While there are many things to see and do in the city of London there will be times you’ll want a change of pace during your visit. I suggest a day trip – this will enable you to see another side to England without committing a lot of extra time or money. There are a number of options close to London so read on to find out about five of them!
Leeds Castle is in the pretty countryside of Kent, England. It has a long history – the original structure on the site, which dates to the year 857, was made of wood and was owned by a Saxon chief named Led. A stone castle was erected in 1119 as a force against Norman invasions. Over the centuries, the castle changed both its look and its owners. Arguably, one of the most famous owners was King Henry VIII who used it as a home for Catherine of Aragon, his first wife.
Today’s castle dates predominately from the 19th-century. It sits on two islands in a lake that doubles as a moat. During my visit, I especially enjoyed the very pretty setting despite the cold grey weather. The inside is standard castle stuff. The grounds contain a garden, a mini cemetery, a holiday market during the Christmas season, and a few other surprises that would be appreciated by everyone ranging from a solo traveler to a family.
St. Albans is a city located about 32km northwest of central London. There has been a settlement here ever since the Iron Age. During Roman times, it was apparently the first major town (after London) for people travelling north along the Roman road. St. Albans (or, Verulamium as it was known back then) was even sacked on the orders a very angry Boudica in year 61 (if you don’t know her story, look it up. It is a horrible, amazing, sad tale). For you history or architecture buffs, you can still see some parts of the old Roman walls on a trip to St. Albans.
Other sites to visit in St. Albans include a street market that has existed since the 8th-century, the last remaining medieval clock tower in the country, beautiful Elizabethan and Georgian buildings, the supposed oldest pub in England called “Ye Olde Fighting Cocks”, and the St. Albans Cathedral which was founded in year 793 as a Benedictine Abbey (current building was begun in 1077). Oh, cool fact – the first draft of the Magna Carta was apparently drawn up here!
Hampton Court Palace
Construction on the Hampton Court Palace started in 1515 for Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. However, by 1529, the Cardinal fell out of favour with King Henry VIII, so he gave the palace to the king. I mean, I guess that is one way to keep a king from being pissed off with you… Work continued on this palace over the years, up until 1694. The contrasting styles of the Tudor era and the Baroque is why Hampton Court is such an interesting place to visit if you’re a history or architecture fan. You can spend hours exploring this palace and you’ll likely still not see it all.
Some of the things for which you should look out are: an astronomical clock crafted in 1540 for Henry VIII, a variety of chimney styles, huge Tudor kitchens which once fed up to 1200 people, the grand royal rooms, a chapel in which Henry VIII married his last wife, absolutely massive gardens, a grape vine that has been growing and producing since 1768, and a maze that was planted in 1702. You can easily spend all day at Hampton Court Place, in my opinion. Oh, and another thing for which you should look out are the various actors. During my visit, I saw King Henry VIII, one of his wives, a court lady, and a king’s bodyguard. They were quite amusing.
Another ancient site relatively near London is the city of Canterbury. Ancient Roman walls are still there to be seen, but the area has been inhabited since prehistoric times. The local king, and so the area as well, became Christian when Augustine did his conversion thing in year 597. Augustine went on to become the first Archbishop of Canterbury and built an abbey and cathedral. The cathedral that you can see today was rebuilt in 1070. Inside, the cathedral is pretty cool architecture wise. You can also visit the very spot where Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered in 1170 – today, he is a Roman Catholic saint and martyr.
Canterbury is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the most visited places in the country. There is still a lot of ancient history, fascinating architecture, and pretty countryside to visit in Canterbury. Definitely plan on spending the day, here!
Along the River Thames lies the 13th-century market town of Henley. It is a very lovely setting – the winding river, rolling green hills, and a mix of fields and forest. Henley-on-Thames is generally considered one of the most beautiful market towns in the country. And it is a great place in which to spend a few hours. You can check out the five-arched bridge built in 1786, the historic St. Mary’s church with its 16th-century bell tower and pretty cemetery that is slightly overgrown, the usual historic shops and homes one comes to expect from a place like Henley, and of course, the River Thames. Put aside at least an hour or two for a lovely stroll along the river. You’ll also see people training for rowing as Henley is known for its annual Royal Regatta. World class rowers come here!
Tip: If you have access to a car, I recommend driving out to the Cherry Tree Inn Pub and Restaurant in nearby Stoke Row. The building dates to the 1700s and has been a pub for over 200 years. It is a beautiful place and the food is great. The gorgeous drive alone out to the pub is worth it, in my opinion!