One of Indonesia’s most popular island destinations, Bali is beloved by travellers seeking an affordable tropical getaway. The island is known for its beautiful beaches, majestic mountain scapes, spectacular rice fields and magical temples. Add into the mix gorgeous green landscapes, stunning waterfalls and a warm tropical year round climate and you’ve got an idyllic holiday location. Bali is also steeped in rich culture and religious traditions, so the island appeals to tourists seeking adventure, culture and natural beauty. [Read more…] about Travel Stories: 5 Fun and Fabulous Things to do in Bali
New York is a city that tops many a travel lovers bucket list. Admittedly, the city that never sleeps has never been high up on my list of must-visit places, but when the opportunity for a trip across the pond presented itself, I didn’t have to think twice: I jumped at the chance.
Last September I flew out to the States to spend a week in the Big Apple. I didn’t know what to expect, although I knew from my brief bit of research that New York is one of the most expensive cities in the world. And the most populated, with over 8.5 million people. Oh, and it’s also illegal to honk your horn in New York City. But let’s leave the fun facts for later.
My first impression of New York, and indeed my first impression of America, wasn’t the most positive. We flew from Heathrow with British Airways, and after a 7 hour flight, we were faced with the nightmare that is US Customs. I’ve never seen so many people queuing to get through the security checks at Newark Airport. Hardly the warmest welcome, and standing in a long queue in the heat wasn’t fun. Not that I was expecting smiles, hugs and a big ‘Welcome to New York’ sign. After eventually making it through security about an hour and a half later (also, be prepared to have your finger prints taken if it’s your first visit) we headed for what was to be our base for the week, the Michelangelo Hotel, a four-star hotel in the heart of Manhattan.
Despite being a little dated in its decor, the Italian inspired Michelangelo is a very nice hotel, with spacious rooms and extremely comfortable beds in an unbeatable location. High-end by American standards, it’s just a few minutes walk to the world famous Times Square. In my opinion, the pros of staying in a hotel so close to Times Square far outweigh the cons. Whilst many standard rooms in the city can be on the small side, you’ll find that hotels in the area tend to have larger rooms. Plus of course you’re in the best location if you plan to take in a Broadway show.
For anyone visiting New York for the first time, there are the quintessential attractions that you’re going to want to tick off your ‘to do’ list. And that’s going to be dictated by how long you have to explore the city. I arrived with a rather long list, and soon realised that I wouldn’t have enough time to tick everything off that list. So here’s my top 6 things to see and do in 5 days.
Things to See and do in NYC
#1 Check Out Times Square
Given our hotel’s close proximity to Times Square, this was an easy choice. The commercial and cultural heart of New York City, Times Square is everything I imagined it to be and much, much more. It’s beyond busy. It’s loud. It’s brash. It’s colourful. It’s littered with selfie stick wielding tourists, street performers and giant billboards that generate over $23 million a year. This Manhattan neighbourhood, which locals nickname The Centre of the Universe, is said to be visited by 360,000 people a day, making it the most visited tourist attraction in the world. It’s best experienced at night, when everything is lit up. It’s under the cover of darkness that New York really lives up to its bright lights, big city name. If you want to get a good handle on what NYC is all about, Times Square puts you right into the city’s heartbeat and like marmite, you’ll either love it or hate it. Just for the record, I loved it. And normally I hate crowds. But it’s hard not to be taken in by the energy and atmosphere.
#2 See the Big Apple From Above
Before heading across the pond, I naturally did a little bit of research – like any good tourist would. And practically every article and blog I read said you haven’t seen New York unless you’ve seen it from above. There are a number of well known landmarks that offer a unique vantage point to see the world famous skyline from high up. The Empire State Building is probably the most popular and therefore the busiest. So we headed to that other quintessential NYC landmark instead, the Top of the Rock at the Rockefeller Center. From the 70th floor you’ll enjoy breathtaking, 360 degree views of Manhattan courtesy of 3 indoor and outdoor viewing decks. The weather for our visit was perfect and you really do get a sense of how much of a concrete jungle the Big Apple really is. Of course, if you’re feeling really adventurous, don’t have a fear of heights, and are happy to splash a bit of cash, you could take a helicopter tour instead.
#3 Explore Central Park
You will get a fantastic aerial view of Central Park from the Top of the Rock. But it’s also worth making a beeline for the park to explore it on foot. We visited this iconic urban park on a beautifully warm and sunny September day and only managed to explore a tiny bit of its 840 acres. Stretching 51 blocks, the green oasis provides a welcome reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the city. If you’ve got the time, hire a boat and row around the lake, visit the Conservatory Garden or take a walk through the Shakespeare Garden. Whatever time of year you visit, Central Park is one of the most romantic spots in New York City. It’s easy to see why over 40 million people visit this free tourist attraction every year.
#4 Take a City Bus Tour
You can walk, cycle or take the subway around New York, but I think the best option for first time visitors to see the most iconic parts of the city is on one of the open top sightseeing bus tours. There are various tour companies operating hop on, hop off double decker bus tours. We went with Gray Line, one of the longest standing tour operators, and purchased a 3 day pass. As the name suggests, you’ll have the option of hopping on and off throughout the duration of your tour. Most of the routes are accompanied by a knowledgeable tour guide, which makes the experience all the more fun. Tours take passengers to all of the popular tourist attractions, including Times Square, Wall Street, Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Bridge. Our particular Gray Line New York tour included a ferry ride which allowed for a close up view of New York’s most iconic landmark, the Statue of Liberty.
#5 Walk the Brooklyn Bridge
If walking across the Brooklyn Bridge isn’t on your ‘to do’ list, it absolutely should be. The iconic bridge stretches across the East River and is easily one of the most recognisable landmarks of the NYC skyline. If you’re looking for a true New York experience, then join the thousands of tourists and New Yorkers who walk, jog or cycle the bridge each day. It’s around 1.3 miles to get from one side to the other, and walking at a leisurely pace (to take in the views and snap some photos) it will take you about an hour to complete. It was a really warm and stuffy September day when we set out to do the walk and I was shocked by the sheer number of walkers, joggers and cyclists who all had the same idea.
#6 Visit the September 11 Memorial
I don’t feel comfortable referring to the September 11 Memorial as a tourist attraction, but I encourage anyone visiting NYC to take some time out for contemplation and to pay their respects at the 9/11 Memorial Plaza. Set within the footprints of the Twin Towers, this sanctuary in the heart of Manhattan is both a beautiful and respectful memorial to the people who lost their lives on September 11, 2001. This is one of those experiences that is hard to do justice with words. The memorial comprises of hundreds of white oak trees and two sunken pools with the largest manmade waterfalls in the United States cascading down the sides of the pools. The names of every person who lost their lives are inscribed in bronze along the tops of the walls. It’s a sobering experience, listening to the sound of the water falling whilst reading the names of the fallen. I could’t help but reflect not just on the evil of mankind that day, but more so the bravery of the human race.
Musings of a NYC Newbie
We had six days and five nights in New York City and to be honest, it wasn’t quite long enough. Whilst we packed in a lot of sightseeing, there still wasn’t enough time to see everything I wanted to. Perhaps I was being overly ambitious for my first trip to NYC, but I really wanted to visit at least a couple of museums, and I was gutted to miss out on the High Line and Grand Central Terminal.
That said, we were able to embrace other aspects of life in New York City. From eating at a classic American diner (the famous Junior’s) and riding the subway (quite a confusing experience!) to dining at one of the city’s finest restaurants (Buddakan, I highly recommend it!) we managed to pack in a lot in a relatively short amount of time.
I know many travellers dream of visiting New York during the winter months, or to celebrate New Year. And while I get the appeal of a snowy NYC (it does sound pretty romantic) for me autumn was the perfect season to take a bite out of the Big Apple. The weather was fabulous, with bright blue skies, sunshine and temperatures hovering between the mid to late 20s, even pushing 30 on our very last day.
As I write this blog, it’s almost 7 months since my New York trip. The whole world is in the grips of a pandemic, with travel of any kind off the cards for the foreseeable future. On reflection, it’s made me even more grateful for the opportunity I had to take that trip overseas.
As I’ve said before, New York is expensive. Very expensive. The terrible exchange rate didn’t help. And you’re expected to tip everyone. Even if you receive bad service.
I didn’t think coffee in America would be great. But all of the coffee I drank was pretty bad. And don’t even get me started on the non existent tea!
Watch out for hidden hotel fees. You have to pay mandatory hotel taxes in NYC. Known as Room Occupancy Taxes, they work out to be 14.75% plus $3.50 per day in addition to what you pay for the room per night.
Food portions in most diners and restaurants are huge. If you haven’t got the biggest appetite, stick to the appetisers.
7 Fun Facts About NYC
- Times Square is one of the world’s most instagrammed locations. Thanks to its giant illuminated billboards, the square can be seen from outer space.
- The New York City library is the third largest library in the world, and home to more than 50 million books. That’s a lot of books!
- New York is famous for its yellow taxis. But the yellow colour wasn’t introduced until 1912. Prior to that, the city’s cabs were green and red.
- Permits to sell hot dogs in Central Park don’t come cheap. It can cost almost $300,000 for an annual hot dog stand permit.
- Between 1931 and 1972, the Empire State Building was the tallest building in the world. One World Trade Centre is currently the tallest and has been since 2014.
- Around 6 million people use the New York City subway each day. It was opened back in 1904 and has 472 stations.
- New York was the first capital of the United States. Only for a year, in 1789.
When I think of pretty UK cities, they don’t get much more picturesque and photogenic than Cambridge. This world famous university town is steeped in history and is home to some of the most striking architecture I’ve ever seen. So when an impromptu road trip beckoned last May, Cambridge seemed liked the as good a destination as any.
I first visited the university town back in 2014, and I’ve always wanted to go back and explore more of this gorgeous city. Funnily enough, it’s not actually that far away from where I live, about a 90 minute drive in fact. So I’m rather surprised it’s taken me this long to go back, because one day in Cambridge is nowhere near enough to fully appreciate all that this venerable university city has to offer.
So many colleges, so little time
The majority of people visiting Cambridge do so to explore the city’s ancient colleges. They are the number one attraction and the city’s biggest draw, enticing millions of tourists to visit year after year. Although with over 30 colleges to explore, it’s doubtful you’ll be able to see them all in just one visit.
Having already toured the prestigious King’s College on my previous visit, I skipped what is arguably the most famous of Cambridge’s colleges to explore some of the lesser known ones. We were off to a good start with our first stop, which was Downing College. The college, which was founded in 1800, is set in 20 acres of beautiful grounds.
The pleasant Spring weather provided a good opportunity for a leisurely stroll around the college. Located on Regent Street, the college is nestled between rows of restaurants and shops. So it’s quite easy to walk past and not even notice it’s there. Which is a shame. Fortunately we sort of stumbled upon it as we walked towards the city centre.
After Downing College we made our way further into the city, determined to explore a few more colleges, time permitting. With 31 colleges to choose between, I’d advise doing a bit of research before you visit Cambridge. But this being such a spontaneous trip, that wasn’t really an option.
In my opinion, Trinity College deserves a spot on anyone’s ‘must see’ college list. It is arguably the prettiest of all the colleges, many of which have an entrance fee if you want to enter their grounds and imagine what it would be like to be a Cambridge student. When we visited it was just £3 to explore Trinity. I thought this was really cheap and well worth the money, particularly as it also included entrance to the college’s beautiful chapel. A visit to Trinity means you’ll be walking in the footsteps of some very famous students, including A.A. Milne (who wrote the Winnie the Pooh books) and scientist Isaac Newton.
After Trinity College, we headed to Christ’s College, which is one of the city’s most central colleges. Notable alumni include Charles Darwin and John Milton. Actor and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen was also a student at Christ’s College.
I was most impressed with Corpus Christi College. Unfortunately we weren’t able to set foot into the grounds, but I was still able to take a little peek and sneak off a few photographs. Corpus Christi is the 6th oldest college in Cambridge and was founded in 1352. Notable alumni include the actor Hugh Bonneville, of Downton Abbey fame, and Grand Designs’ Kevin McCloud.
The architecture of all of the aforementioned colleges is really stunning. World famous as a city of learning and academia, if you’re visiting Cambridge, it’s a missed opportunity if you can’t make the time to tour a few of its colleges. It is, after all, what brings millions of tourists from across the globe each year.
But you may also be wondering what else Cambridge has to offer? Well, a lot, actually. There’s more to Cambridge than its educational institutions, as impressive as they are.
6 fun things to do in Cambridge
Walk the pretty cobbled streets
The best way to get a true sense of Cambridge is to spend some time walking it. As cities go, it’s very accessible on foot. Although if you’re arriving by train, it’s worth noting that the train station is a fair distance from the city centre. But take a bus into the centre, they are pretty regular and in 10-15 minutes you’ll be in the heart of the city ready to explore more of it on foot. The only decision you’ll need to make is whether to do some DIY sightseeing or sign up for one of the many walking tours.
Hire a bike
Bikes are everywhere in Cambridge. And I do mean everywhere. I’d probably even go so far as to say that Cambridge is the UK capital of cycling. Viewing the historic city by bike is a great option, especially if you are visiting the city for a few days. The city has a wealth of cycle hire shops with daily hire and long-term hire options available. If you’re looking to explore this beautiful city in style, pedal power is without question the way to go.
Check out the city’s coffee scene
After all that exploring you deserve a well earned break. If you’re a lover of good coffee and baked goodies, Cambridge has oodles of great cafes, many of which are small and independent. We headed to Bold Brothers on Round Church Street, just across the road from St John’s College. It’s a small space but highly regarded by locals, especially for their speciality coffee. I’m a bit of a coffee snob, but it’s fair to say their latte was by far the best coffee I have had in the UK. Warm, creamy and not in the least bit bitter, it really hit the spot.
Cambridge has a growing speciality coffee scene, and Bould Brothers recently opened a second cafe on Regent Street. This one is situated closer to Cambridge Central Railway Station.
See Cambridge from the River Cam
Punting is very popular in Cambridge. Touring the city’s waterways on a punt has romantic connotations and offers a unique perspective of this picturesque city. It’s Cambridge’s answer to seeing Venice by gondola. Who wouldn’t enjoy that?
When you think about it, punting on the River Cam is probably the most quintessentially Cambridge thing to do. Next to hiring a bike. But punting isn’t for the faint hearted. It requires a level of bravery and skill. So unless you’re feeling adventurous and up for the challenge, your best option is to take a chauffeur guided tour. Just sit back as your guide does all the hard work – and make it look dead easy!
Catch the hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus
Cambridge’s hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus tours takes you to all of the city’s top tourist attractions. The best views are of course from the top deck of the big red double decker bus. As you take in the eye-catching architecture, you’ll get a real feel for some of the city’s finest treasures. With audio guides available in 9 languages, enjoy the sights, listen to the commentary and discover more about the city’s history, culture and traditions.
Find tranquility in the botanic garden
Weather and time permitting, a tour of the heritage-listed botanical garden is a must do. Covering an area of 16 hectares, it’s an oasis in the city with over 8,000 species of plants and trees from around the world. The garden is just a 15 minute walk from the city centre, and a beautiful space to escape the hustle and bustle. Open practically every day of the year (shut 24 Dec – 1 Jan), entry for adults is just £6, and free to Cambridge University students and children up to the age of 16.
If you love exploring charming cities with impressive architecture steeped in history, Cambridge should be on your travel bucket list. Once you fall in love with the city you’ll want to visit again and again, because unless you’re there for a week, you won’t have enough time to appreciate all that Cambridge has to offer.
Road trips aren’t measured by mile markers, but by moments. I read that somewhere and it has stuck with me. I think that’s one of the things I love most about road trips. The best part of the adventure is not necessarily the end destination, but the experiences you have and the things you see along the way. For me, that’s what makes a road trip so memorable and fun.
Whether it’s completely spontaneous or well planned, the idea of taking off in my car has always appealed to me. There’s nothing quite like the freedom of the open road. And although I’m quite comfortable with my own company, I think the best kind of road trips involve good company. With long conversations, laughter, spontaneous detours, pit stops, music and even the occasional sing-a-long.
So it was a dream come true for me when I had the opportunity to explore a bit of Western Australia’s Coral Coast during a week long road trip from Perth to Monkey Mia. Heading north of Perth as we did, meant travelling along the scenic Indian Ocean Drive for a large part of the journey. FYI: Indian Ocean Drive begins in Lancelin and ends in Geraldton. It’s certainly a much more pleasant experience than driving inland on Brand Highway.
If you’ve never visited Western Australia before, one thing you need to know is that it is huge. HUGE. It is the largest state in the country, geographically speaking and covers more than 2.6 million square kms. In fact, if Western Australia was separate from the rest of Australia, it would be the 10th largest in the world. So exploring the state means covering a lot of miles – and that takes time, especially when you’re travelling by car. It’s just over 900 km from Perth to Monkey Mia, so we decided to split the journey. And Kalbarri was our first major stop.
Perth to Kalbarri
It took about eight or nine hours to drive from Perth to Kalbarri, including quite a few pit stops along the way. Our accommodation for two nights was the Kalbarri Edge Resort. The hotel was a great base to explore the charming seaside town and the main attraction, Kalbarri National Park. After settling in for the night, we made sure to wake up early the next day so we could head over to the foreshore to watch the pelican feeding. You’ll need to be there for 8.45 in the morning, if you want to watch local volunteers feed these beautiful wild birds. Better still, gets hands on and feed the pelicans yourself. It’s a really fun thing to do, whatever your age. Interestingly, the pelican feeding has been taking place along the foreshore for 40 years.
With one full day of adventure ahead of us, we made our way to Kalbarri National Park. Having seen plenty of photographs of the national park showcasing its natural beauty, I was beyond excited to explore this extraordinary place. As much as I loved the pelican feeding experience, this was the main highlight of Kalbarri for me. From the inland river gorges to the coastal cliffs, Kalbarri National Park is breathtaking, in every sense of the word. The park is huge – and I mean huge. It covers around 186,000 hectares, so we had to be a bit selective about the areas we wanted to explore. It’s not free to enter, but at just $13 (for a vehicle of up to 12 passengers) it’s well worth the entry fee.
First stop on our itinerary was Nature’s Window. So we headed inland to check out this amazing natural rock arch, which is formed from layers of Tumblagooda Sandstone. It’s an extremely popular spot for tourists and probably the park’s top attraction, enjoying incredible views of the Murchison River below. If you’re into hiking, I highly recommend walking the Z Bend Gorge river trail. It’s not the longest hike at just 2.6 km, but the terrain is challenging and demanding in parts. The trail includes loose rocks with steep descents and ladder climbs. But it is well worth the effort, just to take in the views from the bottom of the gorge.
Kalbarri National Park isn’t just beloved for its 400 million year old rock formations and river gorges. The contrasting landscape of its rugged coastal sandstone cliffs is equally beautiful and breathtaking. Most of the coastal sites are accessible by car, caravan or motorhome. Island Rock and Natural Bridge, Red Bluff, Pot Alley and Eagle Gorge all offer spectacular vantage points.
Kalbarri to Shark Bay
We left Kalbarri and headed for Denham and Shark Bay, which was to be our next base for the night. It’s a four hour direct drive, but along the way we detoured to check out a few of the sights along the World Heritage Drive, including Shell Beach and the Hamelin Pool stromatolites. Located in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Shark Bay, Shell Beach is a photogenic snow-white beach made up of billions of teeny tiny shells. The beach – which incidentally, has no sand – stretches for more than 70 km. Walking on Shell Beach is a truly unique experience, because it’s one of only a handful of similar beaches in the world.
Shark Bay is also home to the Hamelin Pool stromatolites, living fossils which date back some 3.7 billion years. They are the oldest and largest living fossils in the world, and one of only four places where living marine stromatolites exist on the planet. Which makes them pretty special. Take a stroll along the purpose-built jetty and marvel at this natural wonder that provides a window into the origins of life and what the earth was like 3.7 billion years ago.
After several stop offs, we finally made it to Denham and Shark Bay and our home for the night, On the Deck @ Shark Bay. The location of this b&b is excellent and the accommodation was amazing, especially the decked area with a hot tub, where we sat and drank and watched the night sky in awe. Unfortunately, we were only there for one night, and despite the adventures we had ahead of us, it was hard to leave this lovely home away from home.
Francois Peron National Park
There’s lots to see and do in the Shark Bay area, but perhaps the number one visitor attraction is Francois Peron National Park. We headed to the Shark Bay Visitor Centre and booked a personal tour guide (Shark Bay Coastal Tours) to take us into the park. The majority of the track isn’t accessible by two wheel drive vehicles: due to the deep soft sand it is only suitable for high clearance four wheel drive vehicles. Although we had a four-wheel drive, we felt more comfortable letting someone else drive. The idea of getting stuck in the deep soft red sands was not appealing. Luckily for us, our guide Keith was brilliant and very knowledgeable about the area. And we didn’t get stuck once!
We found that hiring a local guide was the best way to experience and enjoy the park’s exclusive spots. It also gave us an opportunity to learn about the rich history of the area from a passionate local. Exploring Francois Peron National Park – which is just a 10 minute drive from Denham – was an incredible experience. During the day we ventured to Cape Peron, the most northerly tip of the park. With red cliffs, red sand, bright blue skies and beautiful turquoise water, the landscape is phenomenal. Head to Skipjack Point, which offers a great vantage point to take in the amazing views. And marvel at how clear the water is. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to see manta rays, dugongs and small sharks cruising the water below.
Francois Peron National Park is pretty vast, covering over 52,000 hectares of arid shrublands and sand plains. It’s also home to some really cute little critters, like the Australian Thorny Devil. Also known as a Thorny Dragon or Mountain Devil, they have a lifespan of around 20 years and can grow up to 20cm in length. Our guide Keith managed to spot one wandering along the red sandy track.
Our Coral Coast road trip took us as far north as Monkey Mia, where we had organised an overnight stay at the Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort. There had already been so many wonderful moments during this trip, but getting so see the local bottlenose dolphins in their natural habitat was a definite highlight for me. They visit the shores of Monkey Mia Beach up to three times a day to feed (from 7.45 in the morning to 12 noon) and you’ll have the opportunity to interact with these incredible creatures. Monkey Mia is actually one of the most reliable places for dolphin interaction, not just in Australia but the world. So the chances of you getting to see them is pretty high.
Given the fabulous location, we were really looking forward to our stay at the Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort. However, while the location is hard to beat, the accommodation when we stayed in 2015 was somewhat disappointing. Although clean (which is what’s most important!) it was dated and expensive. The one saving grace was that we had a room overlooking the beach. So not only did we enjoy a great view, but we were able to fall asleep listening to the soothing sounds of the ocean.
Back to Perth via Geraldton
The World Heritage-listed area of Shark Bay – with its gorgeous hidden bays, pristine white-sand beaches and towering limestone cliffs – stretches from Kalbarri to Carnarvon. But Monkey Mia was as far north as we were travelling on our road trip. And so, after 6 days away, it was time to head back to Perth. Rather than drive the entire 900 km in one swoop, we decided to break up the journey by stopping over in Geraldton. It was a perfect opportunity to explore a little bit of the coastal city and the area further afield.
About an hours drive from Geraldton is Pink Lake, also known as Hutt Lagoon. It’s become a hot spot for tourists and has made a name for itself as one of the Coral Coast’s most Instagrammable locations. Also worth a visit is the Heritage-listed Oakabella Homestead. Located between Geraldton and Northampton, just off North West Coastal Highway, it’s a short 30 minute drive from Geraldton. Not only is the tearoom a perfect place for a pit stop, you’ll also be visiting one of Western Australia’s most haunted houses. If you’re into ghost and ghouls and things that go bump in the night, make sure you pay the homestead a visit.
Someone wise once said that it’s all about the journey, not the destination, which for me truly sums up a great road trip. After my Coral Coast adventure, it reinforced my belief that there really is no better way to traverse this part of Western Australia. It’s certainly a lot more fun than sitting on a plane.
Castle Combe, a quaint Wiltshire village in the South West of England, has quite the reputation to live up to. Known for its rich history and charming honey coloured Cotswold stone cottages, it is widely regarded as one of England’s prettiest villages. It’s about as quintessentially English as they come and its popularity has tourists flocking to the village all year long.
I’ve had the opportunity to visit Castle Combe on numerous occasions and I love how this medieval village remains practically untouched by modernity. You get an overwhelming sense of what it was like living in a much simpler time. In fact, if it wasn’t for the steady influx of cars, it wouldn’t be too difficult to imagine what Castle Combe would have been like back in the 18th century.
The village itself consists of just two picturesque streets framed by adorably cute stone cottages, two pubs, a church and a rather grandiose hotel, the Manor House. This five-star hotel does a rather nice afternoon tea and even has its own golf course. The idyllic Bybrook River, which runs through the village, finishes off the pretty scene perfectly. It’s the definition of picture postcard perfect.
The medieval market cross – which the village is built around and where the three principal streets of Lower Castle Combe converge – dates back to the 14th century. The village is also said to house one of the oldest working clocks in the country – the faceless 13th century clock in St Andrew’s Church.
I’ve explored Castle Combe at different times of the year and regardless of the season (or the weather!) the village is always busy. Even though local residents remain mostly invisible, you’ll always find small groups of multi-national visitors wandering around and taking photographs. Castle Combe, and the Cotswolds in general, is especially popular with Japanese tourists, who seem to adore the Britishness of pretty chocolate-box villages. Indeed, Castle Combe epitomises everything that makes rural England so charming and unique. It’s picture book prettiness is one of the main attractions for overseas tourists.
Over the years Castle Combe has become a popular location for Hollywood movies, including War House, Stardust, The Wolfman and Dr Dolittle. It’s back drop makes it the perfect film set for period dramas and this has contributed enormously to the village’s status as a must-see tourist destination.
Despite being such a hot spot for tourists, the village is no longer as bustling as it once was. The primary school, bakery, post office and village shop are all no more. Aside from the hotel and the two pubs, there’s a cafe situated off the village’s picturesque main street, but because of its tucked away location it’s quite easy to miss. If you fancy a bit of homemade cake to take away, there’s a little stall outside one of the cottages – with an honesty box for payment. I’ve tried their chocolate cake and can confirm it’s delicious.
After a leisurely stroll around the village, why not treat yourself to a cream tea at the Castle Inn or afternoon tea at the Manor House. The Old Rectory Tea Room is another option, although pre bookings are essential at this establishment.
Castle Combe will always be one of my favourite Cotswolds villages. But there are plenty of other pretty villages in Wiltshire, notably nearby Lacock and Grittleton. If you’re happy to travel a bit further afield, Bibury, Bourton-on-the-Water and Stow-on-the-Wold are all worthy of a visit.
The boring bits: things you need to know
Castle Combe can get very busy during peak season. If you’re travelling by car, unless the parking Gods are looking down on you, you’ll struggle to find a parking spot in the village centre. But fear not, there’s a free public car park at the top of the hill. Yay for free parking! But it’s a pretty steep incline, and when you’re walking back up to your car it can feel like quite the slog. Just something to bear in mind if you have difficulty walking.
To get to Castle Combe, it’s around a two-hour drive from London, between 30-40 minutes from Bristol and less than half an hour from Bath.
The best chance you have of taking tourist free photographs is during the week, and definitely not in high season. If you’re visiting in the summer months and want to avoid the steady stream of tourists, early morning or late in the evening is the best time to go.
It’s been a wonderfully warm Summer and although we’re not ready for the warm weather to be over quite just yet, we must admit to being a tad excited as Autumn approaches and the festive season draws ever closer.
Christmas and the New Year is always the most magical time of the year at the Brandon Hall Hotel. Right now we’re excitedly putting the finishing touches on a host of fun and fabulous events guaranteed to bring you the festive feels and help you fall in love with Christmas all over again.
Not to wish time away, but we’re counting down the days until our Christmas tree light switch on in November. Seeing our 86ft Christmas tree lit up in the hotel grounds is quite the sight to behold and a special moment that signals the start of the festivities. Inside our hotel will be transformed into a cosy Christmas haven, complete with beautiful decorations and roaring log fires.