Heading out of London to the West, there are lots of beautiful cities bursting with history and impressive architecture, including Bath, Oxford, Salisbury and Winchester. You can also visit the picturesque and quaint villages in the Cotswolds or see the famous ancient monument of Stonehenge. These are all full-day trips of 9-10 hours, depending on what you choose to add to your itinerary.
If you are looking for Georgian elegance, then Bath is your city. This famous spa town with its unmatched architecture and sophistication has a deep rooted history all the way back to Celtic and Roman times. The healing waters of the hot springs ensured interest in the city all through the centuries, and the arrival of Richard Beau Nash as Master of Ceremonies in the 18th century put the city on the map as the most fashionable resort of the times. Visit the Roman Baths, the famous Abbey Church, the Fashion Museum, admire the architecture of the Circus, the famous circular square, the Royal Crescent, Pulteney Bridge and finish off with afternoon tea in the famous Pump Room amidst live piano music.
- Why not add either Lacock Abbey or Stonehenge onto your trip to Bath.
The only private house in the country to be called a palace, its size and splendour does rival that of a royal palace. It was a gift to the 1st Duke of Marlborough from Queen Anne for his victory against the French in 1704 (although in the end he had to foot some of the bill for the construction) and it is still the main residence of the current Duke. The Great Hall, theLong Library and the State Rooms are all a tribute to the first Duke’s famous victory. It is also the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, and the display about Churchill’s life includes some memorabilia from his early childhood. The huge parkland was landscaped by one of England’s most famous gardeners, Capability Brown in the 18th century and the Water Terrace and the Italian garden around the house are a feast for the eye.
Up until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century, Lacock Abbey was an Augustinian nunnery with beautiful cloisters. Having been sold by Henry VIII, it was converted into a residential home and in the 19th century became the birthplace of photography, illustrated with an interesting display in the converted barn.
In the picturesque and delightful village of Lacock, time has definitely stopped in the 18th century. The village has a grid of four streets with some remarkable houses: The George, the oldest inn around, holds one of the longest licences for serving alcohol in the country, the Lock-up was a windowless house where you would be incarcerated in pitch darkness for being drunk and disorderly. The church has a magnificent tomb containing the first lay owner of the Abbey.
With the oldest university in England, Oxford has a special magic about it. It is a unique blend of “Town and Gown” as the old colleges are all in the city centre together with many shops, museums, cafes, and pubs. The oldest college, Merton,dates back to 1264, and Christ Church, the largest college was built during the reign of Henry VIII. Admire the beautifully kept gardens and quads (internal courtyards) of the colleges, the famous Dining Hall at Christ Church, the Sheldonian Theatre where the degree ceremonies take place, the Science Museum where Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is still there in his own handwriting on the blackboard, and if you still have enough energy left, climb up one of the church towers to admire the breathtaking view of the city with its many dreaming spires.
- A trip to Oxford is usually paired with Blenheim Palace or the Cotswolds, to make the most of your tour!
This medieval town owes its existence to the magnificent cathedral that dominates the town. It has a unique cathedral close with museums, private houses and a school, and the largest Chapter House in England with the best preserved copy of the Magna Carta, the bill of rights dating back to 1215.
The tallest church spire in England weighs an incredible 6400 tons and is 404 feet high. The oldest working clock in Britain is also in the church together with some interesting tombs dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries. The creepy old pub called the Haunch of Venison has a grisly relic: the severed hand of an 18th century gambler with the playing cards it was holding when discovered.
- Salisbury is popularly paired with either Stonehenge or Winchester.
The most ancient monument on the British Isles dates back more than 5000 years. Admiring the stone circle, one wonders how the ancient people carried these huge stones and how they managed to stand them upright and align them so accurately with the sun and the passage of the seasons. This achievement is even more impressive as the only tools available were stone, wood and bone. Come and see for yourself this amazing structure!
The medieval market town with its mellow half timbered cottages, where Shakespeare, England’s greatest playwright was born lies on the banks of the river Avon. Visit the main sites that are associated with Shakespeare’s life: the Birthplace, his childhood home, Holy Trinity Church, where he was baptised and buried, New Place, where his house once stood,Hall’s Croft, a 17th century apothecary, where his daughter and son-in-law lived, but also Anne Hathaway’s cottage, the beautiful thatched home of his wife, and Mary Arden’s House, his mother’s childhood home, just to name a few. If you are a Shakespeare fan, this is definitely the place for you.
The Cotswolds with their rolling hills and winding little streams, where old sleepy villages are tucked away, is one of England’s most romantic regions. The wool trade brought great wealth in the middle ages, but since then time has practically stood still here. Everything looks picture perfect. Stow-on-the-Wold has many antique shops and has the oldest inn in England, Bourton-on-the-Water the “Venice of the Cotswolds” has the river Windrush winding through the village with many miniature bridges. Burford was an important coach stop with houses from the 16th century lining the main street. The tombs in the church yard are in the shape of bales of wool reminding the visitor of wealthy wool merchants from times gone by. Snowshill Manor was the setting for the film Bridget Jones’ Diary. Also, the fabulous 20th century garden at Hidcote Manor is a must for garden lovers.
- Why not get even more from your trip, and add in one of Oxford, Blenheim, Stratford-upon-Avon or Warwick to your Cotswolds tour!
One of the most attractive and impressive medieval fortresses in England, it was built in the 14th century to guard against enemy approaches from the river. It had its most glamorous era during the times of Daisy, the Countess of Warwick in the 19th century. Her parties were well known, as illustrated in lavish scenes in the exhibition called A Royal Weekend Party 1898, and the future Edward VII was a regular visitor. The State Rooms are a reminder of earlier centuries, and theKingmaker exhibition recreates the preparation for the famous Battle of Barnet in 1471. The Ghost Tower, theDungeon and the Ramparts finish off the true “castle” experience, and you can have a well deserved rest in the fabulous grounds amongst the peacocks.
It was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Wessex and the seat of the Anglo-Saxon kings, and the city is also associated with the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Visit England’s most mighty medieval cathedral, thePilgrim’s Hall with its beautiful old hammerbeam roof, King Arthur’s Great Hall with the mysterious Round Table, walk past Winchester College, Britain’s oldest school, and see Jane Austen’s house where she wrote some of her famous novels.
For information on prices for full day tours going West of London, please see the PRICES page.
Header image: Radcliffe Camera & All Souls College, Oxford