There is so much more to England than London, its dynamic capital city. Shocking, I know! This isn’t meant to sound patronizing at all; this is a fact that even Londoners quite often forget. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of big city life, especially if that city has an incredible range of historic attractions and weekly cultural events.
However, while London appears to have it all, it certainly doesn’t represent the entirety of England. Thankfully, the number of trains and buses you can take to explore the rest of the country are plentiful and extremely convenient. I urge you to take full advantage of this and break out of The Big Smoke, even if it’s just for a day. Trade in those skyscrapers and noisy streets for a taste of some ancient monuments and rolling, green hills. Go on, I dare you!
The Royal Borough of Windsor is located less than 30 miles from London which means easy access by car, train, or bus. I’d highly recommend taking the train from Paddington Station. After one easy change at Slough, you’ll find yourself arriving at Windsor & Eaton Central in just under 30 minutes. Not only is this railway station a 19th century gem, but it just so happens to be located almost directly across from Windsor Castle.
After all, Windsor Castle is the main attraction! This is one of several official residences belonging to HRH Queen Elizabeth II and her family, but it’s common knowledge that Windsor is her favorite. As her weekend retreat, she arrives every Friday, or sometimes Thursday if she can get away from Buckingham Palace early.
It was William the Conqueror who chose the site for Windsor Castle and began building in 1070. That’s over 900 incredible years of history! Every monarch since King Henry I in the 12th century has used Windsor Castle. Just admiring the castle is enough to impress you, but learning about how it survived so many tumultuous years throughout history is truly mind blowing.
If you have more time to explore outside the castle walls, I’d recommend visiting The Guildhall which has been the town hall of Windsor since the 1600’s. Inside you’ll find a few rooms filled with rare portraits of England’s most notable monarchs. If you’ve had enough of the royals, I’d recommend strolling the cobbled streets in the town center, passing along colorful buildings which date back to the 15th century. When your feet get tired, hop on a river boat for an hour and sail up and down the River Thames, taking in beautiful views of the castle.
Salisbury is mainly known for its stunning cathedral and its close proximity to Stonehenge. Both of these are reason enough to hop on a 90 minute train from London for a day trip. This cathedral city recently celebrated its 800 year anniversary and you’ll find traces of its extraordinary history sprinkled throughout the city.
Before heading straight to Salisbury Cathedral, take your time to walk through the charming city center. If you’re visiting on a Tuesday or Saturday, you’ll see the market in the main square. Like most markets, you’ll be able to purchase locally sourced food, as well as handmade gifts and souvenirs. What’s impressive is the fact that there’s been a market held here since the 1300’s! I’d recommend eating at the Ox Row Inn on Butcher Row or any of the delicious Indian restaurants on Fisherton Street. Salisbury’s city center is extremely walkable and you’ll be able to get around easily thanks to helpful street signs for tourists.
When you finally make it to Salisbury Cathedral, take a moment before you enter to admire one of the finest examples of early English Gothic architecture from the 12th century. Try and fathom the incredible hard work, skill, and bravery it took to build something like this without the help of modern-day machinery. Luckily, the cathedral is free to enter but I’d highly recommend taking the 90-minute Tower Tour for about 12 pounds. Expert guides will give you a “behind the scenes” tour of the cathedral and take you up to the very top where you’ll be rewarded with beautiful views over Salisbury and Wiltshire County.
I wouldn’t recommend spending more than an hour or so at Stonehenge, but it is so worth seeing if you’re already in Salisbury. It’s an easy 8-mile bus ride which you can combine with your entry ticket when you book ahead online. To be honest, I don’t want to tell you much about Stonehenge. I think it’s better to visit with an open mind and imagination. Why? Well, it’s quite a mysterious place as many historians have varying opinions on how the stones got there and what their purpose was. This leaves some people either fascinated or bored. Personally, I love a good mystery. There’s also a great audio guide you can download on your smart phone and a brand new visitor’s center which houses permanent and temporary exhibitions.
Two words: Harry Potter. If you’re a fan, then a day trip to Lacock should be very high on your list. Be sure to hop on a Great Western Train from Paddington Station in London with Chippenham as your destination, just two hours away. Lacock s a very small village without a local rail station so once you’re in Chippenham, take the local X34 bus which takes you directly to Lacock. It might sound like a lot of fuss, but I promise you it isn’t. And even so, it’s absolutely worth it!
Head straight to Lacock Abbey if you’re a die-hard Harry Potter fan or history buff. This picturesque country home dates back to the 13th century, built upon the foundations of a former nunnery. Visitors can explore the medieval rooms which may be recognizable from the first and second Harry Potter Films. Several of these rooms, as well as the cloisters, were used as the classrooms and school hallways of Hogwarts. There are so many different layers of history to discover and learn about at Lacock Abbey. If the weather is nice, I’d recommend exploring their extensive grounds as well.
Lacock was also used as a film set for the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice, which is why the streets might look a bit familiar. Walking through this quaint village is like stepping back in time. You won’t find any chain restaurants here, only cozy pubs and cafes. Speaking of pubs, you must try the fish and chips at Sign of the Angel. This was actually a coaching inn back in the 1400’s and visitors today can enjoy the charm and history over a good meal. The inviting atmosphere of the pub reflects the overall feel of Lacock.
I’m sure it’s no surprise that the famous collegiate town of Oxford has made this list. Yes, it’s very touristy, but that’s no reason to avoid it! If you’re adamant about avoiding crowds, I’d steer clear from visiting on weekends or during school holidays. From London, you can easily book a coach through Megabus and pay less than 5 pounds each way if you book ahead. It’s a two hour journey on a very comfortable, double-decker bus. What more could you want?
My number one piece of advice? Don’t make any plans before visiting Oxford. Despite the whole city looking like a movie set, real students attend these prestigious colleges which means certain areas can be closed at weird times or dates which conflict with what their websites say. Besides, the best activity to do in Oxford is walk. There’s really no better way to explore the winding, cobbled streets, and to soak in the incredible history of this university which was founded over 900 years ago!
Please don’t leave without seeing the stunning views atop the University Church of St Mary the Virgin. It was originally built in the 13th century and is the center from which the University of Oxford grew. It’s free to enter and 4 pounds to climb to the top of the church tower. Another must-see is Bodleian Library, where a guided tour for 7 pounds will take you around one of the oldest libraries in Europe, and another filming location for the Harry Potter films.
If the weather is nice, bring a picnic to Christ Church Meadow where you’ll find a tranquil, open space in the middle of Oxford. It’s the perfect place to relax and absorb everything you’ve seen in this enchanting and historic city.
What are your thoughts on day trips from London?