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Whether it's boating on a lazy river in Cambridge, listening to a choir sing in Canterbury Cathedral, or walking along the pebbly beach in Whitstable, you can have memorable experiences within just a few hours of London's hustle and bustle. You may be surprised to discover just how much of England you can explore using London as a base. The following rail planning tips will help you on your way.

Tickets & Time Tables

For the most current train schedules and fares, call National Rail Enquiries (tel. 08457/484-950). You can also buy tickets and check up-to-the minute information online at www.nationalrail.co.uk. For the majority of journeys it will save you money to buy well in advance -- for destinations such as York, Stratford-upon-Avon, and Bath, tickets are cheaper if purchased a few weeks, or even just days, before you travel.

If you buy in advance online, you have the option to pick-up from a collection machine or at the ticket desk any time before your journey. You just need to bring with you the credit card you used to purchase the ticket.

If you have a BritRail pass (see below), you must have it validated at a ticket window before your first journey. After that, you don't have to bother with buying tickets; just board the train. At the platform barrier, you sometimes have to feed your ticket through a turnstile or show your BritRail pass in order to enter.

Using BritRail Passes

If you're from outside the UK and you plan to travel around England extensively by train, consider purchasing a BritRail pass. These must be purchased before you arrive in England. BritRail passes are convenient because you don't have to stand in line to buy train tickets; if a train is in the station, you can just hop on. BritRail passes can be ordered through a travel agent or by contacting BritRail (tel. 866/BRIT-RAIL [274-8724]; www.britrail.com). The BritRail passes most pertinent to day-trippers are:

BritRail London Plus Pass: This pass is good for 2, 4, and 7 days of travel and covers a large area around London. It gets you to Bath, Brighton, Cambridge, Canterbury, Dover, Oxford, Salisbury, Stratford-upon-Avon, Winchester, and everywhere in between. Whether or not it's a cost saver depends on how many trips you plan to make.

BritRail Flexipass: This pass allows you to travel any 3, 4, 8, or 15 days within a two-month time period. Savings-wise, it makes sense only if every one of your day-trip destinations is to a place some distance from London, such as Stratford-upon-Avon, Bath, or York. The Flexipass allows you to visit Wales and Scotland, in addition to every place we list in this guide.

London's Train Stations

London has 11 major train stations, all served by the Underground. It's sometimes possible to reach a destination from several different stations, and services may change depending on day of the week, track work, and other considerations. It's always advisable to check with National Rail Enquiries before setting off. If you're day-tripping from London, you'll depart from one of the following stations -- listed here with some suggestions on where you could go. Nearly all the destinations are within 2 hours of London, apart from Norwich, Stratford-upon-Avon and York, which can take a little longer, and if you don't want to set out early in the morning, may work better as overnight stays.

  • London Bridge Station: Use this station for Hever.
  • Charing Cross Station: Trains from here travel southeast to Canterbury, Dover, Rye, Sevenoaks (for Knole), Staplehurst (for Sissinghurst), and Tunbridge Wells.
  • Fenchurch Street Station: For Leigh-on-Sea.
  • King's Cross Station: Head here for trains to Cambridge, York, and Kings Lynn (for Sandringham).
  • Liverpool St. Station: Use this station in East London for East Bergholt and Dedham Vale, Ipswich (for Woodbridge), Norwich, and for Sudbury (for Lavenham).
  • Marylebone Station: Use this small station for trains to Stratford-upon-Avon.
  • Paddington Station: This station is for trains to Windsor, Bath (for connections to Bradford-on-Avon), and Oxford.
  • St. Pancras Station: Use this grand station near King's Cross for trains to Ashford (for Rye).
  • Victoria Station: Head here for trains traveling to the south and southeast of England, including Bearsted (for Leeds Castle), Brighton, Canterbury, Lewes, Sevenoaks (for Knole), and Whitstable.
  • Waterloo Station: Use this station for trains going to the south of England, including Hampton Court, Portsmouth and Southsea, Salisbury, Winchester, and Windsor.