Fancy a trip to the British coast? Some of the UK’s best seaside spots are easy day trips from London. We’ve rounded up five of the best beach towns for a fun day out, all easily reached by car or train from our stylish London Perfect vacation apartments. They’ll be buzzing with visitors on hot summer weekends, but you can escape the crowds by popping down on a weekday or timing your trip for autumn or spring.
Jokingly known as London-on-sea, Brighton in East Sussex is the preferred day trip destination for Londoners keen to cool off by the beach. The city’s elegant white Regency buildings and garden squares rival the capital’s famous Notting Hill, but the long, pebbled beach and sparkling ocean invite you to unwind. Take a dip, then warm up in the wood-fired Beach Box Spa sauna huts opposite bohemian Kemptown, a relaxed neighborhood for brunch. For casual dining nearby, Yellowave offers tables overlooking beach volleyball courts. Riddle & Finns serves stylish seafood, Champagne and oysters with ocean views.
Explore Brighton’s royal history at the ornate, domed Royal Pavilion, a fantastical, garden-fringed palace with opulent 18th-century interiors that were once home to King George IV. Antiques and lifestyle stores beckon in historic alleyways The Lanes or find more youthful independent stores in the North Laine quarter. Kids will love Brighton Palace Pier for funfair rides and Brighton Zip for zipline thrills over the beach. Wander the esplanade for cosy pubs, outdoor bars and cafés, ice cream, and fish and chips.
Getting there: 58 minutes from London Victoria on the Gatwick Express train via Southern Railway.
Intimate, cliff-backed port town Folkestone in Kent is one of the best day trips from London, with pretty laneways and eye-catching white houses. Check out the cobbled Creative Quarter to discover independent stores and designer-makers, including vibrant interiors boutique Kitty McCall (45 The Old High Street). Host to the Folkestone Triennial since 2008, the town is dotted with more than 70 open-air artworks by major names such as Tracey Emin, Anthony Gormley and Yoko Ono – follow the art trail map to encounter the UK’s largest public contemporary art collection in an urban setting. Richard Woods’ cartoonish ‘Holiday Home’ houses adorn the harbour.
To refuel head to Folkestone Harbour Arm, once a railway terminal but now reanimated with food shacks and the quirky Lighthouse Champagne Bar. For stylish indoor-outdoor dining on the beach, nearby Little Rock serves fish and chips, salads and crisp wines with a sunny terrace. Its glam big brother Rocksalt specialises in seasonal Kent dining. For great views walk the Lower Leas Coastal Park and Zig-Zag path.
Getting there: 53 minutes from London St Pancras to Folkestone Central on Southeastern trains.
Margate has been attracting a hip, younger crowd of late, with a new generation of creative residents reinventing this north Kent beach town. Traditional sights include the mysterious Shell Grotto, discovered in 1835 and thought to be either a Victorian folly or an ancient pagan space. Its winding passages are decorated with more than four million shells. Swim at Walpole Bay’s sandy beach or at its historic Tidal Pool. Opened in 2011, compact beachfront Turner Contemporary gallery hosts temporary art exhibitions, with a shop and Barletta café-restaurant. It’s ideal for a culture fix before hitting Margate Harbour Arm’s small bars and food shacks. Anthony Gormley’s striking cast-iron sculpture of a man stands in the waves nearby. Famous English Romantic artist JMW Turner once took inspiration from the light, sky and sea here.
For an ocean-inspired souvenir, Haeckels makes its skincare and body products from health-giving, sustainable local seaweed. Wander the Old Town for unusual shops, vintage stores and cafés. For a hearty Caribbean lunch, make for Mullins Brasserie. Alongside retro funfair rides, Dreamland amusement park hosts street-food vendors, live music and food festivals.
Getting there: Around 1 hour 26 minutes from London St Pancras to Margate on Southeastern rail.
Day trips from London don’t come more bite-sized than Whitstable, Kent’s cute little seaside haven. It’s synonymous with one thing – oysters. Savor some at Hotel Continental’s brasserie overlooking the estuary, where you can pair fresh seafood with a glass of wine or cold beer, or try Whitstable Oyster Company’s Royal Native Oyster Stores restaurant. When there’s an R in the month it’s native oyster season, although rock oysters are available all year round. Offering outdoor seating with ocean views, The Lobster Shack beach bar serves hot and cold seafood with daily specials. They farm their own oysters and brew their own beer. Whitstable Castle does delicious scones for tea.
Oxford Street is home to galleries and inviting Blueprint café/bookstore or explore Harbour Street for independent stores. Pop to Whitstable’s West Beach for a swim or stroll Tankerton Beach’s shingle shores, backdropped by colourful beach huts. Margate is a short drive away for more coastal adventures.
Getting there: Around 1 hour 15 minutes from London St Pancras to Whitstable on Southeastern rail.
Your wish list of day trips from London should include Rye on the Sussex coast. If it was good enough for celebrated American author Henry James – who owned historic Lamb House – it gets our vote! You can visit James’ red-brick, Georgian former home with its lovely walled garden, now run by the National Trust (check opening days). James lived here from 1898 to 1914, writing seminal novels The Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors and The Golden Bowl.
Rye is beloved for atmospheric antique shops, including The Rye Emporium, so come with a tote bag to pick up one-off vintage souvenirs. The old town is pretty, especially quaint Mermaid Street, or enjoy a walk towards the sea through Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, ideal for birdwatching. Dining tips include the Mediterranean-inspired restaurant at The George in Rye, which also serves cosy afternoon cream teas, and casual Mermaid Street Cafe. Sprawling beach Camber Sands nearby features golden dunes and long sandy stretches of beach for swimming.
Getting there: Around 1 hour 9 minutes from London St Pancras to Rye via Southeastern and Southern trains.