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Windsor and Eton
With its romantic architecture and superb state rooms, Windsor Castle is one of Britain’s premier tourist attractions and, since it is so close to central London and easily accessible by rail and road, it crawls with tourists in all seasons. If possible, avoid visiting on weekends and during the peak months of July and August when the queues to get into Queen Elizabeth’s humble abode are at their longest.
If you cannot avoid these periods and need a respite from the crowds, cross the pedestrian Windsor Bridge over the Thames and head for Eton, which by comparison it is far quieter. And while it, too, is a one-trick pony in the form of the world’s most prestigious boys’ school, its pedestrianised centre is lined with antique shops and art galleries.
Best sight: British monarchs have inhabited Windsor Castle for more than 900 years. It is also well known to be the Queen’s favourite residence and the place she calls home after returning from her work “week” (now just Tuesday to Thursday) at the “office” (Buckingham Palace). A disastrous fire in 1992 nearly wiped out this incredible piece of English cultural heritage, but luckily damage , though severe, was limited. A £37 million pound restoration, completed in 1997, returned the state apartments to their former glory.
Best place to eat: Just beyond the bridge in Eton is one of the area’s finest restaurants. Terracotta tiling and a sunny courtyard garden lend Gilbey’s a Continental cafe air, but the understated decor and menu are indisputably British.
Best place to drink: The Two Brewers pub, a17th-century inn perched on the edge of Windsor Great Park and the Long Walk is close to the castle’s tradesmen’s entrance and supposedly frequented by staff from the castle. It is a quaint and cosy place, with dim lighting, obituaries for castle footmen and royal photographs with irreverent captions hanging on the wall. It does great pub food too.
Getting there and away: Green Line buses 701 and 702 link Victoria coach station with Windsor at least hourly every day (65 minutes). Trains from Waterloo station go to Windsor Riverside station every 30 minutes, or hourly on Sunday (55 minutes). Trains from Paddington go via Slough to Eton and Windsor Central station.
This delightful city of honey-coloured stone has always been renowned for its architecture, especially its fine Georgian terraces. Nowadays though, it is celebrated in equal measure for its association with the novelist Jane Austen – not so much for her actual works but for the films based on them. Sometimes it seems the crowds just cannot get enough.
Best sight: Ever since the Romans arrived in Bath, life has revolved around the three natural springs that bubble up near Bath Abbey. The 2,000-year-old baths, today part of the Roman Baths Museum, form one of the best-preserved ancient Roman spas in the world.
Best place to eat: The appropriately named restaurant Circus on the western edge of the Circus is a favourite place in Bath. The food, prepared by chef/owner Alison Golden, is excellent and beautifully presented, the welcome is warm, and you can choose to eat on the ground floor overlooking a small courtyard or in the intimate cellar dining room.
Best place to drink: The Star Inn retains its original 19th-century bar fittings and is the brewery tap for Bath-based Abbey Ales. Some ales are served straight from the barrel into traditional jugs, and you can ask for a pinch of snuff in the “smaller bar”.
Getting there and away: National Express buses links London’s Victoria coach station with Bath up to 10 times a day (around three and a half hours). There are direct trains from London, Paddington and Waterloo stations at least hourly (two and a half hours).