If you’re looking for ideas for Valentine’s Day (or beyond), what could be more romantic than a countryside walk to a village pub with a roaring fire, or a stroll along the beach? We discover the most charming day trips from London, whatever the weather. Prepare to swoon!
Classic Day Trip: Cambridge
With its 13th-century architecture, tearooms and River Cam, Cambridge ticks all the boxes for a romantic day trip. Once you’ve seen the big guns—King’s and Queen’s Colleges and the Bridge of Sighs at St John’s College—you can get tipsy at Cambridgeshire Wine School. Then, why not get steamy in the Cambridge University Botanic Gardens’ glasshouse?
Make time for a river trip for two. On a crisp day, cuddle up on a private daytime tour with The Cambridge Punting Company. Opt for a dusk or candle-lit tour and you’ll have the river to yourself and the stars. For lunch, you can’t beat a traditional Ploughman’s at The Orchard Tea Garden, which was established in 1897. Later on, enjoy dinner at Varsity, a British restaurant in a listed building on the city’s main thoroughfare.
How to get there: Direct from London King’s Cross (approx 45 mins). Day return cost: from £15
Seaside Break: Whitstable
Cobbled alleyways, galleries and a blustery beach make the coastal town of Whitstable enviably enchanting.
If the weather is sunny, explore around the harbour before strolling hand-in-hand along Tankerton beach. If the clouds roll in and the sky threatens rain, head to Whitstable Castle & Gardens. Built as a family home in the 1790s, it’s now open to the public and hosts regular antique fairs. Alternatively, learn about the town’s maritime history and annual summer oyster festival at Whitstable Museum and Gallery at the end of the high street—after all, oysters are an aphrodisiac…
Food options abound. Pop into the charming Tea & Times café (36a High Street) for pot of tea and a toasted teacake, or share a bag of fish and chips from VC Jones, which has been serving patrons since 1962. You’ll be spoilt for choice of seafood restaurants, but for somewhere special, Samphire on the high street fits the bill. Decked with chalkboards, the smart, cosy bistro serves pots of mussels and the catch of the day alongside local, seasonal ingredients.
How to get there: Direct from King’s Cross St. Pancras or Victoria (from 1 hr 20 mins). Day return cost: from £20.
An Alternative Day Out: Rye
Fans of EF Benson’s “Mapp and Lucia” novels will recognise Rye in East Sussex—it’s the basis of the fictional town of Tilling. But even if you’re not a fan, it’s a great option to experience this pretty medieval town. Small but perfectly formed, it’s easy to get around on foot.
Rye Castle Museum is a real-life fairytale. Also known as Ypres Tower, it was built as a fortress in the 13th century and has since been a home, prison and mortuary. Enjoy the balcony views of the surrounding countryside and quaint medieval herb garden. History buffs will also enjoy visiting Benson’s Georgian home, Lamb House, which is now a National Trust property with a pond and walled garden. You can take a tour of Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, a wild, low-lying space near Camber Sands beach that feels straight out of romance novel.
How to get there: From London St Pancras (change at Ashford International), (approx 1 hour 20 mins. Day return cost: from £28
A Taste of History: Windsor
A royal castle, riverside spa and horse-drawn carriages—this town has all the right ingredients for a romantic day out. While Windsor Castle gets all the glory, don’t miss the 14th-century St George’s Chapel on the castle’s grounds. Cruise past both aboard a French Brothers’ Edwardian steamboat, perhaps with a vintage tea cruise or evening dinner dance.
Take a romantic horse-drawn carriage ride in Windsor Great Park, where you can cuddle up under blankets as you trot to the park’s highest point, Snow Hill, for panoramic castle views.
Thinking of proposing? Visit nearby Ascot Racecourse, as the tradition of popping the question on one of its pink benches dates back to the Regency period.
Enjoy a drink at The Carpenter’s Arms. Dating from 1844, it’s about as traditional as pubs come; look out for etchings of carpenters in the windows. For a more up-market option, dine at the Michelin-starred Waterside Inn in nearby Bray, with incredible views over the River Thames.
How to get there: Direct trains from London Waterloo to Windsor & Eton Riverside take 54 mins (from £10.80)