While London has more than enough to offer visitors to keep them happily busy for a week or more, they may wish to consider looking beyond the city for some fascinating experiences that can be found an hour or less by train from the English capital. Here are a few top attractions.
Windsor Castle, the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world, is open to visitors throughout the year. Founded by William the Conqueror in the 11th century, it has since been the home of 39 monarchs. Today Queen Elizabeth II spends most of her private weekends at the Castle. Admission to the Castle is busiest from opening and throughout the morning. For the best experience it is recommended to book tickets in advance and arrive after midday.
Windsor is served by two train stations, Windsor and Eton Central and Windsor and Eton Riverside. Both are within a few minutes’ walk of Windsor Castle. From London, visitors can take the Great Western Railway from Paddington Station, with a change of trains at Slough. The trip takes from 25 to 50 minutes depending on stopping patterns and connections. South Western Railway takes approximately 55 minutes from London Waterloo.
Summer visitors to London who want to spend an afternoon at the beach can opt for a side trip to Brighton. The seaside town has the Royal Pavilion (built as a seaside pleasure palace for King George IV); plenty of quirky shops and boutiques, shopping centers and malls; and the Palace Pier for those seeking rides and amusements. Brighton is 54 miles due south of London. It takes about 1.5 hours to drive but usually takes less than an hour by train.
Warner Bros. Studios Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter is a public attraction in Leavesden, about 20 miles north of London. It is a permanent exhibit providing an authentic behind the scenes glimpse of the Harry Potter films, including sets, props, costumes, special effects demonstrations and more. It can be reached by taking a 20-minute train ride from London Euston to Watford Junction followed by a 15-minute shuttle bus ride. Best bet is to book through Golden Tours, a Gray Line affiliate and preferred partner of Warner Bros. Studios Tour London.
About 70 miles west of London, Highclere Castle is must-see for fans of the ITV / PBS Masterpiece series “Downton Abbey.” A highly anticipated movie, which picks up approximately 18 months after where the series ended, is being released in September, which should continue to make the castle a popular attraction. There is good train service from London Paddington to Newbury Railway Station. Taxis can be found outside the station at Newbury. The ride from Newbury to Highclere takes approximately 15 minutes.
Many London hotels have excellent modern spa services, of course, but if your clients want to experience well being the way the ancient Romans did, there’s the town of Bath. About 90 minutes by train southwest of London, the waters here are still a big draw, both at the ancient Roman Baths and the modern Thermae Bath Spa, which houses the only natural thermal hot springs in Britain one can bathe in. Bath also has several museums and galleries, some of the finest independent shops in Britain and plenty of places to eat and drink. Architecture buffs can marvel at the Royal Crescent and other examples of Georgian architecture there.
Southeast of Bath lies Stonehenge, the best-known prehistoric monument in Europe. It is nine miles north of Salisbury, a medieval cathedral city in the southern English county of Wiltshire. Trains run from London Waterloo direct to Salisbury, every 30 minutes from 6.30 a.m. and take about an hour and a half. Operators such as London Toolkit offer tours to Stonehenge, as well as Highclere Castle, the Harry Potter attraction, Bath, Oxford, the Cotswolds and more.
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