The 10 best beaches less than two hours from London by train

Whisper it: Summer, it seems, has arrived. That means hot, busy days in London and a desire to leave the capital and dive into the sea. Apart from all the necessary warnings about the quality of the bathing, there is nothing more wonderful than a sun-drenched day by the sea, and fortunately it is not too difficult to reach them from the city.

Moreover, you do not have to participate in traffic. It is very easy to reach some beautiful beaches effortlessly by train from London. Whether it’s the kitschy delights of Margate or Whitstable in Kent, or the long, sweeping sands of Sussex, it’s possible to ditch the car altogether for the perfect day out. There is only one exception to the rule, due to its isolated location (and definitely worth the trip).

All these trips can be made in a day due to their proximity to the capital, but many have beautiful places to spend the night, precisely because of their enduring appeal. These are the 10 best beaches to visit from London.

Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex

Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex

Search for fossils in Walton-on-the-Naze – iStockphoto

For brightly colored beach huts and bunting-lined promenades, Walton-on-the-Naze is the place to be. The seafront is home to a range of amenities ideal for a seaside weekend: grab a coffee and cake at the Naze Tower café, then stroll along the pier – Britain’s second longest. A mile north of the beach, the headland is a site of special scientific interest, and the scrub is known to contain large numbers of fossils.

If you’re considering bringing a four-legged friend, it’s worth noting that dogs are prohibited on the beach between May 1 and September 30.

How to get there

Greater Anglia operates trains from London Liverpool Street to Walton-on-the-Naze, with a change at Thorpe-le-Soken. The journey takes one hour and 40 minutes.

Where to stay

Scandinavian-style Lifehouse Spa & Hotel, in Thorpe-le-Soken, was a hit with our expert. Rooms start at £229 per night.

Whitstable, Kent

Whitstable, KentWhitstable, Kent

South East trains from London Victoria to Whitstable take one hour and 20 minutes – Alex Segre

Whitstable, with its hand-painted shop fronts and fresh seafood restaurants, is a quintessential south coast spot. After diving into the (sometimes quite cold) sea, walk to Whitstable Castle and explore the 18th-century manor house. Or stay on the beach and taste the fresh oysters at The Forge (or their scampi with a fresh beer). It is open until sunset and is the ideal base for people watching.

How to get there

South-eastern trains from London Victoria to Whitstable take one hour and 20 minutes.

Where to stay

Hotel Continental offers beach-chic rooms with sea views. Rooms start at £126 per night.

Margate, Kent

Margate KentMargate Kent

The portioned tidal pool on Margate beach makes it a popular choice for wild swimmers – Moment RF

Margate has seen a revival in recent years, with our expert describing it as “well and truly on the rise”. Although the horizon-defying beach can be crowded on the hottest days, it is an undeniably lovely spot. The train journey from St Pancras only takes around 90 minutes, making it an easy and accessible day out.

As for the beach itself, wild swimmers will enjoy the portioned tidal pool: a delight for casual swimmers and serious lap swimmers alike. A more nostalgic day out could be a trip to Dreamland, the pastel pink theme park with rollercoasters and kitsch galore. Further into town, the eccentric Shell Grotto is a charming diversion.

How to get there

South-eastern trains from London St Pancras take around 90 minutes, while trains from London Victoria take two hours.

Where to stay

The chic No42 by GuestHouse offers breathtaking views and a vibrant restaurant. Prices start at £190 per night.

Broadstairs, Kent

Broadstairs, KentBroadstairs, Kent

Broadstairs is a quieter alternative to Margate – Joshua Tarn

If falling in love with Margate seems inevitable, try getting off the train earlier, at Broadstairs. The town, a quieter spot, was briefly home to Charles Dickens, as he wrote Pale house. The house he stayed in now sits on a promontory overlooking the vast beach, where Punch and Judy predominate.

Choosing a spot on the beach and stretching out is enough for a very pleasant day out. There’s also plenty to explore in the town itself, such as 1950s ice cream parlors – try Morelli’s for unbeatable gelato.

How to get there

South-eastern trains from London St Pancras to Broadstairs take one hour and 20 minutes.

Where to stay

The Bay Tree Hotel is a smart seafront hotel with 10 rooms. Prices start at £70 per night.

Ramsgate, Kent

Another Kentish delight, one that rewards a simple, bucket-and-shovel day with the family. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, explore the Ramsgate war tunnels: the largest network of underground passageways in Britain, open to visitors. Combine these with the smugglers’ caves, built into the rocks of Pegwell Bay, and you have quite an adventurous day out.

It is also possible to walk along the coast to Broadstairs from here, meaning you can admire both beaches. Frolic on the sand at Ramsgate, then follow the coastal path for around 40 minutes – homely, traditional pubs in both towns make ideal refreshment points.

How to get there

South-eastern trains from London St Pancras to Ramsgate take two hours.

Where to stay

The stylishly renovated Albion Hotel offers rooms from £125 per night.

Dungeness, Kent

Outlook houseOutlook house

Prospect Cottage in Dungeness was once home to filmmaker and artist Derek Jarman – Alamy

The one exception to our rule… Bleak, beautiful Dungeness is the place to go for a more terrifying day on the coast. This vast coastline is Britain’s only desert, but that doesn’t mean it’s barren: instead, this strange headland is teeming with wildlife. Although not impossible, it is quite difficult to get there by train. A steam train runs seasonally between Rye and Dungeness; the more modern traveler is advised to drive.

On arrival, the place to head is Prospect Cottage (reservations required), the black larch-like former home of artist Derek Jarman. Now a creative centre, its beautifully designed garden, in which poppies and sea kale sprout from sand and pebbles, is a pleasant distraction on a hot day. For more wildlife, the Dungeness RSPB reserve is home to marsh harriers and lapwings.

How to get there

It is best to drive to Prospect Cottage, there is a parking lot on the right side of the building. Or travel via the miniature railway (more information here).

Where to stay

Castaways B&B is located on the beach and offers views over Calais. Rooms start at £90 per night.

Brighton, East Sussex

Busy, bright, Brighton. It’s an iconic seaside town for good reason, and it’s best to arrive early and pick up groceries at The Flour Pot or Sugardough bakeries – think exceptional croissants and freshly baked bread. Wander around The Lanes, then it’s time for the reason you’re here: head to the beach.

It is, importantly, a stone beach, so towels (or lounge chairs) are highly recommended. Once you get your spot, read, relax and swim to your heart’s content. And don’t forget to stay here, because Brighton is at its most beautiful at sunset, when the murmur of starlings soars over a fiery sea and the pier seems to glow. Stay as late as your train ticket allows, or spend the night in one of the city’s many Georgian mansions.

How to get there

Southern trains from London Victoria and London Bridge to Brighton take approximately one hour.

Where to stay

The art-filled Hotel Una is one of the city’s best places to stay. Rooms from €196. Plan the perfect trip to Brighton with our expert guide.

Littlehampton, West Sussex

Littlehampton, with its miles of sand and gravel, is a vision of the British seaside resort. With lifeguards on duty in summer (plus free children’s wristbands), it’s ideal for a sunny day out with the whole family.

There are numerous facilities along the promenade: the East Beach café, with its undulating architecture, is a particular favourite. Or for something more traditional, head inland towards Harbor Park Amusements, where water slides, arcade games and soft play are sure to be a hit.

How to get there

Southern trains run from London Victoria to Littlehampton and take approximately one hour and 45 minutes.

Where to stay

Head slightly inland to Arundel and stay in the medieval mansions of Bailiffscourt Hotel & Spa. An overnight stay starts from €315.

West Wittering, West Sussex

West WitteringWest Wittering

West Wittering is the perfect spot for both novice and experienced surfers – Alamy

With its serene, grassy dunes and wide open horizons, West Wittering beach, near the mouth of Chichester Harbour, is, unsurprisingly, quite busy in summer. Bring a picnic blanket and arrive early to stake a claim in the sand.

If you’re feeling more adventurous, both West and East Wittering are popular with surfers. Not confident enough to do it yourself? Head to one of the nearby surf schools for equipment and lessons.

How to get there

Southern trains run between London Victoria and Chichester. Bus 52 takes visitors from the station to the Old House at Home pub; from there it is a short walk to the beach.

Where to stay

The East Walls Hotel is a lovingly restored Georgian villa in Chichester, with rooms from £115 per night.

Port Meadow, Oxford

Not all beaches need the sea. Port Meadow, in the north-west corner of Oxford, is a rural, open space ideal for sunbathing and wild swimming. The banks of the River Thames are dotted with small, sandy coves, meaning that on a warm day, wild birds and visitors make the spot their (very picturesque) base.

Pick up supplies in the town center before heading to the wildflower-filled meadows: please note that as the communal pasture is still used for grazing, you may be sharing the space with cattle or wild ponies.

How to get there

Great Western operates services between London Paddington and Oxford, taking just under an hour. From Oxford station it is a 20 minute walk to Port Meadow.

Where to stay

The Porterhouse Grill & Rooms Hotel offers hip but unpretentious rooms from £264 per night. Plan the perfect trip to Oxford with our guide.

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