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Pick one to skip: Bath, Oxford, Cambridge, Canterbury, Windsor

We will be in London for about 10 days during the first half of June and we have 4 days allotted for day trips via train. But we have at least 5 potential destinations, so which would you recommend we go (or not go), and why?

The choices are: Bath, Oxford, Cambridge, Canterbury, Windsor (or Hampton Court Palace). We have a train pass, so train cost is not an issue.

As additional context, we will be a group of 2 adults, 1 senior, and 3 kids aged between 8 and 12. I've toured London before, but I've not been to any of the day trip destinations and this will be the first time in the UK for everyone else. After London, we will be spending 2 full days in York and 5.5 days in Edinburgh. Tentatively, we plan to visit the Palace of Holyroodhouse while in Edinburgh, though it is optional and might get changed to something else (it seems less impressive vs. Windsor?). I don't know if this influences your view of also visiting Windsor.

Posted by
806 posts

I've been to Oxford but not Cambridge - one would think that one of the two fabled university towns would be enough. With young kids in tow, there are Harry Potter filming locations in Oxford, plus the Pitt Rivers Museum.

Posted by
1985 posts

What do the kids think about the choice and decisions? Have they been involved and what are their views? What attracts you to these places?

Oxford and Cambridge are both University cities and although very different, just do one.

What is the attraction of Canterbury. If it is the Cathedral then, as you are going to York you could substitute York Minster for Canterbury Cathedral. (OK you haven't got the Thomas Becket shrine in York but both are equally impressive buildings.)

Windsor is very different to Palace of Holyrood House .

Posted by
1188 posts

I agree with only needing to see one University town and my personal preference is Cambridge as it seems to have far more open spaces than Oxford, and be cleaner. I love the architecture in Cambridge too.

Windsor castle is completely different to Holyrood Palace. Personally I find Hampton Court more impressive and interesting than either of them. It's also easy to get to from central London and would I think be interesting for kids as much of the interpretation of the place is aimed at kids.

I would agree that if the cathedral is your main reason for visiting Canterbury then York Minster would be equally beautiful to visit.

Posted by
4994 posts

All of them are different except Oxford and Cambridge. Eliminate one or the other and keep the rest.

Posted by
4434 posts

I would skip both Canterbury and one of the university towns. I think Dover would be more interesting for the kids than Canterbury-Castle and I think there are WW II tunnels. The kids might enjoy Brighton as a day trip from London. I would also consider adding another day in York and take a day tour to the Yorkshire Dales but be sure to watch some of All Creatures Great and Small before you go. I think your kids would enjoy walking on the wall in York. I would consider letting each kid decide on a one day trip from London. They could rank their 1st and 2nd choices. They should watch the videos on this website for the places you plan or may visit.

Posted by
1861 posts

I agree about the 2 University towns. I love them both, but Cambridge is closer and long distances can be tiring for day trips. I also think Dover Castle rather than Canterbury is a better choice for boys as they will love the WWII tunnels. I think the Minster in York will be a good church to visit if that is the reason for going to Canterbury. The Minster is really awesome. Unless someone is a big fan of Mary Queen of Scots I would take them to Edinburgh Castle on the top of hill as that has more of a military theme which might interest the boys more, Windsor is another short day trip & the castle is really grand. You might consider skipping Bath as it will probably mean about 5 hours train time RT which will be tiring. Have you asked the kids? Their preferences might surprise you.

Posted by
33130 posts

I think, based on my many visits to both, that Windsor Castle is more oriented to adults than kids compared to Hampton Court Palace which has many attractions for all ages. If the senior is mobility challenged staff at Hampton Court Palace can take them to a special lift (elevator) beyond Fountain Court so they don't miss out on the upper storey.

I agree that York Minster will often be a great sub for Canterbury Cathedral.

Thinking about Dover Castle, it is pretty far from London.

Cambridge is my preference to Oxford for kiddoes. Send them up the tower of Great St Mary's Church - great views and uses a bit of energy. Punting - got to go on a punt. What do the kids think of that? More energy, see if they can find the cows. And run around on Jesus Green. Or Parker's Piece. And celebrate with a Chelsea Bun at Fitzbillies. See if the kids (or anybody else) can find the Grasshopper Clock (It's digital).

Posted by
2 posts

I just visited Bath and Canterbury and found both to be very enjoyable. I would keep them on your list.

Posted by
24 posts

Thanks, everyone, for your comments!

I admit that I haven't had a chance to do a lot of research into some of these places, so I don't have a great sense of everything that the locations have to offer. Below are some responses to the above.

I would say that we generally enjoy things that are cultural / art, architecture that's beautiful / unique, good food, walkable towns especially with lots of shops / markets / restaurants. The main thing is to see and eat stuff that we don't get in the US.

Regarding Bath, I think the long train ride is ok, especially since it seems like a great town to visit. Our kids like the train. And a year ago, we did a day trip from Florence to Ravenna, which entailed an equally long train ride and they did fine.

I know both Oxford and Cambridge are college towns. I was considering both because they both seem to get good reviews here and people don't seem to agree which is better, though I can't articulate the difference between them. Is there one that fits better given our interests above? Would it be a waste of time to see both?

I did pick Canterbury because of the cathedral. I don't know what else is there, but hope there'll be a nice walkable town / markets / shops to see as well. I personally like visiting religious sites and always make an effort to see major churches, temples, mosques, shrines, etc. in every country I visit. On this trip, we will be touring Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's Cathedral, York Minster, St. Giles in Edinburgh, and I'm sure others. I guess I don't mind seeing Canterbury Cathedral, especially if it has an attractive town that we can walk? But I'm not tied to it either.

As to Windsor vs Hampton Court, it was a difficult choice. I sort of picked Windsor because it looks more grand on its website and I think the family might be wowed by it (especially the senior, who has not travelled abroad extensively - she can tell her friends that she visited where the King lives). There's also a nice(?) town, so it's not just visiting the castle. The downside is that you don't get to see much of the castle due to limitations. I agree that Hampton Court seems more kid friendly, you get to see more of it, but it doesn't sound like there's any town there? Also, I guess as an American, I'm less intrigued by the history of the palace about Henry VIII and his various wives that he killed (this is what the website advertised). It might be a fun trip, but I'm not sure I can articulate "why" I should tour Hampton Court.

Is Holyrood Palace not worth visiting? It doesn't look as grand compared to Windsor on the website, and like Hampton Court, I'm not all that interested in the life of Mary, Queen of Scots. But I thought we might visit it because it's a royal palace that's actually in use and there's probably great art and architecture? We are definitely doing Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle, which I understand are both good but different.

I didn't think of Dover and can look into it.

I will add that I did consider Stratford-upon-Avon, but decided to cross it off because the kids and the senior won't be interested in Shakespeare (at least not enough for a day trip). I also crossed off the Cotswolds because while we would enjoy the scenic small towns, they're logistically difficult with public transit and I don't want to rent a car and drive.

Posted by
1188 posts

To answer a few of your questions (or at least offer an opinion).
The King does not live at Windsor year round. He has many different palaces that he can use (e.g. Holyrood when in Edinburgh on business). You don't get to see any private rooms, only the State rooms. There is indeed a town. I found it a bit 'tourist tacky' when I visited a few years ago.

Hampton Court is one of my favourite stately homes. It has a Tudor section and a Georgian section so you see the different architecture as the way of living changed over the centuries. Also Henry VIII didn't kill all his wives - "only" 2 of them!!! The rhyme we were taught at school to remember what happened to them all was, divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived. It's much more interesting there than you might imagine. You won't need a town as the palace will take all day!

I prefer Cambridge to Oxford. It seems more spacious and there are lots of green spaces close to the centre. The architecture of the colleges and Kings College Chapel is wonderful. You can also go punting which kids would adore.

Edinburgh castle is a military garrison with many different buildings. Basically it's a military base on top of a huge rock. Lots of history and great views of the city. But thronged with tourists. Holyrood is just down the road from the castle. It's the place used by the monarch when in Scotland on business, as opposed to Balmoral which is privately owned by the royal family and where they go on holiday in the summer (mainly to avail themselves of the shooting opportunities as far as I can make out - and probably to get a bit of peace and quiet).

If you not are interested in the history of previous monarchs you might be a bit bored by Stirling castle, but I found it fascinating and great for kids as there's lots of interpretive stuff for them (as there is at Hampton Court).

Hope this helps.

Posted by
1985 posts

Thanks for the clarification Eric. These are my views , which others may or may not agree with...

Pick either Oxford or Cambridge - you will enjoy either .

Bath - definitely keep this in. Do include the Roman Baths in the tour. It is an amazing place.

In view of the other cathedrals you are visiting, I would scrap Canterbury. York offers as much (if not more ) than Canterbury as a town.

“she can tell her friends that she visited where the King lives”

That is often very important after a visit and her friends will at least have heard about Windsor Castle (they may not know about Hampton Court) and be suitably impressed. Definitely keep this one in!

I agree with your decision about Stratford Upon Avon. Yes it is a nice town with some lovely 'black and white buildings' but again many other towns in England have these too... You can’t escape Shakespeare there, and not everyone is a fan...

Cotswolds - it is on nearly every tick list - the world, his wife, dog and kitchen sink go there. Wise decision to give it a miss, especially if you are dependent on public transport. There are lots of equally prettty places in England.

Dover Castle - this is definitely worth thinking about as there is so much history attached to it and you could easily spend the day there. Don't bother with the town though...

I like Holyrood House - it is smaller and more intimate than Windsor castle. If you want to find out more about everyday life, visit Gladstone’s Land on the Royal Mile, one of the oldest houses in Edinburgh and owned by a wealthy merchant. Read more about it here. Alternatively there is the Georgian House which is stately living in the C18th.

Posted by
9 posts

I haven't visited the other towns and our kids are older but our family loved Windsor castle and the town. In fact, we followed RS’s advice and only allotted a few hours as a day trip from London, but we all wished we’d stayed one night. We didn't have time for the gardens or exploring the quaint town. The changing of guards is also less crowded but still special vs Buckingham’s. St George's Chapel at Windsor is also an incredible experience and the senior in your group will have a lot to tell her friends! Have a great time!

Posted by
343 posts

Eric, another vote for Windsor. We loved it. We enjoyed the tour of Castle, the grounds, but especially the Chapel. Loved seeing the changing of the guard since we missed it at Buckingham Palace. We spent a full day there, walked around the town after our tour time and also walked over the bridge to Eton, which was also very quaint. I haven’t visited Hampton Court, but my daughter has and she preferred Windsor Castle. Hope you have fun whatever you decide!

Posted by
369 posts

I agree with the advice to pick either Oxford or Cambridge, and I'd also say do both Windsor Castle and Hampton Court. With kids of the ages your party has, Hampton Court will be a definite highlight - it's hugely significant historically as a former royal palace, and presented very engagingly.

And if you do have an interest in royalty, don't forget when you're in London to walk past Clarence House, as we did this morning - we were lucky enough to see the Queen as she exited in a small motorcade. The King was due to leave shortly after, although we didn't stay to see him.

Posted by
444 posts

We loved Bath and Canterbury and found them to be wonderful towns to explore. We were not quite as excited by Windsor except for “The Long Walk” which was a great experience to have such a green vast expanse to walk from and toward the castle for those who love walking.
We are looking forward to seeing Cambridge this summer.
I would skip Oxford or Windsor.

Posted by
1985 posts

If you do decide to go to Hampton Court, don't miss the maze.

The wonderful book 'Three Men in a Boat' was published in 1889, and is a hilarious account of a two week boating holiday on the River Thames. This included a trip to Hampton Court and the maze. Do read this...

Posted by
101 posts

Other than the Cathedral I thought Canterbury was boring.
On the other hand I wished I had more time at Dover Castle. I found it fascinating.

I can't speak for the others as I have not been there.

Mark

Posted by
2 posts

Holyroodhouse and grounds are much smaller than Windsor but I think it is a very worthwhile visit especially when you have 5.5 days in Edinburgh.

Posted by
905 posts

Do look into Dover. WWII tunnels and one can roam the castle as well. The castle is not as interesting as Hampton court or the other castles you are considering, but the WWII set-ups are very interesting. I enjoyed the Dover Museum and its Bronze Age boat. (In the town)

https://www.dovermuseum.co.uk/Bronze-Age-Boat/Bronze-Age-Boat.aspx

You know your kids whereas I don’t- I thought I’d throw in my thoughts on Dover as others had mentioned it. Not hard to reach from London and walkable or taxi to the castle.

You are spoiled for choice!

Posted by
401 posts

To avoid an extra day travelling back to London and a night in presumably premium priced accommodation you could leave London a day early, spend a night in Cambridge and then travel onwards to York. It would involve a change in Peterborough but it's all in the right direction.