Easily the best thing about London is that there’s always stuff to do – a good thing, too, or we’d need new jobs! If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t believe there’s a world beyond Zone 4, then you may feel there’s no reason to leave (“What’s even outside the M25? Do they have Vietnamese food out there?”).
Well, it’s good to escape the London bubble every once in a while. And that’s doubly true in autumn, because the colours are brighter and the air is definitely cleaner. With that in mind, we’ve picked out some great ways to escape the capital with these autumn day trips.
1. The New Forest
This picturesque part of England has been drawing visitors since 1079, when William the Conqueror rocked up and proclaimed it his ‘new hunting forest’. Almost a thousand years later, the name has stuck, as have the forest laws he put in place. Since you won’t be herding pigs (unless you really want to), we’ve found some other stuff to do.
The best way to see the woodland is by cycling or better, horseback riding, given how many ponies roam through the forest. Whilst the ancient forests are the main draw, particularly with the autumn colours about, there are also quaint villages to look at. Perhaps the best is Buckler’s Hard, a historic shipbuilding village where Admiral Nelson’s fleet was built. You might even say this village is a major reason why he has such a nice view of Whitehall.
Southampton lies on the doorstep of the New Forest, and since it’s only an hour and half from Paddington to Southampton Central, you can conquer this trip in a day!
Just like Chaucer’s pilgrims before you, London to Canterbury is a route you should follow this autumn. You’re unlikely to encounter knights or pardoners nowadays, but the city nonetheless is an intriguing mix of medieval and modern. As it was for the Wife of Bath & co, the big attraction is the stunning Canterbury Cathedral, one of England’s best loved buildings.
Their archbishop is kind of a big deal too… Aside from the holy pursuits, you can have a rollicking good time punting down the Great Stour, or perhaps taking in a matinee at the Marlowe Theatre. All this, and you can still make it home for cocktails in the capital. Sorted.
The journey from St Pancras to Canterbury West is less an hour, but since there are few tale-telling pilgrims on Southeastern Rail these days, you may want to bring a book.
3. The South Downs
The ferociously beautiful South Downs are just over an hour away from the centre of London, and well worth a visit. Amongst the prettiest sights to see here is the town of Arundel, which boasts an impressive Norman castle. To feel like you’ve stepped back in time, wander the gardens and watch the castle knights put on a combat and weapons demonstration.
For something a little more active, try walking or cycling along the South Downs Way. It’s a hundred miles long, however, so maybe don’t try to do it all in a day. If all this nature and solitude is way too much for a Londoner to stomach, then Brighton is only a short train ride away, offering arcades, piers, and a nightlife that feels almost like London. Almost.
You can reach Arundel in an hour and twenty minutes from Victoria, and the same amount of time will see you from Blackfriars to Brighton.
4. Great Yarmouth & The Norfolk Broads
As autumn day trips go, this one is a little further away, but catch an early train and you’ll have a cracking day. Great Yarmouth’s Pleasure Beach draws over a million visitors a year. Surely that silenced the doubters who said it had Norfolk in chance… They’ve also got strong links to British history, with the Wellington Pier being one of the highlights. If you don’t fancy any of these, you can head into the countryside to find the Norfolk Broads. Commandeer a vessel if you’ve got a couple of hours to spare, and you’ll feel just like the Admiral as you sail the waters of East Anglia. Ahoy there!
A three-hour train journey from Liverpool Street will get you to Great Yarmouth, and you’re free to launch your naval campaign from there.
The debate over whether it’s pronounced ‘Baff’ or ‘Barth’ (it’s ‘Barth’, take it from a former local) will never end, but whatever you call it, Bath still makes for a lovely day trip. Easily the biggest attraction is the Roman baths which give the town its highly unimaginative name.
Once you’ve learnt about Roman Britain, you can take a dip in the waters to relax and let that knowledge sink in. Other highlights include Bath Abbey and The American Museum of Britain, which is the only museum of Americana outside of the US. Before you leave, munch down a Sally Lunn bun, which is an indescribable marriage of cake and bread. They count former Bath resident Jane Austen amongst their fans, so they’ve clearly done something right!
You’ve got Brunel to thank for this one, as his railway will get you from Paddington to Bath Spa in an hour and twenty minutes. Bravo Isambard!
6. The Cotswolds
The last of our autumn day trips is another venture out west, to the picture-perfect Cotswolds. Covering parts of five counties, this place also happens to be criminally beautiful, and stuffed full of chocolate-box villages. The trio of Stow on the Wold, Moreton-in-Marsh, and Bourton-on-the-Water are not only tongue twisters, but they’re three of the most beautiful little places in England.
Here, perfect autumn day trips are made of a walk through the village, a pub lunch, and then a stop at the local sweet shop. However, for a real gem, head south to Castle Combe, which is perhaps the most beautiful of the lot in autumn, and makes regular appearances in TV and films.
Paddington is your gateway to the West, as you can reach Cheltenham Spa in a shade over two hours, and strike out for the Cotswolds from there.
Also published on Medium.