Day trips are a great way to discover more of Britain – and travelling by car makes it easier to extend your stay and explore destinations that are harder to reach by rail or by air. From charming beer-brewing towns to castles in the rolling countryside, our round up of must-see spots are all under an hour’s drive away from classic day trip destinations including Brighton, Cambridge and the Cotswolds – giving you the perfect excuse to stay for longer and make the most of your time.
Once you’ve wandered the winding streets, independent shops and quirky pubs of Brighton’s city centre, why not venture a little further afield? 30km (around 45 minutes) from the town’s historic pier and quirky Lanes lies Birling Gap and the Seven Sisters - a series of stunning white chalk cliffs that frame the edge of the English Channel. A quintessential British spot for an invigorating coastal walk, the area also offers mesmerising views of the South Downs National Park. Close by, you can immerse yourself in the area’s native wildflowers on a stroll through Cuckmere Valley.
Alternatively, why not drive 35km (around 45 minutes) to Arundel, a historic town in West Sussex, and step 1,000 years into the past at Arundel Castle, a restored fortress with Norman origins.
Or travel just 14km (25-30 minutes) and you’ll arrive at Lewes, a medieval town in the heart of the rolling hills of West Sussex. Walk up the high street peppered with shops selling antiques, vintage clothes and locally made food, then get a taste of 16th century life at the Tudor childhood home of Anne of Cleves, one of Henry VIII’s former wives. Afterwards, why not try a pint of local Harvey’s beer in one of the many pubs or even pop along for a brewery tour? From here, you can also enjoy a low-intensity hike in South Downs National Park, for unmissable views of the surrounding countryside and town below, or satisfy your passion for opera at Glyndebourne, a world-renowned festival that takes place from May to August each year.
Once you’ve discovered Oxford’s historic university, architecture and rivers perfect for punting, hop in the car and travel just 16km (20 minutes) to Blenheim Palace. Built in the early 1700s, this Baroque gem is a World Heritage Site, the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, and one of the most enchanting palaces in Britain. For fans of James Bond looking forward to No Time to Die, it’s also a must-see sight, having featured in Spectre along with a host of other films including Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
Fan of Downton Abbey? Head to Highclere Castle - the filming location used as the family’s stately home is 54km (circa 45 minutes) from Oxford. With castle tours and special events throughout the year, it’s an excellent excuse to extend your stay, live out your period drama-dreams and retrace the steps of your favourite characters.
For the chance to experience another British literary hub, hop in the car and enjoy the scenic 85km (just over an hour) trip to Stratford-upon-Avon, the home of William Shakespeare. Visit the playwright’s birthplace on Henley Street to discover more about his early life, then head to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, the 500-year old home where he and his future wife fell in love. Want to find out more? Explore Shakespeare’s New Place, the latest exhibition revealing the life and works of Shakespeare as you’ve never seen them before, all housed within the playwright’s former family home.
After a day spent exploring the museums and gardens of Cambridge and taking a few essential selfies next to the Mathematical Bridge, why not travel 27km (around 35 minutes) to one of Britain’s most awe-inspiring cathedrals? Once a wonder of the medieval world, Ely Cathedral was built over 900 years ago and attracts around 250,000 visitors per year. Join a guided tour and climb the cathedral’s elegant towers for staggering views of the city or visit the Stained Glass Museum, to discover the beauty and significance of 800 years of artistry.
Alternatively, soak up more medieval history in Bury St Edmunds - one of the UK’s best-kept secrets. Delve 1,000 years into the past on a stroll through the town, meander through the 11th-century ruins and gardens of the Abbey of St Edmund, then immerse yourself in the history of St Edmundsbury Cathedral on an expert-led tour. Exploring is thirsty work, so why not round off the day with a pint or two at the smallest pub in the country, The Nutshell?
If you’re keen to explore Britain’s roots, head to Bath to retrace the steps of the Romans, visit majestic Bath Abbey and marvel at the Jane Austen-era Georgian architecture. Looking to step even further back in time? Jump in the car and drive 55km (just under an hour) to Stonehenge, the mystical monolith that reveals the secrets of the country’s pagan past.
If you’re looking for a more recent past and a quintessential taste of British life, you could travel just 23km (around 45 minutes) to Lacock, a picturesque English village that looks much as it would have done 200 years ago. Perfectly preserved, the village is one of the filming locations of smash hits such as Harry Potter and Downton Abbey, to name just a few. Wander the cobbled streets, take in the chocolate box cottages and stop off for a hot cup of tea and a slice of homemade cake. Afterwards, step into the very modern present with a visit to cultural hub Bristol (50km, or 50 minutes) – home of Banksy, or Cardiff (102km, or about an hour and a quarter) – the buzzing Welsh capital.
If outdoor adventure is more your style, head on over to Cheddar Gorge, one of Britain’s most impressive natural wonders. Formed during the last ice age, and over 120 metres deep, a drive through the Gorge is a sight to see, but if you’re looking for an added injection of adrenaline, why not descend into its stalactite caves, go rock climbing or steel your nerves for the stomach-flipping Black Cat Free Fall.
Immortalised by Chaucer, Canterbury is home to some of Britain’s best-preserved medieval architecture. Immerse yourself in the city’s literary past at The Canterbury Tales Visitor Attraction. Alternatively, why not take a guided tour of Canterbury Cathedral or follow the Sculpture Trail through the city’s parks and gardens to discover the region’s finest public art and sculpture, before a bite to eat in one of its cosy historic pubs.
If you’ve a hankering for sea air, travel just 27km (around 40 minutes) to the seaside town of Margate. Filled to the brim with quirky shops, there’s also a world of first-class art to discover at the Turner Contemporary. Thrill-seekers can jump on the rollercoasters and rides at Dreamland theme park, whilst those seeking out Britain’s mysterious side can visit the curious but unforgettable Shell Grotto – a magical lamp-lit grotto of twisting passages and whimsical mosaics decorated with more than four million shells. Afterwards, finish the day in true British style by tucking into some classic fish and chips on the seafront.
After a spot of romance? Drive 45km (circa 40 minutes) from Canterbury and you’ll discover one of the most romantic locations in England, Leeds Castle. Live out your fairy-tale fantasies as you wander through the maze, grotto, and impressive interior, before you try your hand at the historic art of falconry, or enjoy a scenic boat trip on the castle moat.
A firm favourite with day-trippers from London, there’s more to Windsor than just the historic royal residence, Windsor Castle. Snap epic Instagram shots at the Crooked House of Windsor, a Grade II listed 17th-century house with a jaw-dropping slant, enjoy a scenic stroll along the leafy banks of the River Thames, or wander through Virginia Water, a former Royal pleasure ground that’s home to beautiful woodlands, free-roaming deer and a range of themed, flora-filled gardens including the Winter Beds, the Hidden Gardens and The Glades. Afterwards, stroll on over to Coworth Park, an 18th-century mansion with connections to Edward the Confessor, for a traditional afternoon tea served in the house’s elegant drawing room.
Alternatively, drive just over 30km (about 35 minutes) to discover another royal gem - Hampton Court Palace. Dating back to the 16th century, the Palace was the favourite residence of the infamous Henry VIII, thanks to its Tudor tennis court, maze and the impressive kitchen that regularly fed his court of 1,000 subjects.
If you’re a famished foodie, you can enjoy a choice of culinary delights just a short trip from Windsor. Located 8km (just under 12 minutes) away, the village of Bray is home to two of the UK’s five Michelin-starred restaurants. Waterside Inn is a relaxed but elegant riverside eatery serving classic French cuisine, while Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck which offers a far more extravagant dining experience, where you’ll journey into a gastronomic wonderland inspired by the chef’s childhood memories.