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How to go beyond typical tourist attractions in London/surrounding regions?

Hello,

I am part of an American family of four that is traveling to London soon. We have already been to all of the generic sites, and in addition we have many family members living there. How can we explore London beyond the typical sites, and truly experience the city, and the places close (Oxford, Bath, the Cotswolds, Brighton), are there any interesting sites to see in these regions/cities? If you know of any, please name any restaurants, attractions, less common places, etc., in the aforementioned places and most importantly, London.

Thank you so much,

Sophie

I have been to many of the Maritime Museums in the South of England, and find Portsmouth a wealth of museums & ships. Victory, the Warrior, the D-Day museum, and the museums available in the Royal Navy dockyards are all fascinating. I have also been to Bristol to see Brunel's SS Great Britain, and there is lots to see there besides a ship. The one place I have yet to reach (on my list) is Ironbridge gorge in Shropshire. It is a World Heritage Site, and I am hoping to get there soon. Although to tell you the truth, I think it would be a lot more fun with a car full of kids..... In Portsmouth, I stay at the Lady Hamilton BNB near the dockyard gates & the harbor train station. If you are traveling by car, Beaulieu Castle has lots to see near Portsmouth/Southampton. Car Museum, maritime museum- they have Nelson's baby clothes! - incredible train layout, etc. I hope this gives you a few things to research.

Posted by
1245 posts

Look up The Treasure Houses of England site. This lists some of the Great Estates in the areas you have mentioned and has info on any special events that are on when you are there. Also the National Trust UK site has info by region. If you become family members you have unlimited access for a year...they also have time limited access available. Driving is the most flexible and convenient way to go with a group. Check with rental companies for deals before you go.

Posted by
2788 posts

Do you have a London guide book yet? If so, great. If not, I purchased a RS London Guide Book that has been a real help in planning for our June trip to London. If you need one, it can be purchased elsewhere on this web site. Happy Travels.

Posted by
3 posts

Thank you for your replies thus far! I sincerely appreciate how thoughtful they have been, and I am definitely interested in attending some of the afforementioned places.

I hope the replies keep coming.

As a reply to some of the comments, I have the Rick Steves travel book (it's excellent!) but we have already done many of the things listed and are going to do the rest listed, so what I'm really looking for is how to make the most of the things that may have been listed in the guide, to go "beyond" the sites — for example, hidden treasures or unknown restaurants or tours. Or things not even listed in the guide book!

Posted by
533 posts

It is so easy to venture away from the tourist areas in England, because no matter how far off the "beaten track" you go, you'll still be able to converse with everybody and read all the signs. The smart-aleck answer to your question of "how do you go beyond the typical tourist sites?" is, you just go. Find a neighborhood that looks interesting and go explore.

For more specific recommendations, it would help if you told us a little about what kinds of things you like to do. Do you like history, architecture, food, drink, natural beauty, music, sports, big cities, small towns, shopping, art, religious heritage...?

Outside of London, I'd suggest getting away from places like Bath and Oxford that appear on so many people's itineraries, and strike out somewhere completely different. Bristol, mentioned earlier, is a great city, just up the road from Bath, and visited by fairly few tourists. (I know it well because I used to live there.) It's full of charming neighborhoods, parks, and little museums - I particularly like the Georgian House and the Red Lodge, both listed at https://www.bristolmuseums.org.uk/. But maybe they're not to your taste, and that's OK - that's just one of many possible directions you could go.

Have you asked your family members about their favorite places to go and things to do for fun? They know you better than we do, so they might be able to come up with suggestions better tailored to your interests.

Posted by
3 posts

We like history, shopping, architecture, food, art, music, and both bigger cities and smaller towns (as long as there are things to do!)

Posted by
533 posts

Just brainstorming some experiences I've enjoyed over the years. Let me know if I'm going too obscure!

For a taste of English folk music, see if there's anything going on at the Cecil Sharp House (http://www.cecilsharphouse.org/). I saw a concert there recently, and it was delightfully low-key (we were sitting on folding chairs in a room that I think is used for dances on other nights) and the music was fantastic. A lot of people (even a lot of English people) don't even know there IS such a thing as English folk music (and that it's not the same as Scottish and Irish). Treasures don't come much more hidden than that. :)

Wherever I go, I like to check out the local farmers markets when I can. They usually have prepared food to buy and snack on. Here's a page for markets in London: http://www.lfm.org.uk/

I always think it's interesting to explore the ubiquitous British charity shops (Oxfam shops and the rest). I think it's interesting that there are so many of them - in some towns, you can't walk twenty feet without seeing one - and they're so much nicer and better kept than most thrift stores in the US. And you can tell a lot about a society by looking at all the trinkets that some people don't want anymore but other people do.

There's interesting architecture all over the UK, because so many older buildings are legally protected against being torn down or modified. One of the most enjoyable places I've found to just walk around and look at the buildings is actually Liverpool. A fun game is to walk along the waterfront and see how many different centuries worth of buildings you can capture in a single photograph.

Posted by
1540 posts

I took the train for day trip to Bath and also to Salisbury (took a local tour from there to Stonehenge), good train trips to Oxford, down south to Leeds Castle. Took the boat from London along the Thames to Greenwich. There are so many places, I would also recommend a query on day trips from London.

Posted by
272 posts

National Trust has already been mentioned by another poster. They have a lot of nice places to visit, usually manor houses. English Heritage also has plenty of good places, such as castles and other historic sites. You will need to have a car to get to most of them though, but it worth the cost and the effort. A previous poster mentioned Ironbridge in Shropshire, and this is worth visiting. In fact I think Shropshire in general is very under rated. There is plenty to see and it is a very pretty place.

Posted by
36 posts

You could take a train to Oxford and spend a day/night and then hire a car and drive around the Cotswolds area. So many incredible lovely little villages to explore. Blenheim Palace is a high recommend on my list and on a nice day it's an all day excursion exploring the grounds. Turn down side roads off the 'A' roads and go exploring, pop into an old pub and enjoy a leisurely lunch.

Posted by
4684 posts

Have a browse on the archives of the "Ian Visits" and "Diamond Geezer" blogs, both of which cover a lot of obscure places of interest in London and the South-East. Occasionally they cover one off events, though.

Posted by
1304 posts

Brighton is a good bet if you've not already been. (Full disclosure, I live here so may be biased!)

The stand out site is the Royal Pavilion with its weird mix of architecture.

http://brightonmuseums.org.uk/royalpavilion/

Tacky but very British is the pier, which makes a pleasant stroll.

http://brightonpier.co.uk/

There are a lot of quirky shops in the North Laine area, just under the station, and some more serious antique places in The Lanes nearer the seafront.

If you fancy something really off the beaten track we also have horse racing and a greyhound racing stadium! (Depends on when you are here whether you could make a meeting.)

We have loads of restaurants but it's difficult to know what to recommend without knowing your tastes. A personal favourite is Planet India, a vegetarian Indian restaurant with the tag line 'real home made Indian food made by real homemade Indians.'

https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g186273-d1739367-Reviews-Planet_India-Brighton_East_Sussex_England.html?m=19904

Or walk about 10 minutes west from the pier along the seafront to Preston Street which is solid with restaurants on both sides. We like Al Rouche, a Lebanese restaurant there

http://alrouche.com/

If you decide against Brighton, how about Hastings? The town itself is nice and you can get a local bus out to Battle, the site of the famous battle of 1066. There are now ruins of an abbey there, and you can get an audio guide that lets you walk the battlefield and hear accounts of what happened.

http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/1066-battle-of-hastings-abbey-and-battlefield/

Have a great trip.

Alan

Posted by
6341 posts

Durham is a 3 hour train ride from Kings Cross. Lovely university town with a gorgeous Cathedral and castle (World Heritage Status and to many the home of Hogwarts). Peaceful river path to walk. Town square with market. Shops. Ye Olde Elm Tree pub is as about as traditional pub and you'll find. Others will offer insight into the Cotswolds, Oxford, Bath I'll stick to London. In a neighborhood far from the madding crowd try visiting the Cinema Museum in Lambeth. Pre arrange guided tour. Also in Rotherhithe try visiting the Brunel Museum. Then walk along the Thames Bermondsey Wall River path. Enjoy lunch at The Mayflower. Superb river views. Before leaving the states sign up for the Sands Film Studios Cinema program to see if they are having any events that you may like to see. http://www.sandsfilms.co.uk/cinema-club-and-events.html. A little further past the Film Studios I stumbled upon the Stave Hill Ecological Park and a hill/mound which I climbed. Nice views of Canary Wharf and in the distance the Shard and London. It's by Bacon's College. Sign up for a tour of the Highgate Cemetary http://highgatecemetery.org Another spot not often on the tourists must see list is Alexandra Palace (Ally Pally) http://www.alexandrapalace.com. Enjoy the Sunday Farmer's Market or riding a Dragon Paddle boat in the boating lake. Or the views. Mudchute Farm and Park. Are you adventurous? Climb over the Millennium Dome. (O2 Arena) http://www.theo2.co.uk/do-more-at-the-o2/up-at-the-o2 Its' not Half Dome in Yosemite but... You can spend the day at Hampton Court Palace and Gardens. I highly recommend a visit. I also highly recommend visiting Portobello Road Market. Go EARLY on a Saturday morning. Have coffee and some excellent baked goods at Gail's Artisan Cafe as you watched people setting up. Then wander from there all the way to the end near Chesterton Road and enjoy the Golborne Rd food stalls. http://shopportobello.co.uk/about-portobello-market/opening-hours-days/ Loads of interesting London Walks to partake in. A really nice way to explore the city and it's history. www.walks.com Enjoy your visit.

Posted by
3932 posts

I have a sister who lives in Portsmouth, so I've been a few times. Last year, we finally broke down and did the Portsmouth historic dockyards (as mentioned by the first reply). One helpful deciding factor was the night before, I was checking the website and they had a 2 for 1 weekend special. Even without a 2 for 1, you can get a better deal purchasing beforehand (I think 20-25% off). With our Canadian dollar, the price was about double, so we had been looking (at the time) at about $70 per person without any discounts (I think it's 35 GPB). Now, I quite enjoyed it, and I'm not a huge fan of boats and warships, but we did the Victory, the Warrior, a 1 hr harbour cruise and the Mary Rose. We spent a good 4-5 hours there and missed a few things. I enjoyed the Mary Rose best of all, BUT...it is closed and isn't reopening until Summer. Not sure if they are offering cheaper ticket prices because of that.

We've also enjoyed Bath - we spent a night, used Scarper tours for a trip to Stonehenge, visited the Roman baths and generally wandered about. From Portsmouth (and you could do it from London as well, as the train passed by) we enjoyed a day at Arundel Castle. We did Greenwich last year - visiting the Painted Cathedral and the 'time zone'/meridian line building (if you haven't already visited Greenwich). Also did (I can't rem the exact name) the Maritime Museum. We didn't do the Cutty Sark, but it looks interesting for another visit.

Posted by
3932 posts

..also - not sure if you visited the Museum of London (seems to be overlooked), but we did on our first trip and I found it very interesting...

Posted by
38 posts

Hello BC,
One of my favorite things to do in London is "wander" the streets. Turn left when I should turn right. I found the London Stone this way. Watched a group of children play soccer in small park. Stopped in a small shop that made their own ice cream, went back couple days later for more ice cream. When I return to London I'll be wondering around the town. Enjoy your trip, Cathy

Posted by
2023 posts

If you want to get away from the crowds without a day trip out visit St Bartholomew-the-Great Church and the streets around it. It is very quiet and has a real old London feel. Also the Charles Dickens House is another quiet away from the crowds place. On a recent trip we had dinner at Tom's Kitchen in Chelsea and loved it--wonderful food! Enjoy your visit.

Posted by
888 posts

Outside of the main sites Rick lists here: https://www.ricksteves.com/europe/england/london
I'd add the following

DJ

Posted by
16883 posts

I like to read food and travel articles from The Guardian newspaper. You might find something different in their London City Guide.

Posted by
5258 posts

Sir John Soane's Museum is an interesting eclectic eccentric collection of art, archeology, models, furniture, and miscellaneous stuff this eclectic eccentric gentleman assembled. Compact and easy to tour. Leave your backpack, umbrella, and such at the door so you don't knock things over inside!

Any pub. Go to the bar to order. If you want conversation, stay at the bar and drink standing up. You'll be in the thick of it. If you're more retiring, sit somewhere near other people and likely you'll end up conversing anyway. They also have food. Kids are usually welcome and there are drinks for them too -- but maybe not many other kids to talk to.