London daytrips: three picks

People pass the Radcliffe Camera, an 18th century People pass the Radcliffe Camera, an 18th century Oxford University building housing library reading rooms. (Aug. 1, 2007) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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London wins the gold medal for gridlock.

The Olympic Games start July 27. But before anyone begins throwing javelins, the advice is: "Keep Calm And Get Outta Town."

Here are three day trips to refresh you while so many of the capital's streets are either jammed or closed.

Book trains and buses in advance and online. You're less than two hours away from other worlds and other eras.

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OXFORD

In the ultimate college town, J.R.R. Tolkien imagined Middle Earth and C.S. Lewis conceived Narnia. It's where Lewis Carroll discovered Alice and Colin Dexter assigned Inspector Morse.

You'll find backdrops for "Harry Potter" films and the "Brideshead Revisited" miniseries, as well as the pub where Bill Clinton didn't inhale.

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Getting there

Oxford is a one-hour train ride from Paddington station in London. Trains typically depart every half-hour. Off-peak fares, about $14-$21, one-way. Buses to Oxford are available at multiple locations. Round-trip fares, $24-$32. Figure 90 to 120 minutes each way (visitoxfordandoxfordshire.com; firstgreatwestern.co.uk; oxfordtube.com).

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What to see

The Bodleian Library is the University of Oxford's center. It opened in 1602 and is named for founder Sir Thomas Bodley. A 90-minute guided tour is available most Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday mornings for about $22 (bodleian.ox.ac.uk).

You reach the Old Schools Quadrangle via a gate, above which rises a monumental tower displaying the five orders of classical architecture.

Enter the vaulted, late-Gothic Divinity School, a masterwork of intricately carved stonework that dates to 1488; the medieval library of Duke Humfrey, under a painted timber roof that evokes the Renaissance and Hogwarts; and the Convocation House, a university meeting place that housed Parliament in 1642-46, during England's Civil War.

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Linked by tunnel to the Bodleian is the majestic, circular, domed Radcliffe Camera, ringed with Corinthian columns -- Britain's first rotunda library, completed in 1748. The grand main reading room is used daily by students.

Near the Bodleian and Radcliffe is the Sheldonian Theatre, a graceful 1669 building designed by Sir Christopher Wren, used for meetings, concerts and university ceremonies.

There are 38 colleges at Oxford, many open to the public, some for a small charge.

Christ Church College, founded in 1525 by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Henry VIII's fixer, had its chapel elevated by the king to cathedral 21 years later. Philosopher John Locke, who studied at Christ Church, is buried there. Wren's gatehouse bell tower, named Tom for its bell, Great Tom, marks the entrance to Wolsey's quadrangle. Christ Church meadow, where cattle roam, leads to the river, scene of popular rowing races and boat rides (chch.ox.ac.uk).

Among the most picturesque schools is Magdalen College, with expansive grounds, battlement walls, a landmark bell tower, stirring quadrangles and 15th century buildings, and Addison's Walk, a riverside path along a meadow and a grove that hosts a deer herd (magd.ox.ac.uk). Opposite Magdalen: the studied calm of the Botanic Garden, Britain's oldest.

New College, established in 1379, includes the 13th century town walls and very early quadrangles (new.ox.ac.uk). A covered bridge, often but inexplicably likened to the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, links New College to Hertford College.

The Church of St. Mary the Virgin, from the 14th century, brings together Gothic and baroque elements. Three bishops, among them Thomas Cranmer, were tried here for heresy and burned at the stake in Broad Street. The Martyrs Memorial is in Magdalen Street.

The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, Britain's first public museum, is a wide-ranging home to antiquities, paintings, and the crossing of cultures east and west (ashmolean.org).

Carfax Tower, in city center, goes back to 1032. It offers one of the key views of what poet Matthew Arnold called the "city of dreaming spires."

Where to eat and drink

Gee's. Mediterranean flair, British manner, in an updated Victorian conservatory; 61 Banbury St., gees-restaurant.co.uk.

Jamie's Italian. As in Jamie Oliver. Stylishly and flavorfully buzzing along; 24-26 George St., jamieoliver.com/italian/oxford.

The Kings Arms. A vintage pub on the site of a 13th century monastery. Fish and chips, pork pie; 40 Hollywell St.

Shanghai 30's. First-class dim sum and a view of Christ Church; 82 St. Aldate's, shanghai30s.com.

STRATFORD-UPON-AVON

The city where William Shakespeare was born, lived and is buried, Stratford-upon-Avon is a one-man show.

Getting there

By train, Stratford-upon-Avon is about a two-hour ride from Marylebone station in London. Fares start at about $17 one-way. By bus, the trip is three to 31/2 hours, with fares beginning at about $15 one way, from Victoria Coach station (stratford-upon- avon .co.uk; chilternrailways.co.uk; nationalexpress.com/coach).

What to see

Anne Hathaway's Cottage is the well-kept 1460s farmhouse where Shakespeare courted his future wife.

Hall's Croft is the handsome, Jacobean house of the playwright's daughter and her husband; Nash's House & New Place, his last home; Mary Arden's Farm, the childhood home of his mother, and a working farm. Shakespeare's Birthplace features actors playing his characters. A five-house ticket is about $35 (shakespeare.org.uk).

William and Anne are buried in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church . There's a modest entry charge. The original font for his baptism is here. A Shakespeare bust on the chancel wall was erected in 1623. The current tower, transepts and nave pillars are from 1210. The chancel was added in the late 1400s. The chapels include St. Peter's, with a window that was a gift from America, unveiled in 1896; and Thomas Becket's, dedicated by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1331.

Attend a performance by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Royal Shakespeare and Swan Theatres. Expect about 20 productions this summer. You also can arrange backstage tours; to view the city, go to the top of the site's approximately 120-foot tower (rsc.org.uk).

Where to eat and drink

Edward Moon. A friendly place for updated British cooking, including fish pie with smoked haddock, and Welsh rarebit; 9 Chapel St., moonsrestaurants.com.

No. 9Church St. Charming, two-story British restaurant. Recommended for duck salad, potted mackerel, cheese turnovers, fried fish; 9 Church St., no9churchst.com.

BATH

Get into hot water in Bath -- the site of Britain's only thermal spring; and the ruins of a Roman temple, a light-filled abbey, Georgian architecture, Jane Austen novels and uncommon museums.

Getting there

It's a 90-minute train ride from London Paddington to Bath Spa. Fares start at about $27, one way. By bus from Victoria Coach station, the trip is about 31/2 hours, with one-way tickets starting at about $13 (visitbath.co.uk; firstgreatwestern.co.uk; nationalexpress.com/coach).

What to see

The Roman baths bubble and steam, misting the ruins of a temple and bathing complex. The dramatic "great bath" is the centerpiece. The Roman museum contains sculptures, gemstones and more archaeological finds from the site. The springs spurred nearby settlements 7,000 years ago. Entry, about $14 to $20.

You can be more than an observer at the Thermae Bath Spa, with its rooftop pool, treatments and therapies (thermaebathspa.com).

Bath Abbey, repaired in 1611, bombed in 1942, restored a decade ago, is the parish church. Edgar was crowned king of England here in 973. The Victorian Gothic style prevails, with stone fan vaulting and vast windows. The 212-step climb in the tower yields a panoramic view (bathabbey.org).

The Herschel Museum of Astronomy is the former home and workshop of William Herschel, oboist-turned-stargazer. In 1781, with a homemade telescope, Herschel discovered the planet Uranus. Entry, about $8 (bath-preservation-trust.org.uk).

The Holburne Museum, in a historic building, contains galleries with artwork from the Renaissance to Gainsborough and Bruegel. Free admission (holburne.org).

The Jane Austen Centre is a bit gimmicky, with costumed staff, but provides information about the author's hard years here. Bath figures in her novels "Persuasion" and "Northanger Abbey." Entry, about $12 (janeausten.co.uk).

Sally Lunn's House and Museum is Bath's oldest house, circa 1482. The much-hyped namesake bun may remind you of a sweet hamburger roll.

Take in the Royal Crescent: a defining image of Bath, a singular curve of Georgian architecture. No. 1 is an elegantly restored town house.

Where to eat and drink

The Pump Room. Ideal for afternoon tea, The Pump Room offers a view of the Roman bath, plus a glass of Bath's warm mineral water as a chaser; Stall Street, searcys.co.uk.

The Bath Priory. A luxurious, French-inspired restaurant in a refined hotel, with meticulously prepared, multicourse tasting menus; Weston Road, thebathpriory.co.uk.

The Circus. Lively, eclectic, modern British cuisine served in a very accommodating, unpretentious restaurant; 34 Brock St., thecircuscafeandrestaurant.co.uk.

READER TIPS

Brighton, a Victorian seaside resort that has been brought into the modern era, is about an hour from London by train. There is a boardwalk with rides and games, a pebble beach and a large variety of bars and restaurants. National Express provides very cheap bus fares and flexible schedules.
-- Allison Coulson, Jericho

My favorite London day trip is the Cotswolds, particularly the charming towns of Burford, Bourton-on-the-Water and Broadway. Strolling through these quaint towns, while admiring the thatched roofs, centuries-old buildings and rolling hills, spurred my love for England and its history.
-- Lisa Vaccaro, Farmingdale

For lovers of early British history, I heartily recommend a day trip to the medieval cathedral city of Salisbury, about 75 miles south of London. It's pedestrian friendly, and the cathedral is an architectural gem. If you've come by car, it's an easy drive from Salisbury to the standing stones of both Stonehenge and Avebury.
-- Ruthellen Rankin, Huntington Station

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