There is so much to do in London, but there is also so much to see outside of London that is only a short train ride away. That, I think, is still one of the coolest things to me. Born and raised in Texas, I got used to everything being a 4-5 hour car drive away or driving 10 hours to see my extended family, who also live in Texas.
So, I wanted to share our day trips from London that we loved and highly recommend.
Alicia and I spent one day in Windsor to see the castle. It was so incredible to see! The cathedral, the ballroom, the sheer size of everything with an excessive amount of gold! Just breathtaking. Plus, you can see a changing of the guards there (at 11am) and get a much closer view of it because there are less people than at Buckingham Palace. They also have free audio guides, which is always a bonus for me because I love to learn more about it, but I’m also cheap.
Also, I recommend checking the schedule online because some days the State Apartments are closed and they was definitely one of the best parts that you don’t want to miss. The train ride from London is around an hour, so it’s not even that far. Apart from the castle Windsor is pretty, but really just a lot of shopping, which Alicia and I had done enough of in London.
What I wish we had done is visit Windsor until about 1pm. (We did not pre purchase tickets, but they are so efficient the line did not take very long to get through. We got inside around 10am and took our sweet time looking around and still finished around 1.) Then after Windsor take another train to Stonehenge and then back to London from there. Stonehenge is so far out of the city. We never went to it because we felt we would spend more time on the train than anything. We should have combined because Windsor is in that direction. So that’s my recommendation!
The jury is split over which university to visit – Oxford or Cambridge, but we chose Oxford, and spent a Saturday there.
We paid 5 pounds each for a walking tour from a person who actually attended Oxford, and it was great to get the “inside scoop.” We didn’t book ahead or anything. We were going to do a free tour, but we passed this one on our way to Blackwell’s bookshop and the tour advertised Harry Potter attractions. I’m a huge fan so that decided it!
Blackwell’s bookstore, by the way, is one of the most well known bookstores ever – very large and has everything. I thought it would look more old-fashioned, but it looks like a lot of modern bookstores.
The paid tour was definitely worth it and our guide, albeit a little uppity about Oxford, had great stories to tell of Oxford and gave us the inside scoop on things like heated rowing competitions between Oxford colleges and classroom experiences and so forth. Plus, there are Harry Potter attractions there, like the place where Professor McGonagall turned Draco into a ferret, and the room at Oxford that was used as the Divinity School.
Also, if you are a Harry Potter fan, or just a fan of delicious food, I highly recommend having lunch at Turf Tavern. It is one of the oldest pubs (but they all say that) in Oxford and a lot of the actors and crew from Harry Potter would eat there on breaks from shooting! I felt indirectly famous eating there.
One Saturday we took a bus to Brighton, which was cheaper and could take us closer to the city center than a train. Brighton is such a cool little town! We stayed at the Brighton Surf Hotel, which was fantastic – the owner was so nice and helped us find things to do. We spent a whole weekend here.
The first day we went to Seaford (caught an express bus and just paid for round trip tickets on the bus) and began hiking the Seven Sisters. It was actually a little more difficult than I thought it would be because all the pictures online are of these grassy hills. My experience in the Rocky Mountains had me all cocky when truth is those are some steep grassy hills! Plus, it was incredibly windy, something I was not prepared for. So ladies, bring bobby pins, headbands, ponytail holders, whatever you have to do because my hair whipped my face more than a few times.
But the sights were incredible!! We hiked from Seaford through to Eastbourne and caught a bus back to Brighton (which our round trip tickets still covered). Our hike was about 14 miles total. There’s a little city we hit between Seaford and Eastbourne called Exceat. We decided not to turn around there and to just keep going. But Exceat has a good lunch place if you wanted to hike there and then back to Seaford. That was our original plan, but I’m glad we kept going because it just kept getting prettier.
The next day we spent in Brighton relaxing. We went to the beach. I use that term lightly because that was not my idea of a beach. It’s a pebble beach, which was awesome because who really loves to deal with sand? But it was freezing cold! I was bundled up all weekend and it was the last weekend of June. And I thought it would just be me, but the majority of people were in pants and long sleeves. It was really the wind that made it so cold.
We spent some time wandering the beach and the little shops. On the coast, they just finished constructing the world’s tallest moving observation tower. When Zach and I went, it was not quite finished so we didn’t get to use it, but it was still worth the short walk to go see!
We also checked out the Royal Pavilion, which looks very out of place architecturally in Brighton. I definitely did a double take when I first saw it, but it is beautiful and was built in the 1700s. Fun fact – Prince George (future King George IV) used it as a pleasure house for visiting his…companions. It was also used for more historical purposes, but that was the most interesting!
Also, the shops and graffiti in town (called The Lanes) were amazing! Zach fell in love with all the graffiti which rivaled Brick Lane’s graffiti in London.
Definitely worth checking out.