This past April, Trailing-Wife and I took a trip to England with our 15 year-old daughter over her spring break. We’ve been wanting to take a trip to Europe for quite some time, with the intent of exploring some countryside and sights outside the big cities, looking forward to going at our own pace and interest by renting a car and driving around.
We settled on England because Manchester is where we found the cheapest flights during the holiday week to an area we wanted to visit in Europe.
We knew we wanted to see Stonehenge, as well as hit a couple of other cities around the country. We also wanted to spend some time in London because we have a friend we’d be able to stay with for a couple of nights. Below is the itinerary and high level sights from the trip.
Day 1 – Visiting York
We arrived in Manchester Airport early in the morning via American Airlines, rented a car and drove to York, which was about two hours away. Like many small cities in England, it is difficult to drive into the city center, and so we parked at the railway station and walked the rest of the way in. We spent several hours walking around town, checking out some of the many bakeries (where we picked up some hot cross buns) and fudge shops, and browsing the street vendors in the York Shambles. Much of the ancient city wall is still intact, and so we walked some portions of it and also passed by the very old York Minster, and the remains of St Mary’s Abbey, which was sadly destroyed in the 1500’s.
Then we drove another half hour to the Worsley Arms Hotel where we would spend the night. At the suggestion of the hotel manager, we then drove into the North Moors for the lovely Farndale Daffodil Walk, since the daffodils were in bloom at the time.
Day 2: Drive to Bath, with stop at Stratford-upon-Avon
The focal point of our trip was Bath, and we found a nice looking and reasonably priced Airbnb home to rent there for three nights. The drive to Bath from York is about four hours, but sort of along the way was another place we wanted to pass by, Stratford-upon-Avon, which is Shakespeare’s birthplace. Statford is a small place and evidently a very popular destination as the traffic was very bad the last mile getting into town. However, the Waze GPS app routed us around the worst of it and we found a car park to stash the car for a few hours.
We spent a few hours wandering the streets and stopping into some of the many shops. Since it was a Sunday, there was a market set up nearby the banks of the River Avon, and we enjoyed checking out the merchants and spending time in the nice park along the river.
Day 3: Exploring Bath, including Roman Baths and Victoria Gardens
The focus on this day was simply to explore Bath and check out it’s history. We parked in a short term car park, paid for three hours, and started with breakfast at a fun place called Same Same But Different. Then it was a short walk to the Roman Baths, an amazing ancient Roman site showing off their engineering skills, with a really informative audio tour which was included with the price of admission.
After the Baths, we wandered around the immediate area, the highlight of which was Sally Lunn’s, a medieval house that dates back to approximately the 1100’s, which houses a restaurant and basement museum/shop where they still sell the Sally Lunn Bun, which was created in the late 1600s or early 1700s. From their website:
Sally Lunn’s is much more than a world famous tea and eating house in the centre of the wonderful city of Bath England. Our historic building is one of the oldest houses in Bath. Our kitchen museum shows the actual kitchen used by the legendary young Huguenot baker Sally Lunn in Georgian Bath to create the first Bath bun – an authentic regional speciality now known the world over.
After retrieving our car, we headed to the Victoria Gardens, which is just outside of town. It was a beautiful Monday, and it was truly impressive to see the number of families using the playground areas of the park. We easily covered the entire park by foot, including the botanical gardens, and spotting several historical statues along the way.
Day 4: Stonehenge and back to Bath
Stonehenge is only about a one-hour drive from Bath. We purchased tickets online for first thing in the morning, and got an early start to beat the crowds and ensure we could walk around the site without it being too crowded. Luckily we caught a very nice day. It was on the chilly side because it was early, but as you can see in the photo, we had a nice clear day with plenty of blue sky and a few clouds, making a perfect backdrop.
Since we opted not to do any of the long walks around Stonehenge, we only spent a couple of hours and were back in Bath by lunchtime. We found a nice pub for lunch and then bought tickets for the Hop-On/Hop-Off tour bus to get the scenic view of the full city and some of the surrounding areas. After the full City Tour and Skyline Tour, we decided to hop off to get a closer look at the Bath Circus as well as the Royal Crescent, both stunning works of older architecture.
Day 5: Exploring Oxford on the way to London
With a friend in London with extra room to accommodate us, we didn’t want to pass up the chance to pass through London for a couple of days. But in continuing with our theme of wanting to visit places around the country, we decided to pass through Oxford on the way.
Oxford is another place where it is hard to drive right into the city center. In fact, the city has restrictions on driving through the center and so parking must occur on the outskirts. Thankfully the city isn’t all that large, so we were able to park on the outskirts and walk in. We again caught a nice street market with really cheap goods and food, and walked into several of the shops on the streets. After a nice lunch and a walk around town, we got back in the car, drove through Oxford University, and continued on our way to London.
I was very excited to drive by the Roger Bannister running track, the spot where Sir Roger Bannister broke the four-minute barrier in the mile in 1954. Sadly I wasn’t aware beforehand that the track was there, because as a life-long runner, I’d have loved to have walked in, if possible, or at least just get some photos.
Day 6: London – walk from Westminster Bridge to Tower Bridge
On a previous trip to London we saw many of the main tourist sites in London, and this time around we wanted something a bit more casual. We decided to take the tube to Westminster Bridge, cross over to the south bank, and walk along the River Thames to Tower Bridge, taking our time along the way to stop and see the sights.
While some areas were incredibly crowded with tourists, since we are from New York City, we know how to navigate the crowds and not get too annoyed by it.
We enjoyed passing by the London Eye, Jubilee Gardens, Shakespeare’s Globe, and all of the bridges, and particularly the Millennium Bridge, which we also walked across. Our lunch stop was at Gabriel’s Wharf.
Day 7: Explore River Thames between Hammersmith Bridge and Putney Bridge
On our final full day of visiting England, we would have to drive all the way back to Manchester, about four hours of driving. Therefore we didn’t have a full day to tour, and instead decided to explore the area near where we were staying with a friend. She was in close proximity to Craven Cottage, the home field of Fulham Football Club, which is on the banks of the River Thames just outside of the London central business district.
That is such a lovely area for walking along the River Thames and there is so much to see, starting with Bishop’s Park and Fulham Palace, which is adjacent to Craven Cottage. After crossing over the Putney Bridge, you can spot the home base for many of the rowing clubs, and walking back up to Hammersmith Bridge you’ll pass a wetland reserve and many other walking path options to extend the day in other directions. We enjoyed seeing so many people outside on foot and on bike enjoying the beautiful day, as well as seeing several rowing teams going by on the river.
What Did we Miss?
So, there you have it, the itinerary and highlights from our April 2017 trip to England. It was admittedly a very aggressive schedule, where we were constantly on the go, but that is how we roll!
We debated going to Scotland for part of the week, but the problem is that it was pretty far in the wrong direction from Bath, which is where we wanted to spend several days, and London, where we wanted to stop in and visit our friend.
Have you driven around England? Any important tourist attractions in the southern half of England that we missed? Let us know in the comments, or send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org