London is often the starting point for any tour of the UK and, if your visit is limited to just a few days, beginning your journey in the south-east of the country is arguably where you’ll get most out of your time.
England’s capital contains some of the world’s most recognisable landmarks. Tours of the city’s many attractions can be undertaken atop a traditional open-topped double-decker bus or on one of the Thames Clippers, cruisers that ply their trade up and down London’s famous river. Of course, you can learn to make your own way around via the ‘Tube’. London’s Underground electric rail system is one of the oldest in the world and you’re never far from one of its 274 stations. But the best way to get an oversight of the city is on the London Eye, the world’s tallest cantilever wheel which offers views of all of the capital’s most famous buildings including St Paul’s Cathedral and Buckingham Palace from one of 32 glass gondolas.
Back at ground level, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and Trafalgar Square are all within comfortable walking distance, while floating museum HMS Belfast and Downing Street, home of the British Prime Minister, are also close by.
London also has some fabulous museums including the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum, which are next door to each other in South Kensington, Madame Tussauds on Baker Street and the London Dungeon, which is close to historic London Bridge.
London’s city centre features some of the world’s most famous stores for those looking for a souvenir to take home. Harrods can be found in Knightsbridge along with Harvey Nichols, while Fortnum & Mason is situated in Piccadilly and Selfridges is on Oxford Street. For the kids, giant toy shop Hamleys can be found on Regent Street.
After dark, the West End is the place to be for entertainment with countless restaurants, cafes and bars servicing almost 30 top-class theatres which host musicals, plays and revues all-year round. Those preferring more cultured entertainment might choose the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden or a concert at the Royal Albert Hall or the stunning O2 Arena.
The London area is littered with grand Royal palaces and most are open to the public. Hampton Court Palace and its historic maze is one of several slightly further a field, as is Windsor Castle, one of the official residences of Her Majesty The Queen. The Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew has the most extensive collection of plant species in the world and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
But the south-east of England has much more to offer than just the capital, there are also some attractions nearby for all the family. Chessington World of Adventures near Epsom in Surrey features themed rides, a zoo and even has a hotel on site, while Legoland in Windsor is a paradise for all those who grew up with the building brick. Thorpe Park, at Chertsey in Surrey, is just 30 minutes by train from London’s Waterloo station and features the SAW, which claims to be the world’s most terrifying rollercoaster.
But if that’s too lively, how about a visit to Stonehenge? Bus tours are available from London which includes a visit to the mystical stone circle monument in Wiltshire as well as a few hours in the historic Roman city of Bath. Other locations within a day’s drive of a London base include Oxford, Matthew Arnold’s ‘city of dreaming spires’ and home to one of the world’s most famous universities, and Stratford-Upon-Avon. A walk through the streets of Shakespeare’s birthplace, on the edge of the picturesque Cotswolds, is like taking a walk back through time. Timber-fronted homes, shops and restaurants line the medieval city centre and, if you have time, you can take a boat ride on the peaceful River Avon or take in a play, Shakespeare naturally, at one of three theatres. Nearby is the impressive Warwick Castle or if your itinerary takes you east of London, Leeds Castle in Kent is equally impressive. Built in the 13th century, the island fortress is filled with art treasures and antiques and is the perfect stop-over point if planning a visit to the famous white cliffs of Dover.