What were the pilgrims thinking?
England is amazing.
Below are some of our favorite places to go and see outside of the city.
Feel free to use these recommendations
to inspire your own trip out of London.
Whether it's for a day trip or longer,
these spots won't disappoint!
Oxford is perhaps one of the easiest (and most common) day trips from London- as it is only an hour away by train and easy to see within a day. But beyond that, I love it for personal reasons. We lived in Oxford for our first year in England while Tyler did his masters there. Oxford is a very special place that has so much to offer to visitors. With the gorgeous colleges of Oxford open for visits, free parks to wander, historical pubs dotted around town, a charming covered market- you'll find plenty to do to fill the day. In fact, so much so, that I have an entire travel guide page devoted to it. Check it out here.
Windsor is another "go-to" day trip for people that have a little bit of extra time to spend while in London. It's an easy 26 minute ride away from Paddington and has a lot to offer. With a visit to Windsor Castle and a poke around the charming town that surrounds it, you can easily spend a good half-day or full day in this tiny town famous for the Castle that William the Conqueror made famous all the way back in 1066. Read my post on spending the day in Windsor here.
If you’re looking to get out of London without really having to leave, this is a great day trip. Hop on a Thames Clipper and cruise down the river a bit to this charming town that once was the launching place for the exploration of the world. It’s probably technically actually considered “Greater London,” but when you step off the boat and wander through the sweet streets and around the lush parks, you’ll feel a world away from London. I posted our itinerary for a quick day trip out there that gets you to all the best spots. You can find it here.
I'll be the first one to admit: I am obsessed with Shakespeare. I go weak in the knees for his writing, so being in Stratford-Upon-Avon strums on my heart strings in a big way, but I must defend this town to having enough charm to tame any shrew. It's tiny, has cute charm... and on a sunny day- it's hard to beat a meal along the Avon or sitting among the friendly swans that loiter in hopes of finding crumbs.
Shakespeare's Birthplace: if you're going to come all the way out to Stratford-Upon-Avon, you really need to visit this place. It's easy to find, as it sits in the main part of the town- just look for signs or ask anyone to point you in the right direction. The original home has been restored and is a fun place to visit for all ages. Actors mingle around the home and can quote your favorite scene for you upon request. Also, I always snag a few things from the gift shop. It's got good stuff.
Shakespeare's Grave at Holy Trinity Church: Not only is the church & grave worth seeing, but the walk to the church along the Avon river makes the short trek more than worth it. Admission is small- about £1 per person.
Hobson's Patisserie: Just beyond Shakespeare's childhood home, you'll find Hobsons. While this cozy favorite has lunch items, the real winner here is their bakery. If you have the will power to bypass a slice from one of the 30+ homemade cakes at the counter, opt for one of the cream teas. At just £4.95, the cream tea gets you two freshly baked scones, homemade strawberry jam or lemon curd, clotted cream and your choice of a pot of tea or French press coffee. And if you're really feeling ambitious- try one of their legendary giant scones with 2.5 inches of gorgeously-piped clotted cream sandwiched between the jam-caked scone halves. It's only £2.75, so it's kind of hard to pass up... even if just for a photo op.
Blue Cow: I feel slightly embarrassed to put this on here, but I'm going to anyway. Just across the gift shop exit sits a milkshake shop. I promise, there are over 500 things you can choose to mix in, but all you need are two: coffee + Oreo. Mmm. Or try any of their Shakespeare themed shakes.
Magic Alley: For Harry Potter fanatics, this is a great stop. When you walk in, you'll feel like you have stumbled into Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley. Complete with Butter Beer and wands, this is a cute place to take anyone who was ever captivated by J.K. Rowling's magical world. (If you're looking at the entrance to Shakespeare's Birthplace, Magic Alley is about 100 feet to the left.)
Charity Shops: This isn't one specific place, but around town you find countless charity shops. Go in! Check them out! I've found some of my favorite things in the charity shops of small English towns. This town has loads- and the prices are great. You'll find anything from a great book, cool English silver pieces or hand-knit baby shoes... all for absurdly cheap prices. Plus, you'll be supporting a great cause and partaking in a big part of British everyday life.
Canterbury is a medieval town and is filled with cultural history. Geoffrey Chaucer wrote about this gorgeous little English town in The Canterbury Tales, although there is no record of him ever actually visiting. When I think of a quintessential town on the English countryside, this place comes to mind. Cobblestone streets, massive stone walls, green grass, and cosy little bookshops. Sometimes there is even a little market set up on the street for fresh fruit and vegetables! And it’s a great day-trip option as the train runs regularly from London Victoria Station and is just under 2 hours. Read my full guide to a Canterbury day trip here.
This, in my opinion, is one of the best jaunts out from London for the day. While the city is small enough to see in a day, spending a night or two out in this charming city is a dream of mine. Get there easily by direct trains from London's Paddington Station- about two hours.
The Roman Baths: This site isn't to be missed. Discover the gorgeous ruins of the Roman Baths that sit in amazing condition today.
The Pump Room: Attached to the Baths is the gorgeous tea room, The Pump Room. Go here for a fun splurge during your day in Bath.
The Raven Pub: Delicious pies sit on this menu and the setting is cozy to boot. This is my "local pub" for my visits to Bath... it's quaint and homey. Go upstairs and grab a table in the small dining room.
Sally Lunn's Eating House: Go here for the birthplace of the "Bath Bun." While you'll see these in bakeries all around the UK, this is where it all started. Opt for either savory options for your bun or sweet- try the cinnamon butter for an absurdly good sweet treat. This is an extremely affordable- and fun- stop on your day in bath. They also have tea options that offer tea + buns at a great price.
Sotto Sotto: If you're looking for a special eating experience, this place takes the cake. You won't find British fare, but you will find exceptional Italian food for a great price in an cozy atmosphere. If you have the time, this is not to be missed. Reservations will be needed as this place books up weeks in advance.
The Jane Austen Museum: While this feels slightly cheesy (there's a portrait of Colin Firth hanging immediately in the house when you enter the main door), it is a fun pit stop if you're a fan.
The Regency Tea Room at the Jane Austen Museum: Located at the top of the museum, is a tea room that serves all the classics. From afternoon teas, cream teas and various cakes- you'll have your choice of sweets. You won't need a ticket to get in to this part of the museum either.
Mokoko: If you’re looking for great coffee, endless cakes and a prime position in town- head to Mokoko for the best coffee in Bath and the best view. Find my full post about Mokoko here. I have a feeling that you’re going to have as hard of a time resisting spending a bit of your afternoon there as I do.
I also love the shopping in Bath. From the covered market full of independent stalls full of everything from ribbons spools to treacle tarts or the various high street stops that line the city streets, Bath is just a gorgeous place to spend a day. Read more about Bath in my "Pack Your Bags" post here.
Stonehenge isn't easy to get to, if I'm honest. And I'm not entirely sure it's that amazing... but it is something that "you have to see" at some point in your life. If you're dying to make it out there, you can either:
1. Get a bus tour (like this or this) to take you there.
2. Rent a car and drive yourself. (You'd be braver than me.)
3. Take a train to Salisbury and then take a bus from there. (I always spend half the day in Salisbury when I go to Stonehenge. It's gorgeous and about 15 minutes away. Plus, the famous Salisbury Cathedral is home to one of the four copies of the Magna Carta!)
You probably won't get up to York in a day, but it's still worth a visit. Maybe not on your first trip to England (unless you're there for several weeks), but definitely on later visits. Not only is it a fun way to get to know another part of the country and see the famous York Minster, but you'll also spend a lot less than you would visiting most places in the south of England. It's about three hours by train from London's King Cross station. You can read more about York in my "Pack Your Bags" post here.
York Minster: This church is gorgeous and definitely warrants a visit if you get the chance, and if you can- please don't miss the ethereal Evensong service (free admission to attend!) at 5pm each night. I promise, you'll feel like you're surrounded by angels. Think sitting by candlelight and hearing choir boys in robes singing notes that you couldn't hit when you were 7 with pigtails. Admission is £10.
Betty's: This place is the place to have tea when you're in York. It's gorgeous and feels like a place you'd find in Mayfair or New York's 5th Avenue. Make time to relax here, but realize that it's not a place you'll feel comfortable bumbling into in tennis shoes and a hat. You'll want to look cute.
Royal Oak Pub: If (and when) you find yourself in York, I hope it is on a Sunday so that you can have a proper Sunday Roast. Go to the Royal Oak to get the complete experience. Not only is the plate heaving with fresh food from the kitchen- but the price is too good to be true. (£9.95) You won't have room for dessert, but get it anyway. The sticky toffee pudding is good, but dare I say that the homemade fudge cake with vanilla ice cream wins?
Hole in the Wall Pub: This cozy pub, complete with working fireplaces, is just steps away from the famous York Minster. Go in and order the Yorkshire Pudding- it will come the size of a swimming pool full of meat with gravy. Vegetables arrive, too. It's the perfect place to spend a cold day in York.
Filmore and Union: Amidst the endless carbs that will come from visiting York, Filmore and Union offers fresh and healthy options like salads, gluten free baked goods and fresh juices. The tiny space is light and airy and boasts your typical line up of sweets- with healthy ingredients making them up. (Think beetroot brownies and carrot cake muffins covered in pumpkin seed, etc.)
The Shambles: Ever heard the phrase "Bloody Shambles?" Guess where it came from? Here! This old street still stands hundreds of years after its "hey day" where the butcher shops along it would pour out blood into the streets. Today, you'll just find cute tea shops and jewelers.. but it's higgly-piggly architecture is definitely photogenic.
Hedley House Hotel: This small hotel is located close to the town walls and offers cozy accommodation. You'll feel like a member of the family while you're there, and the hotel restaurant offers heart-warming meals like roasted chicken and sticky toffee pudding.
Ibis Hotel York Centre: I'll give it a 6/10 for location, but a 8/10 on price. This French chain offers consistently decent rooms and good breakfasts... but to stay at the York location, plan to walk about 15 minutes from the town center.
Hilton Hotel (Tower Street): This Hilton is by no means one of the cozy independent hotels that you might find in some small towns. It's a Hilton, after all! But the location is nice, the view out the front door of the Castle ruins is spectacular and the breakfast buffet is pretty killer. (The Nutella Muffins... oh my goodness.)
The Grange: This independent hotel is our favourite place to stay in York. Well, technically, it’s a bit outside but it has really great rates (via Booking.com) and if you get a rate that includes their yummy breakfast, lucky you. You’ll find the hotel to have nice rooms with a very English feel, nice customer service from the staff…. And without any pretence. It makes your visit to York feel nice and cosy!
I can get pretty gushy when I talk about Dover- there is just so much that I like there. The gorgeous white cliffs, the Dover Castle, the war tunnels inside the Cliffs... I never get to spend as much time there as I'd like.
Again, it's an easy train ride from London's Waterloo station. About 1.5. hours. It drops you off in town and you can easily call a cab to take you up the hill to the Castle, or you can opt to spend twenty minutes walking up there. Both are good options... I just enjoy having a taxi take me there since they are pretty affordable. (Call 0898 222 for Dover Taxi. It cost £6 to take four of us to the castle.)
Read more on Dover in my "Pack Your Bags" post here.
The Dover Castle: I love this castle because it is so steeped in history from so many different times. Medieval castle, tunnels carved into the hillside during the Napoleonic wars that were converted into WWII hospitals... It's fantastic. All throughout the property, the exhibits have been made to be extremely inviting and engaging. I especially love the tunnel tour for "Operation Dynamo" where the evacuation of British & French soldiers is explained.
The White Cliffs of Dover: It took me several visits to Dover to find this national park that offers sweeping views of the coast. It's close to Dover Castle, so I'd recommend a visit after you see the castle. (Or before, if the weather looks dubious.)
The Beach: It's rocky and cold... but there's something about it that I find really exhilarating. And yes, you really can see France on a sunny day. It's no lie. And hey, if you've got the time- hop the ferry that takes you across to Calais to enjoy a day in Normandy. (That, too, is on my bucket list.)
THE LAKE DISTRICT
The World of Beatrix Potter: After skipping this stop over the previous years, I finally decided to give this stop a chance. Woah baby,this was way cuter than I imagined. If you have a kids -or fond childhood memories involving Peter Rabbit-make this stop when you go to Windermere. (And, if you're in the lakes, you should go to Windermere.) There are gorgeous "It's a Small World" like scenes for each of the stories by Beatrix Potter, sans the boat ride, unfortunately. Complete with a stop by Mr. MacGregor's garden, tea + cakes at the cafe downstairs, and a knit hat complete with bunny ears from the children's shop- this was a fun way to spend the afternoon. (Editor's Note: You don't need to pay to enter the cafe or gift shops.) Admission for adults: £7
Hole In The Wall Pub: Eat lunch at The Hole in The Wall Pub. It's completely cozy and ticks all the boxes your mind will have for the stereotypical British pub.
Sarah Nelson Grasmere Gingerbread: The birthplace of gingerbread is a tiny shop near the church in Grasmere... and the women working in the closet-sized shop wear old-fashioned aprons & bonnets. You may be a bit surprised at the biscuit-like (read: "cookie-like" if in America) consistency of this forerunner to Starbucks gingerbread loaf. Oh, and get some homemade fudge while you're there.
Read tons more about visiting the Lake District on my travel page devoted to it here.