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12 nights in England. Without a car?

Planning our someday trip to England. We are in our late 60s coming from the US. No physical limitations. Although my husband has driven in Ireland and Italy, we would like to avoid or minimize having a rental car in England. Assuming we must fly into and out of London, I am looking for itinerary suggestions as I am getting confused and overwhelmed with choices. I was thinking 4 nights in London probably at the end. my interests include history, architecture, food. My husband loves Soccer and on other trips around Europe we managed either a match or a visit to a famous stadium. He also loves cycling. We both love quaint towns, beautiful scenery, small inns. We usually like to stay in 3 or 4 bases rather than one night hotel stays. Can anyone point me in the right direction as to where to begin. I have read RS The Best of England. Thanks.

Posted by
553 posts

A few years ago, my husband and I (in our early 60s then) spent about 3 weeks in England without a car. We took the train to our points, as well as doing a 4-day walk. We took the bus from Heathrow to Bath; did a 4-day walk to/from Bath, staying in lovely villages along the way. Then we took the train to York, an amazing city, and from there a day trip to Durham. The year we went the Tour de France spent its first 3 days in England, which was the impetus for our visit. We stopped in Cambridge, and then ended in London. The trains were great, and a perfect way to experience England without having to drive on the opposite side of the road. I would recommend taking a food tour, probably in London. We did not do that, but have taken them in Berlin, Prague and Vienna, and had a great time.

Posted by
83 posts

Can you tell me a bit more about these 4 day walks? I am not familiar with them. Did you stay in Bath for for nights and walk during the day? Did you use a company or organized walking tour? This sounds an itinerary that might work for us. Any other details would be great.
Thank you.

Posted by
4445 posts

Having read Best of England, you should have some idea what cities/towns interest you most, besides London. Your 12 days would give you time for two or three of these before your last days in London. So pick some tentatively, not too far-flung so you don't spend too much time on trains (areas like Cornwall and Northumbria might be "a bridge too far" for your timeframe). Then spend some time at the National Rail website looking at routes and connections between your destinations. Try to avoid routes that take you into and out of London, or, if that's not possible, consider spending your London time then instead of at the end. Without a car you probably shouldn't tackle places like the Cotswolds or Lake District, especially since your interests don't focus on scenery and rural charm.

Rail service is generally very good, but also very expensive unless you buy non-refundable tickets well in advance. That commits you to specific times and trains, so try to keep the itinerary simple and efficient. Given comparable sights in a few different places, you may want to choose the one with the best rail connections. Hopefully you'll have time to return to the UK for more exploration in the future.

Finally, if the planning seems too complex, consider one of the excellent Rick Steves tours like "Best of England" or "Best of South England," perhaps with a few additional London days at the end. You'll have minimal logistical problems, excellent guides, and most likely a good group of fellow travelers. Some stops and activities might not appeal to you as much as others, but you can also opt out of specific things.

Posted by
1148 posts

We have flown into Manchester and out of London Gatwick. Also London Return Gatwick. If you put London at the beginning or the end you do not need a car there. If you have not been to London 4 days is not enough time. If you want to see village England; I would recommend driving yourselves. We rented and returned at the Airports. Rent a smallish car with a navigator and a trunk "boot". If you want to get back quickly from York, for example, you can turn the car in and take the train back to London. I like having my luggage with me or back at the B&B. We prefer B&Bs, they are more homey and some also serve dinner. We stayed at a lot of Manor Style B&Bs and often had a great time with the other guests. A friend of mine, made some lifetime friends with the landlords of a Village B&B. My Husband drove and I watched for the right exit off the Roundabout. We enjoyed being able to come and go as we please and got to visit wonderful places off the Tourist Trail. Look at www.nationaltrust.org.uk for some great itinerary ideas. Be sure to consider their Overseas Tourist Pass for Admissions and Parking at 100s of sites in England and Wales.

Posted by
2640 posts

There are, of course, almost unlimited choices that would suit your interests. If limited to 12 days, I would focus on the train schedules to see where you can go that won't eat up too much of your valuable time. Also, find B&B or hotels close to the train stations or (if you don't mind springing for a taxi) near a point of interest. Again, the goal is to use your time efficiently so you won't spend hours "commuting" between your lodging and the interesting places you came to see.

Posted by
17869 posts

There are tons of fabulous places to see in England without a car, so a lot depends on your interests, how important variety of sights is to you, and (at least for me) time of year. There are places I would go in the summer but not in March or November. I agree with others that on a short trip you should try to avoid spending a lot of time traveling from place to place. That doesn't necessarily mean all your bases need to be very near London, because travel time doesn't always align with mileage. For example, you can travel all the way to York, which is nearly 220 miles from London, in about 2 hours by train. Places closer to London that require bus travel (or train + bus combo) can take that long or longer. And York has a great deal to recommend it, as far as I'm concerned.

I really, really hate changing hotels, but since London hotels tend to be comparatively expensive (I realize the situation may be different when things first open up) and I like to see a lot of any town I visit, I mostly stay in London to see the sights of that city. I try to base myself elsewhere when I want to see other places. For example, there are van tours to the Cotswolds operating from Oxford, a city that has two very good museums. Thus I had no trouble filling my time during a 4-night stay in Oxford. [paragraph edited to add text inadvertently deleted from original post.]

If you do decide to stay in London and take a lot of day-trips, I can recommend Canterbury and Bletchley Park (the WWII codebreaking center) as workable day-trip destinations. I believe you'd have plenty of time to see what you wanted to before heading back to London. Places like Oxford, Cambridge and Bath can be day-trips from the logistical standpoint, but they all have museums deserving substantial time, so be sure you know what you want to do in towns like that before deciding a day-trip will work for you. That goes double if you have multiple day-trips heading in the same direction.

Posted by
1178 posts

In 2018 we spent 14 nights in England without a car. We then went to Edinburgh where we ended our trip. Here is what we did in case it is helpful to you.

We spent 5 nights in London, day tripping one day to Cambridge. We then went by train to Bath. We took the train via Salisbury, where we left our luggage at a near by pub (for a fee). We saw the cathedral which is simply magnificent and then took the train to Bath. We spent 3 nights in Bath. We took a van (private company) one afternoon to Stonehenge which we really enjoyed. It was essentially just transportation. It left from the center of the city.

We then took a van tour to the Cotswolds. We stayed there and hiked part of the Cotswold trail (having our luggage delivered to next spot each day) and then took the train to York where we spent 3 nights.

We have a trip of 11 nights by public transportation to England planned tentatively. We are planning 3 nights in Oxford (with day trip by bus to Churchill’s birth place), 3 nights in Canterbury (with day trip by train to Dover) and five nights in London.

Trains are expensive in England unless you reserve in advance which we did. We also took a couple small van tours when trains would not work easily. We just did not want to drive on a different side of the road. As I said, we plan to return but again will rely on public transportation.

Posted by
553 posts

Linda -- we used Cotswold Walks (https://www.cotswoldwalks.com/bath-and-wiltshire). The link should take you to the route we did. Cotswold Walks books the inns (except for Bath, they were homes or B&Bs), provide the very detailed maps, luggage transport, restaurant reservations in one town, and in one case, taxi service. We absolutely loved it. But beware -- the paths are mostly along the old Right of Ways, and it takes some navigating; for example, one direction told us to cross the stile and then walk to the big tree). You walk right through cultivated fields; it is like a scavenger hunt and when you arrive at your next night's stay, you win! I would use this company again.

Posted by
5482 posts

A few things:

Been going to London since Nixon was President. Each visit I've found new things to see and do. London always pleases.

1.) If you desire to see other parts of England (Manchester for example) then there is no need to back track to London Heathrow (LHR) to fly home. You could fly back to the US from Manchester.

2.) Always best to prebook train tickets as a means of cost savings.

3.) I'd arrive London and spend your first 2 days there. Allowing you to properly get over you jet lag, visit an ATM to get your currency, see some sites and get used to the hustle and bustle that is London.

4.) Use Google maps satellite view. Type in Big Ben and you'll see how close many of the sites are close to one another. Elizabeth's Tower ( Big Ben ) is still in scaffolding. Touring Parliament is some thing to consider. Book in advance. Check the Westminster Abbey website for events. You don't want to travel all the way there and not be able to see inside because an event has been schedule and the Abbey is closed to visitors. Book tickets for the intriguing Churchill War Rooms in advance as well.

5.) Once done in Parliament Square stroll up through the lovely St James Park to Buckingham Palace. Forget seeing the Changing of the Guard. Waste of time. Instead before or after seeing the Churchill War Rooms walk over to the nearby Horse Guards Parade. Not advising you do all of this upon arrival simply suggesting a few things that might be of interest and you could pick and choose.

6.) Been to Bath, York, Durham, Lincoln, Cambridge, Salisbury, Oxford and Windsor by train. Driven to the Lyme Regis from LHR. Love train travel. Takes planning but so worth it. Hope to travel next year to see Whitsable as a day trip.

7.) On on trip in the early 90's I wanted to see a rugby match in the Hampstead Heath. Via the internet found a local club and emailed them. Long story short, saw a match and enjoyed a pint in a pub with the team and their families. Consider trying to contact a local football (soccer) club prior to your trip. As far as seeing a stadium I did that in 2013 by attending the 49ers (my team) vs Jaguars game at Wembley. Another thumbs up experience. Believe all the stadiums, Wembley, Twickenham, Emirates, etc all have tours.

In all honesty your itinerary will be based solely on what you and your husband truly wish to see. Make a list of the absolute
"must sees." Then add the "We'd like to see but won't kill us if we don't get there," options. Cull and cull some more.

Lastly be adaptable. One December while reading a church bulletin board I saw a flyer announcing artists open houses on Eel Pie Island. How does one pass up visiting a place called Eel Pie Island? Memory fails me but I believe I tubed from Central London to Richmond, changed trains and from there via the District Line on to Twickenham. From the station walked towards the Thames and found the foot bridge from the Embankment to Eel Pie Island. After visiting the open houses (bought a small Christmas gift) crossed back over the bridge and strolled along the Embankment where I discovered the lovely York House Gardens. Very pleasant surprise. Continued my stroll along the Embankment path watching the rowers till I cam across the White Swan riverside pub where I had a bowl of soup and a pint. Left there and headed to the train/underground station and back to London. Perfect unplanned adventure.

PM if you'd like. Always enjoy sharing hidden non touristy things I've discovered over my many UK visits.

Posted by
2603 posts

First and most important decide where you want to go, it’s a waste of time and money to back track.

If you think you would like to go to York I would suggest flying into Manchester, taking the train at the airport to York. There are countryside walks you can do from York, they range from 1.5 to 6.5 miles and all accessible by public transportation. Go to......York.gov.uk. There are bike rentals in York also,

After York you can go south...if going to the Cotswolds you would take the train from York to Moreton-in-Marsh...the Cotswolds would really suit your likes, granted they are easier if you have a car, but if you like to walk and cycle they are very doable, plus there are some bus transportation.
For quaint villages, walks and cycling the Cotswolds would be great, you could walk the Cotswold Way National Trail which is beautiful, there are places where you can rent bikes and fabulous quaint villages.
Then you could take from Moreton-in-Marsh into London. Then you can fly out of London.

Posted by
2591 posts

Another possibility is a Rabbies tour starting in London-some are less than a week.

Posted by
504 posts

You could spend all your time in London and take day trips from there by train. For example, Bath is (1h20m) from London, York is 2h and you don’t have to switch either. You can also visit Windsor, Cambridge and Oxford from London.
Another idea is to also use Bath as a base and take a bus or tour to Wells and Glastonbury one day and Avebury, Stonehenge and Salisbury another day. If you purchase Rick Steve’s London book, he probably has sone local tour guides listed. If you have a fourth day you could visit the Cotswold towns Chipping Campden, Stow-on-the-Wold and Moreton-in-Marsh.

Posted by
17869 posts

Only desperation would drive me to day-trip from London to York. First of all, you'd spend 4 hours on trains, plus the travel time from your London hotel to the train station. The train station in York is a fair walk from the center of the historic district, too. Then there's the fact that York has a lot more than one day's worth of sightseeing possibilities.

Posted by
504 posts

Yea I agree, York is worth a minimum of two nights if you're into walking tours.

Posted by
18 posts

If it is your first visit to England, London is a must see. However there are plenty of things to see outside our capital. I can only speak for my region, North West England. Using the train you can be in Manchester or Liverpool in around 2 hours. Our towns and cities up here a quite post industrial and a little gritty, but very interesting and use their industrial heritage to their advantage.
You could stay around Manchester and travel easily by train to the Peak District, Chester, Delamere Forest, Liverpool even the Lake District. Plenty of nice walks to picturesque villages, Lymm, Smithy Bridge, Alderley Edge, Edgeworth. Cycle trails galore such as the trans-Pennine trail and my favourite, the Middlewood Way. A network of canals with their tow paths for walking or cycling. Even the seaside and dunes at Formby and Ainsdale.
There are direct flights in and out of Manchester Airport for NY.
If you intend travelling by train, consider buying a 2together railcard. It gives you a third off the price your train tickets, after the 9:30 am rush hour. It seems like you know about the Advance tickets already.

Posted by
18 posts

Oh and regarding the "soccer" interest, we are bursting at the seams with football clubs up here. Out of the 5 premiership sides Man united and City, plus Liverpool, Everton and Burnley , the latter would probably be the easiest to get tickets for. There are a few lower league matches that would be a good experience. Championship (2nd division) side Preston would be the best bet. There are also tours around the premier side's stadiums.
AS an alternative, perhaps have a look at a Rugby League game. A bit like your "football". Season runs from Feb - October. Warrington, Wigan and St Helens would be the best to watch (sorry Salford). £20/£30 for a standing/seated ticket and normally a good spectacle, tickets readily available.

Posted by
5609 posts

First of all, you don't need, let alone want, a rental car in urban cities like London. London's transit system is great. See the Transport For London website for getting from point A to point B: https://tfl.gov.uk/

Second, if you enjoy walking and want to visit quaint towns, beautiful scenery and small inns, consider UK walking holiday trips. We did a across England walk using Contours Walking Holiday self-guided booking service with luggage forwarding support: https://www.contours.co.uk/

If you want to base camp, I have heard good reports about HF Holidays bookings: https://www.hfholidays.co.uk/

Posted by
83 posts

Oh my gosh! Thank you so much for all of the info. Each one of you has given me tons to process. I have no idea when we will be able to travel again freely so have lots of time to research. I think I am leaning toward bases in London, Bath area and York. Husband will also start looking into smaller clubs that might be easier to get into for a match. We did this in Ireland and Spain and wound up being some of our most fun experiences. We may consider open jaw flights into Manchester and out of london or vice versa. Also we may add a day or two. The Costwolds is very appealing to us and we may hire a car and drive that area before moving on. Again, thanks for pointing me in the right direction. So much to see and do.
Linda.

Posted by
83 posts

padams- thank you for the cotswolds walks link. And BethFL. Your itinerary is very helpful.

Posted by
2603 posts

Hi Linda, I walked the Cotswold Way National Trail with a friend a few years ago. I planned the trip myself. It’s easy to just walk part of the trail for example Chipping Campden to Broadway which is six miles. Plus there are circular walks you could do in the Cotswolds.

Posted by
17869 posts

Viator is a consolidator. It doesn't run any tours itself, and it charges substantial commissions to the actual tour operators. You may save money, and the tour company will definitely receive more money, if you can trace Viator-listed tours back to the website of the operator by Googling key parts of the tour descriptions.

Posted by
5482 posts

My only Viator tour was truly memorable. I had one day in Milan. Wanted to see the Last Supper. Arrived at the tour meeting place. Was just me and the guide. No one else. Waited. No one.

Was only myself and a female guard in the room with the masterpiece. The guard looked at her cell phone the entire time.

I stood alone for 30 minutes viewing and absorbing da Vinci’s work.

So definitely not a bad experience with Viator.

Posted by
17869 posts

My point is that you didn't take a Viator tour, because there is no such thing. If you buy an airplane ticket on Expedia, you are not flying Expedia Airlines, because that doesn't exist.

I'm glad you had a good tour; I'm sure the vast majority of tours booked through Viator are good. But you may have paid more than you needed to, and the tour company definitely got paid a lot less, because Viator takes a healthy commission.

I'm not saying Viator is never useful. I booked a tour through that company in 2019 because it could be canceled up to 24 hours in advance and I was worried about weather (and rightly; we ended up canceling). Tours booked on the website of the company operating the tour had a stricter cancellation policy.