Ahh, what can beat a fun-packed day trip in the great British summertime eh? Sea, shingle, sand, miles of smiles, sunshine… Well OK, you can’t always count on Mr Sun getting his hat on. But still, whatever the weather, there’s plenty to discover along England’s glorious southeastern coast.
So with a Mister Whippy in hand, our Railcards at the ready and our best beach towel packed, let’s escort you through 8 of our favourite British seaside towns to visit on day trips from London by train.
‘Merry Margate’s’ been a seaside stalwart for centuries, immortalised by everyone from JMW Turner to popular, chirpy London pop duo Chas & Dave, thanks to its sandy beach, something of a rarity for a southeastern English resort.
The half a mile-long Margate Main Sands Beach is a short five minutes walk from the station. Nestled in the Harbour Arm, it has a tidal pool, children’s rides, an amusement arcade and deck chairs – and acres of the lovely golden stuff of course.
There are plenty of other reasons to get ‘down to Margate’ (as the Chas & Dave song goes) after an extensive regeneration programme has done much to revitalise the formerly fading town.
The famous Dreamland amusement park reopened to much fanfare in 2015. After a few teething troubles, it relaunched in May 2017, with a £15 million revamp featuring landscaped gardens, art installations, and a live music venue for 15,000 people.
The vintage Scenic Railway Rollercoaster is the world’s second-oldest, while other white-knuckle wonders include the Hurricane Jets and the Chair-O-Plane.
You owe it to yourself to pick your way through the Shell Grotto, a vast warren of underground tunnels bedecked in stunning seashell mosaics. Afterwards, sit under the Grade II listed Nayland Rock Shelter looking out at the sands and wait for poetic inspiration to strike. The elegant structure where T S Eliot used to ponder was protected by a campaign championed by leading literary lights Alan Bennett and Poet Laureate Andrew Motion.
On a similarly refined note, the Turner Contemporary Gallery, set in the former boarding house where JMW Turner once stayed, should be high on your list. Since it was opened in 2011 by famous local artist Tracey Emin, it’s welcomed over 1.8 million art lovers through its doors, fast establishing itself as one of the UK’s most revered galleries.
Margate’s eclectic mix of beach, art and funfair makes it an ideal romantic day trip from London by train. Grab yourselves a Two Together Railcard and enjoy savings on your train fares.
Direct trains from London St Pancras International and London Victoria go to Margate station. St Pancras services are faster, taking less than one hour and 30 minutes. Margate Main Sands Beach is 400 metres from the station.
Whitstable is perhaps the quintessentially British quirky, seaside resort. A lively community of students, artists and London day-trippers (or ‘Down-from-Londons’, as they’re often known locally) lend the town an irresistibly villagey vibe. At the same time, there are scores of cosy pubs, galleries and charity shops which seem lost in time.
The pebble beach, broken up with groynes in typical British seaside fashion is a 15-minute walk from the station. The most bustling stretch – where the beach widens out – is between Cushing’s View and the start of West Beach by the legendary Old Neptune pub. Picture-perfect cottages with brightly-coloured balconies and beach huts line this part of the beach.
Further, along at Tankerton Slopes, the greens leading down to the sea, are always busy with dog walkers and bike riders.
Whitstable Harbour lays claim to inventing scuba diving, which is commemorated by an iron sculpture, and it remains a popular pastime here today. Along with combing the fish markets for fresh seafood, enjoying the tinkly chime of yachts moored on the jetty and browsing the craft, jewellery and textile stalls at the open-air Harbour Market.
The horror and Star Wars actor Peter Cushing spent most of his later years in Whitstable. He’s now immortalised by a Wetherspoons pub no less, and of course, he also features in a display at the Whitstable Museum.
Whitstable’s most famous for its oysters, which is most celebrated every July at the Whitstable Oyster Festival. Foodies will love feasting on oysters, locally caught seafood, and drinking the finest Kent ales and cider. Festival-goers can also enjoy music, local arts and crafts, a seafront procession and traditional kids games.
You will probably want to sample some all year round seafood delicacies while you’re here. Try Wheeler’s Oyster Bar or the Whitstable Oyster Fishery Company, or for a traditional fish and chip supper, Ossies Fish Bar and VC Jones are hard to beat.
Whitstable is the perfect coastal spot for seafood lovers to enjoy day trips from London by train.
Direct trains from London St Pancras International and London Victoria go to Whitstable station. St Pancras services are faster, taking 1 hour and 10 minutes. The closest beach is 3/4 mile from the station.
Despite an unfair fusty reputation, Eastbourne has plenty going for it, with a pretty, well-maintained promenade, premier chalk cliff views and rows of whitewashed Victorian terraces.
Eastbourne offers more than three miles of shingle beaches with some sandy stretches and rock pools at low tide. The beach is less than 20 minutes walk from the station.
These days the traditional ‘caffs’ (like cafes, but distinctly more British!), tea rooms and Italian ice cream parlours have been joined by a Continental food market with wares from across the Channel. While the giddy heights of a Hot Air Balloon Festival and even an Extreme Sports Festival grace the resort in the summer months.
Not to be outdone by Margate and other coastal culture meccas, Eastbourne reopened the new Towner Gallery building in 2009, adding to an arts quarter boasting five theatres including the Under Ground Theatre Arts Centre. You’ll find 4,500 modern British artworks housed in the Towner’s suitably streamlined, modernist contours.
The recently refurbished Eastbourne Pier is an excellent example of iconic seafront architecture, complete with Victorian Tea Rooms, the state-of-the-art Atlantis Nightclub and a new jazz lounge and blues kitchen, 1901.
The beautiful Art Deco Bandstand is an inspiring sight, with its blue terracotta tiled roof. It’s still a popular venue with seating for 1,400 people who turn out for tribute shows, big band jazz, revival nights and classical concerts.
The 200-year-old Redoubt Fortress is one of only three surviving structures built to withstand Napoleonic attack and makes for a rousing family visit.
Of course, you shouldn’t miss the Eastbourne Miniature Steam Railway, as the 1/8 scale locomotives gently putter their way around a five-acre lake set in country grounds with picnic areas and abundant wildlife.
The relaxed pace of life here should appeal to all day-trippers from London by train, but it naturally attracts more mature visitors who can get cheaper rail fares with a Senior Railcard.
Direct trains from London Victoria go to Eastbourne with the fastest journey times from 1 hour and 20 minutes. Eastbourne seafront is under a mile from the station.
A popular Victorian resort, today Southsea is less crowded than most, but there are plenty of attractions and cultural sights for those who know where to look. Much of Southsea’s appeal centres on the seafront area.
Southsea Beach is a flinty, shingle 3-mile expanse running from Old Portsmouth to Eastney which slopes gently into the sea. From here you can look out at ‘Palmerston’s Follies’, a series of five defensive forts built in the 1860s and 70s to protect against inland invasion.
The South Parade Pier has partially re-opened this year after a five year, £5 million restoration project, with plans for a fish and chip shop, ice cream parlour, a ‘showbar’, zip wire, amusement arcade and various rides. The pier once featured in Ken Russell’s film of the Who’s rock opera Tommy.
Families can enjoy a stroll along Southsea Common and visit Clarence Pier Family Theme Park, one of the largest amusement parks on the south coast. Despite its name, the pier runs along the seafront rather than extending out over the sea.
Southsea Common hosts kite shows, military vehicle displays and other fun outdoor events, including visits by the Moscow State Circus. In summer, young children will love playing in the water at Southsea Splash Pool.
Further along at Eastney, the 1/12 scale Southsea Model Village is a fun place to keep the kids amused. A picnic area nearby offers scenic views of the Solent stretch of water and across to the Isle of Wight. There’s also a large canoe lake with pedal boats to hire.
Most of the town’s best eateries are clustered on Albert Road and Osborne Road, and you’ll find a higher concentration of independent shops, cafes and restaurants in general than in most British resorts.
Peter Sellers was one of Southsea’s most famous residents. You can see the blue plaque which commemorates the late actor above a Chinese takeaway on the corner of Castle Road, a 10-minute walk from the beach. You’ll also find historical blue plaque markers for other notable locals Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Rudyard Kipling.
A little further afield, the historic naval dockyard in nearby Portsmouth offers many famous ships, including HMS Warrior 1860, HMS Victory and the Mary Rose, along with the Royal Navy Submarine Museum and plenty of interactive exhibits to excite kids of all ages.
While you’re in Portsmouth, you can also drop into the Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum and see three furnished rooms, along with various memorabilia such as his snuff-box, inkwell, pocket knife and the couch on which he expired.
Southsea makes a great day out from London by train and particularly appeals to families and history buffs. Save money on a family trip and get reduced train fares with a Family & Friends Railcard.
Direct trains from London Waterloo and London Victoria go to Portsmouth & Southsea and Portsmouth harbour stations. The fastest trains from Waterloo take 1 hour and 39 minutes to Portsmouth Harbour, and a few minutes less to Portsmouth & Southsea.
Clarence Esplanade at Southsea Beach is one and a quarter miles from Portsmouth Harbour station. The scenic walk goes through charming Old Portsmouth and along the sea wall.
Brighton is a bohemian enclave that knows how to let its hair down. The kiss-me-quick hats are long gone, replaced by bearded, tattooed hipsters, gourmet burger joints, artisanal gelato bars and cool coffee houses frequently used for arts and comedy events.
Brighton’s pebble beach is easily accessible and less than 15 minutes walk from the station. Leaving the station, head straight down Queen Street and you’ll soon see it.
You’ll probably want to stroll along the Palace Pier and take some pictures of the beautifully ruined remains of the West Pier. On the seafront near the West Pier, you’ll find the fantastic King’s Road Playground. The enclosed space has heaps of natural sand, sturdy climbing frames, paddling pools and plenty of equipment to keep kids entertained.
The BAi360 moving observation tower is one of the city’s newest attractions and also ‘the world’s tallest vertical pier.’ There’s also a two-person zip line over the beach and the charming Volks Railway, the oldest electrical railway in the world, which runs along the seafront.
The Royal Pavilion – mixing Regency grandeur with Indian and Chinese styles – is another must-do. The seaside pleasure palace of King George IV is an extraordinary building, both inside and out. The adjoining Brighton Museum is well worth a few hours’ explorations too.
Wander around the shops in the narrow Lanes and the even better North Laine, packed with indie boutiques, traditional pubs, cafes and delis. Come in May to experience the Brighton Festival, the UK’s second-biggest arts shindig.
Of course, Brighton is great for day trips from London by train for anyone. But the high concentration of pubs, clubs and live music venues here, not to mention independent shops, makes it very appealing to younger people, who can save on rail fares with a 16-25 Railcard.
Direct trains from London Victoria, London Bridge and London Blackfriars go to Brighton station. The fastest route is from Victoria, which takes around 55 minutes. Trains from London Bridge take one hour. Brighton Beach is just over half a mile from the station.
The recent revival of Hastings is a case study in British seaside reinvention. The former declining town has been subject to vigorous regeneration for over a decade, the effects of which are starting to pay off.
For starters, it has one of Europe’s most stylish piers. Unveiled in 2015 to great acclaim, Hastings Pier is a spectacularly sleek piece of minimalist contemporary design. In place of the usual outlets, the pier now offers frozen yoghurt stands, gourmet coffee and The Deck roof terrace cafe. Little wonder it was voted 2017 Pier of the Year.
Hastings’s 3-mile shingle – and at low tide sandy – beach with its elegant, double-tiered promenade is a 10-minute walk from the station.
Hastings’s pedestrianised Old Town is the town’s most charming stretch. Its narrow, cobbled streets are packed with restaurants, characterful pubs, artisan bakers, antiques and home and giftware shops. Poke your way through the town’s ‘twittens’, narrow alleyways which thread through the back streets, to see what you can discover.
The True Crime Museum is one of the town’s quirkier attractions. Others include the award-winning Jerwood Gallery collection of British contemporary art, Hastings Castle, Hastings Fisherman’s Museum, the Shipwreck Museum and the East Hill Cliff Railway, a lovely clifftop funicular.
A little way inland on West Hill lies the St Clements Caves, home to the Smuggler’s Cave Adventure tourist attraction, where costumed guides recreate the area’s smuggling heritage.
Hastings is ideal day trips from London by train. For a more extended day out, combine it with a trip inland to Battle, scene of the Battle of Hastings.
Direct trains from London Charing Cross and London Victoria go to Hastings station. The fastest route from Charing Cross takes around 1 hour 35 minutes. Hastings Beach is 500 metres from the station.
Hastings’s smaller sister town of St Leonards is also worth exploring. St Leonard’s Warrior Square is the next stop on the train from London.
Broadstairs is one of Kent’s most attractive seaside towns, thanks to its numerous sandy beaches, which include three – Botany Bay, Joss Bay and Stone Bay – award-winning Blue Flag beaches.
The main beach at Viking Bay is an excellent example of an archetypal southern England seaside resort with a clifftop promenade, horseshoe-shaped harbour and sloping Victoria Gardens overlooking the bay, complete with bandstand, clock tower and Indian-inspired shelter.
The town has been smartened up significantly in recent years, with a great selection of Italian-run gelaterias, bistros and cafes, plus a clutch of art galleries.
There’s no shortage of enjoyable attractions besides the beach. The Dickens House Museum celebrates Charles Dickens’ 22 years in the town, which he christened ‘our English watering-place.’ Housed in the cottage which inspired the home of Betsey Trotwood in his novel David Copperfield, the museum is complete with a flower garden and authentic Victorian parlour.
Continuing the Dickens theme, you can also visit Bleak House, where Dickens spent many happy childhood holidays looking out onto Viking Bay. There’s a Dickens Festival held here each June as well.
Lilliput Mini Golf is a traditional British seaside family fun. The championship designed mini-golf course features many famous landmarks, and the tea garden is known for its toasted teacakes.
Broadstairs also offers one of England’s unique independent cinemas. The intimate Palace Cinema has been around for over a century, during which time it has hosted everything from puppet shows to cartoons. It passed into new ownership in 2016 and now has 111 seats and shows blockbusters, critics’ favourites and art films alike.
Broadstairs is a perfect day out from London by train with plenty of things to do. Beach lovers, who don’t mind a walk, will enjoy the quieter Blue Flag beaches to the north of town.
Direct trains from London St Pancras International and London Victoria go to Broadstairs station. The fastest route is from St Pancras, which takes from 1 hour and 21 minutes. Broadstairs’ main beach, Viking Beach, is half a mile from the station.
Bexhill is something of a well-kept secret, has retained its character as a quiet and quirky seaside resort. Handsome Victorian and Edwardian architecture abounds, and the two-mile shingle beach, which gets sandy at low tide is a big draw too.
There are some excellent independent retailers, such as Music’s Not Dead Records and Maud’s Emporium. The 20 vintage and charity shops make the town an excellent spot for those who enjoy foraging for rare clothes, books, antiques and other collectables.
Bexhill’s shining star is undoubtedly the De La Warr Pavilion, an iconic and eye-catching modernist building on the seafront which hosts a fantastic range of art exhibitions, live music, comedy and theatre. The 1930s Grade 1 Listed building is a destination in itself, thanks to its helix staircase, balconies, panoramic rooftop terraces and bandstand.
The freshly-renovated King George V Colonnade, a focal point for entertainment and music throughout the year, neatly complements the pavilion’s architecture.
Bexhill is also the ‘birthplace of British motor racing’, celebrated by the annual 100 Classic Car Show in August. The town also offers two of Sussex’s best golf courses: Cooden Beach and Highwoods.
Bexhill-on-sea is an underrated resort on England’s south coast and well worth exploring on a day out from London by train. Before you travel, pick up a Network Railcard and save on your train journey.
Direct trains from London Victoria and London St Pancras go to Bexhill station. Trains from Victoria are more frequent with both routes taking from 1 hour and 46 minutes.
We hope our selection of seaside day trips from London by train along the Hampshire, Sussex and Kent Coast has inspired you to grab your Railcard and pack your bucket and spade.
Discover even more southeastern day trips and check out our guide to some of the best National Trust properties to visit by train in south-east England. Finally, I found out how you can save money on rail tickets and passes, tours and holidays with our train deals and discounts.