The London Loop: Wales and England's Lowlands
|Time Zone Sign Post: Big ol' Big Ben (PhotoDisc)|
|The Real Hard Rock: Stonehenge (PhotoDisc)|
Once you get used to driving on the left side of the road and navigating England's dicey roundabouts, you'll realize that the United Kingdom is ideal for explorations by auto. In this ten-day loop through southern England and Wales, centuries-old churches and millennia-old rock art are pleasantly interspersed with mountain biking in a national park, fishing on the Isle of Man, and scenic drives through castle- and cottage-studded countryside.
Days 1-2: London
Arrive in London and shake off that jet lag with a hearty stroll. In Covent Garden's cobblestone streets, you'll find quirky shops, cafes, and restaurants—check out Neal's Yard Dairy (17 Shorts Gardens, Covent Garden; +188.8.131.52.5700; www.nealsyarddairy.co.uk), where shoppers can taste morsels of 65 traditional cheddars and stiltons. Start the next day with the London Eye (+44.0.870.990.8883; www.londoneye.com), an enormous futuristic Ferris wheel on the southern bank of the River Thames near Big Ben that thrusts passengers 440 feet above the river for views of the city's abundant attractions. Choosing the next stop is trickier: examine Titians and Rembrandts at the National Gallery (Trafalgar Square; +44.0.020.7747.2885; www.nationalgallery.org.uk ) or Picassos and Magrittes at the Tate Modern (Bankside; +44.20.7887.8888; www.tate.org.uk/modern)? See the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum (Great Russell Street; +184.108.40.20623.8000; www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk) or the crown jewels at the Tower of London (+44.0.870.756.6060)? Stroll through the flea markets, shops, and grand estates in Notting Hill or give over to the mayhem of Piccadilly Circus? When you're worn from the tourist drill, decompress amid orchids, roses, and lilacs at the Royal Botanic Gardens (+220.127.116.112.5655; www.rbgkew.org.uk) at Kew, about six miles southwest of the city center on the south bank of the Thames. Afterwards, refuel on some of London's finest cuisine. No, that's not a misprint. Contrary to popular opinion, England has some great cuisine—London's profusion of Indian, Thai, Japanese, Spanish, and Greek restaurants, to name a few. Of the many, try out Jai Krishna (161 Stroud Green Road), a cheap veggie Indian joint with a modest corkage fee and a grumpy owner to complete the dining experience. Afterwards, wander up the road to the Old Dairy pub for a few pints.
Days 3-4: London to Bath (120 Miles)
After a brunch of tea, scones, and clotted cream at The Orangery in Kensington Gardens (+44.0.270.376.0239), depart for Bath, about 120 miles west of the city. Along the way, contemplate the Neolithic rock formations at Stonehenge (+18.104.22.168.3835; www.english-heritage.org.uk/stonehenge), a UNESCO World Heritage Site that stretches across 6,424 acres of English countryside composed of the world-famous stone circle as well as more than 300 burial mounds and other prehistoric monuments.
In Bath, follow in the footsteps of 2,000 years worth of tourists, who came for the natural hot springs and impressively complex baths built by the Romans. Dive into history at the Roman Baths Museum (Pump Room, Stall Street; +22.214.171.1247.7785; www.romanbaths.co.uk), where you can tour the ancient pools and pump house. Then take a dip yourself and absorb the views from the Thermae Bath Spa's rooftop pool, slated to open by April (The Hetling Pump Room; Hot Bath Street; +126.96.36.1993.1234; www.thermaebathspa.com). While in Bath, also consider seeing Bath Abbey (+188.8.131.522.2462; www.bathabbey.org), a soaring medieval church, or the Museum of Costume (Bennett Street; +184.108.40.2067.7173; www.museumofcostume.co.uk), which displays about 200 figures in get-ups from the 16th century to the present. Weary of the city? Rent a bike and cruise the quiet, green lanes of Bath's suburbs.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication