If you follow me on Twitter (if you don’t, what are you waiting for?), you may know I’ve spent some days in the UK at the end of November. This wasn’t my first time in London. Over the years I’ve been there a few times and I am not the biggest fan of the city. It’s not because it’s not pretty (it is very pretty), but it just didn’t have the right vibe for me.
This time, I went there to meet with one of my dearest friends. She’s been living there since the spring, so she was my guide and we did less touristy stuff. Staying in a more residential neighborhood in West London and seeing how people actually live there, made me change my mind a bit.
That being said, one of the things I love the most about London is that you can take so many day trips from there. Cardiff, Bristol, Bath, Oxford, Brighton, Birmingham, Sheffield, Canterbury, Bournemouth and many other places are all a one- or two-hour train ride from London. Unluckily I didn’t get to visit all these cities, even though I’d love too.
Here, my top 3 day trips from London and, yes, they’re in order of preference.
Stonehenge & Bath
This is definitely my favorite day trip from London. I took this trip back in April when I was in London with my sister for Easter break (and for a Simple Plan concert). I always wanted to go visit Stonehenge and after a bit of research, we found out there were a lot of coach tours that take you to both Stonehenge and Bath.
We were never big fans of group tours, we actually never did one before. For this specific excursion, this option was the cheapest (about 60£ for the bus ride + Stonehenge tickets + guide) and it also made us spend less time on public trains or buses. The company we went with was International Friends and I’m telling you this just because we really enjoyed our time with them. They definitely made us change our mind about coach tours (so much that we did another one when we were in Amsterdam).
Most companies also offer the option to do a Stonehenge, Bath, and Windsor tour. But, in my opinion, we did the right thing by booking just Stonehenge and Bath, because you get just the perfect time in both places.
Our day started pretty early. We had to be at the meeting point at 7.30 am but, because it was Easter, the tube was opening later than usual, so we enjoyed a 20-minute walk from Tottenham Court Road to Great Portland Street. Thankfully, the weather was fine and it was kind of cool walking down empty streets in London – something I will probably never see again.
We took our bus and, after about 2 hours, we arrived at Stonehenge. There, we got some time to visit the Stone Circle with an audioguide, the Neolithic Houses, and the Exhibition. For me, it was kind of surreal standing in such an iconic place, full of history and mystery. And even the weather was surreal. I mean, look at that black sky.
In the early afternoon we arrived in Bath. Thankfully, it stopped raining and we even got some sun for a while. We walked around the town with such an experienced guide who told us so many interesting stories about Bath and the people who live and used to live there.
After the walking tour, we got a bit of free time. My sister and I decided to visit the Roman Baths (about 15£), which I definitely recommend doing. Seriously, this is the most famous attraction of the town and everything there is so well preserved. Having studied a lot of Ancient Roman history and literature in school, visiting this place was one of the highlights of the trip for me. After that, we also had some time to visit the Abbey.
The architecture in Bath is breathtaking and I love how everything looks so well put together, probably because most of the buildings are made of the same golden-colored stone, the Bath stone.
The Making of Harry Potter
Okay, so where do I begin telling you how cool this thing is? If you’re a Potterhead, but even if you just watched the movies once, this place will blow your mind. This wasn’t even my first time on a movie set, but it was so so so cool. I’m still at a loss of words.
Compared to the Warner Bros Studio Tour in Burbank, CA, this tour is cheaper (35£). Also, since this is not being used to film anymore, you don’t have to follow a guide through the backlots and soundstages. You get to walk around on your own and you can stay for how long you want to.
On their website they say the average visit time is 3 hours. We booked our tickets for an early afternoon slot (2 pm, if I remember it correctly) and we didn’t get back until dinner time (which is after 8 pm for us).
To get to Leavesden, my sister and I took a train from London Euston to Watford Junction (anytime day return ticket is about 17£). Just outside Watford station you can catch a shuttle bus (2.5£) that will take you right in front the entrance of the Studio Tour.
When you arrive there, you’ll have to queue for a while. Then you get to watch a video clip just to get more excited about being on the set where they film Harry Potter. After then, the Great Hall doors are opened and you’re in! You’ll find yourself in a state of complete awe. I want to let you know it’s completely okay. And it does not get better until a couple of days after.
By the time you get to the café, you might have regained the ability to talk and process things. Here you can have a butterbeer (I warn you, it is very sweet) or butterbeer ice-cream. They also offer other common snacks (sandwiches, cakes, etc.), probably for the muggles.
But it’s not over yet. After your break at the café, you get to walk outside, where you can find Privet Drive, the Night Bus, the Hogwarts bridge and so much more. I don’t want to get too much into details. Part of the amazingness of the tour is that you don’t know what will come after. You think you’ve see the best thing ever, but then you go on and there’s something even better. Like the huge model of Hogwarts. Walking into that room was just breathtaking.
At the end, don’t skip the gift shops. You’ll find a lot of amazing things, from clothes to accessories and candies. Unluckily, things aren’t the cheapest. I got just a Chocolate Frog from there, but I’m still dreaming about the Ravenclaw cardigan.
I went to Oxford with my friend during my latest trip to London. Overall, it was a nice day. The weather was okay, it was cold but sunny. The city was a bit crowded, especially on the main shopping street. Christmas lights were already up and there was even a small Christmas market, so the atmosphere was great.
To get to Oxford for London, we took the Oxford Tube (same day return 14£), which is actually a bus. After an hour of traveling through the beautiful English countryside, we got down at High Street, right in front of the University Church Of St Mary The Virgin. Our next stop was the Oxford Covered Market, which is something you cannot miss. It is also a nice place where to have breakfast or lunch.
In the afternoon we opted for a free walking tour. There are a lot of different companies you can go with. Some of them bring you inside colleges and the Divinity School, so you have to pay a fee for the tickets and then also give a tip to your guide. We opted for a completely free tour and we just tipped our very competent and also very funny guide.
The first thing I learned during the tour is that there isn’t one University of Oxford, but that is made up by more than 30 colleges. We got see some of them: Christ Church College, Trinity College, All Souls College, Merton College, and Hertford College. We also walked by the Bodleian Library, the Radcliffe Camera, and the Bridge of Sighs.
After a quick stop in a beautiful café full of other students, we took the bus back to London. Of course it took a lot more than it took in the morning because of traffic, but there was free wifi so I cannot complain.
Have you ever visited one of these places? What other day trip from London would you recommend?