William Shakespeare, tortoise racing, and The Star Spangled Banner: Britain by Rail
On this itinerary you will lose yourself in academia at the university of 27 British Prime Ministers and a ‘New College’ built in the 14th century. Head to the home of Worcestershire Sauce, tomb of one of England’s most hated kings and a historic pub crawl. Then on to Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon to stand where the greatest English writer was born, lived, and is buried.
London to Oxford
Appx 1 hour journey time
During your visit you can tour one of the University of Oxford’s famous colleges, visit the magnificent Ashmolean Museum to see the Egyptian mummies, and take to the water on a punt to enjoy the views along the banks of the river Thames (though here in Oxford it is called the River Isis).
Christ Church College at Oxford University Founded in 1546 by King Henry VIII, Christ Church College is one of Oxford’s largest. Charles Lutwidge Dodgeson (who you might know as Lewis Carroll) studied mathematics here, where he met Alice Liddell, his muse and inspiration for Carroll’s world- famous tales of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Take a tour and wonder at the Great Dining Hall and the Tom Quad, the largest quadrangle in Oxford.
The Covered Market Here in the heart of Oxford there has been a market for over a thousand years. Today’s covered market is only a mere 300 years old, but you are still sure to enjoy wandering through the wooden ceilinged building which is filled to the brim with independent stalls and cafés. I highly recommend the Oxford Cheese Company, and not just for their cheese! Pick up a bottle (or in my case, several bottles) of their Oxford Sauce while you are here. Savory, sweet, and tangy all at once, Oxford Sauce is the perfect topping for fries, potatoes, savory pies, and so much more! I honestly cannot get enough of it.
New College While describing this college built in 1379 as ‘new’ might not seem fully accurate anymore, you cannot argue with the fact that this is one of the largest and most architecturally striking of Oxford's colleges as it was built as a miniature version of Windsor Castle.
Corpus Christi College Hoping for an interesting fact about Corpus Christi College? The college has always had at least one tortoise and the current one is named Foxe after the college's founder. During the annual Tortoise Fair, they invite tortoises from the other colleges and put them in the center of the back lawn, surrounded by a ring of lettuce. The first tortoise to ‘make contact with’ the lettuce wins the race.
Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology Explore the world’s oldest university museum, founded by Elias Ashmole in 1677, and today also has a rooftop restaurant. Inside the museum you will find a vast wealth of ancient and contemporary treasures, from Egyptian mummies to the lantern carried by Guy Fawkes as he set out to blow up the Lord’s Chamber of the Palace of Westminster during the State Opening of Parliament in the hopes of killing King James I.
Just beyond the city: Blenheim Palace Home of the Dukes of Marlborough, the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Blenheim Palace is a masterpiece of Baroque architecture and an awe-inspiring experience for visitors - whether it is your first time visiting or not! Easily accessible from Oxford city center, Blenheim is only a 20-minute drive. Be sure to set aside plenty of time for your visit and the explore the grounds as well as the adjacent village of Woodstock.
Oxford to Worcester
Appx 1 hour 15 minutes journey time
While it is best known for the magnificent cathedral, Worcester is also famous for the world-renowned Worcester Porcelain and the ever-popular Worcestershire Sauce.
Worcester Cathedral Visit the beautiful cathedral and see the oldest tomb of an English king and discover why his effigy was carved with eyes open. King John, infamous for being forced to sign the Magna Carta, is buried here. Perhaps surprisingly, it is also the birthplace of the National Anthem of the United States. John Stafford Smith, who was an organist in the 18th century for the annual Three Choirs Festival which has been held in Worcester since 1715, wrote The Anacreontic Song whose tune was added to the words of Francis Scott Key’s poem Defense of Fort McHenry and became The Star-Spangled Banner. Visitors can join evensong here every evening and sometimes twice on Sundays.
Birthplace of Sir Edward Elgar Today, this humble cottage is cared for by the National Trust and is dedicated to the great composer of Land of Hope and Glory. Get a glimpse of his origins, early life, and the area where he felt the most connected to the land he loved so deeply.
The Commandery This beautiful Grade I listed building is over 800 years old. Set in the heart of historic Worcester, The Commandery is today most famous for being the location of the Royalist Headquarters during the Battle of Worcester in 1651 which proved to be the deciding battle of the English Civil War.
Beyond the city: Witley Court and Gardens Once one of the great country houses of England, but after a devastating fire in 1937 Witley became one of the country’s most spectacular ruins. Today you can imagine the spectacular house parties that used to happen here as you wander the ruins and the elaborate gardens. The extensive grounds and woodlands are home to a variety of wildlife.
Worcester to Stratford-upon-Avon
Appx 2 hour journey time
Stratford-upon-Avon’s most famous son, William Shakespeare, is celebrated in this idyllic setting with glimpses of his life and times and a world-famous theatre dedicated to his works. It is extraordinary to see just how many buildings where Shakespeare lived and worked are preserved today for you to discover on your visit.
Shakespeare’s birthplace In 1564, William Shakespeare was born in a now restored half-timbered house on Henley Street. Here is where he spent his childhood years and today you can see live performances of his work in the garden. While you are here, look out for the witches’ marks carved into the beam at the top of the cellar staircase. They are known as daisy wheels or hexafoils and were believed to be a good luck charm that would protect against evil.
The Royal Shakespeare Theatre Located right on the River Avon and dedicated to Shakespeare, the thrust stage theatre seats over 1,000 and is the perfect way to finish the day exploring his hometown. Enjoy dinner at the RSC Rooftop Restaurant and one of his plays performed by the outstanding Royal Shakespeare Company
Shakespeare’s Schoolroom & Guildhall See the very place where William Shakespeare spent his school days, discovered theatre for the first time, and was inspired to become the world’s greatest playwright. He wrote his first works here and today you can learn to write with quill and ink for yourself.
Beyond the city: Warwick Castle Built by William the Conqueror, Warwick Castle has stood guard on this cliff overlooking the River Avon for nearly 1,000 years. Considered one of the finest castles in Britain and visible for miles around, Warwick is just a short train ride from Stratford upon Avon.
Also just beyond the city: Kenilworth Castle Just 15 miles north of Stratford is this medieval fortress that became an Elizabethan palace, and is today one of the most majestic ruins in England.