This post is the first of four that I’ll be publishing about London this summer… and the first of [at least] eight that I’ll be publishing about last month’s big European adventure. Including the much-requested travel guides for both London and Paris! Yayyyyyy.
Today, I’m kicking off that aforementioned European series with a post all about the best day trips from London. Because, honestly, those day trips I took from London were some of my favorite days of my trip!
What I’m Wearing:
Shirt: similar | Pants: Ann Taylor (available in curvy and in regular!)
Sandals: Melissa | Jacket: Burberry (similar for less here)
This trip marked my fourth trip to London. When I visited London as a child with my parents, we went out to Stratford-upon-Avon (the birthplace of Shakespeare). And that’s it. Really no other adventures outside of the city. My second trip to London was my first time exploring London as an adult. So, again, no adventures outside of the city. And my third trip was so jam-packed with friends and mini-trips to Edinburgh and Paris that I opted to – once again – not do any adventures outside of London.
Which brings us to this summer. In June, I spent nearly two weeks in London. And, after years of watching just about every English drama I could find, I knew I wanted to explore more of the English countryside.
Unfortunately, I didn’t make it this trip to the Cotswolds, Cambridge, or Brighton (all on my list). And I still really want to do overnight trips to the Peak District and the Lake District (amongst many others). Buttttt I did check six places off of my must-see list: Oxford, Winchester, Hampton Court Palace, Richmond, Stonehenge, and Bath.
The Best Day Trips from London: Oxford
So funny story: my friend Brad and I weren’t supposed to go to Oxford at all. On my first Sunday in London, Brad and I had plans to go on a group tour to Stonehenge and Bath. Via bus. Well, one stalled underground (Brad) and one inability to follow confusing directions (me) later, we ended up missing said bus by about 3.5 minutes. Thankfully, the tour company let us reschedule (in case you couldn’t tell by the photos above) – more on that later.
But that meant we had a day with nothing to do and a desire to see the countryside. After literally 2 minutes of research, we decided to take the train out to Oxford for the day. There are tons of trains from both Paddington and Marylebone out to Oxford each day. The journey takes about an hour each way. The trains leave every 15 minutes or so from Paddington, and we were able to buy our tickets day-of from a kiosk in Paddington. You can view the train schedule here to help you plan your trip.
Upon our arrival in Oxford, we decided to spend the day meandering around the 38 colleges which together make up the university. We wandered around the parks surrounding the colleges, walked around the shops in the city center, and then, eventually, made our way to Mal Maison (a hotel made from a former prison) for a drink. Unfortunately, due to the long lines and the threat of a downpour, we opted not to tour some of the university’s most famous spots: Christ Church, New College, and Bodleian Library.
I guess I’ll just have to go back on my next trip to London!
The Best Day Trips from London: Winchester
Winchester is a small city about an hour via train southwest of London. It was originally fortified by the Romans in the second century and was later adopted by the Saxons as the capital of the Kingdom of Wessex. Today, it’s mostly known for Winchester Cathedral, which dates back to medieval times.
The Cathedral is absolutely stunning and while the town is known as being a destination for tourists, I didn’t find it to be too touristy at all. I spent my day in Winchester and the nearby town of Alresford visiting my friend Monica of The Elgin Avenue. She and her fiancé live in Alresford and were the ultimate tour guides!
While I can’t recommend too many things to do or places to eat in Winchester, I can say with 100% certainty that it’s a great day-escape from London. The town was absolutely precious and my off-peak return ticket (from London Waterloo to Winchester and back again) was only £35. More than worth it for a day in the countryside!
The Best Day Trips from London: Hampton Court Palace and Richmond
Okay, yes: Hampton Court Palace and Richmond are both technically within greater London. BUT they’re still (a) a trek and (b) definitely worth visiting, so I had to include them on my list of the best day trips from London.
Hampton Court Palace
In case I’ve never mentioned it on the blog, I am obsessed with the Tudor era. Seriously. Obsessed. I will read anything about that era. I’ll watch any TV show or movie (no matter how terrible). I even took a class on it in college, even though it didn’t count towards my graduation requirements. So when my friend Mollie of Mollie Moore Blog said she’d be down to visit Hampton Court with me, it was basically a dream come true.
And probably a nightmare for her as she had no idea how much I loved talking about Tudor history. So many fun facts, y’all.
A bit of history for you:
Hampton Court was originally owned and built by Cardinal Wolsey. At that time, England was Catholic and there was no Church of England. But then, Henry VIII wanted to divorce Katherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn – a big no-no in the Catholic Church. So Wolsey was tasked with securing an annulment from the Pope, but failed to do so, resulting in his fall from the king’s grace (and the eventual creation of the Church of England). To curtail his fall from grace, Wolsey gifted his palace at Hampton Court to Henry VIII. It didn’t really help matters but whatever: ever since then, Hampton Court Palace has belonged to the Crown.
So yeah: now y’all know why I spent the day totally geeking out.Plus, Hampton Court Palace has some of the most gorgeous gardens. Meaning it’s the ultimate place to visit if you’re visiting London in the summertime. You’ll definitely want to visit the maze, stroll the gardens, and check out the Magic Garden. While it can get busy, it’s nowhere near as touristy as the Tower of London or Kensington Palace, so you’ll likely be able to get the ‘gram without anybody in the background ruining your shot!
Oh and PS Hampton Court Palace is accessible via the Hampton Court Tube Station. AKA it’s a super easy day-trip from the hustle and bustle of the center of London.
4 years ago, some of my acquaintances from undergrad (and two of their friends from the UK) came through Dallas on a nationwide road trip. I ended up spending a lot of time with the four of them during their time in Dallas and really connecting with one of the girls who had tagged along. After the trip, we kept in touch and have since become quite close friends.
Every time I’m in London, I have at least 2-3 days of fun with Charlotte (minimum). When I visited in 2014, she showed me around Notting Hill. Last winter, we went to the museums and then had several nights of debauchery with her friends. This trip, Charlotte’s schedule was a bit more packed as she just bought a flat near Richmond, so she invited me to come out to her neck of the woods for an evening.
The town of Richmond is accessible via the Richmond Tube Station. While I didn’t visit Kew Palace on this trip, the palace is located within Richmond and is meant to be spectacular. Oh and BTW, Richmond is less than 5 miles from Hampton Court Palace, so it’d be super easy to do both Hampton Court and Richmond (or both palaces!) in one day.
Charlotte and I kicked off our evening in Richmond by sipping gin and tonics right on the water (the Thames). There were tons of paddle boarders and kayakers out on the river, so if you’re in London over the summer and seriously missing your water sports, Richmond’s got ya covered. We then wandered into town in search of dinner and wound up at the cutest Thai restaurant (Richmond Cafe). Richmond is a fairly affluent town, so there’s no shortage of chic restaurants and shops.
The Best Day Trips from London: Stonehenge and Bath
Stonehenge and Bath might be at the top of my list of the best day trips from London. Even noting all of my adventures above. Brad and I had the absolute best time visiting both. So much so that I’d like to do an overnight trip in Bath eventually!
So, as I said earlier, our first attempt to visit Stonehenge and Bath was a bit of an abject failure. But, we redeemed ourselves one week later and ended up having the most perfect weather!
While Bath is easily accessible via direct train from London, Stonehenge is a bit trickier. It’s kind of in the middle of nowhere, even after you journey to the middle of nowhere. Since we didn’t want to have to spend the day juggling train times and worrying about getting back on time, we signed up for this bus tour to Stonehenge and Bath.
As a quick note, while I’d definitely recommend doing a bus tour to Stonehenge and Bath, I definitely would not recommend signing up for a tour with a third stop. Sure, we never felt rushed throughout the tour… but we were absolutely exhausted after Bath. It was a full day – about 12 hours. I cannot imagine tacking on a trip to Windsor or the Cotswolds. It sounds way too hectic and exhausting. Save those for a separate trip.
But now back to Stonehenge and Bath. Before this day, everybody had told us that Stonehenge was at best underwhelming. It was just a bunch of stones in the middle of nowhere, with way too many tourists around it. I couldn’t disagree more. Maybe it was the fantastic weather. Perhaps it was the fact that we left right as the majority of the tour groups showed up. But either way: Brad and I both loved Stonehenge.
Because we signed up for a tour which allotted more than enough time at Stonehenge, we were able to take our time. We spent over an hour walking around the ruins, reading all of the placards, and discussing what Stonehenge could’ve been all those years ago. After walking around the site itself, we had enough time to tour the museum and read even more information about the history of Stonehenge and the surrounding areas. To learn about what life might’ve been like 5000 years ago.
I truly believe that Stonehenge is something everybody should see – with or without the hoards of tourists.
And same with Bath. Bath is an ancient Roman city founded around natural hot springs. Our tour allotted about 4 hours in Bath. Upon first glance, we thought that was more than enough time. But then we started exploring the town and rapidly realized we could easily spend a full day or even a weekend there. But it still made my list of the best day trips from London because a teaser is better than nothing, right?
So, while we didn’t have tooo much time to explore the town, we still made a point to do everything essential. We visited the Roman Baths and toured the museum. We wandered the small streets and picked up souvenirs (some places allow you to purchase ancient Roman coins!). Most importantly, we even ate ice cream while viewing Bath’s version of the Ponte Vecchio (Pulteney Bridge).
Since you can get to Bath via train from London (it takes about 1.5 hours via train!), Brad and I both want to do a weekend in Bath sometime in the future. Bath has some amazing shopping and it’s right on the edge of the Cotswolds, making it the perfect destination or stop on a tour of the Cotswolds!