As a Londoner, and cheapskate, who occasionally has the spur of the moment impulse to get on a train, it recently occurred to me that there might be a more methodical way of finding affordable day trips than throwing random place names into National Rail Enquiries until a return ticket that won’t empty my entire bank account appears.
Having previously tinkered about with the timetabling data provided by the Rail Delivery Group, it occurred to me that I might be able to get the associated fares dataset to spit out a price list of all the day return tickets from London and use that as prompt to find exciting new cheap day trips. So I did, and then I put it on a map.
This map doesn’t include advance tickets. It uses the cheapest route I could find* between London Terminals and the destination on either an off-peak, super off-peak or anytime return, depending on which kinds of ticket are actually available on that route. And it comes with absolutely no guarantee by either myself or CityMetric that you can buy a ticket at this price – not least since if you’re reading this in 2025 it’ll long since be out of date.
With those provisos, here it is:
So, what can we learn from this?
1. The best value per mile destination from London is… Wrexham!
A bargain at only 25p per mile. That’s Wrexham General, not Wrexham Central, which despite being an 8 minute walk away is a shocking 52 pence per mile journey from the capital. Rip off Britain!
2. The furthest you can get from London for under a tenner is… Balcombe!
Why not go and visit the farmhouse that stood in for Arthur Dent’s house from the BBC TV version of the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy? I bet they’re definitely not tired of people taking photos of each other lying down outside of it!
More directly CityMetric relevant: it’s near the Ouse Valley Viaduct, which is a pretty good viaduct.
3. Furthest you can get for under 20 quid is… Peterborough!
The ‘worst place in Britain not to have a car’ according to a 2014 survey. Why not spend a day not having a car in Peterborough to try this out?
And for only 30p more you can go to Sheerness! “I once rode my unicycle from South London to Sheerness on Sea, on the Isle of Sheppey. I’ve never been anywhere so bleak,” says someone on the forums of singletrackworld.com, instantly selling me on the idea of going to Sheerness.
4. Birmingham and the general vicinity are quite good value, it turns out
Look at all those places you can get to for only just over £30 return. Wait until my girlfriend finds out where our next holiday is going to be!
5. There seem to be tickets available that aren’t actually usable
I couldn’t actually find any trains running on the route listed for Water Orton and Coleshill Parkway, “LNR and XC only”. So if you do manage to buy one of those tickets, working that out is a puzzle for you and you alone.
6. You can save quite a lot of money by walking a mile
See the aforementioned Wrexham General/Wrexham Central ‘discrepancy’: cheapest ticket to Central: £40.50; General: £86.90.
Getting to London Road station, a mile from Brighton, costs £28.50, while you can get to Brighton for just £12.20!
This of course doesn’t factor in different journey lengths, required changes, etc. Maybe it turns out you actually value your time!
7. Brighton really is a bargain – it’s the cheapest bit of seaside you can get to from London!
It and Southend are the only bits of beach accessible for under £15. But if you’re feeling a bit more flush, £35 will get you to and from more or less anywhere on the coast between Southampton and Harwich.
8. You’ll need to drop at least £120 to get to Scotland.
For that you can get as far as Kirkconnel, halfway between Dumfries and Glasgow. Admittedly it wouldn’t be much of a day trip anyway, since after a 5 hour train journey there you’d have about an hour before the last train of the day back. Well, unless spending 2 hours at Carlisle station waiting for a 2am sleeper train is your idea of fun. Which if you’ve read this far is a possibility!
Apologies to anyone who isn’t from London and complains on Facebook about everything I write being about London until I block you. Maybe if you share this post loads on social media, I’ll make a map of the cost of train tickets from YOUR boring hometown.
*The system is extremely complex, so no doubt there are some quirks I’ve missed. Thanks to the kind people of railforums.co.uk who pointed me in something approaching the right direction when I got totally lost.