Last Updated on October 19, 2020 by Anisa
You’ve got a short visit to London and you want to see more of England. When time is tight, is it possible to venture out further without sacrificing a whole day or is it better to do more exploring in London? There are some half day trips from London that can fit in a tight itinerary.
You might be surprised with what you can see on a short visit. Let’s take a look at some of the options.
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Is a Half-Day Trip Worth It?
Is it realistic to visit a place outside of London in only half a day? When you think about the travel time, there isn’t much time to explore the city/attraction. Ideally, you would want at least a day to visit destinations beyond London, but it’s not always practical.
When you are trying to decide if the half day trip is worth it, the question is will there be another chance to do it? If so, it might be best to wait until there is more time. If not, it might be worth trying to squeeze it in when possible.
Assuming you can only allocate a few hours to visiting places near London, it’s best to focus on seeing one attraction. It might be best to take a tour. That way there is no wasted time on getting there or figuring out the best things to see. The tour guide will also make sure that you stick to the time schedule.
There are some attractions outside of London that you can easily reach by public transportation. When there aren’t viable (fast) public transportation options, I don’t recommend renting a car unless you are used to driving in the UK (spoiler alert: there are more differences than the side of the road). A tour will be less stressful and probably cheaper than driving on your own.
The 5 Best Half Day Trips from London
This list includes places that you can visit from London in half a day (about 4-6 hours). If you have more time, I would encourage you to spend a full day because each option has a lot to offer. This map gives you an idea of where each option is located.
If you are planning a trip to London, be sure to check out my free travel planning checklist.
#1 Windsor Castle
Fans of Queen Elizabeth II must visit Windsor Castle since it’s where she spends most of her weekends. The castle was built by William the Conqueror back in 1086. It is the largest and oldest inhabited castle in the world.
You can tour the state apartments, see where state dinners are held, go inside St. George’s Chapel (where several Royal Weddings have taken place), and admire the grounds. It’s as opulent as you would expect a castle to be and the art collection on display rivals many museums. There is an entertaining audio guide that provides historical background.
It may feel rushed to do a half day trip from London to Windsor Castle, but there are several tours that offer it. Get more information here. Alternatively, if you want to visit Windsor Castle on your own it is included as part of the London Pass. There is a direct train from London Waterloo Station to Windsor & Eton Riverside. The castle is just a short walk from there. (Check train schedules and pricing here.)
Stonehenge is a prehistoric stone circle and earthworks. Given the size of the stones and the alignment with the sun at the solstices, it is hard to fathom how Stonehenge was built from 3000 BC to 2000 BC. It is England’s most famous ancient site and something you must see for yourself.
Much about Stonehenge remains a mystery, but inside the Visitor Center, you can learn about the theories and research that has been done. Then, it’s a short bus ride to the stone circle where an audio tour guides you around the points of interest. It doesn’t take long to visit Stonehenge, but there are also many other lesser-known Neolithic sites in the area (Woodhenge, Avebury, etc) that some say are even more interesting.
Can you visit Stonehenge from London in half a day? Yes, it is doable if you take a tour like this one. The public transportation options to Stonehenge are lacking (it’s in the middle of the English countryside), so I wouldn’t recommend going that route. Also, keep in mind that you probably won’t have time to see other ancient monuments in the area. Still, if Stonehenge is on your bucket list you can tick it off if you only have a half day to spare.
#3 Hampton Court
Hampton Court Palace is one of the most famous residences of Henry VIII. He used the Palace to demonstrate his vast wealth and power by holding extravagant banquets and displaying expensive artwork. Large parts of the Tudor palace were demolished and rebuilt for King William III and Queen Mary II. In 1760 when George III became king, he abandoned Hampton Court as a royal residence.
There is a lot to see when you visit Hampton Court Palace. Inside, you will be in awe of Henry VIII’s Great Hall, with its enormous tapestries, and the Chapel Royal, with its intricate ceiling. Don’t miss the Cumberland Art Gallery which houses some of the Royal Collection’s most prized artworks. Outside you need to allow time to explore the immaculate riverside gardens with 200,000 flowering bulbs, royal parkland, and the famous Hampton Court Palace maze.
To get to Hampton Court from London, take one of the Southwest Trains from London Waterloo Station to the Hampton Court Station. (Check train schedule and pricing here.) From there it’s a short half-mile walk. Since it takes a little less than an hour to get from Central London to Hampton Court, you will have around three hours to explore before heading back to London, if you want to keep it to a half day excursion.
It is recommended that you allow at least three hours to see the Palace, so it may be a bit of a rushed visit. If you want to make sure to see all the highlights, there is a private tour available that can be tailored to your preferences. Even with the tour, you will need tickets which you can purchase here.
#4 Harry Potter Studios
For Harry Potter fans, I am not sure a trip to London would be complete without a visit to Harry Potter Studios. There you can visit some authentic sets, discover the magic behind the special effects, and learn some behind-the-scenes secrets of the Harry Potter film series. There are also interactive activities like flying a broomstick (don’t worry a broomstick lesson at Alnwick Castle is not a prerequisite) and you can even try some butterbeer.
Is it realistic to visit the Harry Potter Studios in half a day from London? The travel time is a little more than one hour each way and the average visit to the Harry Potter Studios lasts about three and a half hours, so yes it is possible. With this guided tour, you will ensure that you see all the highlights and return back to London in 7 hours.
If you want to do this excursion on your own, you can take the train from London Euston Station to Watford Junction. (Check the train schedule and prices here.) From there you would need a taxi to get to the studios. Note: As of August 26, 2020 the shuttle bus is not running.
#5 Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace is best known as the birthplace of Winston Churchill. It was a gift from Queen Anne to John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough and ancestor of Winston Churchill. The lavish 18th-century house is set in a 2,100-acre park, designed by renowned landscaper Capability Brown, who also worked on Alnwick Castle and Chatsworth House.
At Blenheim Palace, you can learn more about the life of Winston Churchill and see a world-class collection of portraits, tapestries, and furniture. Then, explore the serene parkland and the Blenheim Palace gardens. It’s a wonderful place for families too, as kids will love the giant hedge maze and butterfly house.
It’s not easy to get from London to Blenheim Palace using public transportation. You will need to take the train to Oxford, switch to a bus, then walk the last half mile which could take anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours.
If you want to see Blenheim Palace as a half-day trip from London, check out this private tour that takes about six hours. You will get to spend three hours exploring the Palace and gardens. They offer London hotel pick up and drop off. If you are visiting Blenheim Palace independently with kids, you can save money with the family ticket. Purchase your Blenheim Palace tickets in advance here.
Should You Do a Half-Day Trip from London?
A half-day trip from London is not ideal. The outing will probably be rushed and a fair amount of the time will be spent traveling, so you may question whether you should do it. If you think this will be the only opportunity to see one of the spots on your bucket list then go for it. You only live once.
Have you ever done a half day trip from London or visited any of the places on the list?
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