travel

The Best Day Trips & Overnight Trips From London

WEEKENDS AWAY AND DAY TRIPS FROM LONDON

One of the most common questions I’m asked is what are some of my favorite day trips or overnight trips to add to an itinerary while visiting London. For starters, there are loads of great options- far more than I can condense into a single blog post! But since I’ve spent quite a bit of time exploring the UK from my extended stays in London now, I thought I’d at least share my favorites thus far to help you as you plan your travels. What I have listed as day trips vs. overnight trips is completely arbitrary based on my personal experiences, but hopefully these serve as a helpful starting point to more effectively plan your time.

DAY TRIPS:

CAMBRIDGE:

CAMBRIDGE ENGLAND

In just a quick hour by train from King’s Cross Station (and a few others around London) you can be in Cambridge, a charming University town known for it’s quaint streets and beautiful buildings. Once an important trading town back in Roman times, Cambridge rose in popularity when it’s famous university was established in 1209 (former alumni include Charles Darwin and Sir Isaac Newton). We honestly just arrived with no agenda and had so much fun exploring the campus, the local pubs and charming cobblestone streets. Some highlights I would recommend include:

-Climb the tower at Great St. Mary’s for a view over King’s College Chapel

-Tour King’s College Chapel (home to the largest fan vaulted ceiling in the world) and Trinity College (where 30+ Nobel Prize winners were once students. It’s famous Wren Library is home to two of Shakespeare’s first pieces).

-Go for a punting tour (essentially a boat ride along the River Cam) which is one of the most famous things to do in this town- weather permitting!

There are also loads of charming pubs along the riverbank which make for a cozy lunch spot (I recommend trying The Anchor or The Punter).

cambridge england
cambridge england




OXFORD:

OXFORD UNITED KINGDOM

In another quick hour by train from London (I departed from Paddington but loads of stations can get you here) you’ll find yourself in another prestigious university town: Oxford. Once nicknamed the “City of Dreaming Spires”,

I had the best day exploring here with my aunt and uncle: both retired professors who spent many summers at Oxford for work. Letting them be my guide, here are some of the must-see spots they took me to:

-Touring Christ Church College: This is a wealthy and prestigious college, and CC people are especially proud of the cathedral (while all Oxford colleges have chapels; the “chapel” at CC is the cathedral for the city of Oxford!) This is also where Lewis Carroll wrote his Alice in Wonderland books (the hall has characters from the books in one of the stained glass windows.) And if you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’ll also appreciate that several locations here on campus were used to film various scenes at Hogwarts in the films.

-Blackwells Bookshop: Located in the Broad Street and close to the Bodleian, this is one of the most famous bookstores in the world (I purchased a copy of “Brideshead Revisited” here- which takes place at Oxford).

-The Turf Tavern: This is a wonderful spot to have lunch! My aunt pointed out to me while we sat at the tables outside and to the back, that from that seat you have a good view of New College Tower, which is famous for its gargoyles.


-Radcliffe Square: While Oxford’s colleges scattered all around the city center, my aunt always enjoys a stroll through Radcliffe Square — which is right at the heart of Oxford. This circular library has the Bodleian to the north, the university church of St. Mary the Virgin to the south, All Souls College to the east and Brasenose College to the west. Whichever direction you choose to stroll, there is architectural beauty on all sides.

-St. Mary’s tower: Climb this ancient stone staircase for a stunning view at the top.

-The Sheldonian Theatre in the Broad Street, designed by Christopher Wren, is used for university ceremonies as well as concerts. Beautiful ceiling, uncomfortable seats!

-Bridge of Sighs is a skyway built in 1914 that connects 2 parts of Hertford College.

-Bodleian Library (which is the UK’s second largest library and contains over 11 million works).

OXFORD UNITED KINGDOM



WINDSOR:

With it’s recent spotlight from Harry & Meghan’s Royal Wedding, Windsor has become quite a popular day excursion from London. I’ve been a few times now and have always enjoyed my time in this charming little town. It’s definitely worth touring Windsor Castle (where you can currently see all the Royal Wedding outfits on display!) This is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world, and there is so much interesting information to learn audio tour (I always love doing audio tours at places like this so I can learn, but at my own pace). On the grounds of the castle, you can’t miss St George's Chapel, where the Royal Wedding was (it was so cool to sit in the choir loft exactly where the Queen did!) The chapel was designed in the high-medieval Gothic style and it’s truly an architectural marvel.

Aside from Windsor Castle, it’s also worth strolling through the little town to explore (it has so much charm!) You can feed the swans (you’ll see them along the Thames) and then head to lunch at The Boatman (a lovely little pub right along the river).


windsor castle
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HAMPTON COURT PALACE

Just 12 miles (and a short train ride) outside of London is the former home of the tyrannical Henry the VIIIth: Hampton Court Palace. I did a day trip out here with my family while there were in town visiting and I really enjoyed it a lot. Not only were the ground beautiful, but there is SO much interesting information to learn about how extensive of a staff it took to keep such an elaborate property well-kept (and such a gluttonous patriarch satisfied!) Again, I love audio tours because they let you skip the bits that doesn’t appeal, but give loads of information if you really want to dig into something else that fascinates you.

On the palace grounds, there’s also an incredible playground, also known as the “Magic Garden”, that’s perfect on a lovely day (my 10 and 12 year old cousins had a lot of fun here). We also all enjoyed doing the hedge maze, which was actually built by George London and Henry Wise for William III of Orange back in the late 1600s.

For food, we packed sandwiches from Pret because we didn’t have high expectations for what our dining options would be, but they ended up having a lovely cafe area with fresh menu items made from the gardens— so I would recommend just doing lunch there!

It’s also worth noting that in the summer they show outdoor films here on the lawn, which looked like great fun (but unfortunately didn’t align with my travel schedule).

hampton court palace

HARRY POTTER STUDIO TOUR

If you’re not a Harry Potter enthusiast, kindly disregard. But if you are, run- don’t walk to tour this incredible attraction! My brother, sister-in-law and I had such a fun day here. It’s out in Watford- which is about an hour outside of London (and it’s not super easy to get directly to the studio either). We actually booked a tour through Viator, which included our ticket, but also brought us directly to/from in a coach so we didn’t have to fret about sorting out transportation (the coach leaves from Victoria Station in central London). It definitely is an all day affair- we left around 9am and didn’t get back until about 5pm (can vary depending on London traffic!) It takes a good 3-4 hours at least to go through the entire experience (could be more or less depending on your level of interest).

harry potter studio tour london united kingdom
harry potter studio tour london united kingdom



OVERNIGHT/WEEKEND TRIPS:

BATH

Bath certainly has more to offer than what you can squeeze into a day (in my opinion anyway!) We loved coming here for just under 48 hours for a quick little history lesson and to marvel at the beautiful Georgian-style architecture (it’s often referred to as Edinburgh’s little sister, and if you’ve been you’ll understand why when you see it!)

Bath has been a wellbeing destination since Roman times (and the waters are still a big draw, both at the ancient Roman Baths and the thoroughly modern Thermae Bath Spa, which houses one of the 2 only natural thermal hot springs in Britain you can bathe in.)

If you were on the fence about whether to stay overnight or not- let the Gainsborough Bath Hotel & Spa tip the scale for you. This hotel was voted “Best Hotel in the UK” by Condé Nast Traveller, and it’s not hard to see why. Their service is unparalleled, the interior is a beautiful fusion of classic and contemporary, the cuisine at their in-house restaurant is delicious, and my favorite bit? The Spa Village Bath.

Again, if you’re looking to spend some time in Bath’s infamous thermal waters, your options are either a more public/accessible route through Thermae Bath Spa (which we also visited and really enjoyed) or The Spa Village Bath at The Gainsborough (pictured below).

BATH UNITED KINGDOM
gainesboro hotel bath spa

It’s worth mentioning once more what a delight it was to stay at The Gainsborough. Treat yourself to a luxurious stay and I promise you that you won’t regret it for a second.

Some other things you should add to your to-do list whilst in Bath? Here’s what my friends at Visit Bath recommended (and we throughly enjoyed).

-Visit the Roman Baths: Immerse yourself in history and see how Bath’s former residents relaxed all those centuries ago. Interactive exhibits and CGI reconstructions bring this unique ancient site back to life, showing how important the baths were to our Roman ancestors.

-Climb Bath Abbey’s Tower: Take the Bath Abbey Tower Tour to see the different, working side of this iconic landmark. Ascend 212 steps to the top, and you will climb past the ringing chamber to the bell chamber, to have the chance to stand above the Abbey’s vaulted ceiling and sit behind the clock face. Once you reach the roof, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views over the city and surrounding countryside.

-Get Lost in Austen: Visit The Jane Austen Centre to delve into the life of Britain’s favourite author. Exhibits and costumed characters tell the story of Austen’s time spent living here in Bath between 1801 and 1806 and the impact it had on her work.

-See Bath from Another Angle: Take a stroll on the Bath Skyline Walk. Just a short distance from the city centre, this six-mile route takes you through lush meadows, secluded valleys and ancient woodlands. Alongside the natural splendour, you’ll also take in some spectacular wide-angle vistas of beautiful Bath.

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THE COTSWOLDS


I actually wrote a blog post on this region that will provide a lot more valuable information than I can fit in this little section— head here for more information!

BROADWAY COTSWOLDS ENGLAND
COTSWOLDS

four seasons hampshire united kingdom
Four Seasons Hampshire UK

I technically did just come here for a day trip, but having done so I would recommend Four Seasons Hampshire for an overnight getaway from chaotic London. My friend Victoria and I came for a little spa getaway and lunch, but there is so much more to enjoy here than just that! The property as a whole offers lush English gardens, horseback riding along the rolling hills, and is all set in a restored, 18th-century manor on 500 acres of picturesque grounds outside of London. I’ve always loved visiting Four Seasons properties around the world— their staff is consistently incredible and the quality of attention they put into every detail is unparalleled.

four seasons hampshire united kingdom
four seasons hampshire spa uk
four seasons hampshire united kingdom

This is a post I’ll continue to add to over time, because my list of day trips and weekend trips has not been completed! There are so many lovely places to explore, but hopefully this gives you a good starting point to help plan. Have you done a day trip, overnight trip, or weekend trip near London that I failed to mention? Tell me in the comments below so I can visit it as well!

Thanks as always for stopping by!

xx

Whitney

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SPRING TRAVEL ANNOUNCEMENT

SHE LOVES ADVENTURE

Ever since I left Europe, I’ve gotten lots of questions about what’s next. I’ve been asked by you guys via Snapchat or in e-mails, from friends I recently re-connected with after being away, and even from people that I’m just meeting for the first time when they hear that I just moved back.

 

First and foremost, my answer isn’t that I’m simply going back to normal life at home. As dramatic as it may sound, my “normal" life died a long time ago. For a while that term could have meant having my same circle of friends I had always had. Then it spoke more to having a great corporate job.  Then it was a season of navigating starting a business, followed by a season of planning to move abroad. Long story short, things have progressively become less and less “normal” in my life these past few years, so I wouldn’t really know which of those normal lives to go back to, even if I tried.

 

So if I’m not going “back to normal” that brings us back to the original question: what’s next?

 

The long term answer is that I’m still figuring that out. While I do have several possibilities I’m mulling over, the reality is that none of them are certain yet. I mean, do any of us actually know what we’ll be doing later this year? You may think you do, but life has a funny way of throwing us curveballs...

 

As for the short-term future, I’ve had something up my sleeve for a little while now that I’m excited to share: I’m hitting the road in February for a six-week road trip to the west coast and back!

 

Seeing so much of Europe made me realize how many places I still haven’t seen in my own country (there really are so many wonderful places to travel in the US).  I’ve never seen the Grand Canyon or lots of other National Parks. I’ve never seen some of the amazing cities in the southwest. I’ve never been to some of the spots I’ve always wanted to go in cities where I’ve already been. So since I already had a few speaking gigs coming up at Universities out west (and since my car had a nice little break for about 5 months) I decided I want to hit the road and see some of the best travel destinations in the US before making any further plans abroad. 

 

I’ll be using the next few weeks to sort out details from the last adventure and to prep for this next one. I can’t share all the confirmed locations just yet (gotta keep some mystery!) but to give you a little taste of what’s to come, expect to see travel guides featuring: SantaFe, The Grand Canyon, Palm Springs and a handful of surprises that I can’t wait to share!

 

I also have a few open slots in my itinerary if you’re interested in booking me to stop through your city and host a goal workshop for you and your friends. I love hosting these dinners + dreaming big with people, and there’s no better time than the first of the year to make the happen! Click below to learn more or shoot me a note at: theblondeatlas@gmail.com.

 

 

Lastly, if you have any requests for cities you’d like to see travel guides on or any suggestions you think I should check out, I’d love for you to share in the comments below! 

Stay tuned for more details to come, and cheers to another year of adventure ahead!

xx- Whitney

 

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How To Sleep On A Plane

HOW TO SLEEP ON A PLANE

When traveling abroad, chances are you'd like to try to catch some z's on your flight. If you're a fantastic sleeper (or perhaps a narcoleptic) this may not be an issue. If you're like me however, sleeping at opportune moments isn't quite that simple. 

Over the years, I've sought sleep assistance on international flights from just about everything you can think of: lavender oil, bedtime tea, heavy wine pours and getting my physician to write me an Ambien prescription. I've even tried combining all of the above (which, for the record, I wouldn't recommend).  All commentary aside, I've learned it really just comes down these 3 simple steps: 

 

1. HYDRATE BEFORE THE FLIGHT

It's no secret that water consumption is crucial to your overall well-being, but it's especially important before a flight (air cabins have zero humidity, thus drying you out even more).  Not only does this dehydration contribute to jet lag, but it can also impact your quality of sleep. Knowing this, most people make the common mistake of chugging as much water as they can before and during their flight, which (as you can imagine) leads to many trips to the less-than-luxurious bathroom facilities. Rather than overdoing it during or right before a flight, make a conscious effort to be drinking water non-stop throughout the day in the lead up to your flight. If you're someone that won't remember to drink water throughout the day, try chugging lots of it the morning of your flight rather than the hours right before. And be sure to have a water bottle with you on the flight so you can take small sips at your convenience, rather than drinking a full glass all at once during the in-flight service. Some of my favorites include this Hydro Flask if you prefer water that's always cold, this Camelback or this glass water bottle if you want to avoid drinking out of plastic, and also this S'well bottle if you're looking for a fun print. 

 

 

2. GET COMFORTABLE

You probably wouldn't sleep in stiff jeans or leather leggings at home in your bed, so avoid doing so on your flight. I find the best "travel uniform" to be lots of layers that include: leggings (also here and here), a light weight tunic (also here), some sort of wrap or scarf (here, here, and here

But aside from the clothes you wear, there's no one-size-fits-all when it comes to cozy, so know what works for you. If you're a cuddler  + need something to snuggle against, book a window seat. If you're someone that needs neck support, bring a neck pillow. If you always sleeps with a sleep mask at home, bring one with you on the plane. If your feet are perpetually cold, bring some warm socks. Don't just buy the stuff you see in SkyMall because it promises you'll sleep like a baby-- you know what works for you. Do that

 

 

3. KNOW WHEN TO CALL IN REINFORCEMENTS

You can do all the right things and sometimes, you just still can't sleep. Sure, it doesn't hurt to try things like lavender oil or bed time tea, but if you know you're a terrible sleeper, you may want to go ahead and plan for more drastic measures. If stretching out in first/business class isn't in your price range, talk to your doctor about a sleeping pill. I had never successfully slept on a plane prior to my first trip to Europe and I knew when we landed in Rome I would want to hit the ground running, not nap. I made an appointment with my General Physician to explain my predicament. She wrote me an RX for 4 tabs of Ambien and advised me to try one at home in my own bed prior to my travels (to ensure it worked for me and I didn't have some freak incident during my flight.) It worked like a charm. Proceed with caution however: there are tons of sleep aids on the market (ZzzQuil, Melatonin, etc.) and everyone reacts differently to them all. Whatever you think may work for you, I'd recommend taking my doctor's advice and trying it at home first before any travels. 

 

 

Any other tricks you've learned to help you sleep on a plane? Let me know in the comments below!

Safe travels, friends!

xx- Whit