DAY TRIPS - Getting out of London – but still be close to Central London

There are so many places you could see in London, let alone just outside London, but here we have listed what we think are some of the best places to spend a 'day-out' or a couple of days -

Greenwich - is just 20 to 30 minutes south of central London, and you can get there via the DLR, by road or downstream via the Thames on a boat trip from Westminster Pier or other river stops. There is a lot to see and do here, as well as great ambience, so it is definitely a day-trip to remember. Things to see include Greenwich Park – where you might hire a boat to paddle on the Lake; see the stars and universe at the Royal Observatory and Planetarium; see the impressive Old Royal Naval College buildings designed by Christopher Wren and the painted Hall and Chapel of St Peter and St Paul; see the 'Cutty Sark'; see the beautiful Queen's House Pavilion style building; visit the weekend Greenwich Market and Clocktower Market; see St Alfege Church; head downriver to the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich; see the Thames Barrier that protects London from flooding; see the Royal Victoria Dock; head to the O2 Arena Entertainment Centre – even walk on the roof of this Arena, or take a cable car ride on the Emirates Air-Line to a height of 90 metres above the ground. Being close to the centre of London means it is easy to get there and back, but you might even want to stay here too.

Heading up the Thames - head to Westminster Pier and take a Cruise up the Thames from here to Hampton Court Palace – a 3 to 4 hour journey on the boat up the Thames and through a few Locks along the way, with the boat stopping at Putney, Richmond and Kew Gardens, where you could either get on or off if you wanted to.

The boat trip takes you past Central London and Battersea where the old iconic Power Station chimneys are located and onwards up the River with the scenery changing from the congestion and noise of London to the tranquillity and almost serenity of life beside the River. It is almost like a journey that Badger could have taken in the 'Wind in the Willows' storybook. Incidentally, Kenneth Grahame who wrote the story lived in the Upper Thames village of Cookham.

As you travel up-river you will see new apartment blocks being built, but also rowers, paddle boarders, swans and ducks, with old and new houses and mansions on the water's edge, passing under bridges, past small moored boats and areas like Richmond Park that are still in their natural state, with banks of the river overhung by willow trees and other vegetation. As the river narrows, you also come to the first Lock that you will pass through, and then the river becomes live again as you pass by small pubs, rowing clubs, walkers and boats on your journey, even small islands where the river is on each side. On a warm spring or summer's day, this trip up-river has to be high up on a list of "To-do's" in London. The small townships of Putney, Fulham (where Fulham Football Club's home ground Craven Cottage is located) and Richmond may be close to the City centre of London, but they seem to have a more quintessential 'English Village feel'. They are also about 30 minutes from the centre of London on the Tube too, with many places to stay, and you could also explore this area by car and find places like Chiswick and Petersham too.

Most people taking this trip up-river will be heading to Richmond, Kew Gardens or Hampton Court Palace and these places are all worthy of day trips in their own right. Richmond is where you will find 'Ham House' – built in 1610 on Ham Street and also 'Marble Hill House' (1724-1729)on Richmond Road, Twickenham, 'Syon House' at Syon Park, Brentford and 'Strawberry Hill House' – more of a castle than a house, located at 268 Waldegrave Road, and built between 1747 and 1792. Richmond, being next to the River Thames is also a very historic township, with good pubs and atmosphere. Kew Gardens is where the Royal Botanic Gardens are located (see www.kew.org) with its huge curved edged Glass 'Palmhouse' being one of its main attractions. There are also Rose and Tulip gardens and more than 45,000 different plants growing here, with the gardens first planted back in the early 1700's. Kew Palace is also here too and you will also see the multi-level Chinese Pagoda building that dates back to 1761.

Hampton Court Palace in Hampton Court construction began in 1514 and it was the favourite country Palace of King Henry VIII. There is a lot to see here both inside the Palace as well as in the extensive gardens. There are fountains, driveways, walkways, enclosed formal gardens, rose gardens, expansive lawns, the world's biggest grapevine that dates back to 1769 when it was first planted covering over a trellis roof structure. There is also the 'Real Tennis' Court here too, where King Henry VIII once played on the court. There are also stone walls, a maze, long hedges and avenues of trees. The buildings too with their massive number of high decorative brick chimneys, archways, round and other shaped windows, doorways and furnished rooms all reflect both great wealth and grand scale, but also a great sense of architecture, garden design and craftsmanship. Look closely at the brick work. It shows the skills of both early brick making and also the craftsmanship of those who designed and built the walls and chimneys of this amazing building.

Windsor Castle and Windsor - is another day trip out of London, or you could easily stay longer to see and feel more what it is like to be in Windsor, with the Castle right here, nice shops and village atmosphere.

Buses from London to Windsor leave from Victoria Street Station, while trains leave from Waterloo or Paddington Station. The trip takes around 1 hour by train, or longer if there are stops, and the bus trip time is a little longer, depending on traffic. The trains stop at either or both Windsor and Eton Riverside Station or Windsor Central, which is the closest station to Windsor Castle.

Windsor Castle is the oldest and biggest occupied castle in the world, and was first founded by William the Conqueror in the 11th Century, with many additions and changes made over the centuries. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip spend probably more time here, than they do at Buckingham Palace, and Queen Elizabeth is the 39th Royal Monarch to have used Windsor Castle as a home. If the Royal Ensign is flying, this shows that they are in residence.

The Castle has areas that are open to the public and most people allow about 3 hours for a visit here. Cost per person around 20 pounds. Between April to the end of July there is the Changing of the Guard Ceremony at 11am in the morning, in August every second day (even days) and in September every second day too – but the odd days. The Castle is located on a hill overlooking Windsor township and the Thames River with Great Windsor Park next to it. This park is massive in size, and has great old trees and parklands to wander through.

Windsor Castle's stone walls, turrets, and the whole building look magnificent both the day and night, and inside you will in most cases be able to see the stunning décor of the State Apartments, grand semi-state rooms used for dining, St George's Chapel, the Round Tower, Great Kitchen and Queen Mary's Dolls' house. The furnishing of rooms like the Crimson Drawing Room – with its priceless paintings, candelabra chandeliers, gold filigree ceiling and walls, stunning floors and carpets, as well as it furnishings will take your breath away. To book a ticket see www.royalcollection.org.uk You might also look to see Frogmore House, which is located almost next door to the castle in Windsor Great Park. Check to see if it is open.

Windsor itself has lots of tourist shops as you would imagine, along the High Street but it still retains its historic village feel. If you have time, look to see the Royal Borough Museum in Windsor Guildhall on the High Street. Look for the Ascot Room. This is where Prince Charles married Camilla Parker Bowles, and also where Sir Elton John married David Furness.

Windsor is on the River Thames, and if you cross the 1822 Iron Bridge from Windsor, you will be in Eton – which is the home of Eton College – the prestigious boy's college that was founded in 1440 by King Henry VI.

Eton College is where many Royals have been educated as well as notable politicians, 19 of which have become Prime Ministers. The Eton College Natural History Museum that dates back to 1875 is open to the public, and it is just a short walk from Eton College Chapel in South Meadow Lane.

Not far from Windsor is Royal Ascot where Britain's most famous horse racing Carnival, 'Royal Ascot' is held over a 5 day period in June. See www.ascot.co.uk while in Windsor itself there is the Royal Windsor Racecourse – see www.windsor-racecourse.co.uk

Savill Garden is about 4 miles from Windsor off Wick Lane, Englefield Green, Egham – 35 acres of gardens created in the 1930's. Cliveden House (now a Hotel) is on Cliveden Road, Taplow, near Maidenhead. This is a very historic luxury hotel now, but equally impressive are the gardens, a giant Maze, over 1000 Yew trees, 25,000 planted beds of flowers and other gardens and avenues of trees. There are carriage rides through parts of Savill Garden – see www.clivedenhouse.co.uk , www.ascotcarriages.co.uk Also see www.theroyallandscape.co.uk and www.nationaltrust.org.uk You can also join the National Trust to see other properties throughout Britain, and they have discounts and special openings for members at many of their properties.

This whole area in the Upper Thames Valley is a great place for exploring the many small towns and villages that are here with their old pubs, high streets, commons and atmosphere. Just some of these are Maidenhead, Cookham, Marlow, Hurley, Bisham, Wokingham, Sonning, Dorney, Datchet, Henley-on-Thames and Runnymede where the Magna Carta was signed and sealed in 1215 by King John.

You can certainly drive to these different villages and towns, but equally there are boats that will take you on the River too, through different Locks. The countryside and river all reflect the colours of each season, so weather aside, a trip up or down river from Windsor is special.

For something quite different, there is a Legoland Theme Park/leisure resort for kids just outside of Windsor. See www.legoland.co.uk located on Winkfield Rd, Windsor.

Cambridge – and Cambridge University –

Cambridge, like Oxford is a University City, and they compete for prestige in many ways, including in the annual Boat race on the Thames each year.

It takes less than an hour to travel to Cambridge by train from London's King Cross Station, and when you arrive by train, the scene that greets you as you arrive is a sea of drab, square box apartment buildings, small industry and new development. Don't be put off however, as the old part of the City is truly beautiful.

The Station was apparently sited a long way from the University and Colleges, so that students would who wanted to run away would have further to travel! Maybe true, maybe not. From the Station catch a bus to the old part of the city or take a taxi. It's a pleasant but long way to walk.

The old part of the City overlooks the River Cam, and has a history dating back to Roman times around 70AD, with the University founded in the 1200's, and the first University College, 'Peterhouse' founded in 1284.

The City is very much a student town attracting students from all over Great Britain as well as from around the world due to its reputation, so there are lots of young people riding bikes and creating quite a youthful student vibe to the City.

The main street through the city is St Andrew's Street that becomes Sidney Street and then changes its name to Bridge Street as it approaches the small Magdalene Bridge that crosses over the Cam River. It is a very walkable street, with a mixture of small shops, restaurants, book stores and supermarket/chain stores along the way.

There are University Colleges along the Bridge Street too, and the 12th Century Round Church (Holy Sepulchre) with the Victorian architecture and streetscape all being very attractive to walk past, take a few photos and drop in to some of the shops and eateries. The Colleges here may have an entranceway facing the street, and if you do manage to see or go inside, you will see buildings around a central courtyard and garden, with the accommodation leading off to the buildings around it. Some of the colleges have full time gardeners to look after the grounds with the gardens and buildings beautifully maintained.

Other churches you might also like to see are the oldest church in Cambridge, St Benet's on Benet Street, that dates back to 1025, St Mary's the Great dating back to 1205, but rebuilt between 1478 and 1608 on Market Street and there are others.

Outside of Cambridge too, there is Ely Cathedral, said to be one of the wonders of the Medieval World. See www.elycathedral.org Look for the Stained Glass museum here too as well as the home of Oliver Cromwell, antique shops and nice places along the River to walk. See www.visitely.org.uk

Also walk down King's Parade/Trinity Street in the City too, where there are also lots of small shops and interesting places to just window-shop, wander in or buy a drink or something to eat.

The very best way to really get a feel for the University and its Colleges is to go punting down the river, and see the colleges from the water, along with some of the beautiful bridges that cross over it, the ducks on the river and just the sound of the punts, people and boatman or boat woman relaying the story of the Colleges and Cambridge. Punting involves using a flat bottomed boat pushed along by the boatman or boat woman standing up,( or even yourself), propelling the boat by standing on rear end of the punt and using a long pole to push against the bottom of the river.

You can take a Punt from next to the Magdalene Bridge past Colleges including St John's, Trinity Hall, Trinity, Clare, King's, Queens' and Peterhouse College. I think taking a Punt on the River Cam is a MUST DO in Cambridge. On one side of the river are the colleges, while on the other there is a green park called "The Backs", creating also a feeling of space and history. There are 31 colleges in Cambridge and all have stunning architecture, and while you might not see all, try to see King's College Chapel, which is home to King's College Choir. The Chapel took 100 years to build, and dates back to 1441.

Elsewhere in Cambridge – also look to see the Cambridge University Botanic Gardens on Bateman Street, said to be second only to Kew Gardens in terms of beauty and covering an area of around 40 acres. There is lots of green open space in this older part of the City with names like Jesus Green, Christ's pieces, and Parker's Piece – the word "Piece" meaning open space.

The University and Cambridge have many Museums – see www.cam.ac.uk/museums The Museum of Zoology is on Downing Street; Classical Archaeology on Sidgwick Avenue and Centre for Computing History is on Coldham's Road. Also look for the Fitzwilliam Museum on Trumpington Street (one of the best), the Museum of Cambridge on Castle Street, the Whipple museum of the History of Science in Free School Lane. Outside of Cambridge there is also the National Horseracing Museum at Newmarket and the Farmland Museum and Denny Abbey on Ely Road at Waterbeach.

There are also many small villages outside of Cambridge too – some of the most interesting being Ely, St Ives, Huntington, St Neots, Stamford and Saffron Walden.

Oxford – another University City -

Oxford University is even older than Cambridge and was established in 1214, with the City itself dating back to the 8th century, when it was called 'Oxanforda'. It too, like Cambridge has numbers of University Colleges, many dating back to the 13th century and the centuries that followed.

While the city is on the Thames River, here in Oxford it is called "The Isis" and on the northern side there is another river, the Cherwell that flows past University Parks and past Christ Church Meadow. In summer, punting on the Cherwell River on these small river 'punt' boats is a great way to enjoy the day.

In and around Oxford everywhere you look there is something to see. The great buildings, towers, steeples, archways, windows, walls, doorways, walkways, carvings, gargoyles and entrances all in stone create an enormous sense of history, energy and design genius, while the River towpaths, walkways and banks beside them with sometimes crews of rowers adds to the unique charm of this beautiful city.

Also just about 8 miles from Oxford is Blenheim Palace in Woodstock. This was the home of the 12th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, and the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. Besides the Palace, there are some 2000 acres of parkland and grounds. See www.blenheimpalace.com

Royal Tunbridge Wells – this is a great little 'Royal' town in Kent centred around the Pantiles – a fairly unique street area where most of the shops and cafes are located in buildings supported by columns, making it feel more like a continental street than a typical English one. Here in the town you will find lots of historic buildings, antiques, crafts, Calverley Gardens with its swans on the lake, great gardens, with many other small villages close by. Look to see the village of Cranbrook with its great windmill, and also see castles – Leeds Castle, Hever Castle and Scotiney Castle. The Royal Horticultural Society also has a magnificent garden, called Garden Wisley, which is at Wisley Lane, Wisley in Woking (See www.rhs.org.uk/gardens/wisley ). To get the Royal Tunbridge Wells – catch a train from Charing Cross (direction Hastings) for a journey that takes about 40 minutes. See www.visittunbridgewells.com for more information.


Feel free to email us, if there are other destinations out of London that you think should be listed here. We welcome your comments.

Happy Travelling!

Geoff Stuart

Happy Traveller

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