No matter how great London is, sometimes you’ll find yourself needing a change in scenery. London is surrounded by towns and cities which are full of history, culture and attractive scenery. Here are the best day trips from London by coach.
Coach travel is often the cheapest way to get around England if you don’t drive. The two main coach companies, National Express and Megabus, offer routes to many destinations around the country, and at bargain prices.
Below is a list of places that are only a short coach journey from London. Perhaps these can inspire your next day out!
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Just under three hours by coach from London Victoria is Colchester, a historic town in Essex. It’s known as Britain’s first city and was once the capital of Roman Britain (then called Camulodunum). With a history of over 2,000 years, there is plenty to explore here.
To kickstart your historic tour of Colchester, the best place to start is the Colchester Castle Museum. The castle is home to the largest Norman castle keep in Europe, and was built on the foundations of the Roman Temple of Claudius. You can take a guided tour of the castle and visit the museum, where you can admire artefacts like mosaics and the Colchester Gladiator Vase.
Castle Park is a lovely place to relax and have a picnic, with a boating lake, play park and crazy golf course. To explore more of the town’s Roman heritage, you can trace the remains of the Roman walls that were built around the city, including the Balkerne Gate, Britain’s oldest Roman gate.
One of the most popular attractions in the town is Colchester Zoo. With a large emphasis on conservation, the zoo is home to over 260 species from around the world. There are themed zones such as the Orangutan Forest, the Kingdom of the Wild and Edge of Africa.
If you’re after more of a cultural day out, Colchester has some excellent museums and art galleries. Hollytrees Museum is a free, local history museum with a particularly interesting array of Colchester-made clocks.
If it’s nature you’re interested in, the Natural History Museum has plenty of fascinating things to uncover. Make sure to visit Firstsite, an architecturally stunning art museum showcasing contemporary visual art, exhibitions, films and events.
Two hours and 40 minutes by coach, Margate is a seaside town on the southeast coast of Kent. Being so close to London, Margate has been a popular seaside resort for at least 250 years, with city-dwellers drawn to its sandy beaches. With all the classic fittings of a traditional seaside town like a theme park, arcades and theatres, the town is also artsy, young and uber cool.
Margate Main Sands is a Blue Flag winning beach. Alongside the huge stretch of golden sands, you’ll find plenty of cafes, attractions and children’s rides. Just behind the beach is the Old Town, full of gorgeous Georgian and Victorian buildings housing independent shops, boutiques, galleries and cafes.
Along the Main Sands you’ll also find Old Kent Market, an indoor market housed within an old cinema building from 1911. Find all sorts of things in here, from food and crafts, to vinyl and cocktails.
A must visit in Margate is Shell Grotto. Discovered in 1835, this mysterious structure consists of 70 ft of winding passages decorated with 4.6 million shells, forming mosaics of gods and goddesses, trees and patterns. No one actually knows why it was built, but there are plenty of interesting theories.
If you’re into the arts then make sure to visit Turner Contemporary, an art museum built on the site of a boarding house in which J. M. W. Turner once lived in. You’ll find ever-changing exhibitions from local and international artists, focusing on art from 1750 to the present day.
If you’re interested in learning more about Margate, the Margate Museum has engaging exhibitions on the evolution of the town as a seaside resort.
It wouldn’t be a list of London day trips without Brighton. You can get to ‘London-by-the-Sea’ in two hours and 25 minutes from London Victoria. This seaside resort on the south coast of England attracts day-trippers from all over the south for days at the beach, shopping and partying.
It’s home to Brighton Palace Pier, the UK’s biggest tourist attraction outside of London. The pier pushes out into the sea for half a kilometer and has fairground rides, traditional games, two arcades and a giant soft play area. Definitely a must-see.
Down on Brighton Beach and Seafront, you’ll find a pebble beach that stretches over five miles long, as well as plenty of bars, clubs and cafes. One of the most popular attractions on the seafront is the British Airways i360. This observation tower has 360° panoramic views at 162 meters above the city. While you’re there, splash out on a cocktail at the Nyetimber Sky Bar.
If you’re celebrating something, Brighton is the place to be. There are numerous bars and clubs to suit your needs, whether it’s gastropubs, gay bars, live music venues, stylish cocktail bars or mega-clubs. You can find them dotted around the Lanes, North Laine, Trafalgar Street, Churchill Square and Western Road.
Need to find a last-minute gift? Brighton is a fab place for a spot for shopping. The Lanes, once an old fishing quarter, is now a maze of narrow alleys packed with restaurants, cafes, independent shops, boutiques and antique stores. You can also head to North Laine, a hip shopping district with over 300 shops. It’s a particularly great place to find artwork and designs, including glassware, jewellery, ceramics, sculptures and clothing.
Just two hours by coach will take you to Canterbury, a cathedral city and UNESCO World Heritage Site. With the River Stour winding through it, Canterbury is a beautiful city with plenty of old buildings and cobbled streets.
No trip to the city is complete without visiting the famous cathedral, one of the oldest Christian structures in England. It’s best known as the site of the murder of Thomas Beckett, killed by King Henry II’s army in 1170. You can take a guided tour of the cathedral and admire the stunning architecture.
The Romans have also made their mark on the city, and you can discover more about their legacy at the Canterbury Roman Museum. Built on the remains of a former Roman townhouse, there are a wide range of artefacts and original mosaics to see.
Another fun museum is the Beaney House of Art & Knowledge. It showcases everything from paintings and ancient Egyptian artefacts, to Anglo-Saxon antiques and pilgrim badges.
Although the city is pedestrian-friendly, a fun way of sightseeing is by taking a boat tour down the river. From this vantage point, you can see landmarks like the Dominican Priory and Greyfriars Chapel from unique angles. After the boat tour, stop off for lunch at one of Canterbury’s many cafes (Cafe St Pierre is one of my favourites), or have a picnic at one of the city’s green spaces.
Westgate Gardens are a huge area of different landscapes including woodland, meadows, formal gardens and riverside. After lunch, catch a show at Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury’s leading performing arts venue. Whatever you’re interested in, whether it’s concerts, dramas, musicals, contemporary dance shows, ballets, operas, comedy shows, you’ll definitely find something you enjoy.
Nestled in the rolling chalk hills of the South Downs, Winchester is only one hour and 50 minutes from London. This ancient cathedral city has some of the country’s oldest institutions.
The best place to start is Winchester Cathedral, and at over 170 metres long, is the world’s longest Gothic Cathedral. Step inside and discover over 1,000 years of history. Admire the 12th century wall paintings, medieval carvings and the illuminated Winchester Bible.
Another stop you should make is the Winchester City Museum. Dating back to 1861, the museum has exhibits on historical Winchester, Jane Austen, the Romans and the Anglo-Saxons. While you won’t be able to see Winchester Castle in all its glory, you can still see the Great Hall, which is all that remains. One of the best remaining medieval halls in the country, the Hall has beautiful stained glass, marble columns and the perfectly manicured Queen Eleanor’s Garden.
As the city is surrounded by the South Downs, it would be rude not to get out in nature. While a long hike might not be practical on a day trip, there are still plenty of short walks in and around Winchester. One of the best ones is Watermeadows and St Catherines Hill. As you wander along the River Itchen, you’ll be spoilt with lush scenery and some of the city’s most dramatic landmarks.
While it may be more touristy than the other destinations on this list, you could argue that it’s popular for a reason. A two hour and 15 minute coach journey from London takes you to one of England’s finest cities.
Synonymous with the world-renowned Cambridge University, the city boasts culture, history, architecture and plenty of things to do. If you want to learn more about the university, official tours of the colleges are offered by Blue Badge Guides. See exclusive parts of the campus and learn more about its history and quirky customs.
Speaking of history, the Fitzwilliam Museum is the best place to step back in time. The museum is far from boring – it’s home to over half a million pieces of art that dates as far back as 2,500 BC. Whether it’s paintings, ancient artefacts, jewellery, textiles, arms and armour, the museum has it all.
If it’s a sunny day, one of the top activities in Cambridge is punting. A punt is a flat-bottomed boat that is propelled down a river by a punter. First introduced at the start of the 20th century, it has since become a popular local activity. Glide down the River Cam and see how many landmarks you can spot (spoiler: you’ll see King’s College Chapel, the Mathematical Bridge and the Bridge of Sighs).
Another fun activity is visiting the Cambridge University Botanic Garden. Stretched over 40 acres, this heritage garden boasts over 8,000 plant species from all around the world. The gardens are divided into different sections, including the Mediterranean Beds, Scented Garden and Stream Garden. There are also several glasshouses full of tropical rainforests, desert flowers and alpine flora.
Two hours and 30 minutes by coach from London is Salisbury. This city is mostly known for one of the most famous visitor attractions in the UK, Stonehenge. It’s less than 10 miles from Salisbury, and you can get a coach tour from the city centre if you wish to visit it.
Salisbury offers a lot more than just Stonehenge. The medieval cathedral city and its surrounding area is bursting with Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age history, so there is plenty of history to explore. Salisbury Cathedral is a must-see. At 123 metres, this magnificent Gothic cathedral currently holds the record for the tallest spire in the UK.
It’s also home to the largest cloister in the country, as well as housing one of the oldest working clocks in the world. If you can hack the 332 stairs, the tower tours are a must. The cathedral is home to the Magna Carta Chapter House, where the best-preserved copy of the 1215 Magna Carta lies. This is just one of four originals in the world and is definitely worth a viewing.
If you’re interested in historic houses, then Salisbury doesn’t disappoint. Mompesson House is a townhouse constructed in the 18th century. Look out for the stucco work on the walls and ceiling, the oak staircase and period furniture.
Arundells is another beautiful home, once the residence of former prime minister Sir Edward Heath. Guided tours are available and there are plenty of interesting things to see, including Heath’s personal collections.
On a sunny day, there’s nothing better than a walk through Harnham Water Meadows. A source of inspiration for English painter John Constable, you can trace his footsteps on a two-mile circular walk that sets off from the cathedral. Sit beside the river and admire the lush views over to the cathedral.
Two hours and 35 minutes from London is Folkestone, a lovely seaside town in Kent. Right on the southern edge of the North Downs, the town lies in a valley between two cliffs. This position made it an important harbour and shipping port during the 19th and 20th centuries.
Today, there are plenty of things to explore in the town, from Victorian architecture and waterfront parks, to a bustling harbour and exciting attractions. The main beach in Folkestone is Sunny Sands, a clean, sandy beach popular all year round. On the cliffs right above the beach is The Leas, a pretty promenade landscaped in the mid 19th century.
Along the promenade you’ll find cafes, monuments and the Leas Cliff Hall Theatre. If you don’t fancy the zig-zagging steps up to the promenade, you can also take the cliff lift. One of the main attractions in Folkestone is the Harbour Arm. Until the turn of the millennium, this structure was used as a transport hub that linked Folkestone to mainland Europe. It fell into disuse for a number of years, before recently being rejuvenated. It’s now the best summer dining destination, with street food stalls, semi-permanent eateries and live music. You can even watch movies and sporting events at the Harbour Screen.
Within the historic town centre, you’ll find the Folkestone Creative Quarter. It’s home to a collection of galleries, artists’ studios and performance spaces, as well as quirky shops, cafes and restaurants. There is also the Quarterhouse, a performing arts venue with live music, film screenings, comedy and plays. To learn more about the history of the town, the Folkestone Museum covers five main themes: fashion, frontline, maritime, natural and ancient, and is a great place to spend an hour or so.
Folkestone is surrounded by natural beauty, and getting outside is a must. Towards the east of the harbour is East Cliff and Warren Country Park, a 300 acre park and Site of Special Scientific Interest. As you walk along the paths, enjoy stunning views of the famous White Cliffs. Don’t forget to look down too, as this is one of the best places to go fossil hunting in the South East.
Southampton is two hours and 20 minutes away from London by coach. Hampshire’s largest city, a visit to Southampton is a fantastic day out as there are plenty of things to do and see. The ill-fated Titanic departed from here and on the 100th anniversary of its departure, the SeaCity Museum was opened. Find out about Southampton’s history as a key port, and hear the stories of the people and goods that travelled through the city since the Middle Ages.
Another interesting museum is the Solent Sky Museum. In the early 20th century, the city was home to the aviation manufacturer Supermarine who designed the Spitfire fighter plane. The museum showcases the story of the Supermarine brand, and you can check out the vast collection of planes, propellers and jet engines.
A fun way to see Southampton is from a ferry. With frequent departures from Southampton Town Pier, the Hythe Ferry makes a short, scenic trip over to the village of Hythe on the west side of the estuary. The trip also includes a ride on the world’s smallest gauge electric pier train, dating back to the First World War.
One of the main draws for culture vultures is the Mayflower Theatre. This 2,300 capacity theatre first opened in 1928 as the Empire Theatre. Catch theatre productions, musicals, operas and stand-up comedy.
If you’re keen to see some art, the Southampton City Art Gallery has one of the best art collections in the south of England, with up to 5,000 pieces of art covering eight centuries.
In just two hours, you can get from London to Portsmouth, a historic port city. There are tons of interesting attractions here, from museums and castles, to beaches and shopping. Portsmouth has been a significant naval base for centuries, and two thirds of the Royal Navy’s modern surface fleet is docked here.
There are many ways you can explore this city’s rich maritime history. Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is an area of the HM Naval Base that is open to the public. You’ll find a collection of historic buildings and some of the most famous ships, like the HMS Victory, HMS Warrior and the HMS M33 which fought in the Battle of Gallipoli. You’ll also find the Royal Navy Submarine Museum, the Explosion Museum of Naval Firepower, National Museum of the Royal Navy and the Mary Rose Museum.
Once you’re clued up on your naval history, take a break along the seafront. The beach stretches along the entire southern end of Portsea Island, from Old Portsmouth to Eastney. One of the best attractions along the seafront is Southsea Castle. Built in 1544, the castle was constructed by King Henry VIII as part of a series of fortifications to protect the country from invaders. Explore the keep and enjoy panoramic views from the top all the way over to the Isle of Wight. Another interesting attraction along the seafront is the D-Day Story. This museum tells the story of the Allied invasion of Normandy in 1944, where Portsmouth was a key embarkation point. See the collection of artefacts including tanks, jeeps and machine guns.
Portsmouth is a shopper’s paradise, with countless boutiques, markets and unique finds. Gunwharf Quays is a great place to find designer goods. It’s also the site of the Emirates Spinnaker Tower which offers stunning views across the city and sea. Commercial Road and Cascades Shopping Centre is also a fab place to find bargains. You can also take a short bus journey to Southsea which has plenty of antique shops, boutiques and independent stores.