45 Spectacular Cities Close to London for an Easy Escape 

London can be overwhelming, and we all need an escape from time to time. But sometimes you don’t want to go to the countryside – you still want a city escape, just to a smaller city.

Here’s my ultimate list of cities close to London where there’s still lots to do and see, but they’re not as overwhelming and busy as London.  

Everything on this list is easily accessible by train, and I’ve sorted them from shortest train journey to longest train journey. 

I’ve also categorized them into what you’re in the mood for: 1) large cities, 2) historic cities, 3) cities with castles, and 4) seaside cities.

Grab your National Railcard and let’s go (I’ve put stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️ next to my faves you help you choose).

graphic of a UK map with graphic of big ben and map pins in red with text overlaid: "The best cities close to london"

🏙️ Largest Cities Close to London

Looking to get out of the biggest city in the UK and head to a smaller one? Every city in the UK is smaller than London by comparison, but here are the 10 next biggest.

It’ll feel like a small town in comparison! 

Leicester

A city in the East Midlands of England, Leicester is known for its significant role in English history. King Richard III’s remains were discovered here in 2012, under a car park of all places!

  • 89 miles
  • 1 hour 10 minute direct train from Kings Cross St. Pancras
photo collage of 4 large cities close to London: Leicester, Birmingham, Bristol, and Stoke-on-Trent

Birmingham

Peaky Blinders fans, this one’s for you. Birmingham is known for its industrial heritage, cool cultural scene, and Tommy Shelby. Attractions include the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, the historic Jewellery Quarter, and that industrial atmospheric vibe that’s great for Instagram.

  • 101 miles 
  • 1 hour 15 minutes by direct train from Euston 

⭐️ Bristol

Looking for cities near London that have a totally different vibe? Bristol is famous for its chill alternative arts and dining scene, but still has cool architecture like the Clifton Suspension Bridge. It’s also known for the SS Great Britain and street art by Banksy.

  • 106 miles
  • 1 hour 30 minute direct train from Paddington

Stoke-on-Trent 

Known as the world capital of ceramics, with attractions like the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery and Trentham Gardens.

  • 136 miles
  • 1 hour 30 minute direct train from Euston 

Manchester

Cities close to London for football fans, or Ted Lasso fans? It’s gotta be Manchester (football is life). Famous for its influential music scene, sports culture (especially football), and rich industrial history. The Manchester Museum, Science and Industry Museum, and great nightlife are just a few of the highlights.

  • 208 miles
  • 2 hours direct train from Euston
photo grid of 4 large cities close to London: Leicester, Birmingham, Stoke-on-Trent and Bristol

⭐️ Bournemouth & Poole

Want a stunning beach getaway, but not to a small town? Renowned for their stunning beaches, these cute coastal towns (right next to each other) offer a relaxing getaway with more to do than your standard coastal destination. 

  • 98 miles
  • 2 hour direct train from Waterloo

⭐️ Leeds 

Known for its Victorian architecture and great shopping districts, this is one of the best cities near London for an urban experience without the overwhelm. Key attractions are the Royal Armouries Museum and Leeds Art Gallery, but there’s lots to explore here!

  • 170 miles
  • 2 hour 30 minute direct train from Kings Cross St. Pancras

Liverpool

Renowned for its maritime history, The Beatles, and cultural landmarks. Highlights include The Beatles Story museum, Liverpool Cathedral, and the historic Albert Dock. 

  • 178 miles
  • 2 hour 45 minute direct train from Euston

Sheffield

Celebrated for its industrial past and green spaces. The city offers attractions like the Millennium Gallery and the nearby Peak District National Park, which is breathtaking. 

Teesside/Middlesbrough 

An industrial region in the northeast, known for its heritage in steelmaking. Explore Tees Barrage, historic towns, and the beautiful North York Moors nearby. Most central station is Middlesborough. 

  • 217 miles
  • 4 hour direct train from Kings Cross St Pancras

🔔 Villages & Cities Near London for History & Architecture

Let’s move on to cities near London that are a bit smaller.

Some of these are towns, some are more like villages, but they all have incredible history, architecture, and cool things to see and do. 

photo grid of 4 cities near london that are historic and charming: St Albans, Reading, Wimbledon and Chelmsford

⭐️ St Albans 

Very close cities to London with small-town charm? St Albans is it. This historic city is known for its Roman past and magnificent cathedral, and it’s just a short train ride from London.

  • 19 miles
  • 20 minute direct train from St. Pancras

Reading

A large town in Berkshire, known for the Reading Festival, historical sites like Reading Abbey, and its proximity to the River Thames.

  • 40 miles
  • 25 minute direct train from Paddington

Wimbledon

Today it’s known for the Wimbledon Tennis Championships, this London suburb is also stepped in ancient history. Wander the historic Wimbledon Common, and check out the remains of an Iron-age fortress. 

  • 10 miles
  • 30 minute direct train from Waterloo

Chelmsford 

A city in Essex, known for its history and beautiful parks. It’s home to the 15th-century Chelmsford Cathedral and Hylands House, set in vast parkland.

  • 30 miles 
  • 30 minute train from Liverpool Street 
photo grid of 4 close cities to london for history and architecture: Tonbridge, Winchester, Oxford and Canterbury

Tonbridge 

Renowned for its impressive 11th-century Tonbridge Castle, scenic River Medway, and charming high street, making it a great destination for history lovers and quaint English townscapes.

  • 43 miles
  • 40 minute direct train from London Bridge 

⭐️ Oxford 

Harry Potter come to life? That’s Oxford (many parts of the films were shot here). Like Cambridge, Oxford is known for its prestigious university. It boasts beautiful colleges, the historic Bodleian Library, and many cool museums.

  • 52 miles
  • 45 minute train from Paddington

⭐️ Canterbury 

A historic city (Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, anyone?), Canterbury is famous for its stunning cathedral and medieval buildings. It’s a great place to experience English heritage and history, and is simply one of the coolest historic cities near London. 

  • 51 miles 
  • 1 hour direct train from London Bridge 

Winchester

An ancient city with a rich history, Winchester is known for its magnificent cathedral and medieval buildings. It was once the capital of England! 

  • 60 miles
  • 1 hour direct train from Waterloo

⭐️ Cambridge

Famous for its university, Cambridge is a picturesque city with stunning architecture, museums, and the iconic River Cam, where you can try punting (just don’t do it with an eager toddler like I did, who tried to jump in 1.2 million times). 

  • 60 miles
  • 1 hour 10 minute direct train from Liverpool Street or St. Pancras
photo grid of 4 historic cities close to london for cool architecture and charming atmospheres: Cambridge, Bath, Rye and Northampton

⭐️ Bath 

Known for its Roman-built baths, Bath is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s also famous for its Georgian architecture and the Bath Abbey. This is an English destination not to miss. 

  • 107 miles
  • 1 hr 15 minute direct train from Paddington

Rye

A small, enchanting town in East Sussex, Rye is known for its medieval and Georgian buildings, cobbled streets, and historic charm.

  • 75 miles
  • 1 hour 15 minute train with transfers from St. Pancras

Northampton

A town in the East Midlands known for its historical buildings and market square. Northampton is also famous for its shoe-making heritage, which is just one part of its cool historic past. 

  • 68 miles
  • 1 hour 15 minute direct train from Euston

⭐️ Ely

A small city in Cambridgeshire, Ely is famous for its magnificent cathedral, known as the ‘Ship of the Fens’, and its historic town center.

  • 80 miles
  • 1 hour 30 minute direct train from Liverpool Street 
photo grid of 4 cities near london with cathedrals, historic architecture, and English historic roots: Chichester, Ely, Salisbury, and Norwich

Chichester 

A compact city in West Sussex, noted for its well-preserved Roman walls and the Chichester Cathedral. It’s also close to the South Downs National Park.

  • 70 miles
  • 1 hour 30 minute direct train from Victoria

Salisbury

Famous for its stunning 13th-century cathedral, Salisbury is a medieval city with a well-preserved town center, just a short distance from Stonehenge. It also has the tallest church spire in the UK! 

  • 84 miles
  • 1 hour 30 minute direct train from Waterloo

Norwich

A city in Norfolk, famous for its well-preserved medieval architecture, Norwich Cathedral, and a bustling market.

  • 97 miles
  • 1 hour 45 minute direct train from Liverpool Street 

Gloucester

A city in the gorgeous Cotswolds, known for its medieval Gloucester Cathedral, historic docks, and the Gloucester Waterways Museum

  • 102 miles
  • 2 hour direct train from Paddington

⭐️ Stratford-upon-Avon 

The birthplace of William Shakespeare, this town offers cultural insights into the life of the famous playwright, with historic houses and theaters. It’s a bit more of a trek from London, but it’s worth it. 

  • 83 miles
  • 2.5 hour train with transfers, from Paddington or Euston 

🏰 Close Cities to London that Have Castles 

Who doesn’t want to explore a castle close to London? Here’s a list of cities near London that have castles, so you can be a knight at the round table while also exploring a cool cityscape. 

photo grid of 4 villages and cities near london for castles and medieval architecture: Guildford, Windsor, Colchester, and Leeds Castle

Guildford

This picturesque town has cobbled streets, historic buildings, and a beautiful cathedral, and Guildford Castle, nestled in the Surrey Hills. It’s a fairytale come to life. 

  • 33 miles
  • 35 minute direct train from Waterloo

Windsor 

Home to Windsor Castle, the town of Windsor is steeped in royal history. It’s also close to the Legoland Windsor Resort, which is fun for families.

  • 25 miles
  • 50 minutes including tube to train transfer (from Waterloo)

Lewes 

This town in East Sussex is known for its Norman castle, medieval streets, and as the site of the famous Lewes Bonfire celebrations.

  • 60 miles
  • 1 hour direct train from Victoria Station

Redhill

Redhill is known as a commuter town, but it’s not without historic charms. It has a rich local history, with nearby attractions such as Reigate Castle and the breathtaking scenery of the North Downs. 

  • 25 miles
  • 1 hour 20 minute direct train from London Bridge 

⭐️ Leeds Castle

Near the town of Maidstone in Kent, Leeds Castle is set on two islands in a lake and is surrounded by beautiful parklands. It’s magical! 

  • 41 miles
  • 1 hour 30 minute direct train to Maidstone, then bus (from Victoria Station)

Colchester

Known as Britain’s oldest recorded town, Colchester has a rich history, a Norman castle, and Roman ruins.

  • 60 miles
  • 1 hour 30 minute direct train from Liverpool Street

🌊 Cities to Visit Close to London for Seaside & Riverside Escapes

Need a seaside break? Or a calming river stroll? Here’s some cities close to London that are on the water. 

photo grid of 4 cities to visit close to london for beaches and seaside escapes: Folkestone, Cookham, Brighton, and Southend-on-Sea

⭐️ Cookham

This lovely little village was the inspiration for “The Wind in the Willows,” so picture that storybook in your mind…and then step right into it. This Thameside village is perfect for a day out. 

  • 30 miles
  • 30 minute direct train from Paddington

Henley-on-Thames 

Famous for the Henley Royal Regatta, this town offers a picturesque setting along the River Thames, with lovely walks, a quaint high street, and traditional pubs.

  • 37 miles
  • 43 minute direct train from Paddington 

⭐️ Brighton 

A vibrant seaside town, Brighton is known for its beach, the Brighton Pier, and a trendy arts scene. It’s a great place for shopping and dining too. This is a fun atmosphere; totally the opposite of London but only an hour away. 

  • 55 miles
  • 1 hour direct train from London Bridge 

Southend-on-Sea

A popular seaside resort in Essex, known for its long pier, beaches, and seafront attractions including Adventure Island theme park.

  • 42 miles
  • 1 hour direct train from Fenchurch Street 

⭐️ Folkestone 

A port town on the English Channel, with a cool art scene, lovely promenade, and the Leas Cliff Hall, a famous venue for music and theater. You can actually see France from Folkestone on a clear day! 

  • 70 miles
  • 1 hour direct train from Kings Cross St. Pancras

Ipswich

A historic town in Suffolk, known for its waterfront, museums, and cultural venues. It’s also close to the beautiful Suffolk countryside.

  • 83 miles
  • 1 hour 10 minute direct train from Liverpool Street 
photo grid of 4 images of close cities to london for beach and seaside escapes: Weston Super-Mare, Cardiff, Margate, and Eastbourne

Southampton

 A major port city on the south coast, famous for its maritime history and as the departure point for the Titanic. Titanic obsessed like me? The Titanic museum alone is worth the trip from London.

  • 80 miles
  • 1 hour 15 minute direct train from Waterloo

Eastbourne 

A resort town on the Sussex coast, known for its Victorian seafront and pier, the nearby Beachy Head chalk cliff, and cultural events like the Eastbourne International tennis tournament.

  • 76 miles
  • 1 hour 30 minute direct train from Victoria 

Margate & Ramsgate 

Coastal towns in Kent, known for sandy beaches, the Turner Contemporary art gallery in Margate, and the Ramsgate Maritime Museum. This is a kitschy and cool area that can be a bit touristy, but it’s still a nice spot to visit for the weekend. 

  • 75 miles
  • 1 hour 30 minute direct train from Kings Cross St. Pancras

Cardiff

Fancy a trip to another country, and a trip to the seaside? You can be in Wales in 2 hours. See impressive Cardiff Castle, the Wales Millennium Centre arts complex, and the historic Cardiff Bay area.

  • 150 miles
  • 2 hour direct train from Paddington 

Weston-Super-Mare

A seaside town in Somerset, famous for its grand pier, sandy beaches, and the Helicopter Museum. “Weston”, as it’s known to locals, is more of a commercial seaside town, but it’s still got English charm. 

  • 140 miles
  • 2 hour 15 minute direct train from Paddington

Close Cities to London: Final Tips

Remember to do my favorite train hacking tips to get the best price! The farther you can book ahead, the better the price will be.

If you’re overwhelmed by this list, here’s a more detailed list of day trips that are totally doable (and some that aren’t you’ll want to avoid).

Happy travels!

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