With the United Kingdom slowly reopening, it is a good time to start planning staycations or day trips throughout the country. If you live in London and have been quarantined in the city since March 2020, it is definitely time for a change of scenery! While I love the popular destinations like Oxford, Cambridge and the Cotswolds, I’m going to recommend a few others that deserve your attention and time (not just for a day trip!).
Even when travel goes back to normal, these four trips make for the perfect excursions outside of London. After all, there is so much more to England than its capital city…
From London by train – 1.5 hours
From London by car – 2.5 hours
Bristol is a city that often gets overlooked by most day trippers who stop in Bath instead, which is only 15 minutes away by train. My suggestion: give yourself at least 4 days to see both Bristol and Bath! I’ll discuss Bath down below, but just know that each city is very different and they have so much to offer.
Like most major cities in England, Bristol is very walkable and most of their main attractions are free of charge as well! If the weather is behaving, I would suggest taking a stroll around Bristol’s historic harbor which covers an area of 70 acres and dates back to the 13th century. There are several places to eat along the water, along with a great museum called M Shed that takes you through Bristol’s history.
Cabot Tower, Brandon Hill, and Bristol Cathedral are some of the main sights that are not to be missed. However, I’d also recommend a hidden gem called the Red Lodge Museum. It was a family home in the late 1500s and then transformed into a school for girls from 1854-1917. You can view a few rooms spread over two floors, but the Great Oak Room is what everyone comes to see. Pictures don’t do any justice to the incredibly intricate Tudor wood panelling and an original portrait of Queen Elizabeth I who once stayed at the lodge!
As far as where to stay in Bristol, I’d highly recommend Berkeley Suites. These are the most luxurious hotel suites in the city, and the location is right in the city center. When it comes to fine dining, I’d recommend both Casamia Bristol and Bulrush which serve contemporary and seasonal British cuisine.
From London by train – 1.5 hours
From London by car – 2.5 hours
Georgian townhouses, Roman baths, and Jane Austen are a few of the main reasons why people visit the gorgeous city of Bath. While Bath is nowhere near as big as London, you can easily fill up an entire weekend and not see everything Bath has to offer.
First off, the Francis Hotel is the perfect place to stay in Bath with its central location at Queen’s Square, Georgian-style townhouse, and luxurious touches. Most of the rooms have beautiful views of the city as well! The interiors are colorful yet tasteful and the lobby is a wonderful place to enjoy afternoon tea.
As far as food, I’d recommend heading to the Guildhall Market to grab picnic essentials if the weather is nice. They have a fabulous selection of fine cheeses, locally produced meat, artisan bread, cakes, and colorful produce. The Guildhall is the oldest shopping venue in the city, in fact, there’s been a market on this site for the last 800 years! Take your food across the street to the Parade Gardens which are filled with flower beds, green lawns, views of the river, and even a few concerts in the summer. Unless you’re a local resident, it costs a couple pounds to enter but it is completely worth it.
No visit to Bath is complete without seeing the famous Roman Baths. Yes, it’s touristy, but this place is absolutely fascinating and worth the time. I’d recommend booking tickets ahead online to save time or visiting right when the Roman Baths open in the morning. It’s no surprise that the Romans were in England thousands of years ago and they certainly left their marks of genius in places like the Roman Baths. Here you can walk through an extremely well-preserved Roman site used for public bathing. Thanks to the natural hot springs, the water is always warm and many locals and visitors back in the day enjoyed their healing and relaxing waters up until the 1800s.
Today, visitors are not allowed to enter the water, or even touch it, but head to Thermae Bath Spa nearby if you want a wonderful spa experience. You can buy a 2-hour pass which will get you into their popular open-air rooftop pool with aroma steam rooms and an indoor Minerva bath.
I’d also recommend popping into Bath Abbey which is right beside the Roman Baths. Another popular site is the Royal Crescent – a gorgeous row of 30 houses that are laid out in a crescent shape. These are some of the greatest examples of Georgian architecture throughout England. While you can admire them from the outside, I’d recommend buying tickets to go inside No. 1 Royal Crescent. You can explore this 18th century home and learn a great deal about what life was like in Bath back in the 18th century.
From London by train and car – 45 minutes
The Royal Borough of Windsor is a popular day trip from London because of its close proximity to the city. However, grand hotels like The Oakley Court are reason enough to enjoy an overnight stay in Windsor. Despite only being a 10-minute taxi ride from Windor’s town center, you feel far away from the world at this luxurious hotel. This historic Victorian mansion is located right along the River Thames, creating a relaxing environment for its guests.
There are plenty of royal highlights in the town center to discover, and the best way to really learn about them is by hiring a Blue Badge Guide to show you around. These are the official tourist guides of the United Kingdom, so you’ll always be in good hands with them. Windsor Castle is just one of several official residences to Queen Elizabeth II, and it’s apparently her favorite. Buckingham Palace is considered her office but Windsor is her home which she escapes to on the weekends. She is often seen riding her horse on the castle grounds! While the Queen currently resides here, people are still allowed to visit Windsor Castle.
Photography isn’t allowed inside but you’ll be occupied enough with gawking at the lavish decor in every room. Windsor Castle looks like a quintessential English castle so feel free to take as many photos as you want of the exteriors.
I learned that every monarch since Henry I, from the 12th century, has used Windsor Castle! Make note that every night at St George’s Chapel inside Windsor Castle (where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were married), is open to the public for Evensong free of charge. Evensong is essentially an hour of evening prayer, mostly sung by a choir. Listening to the beautiful voices of a choir echo in this stunning 14th century church really makes history come alive. You’re also sitting over the church catacombs where famous monarchs like King Henry VIII are buried.
If you enjoy history and want to learn even more about Windsor, I’d recommend visiting the Windsor Guildhall and the Royal Borough Museum. But if the weather is nice, take a boat ride with the French Brothers who offer 40-minute rides, every 30 minutes beginning at 10 am. You can sail down the River Thames where you can enjoy beautiful views of the town and local countryside.
Also, there are several traditional pubs in town and one I highly recommend is the Duchess of Cambridge. It is very cozy inside with hearty food and a great selection of real ales.
SALISBURY & STONEHENGE:
From London by train – 1.5 hours
From London by car – 2 hours
The cathedral city of Salisbury contains 800 years of extraordinary history. A beautiful example of their longstanding history is the North Gate built between 1327 and 1342. This is the main point of entry into the Cathedral Close and it used to house a small jail for those convicted of crimes in the local area. Speaking of the cathedral, this is the pride and joy of Salisbury and a must-see.
Construction for Salisbury Cathedral began in 1200 and it’s a glorious example of early English Gothic architecture. Famous travel writer Bill Bryson once said, “Salisbury Cathedral is the single most beautiful structure in England, and the Close around it the most beautiful space.” I would have to agree! While Salisbury Cathedral is free to enter, there is a voluntary donation that I encourage because it helps cover the incredible 12,000 pounds it takes PER DAY to maintain the beauty of this place. Another way to contribute is by booking tickets for the 90-minute Tower Tour.
Hands down, the guided Tower Tour is the best way to experience the Salisbury Cathedral. Your volunteer guide will take you 332 steps to the very top, stopping at different levels along the way so you get a “behind the scenes” look of the cathedral. It is amazing to get up close and personal with the ancient stained glass, and see the medieval wooden scaffolding. Before you know it, you are rewarded with the most incredible views over Salisbury and Wiltshire county.
Another highlight of the cathedral is that one of the four original copies of the Magna Carta from 1215 is kept here! The preservation of this historic document is very impressive.
Give yourself time to stroll the charming streets of Salisbury, but also make sure you visit nearby Stonehenge, one of the wonders of the world. This prehistoric monument consists of a ring of standing stones, each around 13 feet high and 7 feet wide, weighing around 25 tons. Please visit with an open mind and imagination. Why? Well, Stonehenge is quite a mysterious place as many historians have varying opinions on how the stones got there and what their purpose was.