Beyond London – 2 Real Alternatives for Your London Vacation Plans

Yes, it’s all happening in the great metropolis we call London but there’s also a huge amount going on beyond the fringes of the capital.

London is surrounded by the Home Counties, Hertfordshire, Essex, Kent, Surrey, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Middlesex, East Sussex and West Sussex.

Beyond the Home Counties are lots of interesting places that you probably will have heard of – and may well want to visit. Places like Stonehenge, Bath, Oxford, Cambridge and Windsor are all within easy reach of London.

And then there’s Stratford. In fact, there are two Stratfords – one in east London, home of the Olympics in 2012, and the other one, Stratford-Upon-Avon, which was the home of William Shakespeare, who lived between 1564 and 1616.

So, when planning your trip to London, think about these two real alternatives which are a bit further afield – they may well also provide some interesting (and much cheaper) options when you’re choosing where to stay.

1. Brighton – ‘London by the Sea’

Brighton, often regarded as ‘London by the sea’, is southern England’s fun city and the destination for students, bohemians and a traditional short-stay vacation hotspot for working Londoners, ever since the railways first connected the English capital with the coast in1840.

One of Brighton’s most eye-catching landmarks is the Royal Pavilion, once the holiday residence of King George IV (King George the Fourth), who lived between 1762 and 1830.

Another iconic landmark here in Brighton is the Palace Pier – a fine example of Victorian English seaside architecture. This pier is typically English, and the place to buy your souvenirs, have your fortune told, and eat “candy floss” (cotton candy).

Brighton boasts several attractions as well as the pier – not least the beach above which it stands. It’s not sandy but pebbly, so it’s not exactly comparable to Spain’s Costa Del Sol, but it does offer a pleasant opportunity to dip your toes in the English Channel.

Another highlight in the town is the area known as The Lanes, which is home to numerous little shops, pubs, caf├ęs and restaurants set along historic narrow streets. This relaxed, bohemian area is highly recommended.

The countryside which surrounds Brighton offers a peaceful, natural nature. Stretching east of Brighton is a coastline bordered by broad, rolling green downs, or hills.

This area, known as the South Downs Way, runs for 100 miles along the chalk hills of England’s south coast, and in April 2010, it officially became the country’s ninth national park. Beachy Head is a highlight of the South Downs Way. Its white cliffs are often mistaken for Dover’s. Really, it’s the same chalk, just further west along the coast.

2. Oxford – ‘No Ordinary Town’

Let’s get one thing clear right now – Oxford is no ordinary town.

For a start, the world-renowned university here, which is among the most popular Oxford attractions, is the oldest English-speaking university in the world (established in around 1096).

Its many buildings reflect every style of architectural design used in Britain since the arrival of the Saxons in 410 AD and Oxford’s nickname – “the city of dreaming spires” – refers to the harmonious architecture of the university buildings.

Oxford normally sees the number of visitors hit the 3.5 million mark, but in 2012, this figure is likely to rise considerably with the influx of tourists from across the world coming to the UK for the Olympics that year, as well as for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations and also WorldPride, which London is hosting.

Also in the list of popular Oxford attractions is something quite rare in any list of tourist attractions anywhere in the world – a book store!

Blackwells Books, which was founded in 1879 and can be found on Broad Street, just like the university, is not ordinary. It claims to have the largest single room devoted to book sales in Europe, the cavernous Norrington Room (10,000sq.ft.). They managed to create such a large space by excavating under neighboring Trinity College Gardens.

In fact Blackwell’s isn’t just one Oxford bookstore – but nine! The main store holds holds 250,000 volumes, but there are also specialised stores for art, music, rare books, paperbacks, maps and travel, medicine, children’s books, and a university bookstore. The main store also has a large used books section.

Oxford attractions also include seven museums, including the internationally-renowned Ashmolean Museum, which was Britain’s first official museum. You can find it on Beaumont Street and admission is free.

There are plenty other Oxford attractions, including Carfax Tower, the Botanic Gardens and the Sheldonian Theatre, which was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, one of the best-known and highest-acclaimed English architects in history and who later went on to design his masterpiece, St Paul’s Cathedral in London.