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Driving in England

Thinking ahead on a trip to England May 2023……we are international travelers and very comfortable with renting a car and driving as we have all over Europe…..France, Italy, Switzerland, Czech Republic……but my husband is very hesitant to commit to a car in England because of the differences there…..opposite side of the road driving, etc. We want to do the WW2 things in London as we love that period of history and also see the countryside and Cotswolds as well……can we do this without a car? I feel like we need a car out in the country and that we will be sorry if we don’t take the plunge and rent one……would appreciate your thoughts on this…..thank you!

Posted by
2335 posts

London is easy with no car; I wouldn't even consider it. You'll be extremely limited without one in the Cotswolds. I was a bit nervous as well, but it was easier to get used to than I thought. It was helpful on the first that my wife would navigate with reminders when coming up to intersections.

Get a smaller car. I thought the bigger challenge than driving on the left was the narrow roads and cozy parking lots. But as the guy at the rental counter said, "if you're a good driver at home, you'll be a good drive here."

Posted by
932 posts

Hi Jane -

It’s not the driving on the ‘wrong’ side - after all, Brits have to adapt to driving on the ‘wrong’ side in Europe and the USA etc., and personally, I’ve found it takes just a little while and a bit of extra concentration, but you soon adapt - but the likelihood you’ll get a manual (stick shift) gearbox as opposed to an automatic, unless you specifically request one and, indeed, pay the extra for one. Also consider getting a rather smaller car than you might be used to. One for manoeuvrability on the rather narrower roads and streets, and second for economy. I am aghast at petrol (gas) prices in the U.K. currently and I live here!

You need a car in London like a hole in the head, but if you want to thoroughly explore the Cotswolds then a car is essential. Suggestions previously here on similar threads to collect car in either Oxford or Bath and dropping it back at same place after your explorations and travelling between London and Oxford/Bath by train are sound.

Have a great trip!

Ian

Posted by
6362 posts

NO car needed in London.

Driving on the opposite side of the road is NOT that difficult. Yes, take a few moments for the brain to readjust but from then on piece of cake. The roundabouts are fun once you get the hang of them.

Being driving since LBJ was in office. Learned with a stick shift so never bothered if an automatic isn’t available. Seriously, I’ll never understand why driving on the “ opposite “ side of the road causes we yanks angst. My UK friends who come to visit the Land of La ( LA ) never complain about driving on the “other” side. They only complain about the traffic.

From my POV to experience the beauty of the Cotswolds a car is a necessity. Get a 2 door vehicle unless you MUST have 4 doors. Ford Focus, Fiat Panda, VW Golf are compact. I drove a metallic blue
Toyota Aygo from Heathrow to Lyme Regis and back.
Easy Peasy. You will pay more for an automatic. Don’t solely rely on GPS. Old fashioned paper map helps. I will plan my route the night before on the paper map then use Google maps street on my iPhone to locate petrol station locations and lay bys.

Since you’ll be riding shot gun you’ll also need to adjust your mindset to the other side. Its doable. Don’t miss seeing rural England.

Go to Halies Abbey which I found by surprise whilst driving from Winchcombe to have lunch at the Plough Inn at Ford.

Enjoy!

Posted by
5508 posts

Jane,
We have rented a car in Britain twice and managed quite well. British drivers are more polite and less aggressive than drivers in the NE USA. Highways are usually clearly marked.
However, if you rent a car, I recommend that you get an automatic, it reduces the stress you might have driving on the left. Also, the gear shift would be changed with your left hand.

Don't even think of driving in London, in fact, try to avoid the M25 ring road around London.

If you want to visit the Cotswolds, you are better to rent a car. We stated for six nights in Chipping Campden at the Volunteer Inn and loved it. There is a great pub there as well as super Indian restaurant. Lodging prices are reasonable.

Suggest a couple of full days in the Cotswolds as well as day trip to Oxford, Blenheim Palace. and Stratford Upon Avon.

My wife greatly assisted me while driving by reminded me to stay on the left. When turning right at an intersection, focus on entering the left lane of the new highway. Also, recommend getting a car with a navigation system or have a GPS or cell phone where you can reach google maps.

Posted by
473 posts

As already pointed out, you don't need a car in London. However, you will find it a lot easier to see the Cotswolds with one. Bus services there aren't great and are geared up to locals rather than tourists.

Catch a train to Oxford and hire a car from Oxford Station. This is on the western edge of the town and you will soon be out of town and away from town traffic. The A44 will take you to Chipping Norton, Morton in the Marsh, Broadway and the northern parts of the Cotswolds. The A40 takes you to Burford and the southern areas.

Posted by
744 posts

Although I’ve done a number of road trips in the UK, one of the things I do to prepare is watch some YouTube videos of road trips, taken with a dashboard camera. Here is one example from the Cotswold villages:
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=vzbkrQeP0

The other thing I do when I first start driving in the UK, if I haven’t been doing it recently, is to keep my hand on the gear shift. It’s an awkward position, and reminds me to pay attention.

One more thought…be careful when you pull over to a curb on the left side of the road. In addition to judging distance, some curbs are higher than they seem. From personal experience, if a tire insurance coverage is offered, and not too expensive, consider adding it.

You’ll really enjoy the Cotswolds, and driving is a great way to go.

Posted by
931 posts

Hello from Wisconsin,
Driving on the left hand side is easy. First of all you will be seated on the right hand side. If you were to try to drive on the right side of the road with a right sided driver seat, you would feel really awkward.

The round-a-bouts. They were made for left hand driving. Yield to the right. The most natural thing in the world and what we have been taught for most everything except round-a-bouts at home...

What to watch for: Leaving an on-the-street parking spot when you have parked on the right side of the street. They often allow parking on either side. When you pull out you will naturally want to stay to that left side. And a second situation where you might get it wrong is a right hand 90 degree corner. You go far lane to far lane.

And a solid yellow line along the curb means NO PARKING. A double yellow line along the curb means, WE MEAN IT, NO PARKING.

Don't drive in London. try to pick your car up at a smaller location that has an office on the outskirts of town. Airports usually fit this description.

wayne iNWI

Posted by
1769 posts

The non-driver acts as the navigator and constantly says ‘keep left’ and you will be o.k.

Posted by
19 posts

Looks like you've already gotten some great advice! Rental car in London? NO!! However, getting a compact that's easy on gas to cruise around the countryside makes a lot of sense because of the flexibility having your own wheels provides. We're a family of 4 flying into Heathrow in early June, renting a car, and driving to Oxford where we plan to hang out for a few days before returning the car to Heathrow and catching the Express into London to spend a few days. Nothing to fear from driving on the left side...you get used to it quickly.

Posted by
8 posts

Hello Jane,
The first time I drove in the UK, I was very nervous until I actually did it. Sitting on the right side of the car makes driving on the left side seem normal. The first few times we visited, I spent the extra money for an automatic. If your husband is not already familiar with driving a manual, this is not the time to learn. I have driven a manual a lot, so the transition to shifting with my other hand was not hard at all once I decided to go with a manual. Since that first time, I’ve probably driven 10,000 or more miles in the UK and Australia. I’m really glad I got over my first-time hesitation and just went with it.
Do read online about some rules that are a bit different. The main one on motorways is that it is illegal to pass (overtake) on the left. The slower lanes are the left lanes, so just stick to the left lanes unless you want to keep up with traffic in the right lanes. So if you get in the right (fast) lane and go slower than the flow of traffic, the cars behind you can’t just pull out and pass you on the left, so they will flash their lights at you. You will see that the traffic flow is much more organized than here in the US. Cars pull out and pass on the right, then move back into the slower lane. Those rules do break down a bit in heavy traffic close to cities. But if you rent a car in Oxford as suggested, you will be dealing with smaller roads. Since you’ve driven around the Continent, I’m sure you’re familiar with roundabout rules. They just rotate clockwise.
So far as the Cotswolds are concerned, you will be very happy to have a car as there are small villages hard to visit without one. The traffic is light, and the roads are good for the most part. B roads can be very narrow.
In London, public transportation is excellent. Uber is easy to use, and there are taxi stands all about. I wouldn’t even consider a car in London.
Best regards,
Bioboy

Posted by
204 posts

The non-driver acts as the navigator and constantly says ‘keep left’ and you will be o.k.

We rented a car in New Zealand in 2018 and did exactly that ... one of the only times I actually listened when my wife was giving me directions while driving (jk dear) ... took a few days to really get the hang of it but no issues (just felt weird) ... go with the automatic, costs more but one less thing to deal with while driving in a new country and on the opposite side of what you are used to.