London Travel Guide: Places to visit west of the city
London is a fantastic place to visit when in England, it’s the heart of the country, the business centre, where the queen lives and of course, home to one of the most beautiful bridges in the world (I am talking about Tower Bridge). However I always tell visitors or people planning to come to the country to get out of the capital and explore the ‘real’ England. Recently I have been discovering more of my home island and noticed that there are quite a few places to the west of London which is worth checking out. Here are a few ideas for my readers who are planning to come to England with advice, so here I go, my favourite places to check out to the west of London.
The Roman city of Bath, Somerset
Bath has to be one of my favourite cities in England. There are the famous Roman Baths to check out, the beautiful architecture of buildings along some of Britain’s most famous streets, the restaurant scene, strolls along the river and of course, relaxing in the thermal spa with its amazing rooftop pool overlooking the main sights of the city. I have done a full blog post on my visit to Bath which will provide more information here.
A quick note, Bath is about two hours on the train from Paddington and about a two hour drive from the west of London.
Wells is often referred to as Britain’s smallest city, however it is not. That status goes to the City of London (actually the city in the capital and not everything within the M25), so Wells is the second smallest city in the United Kingdom. Located on the Mendip Hills, it has a population of 12,000 but is classed as a city because of its cathedral which has stood here since medieval times. The city is named after the three wells which are dotted about in the city, located in the market place and the grounds of the Bishop’s Palace and cathedral.
The top place to hit up is the cathedral, with it’s lovely green space in front of it but for me personally, I loved walking around the outside of the Bishop’s Palace which was the home to the bishops of the cathedral. They are both within walking distance. Make sure to take a walk around the moat which surrounds the palace, it is a lovely stroll.
Nearby is Vicars’ Close. Anyone who loves architecture will truly appreciate this street. The street is claimed to be the oldest residential street in Europe with its original buildings intact. The street is thought to have stood here since the fourteenth century and has twenty-seven residency houses, a chapel, a library and a beautiful arched gate at the southern end (which is the gate I walked through when walking to/from the cathedral, can’t miss it). It’s not a long street (at 140 meters) but it is still worth checking out.
To get to Wells, there is no train service here. That went in the 1960s however there is public bus service from Bath. Trains run from London Paddington to Bath Spa and Wells is nearly a three hour journey by car from the west of London.
Wookey Hole Caves, Somerset
Not too far away from Wells is the Wookey Hole Caves, a great day out for the family. The caves are a set of limestone caverns located in the village of Wookey Hole which is in the heart of the Mendip Hills. Through the cave system flows the River Axe. Whilst doing the tour here I found out that the caves have been used by humans for over 45,000 years. This is provened as researchers have discovered tools from the Palaeolithic period. These were discovered alongside tools from the Stone Age, Iron Age and from the Roman times. A corn grinding mill has been in existence since the 11th century here whilst a handmade paper mill began operating here since the 1600s, which makes it the oldest papermill remaining in the country. At the end of the tour there was a storage area used in the caves to keep Cheddar cheese (which is made in Somerset) and used to mature due to the constant low temperatures.
During the tour I got to see the Witch of Wookey Hole which is a human-like shaped stalagmite. The legend behind this is that a witch was turned to stone by a monk from nearby Glastonbury. Also the cave has been used for television and movies, the most famous being the Doctor Who episode ‘Revenge of the Cybermen’.
A lot of visitors probably would never have heard of the Cotswolds which is about two hours drive away from the west of London. However it is an outstanding area of natural beauty which must be visited for hiking and beautiful villages. The rolling hills are defined by the Jurassic limestone here which creates a grassland habitat. However the area is used to dig out the Cotswold stone and use them for buildings in the area. The Cotswolds stretch from Stratford-upon-Avon to Bath crossing many English counties on the way. I explored a small area of the Cotswolds in the southern part and which is probably the most visited by tourists and day-trippers. (It is best to get one with a tour company to take you around to the countryside, if not, a car is best used).
Bibury, Gloucestershire – a beautiful village located on the River Coln and is one of the most popular villages in the country for visiting tourists. It has tea houses and historic buildings but walking around, seeing the village makes me proud to be English. Its rural, traditional, old fashioned, slow pace of life makes Bibury the perfect village.
Walking around the village, I noticed quite a few honey-coloured stone cottages with pitched roofs, probably built in the 17th century. These cottages used to be the homes of weavers who worked at the nearby mill who supplied cloth.
Arlington Row is the most famous village street in the country. The cottages here were built in 1380 and were originally used to store wool. It wasn’t until the 17th century that the cottages were converted into accommodation for the weavers. Wool was also hung to dry after being washed in the street. At the bottom of the hill is a water meadow, a bit marshy, which has a lot of plants and birds hanging around here. I saw a few moorhens and coots beside the water.
Another reason why tourists flock to Bibury, especially with visitors from Japan is that Emperor Hirohito stayed in the village when he did a European tour many years back. For some reason, a lot of people in Japan saw the cottages on the television, booked their tickets to fly over and see the village with their own eyes. They were probably not disappointed. I think it helps that the village was used in the hit British movie, Bridget Jones’s Diary. However there is a little bit of bad feeling with the village. A few years ago on television, a car which looked ‘nasty’ and ‘ugly’ parked by an elderly motorist had been vandalised probably by visitors (not quite sure what the damage was). A few visitors complained that it spoiled their photographs when taking street scenes.
Broadway, Worcestershire – Another beautiful village not too far away from Bibury is Broadway, known for its antique shops and beautiful cottages. I only spent a hour walking around here checking out the beautiful cottages but the place is bustling with visitors. Worth a stop when doing a road trip.
Another village worth checking in the Cotswolds is Snowyhill, which is surrounded by perfect rolling hills. The village is smaller than Broadway and Bibury but still worth checking out.
Great Malvern, Worcestershire
Another great place for the outdoors is Great Malvern. A little bit further out for a day trip so I would recommend this as a weekend trip combined with something else locally. Known for being a spa town, the town is located at the bottom of the Malvern Hills. I didn’t spend too much time in the town but I did do a hike to the summit of the Worcestershire Beacon. Known as the Beacon to locals, the hill stands at 425 meters (1,394ft). The summit can be reached from the town centre in a forty-five minute walk which also takes in St Ann’s Well.
The building next to the well has stood here since the early 1800s, and as it was built next to a spring where mineral water flowed, a company started a business here and bottled the water to sell on. Now another company brought that company and named the bottled water ‘Malvern Water’. I believe the water is now bottled elsewhere. Interesting fact is that Queen Elizabeth I drank it in public, Queen Victoria never refused to travel without it and Queen Elizabeth II takes it with her whenever she travels. Some facts about the water there.
To get to Malvern, there are direct trains from Paddington in London and takes about 2h30. There are also trains from Birmingham Snow Hill and Kidderminster with connections to the West Midlands and South West of England. By car, it takes about three hours from Central London.
There is no introduction needed as this is probably the most famous prehistoric monument on the island. Located near Salisbury, Stonehenge consists of a ring of standing stones which is believed to have stood here since 3000BC. Owned by the Crown (and the head of that is Queen Elizabeth II) but managed by the National Trust, Stonehenge is also on the UNESCO World Heritage site list.
The best way to get here is by car as it’s just off the A303 (which links up to the M3 and is a couple of hours drive from London). By public transport the best way is to get a train from London Waterloo to Salisbury then get a local bus.
Just north-east of Stonehenge near the town of Amesbury is Woodhenge. Unlike Stonehenge, this site is smaller and well less known. Discovered in the 1920s after research, the site has probably stood here since 2000BC and built by the Beaker people (a culture in Britain which was squished in between the Late neolithic and the Early bronze age). This timber circle on a field is also designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The city of Oxford is a marvellous place to check out and is over an hour’s journey by train from Marylebone station and an hours journey from the west of London. With its colleges, university buildings, architecture, cobble streets, castle and a great place for dining out, Oxford has to be on everyone’s list. I have done a full blog post on the city, so please check it out here.
Windsor Castle, Berkshire
A short distance by train or road, Windsor is a beautiful historic town most famous for its castle which is still lived in by the Royal Family today. The castle has stood here since the 11th century on the orders of William the Conqueror (after his amazing win at the Battle of Hastings – ADD LINK). Since King Henry I took the throne, the castle has been used and lived in by all reigning monarchs and is now the longest-occupied palace/castle in Europe. The castle was built to protect Norman dominance in the area west of London. This was a strategically handy place to build a castle as it lies near the River Thames. Eventually the original castle was replaced from wood to stone and by the time King Henry III took the throne, the castle was turned into a luxurious palace. Since then the castle has served as a military headquarters during the English Civil War, a prison for King Charles I and a refuge for the Royal Family when World War II took place and Hitler sent the Luftwaffe to bomb the hell out of the English cities. Even recently it survived a fire in 1992 and held a few Royal weddings. These days it’s a major tourist attraction and the weekend home for the Queen.
Other top things to do is to take a stroll along the River Thames, where there is always something going on like events, boat rides etc, especially in the summer months. The streets surrounding the castle are great for shopping and eating out but my favourite is taking a walk along the path called ‘The Long Walk’ which is a long path which runs from the castle to Cumberland Lodge, a few miles south in Windsor Great Park.
Windsor is pretty easy to get to from central and west of London. The fastest way by train from London is from London Paddington train station with the fast train to Slough and change there for a connecting train to Windsor and Eton Central (which is a really nice station, vintage & has plenty of shops and eateries) whilst the other way (a little bit longer and slower) is from London Waterloo is Windsor & Eton Riverside. By road, Windsor is just off the M4 and only a few minutes drive from London’s Heathrow airport (so if any visitors have a layover at the airport for a few hours, go to Windsor instead of Central London. Nicer and calmer.. trust me!).
There we go guys, a few day trip or weekend break ideas if thinking of heading west of London. Trust me, there are a lot more places than my list to hit up but I believe all these places I have mentioned should be on anyone’s visit when coming to England. Have you been to these places? What is your favourite thing about them? Or dislikes? Or do you have any tips for anyone who is traveling to this region. Would love to hear your thoughts and see your comments.