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16 Days in England, Having Trouble with Itinerary

Hi all, I'm a longtime lurker of this website. My partner and I have booked a 16 day trip, flying into London Gatwick on April 6th and out on April 23rd, 2017. I am working through the Rick Steves, Fodor's, and Lonely Planet guides, but I am having a difficult time planning our itinerary (and evaluating whether it is reasonable), and would appreciate any advice.

It is my first time in England. My partner will be going for the third time, but in the past has mostly stuck to Oxford and London, and some sights around London such as Windsor, Stonehenge, and Stratford. We like a mix of city sightseeing and outdoor/hiking. We are not so much into historic houses, but my partner is into castles. I would say London, the Lake District, and the Cotswolds are my priorities, in that order. We have relatives in Oxford whom we would like to see, who are also generously letting us stay at their location to help us cut on hotel costs.

Here is what we have so far:

4/7/2017 - fly into London

4/8/2017 - London

4/9/2017 - London

4/10/2017 - early train to Bath

4/11/2017 - Bath

4/12/2017 - pick up car, do sights around Bath (Glastonbury , Stonehenge, Avebury), arrive late at Oxford (stay with relatives)

4/13/2017 - Oxford (stay with relatives)

4/14/2017 [GOOD FRIDAY] - Cotswolds

4/15/2017 - Cotswolds

4/16/2017 - leave Cotswolds, Stratford if we have time (I doubt it!) and head to Warwick Castle, drive to and stay in Liverpool

4/17/2017 [EASTER MONDAY] - travel to Lake District

4/18/2017 - explore Lake District

4/19/2017 - explore Lake District

4/20/2017 - travel to York, stopping by some points in the Yorkshire Dales, arrive at York in the evening, return car

4/21/2017 - explore and stay in York

4/22/2017 - explore York, take the train back to London

4/23/2017 - fly from London

Things I'm iffy about are...

1) The April 16th stay in Liverpool seems awkward. I am slightly interested in the city as I tend to like port cities, but neither my partner or I are big Beatles fans. However, it seemed necessary to break up the long drive from the Cotswolds to the Lake District somehow. Would it be smarter to stay somewhere else, like Manchester? Or would we be better off just driving straight to the Lakes District, and using the extra day for something else, say the Yorkshire Dales?

2) Starting in London and coming back to London at the end of our trip also feels slightly awkward. Rick Steve's guidebook recommends starting in Bath. However, it seems more difficult to go from Gatwick to Bath (a 3 hour trip, 1 transfer, and tickets are expensive unless we prebook a time) than from Heathrow to Bath, so we've decided to start in London. Again, though, any advice is appreciated.

3) I have the distinct feeling that we are trying to cram too much into 2 weeks, and that because of the travel time between destinations, we will end up seeing less than we want to see. I also anticipate that travel times may be increased because we are travelling around Easter time. That said, I'm not sure what to cut. I am tempted to cut York and save it for another trip, but at the same time we are already going as far north as the Lake District, and it seems a logical stop on the way back from the Lakes to London. Or perhaps I should be looking to cutting down time spent in the south (like in Bath), and spend more time in the North. Again, appreciate any advice here!

Finally, I am having a difficult time finding car rental websites, and am wondering if anyone has recommendations - car travel is relatively new to us. Previously we've only traveled in Italy, where train travel allowed us to see most things we wanted to see. I appreciate any help in advance. Thanks for everyone's time!

Posted by
2926 posts

Re: Stratford-upon-Avon, if you're not determined to go I would skip it in favor of Warwick Castle. It's become a very built-up town and although they've tried hard to preserve the historic center you get the feeling of tourist fatigue and there are traffic jams. It takes a full day if you want to do the HoHo bus properly.

For April 16, instead of Liverpool, consider staying in Lancaster. It's right on the M6 and though not a "high point" on most tourist itineraries it has its charms. I can recommend The Mill at Conder Green, a converted grain mill sited overlooking the Lancaster Canal, for both lodging and a good meal.

In the Lake District, though everyone goes to Keswick, I found it a little too touristy and enjoyed Penrith, which is just to the east of the M6 (and nearest town to the Long Meg & Her Daughters stone circle -- good map & directions available at Penrith TI office). The Narrowbar cafe is great for lunch.

In general I don't think you're trying to cram in too much, unless you're the kind of travelers who really like to linger. You could, however, curtail your time in the south by one day by just seeing Bath and heading straight to Oxford. To see Glastonbury, Stonehenge, & Avebury all in one day starting from Bath and ending up in Oxford would be an extremely full day, replete with navigational stress because the roads between all those destinations have many changes of route number and many roundabouts.

The London start/end logistics don't strike me as disadvantageous. You can always find interesting things to see in London.

Car rental: I had best success booking directly on the websites for Avis and Enterprise. (Once I booked through AAA and we were forced to change our dropoff location at the last minute due to a strike, and when I called Avis to notify them they said I had to call AAA because the booking was through AAA -- but it was about 6 AM in the USA at that time! We just had to drop off the car and take our chances -- luckily we didn't get fined or anything.) Also, know that many rental cars come with SatNav (GPS) but that does not take the place of a good road map.

Posted by
5221 posts

It seems a little rushed to me and certainly shortchanges London, where you could easily spend a week -- though your partner might have seen enough there already. I'd stick to your three (really four) priorities.

Spend the first few days in London, maybe 5 days, then take a train to Oxford and see your people. Rent a car there and drive into the Cotswolds for 2-3 days, then on up to the lakes. Via Michelin is a good planning tool for road trips, though it tends to underestimate travel times. It shows about 5 hours from Moreton-in-Marsh (arbitrarily chosen) to Keswick (arbitrarily chosen), not counting stops you'll want or need to make. So figure a road day from wherever you are in the Cotswolds (preferably north of Oxford) into the Lake District. Most of it will be motorways but you'll have slow scenic roads at both ends. You might route yourselves through Warwick if the castle has that much appeal. (I agree with the previous poster about Stratford.) From Keswick (again arbitrarily chosen) it's about 3 hours to York, much of it very scenic. Barnard Castle is along the route, and Castle Howard isn't far outside York. Drop the car in York and take a fast train to London.

Save Bath, Avebury, Stonehenge, Glastonbury, Liverpool, and Stratford for another trip (or trips). You really won't have time to see them properly on this trip.

Auto Europe is a good way to find a rental car. They're a broker based in the US, give you lots of choices and very reliable. If you like a choice they give you, see if you can do better on that rental company's website -- but I never have. If you haven't driven on the left side of the road, consider a car with automatic shift to make the transition easier. It will cost more and take up more space on the country roads but save you an additional physical/mental challenge.

Good luck planning this trip, I think you're on the right track and it looks like fun.

Easter is a four-day holiday so I'd absolutely avoid long road journeys on Good Friday and Easter Monday as you'll be in the middle of the big getaway. British roads are congested at the best of times, and Bank Holiday Mondays in particular. If you are on the road on the big Easter travel days, be prepared for journey times to double near popular destinations.

Posted by
88 posts

I would suggest shuffling around your destinations til you get the best fit.
1. Reverse direction of trip. After London, take train to York ( best advance rate with no risk of missing train due to flight - major savings ), then rent car at end of York visit and drive to Lake District etc. On last night in Bath drive Stonehenge etc, drop off car after dinner at Gatwick, stay at airport hotel then no rush the next morning for flight.
2. National Express bus, hourly from Gatwick to Oxford, rent car on leaving Oxford, then Bath Cotswolds, etc. drop car in York, visit York, train ( booked in advance ) to London.
From Lake District to Cotswolds, I wouldn't stay in Liverpool as cars become a disadvantage in cities and you won't have time to do much.It is doable in one day but if you break it up, I would use the motorway from Lake District to south of Manchester, then take secondary roads along the Welsh border. I enjoyed Ludlow but plenty of small villages which might be nice for a night. It might be fun to stay in a pub in a small village with the locals wondering what Canadian tourists are doing there.
My other bit of advice, pretty standard on this website, is - drop Bath and add a day to 2 of Oxford, York or London. It just seems like a bit too much travelling for a first trip.

Posted by
7124 posts

I too think you are best flipping this easter egg ...

4/7/2017 - Fy into London. Train to York (2)
4/8/2017 - Explore York
4/9/2017 - Pick up hire car. Drive to Lake District (3)
4/10/2017 - Explore Lake District
4/11/2017 - Explore Lake District
4/12/2017 - Liverpool (or Chester) (1)
4/13/2017 - Via Stratford to Oxford (stay with relatives) (2)
4/14/2017 [GOOD FRIDAY] - Oxford (stay with relatives)
4/15/2017 - To Cotswolds (2)
4/16/2017 - Explore Cotswolds
4/17/2017 [EASTER MONDAY] - To Bath (2)
4/18/2017 - Explore Bath
4/19/2017 - To Stonehenge and Salisbury (1)
4/20/2017 - Return hire car and train to London (3)
4/21/2017 - London
4/22/2017 - London
4/23/2017 - Fly from London

Posted by
9 posts

Thank you all for your helpful comments.

We have decided to flip the itinerary after all as it allows us to arrive at the Lake District before Easter holiday, when it will get more busy, and help minimize long driving time on the Thursday before Easter, on Easter Monday and Good Friday. We did decide to drop Bath and Avebury and save them for another trip, and add one day each to the Lakes, Oxford, and London. I am kind of torn between 4 days Lake District/2 days cotswolds, or 3 days each. Unsure if 4 days in the Lakes is excessive, but it seems a bit silly to drive so far north just to leave again so quickly. We have tentatively decided on 4 days - Unfortunately this shortchanges the Cotswolds, leaving us with only 1.5 days for it, but we are hesitant to cut it altogether. We could also switch a London day for another day in the Cotswolds. But we are torn because although we have 5 days planned for London, day 1 will mostly be jetlag recovery.

I kept Liverpool for now as we are interested in the Albert Dock and the museums, but we may still change it. I have been told also that Manchester is much more convenient, and not as much of a detour West, so we are considering Manchester instead, but it's appeal isn't as high as Liverpool. Have also had suggestions to stay in Chester, Lancaster, Buxton, and now Ludlow (thank you to the poster above :) ) to break up the drive, so more research is needed on my part, but we are thinking we would like some city fun to break up the two more outdoor areas.

Here's the current edited plan.

Day 1-2: London (and get over jetlag)
Day 3-4: York, 2 days, pick up car before leaving
Day 5-8: Lakes, 4 days, probably based in Keswick. May take leisurely pace from Keswick to Lakes. [Day 8 is Good Friday]
Day 9: drive early to Liverpool, do 2 museums - Museum of Liverpool, or the International Slavery Miseim or Maritime Museum (may change - need to research more) [saturday of Easter weekend]
Day 10: Warwick, then Cotswolds [Easter Sunday]
Day 11: More Cotswolds [day 11 Easter Monday]
Day 12-13: Oxford, return car, maybe Blenheim daytrip
Day 14-16: travel back to London, do more London again, or could day trip somewhere if we decide on the fly that we have more time (Windsor, Cambridge, ... many choices)

Still appreciate any comments :)

Thanks all for the advice on car rental sites as well.

Posted by
396 posts

You might want to consider what specific activities you will do in the Lakes District and the Cotswolds and determine whether there is too much redundancy for your liking, or whether it's OK. BTW a cool thing to see near the Cotswolds is Blenheim.

Posted by
171 posts

shadowysun wrote: We are not so much into historic houses, but my partner is into castles.

If your partner wants to see the most castle-like castle in the world - maybe I am exaggerating - visit Bodiam Castle. It is in a reasonably good state of repair considering it was built over 600 years ago. It has a moat, which is fairly rare as most moats have been converted to dry ditches.

It is located south of London not far away from Gatwick. It might fit your plan if you do the driving part of your tour first. You could rent a car at Gatwick. After seeing Bodiam you could stop at Stonehenge on your way to the Oxford or the Cotswolds.

I realize that your trip is already overloaded but it's your trip and you should focus on what you and your partner want to see.

Posted by
6540 posts

@ epltd, what are the attractions in Lancaster? I will be passing through there and could use some tips.

Posted by
214 posts

So the major places you want to hit are: London, Lake District, Bath, Oxford, Cotswolds, York
Personally unless you already booked your flight. I'd fly into Manchester and rent a car there.

4/7/2017 - fly into Manchester rent car (Manchester is about 1 hour away from Ambleside/Windemere

4/8/2017 - explore Lake District

4/9/2017 - explore Lake District

4/10/2017 -explore Lake District

4/11/2017 - Take a drive through the Yorkshire dales to York (approx 2 hour drive to York from Lake district) stay in York

4/12/2017 - Visit York

4/13/2017 - Get up early and drive to Oxford (stay with relatives)

4/14/2017 [GOOD FRIDAY] Stay with relatives in Oxford

4/15/2017 -Stratford Upon Avon/ Northern Cotswolds

4/16/2017 - Southern Cotswolds

4/17/2017 [EASTER MONDAY] - Go to Bath visit city

4/18/2017 - Stay in Bath, drive to Stonehenge and surrounding areas

4/19/2017 - Hop a train to London

4/20/2017 - London

4/21/2017 - day trip outside of London (Cambridge perhaps?)

4/22/2017 - London

4/23/2017 - Leave

The plan above is entirely feasibly without you wanting to kill yourself. If you'd like this leaves you time if your relatives don't mind to push the date of visiting with them back a bit- you could stay in York or the Lake District longer.

Posted by
1010 posts

Our private tour guide drove us all the way to Stratford Upon Avon, in August. It was a real waste of time and money. Even our driver, who lives in the Cotswolds, thought it wasn't worth seeing. We had read how wonderful it was, but all three of us were disappointed. We used Andrew Guppy (Cotswold Walks) for our 8 night Cotswold visit.

Posted by
7124 posts

I would still bite the bullet and take the train 2 hours to York on your arrival. If necessary right off your first day there with jet lag. Leave all your London time til the end.

Day 1-3: York, 3 days, pick up car before leaving
Day 4-7: Lake District, 4 days, probably based in Keswick
Day 8: Liverpool
Day 9-10: Warwick, then Cotswolds
Day 11-12: Oxford, return car, maybe Blenheim daytrip
Day 13-16: London