If you've come to the UK for a short trip and you're looking for a chance to get out of London, a coach trip could be the ideal way to see one of the country's top attractions without the bother of coordinating train and taxis or searching for a decent place for a quick bite. If you don't like long drives or you're worried about driving on the left, a good quality coach trip could be the answer.
Since the Stonehenge visitor center opened and the site has been restored to close to its original state, it's well worth at least a half-day visit.
Add a visit to Salisbury Cathedral, lunch and tea and you've got a well balanced day trip.
The best sources of good coach trip operators are the official tourism organizations. If a coach trip operator is listed with an official body can expect that its standards will be pitched at an acceptable level. Try theVisit Britain shop or Visit London for lists of sensibly planned, reasonably priced day trips with one or two stops.
But Say No to the Multi-Stop Coach Trip
Lots of companies offer day trips, by train or coach, that claim to make visits to top attractions easy and economical by packing in a lot of stops in one day. Typically, they bundle three or four major attractions together. This kind of trip is rarely worth your time or money and it will leave you tired, disappointed, and feeling ripped off.
One widely promoted trip that you can book before you arrive in the UK, for example, visits Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, and Bath.
Using the British Automobile Association route planner, we've worked out that this is a round trip of approximately 256 miles and involves (using motorways wherever possible) at least six hours of driving. That leaves only five hours of the advertised 11-hour day to visit:
- One of the world's most famous castles and the world's biggest occupied house
- An iconic prehistoric World Heritage site
- Jane Austen's favorite resort, another World Heritage site, and a mecca for independent shops.
Most of what you will see on a trip like this is the inside of a luxury coach and hours of bland highway scenery. If food is included, it will be of a lowest common denominator variety and you are likely to return home still believing the outdated cliché that British food is terrible.
What You Miss
- Windsor Castle - The castle itself is worth at least a half day visit. If you want to stand in line for Queen Mary's Doll House and spend time in the Queen's Drawings Gallery, you could spend a whole day there. The day-long ticket allows you to leave for lunch in Windsor. Once you've visited the castle, you can walk along the river and cross over to the fascinating late Medieval and Tudor town of Eton. This is the location of England's oldest public (i.e. private) school. The narrow, sometimes cobbled, streets are lined with quaint, half-timbered and ancient buildings still in modern use. And the views of Windsor Castle from Eton are among the best. Getting there is a matter of a 40- to 50-minute train trip from London Paddington or London Waterloo Stations and a total round-trip fair of under £12.
- Stonehenge - Stonehenge may seem to stand out on Salisbury Plain in splendid isolation but it's actually in the midst of Wiltshire a county rich in other attractions, including Longleat Safari Park, the historic city of Salisbury, the fascinating, movie-set National Trust village of Laycock. Other prehistoric sites nearby include Avebury, the location of one of Europe's most important ceremonial landscapes with a huge stone circle and a prehistoric ceremonial highway.
There is plenty near Stonehenge for a few days of exploration and at least an overnight visit. But, should you only have time for a day trip, Stonehenge and Salisbury, including 750-year-old Salisbury Cathedral, are the most sensible combination. Trains from London Waterloo to Salisbury take less than an hour and a half and tickets purchased in advance start at less than £40 for a round trip. Stonehenge tours leave frequently from Salisbury train station, as do ordinary public buses.
- Bath - Allowing only a little more than an hour for a whip around the city of Bath in a bus and a quick visit to the Roman baths is, frankly, criminal. This World Heritage site and 18th-century masterpiece of a city was made for exploring on foot. Besides Bath's unique shopping streets and the Georgian Assembly Rooms where 18th-century socialites went matchmaking, there's the new Thermae Bath Spa. There, for municipal prices, you can swim in naturally heated spa waters in a rooftop pool overlooking the Cathedral and World Heritage center of Bath. Bath is a weekend for sure with wonderful restaurants, shops, museums, and attractions. But, if you only have a day, trains to Bath from London Paddington leave frequently and take under an hour and a half. Buying two single tickets is often cheaper than buying round-trip fares and if booked in advance cost under £50.
If you have mobility problems, specialist accessible tour operators probably make more sense. Unless you are the kind of visitor who likes to tick off the boxes of the places you've been without really seeing them, these kinds of whistle stop, tours are outdated and poor value for money.