Please sign in to post.

Early planning phase of trip to England and ???

Hi everyone. My husband and I went to Italy in 2018 and I planned the whole trip using RS books and this forum. It turned out great and I was so thankful to have many aspects of the trip planned before arriving in Italy. I want to thank all of you for sharing your experiences and wisdom.

Next year we plan to visit our AF son in England and do some traveling while there. He will likely be able to join us for at least part of our trip.

I’m hoping to get some advice on where to go given the time we have, what to do, when to go, etc.
The trip to Italy was doable at the time, but we aren’t getting any younger so I wouldn’t want to overbook ourselves this next trip. For Italy (15 days) we took backpack suitcases (and plan to do the same this trip unless it looks like we will just drive everywhere) and started by flying into Milan due to cost. From there we took the train to Venice for two nights, then to Florence for one (had most of two days there). Then took the bus to Siena and picked up a car in Siena same day (not enough time in Siena). Drove to Tuscany and spent three nights at an agritourismo (this was awesome!). Drove to Sorrento, dropped off the car, spent two nights and day tripped to Capri. The next day took train to Pompeii and then on to Rome (would not recommend the Circumvesuviana to anyone). Spent three or four nights in Rome and then flew home.

I would prefer a more relaxed trip this time. I’m hoping to expand this trip to 2 1/2 weeks, but we would spend 15 days at a minimum.

We love to hike, bike and roam around towns where you can pop into the churches and experience amazing views and authentic culture/food, but we also enjoyed the cities in Italy. They were so spread out with low buildings in the old city centers that we didn’t feel like we were in a city. We don’t enjoy massive crowds or feeling penned in.

We’ve talked about driving around Scotland and England and then taking the train to France and then onto Amsterdam (suggested by our son), but after reading some of the posts on England I’m wondering if we ought to stick to the UK. We do hope to get back over the following year to maybe visit Germany, Austria and northern Italy.

Our son doesn’t really like Paris, but I’ve heard the countryside in France is very beautiful. He also said one day in London will probably be enough for us.

I would love some thoughts from people who have been there/done that.
Should we consider going in the spring or fall? I want to avoid the summer.
We went to Italy in the spring (late March/early April - before Easter week- and it was perfect. ) A little chilly at times but not too many people. We were told by the locals that we chose a perfect time before the crowds descended upon Italy.

Thanks so much for any advice you can give. Happy traveling!
Cindy

Posted by
1929 posts

I love big cities, and I especially like London so I can't imagine one day being enough. But your son know you better than I do. If you really do want a slower pace I'd suggest sticking to England and possibly even one region if you'll only be there for 15 days. There's more than enough to see and do in that time frame without jumping to other countries. I haven't done it yet but from what I've been reading for a future trip, I don't think the RS guides give enough love to SE England. For hiking and biking and using the RS guides, the Cotswolds may do the trick for a few days.

Posted by
2080 posts

I can't imagine a day in London being enough either--have you read up to see what (if anything) you would want to see and do there? I have not had the opportunity to explore England other than London, but I love outdoors/small towns, and so I am eager to get to Cornwall (Doc Martin) as well as to Wales (great hiking), and of course Yorkshire (see All Creatures Great and Small for some inspiration). If you exclude London and travel at a fast pace, then maybe add Scotland.
I dislike cold weather and I usually find fall more pleasant in cooler places--even if rainy, it just seems like it is slower to lose warmth in fall (and the colors are nice), whereas it is slower to warm up in spring. I felt like visiting Ireland in October was just very appropriate, even with rain.

Posted by
1472 posts

We went to the UK in 2019 and spent 17 nights. We spent 5 nights in London, including a day trip to Cambridge, 3 nights in Bath, including an afternoon trip to Stonehenge, 3 nights in the Cotswolds, 3 nights in York, including a day trip to the country side, and 3 nights in Edinburgh. We flew into London and out of Edinburgh.

London actually was not as crowded as I expected. It also has lots of green space so to me it didn't feel nearly as urban as Rome. And even with five nights, we hardly saw anything. I would not short change London.

We hiked between towns in the Cotswolds and had our luggage moved by a service. You might enjoy that if you like hiking.

We took the train and did not drive at all. We took a few small van tours--one to Stonehenge, one to Cotswolds (took our luggage and did not return to Bath), and one to the country side outside York.

We went in June into July. June was not crowded but July when we got to Edinburgh was. Kids were out of school then. It is much cooler in the UK than in Italy so you should check out the weather before deciding when to go.

Posted by
74 posts

I will start my reply with a confession: I love France, and I will go out of my way to "fit it in" to any trip in Europe. So, you can see at the outset that I am biased. With that out of the way, I think a week in GB, followed by a week (or week and half) in France would be lovely. Personally, I love Paris. I'm a small town girl at heart, but Paris is nothing but fun for me (my husband feels the same). Part of the trick with Paris is finding the right area to stay in. Each Arrondissement has its own feel. We love the Latin Quarter (fun student-ish area with tons of cafes, restaurants, and shops; the Hotel des Grands Hommes and the Hotel les Dames du Pantheon are both great - with to-die-for views of the Pantheon), and Montmartre (feels like a village in the city - but not as central as the Latin Quarter, which doesn't matter too much because of the excellent Metro). This past summer, we pre-gamed a big family vacation in Italy, with a week in France, split between Normandy (wonderful!) and Paris. We've also split time between the Loire Valley and Paris, and Burgundy and Paris. Normandy, the Loire Valley, and Burgundy are all easy to get to from Paris (we rented a car each time for the "country" portion), and are chock full of charming towns, villages, historical sites, etc... Depends on what you're looking for. And of course, you could certainly take a TGV from Paris to the South of France and hit Provence, the Cote d'Azur, etc.. We have been to France in high summer (as we were this past summer, but with reduced crowds due to Covid), as well as spring. If you have enough flexibility, May always seems like the sweet spot. The weather tends to be pretty good, but you avoid the worst of the crowds. Our France highlights include:
*motorcycle side-car tours of Paris, *barge trip in Burgundy, *Musee d'Orsay in Paris, *biking along the canals in Burgundy, and popping into each small village along the way, *D-Day beaches in Normandy, *Monet's house at Giverny, *shopping for Santons in Provence, *eating outdoors at the Orangerie restaurant of the Chateau de Chenonceau when our kids were little, etc... the list really could go on and on.

Personally, I would limit my trip to two countries (as opposed to trying to squeeze in Amsterdam at the end) - especially if you are already feeling like you'd like to have a more relaxed trip than your Italian adventure. However, it sounds like you and your husband are used to some travel hustle, so you might not mind. My husband and I took the quintessential European back-pack trip back in our early 20s - didn't spent more than 2 nights in any place, and the only criteria we had for each lodging was that it MUST have peeling paint. ;) That's not really our speed any more. We don't mind moving around a bit, but we like to have more time in each place - which allows for a different experience.

With all of that said, it's Europe! You'll have a great time no matter what you decide/where you end up. Have fun with your planning!

Posted by
19217 posts

I love both the sights (especially museums) available in big cities and the foreign-feeling atmosphere that can be easier to find in smaller cities and towns that aren't tourist-swamped. You mentioned popping into churches but not other types of indoor sightseeing. If that doesn't much appeal to you, I think you are right to consider minimal (or even no) time in large cities. You don't have a lot of time. Why spend any of it dealing with big-city logistics if you can enjoy yourselves equally well by moving at a somewhat slower pace through smaller (and probably less expensive, if that matters) places.

I would not under any circumstances (except something like research for a book or a family-heritage trip) try to cram England, Scotland and France into a 2-1/2 week trip, much less also adding the Netherlands. You could certainly have a lovely time just in England--even just in southern England. Scotland is fabulous, but if you want to do Scotland I'd advise spending all your time there; it will still not be as much as you'll want.

I don't rent a car in Europe, but even so I like to plunk myself down for 3 or more nights in attractive smaller cities from which I can take day-trips to a cluster of interesting destinations. I'm not interested in stately homes or very interested in pre-20th-century history, but I do enjoy gardens a lot, and England has some of the best in the world. What makes me happiest is interesting architecture. It's a plus if the country I travel through has nice scenery.

There are so many lovely places in England--many of them also historic--that I hesitate to recommend specific places. You need to think about the interests of your family. Tell us a bit more about yourselves and I'm sure we can give you more-focused suggestions.

In case it helps, these are some places I've spent multiple nights and taken side-trips. If you're going to drive you'll have the freedom to plan a linear trip rather than my multiple-hub-and-spoke approach, so you wouldn't want to arrange your itinerary like mine even if you for some peculiar reason wanted to go to the same places.

Oxford (took van tour to Cotswolds from nearby Moreton-in-Marsh)
Cambridge (visited Saffron Walden, Ely and King's Lynn)
Norwich (visited Bury St Edmunds)
Brighton (visited Lewes and Arundel)
Bristol (visited Cardiff, Bath and Wells)
Chester (made multiple trips to N. Wales)
Coventry (visited WWII code-breaking center at Bletchley Park)
York (trip to Whitby; also convenient to Yorkshire moors. City of York is very touristy.)

I'm not a big fan of Bath (very touristy), but many other people are. It, too, is close to the Cotswolds, and there are Cotswold tours offered from Bath should you prefer taking one to doing your own driving in that area.

Edited to add: I love France and have spent about 4-1/2 months there in recent years. You could put together an infinite number of different 2-1/2 week trips to France. Although it makes sense for big-city lovers to combine London and Paris because of the super-efficient Eurostar rail service, I'm less convinced it makes sense for first-time visitors to split a trip of only 2-1/2 weeks between smaller towns and cities in those two countries. There would be a day lost in transit between them in addition to the time at the beginning and end of the trip for getting out of and back to the capital-city (probably) airports. With so many charming destinations in each country, I just wouldn't bother splitting the time if you don't care to visit both London and Paris. (And I'm not one who says you must do so. My first, summer-long trip to Europe didn't include Rome.)

Posted by
6763 posts

Personally, I would recommend a minimum of five days for London. Then spend the remainder of your time touring the Cotswolds, Bath, Lake District etc. You will enjoy England!
If you leave and go to another country you won’t do either place justice. Travel takes time, checking in and out of hotels, learning the ways each country does things.

Posted by
6082 posts

You're looking for opinions, right? If it were me (and it was me once upon a time) I'd stick to the UK. There's plenty of things to do and see of interest. Adding either Paris and/or Amsterdam for a few days would not be doing justice to any of the places, except eating up a lot of time in transit. If you have the RS books, read it thoroughly and note what direction sounds good. You didn't mention where your son is stationed, but that might make a difference in suggestions..

Some people enjoy the challenge of driving (and parking) abroad, but I am not one of them. Its so easy to get around the UK by train, and both of you get to enjoy the scenery stress-free on a train. You can always hire a car for a few days in a specific location if you must. I prefer the fall for travel, but you have to go when you have the best opportunity. We were there in May, and it was hot/cold/snow/rain/sunshine all mixed up, but you never know.

Posted by
15 posts

Thank you, everyone! My son is stationed near Cambridge, so we would probably spend two nights there. He said there isn't much to see there and that one day would be enough. And we're hoping he can join us for some of our trip. Haven't seen him in a year. We would have gone over earlier but...COVID.
So much next question will be...if we do stick to England, is Heathrow likely the beginning and end points of the trip? This will help with planning flights and maximizing time in each place. If we add Scotland I was thinking we could start in either London or Scotland and fly out of the other, essentially eliminating making a circle. Thoughts?

Posted by
19217 posts

Definitely look into multi-city flight options if you decide to combine England and Scotland. The Scottish gateway could be either Edinburgh or Glasgow; they aren't far apart. Whether it makes sense to try to get to or from an English airport other than Heathrow depends on where you decide to go in England, but for me London would probably be a lot cheaper than Manchester, etc., and I have non-stops to Heathrow.

In terms of timing, I wouldn't choose to go to the UK before May, but I really, really don't like chilly, wet weather. "Wet" is sort of out of a tourist's control in that part of Europe, but one can schedule in such a way as to minimize the risk of cold weather. Avoiding mid-summer can save some money by obviating the need for air-conditioned lodgings as well as somewhat reducing the number of other foreign tourists encountered. It's not really hot all that often in the UK, but when it happens, Americans used to air conditioning at home tend to want air conditioned rooms when traveling; at least I do. Insisting on a/c automatically eliminates a lot of less-expensive lodging options.

Holidays can really affect the number of local tourists in the mix, so when you've narrowed down the places you might want to stay, come back with your tentative plan so our UK residents can address issues like bank holidays.

Posted by
1211 posts

Cindy, I cannot wrap my head around not liking London, it’s my favorite European city. My boyfriend went once and said the same thing after spending six weeks there working. I asked him what he saw and he couldn’t name a single attraction. The highlight for him was renting a car and driving to Stonehenge which he still won’t stop talking about.
Why does your son not like London? I know what the boyfriend didn’t like and that’s because he didn’t do his research. Research is crucial, I had a friend who went to Prague and thought it was ugly. Turned out she only visited the new section and missed the old town and castle district. She refused to look at my photos when I described what she missed.
I’ve been to London three times and cannot wait to go back. The negative part is I can’t get myself to explore anywhere else in England because there is so much to see and do in London. Rick Steves self-guided walking tours are phenomenal. You have the theater, fantastic museums, markets, architecture, pubs and the list goes on and on.
Not only do I recommend London, you can also take a day trip to Bath by direct train (1h 30m from London’s Paddington station to Bath Spa. Furthermore, you’re a direct train away from Cambridge (1h 30m). I would fly into or out of London and Edinburg if possible. Glasgow may also be an option.
Between London and Edinburgh, I would stop in York and sleep there a minimum of two nights. York may also be a good base to explore from. I would stick with Great Britain and not add anything more.
Oh, and one more thing, I was there in Nov, Apr and summer and would return during these months again.

Posted by
74 posts

Hi again Cindy - I know I went on and on about France above, but I actually do agree with others that it might make the most sense to save France to do on its own on another trip. Re: your question about flying into/out of Scotland and London, we did just that in 2018. We flew into Inverness and out of London. We actually also took an EasyJet between Scotland and London at the halfway mark. You can absolutely connect the two via train, but it’s an all day affair, and on our trip, the price for the EasyJet was minimal and it just made sense time-wise. We had a great time spending one week in the Scottish Highlands followed by one week mostly in London (but this could easily be spent elsewhere in England). We did not have a car for this trip (we were on a barge in the Highlands and it was not necessary in London). Also, remember that driving in the UK means the opposite side of the car and the road. We’ve done it, but it definitely requires a bit more concentration. One of our favorite day trips from London was a trip to see Jane Austen’s house at Chawton (where she wrote her last three novels), her father’s church at Steventon, followed by a late afternoon stop at Stonehenge.

Posted by
19217 posts

The length of the train journey from Scotland to London depends to a great extent on your starting point in Scotland. Edinburgh is only about 4-1/2 hours from London. It's much closer to York.

Posted by
4948 posts

We did a four week drive tour of England and South Wales, not visiting London.
It was wonderful, love the countryside. We did ours in October and the weather was great until the end of the month and it got a bit too cold.

Recommend visiting Bath, The Cotswolds, Winchester, Stratford Upon Avon, Oxford, Blenheim Palace, Warwick, York, Whitby, Durham, Hadrian's Wall and the Lake District.

Posted by
26094 posts

My son is stationed near Cambridge, so we would probably spend two nights there. He said there isn't much to see there and that one day would be enough.

There are several US bases near Cambridge, and it may depend on which one your boy is stationed at. There's Lakenheath, Molesworth, and Mildenhall right in the area and others in the vicinity.

Perhaps he isn't interested in what I'm interested in.

Of course I don't know what you or he are interested in so let me see if I can whet your appetite. I live just a short distance away and I love this part of the world.

If you are towards the Lakenheath/Mildenhall part of the area, Bury St Edmunds is nearby and just south of Bury St Eds is Lavenham. Lavenham is fabulous. The village is mostly National Trust, retains its medieval layout and many many very old houses. In medieval days it was a very rich area and some of the half timbered buildings reflect that. Also a pub reflecting US airforce WW-II connections. Bury St Edmunds is another beautiful town, fabulous 16th century St Edmundsbury Cathedral with stained glass worth a look, the 11th century Abbey ruins and gardens, and the Theatre Royal which is the only surviving Regency playhouse and still puts on productions. Nearby is Ickworth, an amazing Italianate palace in the heart of Suffolk.

Go a bit further north and east and you are in the Norfolk Broads, spectacular scenery for relaxing boat trips. Then the coast, and all sorts to do there.

And Sutton Hoo - a dig where an Anglo Saxon royal burial ship was discovered prior to WW-II full of treasure and the subject of the Netfix The Dig.

All these are within a short day trip distance.

If he is Molesworth or around there then is the superb Peterborough Cathedral, resting place for two Queens and a superior example of Gothic architecture complete with painted ceiling and hammer beams.

Have you read Samuel Pepys? He left his library to Cambridge University, Magdalene College to be precise. You can visit the library, see what it looks like to file books by size.

Midway between Cambridge and Bury St Edmunds is Newmarket, the home of English horse racing. Loads of yards and stables, and you can watch the horses on their exercises.

Northwest of Peterborough is the lovely, all stone, market town of Stamford. Waterside and many lovely churches. The Collyweston roofs were mined just down the road.

The villages of Northamptonshire compare very favourably with the Cotswolds.

Fotheringhay is place where Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned and executed (was buried in Peterborough Cathedral). The church, or what's left now, is all white and beautiful, and draws royalists from all over for its royal associations. It is on the Northamptonshire side of the Cambridgeshire border.

It would take me another full length post to go into all the things to see and do in Ely and Cambridge too.

So, short story long, what sorts of things interest you?

You may guess that I rather like it around the Cambridgeshire area....

Oh, Forgot - you will probably have never seen anything like the fens. Wicken Fen northeast of Cambridge is a great way to start.

Posted by
15 posts

Our son is stationed at Lakenheath but lives in Cambridge.
Everything sounds wonderful! We love visiting historical sites (castles, abbeys, churches) but also enjoy immersing ourselves in the local culture. I don't want to just be a tourist, but want to experience the beauty and daily life of the average Joe. I was born and raised in the country (WV) so I know life in the country is very different from life in the city. We don't love crowds but Rome, Venice, and Florence did not overwhelm us. We stayed in the middle of the old cities and it was an amazing experience. The best part of Italy was driving through Tuscany and visiting the hill towns. There was an amazing old fort in the val d'orcia and the town below seemed to stand still in time. Like I said, we are big on being outdoors and would be up for some hikes and bike rides. We walked everywhere in Italy.
My husband is a beekeeper and would love to visit a beekeeper in the area to talk bees. That would be a plus for him.

Thanks!

Posted by
6082 posts

Cindy, we last did an England trip that followed what one innkeeper laughingly called the "standard American tour" - London-York-Stratford-Bath-airport. Day trips to Stonehenge and Cotswold villages. That was two full weeks. You could do that in reverse order, and head north from York to Scotland. We bought advance rail tickets at big discounts. For example, London-York was only £13 pp.

Posted by
274 posts

Popping into this thread to say thank you to Nigel for the detailed reply. I just booked a 7 night stay in Diss for next May, great ideas for sightseeing in the area.

Posted by
26094 posts

I don't know any private beekeepers, sorry, but I do know that the Cambridge University Botanical Gardens, near the Cambridge railway station, which is one of our favourite gardens now (I love walking through the Redwoods - garden is pretty big and serves great food indoors and out), has a well established apiary. Staff are helpful there and I expect if you contacted them in advance of a visit they would have a chat and could perhaps find a beekeeper to chat with for you.

I'll be there tomorrow for a walk through the Autumn Garden (if the weather plays ball).

By the way, when I was reeling off things earlier I neglected to mention the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial. A deeply moving, highly educational, very special place of quiet and contemplation. About 3 miles west of the centre of Cambridge.

Has your boy discovered Fitzbillies yet? 2 locations, one - the original and my fav - at the top of Trumpington Street near the Fitzwilliam Museum (well worth a visit BTW) and one on Bridge Street near the bridge between Magdalene College and St Johns College (trivia about St Johns, find the furniture leg in a prominent position near the entrance to St Johns). If your lad waxes lyrical about sticky Chelsea buns he's found it...

Can't do you Appalachian food in Cambridge, but there are two BBQ places. Decent BBQ too.

Posted by
15 posts

Nigel and everyone else,
Thank you so much for this information. I have watched the Dig and thought it was very good. I haven't spoken with our son yet since I posted here (deployed), but I'll run all the suggestions by him. He loves to travel and has hit many of the highlights of England, but he also hops off to other European countries as often as he can (COVID made that a little harder).

I'll have to make a list and map it all out and see what makes the most sense. I also need to figure out travel times. I'm having a hard time equating the UK to a US state to get a sense of how big it is. Feel free to chime in.

As far as accommodations, we stayed in smaller hotels in the city centers in Italy, but made sure most had a breakfast. But if we hang out in one place for several days I'd like to try airbnbs for the convenience of being able to cook breakfast and pack a lunch. We eat super healthy, mostly vegan/vegetarian and I don't know what the food culture is like in the UK. The food in Italy did not affect me the way American food does. I do know Europe has banned many of the chemicals that are still legal in the US. Again, feel free to chime in.

Car rental - we rented in Italy with no problem. We've also driven an American car on the left in the Caribbean. It takes a little getting used to, but I think we can manage as long as the British don't drive like the Italians. Whether we rent will depend on how much of our trip depends on trains and how much we'd need a taxi. But I wouldn't want to drive near London.

My husband is so excited about the apiary near Cambridge! He mentioned that Buckfest Abbey has a beekeeper/bees. Not sure where that is, but we'll be looking to maybe swing by there, if anyone has any information about it.

Thanks again for all the tips!

Cindy

Posted by
627 posts

Nigel has given you some great information. As a British ex-pat who grew up 30 miles from Cambridge, I have a new appreciation for the East Anglian area. I take all my American friends to Lavenham. A medieval town of timber houses with antique shops, tea shops, old bakery, butcher, and gift shops. The Swan Hotel https://theswanatlavenham.co.uk/ would be nice for lunch or dinner. The Suffolk coastal town of Aldeburgh is also delightful. The Norfolk Broads are also charming. You could rent a day boat from Wroxham.

I almost forgot about my own neck of the woods. (BTW This could all be done in one day trip from Cambridge). Saffron Walden - Audley End House, https://www.englishheritage.org.uk/visit/places/audley-end-house-and-gardens. Thaxted and Finchingfield in the North Essex region are very picturesque villages a few miles away. Great for an afternoon pint next to the village pond.

So there is a lot to see in this area. I will be visiting in early June with my 25-year-old daughter and her friend. They also want to explore another country besides staying in the Cambridge area. Not sure where we will ultimately end up but there are tons of possibilities. Stanstead Airport is just down the road from Cambridge. Easyjet and Ryanair can get you to most places across Europe. So many possibilities! Keep us posted on your plans and have a great trip.

Margaret

Posted by
26094 posts

The website for the Cambridge University Botanical Gardens is https://www.botanic.cam.ac.uk/

I spoke to staff on my visit yesterday and they said that if your husband opens that page and then clicks on Contact Us they can help with his visit to the Apiary. Number 12 on the downloadable map is the Bee Borders, and there are at least 2 (I think 3) hives in those beds. Yesterday of course, in cold weather, I didn't see any activity around the hives.

Buckfast Abbey is in Devon, the opposite side of the country from Cambridge, about 250 miles away
I was there on my last holiday before Covid , October 2019

Posted by
26094 posts

there was a question upthread about how big the UK or England is, relative to a US state.

There's really no good answer. Huh?

It isn't so much how physically big it is, it is much more how big it feels.

My memory from living in the US is that many people don't talk about how far US places are from each other by distance, it is much more how long it takes to get there.

Roads are straight and there are lots of freeways. Get on a road, point the car (always a car (trucks count as cars)) in the right direction, put on the entertainment system and you get there when you might expect.

It is different here. We are very densely populated and most roads which are not motorways (our name for freeways) go through villages and towns instead past them. So the road may be a major one but it may only have one lane each direction, with frequent roundabouts and plenty of trucks which are very slow. Farm vehicles too, which are even slower.

East Anglia, where Norfolk and Suffolk are, has not a single motorway. The M11 does run south of Cambridge through Essex to the M25 but that's not always a fast road either.

If you wanted to get from Cambridge to Buckfast Abbey it would be quite an adventure. Our roads are not straight, and as I said there are plenty of ways the roads can find to slow you down, Roundabouts, for one, can be quick when there is no traffic, but when roads are busy, especially if you are going against the flow of traffic, each one can add many minutes to a journey. And 20mph or 30 mph through villages and towns.

So for that journey across most of the width of England about 250 miles, the fastest drive is via the truck laden A14 to the M6 to Birmingham to the M42 to M5 to Exeter and then local roads. There are no motorways beyond Exeter. So that is 40 miles out of your way to avoid the slow A1, A1M, M25 and M3 to A303 and local roads. Figure on 4 and a half hours with no traffic and no stops.

Posted by
15 posts

I want to address the question of what indoor sights we enjoy. While I’m glad we saw the major museums in Florence, I’m just as glad we didn’t book any more. When I visit a museum, I prefer to skim rather than linger, unless I see something that really catches my eye. We prefer to be moving rather than standing.
I prefer living history museums, cathedrals, churches, abbeys, ruins, incredible experiences, and jaw-dropping vistas. Even if it’s just the quintessential Italian hilltop town front door surrounded by flowering vines and potted plants. Or the frescoes that remain on the walls of a medieval church.
I guess I want to go back in time but also experience life as a British citizen (I know I can’t do that, but I can try). So if there are any other places we should consider, please chime in. I ordered RS Great Britain book and have started watching the UK videos.
I think we’ll skip Buckfast Abbey. Google is full of beekeepers throughout the UK and with Nigel’s recommendation of the Cambridge botanic gardens, my husband will be all set.
Can anyone give more advice on timing? I see that schools are out from mid-July to early September and now I’m wondering if we shouldn’t look at May/early June to take advantage of when beekeepers are likely to be working in the hives, as well as peak flower season. But I also want to avoid as much of the rain as I can so we can enjoy hikes through the Lake District, etc.
Thanks,
Cindy

Posted by
2849 posts

If you haven't seen England, I would go in May and spend the entire time there. You could look at the Rabbies multi-day tours which start from London. Suggested places to go on your own: York, Durham(a small college town), Bath, Salisbury, maybe add the Cardiff area which is close to London and has good transportation connections, Dover.

Posted by
5564 posts

You mention that you like to hike. With that in mind, I would encourage visiting Scotland. You can get your big city fix in Edinburgh and or Glasgow, but then you can easily get a train to Dunkeld and Birnam. Dunkeld is lovely town. It was the home of the church in Scotland until in moved to St. Andrews so has small cathedral. It has lovely B&Bs and small hotels and is surrounded by walks of all varieties. You can almost always find live traditional music. This is Perthshire and it is. a beautiful place. You could decide to rent a car and do a lovely meander up the center of Scotland and then down the west coast. On this thread I made some suggestions for driving up to Inverness. And I take you off the A9 for a good part of the trip. Another small town is Aberfeldy. Have you found the Undiscovered Scotland site? Check out Aberfeldy here. There is a wonderful site for walking and hiking called Walk Highlands. Check out their description of the Birks of Aberfeldy walk.

Pam

Posted by
2725 posts

You have received so much great advice already! All these posts have given me some great ideas of things to add to my (already full) itinerary for our spring 2022 trip to England.

You mentioned that you like to hike, to be out in nature, enjoy beautiful vistas and views. I suggest you take a look at spending part of your time in the Cotswolds of England. There are plenty of old churches and small villages for you to enjoy.
Take a look at walking part of the Cotswolds Way, a trail. The Cotswold Way is a 102 mile long National Trail running between the market town of Chipping Campden and the city of Bath. For most of its length it follows the Cotswold escarpment giving wonderful views of the surrounding landscape. No, I don't suggest you do every bit of it! Just pick out a couple of walks between villages.
https://www.nationaltrail.co.uk/en_GB/trails/cotswold-way/route/

You mention renting an AirBnB or other place as a base for a while. Cottages are available to rent in the Cotswolds. You could choose a place along the Cotswold Way, doing a walk to the north one day, visiting and exploring a village, then turn 'round and hike back to your home base. The next day, do a walk to the south, then return to your cottage that evening.
Good walking maps of the Cotswold Way can be purchased online or in a bookstore in England.

You also mentioned the Lake District, which I love. You will find great hiking, lovely vistas over the lakes, and small towns where everyone loves hiking and nature. I recommend the town of Keswick and have hotel recommendations if you want them. We spent several days in Keswick two years ago, and are looking forward to going back to the Lake District.

You mentioned "I guess I want to go back in time but also experience life as a British citizen."
Both places I mentioned will have you feeling you've stepped back in time, especially the Cotswolds.
In both places, you will feel welcome at the local pubs which are a meeting place for the locals. Many pubs have good food, too.

You asked about holidays in 2022.
May 2nd is May Day, when London will be crowded to the hilt with tourists. Lines into places such as Tower of London, British Museum, and Westminster Abbey will be a couple of blocks long.
June 2nd will be a Bank Holiday. Likewise, expect crowds in London.
London is best avoided on these days, in my opinion.

Posted by
12389 posts

With your interests in beekeeping, history, and beautiful churches, you might consider St. Ermin’s Hotel for your short stay in London. They have a roof garden with bees that visit the nearby parks (especially St. James Park) to collect nectar and pollen. The hives are on view from windows along a corridor—-I forget which floor, but we walked past there going to our room each day.

https://www.sterminshotel.co.uk/about/bees-kitchen-garden/

The hotel has a rich history, including connections with WW2, Churchill, and the formation of the SOE (special Operations Executive) which met secretly in the hotel.

https://www.sterminshotel.co.uk/about/our-history/

The location is prime—-very close to Westminster Abbey, Elizabeth Tower (with Big Ben) and the Parliament buildings, as well as St. James Park, with beautiful gardens and a lake with waterfowl. You will want to visit Westminster Abbey for the history and architecture:

https://www.westminster-abbey.org/about-the-abbey/history/history-of-westminster-abbey

Be sure and ascend the stairs to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries for an up-close view of the architectural features and a birds’eye view of the floor area from above:

https://www.westminster-abbey.org/visit-us/plan-your-visit/the-queens-diamond-jubilee-galleries

I realize St. Ermin’s might be above your planned budget, but it is worth a splurge for a night or two. If you by chance have Marriott points that will help. We booked without breakfast as we are not big breakfast eaters, so that helped with the price. Our room had a coffee/tea maker, and there are small cafes nearby for take-out coffee and breakfast breads that met our needs.

Posted by
19217 posts

Brandon, it would be better if you started a new thread to discuss your plans. You can just copy this post into your new thread here: https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/england . Just click on "Start a New Topic". With your own thread, you'll receive emails when someone posts a response. As it stands now, Cindy's going to get email pings when someone responds to you.

Posted by
258 posts

We first did a 3-week home exchange in London and used Rick's book to give us plenty to do. The next time we ventured out of London to Bath and York using Rick's England book. In 2019 we used Rick's Great Britain book to plan a driving tour around England, Wales, and Scotland. Next year we have two more weeks planned around Cornwall, The Cotswolds, Bath, and London. My point is...start with Rick's books and you won't go wrong. We love London and Paris (and Ireland and Scotland and the rest of France). But there's so much to see in England, that's where I'd go first. You'll have a wonderful time wherever you go.

Posted by
13 posts

My son is also stationed in England, in the Air Force. Different base. My daughter and I are thinking of taking a trip to see him next year, end of summer. I've never been before. I was also in the Air Force and stationed in Germany in the 80s. Wish I had gone to England and Scotland back then. I will agree with others on sticking to one country, though. I didn't listen. We went to Germany and France over 3 1/2 weeks back in 2009 and the kids were miserable, which made me miserable. The longest we stayed in one place, was I think 3 days, most were a day or two. Not fun.