One of the best things about studying abroad in London is that there is always something new to do or some place different to explore. Even though London may be your home city, try to get out of sight of Big Ben and see the rest of England. Taking a day trip outside of London will be a nice change of atmosphere and will let you appreciate England’s countryside and smaller cities. I planned my day trips for when I felt like I needed a break from my hectic (but wonderful) London life and wanted a more peaceful day. Besides, these are some places you’re not going to want to miss!
Approximately two hours from London is where you can get your fix of pagan mysticism, King Arthur legends, and 4000+ year old rock formations. Before I visited, Stonehenge was just a desktop background that my computer came programmed with, but these rocks are surrounded by so much mystery that I didn’t know what to believe by the time I left. While you can’t get very close to the rocks during normal visiting hours, they do have special access days and times when you can get closer to the rocks, like the Summer Solstice celebration. Your admission ticket allows you to walk around the area for as long as you’d like, so I recommend going in the afternoon and staying to watch the sun set behind this beautiful mystery.
Bath can be a day trip or it can be stretched into a weekend getaway because there is so much to do. The city’s main attraction is the Roman baths that were built almost 2,000 years ago and were reconstructed in the 1700s for British upperclassmen who visited for the baths’ famous healing powers. Today, you can visit the baths and museum and then explore the city. Activities include a visit to the world-famous Thermae Bath Spa, the Jane Austen Centre, walking around the picturesque town, and exploring the local shops, pubs and restaurants. Bath is about two hours from London.
Besides being one of Queen Elizabeth’s palatial homes, Windsor Castle has an incredible history dating back to William the Conqueror. While touring the castle, you can see the largest doll house in the world, built for Queen Mary, state rooms where monarchs and world leaders meet and Changing the Guard. There are private, guided tours available as well, such as the kitchen tour and the tour of the state apartments. Outside of the castle, there is plenty to do in and around the town, like visiting the Ascot Park Polo Club. Windsor Castle is about one hour from London.
White Cliffs of Dover
The cliffs make up England’s southeast coastline and face France and the English Channel. If you have any plans to cross the Channel by ferry into France, Belgium or the Netherlands, I definitely recommend arriving early for the ferry and spending some time in Dover. The town is home to Dover Castle and a few other Medieval castles. Walk the streets of this coastal town and let your jaw drop at these chalk-white, 300 foot tall cliffs. The view from a ferry or boat in the Channel is absolutely amazing and there are tours that go out to sea so you can get this experience. Dover is about one and a half hours from London.
This coastal city is famous for its beaches and Brighton Pier and has been a top vacation spot for celebrities and royals- even Jane Austen said that Brighton was a fashionable, sea-side resort town! After a day spent in the sun, check out the club scene and nightlife of this vibrant city. Brighton hosts music, arts and theatre festivals throughout the summer and you can always check out a show at Brighton Dome. Just over an hour from London, Brighton offers a relaxing day on the beach away from the city. There are even trains that go right to to the seaside town.
Canterbury is a city full of historical attractions, including England’s oldest cathedral, Canterbury Cathedral, where Archbishop Thomas Beckett was murdered. The story became the narrative for T.S. Elliot’s Murder at the Cathedral and the destination for religious pilgrims, such as those in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, since his death in 1170. The city is home to tons of ancient, beautiful ruins but if you want the 21st century instead of the 12th, there is plenty of shopping and lively nightlife. Make sure to take a tour of the River Stour, which is quite different than a tour of the Thames, and will make you feel like you traveled back in time. Canterbury is just over an hour from London.
Shakespeareans delight in the hometown of The Bard! This country town is steeping with Shakespeare and the arts. Take in a show at The Swan Theatre put on by the Royal Shakespeare Company or tour the five houses associated with the playwright and his family. If you want to make one day into a weekend, Stratford-Upon-Avon is home to tons of bed and breakfasts that are the epitome of the English countryside with cottages that look like they’re from storybooks. If you enjoy pub life over the theatre, there is no shortage in Shakespeare’s home town. Stratford-Upon-Avon is about two hours outside of London.
All of these trips can be done in a day and most can be turned into weekend getaways. The National Rail can bring you right into some of these destinations, and National Express connects from London by bus. Some companies offer one day bus tours of these spots and even group some destinations, like Stonehenge and Bath.
London is a great city to study abroad in, but the rest of England should definitely be explored also. Because of London’s location, it allows for so many great day trips to historical spots, beach areas and literary getaways. London is exciting and fun and fast-paced and sometimes I needed a little break from the city, so I headed out into the English countryside or to the coast to relax and rejuvenate. So many of these destinations are also really important in England’s history and you don’t want to return home to the U.S. without having seen these places!