It’s true that London — from museums and theater shows to river cruises and pub crawls — has much to see and do within its city walls. But sometimes the bright lights and crowded streets of the British capital has visitors longing for a change of scene. Thankfully, London’s high-speed train routes to outdoor-loving counties such as Kent, Surrey, Buckinghamshire, and West Sussex make an escape to the great British countryside easy and affordable.
Whether it’s sipping tea in a quintessential English castle or breathing in the fresh air on a country walk, a visit to one of the National Trust’s 500 properties makes for a fun and relaxing day out. Here are some of our favorite spots — all close enough to London to get there and back in a day using public transport.
What is the National Trust?
The National Trust — Europe’s largest conservation society — cares for more than 500 historic properties and protects over 250,000 hectares of land across Britain, including country houses, castles, gardens, woodland, coastline, and even pubs (39 of them, in fact). Founded in 1895, the National Trust will celebrate its 125th birthday this year, with special events and offers taking place throughout 2020. So, whether you’re passionate about architecture or just fancy an alfresco picnic, it has never been a better time to jump on the train and explore the UK’s most historic properties and outdoor spaces.
The National Trust offers a yearly membership for $96 (discounts for young people, juniors, families), which includes access to all properties, free parking, and a welcome pack to organize your trip. If you’re planning on more than a couple of visits, this may work out cheaper than buying individual entry tickets. US residents can join the Royal Oak Foundation — the National Trust’s American affiliate — to receive unlimited free access to all National Trust sites. Prices start at $80 for 12 months.
1. For history buffs: Chartwell, Kent
Chartwell — the family home of Sir Winston Churchill between 1922 and 1965 — has been opened to visitors for more than 50 years. A large collection of books, paintings, family photographs, and personal mementos give an intimate look into Churchill’s life, both as a politician and a family man. Outside, the Chartwell Estate is surrounded by 80 acres of pristine woodland and 20th-century gardens, with trail walking, den-building, and wildlife-spotting all on offer (look out for the unusual black swans, originally native to Australia, swimming in the Chartwell lakes). For a more detailed overview of Churchill’s life, you can book in for a one-hour guided tour of the house or grounds via the National Trust website.
How to get there from London: Edenbridge (four miles) is the closest station to Chartwell and has direct trains from London Victoria and London Bridge, as does Oxted (six miles from Chartwell). Sevenoaks station (six miles) has a regular fast train service from London Charing Cross, Waterloo East, and London Bridge.
Where: Chartwell, Mapleton Road, Westerham, Kent, TN16 1PS
2. For families and nature lovers: Hatchlands Park, Surrey
Surrounded by 400 acres of parkland, Hatchlands Park is one of Surrey’s largest country estates. The park’s “natural adventure” area — made up of balance beams, willow tunnels, a treehouse, and a bug hotel — make this East Clandon property a popular choice for families looking to get some fresh air and exercise just 45 minutes from London. Between the park’s flower meadows and ancient woodland is the Hatchlands country house, a red-brick Georgian estate home to lavishly decorated 18th-century rooms and Europe’s largest collection of musical instruments, some of which were once owned and played by the likes of Bach, Chopin, and Elgar. There are two cafes on-site serving hot and cold lunches, as well as an artisan gift shop and secondhand bookshop.
How to get there from London: Take the London Waterloo to Guildford mainline to Clandon Station (CLA). From there, it’s a 45-minute walk or 10-minute drive to Hatchlands.
Where: East Clandon, Guildford, Surrey, GU4 7RT
3. For art connoisseurs and deer lovers: Petworth House and Park, West Sussex
Petworth House — a 17th-century mansion housing dozens of major works by the likes of J. M. W. Turner, Van Dyck, Reynolds, and Blake — is home to the National Trust’s most valuable art collection. Built by a family of fine art collectors over 900 years (descendants of which still live on the property today), this baroque-inspired country home has lavishly decorated staterooms, fine art sculptures, and priceless British treasures, such as an early manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and the earliest English terrestrial globe in existence. Outside in the 700-acre natural park visitors can spot deer, hike the walking trails, and enjoy sweeping views of the South Downs National Park.
How to get there from London: Get the Bognor Regis train from Victoria to Pulborough station. From here, catch the No. 1 Stagecoach bus service to Petworth town center.
Where: Petworth House and Park, Petworth, West Sussex, GU28 9LR
4. For architecture and nature enthusiasts: Knole, Kent
After being closed for some time for conservation work, Knole — a 400-year-old archbishop’s palace set inside a medieval deer park — has finally reopened to visitors. The famed Knole “showrooms,” which have been opened to the public since the 17th century, now display beautifully restored oak staircases, decorative plaster ceilings, and rare silver furniture, as well as an impressive collection of fine art portraits, sculptures, and textiles. Inside the park, visitors can hang out with a 350-strong wild deer herd or climb to the top of the newly restored Gatehouse Tower for views over the Kentish countryside. To dig a little deeper into Knole’s history, take a 45-minute guided tour of “the attics” where newly discovered graffiti and witch marks reveal a little-known part of the former palace’s past.
How to get there from London: Take the direct train to Sevenoaks from London Bridge. Knole is just a 1.5-mile walk from Sevenoaks station.
Where: Sevenoaks, Kent, TN15 0RP
5. For food and wine lovers: Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire
Built in 1874 to entertain the British nobility, Waddesdon Manor was once South East England’s most exclusive place to be wined and dined. Today, the National Trust continues Waddesdon’s hospitality tradition with regular food and drink events, from wine tasting inside the manor’s underground cellar to artisan food markets and indulgent afternoon teas. Food and drink aside, Waddesdon’s French Renaissance-style architecture, ornate Victorian garden with a working aviary, and over 15,000 works of 18th-century art are reasons enough to visit. If you’re planning on visiting at the weekend or during school holidays, it’s a good idea to book ahead for this one.
How to get there from London: Take the train from Marylebone station to Aylesbury Vale Parkway. From here, there are taxis available to take you the short drive to Waddesdon Manor.
Where: Waddesdon, near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, HP18 0JH
6. For Arts and Crafts fans: Red House, Bexleyheath
The Red House in Bexleyheath is the only house to be commissioned, built, and lived in by William Morris, the man behind Britain’s — and later Europe’s — Arts and Crafts Movement. A recent conservation project has revealed some of Red House’s hidden treasures, including original Pre-Raphaelite wall-paintings and Morris’s first decorative schemes. The best way to visit is on a guided tour (every morning between 11:00 AM and 1:30 PM), during which you’ll learn how the Red House influenced Morris’s influential art movement. If you prefer to visit on your own, note that you can only do this after the morning tours have finished at 1:30 PM.
How to get there from London: Trains run directly from London Victoria, London Charing Cross, and London Cannon Street to nearby Bexleyheath station.
Where: Red House Lane, Bexleyheath, London, DA6 8JF
7. For Victorian history and outdoor picnics: Ightham Mote, Kent
Built almost 700 years ago from Kentish ragstone and great Wealden oak, Ightham Mote was once home to medieval knights, courtiers to Henry VIII, and high society Victorians. Today, visitors can explore the Mote House’s newly restored medieval Great Hall, underground crypt, and Victorian billiard room, as well as the impressive stained-glass windows and painted ceilings in the New Chapel. Outside, the impeccably groomed gardens at Ightham Mote come to life with natural water features and colorful spring blooms, most famously the sunshine-yellow daffodil and dusty-pink cherry blossom. If the weather is on your side, don’t miss an alfresco lunch or a slice of freshly baked Victoria sponge cake on the Mote Café’s outdoor patio.
How to get there from London: Take the London Bridge/London Charing Cross to Hastings mainline to either Hildenborough (four miles) or Sevenoaks (seven miles). There are taxi ranks at both stations to take you to Ightham Mote.
Where: Mote Road, Ivy Hatch, Sevenoaks, Kent, TN15 0NT