London is a buzzing metropole, but if you want to escape the city for the day, there are plenty of places worth seeing within a two-hours’ drive. While Stonehenge might be the most famous, the beautiful architecture of the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, the Roman Baths at Bath, and Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon surely must not be forgotten.
Most of the organized tours from London visit the Stonehenge–Bath–Oxford triangle, and start at a price of around £40. However, we found that, especially if you have company, renting a car is the better way to go. Once outside of London, getting around is pretty easy, and you have more flexibility to stop where you want, plus if you time your rental right, it’s cheaper too.
The prehistoric monument of Stonehenge dates back to 3,000 to 2,000 BC. The ring of standing stones is situated in Wiltshire, with its nearest town three kilometers away. The location is quite surreal with many rolling hills. You can see the stones from the car as the highway is build almost next to it, however, if you want to take a closer look, stop at the Visitor Centre, pay the entrance fee, and take a shuttle to the monument.
Bath is known for its natural hot springs and 18th century architecture. The Roman Baths, a historical complex dating back to Roman times, is its most popular sight. It was built after the Roman invasion, as the Romans wanted to feel more at home. The Roman Baths consist of a multitude of baths, including saunas and cold baths.
Interestingly, after the Romans left the United Kingdom, the Roman Baths were forgotten and left for centuries. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that the baths were reconstructed and reopened to the public. The Roman statues, as seen in the picture below, were actually a recent addition designed to attract more visitors.
The city of Bath itself has the same architectural style as the Roman Baths, which are actually located right in the center of the city. Baths uniform cream-colored buildings make you feel like you’re not in England, but rather in some medieval town.
Pulteney Bridge is another major landmark in Bath. This bridge, completed in 1774, hosts a couple of boutique shops and restaurants. Over time, the bridge was reconstructed to look more like its original, in order to attract more tourists. Given the sheer amount of tourists in Bath on any given day, we’d say they succeeded.
The city of Oxford is famous for its colleges and universities. Apart from being an education hub, Oxford receives a lot of day trippers and other tourists, and the city definitely doesn’t have a shortage of restaurants, bars, or coffee shops.
Once you reach the university complex, you will be amazed with the surrounding architecture. The Hertford Bridge, or Bridge of Sighs, is a perfect example of the distinctive design of the buildings. The bridge connects two parts of the Hertford College.
Continuing onto Radcliffe Square, you will find Radcliffe Camera, a doom-shaped structure which is the library and reading room of the university. The building dates back to the 18th century, and although more books are held in the adjacent Bodleian Library, it is still an impressive landmark.
The University Church of St. Mary the Virgin is located right in the center of the University of Oxford. Actually, most of the university buildings were built around the church. The church is still in service, even though parts of it now function as cafe, library, and community center for the university.
The famous poet, playwright, and actor William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon back in 1564. His birthplace nowadays is a major tourist attraction, and is definitely worth visiting. When you enter the town, the first thing you’ll see is the Jester Statue, with one of Shakespeare’s famous lines.
His birthplace is located further down the street. The restored 16th century house is open to the public. There are organized tours which, by visiting multiple sights, allow you to walk in Shakespeare’s footsteps.
Even if you are not into Shakespeare, Stratford is definitely worth visiting. The architecture throughout the town is beautiful, and there are plenty of coffee shops and restaurants worth a visit.
On a sunny day you will find plenty of people relaxing around the waterfront of Stratford. It is home to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, a recreation ground, where it is also possible to hire a boat.
Leaving Stratford it is likely you will stumble upon the American Fountain, which is actually a clock tower. The monument, presented by the wealthy American journalist George Childs back in 1887, honors not only Shakespeare but also Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee and the relationship between the United States and England.
Similar to Oxford, Cambridge is home to a large number of colleges and universities. Its resemblance to Oxford in terms of architecture is striking, and the shopping area is very similar too. Don’t let the students hear though, as Oxford and Cambridge are rivals.
The city center, outside of the colleges and universities, consists of narrow alleyways with boutique shops, as well as larger streets which house more of the traditional chains. The city center is car free, and everything of interest is within walking distance.
It is possible to walk around the college campuses, as well as university grounds.
Apart from the education-related buildings, there are other beautiful landmarks in Cambridge. One of them is the Great St. Mary’s Church, built back in the early 16th century. It is also the university church of the University of Cambridge.
Trinity College is one of the largest colleges around, with around 1,000 under- and postgraduates. Over the years, its former students have won 32 Noble Prizes, and many famous politicians and scientists were educated here, like Isaac Newton. Its entrance onto the Trinity College Great Court is impressive, and a major tourist attraction.
We, Mark & Herta, are currently backpacking through Europe, and eventually planning to settle in London. Beyond that? The possibilities are endless.Read Mark & Herta’s full story.