place Hotel is a good option that I’ve heard great things about.

Wine Country – As mentioned above, the East Sussex area is well-known for its award-winning wineries. There are several tour options that you can find here, or you can connect with my friends at Vine + Country Tours. (They are so lovely and will take amazing care of you.) 

The Harry Potter Studio Tour is a must-do for the next time we go to England! | Photo: Warner Bros.

5. Get your Harry Potter fix

London is a 45-minute drive or train+bus ride away from the epic Harry Potter Studio Tour and a 1.5 hour drive or train journey away from historic Oxford, which is where ‘Hogwarts’ is located. Yep, you can go to Hogwarts (squee!) and other locations in Oxford where other HP scenes were filmed. These are two items that still need to be checked off my own bucket list. As I learned, the studio tour is especially popular. Make sure you book your tickets at least a month(!) in advance.

Transport options out of London

And now for logistics. How are you going to get to your scenic day trip?

Drive on the left

If you’re feeling brave and want to drive on the left, rent a car. (Costs range from $20-100 CAD, not including car rental.)

Hop on the train

Usually the fastest and mostly #GetThrifty option — and very easy to sort out via Google maps or the National Rail website. Also, the larger London train stations are very Instagram-worthy. Once you get to your destination, I’ve also included links for the best attraction ticket prices so you can skip the line. (Costs range from: $20-100 CAD, inclusive)

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]#GetThrifty: I’ve found that buying an Anytime return ticket online tends to be the most economical option. It gives you the flexibility of departing and returning when you would like to, and is cheaper than buying two single tickets. Off-peak time tickets are also well priced, but usually involve travelling very early or very late.  [/perfectpullquote]

Take a tour

Transport, tickets, and occasionally, food. This combo often adds up to a higher initial sum, but it’s sometimes it’s to just have to show up, am I right? These tours will likely be on an air-conditioned shuttle bus, but are occasionally taken via train. I’ve linked some Viator options as they are good value for money, and I’ve loved any tour I’ve been on with them. (Costs range from $50-150 CAD, inclusive)

And for when you’re back in the city, make sure you check out my London budget hacks for an affordable #GetThrifty experience in the city.

“I long for the countryside. That’s where I get my calm and tranquillity — from being able to come and find a spot of green.”

Emilia Clarke

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