It’s not always easy to choose among a seemingly endless list of tempting destinations within a country as geographically diverse as Britain. London’s famous landmarks are not to be missed, but it’s worth venturing farther out to experience the beauty and charm of the English countryside. So instead of choosing, split your vacation between the capital and its surrounding regions to encounter the best of both worlds: the bustling, tireless city and the serene, picturesque allure of England’s rural landscape.
Limiting your time in London means packing your itinerary tight with activities in the days at your disposal. On your first day, set off from Trafalgar Square along The Mall toward Buckingham Palace, then take a stroll through St. James Park on your way to Whitehall. In the heart of Westminster, you’ll take in the regal sights of Westminster Abbey, Big Ben (atop the Houses of Parliament), and the River Thames. Cross the river and take a spin on the London Eye, a massive Ferris wheel on the South Bank with unbeatable views of the city. Spend the rest of the day wandering the shops in Covent Garden or browsing the British Museum’s incredible collection of global, historical artifacts.
On your second day, consider a double-decker bus tour. Tickets are usually valid for 24 hours, and multiple circuits allow easy hop-on, hop-off access to every major sightseeing destination in the city. The tourist buses are more expensive than taking the Tube, but they’re also more fun. Travel out to Knightsbridge and South Kensington to visit Harrods and the Natural History Museum, then head east toward St. Paul’s Cathedral, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, and Millennium Bridge. Buses are also a great way to reach distant landmarks, such as Tower Bridge and the Tower of London.
Take advantage of any remaining time to explore Regent’s Park, Hyde Park, or Hampstead Heath. And on your last night in the city, rest your feet at one of the West End’s award-winning musicals or plays, such as Billy Elliot or The Woman in Black.
England may be a small country, but it is bursting with natural beauty. To paraphrase Bill Bryson, if America is a wilderness, then Britain is a garden. Your first stop on your way out of London should be the prehistoric monument of Stonehenge. If you want to beat the crowds, you’ll have to visit at dawn—but it’s worth it.
As you venture north, consider spending an afternoon in Oxford. Your family will be equally awestruck by the thousand-year-old University of Oxford and the pastoral charm of Christ Church Meadow.
Spend a day just west of Oxford in the Cotswolds, designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty by the UK government in 1966. This is the England you’ve been daydreaming about: stone-built villages, grassy, rolling hills, and quaint footbridges over trickling streams. Follow the Cotswold Way National Trail on foot through the scenic and historic sights of the region.
End your trip on a high note (literally) in the Peak District. Hike across the moors, dales, woodlands, and rivers of Dark Peak and White Peak, then take an underground boat ride through Speedwell Cavern to the infamous Bottomless Pit. The geography of this region is truly spectacular, so make sure to charge your camera battery before you arrive.
By splitting your time between dizzying London and the peaceful countryside beyond it, you can capitalize on all the best of what this beautiful country has to offer. Get in touch to join our 2015 summer trip.
Liz and Mike Kohler
Co-Founders of The Family Odyssey