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Car Rental Advice: Cotswolds and London

Hi All,

After a long break from travel my wife and I are planning to go to London in November this year and I'd like some advice/thoughts on a car rental. My hunch is you'd much rather have a car in the Cotswolds, but definitely not one for London. We've been to London a few times and I imagine driving would be a pointless nightmare.

We start our trip in the Cotswolds and end the trip in London.

I was thinking about renting a car at Heathrow, driving to the Cotswolds, and then finding a place well outside of London proper to return rental car (I definitely do not trust myself to survive driving in London).

My idea was to drive from the Cotswolds to Oxford and then train into London.

Any advice? Tips? I'm not sure what the best thing is to do here, I'm very nervous of driving a car in the UK but my hope is that with Heathrow being outside of London I won't have too many issues, I'm just having trouble finding the best location to drop off the rental.

Thanks!

Posted by
2163 posts

Sounds like a good plan. I'm not sure I can recommend "the best" place to return the car but Oxford is not a bad place, frequent trains to London. Just make sure you spend some time in Oxford.

Renting a car at Heathrow is certainly possible, but are you sure it is a good idea to rent a car and drive after a long flight? Another option is to go to Oxford, maybe spend the night there, and rent the car there. That also saves you the fee for dropping off the car in a different place, although that fee should probably be pretty small. There are frequent and comfortable coaches between Heathrow and Oxford.

Posted by
205 posts

Strongly recommend you not rent a car and drive to Cotswolds immediately on arrival in UK, especially as you say you are nervous about driving in UK. What I used to do when visiting my Mum who lived near Cheltenham on the edge of the Cotswolds was take the bus (look at National Express website), and pick up rental car next day. The bus stopped at Cirencester, a lovely market town with hotels, restaurants an old church and Roman origins and big enough to have some major car rental outlets. Cheltenham is also a good bet for car rentals and also has good train service to London and elsewhere; both are easy drives to the classic Cotswold area - Broadway, Bourton-on-the-water, Chipping Sodbury, etc. And to Oxford to drop off the car.

Posted by
5 posts

@Badger - I wish we had the flexibility to stay overnight somewhere and then pick up a vehicle, but we've already booked everything and schedule is pretty tight. One thing We've thought about is taking a bus from Heathrow to Oxford, and picking up a rental car from there. That way we're that much further removed from the bustle of London/Heathrow. Problem there is adding time to an already long day and...

The reality we're also dealing with is COVID (obviously), so taking a bus after a ten hour flight is just more exposure to other folks and requires more mask use etc etc, so one benefit of taking a car immediately would be taking off masks/lowering COVID exposure and I'm kind of hoping coffee + adrenaline can keep me going for the drive.

@lanlubber - A lot of what I posted above applies but I do like the idea of taking a bus somewhere else first and then driving. We just have to end our day in the Cotswolds as we've already booked our lodging for the trip. Cirencester looks like a good option!

Posted by
25760 posts

It sounds like everything is cast in stone.

That's a shame, but it is what it is. Please drive very carefully and if (when) you feel drowsy stop in a layby or pub carpark. I so clearly remember sleeping in a pub carpark somewhere off the A40 after a flight to Heathrow from New York. Luckily my wife and father enjoyed their meal but they weren't driving.

Where do you mean for "Cotswolds"? It is a really large area in parts of 4 counties, all the way practically from Stratford-upon-Avon in the north to Bath in the south; nearly from the Severn (or at least Cheltenham) in the west to nearly Oxford in the east. For example, I grew up near Cheltenham and know the northern Cotswolds like the back of my hand but I get lost in the south.

Somebody spooked of driving here doesn't need to be trying to drive in Oxford. The City Council really doesn't like cars (I could be more vociferous but I'll restrain myself - I had a business in a suburb and speak from years of experience) (roads which end when you think they will go straight through or take you in circles, or suddenly are one way against you and very low speed limits and extraordinarily high parking charges (if you can find a space), and then there are the bicycles and now the electric scooters!) so I'd limit myself to getting a car at the station and driving towards Botley and then onto the ring road (A34) to the A40, A44 or whatever you need to get wherever you are going.

But then you don't want to use public transport to get to your car. Heathrow then. Good luck. Bath Road to M4 spur to M4 to wherever you are going. Lots of roadworks on the M4 west of the M25.

Please say where you will be going to so I don't point you in the wrong direction.

I'm sorry you chose the Cotswolds in November. Usually competes with February for the bleakest weather, although the days are shorter in November. Early November (bonfire night?) or late?

As I read this back I sound like a real grumpy gus. No not really, I'm just sad for you in the part of the country I love the most. I wish you had checked in here before you booked everything....

Posted by
4755 posts

Personally, I wouldn’t go to the Cotswolds in November as there will be no colour left in the gardens, daylight hours will be short and the weather is likely to be wet. At that time of year, I would focus on somewhere with more indoor activity options. Oxford would be a better option.

Please, please, PLEASE don’t hire a car immediately on arrival as you will be a danger to yourselves and other road users. Many of the roads in the Cotswolds are narrow and winding and not the thing to be negotiating whilst jet lagged. Heathrow is located immediately next to the very busy M25 motorway and drivers around here are aggressive and won’t put up with nervous drivers. Hiring a car the second day in Oxford would be an easier option for you and you are correct in that you don’t want to be driving in London.

Posted by
2632 posts

"We just have to end our day in the Cotswolds as we've already booked our lodging for the trip."

In which Cotswolds town are you staying?

Posted by
2632 posts

You could use this company (with sanitized cars) to get from the airport to Bourton-On-The-Water:
https://www.justairports.com/

And then take a day tour around the Cotswolds with this company, rather than driving yourself all around the narrow roads of the Cotswolds.
I highly recommend "Go Cotswolds" tours, run by Tom and his wife. We have traveled with them on more than one occasion.
https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g186399-d6696369-Reviews-Go_Cotswolds-Stratford_upon_Avon_Warwickshire_England.html
If you don't want a small group tour, you can book a private tour with them:
https://www.gocotswolds.co.uk/

Other days, you could hike along the Cotswold Way trail from your lodging to a nearby town or village.

You may find this thread somewhat helpful:
https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/england/cotswolds-taxi-service-book-in-advance
Taking a taxi from one town to another could be a possibility.

I have taken the bus from Heathrow to Oxford, and there were only two other people on it. These 2 people sat in the very back of the bus and napped. We sat near the front.

The "Just Airports" car service could take you to Oxford, if that is where you might pick up your rental car.

Posted by
2632 posts

You wrote:
"We start our trip in the Cotswolds and end the trip in London."

Will you spend any time in London at the end of your trip?
Or just return the car at Heathrow and then board your flight home?

Posted by
5 posts

@Rebecca - thanks for the links, I'm going to explore some of those options you mentioned.

Yes, we will have multiple nights in London.

Original thought was pick up car at Heathrow, drive to Bourton, return rental car in Oxford (or some other town) and immediately train into London, spend rest of trip there, then train/taxi to Heathrow.

Posted by
2163 posts

While we all should do our best to minimize the risk of spreading covid, I see no reason to worry about the coach between Heathrow and Oxford. I've taken that coach many times and never seen it more than half full. Often with less passengers than that.

And if you've taken a transatlantic flight, a coach ride to Oxford should not pose much of a risk in comparison.

Posted by
3218 posts

We always pick up and drop off at Heathrow. The drive to Bourton on the Water will take between 1.5 and 2 hours depending on traffic, construction, getting turned around, and if you need a break. Look up where you need to park for your lodging before going over. The town has a decent sized pay lot close to the center. Getting onto the M25 from the airport you won’t be on it long before getting onto the M40 towards Oxford. You could also take the M4 toward Swindon then up towards Cirencester. Time wise I think both both are about the same.

Posted by
2790 posts

OP had best description of driving in large European cities ever: "a pointless nightmare"
"

Posted by
59 posts

Well, you’ve gotten good advice and it’s too late, so I won’t say a train to Oxford or even Bath would be best when you land and then get a car.

Posted by
4874 posts

We rented a car at Heathrow, after a transatlantic flight ( no problem, since I was so hyped about arriving in England) and drove to Bath, were we stayed three nights.

We did South Wales then came back to England, staying at Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds. Stayed at the Volunteer Inn (highly recommend it) for six nights using it as a base to explore the Cotswolds, Oxford, Blenheim Palace and Stratford Upon Avon.

For you I recommend renting at either Heathrow or Oxford, If you rent at Oxford, then do the Cotswolds and then return to Oxford. Visit Oxford, then take the train into London. You don't want to drive in and around London.

Posted by
617 posts

Driving the first day after arriving in a new time zone is certainly a concern, but I wouldn't advise you against it. It depends on how many time zones you are travelling from, and how well you handle jet lag. Plan accordingly and you'll be alright.

Your best dropoff spot depends on whether you will be charged a dropoff fee. If there is no fee, then certainly Oxford is a good option. Pretty easy to drive there (although I did get a parking ticket once), and easy connections to London. If there is a dropoff fee, then I would just return the car to Heathrow (its right on your way from the Cotswolds to London), and take a train or Tube in from there.

Posted by
249 posts

We've driven around England (and Ireland, France, etc.) a few times and here's our experience as 70-somethings who fly 10-1/2 hours from L.A. to London. First, rent a car with automatic transmission. I can't imagine how hard it would be to drive a stick shift with the shifter on the left, steering wheel on the right, opposite side of the road, narrow country lanes, etc. I mention this because car rental locations away from Heathrow might have a limited supply of automatics....especially after Covid and the shortage of car computer chips. I'd recommend finding/reserving the car before arranging a hotel.

With that bit of advice we've never had a problem driving in the U.K. Even leaving Heathrow isn't a big deal if you have a navigation system. We just used my iPhone for navigation in France last month and it worked as well as built in.

In 2019, we rented at Heathrow and then drove the 20 minutes to Eton where we walked around Windsor and spent a couple of nights. That gave us time to recover from jet lag before spending the next three weeks on a road trip around England, Wales, and Scotland.

Next June our plan is to fly to Heathrow and then take the Heathrow Express to London for a couple of nights before taking the train to Bath to pick up a car (which has already been reserved) and tour Cornwall and the Cotswolds. On the way back to London at the end of the trip, we'll drop the car in Bath and take the train. It goes directly to Paddington Station so we won't have to worry about getting from Heathrow to London.

I tried to figure out a way to mostly use trains (such as to Moreton-in-Marsh) and then rent a car from there but I found it not as easy as I'd hoped.

Your trip sounds like fun.

Posted by
29 posts

I just want to confirm what the previous poster said. It is difficult to rent an automatic unless you go to Heathrow. And you don't want to drive in the UK with manual transmission. You have to shift with your left hand.

Posted by
6 posts

Someone commented about renting a car in Moreton on Marsh yet I am unable to find any car rental places. What would be the closest town along the train route from Liverpool where I could pick up a car to drive while in the Cottswolds?

Posted by
25760 posts

for quiltingbear,

Birmingham I would have thought. Maybe Banbury. Royal Leamington Spa. Cheltenham.

Moreton-in-Marsh isn't on the line from Liverpool.

Posted by
1 posts

Hi,

My sister and I are traveling from Boston to London Heathrow this weekend ...Going to the Stow in the Wold for a week where we need a car (never have been to The Cotswolds ) and then off to London where we do not need one. We were planning on picking up a car at Heathrow but we are beyond scared out of our minds about the driving. We were even thinking of hiring someone to drive our rental car and take us there but cannot find that type of service. Does anyone know if there is a company who provides a driver?
If not, Can you please suggest what is the most practical way of getting a rental car from Heathrow to Stow in the Wold with the least amount of driving? I would appreciate any advice !

Thank you!
Susan

Posted by
5 posts

Thanks everyone! Rented an automatic vehicle from Heathrow. Be sure to check this thread in mid November so I can tell you if we made it there and back again without too much trouble!

Posted by
169 posts

That sounds like a good idea--- avoid driving around London - it is far too busy and difficult to find parking. Oxford has many rental places - I drove around a dropped a car off there before. Parking can be slightly dicey in the very downtown part of oxford, but you will need one to get around the cotswolds (particularly if you want to see more of it than just being in a bus).

You should try to check out the Cotswolds Wildlife Park and Gardens. I know it sounds odd- since most people go there for the houses and quaint villages, but CWP is probably their local largest attraction - complete with giraffe's and rhinos, and also where else will you see a rhino adjacent what looks like a manor home? If you get an extra few minutes its worth checking out for about 3 hours or so. I visited the Cotwolds twice, and this is the most unusual thing I remembered and enjoyed (kind of at random after my friend and I had gone through most of the rest of it). There is also a falconry center north of there if you love birds.

Posted by
13 posts

I saw a few posts about renting an automatic v. manual transmission car. A few years ago we rented a manual transmission in Ireland and it was easy to get used to. I do drive a manual here and in the states so driving a manual wasn’t new to me.

Posted by
7921 posts

Susan, read Rebecca’s posts upthread. She answers your question.

Posted by
7921 posts

Rebecca, Super helpful info! Thanks!

Posted by
518 posts

Driving the first day after arriving in a new time zone is certainly a
concern, but I wouldn't advise you against it. It depends on how many
time zones you are travelling (sic) from, and how well you handle jet lag.
Plan accordingly and you'll be alright.

This is the best, non-judgemental advice so far. Personally, when I fly to the U.K. from the Northeast U.S., I take a morning flight from Boston that arrives late on the same day in London. Jet lag for this timed arrival is not a problem.

Posted by
617 posts

Travelling is an acceptable spelling in English English!

And Canadian English too! Thanks for sticking up for me.

We are planning a trip from London to Oxford, The Cotswolds, Blenheim, Stratford Upon Avon. Where is the best place to rent a car? Thinking of renting a car in Oxford and staying outside of Oxford in Chipping Camden or Stow in the Wold. Will be in London Nov. 20-25, and then have Nov. 25 - 28 to travel. Looking for recommendations for renting a car and places to stay in the Cotswolds.