Thanks for reading my posts! Click here if you haven’t read Part 1 of my England/Scotland blog posts, which included what I did for a week in London! This post will cover places we visited outside of London during my 2 week stay in Europe. Many surrounding cities or sites are within a short train or car ride outside the city, so they make great day trips. Because, let’s face it, you can’t generalize all of England by just seeing London-that’s like visiting New Orleans and saying you know what all of Louisiana is like…yeah no! Every place we went was very different from the crazy London hustle-and-bustle, so it’s worth taking time to see other places around England.
While in London, we did a lot of the site-seeing ourselves, including Windsor Castle, but guided day tours were the best way for us to see different places in a short time. Since we didn’t rent a car or have many free days away from London, we did day tours out to Stonehenge & Bath and Oxford University, Stratford-upon-Avon, & the Cotswolds. I found an awesome local tour company based out of London called The English Bus who we used for the two day tours, and they ended up being one of my favorite parts of the trip! I know a lot of people don’t like “guided tours,” but it’s so convenient to see 2-3 places in one day with a knowledgeable local guide! We also spent time with some military family friends who were stationed north of London, and they took us out to Cambridge University, the Burghley House, and on a cool tour of the Harry Potter Studio Sets. *All photo creds to yours truely!*
Stonehenge and Bath Day Tour
I did a lot of research on tour companies, and it was so hard to find a good company until I stumbled across The English Bus tours! They are legit one of the only companies I found that had small tours (max 16 people, so no huge coach buses!), almost perfect ratings on TripAdvisor, and guaranteed not to cancel any tours for lack of attendance (because I was NOT going to travel across the world and have a company cancel on me!). I would recommend them to anyone traveling to London, if you have a day or two to spare away from the city! The tour was actually advertised as “Stonehenge, Bath, and Secret Place,” so they throw in a little extra stop on the tour. The Secret Place (which I’ll just call a cute little village, so I don’t give it away) was our first stop on the tour…definitely felt a little rushed because we got out of London late due to traffic, so we only got to walk around for about 15 min before we left.
After that, we headed off to our fist major site, the ancient city of Bath! Home to some original Roman Baths…a lot of very ornate, historical buildings in the town, but only one or two of the original Roman Baths still stands. It is a cute little town that kinda reminds me of the spa town Hot Springs, Arkansas. We stopped to see The Crescent at the edge of Victoria Park (the English LOVE Queen Victoria), which looked like a cool place to hang out, although we didn’t get a chance to walk through the park.
Then we went more to the center of town for a small walking tour and look into the Roman Baths. You can have free entrance in to see the Sacred Pool and sample some mineral water from the King’s Spring, which we did with the tour guide (tasted some 1000 year old mineral water!). They have a larger museum you can buy tickets for and see The Great Bath and spa pump rooms.
I lot of people travel to Bath for the cool spa experience, but the town has other unique sites too. We got a couple of hours to explore on our own and eat, and per our tour guide, we first ate at Gourmet Scoffs-we had a pasty (which is like a Southern meat pie filled with different meats & veggies), and it was super delish! We also did a quick walk through the Bath Abbey, which has the largest stained glass window in England (if I remember right!). While Cassandra was in the Roman bath museum, I walked down the River Avon and chilled for a while. Over the river is Pulteney Bridge (below) which was modeled after the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy with little shops across it.
There is also a Jane Austen House museum in Bath (if you love her books). We didn’t have time for anything else because we had to get ready to travel to Stonehenge! If you are travelling around England on your own, you could spend a full day or two in Bath, and Bath is about a 2 hour drive from London. Here is a beautiful pic of the English countryside on the way to Stonehenge…England is so green!
Stonehenge was in the middle of a big field, so you’re totally exposed to the elements…it was flippin FREEZING and windy, but so worth it! When you come up to the Stonehenge complex, you are greeted by a huge modern visitors center with a cafe and gift shop, and there you wait for a bus to drive you out to the stones. You could walk out to the stones if you wanted, but it’s about 1.5 miles away from the entrance…yeah we took the bus! We spent about 30 min out around the stones, and the audio guides explained the suspected history of the countryside and the stones. It really doesn’t need an explanation, so just see the pictures below… It was snowing and sleeting in Bath and on our drive to Stonehenge, but once we arrived, the sky was gorgeous there!! For real some crazy English weather…
Although we only visited Stonehenge, it is actually just one monument among many within a couple miles of each other.There are also Woodhenge and Bluehenge to check out, if Neolithic stones are your thing, and it’s just under a two hour drive from London. Definitely worth seeing a “Wonder of the World”! We absolutely loved this tour, and I can’t recommend the tour company enough! Stonehenge checked off the bucket list!
Stratford, Oxford University, and Cotswolds Day Tour
The next day, we were off for another full day of site-seeing outside London with the English Bus tour company! Our first stop on this day tour was Stratford-upon-Avon, the birth place of Shakespeare. A few days before we visited, they had just celebrated 400 years since the death of Shakespeare. The city was all decorated, and they had a big festival honoring him. At the center of town is Shakespeare’s childhood home in the typical Tudor style. We didn’t tour inside, but here is a quick shot of the outside of his home.
We then went on a walking tour of Stratford with our guide (which was a lot better than the tour of Bath the previous day). We saw more of the old-school Tudor style homes and walked by the Royal Shakespeare Theatre on the banks of Avon, where they specialized in the performance of (duh!) Shakespeare’s plays! One of my favorite pictures was this one of the boats docked by the river. If you know any Shakespeare plays, you should recognize the names!
And right up the road from the river was the beautiful Holy Trinity Church, which dates back to the 12th century. It has a cool old graveyard you can see as you walk up to the church, and it houses the tomb of Shakespeare…like for real his dead body is in there. I’m a nerd, so it was super cool to me! FUN FACT: His body, but not his head is in the tomb…they did a scan a while back and found out that his head wasn’t attached…so no one knows where it is. Creepy.
After that we walked around the town and ate some lunch at Hobsons Patisseries which is a great place to stop if you love cheesecake! The picture below doesn’t do it justice, because they probably had about 50 different types of cheesecakes! We grabbed some lunch and then were off for a drive through the gorgeous Cotswolds country cottages!
The Cotswolds is an area of England that has beautiful, green rolling hills and cute little cottages. It’s not really a set location, but more an area of the countryside. We went through a cool little village first…and ended in Bibury village. Below is a picture of Arlington Row in Bibury and the little weavers’ cottages date back from 1380s! You feel like you’re walking around some hobbit houses in a Lord of the Rings movie…
Our last stop of the tour was Oxford University! We had a walking tour with our guide and got to see some really incredible architecture there. One of my favorite buildings we saw was the Radcliffe Camera…it was starting to rain, so the picture doesn’t do it justice.
On our last Saturday afternoon in London, we headed out to Windsor Castle! We visited Westminster Abbey in the morning (because we had to reschedule it from a previous day when it closed early)and then jumped on the train to Windsor. If you purchased the London Pass, which I reviewed in my previous post, the round trip train ride was included; yet another added BONUS from the Pass! Check out this link which will explain how to travel on the train because you will have to enter at a certain gate and change trains at Slough on the way to Windsor/Eton Central.
When you arrive in Windsor, the train station will be just on the edge of Windsor Royal Shopping center revamped from an old Victorian railway station. It’s filled with cool shops and restaurants. We walked through the market and then headed up to the castle. We spent a couple hours at the castle, but I have limited pictures because you can’t use cameras inside…so it’s really hard to explain how ornate everything is inside!
You can walk through the Royal Apartments and State Rooms, which are used for events hosted by the Royal family. You can also see Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House (a multi-floor huge doll house built for Queen Mary in the 1920s), and St. George’s Chapel, home to the Order of the Garter and burial place of King Henry VIII and other famous monarchs.
After we left the castle, we walked down by the train station and ate dinner at Gourmet Burger Kitchen in the Windsor Royal Shopping center. I guess we were just itching for some “America,” and they served burgers & shakes, so we couldn’t pass it up! After that, we caught the train back to London and got ready to meet our family friends the next day.
Burghley House and Cambridge University
We had so much fun with our friends the Cullens who were stationed at Alconbury AFB in England, which was actually an old English AFB. (It was around Huntingdon, UK). We trained about an hour and a half north of London to get to them, and they took us to some great places while we were visiting. I never met them until our trip, but they have been family friends of my best friend for a very long time…by the end of the trip, I felt like I had known them forever!
My favorite place they took us was the Burghley House (which really should have been called a castle if you ask me!). It was the coolest place…so it was originally built for Queen Elizabeth I and kept up and decorated for her…and then she never came before she died! It’s since been restored, and I mean, LOOK AT IT-stunning! We had some lunch and tea at the Orangery Restaurant within the complex, overlooking the beautiful gardens (totally quintessential England). I never got tired of having tea in England! Then we went on a self-guided tour that explained what all the different rooms were for in the house. I’m usually not into art too much, but dude! this place had some super crazy ornate paintings-some rooms had murals on every wall and up covering the entire ceiling!
This is probably the most well known work of art at the House: the “Hell Staircase,” which shows the ceiling painted as Hell with the entrance to Hell through a large cats mouth and a bunch of people in torture. and the grim reaper hanging out on the ceiling too…I can’t make this stuff up yall! Below are some other pics from around the house.
The next day, the Cullens took us to beautiful Cambridge University. We went on a little walk around the college and went punting down the river (with our own personal English Fabio driving the boat). Along the river, we got to see many famous colleges like Clare College, Christ’s College, and Trinity College. Cambridge is not all one school; it’s made up of 31 individual colleges-each governed separately with their own admissions. Super cool to see where people like Charles Darwin and Stephen Hawking studied!…below is King’s College and King’s College Chapel.
Over the river you can also see some famous bridges like the Mathematical Bridge and the Bridge of Sighs at St. John’s College. This random lady is in all of my pictures…
After a short walk around the college, we ate lunch at The Eagle pub, famous as the site that Watson and Crick announced their discovery of the DNA structure. We sat in the back by the RAF bar that had a bunch of cool WWII graffiti on the walls and ceiling. Everything in England just has so much history attached to it…
We had a blast in England, and I really feel like I got a good grasp on England as whole. I loved all the guided tours we went on, but you could definitely take time and explore each place more! Rent a car and spend a day or two in each town it. I would have loved to stay for a month or two and hang out, but there’s the whole job and house and bills thing I have going on back home! I will definitely be back one day and can’t wait to come back with my husband! I checked so many places off my bucket list with this week in England, and I have a list of things to do when I come back one day! Stay tuned for my FINAL post in this series, which will include Edinburgh, Scotland and a tour out to the English/Scottish borders of Northumbria!