London Part II: Outside the City

Please go here to check out the first part of this post.

After spending a few days in the city of London, I wanted to take a day trip (or two) to explore some of the awesome things nearby. The first of these trips was to Windsor Castle, the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world, as well as the Queen’s preferred residence. Originally built in the 11th century by William the Conqueror, Windsor Castle’s history is as grand as its appearance. Some of the highlights include the State Apartments, which were built by King Charles II to rival his cousin’s spectacular residence in Versailles, as well as St. George’s Chapel with its magnificent gothic architecture and the burial place of several monarchs including the infamous Henry VIII. Also, try not to miss the changing of the guard, which takes place every morning at 11 AM. Unfortunately, photos are not allowed inside the castle, and much of the place is (understandably) off-limits to visitors, so despite its enormous size, you can comfortably see most of the complex in just a couple of hours.

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Windsor Castle, the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world.

Another fantastic half-day trip is Hampton Court Palace. Located within the suburbs of London, the palace is very easy to reach using the underground. Hampton Court Palace was the royal residence of Henry VIII, one of England’s most infamous kings. Among other things, Henry VIII was known for having six wives, two of whom he executed, as well as initiating the English Reformation due to the Pope’s refusal to annul his marriage to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. While Hampton Court Palace is not quite as grand as Windsor Castle, it has a more authentic feel about it. You can wander freely around the Great Hall, the Chapel Royal, the kitchens and gardens (which have lots of deer!), and see things much as they appeared when Henry VIII was its chief resident. In addition, there are actors that often put on short impromptu performances recollecting conversations or events as they might have occurred within the castle walls. It makes for a very fun experience overall.

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Hampton Court Palace, home of King Henry VIII

Although a bit further out from the city, another worthwhile day trip is Canterbury. Canterbury is a small medieval city about one hour east of London. While the entire city is filled with charming medieval architecture, its star attraction is the magnificent Canterbury Cathedral, which towers above the city. Canterbury is a major Christian pilgrimage site, and is best known for the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170. The archbishop was murdered by knights of King Henry II, who, due to the king’s quarrels with Becket, mistakenly thought that he wanted Becket murdered. One can see the exact spot where Archbishop Becket (now a saint) was supposedly murdered. Another very cool item that was on display during my visit is the second folio of Shakespeare’s works. This is only the second ever printing of Shakespeare’s collection of works, and was published by his friends in 1632, several years after his death. I may not be the biggest Shakespeare fan in the world, but it was still fascinating to gaze on such a historical volume.

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World Heritage Canterbury Cathedral
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Shakespeare’s second folio, published in 1632

While I’m on the subject of cathedrals, there’s another quite magnificent cathedral within the city of London which I’ve neglected to mention thus far. This is, of course, St. Paul’s Cathedral. Built by the famous architect Christopher Wren on the site of a much earlier church, St. Paul’s is the 2nd largest cathedral in the UK, with a dome that towers over much of the city (in fact it was the tallest building in London until only 50 years ago). You can climb more than 300 feet up to the dome for fantastic views of the city, or pay a visit to the crypt to view the tombs of famous historical figures like Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington. Keep in mind that St. Pauls is massive, so try to allow a good couple of hours for your visit. Another tip: The normal entrance price for visitors is a painful 16 pounds, but if you go during evening services (held most days at 5 PM) you can get in for free! Keep in mind that a lot of the sights will be off-limits at this time however.

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St. Paul’s Cathedral

While there’s still loads more to see in and around London, it was time for me to venture west to visit the famous university town of Oxford as well as revisit ancient Roman history in the city of Bath.

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