London, while hub of the universe, is a completely separate animal to most of the country. So if you want to take a day to get a feel for real England, read on for four of our suggestions as to where you might go.
Fans of theatre and William Shakespeare will love Stratford-upon-Avon, birthplace of the Bard himself. 104 miles northwest of London, you have a few options to get there. The fastest way is by train, which’ll make the trip around two hours if you take a direct train or around two and a half hours if you have a connection. By bus, it’ll take around three to four hours even if the route is direct.
If you’re adventurous and going by car, then it’ll be about two to three hours but you’ll have to think about traffic. While going by car allows you the freedom to move around on your own time, it also is costly when taking petrol and parking into account.
In the market town, you’ll find a myriad of things to do. You can visit the home where Shakespeare was born and grew up; you’ll be able to walk through the house and its gardens, where you can imagine a young, pre-famous writer running around. There will be guides in costume to provide historical facts as well as put on live theatre in the gardens. There’s Shakespeare’s New Place, which was his last residence before he passed away - the house itself no longer exists, but the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust owns the site and has set up a permanent exhibition dedicated to his life.
Other historical sites include Hall’s Croft, home of Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna; Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, the pre-marriage home of Shakespeare’s wife; Mary Arden’s Farm, where Shakespeare’s mother grew up; his school; and his burial place at Holy Trinity Church. Paid entry is required to some of these locations so to save money, you might want to purchase a Full Story ticket that will give you access to all the sites for just one price.
If that’s too much historical sightseeing for you, there are other things to do too. You can catch a play at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, sit along the canal basin and people watch, take a boat out on the River Avon, or pop into one of the shops for locally sourced and produced food like ice cream or cheese.
Itching to see quaint, British seaside life at its finest? Visit Brighton, 54 miles south of London and right on the waters of the English Channel. By train, the journey is around an hour. London - Brighton is a popular commuting route so you'll have no trouble finding a way between the cities at whatever time you need. By bus, it’ll take anywhere between two hours to three and a half hours. And by car, it’ll be around an hour and a half.
The best time to visit is during warm weather season, when you can enjoy being there to the fullest. The beach isn’t sandy, but instead covered in rocks so it may not be the best place if you want to lie down and have a snooze in the sun. However, if you get a blanket and are with friends, the rocks will be the last thing on your mind.
Be sure to visit Brighton Pier, right on the water. Here you can grab quick food as you walk through arcades, fairgrounds, and amusement park-esque rides. If you’re craving something sweet, be sure to try a 99. It’s basically soft serve ice cream on a cone with a chocolate Cadbury flake that costs 99 pence.
Check out the Royal Pavilion for some fantastic architecture and royal history. It’s a former royal residence commissioned by King George IV in 1787, who was just the Prince of Wales at the time. Inside, you can walk through room recreations that showcase furniture and art pieces, with some originals being on loan from the Queen.
There’s also great opportunities for shopping and nightlife, with Brighton offering a big LGBTQ scene. You’ll want to go to The Lanes for shopping, where street upon street is lined with different independent shops and cafes. Then at night, the town comes alive and is full of vibrancy and energy.
Just 60 miles from London, Oxford is a perfect and relatively short day trip. By train, it’ll be around an hour. By bus, it’s an hour and 40 minutes. By car, an hour and a half.
A university town through and through, the city is full of different University of Oxford buildings and students, professors, and other faculty walking around. One of the best things to do in Oxford is just familiarize yourself with the different university buildings and embrace your inner scholar.
If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’ll especially want to visit Christ Church College. Several interior shots were taken in its halls. The main staircase is the same staircase where Professor McGonagall meets Harry, Hermione, and Ron for the first time. Inside is the dining hall that was used as the Great Hall in the movies. Even if you’re not a fan, you’ll definitely be able to admire the beautiful college.
Visit the Bodleian Library, where you an peruse millions of books while being surrounded by gothic architecture. Or head over to one of the many museums like the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, that houses different specimens and artifacts.
If you don’t know where to start, then a walking tour might be something you’d like to do. There are both free and paid options, with all leading you around the city, telling you about its history, and taking you inside some of the oldest buildings in the country.
4. Stonehenge & Windsor
For a truly English day out, you’ll want to take a tour of Stonehenge and Windsor. You could get to both by public transportation, but it will work out cheaper and quicker if you took a combined tour. Companies will offer different variations of tours, but one of the most popular ones are the tours that combine these two.
Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument that archaeologists believe to have been constructed during the Bronze Age. No one knows how it was built, how it got there, or who did it. One of England’s many mysteries, it was named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you just have normal entry, you’ll be able to see Stonehenge from a corded-off pathway. Sometimes tours will offer access inside the stones during dawn or twilight hours before it’s open to the general public but these will cost extra. You can also send in an application to the English Heritage website but these slots fill out well in advance.
Because Stonehenge is essentially in the middle of nowhere, combining it with something else will make the most of your time and money. Windsor, a small town, but also full of things to do, is a nice complement. The main site at Windsor is Windsor Castle, one of the main residences of the Queen and the royal family. It was first built in the 11th Century by William the Conqueror and has since been home to the heads of England.
Inside the castle, the public has access to quite a few of the buildings. You can walk through the elegant State Apartments; the Semi-State rooms; the Grand Reception Room; see Queen Mary’s dollhouse, a larger-than-life dollhouse that towers above the average person that was built for Queen Mary; walk along the castle precincts to get views of the castle from all sides; and peek into St. George’s Chapel, where several monarchs are buried.