The south west of England is filled with vibrant centres of culture, heritage and ancient monuments that rise up out of sweeping moorland and overlook dramatic coastlines.
This is where England’s tumultuous past shakes hands with its demure present, where tasteful modern architecture sits side by side with the half-timbered heritage of Tudor times, and Georgian elegance complements the inimitable skill of medieval masons. Visitors travelling by train are rewarded with breathtaking views, fresh seafood and independent shops that warmly celebrate English individuality and eccentricity.
By using the First Great Western trains from London-Paddington railway station, you’ll be able to visit several landmarks and towns of South England.
London > Oxford
Start in Oxford (1h trip from London), best known for its world-famous university, which is split into a number of architecturally sumptuous colleges, each steeped in history and an impressive roll-call of famous writers, thinkers and scientists. We recommend guided tours of Trinity and Christ Church colleges in particular. Next, spend a little time exploring the city centre’s excellent range of shops before heading to the Cherwell Boathouse for an afternoon’s punting on the River Isis.
Our tip: The delightfully atmospheric Holywell Music Room is the oldest concert hall in Europe, and holds classical concerts year-round.
Oxford > Salisbury - Stonehenge > Bath
Catch the train from Oxford and before long you’ll see the spire of Salisbury Cathedral soaring up out of the city of Salisbury (1h48 trip). Be sure to take a closer look when you arrive. However, Salisbury’s star attraction is Stonehenge, a short bus ride away. Spend an hour or two marvelling at the stones, before heading to Bath, where you’ll be treated to a spectacular view of Bath’s honey-coloured Georgian architecture as your train pulls into this remarkable city – a UNESCO World Heritage Site (54 min trip). Take a walking tour around its top sights; the Roman Baths and the Royal Crescent are among the most famous. Be sure to spend some time browsing Bath’s fine selection of markets and boutiques, and then get in touch with your literary side in the Jane Austen Centre.
Our tip: When in Bath, round off the day in Thermae Bath Spa, Britain’s only natural thermal spa, and relax after your hard day of exploring.
Bath > Bristol > Exeter
Bristol (32 min trip from Bath) is a thriving mix of contemporary art, music and fashion with fascinating heritage in a delightful coastal setting. The feats of one of Victorian England’s greatest engineers, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, take centre stage here, from the lofty Clifton Suspension Bridge dramatically straddling the Clifton Gorge to the SS Great Britain in the harbour. See both in the morning, then explore Bristol’s harbour-side area by boat with the Bristol Ferry Boat company for striking views of the city from the water.
In the afternoon go to Exeter (1h25 trip). You’ll love the scenic train journey southwest from Bristol Temple Meads to Exeter St David’s, through the sumptuous greens and golds of the Devonshire countryside. While Devon is best known for its vast moors, verdant countryside and delicious cream teas, the medieval cathedral city of Exeter is perhaps its crowning glory. It combines the kind of character that only centuries can bestow with a cutting-edge flourish of arts, music and excellent nightlife. The nearby great estate of Killerton House will give you a taste of country luxury.
From Exeter, you can return to London (2h30 trip), or if you have more time you can continue to the extreme south western part of England.
Our tip: Stop for a drink at Bristol’s oldest pub, the Llandoger Trow, in the Old City. For a completely different perspective on Exeter, take a guided tour of the network of 14th-century passages that run for miles beneath it; they’re the only passages of their kind in Britain.
Plymouth > Truro > Penzance
Plymouth (1h10 trip from Exeter) is one of England’s maritime honeypots, so don’t miss the city’s historic Barbican: the city’s old port. You’ll be treated to real seaside character, with cobbled streets, unique boutiques, art galleries and chic cafes tucked between Elizabethan storehouses. The Wheel of Plymouth will offer you a good look at the whole city and out to sea as it carries you up to 60 metres, as well as spotting any places you’d like to check out. If you love the water, then the Mountbatten Watersports Centre has windsurfing, waterskiing, scuba diving and all kinds of other aquatic delights. Otherwise the train will take you to your next destination - Truro (1h13 trip) – located in the Cornwall, a county which is famous for its dramatic coastline, captivating fishing harbours, spectacular beaches, diverse landscapes and much more.
Winding cobbled streets and Georgian architecture lead the eye up to the three soaring spires of Truro cathedral, which stands just a stone’s throw from the River Truro. Truro’s a city for markets, and its farmer’s market is a major draw for visitors with an eye for some good local grub. Lemon Street Market, on the other hand, is wildly varied, with everything from delicious coffee to art and organic flowers.
As the day is nearing its end take the train to Penzance (42 min trip), which features an attractive promenade on its sea front. The town has beautiful beaches as well as historic houses. Why not try one of the various restaurants on the Western Promenade road to have a romantic dinner. As a result of cuisine specialities from all over the world, Penzance claims to have more eating places per resident than New York City!
The trip back to London from Penzance will last approximately 5h20.