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Best days to take day trips from London vs stay in town

We (family of 4, 2 teens) will have 6 1/2 days (7 nights) in an apartment in London and I think we want to take day trips to:
1) Harry Potter/WB studios
2) Stonehenge (and Bath or Salisbury?)
Maybe a 3rd one TBD.

My main question is-are there certain days of the week that it would be better to leave London? We will arrive mid-day (most likely from Oxford-Cotswolds) on a Thursday and depart on Thursday morning so we have the whole weekend. I think Saturday is the street market day in Notting Hill so we may do that, but is Sunday a good day to stay in town or is it more crowded and a good day to leave? We are staying in Covent Garden. The top things we want to do in London are: Tower of London, British Museum, Churchill War rooms, Westminster Abbey. Also want to see Buckingham and Kensington palaces, and ride the London Eye (the kids). Trying to decide if we should plan for 4 1/2 days in London or add another day trip (Canterbury/Dover or Brighton perhaps? Better ideas?) We've not ever had a full week in one city so I don't have a great sense for if we will want to explore London more thoroughly or if getting away from the hustle and bustle would be good. I'm sure either way we will have fun, just looking for insights or things I may not have thought about or considered.


edited to add that we will be there end of May/early June

Posted by
2836 posts

You will never have enough time to see everything in London. I would not add another day trip. You might also want to visit the British Museum early in your trip. That way, if you get saturated on the first trip, you can go back a second time. I've been to lots of world class museums and the British Museum is close to the top in my opinion. I don't think the interior of Buckingham Palace will be open at the time you're there, except the art gallery.

Posted by
4410 posts

Is this your first trip to London (as a family)? If it is there is more than enough to occupy the limited time you have however I understand the desire to fit as much in as possible. I would probably do Stonehenge and Salisbury as one day and forget Bath. You say you're coming from The Cotswolds, could you fit Bath in whilst in the area?

I wouldn't want to visit Brighton or Dover with so little time in London, both are a big sacrifice in comparison to what you could be doing.

London is always busy but if there is a quieter day then Sunday it is. All the attractions you would want to visit are open on Sunday but they are likely to be busier on a weekend than a weekday.

Posted by
623 posts

A few random thoughts. Hope they help.

I'd be wary of planning day trips out of London on weekends if traveling by train. The railway companies often do maintenance/repair work on those days which interrupts regular service. You may be put in a coach (bus) for all or part of a route that you'd ordinarily travel by train.

You can escape hustle and bustle without leaving greater London. There's Hampstead Heath, there's the huge area of Hyde Park.

I like Brighton, but in my experience its sidewalks and streets are as bustling and busy as London's.

I haven't read through all of your other topic, but I assume you know that if you want to do the Harry Potter/WB tour, do not delay in booking tickets for that, even months in advance, to avoid finding it's all sold out for the dates you want.

Have fun!

Posted by
3173 posts

For me, the best day to take a day trip is when I can find the least expensive open-return train ticket. That can be a Saturday. I will say that I now avoid taking day trips on a Sunday because too many times rail service has been diverted or canceled which has been frustrating. Maybe bus service is more reliable.

Posted by
248 posts

Given the # of days you have, if you take more than 2 day trips, you likely won't be able to see everything you want to see in London. London alone could easily keep someone busy for 10 days (or a month, or a lifetime). It's a balancing act, because there are some day trips you want to do. Day trips can be costly and stressful, just the travel to and from.

Posted by
4873 posts

If there are any engineering works on the rail line, then these will take place at the weekend. However, there are fewer ticket restrictions at the weekend.

The last week of May is generally school half term holidays, so HP will be busier this week.

IMO a better market for the weekend is Camden. Plenty of good food stalls here too.

There is plenty to see in London itself to fill your time. Stonehenge isn’t in my top 100 places to see, but it’s your trip not mine. Salisbury is easier to combine with Stonehenge than Bath.

Posted by
2163 posts

I did a combined day trip from London to Windsor, Oxford & Stonehenge and it was a guided tour by bus, for me on my first solo trip that was a great & easy option to see 3 places on my list. As others point out, railway work is often done on weekends--my return trip in August I took the train to Bletchley Park and it seems WB Studios was on the way as there were many people in a tour group going there--this was on a Friday and notices were up that the line would be closed for maintenance over the weekend, so I'm glad I booked my ticket in advance. If I had waited til I arrived in London and tried to go Saturday or Sunday I'd have been very disappointed.

If I were you I'd keep the trips out of town to just one or two at most--London is full to the brim with wonderful things to see and do. I spent a Saturday going first to Portobello Road market and then to Camden, definitely lots at both to keep everyone entertained and well-fed.

You'll want to get an itinerary sorted and then get tickets for the Tower, Churchill's War Rooms and Westminster Abbey in advance to avoid the ticket lines. I know Buckingham Palace is only open to tours when the Queen is away, so check your dates on the official website--I was lucky to be there while she was away in August, very enjoyable tour. Kensington is open year-round.

Posted by
2711 posts

Tower of London--I would go on a week day, and get there the moment they open. Only way to avoid huge crowds. I would then go see the Crown Jewels immediately. It is in a small room or two and can get crowded.

For inexpensive guided day trips out of London, look at this company's website:

Their trip to Leeds Castle and Canterbury is a good one. Good for one of your days in London, when you've had enough in previous days, of museums and want a day out of town.

They also have walking tours around London with a theme, such as The Beatles Walk, or Harry Potter film locations in London, or Jack The Ripper, and more; click on "The Walks" on the left side of the home page..

If you must choose between Stonehenge and Avebury (both being stone circles), I would say Stonehenge gives more of a "Wow" moment:

I would do day trips and London museums on weekdays. Museums can get crowded on the weekends.

Weekend days are good for walking in the parks in London or taking a neighborhood or theme walk with London Walks company.

Posted by
21243 posts

We always find week days to be lighter than on the weekends when more of the local are out and about. But London is always busy so I would guess that the week day might be slightly better. It may not make that much differences,

Posted by
441 posts

Thanks everyone, this confirms my thoughts that we could be happy with more days in London, and I love all the suggestions-like doing the Tower of London first thing on a weekday-thank you so much.
I will probably keep the day trips to the 2 that I mentioned and plan for the rest of the time in London, more time to see things without rushing :)
I will be sure to get the HP tickets as soon as I have an itinerary mapped out. I already checked and its currently wide open for May and June.

Posted by
1190 posts

Look at the National Trust UK website. There are many sites and properties in Metropolitan London. A Family Tourist Pass for a family like yours would be 7 days for 61 pounds. Many things are free in London but this would give access to much more. You can take day trips and get away from the hustle and bustle just using the underground or bus. Check it out you will be surprised. P.S. There are many Street Markets throughout London and Environs, go early. Notting Hill is a classic; but look at some of the others for better bargains.You won't be sorry to have spent a week in London. Save the other sites for a driving tour.

Posted by
914 posts

Do the HP studios on a Monday. Still crowded but less than normal. Get your tickets for that now! Be aware it takes about 90 minutes by public transport to get there. I recommend the first time they have for the day and just plan on being up early that day and spending your whole day there. My sister and I are huge HP fans and spent about 6 hours there with a break for lunch. The only other thing we did that day was a London Walks that started at 7:30 pm back in London.

Posted by
384 posts

Three day trips outside London in 6 1/2 days would be too hectic and would shortchange London IMO.

Why not make a day of visiting Greenwich? So much to see and do there yet you are still in London. Take the Thames Clipper one way, then the tube or DLR or train back.

I second the suggestion above to visit Hampstead and walk Hampstead Heath - you will forget that you are a short tube ride from central London. And if you'd like to see a stately home, Kenwood House is right there, too. Enjoy your visit!

Posted by
1838 posts

Saturdays are the best for taking longer train journeys out of London as the prices are cheaper due to fewer commuters. (On weekdays, prices are dearer for all departures before 9.30am - usually). Go on and you will see what I mean. Also check out prices about 11 weeks ahead and see if the the Advance purchase specific train price is lower than pay on the day.
(It will usually warn you of engineering work).

Posted by
36 posts

The end of May beginning of June is the school holiday of Whit week, with the last Monday in May being a bank holiday. If that is the week you are staying. I would book HP sooner rather then later.

Posted by
441 posts

Thanks for the advice regarding the holiday, trains and HP. I’ll make sure to get tickets soon. I like the ideas for Hampstead Heath instead of a day trip outside London. Thank you everyone!

Posted by
623 posts

Why not make a day of visiting Greenwich? So much to see and do there
yet you are still in London. Take the Thames Clipper one way, then the
tube or DLR or train back.

I agree with this. I enjoyed the boat ride down there. The Royal Observatory in Greenwich is a fun place to visit, with lovely grounds on top of a hill. You can stand on the Meridian Line, and on a clear day you can see a lot of the London skyline in the distance. I've been there a few times and don't think I ever went into the main building, just enjoyed the grounds and the view. And the Meridian Line, lol. There's more to see in Greenwich, of course. Including the Royal Naval College with its Painted Hall (amazing painted ceiling!) and more.

I think Greenwich is altogether a nice little jaunt from central London. Doesn't have to take all day, just depends on what you choose to do. I enjoyed riding the Docklands Light Rail back to London, but you can always opt to take the boat both ways.

Even if you don't go to Greenwich you might enjoy riding a boat along the Thames through London.

Posted by
441 posts

I had not thought of Greenwich but it sounds interesting-thank you for the suggestion!

Posted by
2711 posts

The closest dock to Greenwich in central London is at the Tower of London.

An easy day would be
1.*Do Tower of London when it opens. It will take about 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Or less if you don't stop and read every label in the suits of armor room.

2.*Lunch--Tower of London has an excellent lunchroom, with inexpensive salads and sandwiches.

3.*Board the Thames Clipper boat to Greenwich at the Tower dock. Thames Clipper boats take the Oyster card. Just tap the card as you are getting on. Watch and see where everyone else is tapping.

4.*Arrive at Greenwich and see all it has to offer, including the tour of the boat Cutty Sark.

5.*Boat back to London from Greenwich. For maximum water views of London, you can ride on past Tower Hill, on to Westminster, for water views of Parliament.

Where you get off the boat may depend upon where your apartment/hotel is, or where you are planning to eat dinner. There are docks at several locations.

Posted by
441 posts

Oooh that sounds fun Rebecca-thanks for the idea! You may have helped me plan a whole day in London :)

Posted by
3419 posts

Another vote for Greenwich! We went on a Saturday or Sunday, in addition to all the nautical stuff, there was a nice market, and we enjoyed walking in the park, too. We took the tunnel under the Thames (a bit of a walk, but interesting), then took the Dockland train (I think that is the name- it was a long time ago) back, it is part of the Tube system and you can use your Oyster cards (or 7 day travel cards).

If you want a 'green' break from all the concrete, I'd suggest Kew Gardens, lovely, easy to reach via the Tube, and there is a small aquarium and nice greenhouses as well as the 'normal' gardens. Their gift shop was the best we found at all the typical sites.

Posted by
1190 posts

I also think that Greenwich and Kew are wonderful destinations! Another "quiet" and spooky destination is Highgate Cemetery with fabulous statuary and tombs that Harry Potter fans would love. There are other famous cemeteries that became the vogue in Victorian times that "ring" the city.

Posted by
389 posts

I wouldn't worry about busier days at HP studios as they regulate the number of people who can go in by limiting the number of tickets per tour, just don't leave it too long to get them. Whether trains are running to schedule 25-27th May which is the bank holiday weekend is another matter, bound to be at least some engineering works.

Posted by
11266 posts

A tip if you're going to Greenwich: there is a pretty substantial discount for booking tickets in advance online for the Royal Observatory and Cutty Sark. When I went in September 2018, I saved £5.25 by doing this. And the morning of your visit is far enough "in advance." However, it does take time to register on the website, and it's not easy if you're trying to type in all your registration information on a phone like I would have been. So, if you're thinking you might want to go to Greenwich, register now on the website and keep track of your login information. Then, if you decide to go, that morning you can buy your tickets online, quickly and easily. I had my hotel print them out, but when I got there, they said they would have been able to scan the PDF off my phone (the tickets are mailed to you as a PDF).

In a similar vein, MANY London attractions now have discounts for online advance tickets. It's worth checking website now to learn about these. Of your list, the Tower of London, the Churchill War Rooms, and Westminster Abbey all fall into this category. Furthermore, the Churchill War Rooms are now very popular due to the movie, and if you don't book advance timed tickets, you can have a LONG wait (you can still have a short one even with the advance tickets, as it gets crowded).

Posted by
134 posts

Adding to the recommendation for Greenwich, my daughters and I had a very nice day there in early June. Highly recommend it. And getting there by boat makes it even better!

Posted by
2711 posts

Hello ferrin! You're welcome. Glad to help.
I hope you enjoy your trip to Greenwich.

I think I read in another thread that you are staying in Covent Garden.

If so, the nearest "jumping off" point to your apartment, when coming back from Greenwich by boat,
would be Embankment Pier.

You could then walk approximately ten to twelve blocks north and be in Covent Garden.