Hello, reader! Just to let you know that this article on day trips from London came about thanks to my being offered a free tour by the lovely people at Tourist England. However, there have been no shady deals involving brown envelopes; hurrah! All opinions are my own, in order to give you a completely honest review!
I know what it’s like. You book a trip to a major European city, and you’re blown away by all the things you want to see there. Museums, galleries, historical sites shopping streets, and every cat cafe within a fifty mile radius (okay, the latter one might just be me). You look at your schedule, and breathe a sigh of relief when you realise that you can just about fit in all into your schedule.
Buuuuut… there’s that part of you which doesn’t want to confine yourself to a city. You want to get out and about, see the rest of the country. And when that country is England, you’ll feel a particular pull to go and explore.
I’m English, and I firmly believe that if you only visit London, you’re missing out on so much! London is bustling and hectic; my favourite parts of the country are a little further out, where the pace is life is a little more relaxed. Where you can see local life and a rich history combine. Where you can cross a street, and not have roughly 87,000 cars bearing down on you, a grinning maniac behind the wheel of each one. Yes, my friend, you need day trips from London; a sweet sojourn out into the heart of the countryside.
Deciding on day trips from London
You’ve decided to take a day tip from London – gold star for you! Trust me, you’re making a brilliant decision. But does that mean that you’ve got no more hard choices to make? At this point, I’d like you to imagine your subconscious, possibly having taken on the voice of Mr. T, saying “I don’ t think so, sucker!”
What your subconscious is attempting to communicate is that there’s sooo many choices on where to take your day trip. Let’s face it, you’ve probably only got enough time during your stay to go on one day trip – and how the heck do you narrow it down? England has a raft of awesome places located away from the capital; it’s like picking your favourite puppy out of a basket of eager, button-nosed floofs.
Ask anyone in England for some good day trips, or the sites a visitor should definitely see, and they’ll almost certainly give you the following amongst them:
- Windsor Castle: The Queen’s fancy pad on the far outskirts of London, and where Harry and Meghan got married.
- Bath: England’s premier Roman city, with a fascinating and ancient bath complex built around a hot spring, and charming buildings.
- Stonehenge: The iconic sight of England. If you haven’t seen Stonehenge, have you really visited England?
See what I mean? How do you choose? They’re all historic, iconic, beautiful, and as English as a corgi politely lapping at a cup of tea. It’s the kind of quandary that’ll have the most hardened tourist howling “why do you do this to meee?”, hopefully not in public.
Well… what if I told you that you don’t have to choose? What if I told you that you can see them all in a single day?
How to see Windsor Castle, Bath, and Stonehenge in one day
Yep, this is where you find out the good stuff!
As I stated above, I was offered this tour by the kind folks of Tourist England, who offer a tour of Windsor Castle, Bath, and Stonehenge in a single day. I’m going to cut to the chase, and say that I thoroughly, wholeheartedly recommend it to you, based on my own experiences! They offer a great number of day trips from London on their site, but if you’re particularly interested in seeing some of the country’s A+ sights in comfort, then this is a brilliant way to do it.
I’ve also always recommended day tours to anxious travellers, or people who don’t feel confident driving around an unfamiliar country – especially pertinent in Britain, where we insist on being archaic and driving on the left hand side of the road. It can be confusing, and downright dangerous. Day tours are a great way of seeing some of the country’s best and most famous sites, and not having to deal with the downsides of doing it solo.
Some people still have some misgivings about tours, though. These mostly seem to be the following:
- Not having enough time to wander freely
- A lack of knowledge from the guide
- Poor organisation, or not enough time spent in the locations
- The quality of the locations offered
- Not enough value for money
I get ya. That’s how I rate tours, too. I don’t drive, so when I go abroad, I’ll quite often book myself a day tour to see the rest of the country – and if one of those bullets I’ve listed above isn’t met, then I can feel let down by the tour.
Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to give you a detailed overview of the tour, what you’ll see, and practical information about how best to see the locations. Then we’ll revisit those bullet points, and see how well the tour met those criteria.
Sounds fair? Excellent! Let’s go!
Meeting up with the tour
Seeing some of the jewels in England’s crown requires sacrifices, y’all. Fear not for your immortal soul though, as the only thing you’ll need to give up is a lie-in – the tour starts bright and early at 7.45am, from Victoria Coach Station. Before you squeak “but I’m on vacation!”, remember that traffic is London is busy at the best of times – the earlier you get going, the better it is for getting to all the stops in time.
Victoria Coach Station is ten minutes walk from London Victoria train/underground station, and it gets busy. Allow yourself a good amount of time to get there, and find your departure gate (which you’ll find conveniently located on your tour ticket!) – when I was on the tour, it departed from gates 19 and 20, which are the furthest away from the entrance. It’s also probably wise to use the toilets before you set off; these will cost you 30 pence.
But after you’ve located the gate, it couldn’t be simpler! Listen out for your tour number, which will also be written on your ticket, and board the coach when called. The coach was described as being luxury, and I’d agree with that! They were comfy, had good facilities (though there were no USB ports for recharging phones on my one), and are air-conditioned to the nines. I took the tour on one of the hottest days ever recorded in the UK, and I was perfectly comfortable on there!
Your guide will run through the day with you once you’re moving, and I had the pleasure of being on a tour with Maurice (driver extraordinaire), and Anne-Marie (super-guide).
The first thing that you’ll notice is how friendly, and how knowledgeable the guides are. Anne-Marie not only provided helpful tips for the day, reminding people on how to safely get around the locations we’d be visiting, but started the tour straight away. We were driving through London, somewhere not officially included on the tour, and she gave us all a complete and thorough history of everything we were driving past. Nothing was beyond her capabilities, from explaining the NHS, to giving the line of succession of the Royal Family, to recounting how someone broke into Buckingham Palace (“the guards who were asleep on the job were taken to the Tower of London and executed. Not really!”.
This was a constant theme of the day – Anne-Marie proved again and again that she really knows her stuff.
We arrived at Windsor Castle before the gates opened, which was awesome because it gets hella busy. This is the Queen’s favourite residence, after all (she’s actually not that keen on Buckingham Palace, which she refers to as “the office”), so everyone likes to have a look around the place. She might even be in residence when you visit, so prepare your curtsy, peasants!
In seriousness though, Windsor Castle is an impressive building with a very pretty and affluent town surrounding it, and is a must for anyone planning day trips from London. There’s been a castle on this site since the 11th century, and it holds the record for being the longest continually inhabited palace in the world. It’s also been through quite a lot, and survived into modern times (much like the Royal Family!): it has suffered through the English Civil War, the bombing raids of World War 2, and a devastating fire which destroyed a lot of the internal structure and decoration of the castle. However, it was extensively renovated, and you wouldn’t now guess that anything had ever occurred there.
We had to wait around 15 minutes in a queue, but there was no time to get bored – our guide, Anne-Marie, filled the time with a complete history of Henry VIII and his six wives, his son Edward VI, Bloody Mary, Elizabeth I, and Mary Queen of Scots. Being someone who works in a museum and specialises in Tudor history, I can confirm that she had expert-level knowledge! All of the tour group were fascinated by the stories, and asking questions (the group in front of us were listening in, too), and it made the wait time on a very hot day fly by unnoticed.
Once we got to the ticket office, we were handed our entry wristbands – posh fabric ones, as you’d expect from the royal household – had a short airport-style bag scan, then we were allowed to explore at our leisure!
What to see in Windsor Castle
Tour groups aren’t allowed in Windsor Castle (presumably the Queen isn’t keen on large groups clogging up her pad), so you have the opportunity to amble at will. Don’t worry that you’ll be missing out on all the lovely historical context though; you can pick up a free audioguide, which comes in a variety of languages, right near the ticket office. Once past there, I decided to beat the crowds which mostly start off at the State Apartments, and headed straight down to St. George’s Chapel.
St. George’s Chapel
The chapel itself is quite a draw these days, as it was the scene of Prince Harry’s wedding to Meghan Markle – contrary to what the media will have you believe, my fellow Brits rather like Meghan, as she’s refreshingly down to earth. But recent events aside, St. George’s Chapel is a must for any history fan.
For a start, it’s an incredibly beautiful building, possibly one of the most impressive churches in the UK. It’s the kind of building which makes your spirit leap when you enter it: columns lead up to a gorgeously intricate ceiling, looking much like interwoven branches of a tree. Heraldic flags hang from the sides of the choir, framing the scene rather beautifully. Sadly, photography isn’t allowed inside the chapel, but do yourself a favour and have a look at the inside of St. George’s Chapel here.
It’s also filled to the brim with the tombs of some of England’s most famous kings and queens – for example, you can casually amble over the top of a slab marking the burial place of Henry VIII and Queen Jane Seymour, and Charles I. That’s just one of many, not to mention medieval swords and helmets which are to found in one corner (tip: look up!).
The State Apartments
Many of the buildings of the State Apartments were damaged by the fire in 1992, but you’d never believe it now. Luckily, most of the rooms were empty when the fire occurred, so a lot of the damage was structural rather than taking out the Royal Family’s treasures. In any case, they’re now completely, and impressively, restored.
Again, no photography is allowed within the State Apartments (and there’s plenty of eagle-eyed staff members floating about), but they’re completely worth visiting just to gawp at the decoration. The rooms are mostly used for state functions – greeting visiting dignitaries and the like – and they’re certainly designed to be impressive. Massive chandeliers hang from the ceilings, and gilt-framed artworks cover every surface. Everything is as opulent as possible, and if you’ve ever had dreams of walking through a fairy-tale palace, then this is the place to do it. It’s worth visiting just the check out the decorated ceilings!
Windsor Castle logistics
I found that I had plenty of time for exploring Windsor Castle, as well as trips to the souvenir shops and royal portakabin toilets (well, if one’s monarch is providing free toilet facilities, one must accept). We were slightly late to the castle thanks to London traffic congestion, but even with that, I had enough time to see everything I wanted to, both in St. George’s Chapel and the State Apartments.
If like me, you end up leaving Windsor Castle a little early to head back to the coach pick-up point, you can have a little wander around the very pretty town of Windsor. The area around the castle is not exactly blessed with options for a bite to eat: your main options are a branch of McDonalds, and EAT which are located just before the train station complex. The area immediately around the castle is mostly occupied by souvenir and clothes shops; the latter are generally more on the expensive side.
It’s incredibly easy to find your way back to the coach park though, and you won’t have any problems! Just head for Windsor’s train station, walk through and around the far platform, and you’re there. All of my group were back promptly and on time!
Our next stop was the gorgeous city of Bath, which was a two hour drive onward from Windsor Castle. This is one of the day trips from London which is furthest from the capital, so the drive time really was reasonable! As always, Anne-Marie gave us a full rundown of the city’s history before we arrived, going back to the mythical King Bladud who was supposedly cured of leprosy there.
Again, the coach drop-off and pick-up point was extremely central to the main attractions, and easy to locate again. Just find your way back to the very famous Sally Lunn’s bakery, and you’re practically there!
The Roman Baths
Bath’s most famous sight is the baths (funnily enough), and it was definitely my favourite aspect of the entire day! We had a very short queue time outside whilst Anne-Marie fetched our tickets, then we were inside. This is another site where tour groups aren’t allowed – the walkways around the baths themselves are quite narrow, so it’s a good practical decision – so again you can pick up a free audioguide once inside.
You immediately go out on to the upper terrace which overlooks the baths themselves, and they’re a magnificent sight! The water bubbles up at a temperature of 33C (92F) and is a rich emerald green colour – with the colonnaded surroundings, and statues of Roman emperors watching over the waters, it’s very easy to imagine Roman citizens relaxing here!
The route you follow takes you back downstairs (past the bubbling hot spring), and through an excellent interactive museum. They’ve done a really great job of bringing the Roman ruins to life. As well as finds which illustrate what Roman life was like here (such as the fragments of tablets made by victims of theft, who cursed the thief and threw the tablet into the water), there’s beautiful statues of the goddess Minerva, and the skeleton of a Roman resident who was found nearby. But my favourite part was the way that the museum brings the ruins themselves to life. Let’s face it: going to a museum and seeing a heap of Roman bricks isn’t terribly exciting. This museum, however, projects films of actors over the ruins, so you can see which activities took place in which room. They’re also bound to entertain the kids, as well as those with a childish mindset, as the actors are suitably naked (nothing R-rated is visible, before you ask!) , and seemingly aren’t afraid to show a bit of bum cheek.
You can also sample the water here! There’s a tap located right by where you hand the audioguide back, where the spring water has been treated so that it’s safe to drink. Most people don’t like the taste, which has a bit of a metallic tang to it thanks to all the minerals it contains. I, however, was pretty fine with drinking it, until someone next to me pointed out that it tasted like warm blood. Which it kind of does. Forever ruined.
It takes about an hour to fully experience the Roman Baths, and again I found that I had ample time – that gives you plenty of opportunity to explore the rest of the city!
Right next door to the Roman Baths is Bath Abbey, a glorious building which is ridiculously historic. Fancy a religious building which has been on this site since 675AD? This is the one for you! There’ no official entrance fee, though they do have a suggested donation of£4. It’s beautifully spacious inside, though after the decorative glory of St. George’s Chapel, it might seem a little plain in comparison. However, it’s well worth visiting for the huge and colourful stained glass window at the eastern end!
What to see in Bath
Anne-Marie was awesome at pointing out other points of interest in Bath, and they’re all located very close to the coach pick-up – that makes them ridiculously easy to check out on the way back from the Roman Baths!
Sally Lunn’s Bakery is famous throughout the country – it occupies the oldest house in Bath (dating from 1482, though the bakery didn’t occupy it until 1680). There’s sketchy detail on whether Sally herself actually existed, but the buns, which are teacakes similar to brioche, are still made there today. Head in down the little stairwell, and grab some buns! If you’ll pardon the expression.
The Mary Shelley house is located just off the extremely pretty square at Abbey Green, and was formerly a lodging house where the teenage Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein. It looks far too lovely a place to give birth to a horror story, but you can go and pay tribute to a literary great here!
San Francisco Fudge Factory is located just opposite the Abbey, and as a fudge fan, I can guarantee that you’re getting the good stuff here! I bought some raspberry pavlova flavoured-fudge, and dayuuum, it’s good! Well worth popping in, and checking out the selection; make sure you try out the free samples!
Again, we were all back in our coach and headed off to our next stop on time. This was where Anne-Marie really excelled herself: as Maurice drove us down some stupidly pretty roads, which couldn’t have been more stereotypically pastoral if they’d tried, Anne-Marie spent the hour’s drive filling us in on the history and theories of Stonehenge. I can’t emphasise how incredibly relaxing it was to see beautiful fields and hillsides, the White Horse at Westbury just visible in the distance, whilst listening to the theories about England’s most iconic site.
By the way, if you want Stonehenge theories, then we have them in spades! Was it a calendar, constructed to help early farmers calculate which time of year to sow or harvest their crops? Was it a temple? If so, it must’ve been dedicated to an extremely important god, as it took 100 men to pull a single stone.
A burial site is another possibility – human remains were found there, in an area which was originally covered by a wooden circle. Though one of the burials brought up another theory: the body of a man who’d been living somewhere near the Alps was found, surrounded by arrowheads and amber beads. He’d died due to an abscess in his tooth – had he travelled to Stonehenge to seek healing there?
Or, Anne-Marie countered, it could be a UFO landing site. You never know, right?
We arrived at Stonehenge in the late afternoon, which was absolutely perfect – it was quieter, and as the henge is in such an exposed area, visiting in the midday sun wouldn’t have been comfortable! Instead, Anne-Marie took us on a guided tour around the stones just as the air was starting to take on a golden, afternoon glow (she even pointed out which spots to take the best photographs from).
You reach Stonehenge by taking a shuttle bus marked “To The Stones”. Anne-Marie’s guided tour was optional – if you’d rather just wander on your own, that’s fine too – but she made sure that we were all safely ferried there before she began. Pretty much everyone had taken her up on her tour, and she gave us more facts and figures as we gawped, including that Stonehenge was started 4500 years ago, and took 1500 years to complete. That is mindblowing. And also kind of amusing that it took generations and generations to build, but now we have no idea whatsoever what it’s for!
We were able to wander at our own leisure after Anne-Marie finished her tour, and it was great to be able to walk around and take as many photos as I pleased (as well as shooting looks at an Instagrammer, whose friend was urging her to jump the barrier for a better photo. Not on my watch!). We had an hour and a half at the site, which was more than enough – there was ample time for walking around, or just sitting down in the sun and taking it all in. Once you’re done, it’s just a simple case of hopping on another shuttle bus, marked “To the Visitor Centre”, which takes you back to a desolate volcano (not really, silly, it takes you back to the Visitor Centre).
As you’d expect from one of England’s most important sites, not to mention one of the most popular day trips from London, the facilities in Stonehenge’s Visitor Centre are pretty comprehensive.
You enter through the gift shop, which is huge, and enables you to buy all the punny “Stonehenge Rocks!” merchandise you’ve ever needed. There’s also a well-stocked cafe which sells hot and cold food, as well as Stonehenge-branded mineral water. I admit that I couldn’t find the toilets, which I thought would be in the cafe, so I nipped across the road and located the ones in the coach park instead (which were practically empty, so these might be the better choice). As it’s a two hour drive back to London, you’re probably well advised to use these before you leave.
I got back to the coach, where Maurice was chilling out in the air conditioning, in plenty of time. From there, it was a smooth two hour trip back to London – but the tour’s excellent customer service didn’t stop there. Instead of delivering us back into the hubbub of Victoria Coach Station, we made one drop off in the west end of London, for people with hotels closer to there, and another just outside the Coach Station, within spitting distance of Victoria train station. Anne-Marie had even asked everyone where they were staying in order to work out which drop-off was better for them, and gave them detailed instructions about how to get back to their hotels using public transport. What more could you want!
How to get the best day trips from London
First, let’s have a look at those Good Tour Criteria again, and see how my day measures up.
Time to wander freely: Excellent. Even though two of the sites we visited didn’t allow tour groups in go around in a guided group, I thought there was a brilliant allocation of time to wander freely. In both Windsor Castle and Bath, there was enough time to fully follow the the audioguide, then hand it in and do your own thing for a while. That’s great; at no point did it feel like I had to compromise on time in the sites in order to go and explore for myself. Stonehenge was the ultimate in flexibility, with Anne-Marie offering her tour for those who wanted it, but you were completely able to go walking for yourself as she’d already given us the most crucial facts whilst driving there!
Knowledge of guide: Excellent. As I think I’ve hopefully demonstrated, Anne-Marie seemingly knows the history of absolutely everything. One of the other people on the tour told her that she needs her own tv show, and that’s not a bad call! She was also wonderfully friendly and warm, and possessed of a wicked sense of humour. The best guides make you wish that you knew them in your everyday life, and her knowledge and personality definitely shone.
Organisation and time spent in sites: Excellent. I don’t think we had a single person get lost, or come back late to the coach, because it was all so well organised. Pick-up points were central, nearby to the locations, and easy to relocate – Anne-Marie was excellent at making sure that you knew exactly where you had to go. There was also plenty of time in each of the sites, especially Bath and Stonehenge. Windsor Castle possibly could’ve used an extra half hour, but I’ve got to bear in mind that we were delayed in getting there due to unusually heavy traffic.
Quality of locations offered: Excellent. You can’t get much more of an iconic English trio than Windsor Castle, Bath, and Stonehenge. They’re deservedly among the most popular day trips from London, and this tour allows you to see them all in one day. That’s a rare opportunity! They’re all sites of the highest quality too; there’s no filler, and nothing that’s going to delight you less than the others. When I got back from the tour, my boyfriend asked me which site had been my favourite – Bath won because of my nerdy interest in Roman history, but it really was a very close contest. I could’ve happily picked any of them.
Value for money: Excellent. I know that I was given this tour for free (travel blogger perks!), but having investigated, I really do think that this tour offers excellent value for money. Let me be frank: unless you’re willing to rent a car and be at the mercy of the UK’s insane drivers, especially in London (top tip: do NOT drive yourself around central London), then there’s no way you can do this trip. The UK’s trains are ridiculously expensive, and there is zero possibility that you could do all three sites on the same day by public transport. I’d visited Stonehenge once before, years ago, and trust me – it is a total beeyotch to get to by public transport. To have a day’s use of a coach, an superb guide, and all entry fees to the sites included in the ticket… I definitely think that is fantastic value!
So yes, I can safely say that I thoroughly recommend this tour, if you’re looking for day trips from London. That’s my completely honest opinion: I wouldn’t ever recommend something on this site which I don’t believe in myself, and I had an absolutely fantastic day on the tour! It was completely stress-free, and I loved being able to be a tourist in my own country, and see some of England’s very best sights in a single day! I’d definitely do it again.
If you want to experience this tour for yourself (do it!), check out Tourist England – they’ve got some fantastic day trips from London on there, so you might even find a few more which tickle your fancy!
Did you find this guide to day trips from London useful? If so, yay!! Feel free to give it a share using the buttons below, or even better, saving the below image to Pinterest. That means that you’ll be sharing it with other people who might find it useful, as well as having a handy saved link for yourself!
Any questions about what to expect on the tour? Let me know in the comments!
JoyceJanuary 27, 2020 at 6:20 am
It is the great content, You remind me Windsor Castle..Once again i will visit that place. Thanks a lot.