By Jim Ferri
London is one of the most visited cities in the world, crammed full with so many incredible museums and galleries, overflowing with fantastic restaurants, and chockablock full of superb shopping opportunities, And, of course, there’s all that pomp and ceremony. But believe me, you’ll want to take one of these day trips from London…
Like many travelers, I love London. It’s an exciting city to visit, especially for the first time, when you see so many world-famous landmarks and historic buildings, many peppered with little plaques attesting to some famous person who had resided there centuries go. As you experience high-school history come alive, you almost feel you’re a time traveler.
However, the problem many of us have with London, however, is that we’ve become so addicted to it. We return time and again, often reverting to the same old haunts, or we scoot all about looking for new facets of the glamorous city.
Spending too much time in London is a mistake. On the other hand, outside in the countryside and quite close to the City, are scores of other beautiful places to see, each showing you more of the beauty and history of Britain.
Here are four interesting places to visit outside the capital that you shouldn’t miss. Each is easily accessible by rental car or train.
And if you have a rental car you can expand your day trips from London even more. On a trip to Bath or the Cotswolds, for example, you can include a side trip to nearby Stonehenge.
1½ hours by train from Paddington Station
A bit over 2 hours by car via the M4
While this beautiful city is renowned for its spectacular Roman baths, it’s also famous for its 18th-century Georgian architecture. In fact, it’s this pleasant mash-up of history and architecture that’s earned the city its UNESCO World Heritage status.
It’s also made Bath a favorite day trip from London also for long-weekend. Regrettably, this only contributes to the city’s difficult parking problems. Luckily, though, once you’ve dumped the car you’ll find it’s an easy city to walk around.
Don’t miss the beautiful architecture of the Royal Crescent, often called the most majestic street in Britain. Don’t miss Pulteney Bridge, the Circus (a Colosseum-like circle of homes), and the small but interesting Holburne Museum. In addition, there’s also the Jane Austen Centre if you’re a fan of hers.
2 hours from London via rail from Marylebone Station; about the same time by rental car via the M40.
The Cotswolds are quintessential England, a bucolic region roughly 800-square-miles in size, spread across the counties of Gloucestershire and Worcestershire. Renowned for its honey-colored limestone market towns, which still look much as they did when built in the Middle Ages, it’s designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty by the British government.
North of Bath and west of Oxford in southwest England, it’s one of Britain’s prettiest areas, a place where fluffy sheep speckle hillsides crisscrossed with old dry-stone walls, and large leafy trees provide a canopy for winding roads that often give the word “serpentine” new meaning.
Most of all, this is the place just to wander from village to village, enjoying the uniqueness of the region. On this day trip from London don’t miss Bourton-on-the-Water, one of the area’s most famous towns. Nearby is Stow-on-the-Wold (just a ten-minute drive further up A429), Moreton-in-Marsh, Chipping Campden, and Broadway. You’ll also find the remains of an old Roman villa near Northleach.
Less than 2 hours by car (via the M40) or train from London’s Marylebone Station
When I visited historic Stratford-Upon-Avon, I found Shakespeare’s birthplace only mildly interesting. That’s because, unfortunately, it’s located on a crowded commercial pedestrian street. There all the shops, outdoor cafés, and crowds of tourists gave it a semi-circus-like atmosphere. Still, though, it was interesting to see what times were like at the time and place where Shakespeare was born. And out in the garden I enjoyed several actors doing scenes from various Shakespearean plays.
Unfortunately, I was unable to visit the Royal Shakespeare Theatre since it was closed at the time. However, I enjoyed the interesting Anne Hathaway’s cottage. All in all, it provided a good overview of what life was like at those times. And I also learned what courting was like in the 1700s (in Tudor times).
First and foremost, the thing I liked best was my visit to Shakespeare’s grave. You’ll find it in the old Church of the Holy Trinity, a beautiful place surrounded by a large old cemetery beneath the trees. Shakespeare, along with his wife Anne Hathaway, etc. are interred in one of the chapels in the church. It’s quite beautiful and cozy inside.
Incidentally, if you plan to visit several of the historic sites, it makes sense to get the pass that admits you to five different places at a reduced cost.
About 1 hour via car or train (Paddington Station)
While its name describes a place where it was easy to cross the river (an “ox” “ford”), it’s more widely known today as the home of the University of Oxford, one of the world’s premier universities and England’s first, founded in the 13th century.
I finally found my way to spired-studded Oxford only two months ago and enjoyed it immensely. It is easily reached and easy to see once you arrive. On this day trip from London I stepped off the train and onto a Hop On–Hop Off bus. It was at the station and we were downtown and at the University is only a few minutes away.
Almost nothing has changed in the University since its founding. Even today you’ll see the beautiful honey-colored buildings of the University scattered all over the city. So a good way to get your bearings and a great view, if you’re up to it, is to climb the tower of the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. From there you’ll get a spectacular view of the campus and the entire city. Located at the corner of High and Cattes Streets, it’s across from the domed Radcliffe Camera, a Palladian-style library.
Moreover, also take a tour of the Christ Church College where you can visit the Renaissance-style dining hall replicated in “Harry Potter.”