Seeing the sites outside of London can be a challenge for Americans. Unused to driving from the right side of the car, or the left side of the road, driving here is less than relaxing. Instead tour the countryside with a group whose size best fits your needs. Our tour with Evan Evans, for $125 each, delivered lots of sites, but was not necessarily for everyone.
Be prepared for a very full day, the typical bus tour begins at 7:30am, and continues into the early evening. The biggest struggle is choosing the best tour; every decision eliminates another must-see option.
Warrick Castle, type cast straight out of a King Arthur novel, is a two-hour drive from London. Completely furnished, with period dressed actors, animatronic waxworks figures, smells and sound effects, you will feel as if you have stepped back in time. Horses hooves pound as the jousting begins, falconry is explained as birds of prey soar overhead, and soldiers boast of battle. Upstairs in the grand chambers, the castles last residents gossip about their life, and party guest, Winston Churchill questions if you have met. Centuries of castle life spread out before you, except you only have 1 1/2 hours to experience it all.
At Shakespeare's birthplace in Stratford on Avon, half-timbered houses, known as wattle and daub, look today as they did in the 1500's. Knowledgeable, period dressed guides share detailed accounts of the cottages history. Graffiti etched into the windowpanes, speaks of tourists visits since the 18th century. "My kingdom for a horse," we would have given our kingdom for a few more minutes to sightsee.
Charming countryside dotted with centuries old limestone structures pass by the windows. Once only the realm of sheep, vast fields are now adorned with yellow flowers, destined to become canola oil, barley and wheat as well. Homes, unchanged for generations, feature picture perfect thatched roofs, and riotous flowers bloom on every windowsill. Sadly with such a tight schedule, there is only time for a brief photo stop from the bus.
In Oxford, expect to see Harry, Ron and Hermione around every corner. The basis for several scenes in the famous Harry Potter series, colleges cover much of Oxford. Inside the dining hall, feel as if you are on the set, missing only the bewitched ceiling. Wonder if the stonemason’s stamp was the inspiration for Harry’s scar. Wander through the individual colleges, as university students have for generations. Visit the pub where famous authors got their inspiration. But time marches on, so back to the bus.
Finally, finish your tour at the tube station, and navigate back to your hotel, tired but satisfied.
While delivering multiple sites, and the best prices, a big bus tour can feel rushed. On mini bus tour can you actually visit local towns in the Cotswolds, traveling on scenic back roads, but these tours operate less frequently, include fewer sights, and cost about $25 more each. On a private tour choose exactly what you see, and how long you remain; groups of 4 pay $250 each. Save time by using an experienced travel agent, to help you determine the perfect tour for you.
Regardless of which type of tour you choose, make the choice to get out of London and discover more of what the United Kingdom has to offer.
Yes, it is cold but not unbearably. Crowds have all gone home and the lights twinkle even more brightly. Your reward, the ability to see more; Instead of hours long lines, wait only minutes to explore the magic of Paris.
A visit here requires substantial planning. The sheer size is overwhelming, but you can hop on a tourist bus for a great overview. Unlike many European counterparts, Paris’ biggest sites are not within easy walking distance. Sit back on the bus and let the famous sites roll by, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre and Sacre Coeur Cathedral. Now with your favorite choices in mind, it is easier to budget your time.
Consider purchasing the Paris Museum pass. www.en.parismuseumpass.com. Valid at over 60 museums, you can sample the museums, then return to those you enjoy. A simple calculation will determine if the price of the pass is worth it for you. Extremely convenient in winter, during peak season this is a huge time saver.
Climb the tower at Notre Dame Cathedral. The winding staircase seems to spiral up forever. Reward yourself with a close up view of the gargoyles, and a panoramic view of the city. The Sacre Coeur is perched on a hill in the distance is an awesome sight.
Discover the riot of colored glass in the Sainte Chappelle. Multi colored glass casts a warm glow all around. Bible stories told in the colorful images stretch to the ceiling.
Transport yourself to Monet’s home in Giverney when you step in to L’Orangerie Museum. Marvel at the room size paintings wrapped around the walls. Sit quietly and contemplate, with the smaller crowds you don’t have to hurry.
Prepare to be overwhelmed at the Louvre. The largest museum in the world with over six miles of galleries; there is no way to see the whole museum in a day. Using the museum pass, make several short visits, and focus on your must-see items.
Stroll through the Latin Quarter, birthplace of Paris, and home of university students for centuries. Find a café, sit back and take in the atmosphere.
What visit to Paris would be complete without a trip to the Eiffel Tower. Originally reviled by the Parisians, the tower has become synonymous with the city of light. Indulge in a meal, or simply take the elevator to the top.
Sample the food; Nutella crepes from street side vendors; mouthwatering croissants, completely unlike their US counterparts; and chocolate perfection. No wonder Paris is synonymous with food.
Arrive mid November through early January for the famous Christmas market. Stroll past the 150 authentic chalets along the Champs Elysses. Sample delectable deserts and a myriad of cheeses, and wines. Browse among the teeming stalls. With the several hundred dollars you save traveling off-season, you can splurge.
The holiday lights add to Paris’ enchanting nightscape. Take a tour and soak up the ambiance. Climb the Arc de Triumph at night for a bird’s eye view of the sparkling lights changing color, and the hourly twinkling lights on the Eiffel Tower.