Can't decide on a day trip from London...

I think I have it narrowed down to three options: Castle (Windsor or Leeds, with Windsor more likely, as we'll be relying on public transportation), College (Oxford or Cambridge) or Bath. I've almost managed to write Bath off the list...but everytime I do, I start thinking...but it's historic, it's different.

So...given that we're relying on public transportation, want something that will fill a day without making us feel like we've run a marathon, and will already be seeing (probably, still ironing out plans): Tower of London, British Museum and Library, Kensington Palace, St Paul's and Westminster, as well as a number of Cathedrals/Versailles, when we go to Paris, which would give us the most bang for our buck?

(There's 4 of us...2 adults and a 10 and 12 year old- both girls. They all hold a fairly equal interest to us...with the girls slightly more interested in the castle or college options...but the 12 year old did recently do a unit on Roman history, so Bath would probably be interesting to her as well)

Posted by Claudia
Land of La
2790 posts

Let me throw another into the mix and ask if you've considered Hampton Court? 35 minutes by train from Waterloo. Tough call and I apologize for not making it any easier.

Posted by LeeB.
211 posts

Make sure that the Queen isn't in residence if you are going to Windsor because the state apartments won't be open if she is. But I also agree with Claudia's suggestion of Hampton Court. On the other hand, I do love Bath. No castle there but it is such a pretty town.

Posted by Leslie
85 posts

What about Kew Gardens? We spent an entire day there, last May, and enjoyed it so much that we are going back, on our return vacation next week.

It is GORGEOUS, with plenty of room to stroll, enjoy the fresh air, multiple amazing Victorian glass greenhouses, have afternoon tea, historical Kew Palace (not a palace, per se, but a lovely home, and where George III spent some of his time), Queen Charlotte's Palace (couldn't go inside when we were there, but it is lovely nonetheless). The trees are unbelievable, heavenly flowering plants and wild parrots flying about (your kids will think those are too cool!) and plenty of peacocks.

Our son was 14 and really loved the break from historical stuff and having a leisurely day at the park. He specifically asked if we could go back, again, this next trip.

The tube takes you to just outside Kew (it's a pretty short walk, maybe 15 minutes, to the Garden entrance). It makes for an incredibly relaxing day.

Posted by Rob
Dunwoody, Georgia
335 posts

I think you'll enjoy any of your options. However, I'll put in a vote for Windsor Castle. My girls loved it when we went (ages 5 and 7 at the time). It's an easy day trip by tube and train from London. Once in Windsor you can walk from the station to the castle. It's a great place to see a changing of the guard ceremony without a huge crowd. I'll also throw in a recommendation to be sure to visit to the state apartments/rooms. The art and especially the paintings there are definately not second rate and the doll house is pretty neat.

Have fun!

Posted by dgnagle4
77 posts

Hi. Have you considered a tour bus trip? I've done "Evan Evans" three times: Windsor Castle/Bath/Stonehenge; Leeds Castle/Canterbury/Dover; and Wawrick Castle/Stratford (Shakespeare home)/Oxford. I loved the first, liked the second and the third is OK so that's my recommendation...the only caveat being your girls might like Wawrick Castle as there's kids activities as opposed to simply being an old place you look at. The E-E company does a very good job at these trips.

Posted by Dick
Olympia, WA, USA
1625 posts

I won't weigh in on the castles or Bath, but for universities I'd give the edge to Cambridge. Why? More rural setting, with the river flowing through the "backs," not as densely urban a "feel" as Oxford. Kings College Chapel, one of the best examples of Perpendicular Gothic and fan vaulting, plus a renowned choir if your schedule lets you hear them. Scott Polar Institute if you're into polar exploration.

But it's a close call, Oxford is also splendid. Both are about equally easy to reach from London, you could decide based on which station is more convenient for you. Trying to see both wouldn't be a good use of your limited time, one or the other would be enough.

Posted by mincepie
Paddington and Canary Wharf, London
122 posts

York makes an excellent day trip from London. It's a very easy 2 hour train ride (not that much longer than Bath,) and gives you Roman and Viking history. Your girls are a perfect age to do the Jorvik Viking Center, you'll get a real feel for Tudor and Elizabethan England in the Shambles area, and the Castle museum has fabulous recreations of Victorian streets. Be sure to take a walk on the city walls and pop your heads into York Minster to see the gorgeous stained glass.. For a lovely meal, go to Betty's Tea Rooms and make sure to stop in the bakery for a fat rascal to eat on the train home. It's the perfect day!

Instead of the British museum, may i suggest you might want to consider the museum of London. When my sister and I were much (much) younger, we were bored with Egyptian sarcophagi and Elgin marbles but loved the great fire of London experience, the lord mayers gold coach, and the Victorian shopping areas at the museum of London.

The Tower is a great choice and should go down really well, as will St Paul's, especially the crypt and the view from the top if they're up to the massive climb. But don't bother if the weather isn't very nice.

My opinion is to give Kensington Palace a miss. Hampton Court would be so much better as its more authentic and real. They've done a brilliant job preserving the Tudor kitchens and is simply fascinating. There's also the legendary hedge maze in the grounds - your girls should have good fun having a run around that!

Posted by David
Sacramento, CA, USA
389 posts

Hampton Court Palace

Go there via boat (easy to obtain, a common mode of public transport) on the river (how they arrived back in the day), return by rail.

Great day out for all ages in the group.

Posted by Kent
Pacific Northwest
9302 posts

Eleanor, you mentioned Cambridge and Oxford. If you're going in May, both "universities" are closed to visitors during the May exam period. Trip research I've been doing suggests the scope of the closures is substantial.

Posted by Nancy
London, UK
170 posts

I would vote for Windsor. Besides the castle you have the town of Windsor to explore. Windsor offers a great park behind the castle as well as a beautiful walk alongside the river. Also Eton is within walking distance. Eton is one of the oldest schools in England and has produced many prime ministers, etc. It is a village chock full of charm.

Posted by Eleanor
Danville, IL, United States
18 posts

Thanks for the replies. We'll be there the first week in June...I haven't looked into whether there will still be closures- I did know about the May closures, and we'll check on that before we make a final decision.
I did look into tours...while I kind of like the idea, we've splurged on theater tickets, and are trying to keep other expenses's not a HUGE extra expense...but it adds up, so we probably won't do that.
At this point, I think I'm leaning towards one of the castles- Windsor or Hampton Court...but am really having a tough time deciding between them...and whenever I decide we're definitely doing a castle, I watch a travel video for York or Cambridge or Oxford...

Posted by dgnagle4
77 posts

Mincepie (and Eleanor!)--
I meant to add Hampton Court as an option...spent all day there once and LOVED it! But I suppose Windsor Castle trumps it. Folks in my Evan Evans group thought they saw the Queen!

And, Mincepie, I agree with what you say about the British Museum vs Museum of London...Yes, it's massive and impressive and all-encompassing and all that...but there's nothing about the British Museum that is British! That's what I want when I'm in London. (Hence I've never been to the Natural History Museum in 10 trips). I did like the Museum of London, which is small but has the local history.

Posted by Laurel
Arlington, WA
886 posts

I understand the lure of York, I love it there. But I really think that if it's a case of either/or, save it for your next trip. It's too far away and really deserves an overnight stay.
Oxford v. Cambridge: Rick says Cambridge, I say Oxford. I think it's the "Morse" influence.


Posted by Frances
San Diego
864 posts

I have a book that I use when I go to London. It is in book shops and amazon and probably in the library.
"Frommer'sBest Day Trips from London: 25 Great Escapes by Train, Bus, or Car "

Posted by Raymond
Victorville, California, U.S.
101 posts

Hello Eleanor, those are difficult chooses. My family ran into the same problem. We also are visiting London this year for the first time and have 2 girls, both 12 traveling with us. Like I'm sure you did, I did a lot of research and couldn't really decide so I took Rick Steve's advice from his book of London and booked a day trip through Evans and Evans for Windsor, Stonehenge, and Bath. I looked into all the tours, and I realize we wont be able to see everything, but you have to believe that you'll come back again. The way I see it, we get a little of each, and then next time we travel to London or Europe, we could see the places we really enjoyed again for longer, and add in new things. Good luck making your decision, I know it's not an easy one, and have fun on your trip.

Posted by Elaine
Mission Viejo, Calif., USA
916 posts

I totally agree with the post recommending Evan Evans tours. We booked several tours through Gray Line They subcontract the tours out to Evan-Evans Tours.

Posted by sherrell
sarasota, fl, usa
46 posts

We loved Stonehenge and then did Bath the same day. Bath was very interesting and quaint. We found a great little teashop and had clotted cream and scones.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
9475 posts

Tours are pricey and I always think with kids its better not to have to be on other people schedule can add stress.
With children i vote for Hampton Court, they will enjoy seeing the kitchen with the giant fireplace ,, and then my next cote would go to Bath.

I haven't been to Windsor yet ,maybe this year though.

Tower of London was huge hit with my son, the Beefeater tour is informative and some with some humor, my daughter loves seeing the old clothes ,jewelry, and furnishings at the Victoria and Albert Museum. And for fun the Museum of Natural History is right across street !

Posted by klecser
Omaha, NE USA
67 posts

Greenwich is technically still London, but may have enough of a change of pace to offer a much easier "day" trip.

Posted by theneales
33 posts

my oldest is ten. we were in oxford last week and bath now, and while i enjoyed both they all loved the castles the best. tower of london with jewels was very interesting , can walk walls, etc. we went to warwick cAstle and could have spent two days there. so they liked castles best.

Posted by theneales
33 posts

also it depends a lot on the weather. if it's rainy it makes strolling around no fun, so you might have all options raady, ghdn pick one the day before based on the weather.

Posted by Debbie
Delray Beach, FL, USA
109 posts

We enjoyed Bath and also York (by train, with an overnight stay). York is good for kids, with Yorvik and Betty's Tea House and the winding lanes with shops. We took a day trip by tour bus to Stonehenge and loved that too. Different day trip by bus to Leeds Castle, Canterbury and Dover, which we loved. But don't do too many castles; the kids won't like that. British Museum is fascinating, even for kids-go to the Egyptian area. We did not care for Oxford; kind of boring to us 2 adults.

Posted by Libby
4 posts

Bath is my happiest place on earth, I absolutely love it there. The Roman Baths are really fun as is Bath Abbey (do the tower tour!). Or, you could look around Bath a little and do a bus tour. We did a tour with Mad Max and saw Stonehenge, Avebury, and a couple Cotswolds villages. We were VERY happy with the Mad Max Tour.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
9475 posts

Mentioned already by theneales.. and seconded by me for children.. Warwick Castle!