Market towns have often been described as the happiest places to live in the UK offering a quality of life that balances attractive architecture with plenty of amenities, shops and restaurants as well as easily-accessible countryside.
Couple all that with a mainline train station with regular services to London within an hour (or thereabouts) and you have the ideal location for those who are looking for a lively place to live within an easy distance of London.
Here’s our guide to the best market town for commuters needing speedy access to London.
Time to London Waterloo: 37 mins
Why? For shopping and schools, you’re spoilt for choice in Guildford and this, coupled with frequent train services to Waterloo, has long made this Surrey town a go-to spot for well-heeled commuters. The cobbled high street and surrounding area boasts among the best selection of restaurants and pubs of any market town in south-east England. State schools are mostly of an extremely high standard (of particular note are Guildford County and George Abbot) and there are plenty of independents to choose from too including the Royal Grammar and Guildford High.
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Travel time to London Waterloo: 1h
Why? Often cited as one of the best places to live in the countryside, Petersfield is a pretty town on the edge of the South Downs National Park. With a collection of independent shops as well plenty of standard staples (and a Waitrose), this is boosted by a twice weekly market and a farmers market held on the first Sunday of every month. The Festival Hall hosts regular concerts and events and films are screened at the volunteer-run New Savoy Cinema. The Petersfield secondary school achieves high academic standards while local independent schools include Bedales and Churcher’s College.
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Travel time to London Paddington: 42 mins
Why? Set on the edge of the Berkshire Downs, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Newbury is perhaps most famous for its race course which was established in 1805. For some years, the high street was somewhat unremarkable, however, the town’s £250m makeover (completed in 2017) has redressed this at the same time as making the most of its glorious position on the River Kennet. The Newbury Corn Exchange is a buzzy theatre, cinema and café complex.
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Travel time to London Marylebone: 30 mins
Why? Divided into two—the Old and the New Town, the former boasts the historic charm, the market and the period architecture while the latter has all the high street stores that you could possibly need. There’s a market held in the Old Town every Tuesday plus a farmers market every month. It lies on the boundary of the Chilterns AONB which is a Mecca for cyclists and nature lovers. But one of its huge attractions of owning a home there is the opportunity it affords to send children to one of Buckinghamshire’s excellent grammar schools.
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Travel time to London Victoria: 1h 10
Why? Enjoying a magical position in the foothills of the South Downs and within easy distance of the south coast, Lewes has one of the most attractive high streets of all our favourite market towns. The town has a subversive and forward-thinking streak with early initiatives established to ban the use of plastic packaging, a very lively annual bonfire night and a fortnightly farmers market. It’s ideal for anyone with a literary or cultural bent, with plenty of festivals (the most famous being Glyndebourne) held throughout the year.
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Travel time to London Bridge: 44 mins
Why? Families hoping to take advantage of Kent grammar schools make a bee-line for Tunbridge Wells which has three grammar schools (The Skinners' School, Tunbridge Wells Boys Grammar and Tunbridge Wells Girls Grammar). Nearby Tonbridge offers the super selective Judd School and Tonbridge Grammar, also the Weald of Kent. Additionally, there are also a clutch of good independent schools within easy travelling distance of Tunbridge Wells including Sevenoaks, Tonbridge and Benenden).
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Travel time to London Waterloo: 54 mins
Why? Known for its picture-perfect Georgian Castle Street, Farnham is popular for those in search of a market town with culture and sophistication. The small snag for the daily commuter to London is the frequency of services to London, however, if you base yourself on the west side of town, it’s possible to drive to Guildford and hop on more regular trains there.
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Market town gems for sale
A modern, four-bedroom town house in the centre of Petersfield in Hampshire is on the market for £700,000
A four-bedroom family house in the pretty village of Hampstead Norreys just outside Newbury in West Berkshire is on the market for £650,000
This gem of a townhouse in Tunbridge Wells has four bedrooms as well as a separate one-bedroom basement conversion, ideal for a lodger or au pair. It’s on the market for £755,000
A two-bedroom house in one of Farnham’s most popular locations is on the market for £450,000