You’ve probably seen these tours that promise you the moon. All of England in one day? How is that even remotely possible?
Well, it’s not. Clearly.
But are these sweeping, “see-it-all” tours worth it?
I’m kinda torn about them. I like to settle into one place for a few days and really explore it, get a good sense of its vibe. But sometimes (most times for me) it’s just not an option to settle into several places on one trip. So you can either see things on a whirlwind tour like this one, or not see them at all. When I was recently in London, I knew that I may not make it back to England for some time. So I could either get out of London for a day and see some of the other sites, or risk never seeing them, ever.
My tour started at Victoria Coach Station (not to be confused with the Victoria Underground Station), where we boarded a super comfy bus and met our tour guide, John. John was a real gem, a stage actor who happened to be incredibly knowledgeable about British history. On our way to Stratford-upon-Avon, he told us entertaining and dramatic stories about England’s medieval royalty. But as we approached Stratford, he gave us cool biographical tidbits about Shakespeare and then broke into full Shakespeare mode, reciting (performing!) various sonnets and speeches. It was so cool.
When we arrived at Shakespeare’s house, we had champagne (yes, you can do that in the morning when you’re on vacation) and scones with clotted cream. Yum! Then we got to wander the grounds and explore the house, which is staffed by people fully in character.
The boys’ bedroom
And their cute little toys (not Shakespeare’s actual toys, but the replicas of what he would have played with).
The parents’ room and a cradle like the one baby Shakespeare slept in:
And outside, actors perform scenes from Shakespeare’s plays, on request. It’s like a Shakespeare jukebox!
I was really here. 🙂 And the town is good for a little stroll. We didn’t have a ton of time here (one of the hazards of these types of tours), but it definitely whets the appetite for a future trip.
Next, we made our way to Bath. Winding through the English countryside, our tour guide continued the story of England while pointing out interesting sites along the way, like Jane Seymour’s house. And then this scene popped up. Beautiful Bath.
Of course the name of the town comes from its history as a site of Roman baths, so that was the first thing I wanted to see.
They have a very cool museum that tells the story of the baths and features reconstructions of what the complex looked like during Roman times (and everything in between then and now).
I’m a real museum junky (yeah, I’m a party animal like that), so I kinda got lost in here and used a lot of my precious time. Looking back, I wish I had cruised through the museum, grabbed a book about it (which I actually did do, because I never leave without a book), and then had more time to wander the town. Because oh, my goodness, I LOVE this town.
And here it is up close. Stunning.
I can’t say I’m really a foodie. I mean, I like good food, but eating is mostly something I have to do to fuel the rest of my life, so I don’t really think about it. In fact, it kind of gets in my way when I have limited time to see a place. I didn’t want to stop to eat in Bath, but I was starving, so I grabbed a pasty (one of my favorite British foods) from West Cornwall Pasty Co., per the recommendation of our tour guide. And it did not disappoint.
Pasties are kinda like calzones, delicious hand pies filled with whatever you love. I’m a vegetarian, so I got one with potatoes, carrots, and onions. Simple but so satisfying.Then I just wandered the streets, imagining what it was like in Jane Austen’s day when Bath was the center of social activity and shopping. I read Northanger Abbey in preparation for my trip, and that made it so much more fun.
Speaking of Jane Austen, Bath has a Jane Austen Center, where you can learn all about our beloved authoress, try on period costumes, have tea, and get your picture taken with Mr. Bennett’s doppelgänger.
Mostly, I just couldn’t get over how beautiful Bath is. And I loved the vibe: relaxed and chill, but not sleepy, and filled with so many stories. I’m definitely planning a Bath-centric vacation in the future. I need several days to really feel this town.
Next, we were off to our final site, Stone Henge. But not before winding through the Cotswolds, which is a huge area of little English villages, the ones in all the prettiest pictures. Unfortunately, this particular day tour doesn’t actually stop in the Cotswolds, but it did add yet another item to my bucket list, because even just passing through, these villages are so alluring.
To be really honest, I wasn’t stoked about Stone Henge. I went because I felt like I should. I mean, shouldn’t we all see it? So I was pretty surprised by how much I loved it! Despite the hundreds of years of study, this place is still largely a mystery. The audio guide makes sense of it all. The gift shop is filled with fascinating books about the history and lore surrounding this strange pile of rocks, how it was built, and what it might have been used for. I nabbed one for my kids, and they ended up really, really loving it.
We were fortunate to arrive late in the afternoon, so we had amazing light. With the surrounding wide open fields and big sky, I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to get a bad picture of Stone Henge. Here’s what I got.
And one as the sun was going down.
This was a 12-hour tour, and if I’m being totally honest, we spent most of that time on the tour bus (these places are pretty far apart). But I’m so glad I did it! After all, do I want to see Stratford-upon-Avon? Yes, definitely! Am I going to get a vacation just for Stratford, ever in my life? Probably not. So it’s worth it to me to take one day out of my London visit to get out and see this stuff. The fact that the road trip itself was so comfortable, informative, and entertaining is just a really nice bonus.
What do you think? Are these whirlwind tours worth it?
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