Offering 500 miles of navigable route between London and Bristol, the Great West Way is a heritage-rich route that’s ripe for rewarding curious travellers who like to dig deeper. Encompassing countless unique, unforgettable attractions, there’s never been a better time to take to the Great West Way to uncover England in refreshing style. But, given the diversity of said attractions, deciding what to see isn’t easy. With that in mind, read on to discover must-see destinations on the Great West Way, along with intel on the best places to stay.
Editor’s tip: to see as many destinations as possible, book a Great West Way Discoverer pass. Traversing the historic Great Western Railway (GWR) between London and Bristol Temple Meads, it offers unlimited off-peak train travel — and unlimited travel on bus services — along the route. As such, the pass is your convenient ticket to travelling more sustainably.
Kicking off with a landmark that needs no introduction, Stonehenge is an undeniable must-see destination on the Great West Way.
With the jury still out as to whether the site’s orientation is indicative of a sun-worshipping society, or due to it being part of an enormous astronomical calendar, Stonehenge remains shrouded in mystery.
Archaeological enigmas aside, this UNESCO World Heritage Site also features a Visitor Centre and reconstructed Neolithic Houses that reveal how folks lived in 2500 BC.
A great way to see this monumental marvel is to take a Stonehenge Tour from Salisbury. You’ll join the tour at Salisbury railway station — perfect if you’re travelling on the GWR using your Great West Way Discoverer pass. And, given that your ticket also includes a visit to Old Sarum (more on that below) and Salisbury Cathedral, this adds up to an all-round winner.
Few destinations showcase such a staggering diversity of English history as Old Sarum. By which we mean 2000 years of history, from its origins as an Iron Age hillfort, through to its Roman occupation, to hosting Salisbury’s first cathedral.
Add to that a medieval castle, and the fact William the Conqueror held a gathering here, and Old Sarum amounts to a sure-fire, must-see destination on the Great West Way.
Alongside presenting unparalleled insights into England’s past, this English Heritage site occupies a splendid space in the Wiltshire countryside.
Old Sarum also comes highly recommended as a family-friendly destination. Energetic adventurers will have a field day exploring the ruins.
Vale of Pewsey
Dappled with villages that exude old-world charm, East Wiltshire’s Vale of Pewsey takes in part of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
As such, it’ll come as no surprise that the Vale is a show-stopper of a destination. A place that stirs the soul as it invites deeper exploration of its ancient footpaths, bridleways and walking routes.
Encompassing everything from the awe-inspiring White Horse carvings in Pewsey and Alton Barnes, to the world’s only Crop Circle Exhibition and Information Centre, the Vale is blessed with a breadth of unique attractions.
Editor’s tip: use Connect2 Wiltshire — an on-demand bus and taxi service — to transport you between the Vale’s villages and stations.
The Savill Garden
Occupying 35 acres of Windsor Great Park, The Savill Garden is one of Britain’s best ornamental gardens.
Commissioned by King George V, the garden was created by Sir Eric Savill in 1932. To this day, it balances natural beauty with exquisite design. It also delivers an ever-changing carnival of colour as Spring Wood, the Summer Gardens, Summer Wood, and Autumn Wood come into their own as the seasons shift.
Royal connections run through the grounds, too, with three attractions having been opened by Queen Elizabeth II. Namely, the Queen Elizabeth Temperate House, the Golden Jubilee Garden, and the Rose Garden.
Editor’s tip: travel by train to Windsor and use your rail ticket to enjoy 2-for-1 entry to The Savill Garden.
An elegant English Heritage property that offers insights into Georgian life, Marble Hill sits pretty within 60+ acres of riverside parkland in Richmond.
The house was built in the 1720s for an extraordinary woman called Henrietta Howard, who became King George II’s mistress while he was Prince of Wales.
Commissioned by Henrietta as a retreat from life at court, Marble Hill is an outstanding example of Palladian architecture — a Classical style that reinterpreted Ancient Roman architecture.
Once the hub of Henrietta’s influential cultural circle, today Marble Hill exhibits her impressive collection of early Georgian paintings. Outside, there are woods to explore, plus a child-pleasing playground and Georgian games.
Situated on the site of Britain’s only hot spring, the Roman Baths have been rejuvenating visitors for almost 2000 years. Today those waters still spring warm, and its Temple, Roman Bath House, and Sacred Spring remain as elegant as they ever were.
Back in its Roman heyday, the city of Bath was known as Aquae Sulis — the “waters of Sulis". Roman settlers connected Sulis, Celtic goddess of hot springs, with their own goddess, Minerva. As a result, the Temple you can see here today was dedicated to Sulis Minerva.
Editor’s tip: travelling with kids? Look out for the costumed characters, and use the audio guide narrated by poet and performer extraordinaire, Michael Rosen.
Birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, and a masterwork of 18th-century Baroque architecture, Blenheim Palace boasts one of the best collections of antiques in Europe. The opulent Palace State Rooms of this UNESCO World Heritage Site are quite something.
After exploring the immersive Churchill exhibition, take the “Upstairs” and “Downstairs” tours to compare the lavish living conditions of the Marlborough family with those of household staff.
Set in 2000 acres of parkland, there’s plenty to explore outside, too, not least the Grand Cascades and Great Lake.
Blenheim Palace is also a joy for younger visitors. A miniature train runs between the Palace and Walled Garden, where a butterfly house and the Marlborough Maze awaits.
Kennet and Avon Canal
Managed by the Canal & River Trust, and meandering 87 miles between Bath and Reading, narrowboats have travelled the tranquil waters of the Kennet and Avon Canal since 1810.
The canal presents unforgettable opportunities to see many sides of England as it winds through towns, villages, and the Wiltshire countryside.
You could take to the water on a narrowboat, canoe or kayak, or enjoy walking or cycling the 82-mile Kennet and Avon Cycle Route.
Either way, with plenty of welcoming hostelries to rest-up in, exploring the Kennet and Avon Canal invites immersive travel along every inch of its scenic, snaking way.
Best places to stay on the Great West Way
Whatley Manor Hotel and Spa, Easton Grey
Blissful spa treatments. Michelin-starred dining. Exquisite gardens, and a Grade 2-listed manor house — Whatley Manor Hotel and Spa is the perfect place for a plush rural retreat.
5 family-owned Exclusive Collection Hotels
1. Royal Berkshire, Ascot
Located outside Ascot, Royal Berkshire country house hotel melds modern chic with a warm welcome, charming grounds and proximity to Windsor Castle.
2. Pennyhill Park, Bagshot
With an award-winning Michelin-starred restaurant, and an award-winning spa, the 123-acre Pennyhill Park exudes English elegance and unadulterated luxury.
3. Lainston House Hotel, near Winchester
The enchanting, 17th-century Lainston House Hotel radiates rustic charm from its individually-appointed rooms, to its trail-speckled, 63-acre grounds.
4. The Manor House and Golf Club, near Castle Combe
Offering Michelin-starred dining, and a championship 18-hole golf course that’s been praised by legends of the game, The Manor House and Golf Club makes for a memorable stay.
5. Baker's Cottage, Castle Combe
Located in Castle Combe — England's prettiest village, no less — cute and cosy Baker's Cottage will have you living your best quintessential English life.
If all those extraordinary must-see destinations — and extraordinary places to stay — weren’t enough, the Great West Way is also an absolute winner when it comes to green travel. From travelling more sustainably — on foot, bike, or using public transport with a Great West Way Discoverer pass — to eco-friendly accommodation, it’s easy to plan a green trip around the Great West Way. So, what are you waiting for? Now’s the perfect time to start planning your trip.
Interested in exploring the Great West Way? The Rough Guide to the Great West Way contains expert recommendations about the route, from the best places to stay to where to find fascinating under-the-radar locations. The guide can be purchased in paperback for £10.99, or as an ebook for £6.99, from the Rough Guides Shop.
We may earn commission when you click on links in this article, but this doesn’t influence our editorial standards. We only recommend services that we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.