Working in London can be exhausting, but thanks to the United Kingdom's extensive rail network, escaping from the hustle and bustle of the British capital for a day is only a quick train ride away. Treat yourself to a mini vacation and experience England's rolling countryside and natural wonders, explore ancient castles and ruins, discover a plethora of cultural activities and attractions, and still be back in time for a good night's sleep. Below are 10 of the best places to visit less than two and a half hours outside of the city.
1. Oxford1 hour Train from Paddington Station to Oxford
With the oldest university in England at its heart, Oxford has grown to become a lively academic, historical and cultural hub. The city combines all the usual accoutrements of a college town with the rich history of an ancient city from the 9th century. Wander around the narrow streets lined with beautiful stone architecture, tour the university, browse the shelves of old and new bookshops and libraries, and pick up a souvenir in one of many shops and markets. Though Oxford is one of England's most popular tourist attractions, its compact downtown makes it easily accessible and navigable. Visitors can hop from one attraction to another in a very short amount of time, making it a perfect destination for a full day out.
2. Cambridge45 minute train from King's Cross Station to Cambridge
Cambridge is one of two ancient university towns in England, and it is brimming with things to do, places to explore, and books to read. While Oxford and Cambridge have quite a bit in common, Cambridge is slightly smaller and less busy than its counterpart. It also has the King's College Chapel, one of the most famous buildings in England, as well as the Fitzwilliam Museum, which is said to have the best art collection in England outside of London. To relax and get a great view of many of Cambridge's colleges, go punting, or boating, down the River Cam. Punting, which was developed in medieval times, is also offered in Oxford, but the Cambridge experience is more stunning. Rent out a punt yourself or have a professional punter propel it for you.
3. Bath1 hour train from Paddington Station to Bath
Bath is an UNESCO World Heritage City named for its natural hot springs, which served as the ancient Roman baths 2,000 years ago. The city, which was once a bustling, aristocratic resort town, is now a fabulous place to enjoy pristine Georgian architecture and plenty of historical and cultural sights and activities. Upon arrival, make sure to go on a self-guided audio tour of the Roman Baths, which are still bubbling with the same water from ancient times. When you are done walking in the footsteps of the ancient Romans, step outside and grab a bite to eat at Sally Lunn's Refreshment House, which is the oldest house in Bath and the only home of Sally Lunn's Buns, Bath's most famous teatime delicacies. Afterward, take your pick of one of Bath's many museums, including the Fashion Museum, which traces the changes in clothing fashion over the last 400 years, the Jane Austen Centre, which is a shrine to Bath's most famous resident, and the Bath Aqua Theatre of Glass, where you can watch glass art being created. If you aren't in the mood to sightsee, Bath's condensed downtown is great for a relaxing afternoon of wandering and shopping.
4. Brighton1 hour train from London Bridge or Victoria to Brighton East Sussex
Brighton is known as the hip, seaside getaway for young, energetic Londoners seeking a creative and cosmopolitan home away from home. Take in the salt air with a stroll down Brighton Pier, and dip your toes in the sea on Pebble Beach. While exploring the seashore, make sure to visit the Royal Pavilion, which was the seaside, extravagant palace of King George IV. If you are a patron of the arts, Brighton is bursting with plenty more historical and cultural attractions, such as festivals, museums, galleries, film, comedy and theatre for all tastes. If you cannot bear to leave, turn your daytrip into an overnight stay and experience Brighton's famed nightlife.
5. Winchester1 hour train from Waterloo Station to Winchester
Winchester was once the ancient capital of England and, though King Alfred the Great no longer holds the throne, the city still retains much historical and cultural significance in the United Kingdom today. Surrounded by Hampshire's rolling countryside, the city is best known for Winchester Cathedral, which is one of England's largest churches and dates back to the 7th century. While one could spend a whole day exploring all the events and activities the cathedral has to offer, there is still much more to do in Winchester. Fans of medieval mythology can visit the Great Hall, where inside, visitors can view what generations of tourists have venerated as the original Round Table of "Once and Future King" Arthur. For more history, go to one or all five of the city's exquisite museums dedicated to England's military, visit the City Museum, which tracks Winchester's story from ancient times to modern day, or explore the Westgate, which once served as a debtors' prison for 150 years and is now open to the public. Other attractions in the area include INTECH, the U.K.'s largest planetarium, Jane Austen's house, and an assortment of quirky shops and quaint eateries.
6. Windsor40 minute train from Paddington Station to Windsor & Eton Central, 1 hour train from Waterloo Station to Windsor & Eton Riverside
Can't get enough of the Queen while in London? Well Windsor is the perfect place to visit for a day dedicated to the monarchy. The city houses Windsor Castle, which is the Queen's official residence and the largest and oldest inhabited castle in the world. The fortress is around 1,000 years old and boasts 13 acres of immaculate state apartments and gothic architecture. Visit the tombs of ten former sovereigns, including that of King Henry VIII, in St. George's Chapel, browse the treasures of the royal collection, and observe a working world in miniature within Queen Mary's Dollhouse. While a visit to the castle could easily occupy the entire day, it is not the Royal Borough's only attraction. Catch a horse race on the banks of the River Thames at the Royal Windsor Racecourse, relax in Saville Garden, and eat a meal fit for a queen in one of the city's many restaurants, bars, or cafés.
7. Dover1 hour train from Charing Cross or Victoria Station to Dover Priory
Nicknamed the "Gateway to England," Dover has always been the first stopping point for generations of immigrants and invaders coming from continental Europe to the U.K. Today, it remains a bustling port city with a great deal of natural beauty and fascinating historical attractions. The city's most visible icons are the chalky "White Cliffs," which line five miles of the coastline. You can explore the cliffs' majesty by boat, or you can view their preserved flora and fauna while hiking one of many established trails. Besides their outward beauty, the cliffs have historical significance as well. Because of Dover's strategic placement on the narrowest part of the English Channel, the city was an integral player in World War II. One can still explore the network of Secret War Time Tunnels deep in the cliffs, which were used as an underground hospital and a military enclave during the war. For even more history and beauty, visit Dover Castle, which served as a fortress against invaders since Roman times and showcases the largest keep, called the Great Tower, in Britain.
8. City of Canterbury1 hour, 30 minute train from Charing Cross Station to Canterbury West, 1 hour, 45 minute train from Victoria Station to Canterbury East
In the 14th century, Geoffrey Chaucer made Canterbury famous worldwide with his book of short stories, The Canterbury Tales. Canterbury Cathedral, which was the centerpiece of Chaucer's work, has been a center for pilgrimage for a thousand years, and still stands in all its glory today, alongside two other World Heritage Sites in the city, St. Augustine's Abbey and St. Martins Church. In addition, the city of Canterbury has two castles and six museums, including the Museum of Canterbury. The city is also the spiritual base of the Church of England and is home to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Though Canterbury is brimming with history, it also gives off a cosmopolitan feel. The city center, which is closed to traffic during the day, juxtaposes historic buildings with an eclectic mix of contemporary eateries and shops, making it both a historical and cultural mecca for all tastes.
9. Stratford-upon-Avon2 hour, 15 minute train from Marylebone to Stratford-upon-Avon
One cannot think of Stratford-upon-Avon without simultaneously thinking of William Shakespeare. Home to the birthplace and burial site of the famous playwright, the compact market town in the heart of England is full of cultural sites and attractions relating to Shakespeare's life. Visit one or all five of Shakespeare's houses, pay tribute to his grave at Holy Trinity Church, and if you have time, watch a Shakespeare original play at one of the Royal Shakespeare Theatres. Even if you are not a fan of William, Stratford-upon-Avon has plenty more to offer. The River Avon, which runs through the town and hosts a variety of events and activities throughout the year, can be easily explored by foot or by boat. Rent a rowboat or motorboat, take a cruise, or just walk along the river's edge to observe its wildlife and stunning scenery. There are also several guided walks around the area, including the daily Stratford Town Walk, which requires no reservations, and the Stratford Town Ghost Walk, which tells tales of ghosts, witches, and murder in the old, Elizabethan settlement.
10. Paris2 hour 15 minute Eurostar train from London St. Pancras to Gare du Nord
Paris may be in a different country, but a quick train ride through the Chunnel will have you sipping wine and chomping on baguettes in just over two hours. The Paris Metro is easily accessible and will take you to all the major attractions, such as the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Sacré-Coeur, and Père-Lachaise cemetery. Enjoy Art Nouveau architecture, have an afternoon espresso and croissant next to the river Seine, and be back in London by nightfall.