London and Day Trips

 

Arrived in London and want to know what to do? Here are just a few suggestions…

Public transportation is so easy to use in London, start by taking a trip on the Tube (subway) to Covent Garden – some tourist’s favorite place in London, and the perfect place to begin an “orientation” walk. 

There are different markets open here every day. The street buskers are top notch, from “performance artists” painted as human animatronic statues, to solo violinists playing Mozart.  Stop and enjoy the unicyclist or juggler for a moment, then browse the stalls. There’s everything from souvenir kitsch to handcrafted cosmetics and fine jewelry and antiques.
 
Stroll up the street and there is Piccadilly Circus. Here are world famous marquees and the Eros fountain (otherwise known as Cupid) where young people gather to watch the world go by, and then wander over to Leicester Square, the best place in London  for people watching; there are artists set up to do caricatures and sketches, street “preachers” and trendsetters.
 
Also here are some of London’s famous theatres (the TKTS booth is the place to try for day-returns and half-price tickets). Next up is Trafalgar Square. Look up at Nelson’s Column and the other statuary--- and all the pigeons that think the statutes were erected for them.  Later a visit the National Portrait Gallery might be in order.

Parliament
Continue down Charring Cross Road to wind up at Parliament. Big Ben and the River Thames are must-sees, along with Westminster Abbey, just across the street. Don’t miss St. Margaret’s Chapel; some people like it better than the bigger Abbey – more quaint and with some historical anecdotes about the monarchy.  

Then meander up Pall Mall and through St. James Park to Buckingham Palace where the Changing of the Guard occurs every day at 11:00 during spring and summer and every other day fall and winter. Go early to get a good spot as the crowds are always huge.

Another Tube trip to Tower Hill to get to the Tower of London.  Really a collection of buildings built by various monarchs starting with William the Conqueror in 1078, the Tower is home of the Beef Eaters. They take you on a tour and tell fascinating stories, including the beheadings. Be sure to watch for the ravens.  It is said that if they ever leave the tower, the monarchy will fall.  This is also the spot to see the Crown Jewels.   And don’t forget to look at Tower Bridge!

Train Day Trips
One of the best things about London is that it is perfectly situated to allow a tourist to see a large part of England by train, on day-trips. An easy way to begin is with a half-day trip to Windsor. The castle there is marvelous; the tour lets one see changes over the years, including the renovations after the fire in 1992. Watching the  Changing of the Guard here instead of at Buckingham Palace means smaller crowds.  Check out the great little shops. There’s just about every kind imaginable. Be sure to visit Eaton, just across the bridge over the Thames.  A boat ride down the Thames provides a different view of the castle.
 
Returning to London, Kew Gardens is perfect for an afternoon trip.  An excellent botanical garden with ever changing displays, Kew is a perennial favorite.  Visitors can walk or take a tram around to various areas.  There are gigantic greenhouses and rare plants galore.  And don’t forget to stop in at the shop and see what’s new there, too. 

Full-day Trips
Now for some full-day trips. All of these places can easily be reached from London by train in one or two-hours. What would a trip to England be without seeing the home of the Bard, William Shakespeare?  At the edge of the Cotswold region, Stratford-Upon-Avon has the feel of a small town, rather than a city. There are beautiful walks down the Avon, old churches, a butterfly preserve, rose gardens, and canal boats, as well as Shakespeare’s birthplace.  Stop and have a cream tea in one of the teashops, or grab a piece of shortbread and walk along the riverside.  Or perhaps  stop in and do a brass-rubbing at the center halfway to the chapel where Shakespeare is buried.

York 
Another destination is York. Leaving the train station, there is a good view of what remains of the old city wall, and many enjoy a walk along the top. Cross the River Ouse to enter the main part of the city. The major shopping area is just off the town square.  There are high-street stores (as major chain stores are known) and a small market.  Then there’s “The Shambles,” site of some of the oldest buildings left in York.  The old daub and timber buildings are amazing to look at and they house some quaint shops. Lots of woodworking and crafts, as well as some fine jewelry stores here.  The Jorvic Museum has a Disney-type ride through time, showing the history of York, focusing on the Viking invasion.  Finally, stroll over to York Minster, with its truly beautiful rose windows. 

Bath
Bath, what an enticing city!  Georgian to the core of its Roman heart, you can’t match its architecture anywhere. You can tour the Roman Baths, eat at Sally Lunn’s teahouse, or take a river cruise and feast your eyes on beautiful architecture.  Buses make trips to Stonehenge.  Bath is especially interesting around Christmas time, as they have one of the best Christmas markets in England.

Canterbury
Canterbury is a small town with a big heart. The cathedral is simply beautiful and docents tell the story of Tomas ‘a Beckett’s murder.  For those who have forgotten senior English lessons and want a refresher on Chaucer, there’s a waxworks exhibit with some of the most popular (and clean) tales retold. 

Cardiff, Wales
Cardiff, Wales is a shopper’s paradise. Modern malls are mixed with quaint Victorian shopping alleys and markets in old converted churches - top quality goods and atmosphere, too. The castle is in the heart of the city and the new soccer stadium is an engineering marvel. The harbor makes a nice change of scenery and its recent refurbishment means that it’s easy to negotiate.
 
Cliffs of Dover
The White Cliffs of Dover are a striking natural wonder.  Additionally, one can see the castle fortress and learn a great deal about England’s part in WWII and other conflicts.  Just be prepared, Dover is located on top of some very high hills. 

On the final day in London one may have a hard time choosing what to do.  There’s the British Museum where one can see history through the eyes of English anthropologists. There’s Greenwich where you can stand on the Prime Meridian, visit the Observatory or stroll through a lovely park and markets, or Camden with trendy and sometimes just plain strange people.  Madame Tussaud’s Waxworks or Churchill’s War Rooms will interest others.  Whatever one wanst to see… London has it… and that’s why so many people love it.