The Big Smoke might not be quite so smoky any more, but it's still nice to get out of town once in a while. And seeing other, lesser towns and villages can make you appreciate it all the more. So here are the nine best places to head out to, either by car or train, for a day trip into the country…
Distance from London: 64.6 miles south; 1.6-hour drive; 55-minute train ride
Why it made our list: One part beach town, one part university town, all generally great fun. So close to London, it feels like another world when you’re walking along the pebbled beach roaming from pub to pub and catching the stubborn rays that make it one of the sunniest places in England.
Pro tip: Steve Coogan does the audio tour from the Brighton Wheel, and there are more pubs per capita then any where else in the UK, so you won’t run dry.
Distance from London: 74.6 miles south; 1.5-hour drive; 1.5-hour train ride
Why it made our list: With a greater population density than London (with 5,100 people per square kilometer), there is always something happening in this island city, especially if you want to get your historical kumbayas out. All the old navy boats -- like the HMS Victory and HMS Warrior -- are hanging out there, plus it’s the birthplace of Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Pro tip: The Spinnaker Tower is the tallest building in the UK outside of London, riding high at 325ft tall, and the view is bloody glorious.
Distance from London: 24.9 miles west; 50-minute drive; 33-minute train ride
Why it made our list: Give a wave to the royal family at their main residence and go exploring. There are lots of random things hiding here, like the only blue post box (for the first UK airmail between London and Windsor), the smallest street (51ft, 10in), and a whole maze of secret tunnels deep beneath the ground.
Pro tip: LEGOLAND.
Distance from London: 62.4 miles northwest; 1.5-hour drive; 59-minute train ride
Why it made our list: While locals may have hated the university and frequently killed students in the 16th century (seriously), they’ve now relaxed and accepted it’s there to stay. Check out the gorgeous campus that nurtured such minds as C.S. Lewis, Hugh Grant, and David Cameron.
Pro tip: If you’re a Tolkien fan, be sure to check out the dining hall in the Christ Church College.
Distance from London: 215 miles southwest; four-hour drive; 5.5-hour train ride
Why it made our list: While it’s a bit of a trek from the city, there’s a liquid light at the end: the Plymouth gin distillery. Active since 1793, it’s the oldest active producer in the world and has the claim of being the specified gin in the first dry martini in the 1930s.
Pro tip: Check what's going on at Annabel’s, a quirky theatre filled with everything from burlesque to comedy and everything in between.
Distance from London: 118 miles west; two-hour drive; two-hour train ride
Why it made our list: This western city is loaded with random adventures: the zoo is the oldest provincial zoo in the country and has over 400 different species including the gorillas & lions. Want to get below the surface? Check out the Wookey Hole, a prehistoric cave filled with stunning views of cave lakes and strange rock formations. Of course a whole host of “attractions” have attached themselves to the cave, meaning if you were after life-sized dinosaur models, penny arcades, and mirror mazes, you’re in luck.
Pro tip: The Clifton Suspension Bridge is breathtaking.
Distance from London: 83 miles west; two-hour drive; 1.5-hour train ride
Why it made our list: When you really need to escape the concrete jungle, head out to the wilderness. Made up of a hundred tiny villages, there’s still plenty of life filled with farmers markets, bike paths, and picturesque picnic spots.
Pro tip: Either rent or bring bikes -- it’s the best way for getting around and finding those perfect spots.
Distance from London: 151 miles west; 2.6-hour drive; three-hour train ride
Why it made our list: Don’t let the threat of rain detour you, Cardiff is gorgeous. It has a large student population, there are plenty of bars to occupy your nightlife, and both the castle and its grounds are massive.
Pro tip: The music scene is booming in Cardiff. Try to catch a gig at joints like Gwdihw, 10 Feet Tall, and The Moon Club.
Distance from London: 115 miles west; 2.2-hour drive; 1.75-hour train ride
Why it made our list: Sometimes all your body needs is lots of hot water and everyone to chill the eff out while you soak. From Roman times on, people have been taking advantage of the natural hot springs to catch a bit of R&R surrounded by majestic architecture.
Pro tip: Bath is a notorious spot for hen dos. Plan your trip wisely, or get outta dodge before nightfall.
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Haley Forest is a London writer who is profoundly happy that LEGOLAND exists. Follow her on Twitter at @HCForest.