This easy, low-cost day trip from London caters to a variety of travelers interested in learning more about the history and art around the UK’s largest city.
When planning a trip to London, you’ll find there is a never a shortage of things to do and see there. But look beyond Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey, fixing your eyes on nearby towns and cities: it’s possible to take an easy, low-cost day trip from London that will broaden your knowledge of the area. Windsor, Bath and Stonehenge are all essential destinations, and together they make an ideal itinerary for a day spent exploring outside London.
Despite Windsor’s small size, the characteristically British town is buzzing with activity. Best known as the site of Windsor Castle, one of the official residences of the Royal Family and a frequent weekend sanctuary of the Queen herself, it’s within easy day trip-distance from London. Visiting the castle means taking a walk through a long succession of mighty monarchs: beginning with the time of Henry I, the iconic complex is the longest-occupied palace in Europe. Even today, close to five hundred people live and work in Windsor Castle, and the space is now used just as frequently for major banquets and official entertaining as Buckingham Palace. Climb the narrow staircases winding up the castle’s many towers, or visit St. George’s Chapel, the resting place of 10 prominent British kings, including Henry VI, Charles I, and Henry VIII (unfortunately, however, only one of his half-dozen wives is buried inside the chapel). Watch the morning changing of the guards, an essential bucket-list activity for any visit to England. Marvel at the architecture itself — the castle is a bulky, towering structure known for being a prime example of the English Perpendicular Gothic style. When you tire of the castle’s passageways and hidden corners, wander into downtown Windsor, which feels similarly frozen in time. But don’t be fooled by the old-world ambience of the cobblestone streets and horse-drawn carriages: The town is chock-full of pricey, chic boutiques and modern restaurants.
Long before the advent of ritzy resort cities around the world, Bath was a spa town used by the Romans beginning in about 60 C.E. Situated on a bend of the River Avon, the contemporary city is one of England’s most singular experiences, and was the first city in the country to be designated as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. These days, it’s still home to one of the world’s most well-preserved Roman bathhouses. The bath complexes were built based around the three geothermal springs near Bath’s central abbey, which is also worth a visit. The baths themselves are found alongside a temple dedicated to Sulis-Minerva, the goddess of healing—an appropriate connection, given the fact that tourists came from all over the Empire to experience the spa’s restorative offerings. Like Windsor, Bath seems steeped in a long-past era when looked at just on the surface, but if you venture beyond the famous bathhouses and into the city itself, you’ll find a very sophisticated, 21st-century city, abuzz with cafes and luxury shopping options. Attentive Italophiles may also notice something interesting about one of the city’s main monuments beyond the baths themselves: the romantic Pulteney Bridge was modeled after the Ponte Vecchio (“Old Bridge”) in Florence.
Stonehenge is perhaps the world’s most famous prehistoric monument, but little is known about precisely why these 50-ton sandstone blocks were brought to this isolated green patch of the Salisbury Plain from South Wales around 5000 years ago. Despite its iconic status, you could blink and miss the site driving by it on the highway, yet it’s intriguing enough to justify spending a full hour or two examining the imposing stone structures, coming up with your own hypotheses about their original intended purpose. From the horseshoe-shaped grouping of stones within the outer circle to the location of the monument itself, the questions Stonehenge raises make it a can’t-miss destination for curious travelers. More than likely, it had both astrological and spiritual significance, and worship probably involved the cycles of the sun, based on the alignment of the stones. The unsolved mysteries of Stonehenge make it enjoyable to theorize on-site with other visitors, tour guides and amateur archaeologists. On a practical note, be sure to bundle up if you’re making the trip in winter, as the cold winds on-site can be harsh.
Although it’s possible to organize each of these outings independently, make it easy on yourself by booking a Windsor, Bath and Stonehenge day trip from London through Musement.