In London? Take This Great Side Trip

Written by Rodney Campbell

Way to make the most of your London trip

aNewDomain — I often accuse my wife of being Arizona’s biggest Anglophile. That’s actually quite a feat. Our state, after all, is home to the 19th century version of the London Bridge.  And British Airways runs a daily non-stop from Phoenix’s Sky Harbor to London’s Heathrow.

I also really like the place. My wife definitely didn’t have to force or trick me into going to London three times since 2010.

100_1924There is so much to do in London. We invariably end up hitting several of the touristy places that everyone should see: Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, Harrod’s and Trafalgar Square.

We haul around the city in those iconic black cabs, all the while trying not to stand out too much as Americans on holiday.

London is a great city. It plays second fiddle to Paris, but that’s a subject for another time. Like Paris, London is a place where you could spend weeks. But if you do, you’re going to drive out of London by car or bus tour to check out nearby sites.

If that’s your plan, cbeck out the three-stop day trip we took.

Our all-day trip plan will take you to Windsor Castle, Bath and Stonehenge, three historic and fascinating places you can see in a one day car or bus trip out of London and back.

We started our day by meeting the tour in front of the Ritz London on Picadilly. It was a rainy day, not the kind of conditions that lend themselves to Americans driving on the left side of the road. We were happy to trust an experienced United Kingdom driver at the wheel, even if it was the wheel of a bus.

It all began with that trip to Windsor, the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world. It’s been the home to British kings and queens for more than 1,000 years. And it’s Queen Elizabeth’s official residence. You can tell she’s there by whether her standard is flying above the castle.

From Windsor Castle, you’ll also see flights taking off from Heathrow Airport, located just eight miles away. Smart move to build the castle so close to a major transportation hub (sigh).

More than a million visitors each year come to the castle, which spans 13 acres. One highlight is the State Apartments, where the Queen and the rest of the royal family entertain dignitaries. Another thing to see is St. George’s Chapel, the castle’s place of worship and burial site of the infamous King Henry VIII. And any fan of The Tudors has to see Windsor and the Tower of London. Both carry indelible impressions left by the charismatic and unstable ruler.

If you’re booking this, bear in mind that there are several dates when the apartments and chapel are closed. Be sure to check the Windsor Castle website.

Before you leave, also make sure you hit Queen Mary’s Dolls House, which includes efforts from more than 1,500 of the greatest artists and craftsmen in the world from the early 20th century. This miniature house is a close replica of an English aristocrat’s home, complete with a dining room, library, wine cellar, garden and even working electricity and running water. It’s amazing.

As always, buy your tickets in advance. That’s a must. Any time spent avoiding ticket lines is more time you have to enjoy this incredible piece of British history.


Next Stop? The City of Bath

Fewer than 100 miles away on the M4 is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the City of Bath. This quaint community is famously home to beautiful Roman baths and lots of archaeological artifacts.

It also once was the residence of Jane Austen.

Bath is where Austen fans pay homage to their favorite novelist. She lived there from 1800 to 1809. Her lasting contribution to literature — most notably Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Emma — makes the city of Bath an attraction for nearly four million visitors every year.

The town’s spectacular Roman Baths are the best preserved ancient temples and baths in Northern Europe. They have four main features: the Sacred Spring, the Roman Temple, the Roman Bath House and archaelogical finds from Roman Bath. Visitors aren’t allowed to take a dip here, nor would you want to, but there are businesses that offer spa services. And after visiting the Roman Baths, you’ll be inspired to take them up on such services.

Visitors also can choose to see Bath by boat, while cruising the River Avon on an idyllic English day.

Nothing could be better.

Bath is also home to stunning Georgian architecture and lots of shops, bed & breakfast inns, pubs and restaurants that serve every conceivable cuisine. Definitely check out Bath. It’s a charming town and so worth seeing.


Last Stop: Stonehenge

Leave Bath, drive another hour, and you’ll be able to end your day at Stonehenge,  the mysterious prehistoric monument that no one truly understands.

There’s no lack of theories about its reason for being. Were those strangely placed big rocks placed there to make a calendar, a healing center or some kind of ancient cathedral? Was it the result of an alien visit. There are a ton of theories. No one knows.

We do know that this UNESCO World Heritage Site was constructed over a lengthy period. And we know it’s been active for more than 6,000 years.

Stonehenge also gets crowded so plan ahead. Definitely purchase these tickets in advance because they are based on set arrival and viewing times. The English Heritage website shows what times are available on each day.

If you’ve been to Stonehenge before, you’ll notice there are new buildings there. Now there are replicas of the Neolithic houses that the builders of Stonehenge likely lived in. They were added in 2013. All five of those houses display axes, pottery and artifacts from that period, giving visitors a glimpse of what life was like back then. It’s really cool.

You won’t get the chance to touch the stones. Visitors can’t get close enough.  You can take plenty of photos there, though, and share them to your heart’s content. Yet another reason why Stonehenge should be on everyone’s bucket list.

After a dark, rainy, nearly two hour bus ride back to London, we were satisfied knowing we had wrung every bit of daylight and enjoyment out of the day. You’ll be satisfied, too. This was a side trip we’ll never forget and we highly recommend you take it, too. There will be plenty more trips to London and many more opportunities to see things that keep us coming back. Even if we do end up getting out of the city.

For aNewDomain, I’m Rodney Campbell.

All photos of Windsor Castle, Bath and Stonehenge: by Rodney Campbell