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England itinerary first try, open to suggestions!

Hello all-I am just starting to plan an itinerary for a 10 night trip to England, flying in and out of LHR from Nashville, end of May 2019. Already have tickets. Family of 4 (with my 13 and almost 16 yo kids). We have some experience with European travel (2 trips over the last couple years), and we don't mind a busy itinerary. That being said, I don't want to try anything too ambitious or exhausting. We have never been to the UK, and are excited about London, but also want to see some other bits of England. Kids are into history and food, we like walking, exploring, castles, cute little villages, soaking up new places.
My initial thoughts are as follows, but I am definitely open to better ideas.
Day 1 (Monday): arrive LHR 7 am, pick up rental car (or take taxi or bus) to Windsor castle (can you get a car there?) Tour castle, eat lunch. Drive to Cotswolds, sleep Cotswolds (not sure where but maybe Bourton-on-the-water?) Go to sleep early (lol). We usually have been able to make it until about 7-8pm local time before crashing, so I think this is doable.
Day 2 (Tue): Drive/explore Cotswolds, maybe Stratford Upon Avon, sleep Cotswolds
Day 3 (Wed): Avebury (or Stonehenge?) and Bath daytrip, back to sleep Cotswolds (too much for 1 day?)
Day 4 (Thur): Drive to York, stop to see Blenheim Castle (?) or Oxford (?), sleep York, drop off car
Day 5 (Fri): Explore York, sleep York (Is 1 day enough?)
Day 6 (Sat): Early train to London, spend 4 1/2 days and 5 nights in London. Could use a day to take a trip to Oxford or Cambridge if we don't get there before.
Day 11 (Thur): Depart LHR at 9 am
Also have considered flipping and doing London first. These are the places I would ideally like to see, but perhaps there is a better way to organize them that I have not considered. Open to ideas :)

Trying to find the sweet spot with minimizing travel/unpacking/repacking time and maximizing fun time, and seeing lots of cool stuff. We've been to Rome, Pompeii, Florence, Cinque Terre, Prague, Bavaria, Rhine valley, Amsterdam...we like cities (loved Amsterdam and Rome) but also enjoy smaller towns (Rothenburg, Bacharach). We are comfortable with trains and other public transport.

Posted by
18862 posts

This isn't your first European trip, but it sounds as if it's your first time driving on the left side of the road. Are you sure you're good to do all that driving under unusual conditions after an overnight flight? I think it's a bad idea and would figure out a way to pick up the rental car on Day 2.

I can't comment on the driving times since I've always just used public transportation.

There's more than enough to do in Oxford to fill a full day and then some. For example, the Pitt-Rivers Museum is excellent and should be appealing to all ages (shrunken heads!). You'll have barely half a day if you stop in Oxford on the way to York, and that assumes you get away from your Cotswold base early.

Posted by
4738 posts

Day 1 - you shouldn’t be hiring a car after a long flight and doing so much driving on unfamiliar roads - it’s dangerous. If your flight is on time, it will be after 10am by the time you arrive in Windsor. Traffic and parking are a nightmare here. Three hours for the Castle and an hour for lunch, so 2pm depart Windsor and you then have a 1.5/2 hour drive to the Cotswolds. If your children are typical, they will be bored in the Cotswolds.

Day 2 - Stratford upon Avon is a full day from the Cotswolds, so you aren’t going to have much time to see the Cotswolds themselves.

Day 3 - I prefer Avebury to Stonehenge. You may want to consider taking the train to Bath (which is a full day in its own right) as parking is difficult and expensive.

Day 4 - a long drive to York. If you stop at Blenheim Palace (not Castle), then you won’t have much time to see anything of York this day. York has plenty to occupy you for 2 full days including the excellent Rail Museum and the Minster.

If I had children that age, I would consider visiting York for 2 full days by train and drop the overrated Cotswolds. Bath can be covered as a day trip from London by train, as can Windsor.

Day 11 - you will need to be at the airport at 6am, so you will either have an early start from central London or stay at the airport the night before.

Posted by
1217 posts

Many UK cities with historic (ie. narrow and crowded) central cores have park and ride lots on the fringes of town that are infinitely less stressful than trying to drive and park in Olde Towne proper. An internet search for the city + park and ride turns up specific locations and bus schedules.

Posted by
996 posts

Even if you're doing the direct flight from BNA to LHR, I would not rent a car on the first day. I did read that you're good to go until late in the evening, but I think it would be stressful (aka - not fun) to try all of this on the first day of the trip. If it were me, I'd look at the London itinerary first - you just arrived! - and then do the rest of your touring ideas.

I'm not saying it's not doable. I'm just saying that sometimes less is more, especially when including overnight flights...

Posted by
4363 posts

I can't stress enough the importance of not driving on your first day. To drive straight off the flight is bad enough but to consider driving to the Cotswolds later after touring Windsor, lunch and throwing in unfamiliar driving, narrow roads AND debilitating jetlag it's downright dangerous, not just for you and your family but for other road users.

Going from Bath to York is a long trip. Have you considered concentrating your stay in the South/Southwest? Or else concentrate it in the North? There's more than enough to occupy your time in either area.

Personally I'd drop the Cotswolds, I really can't imagine your kids are going to be that interested, mine certainly aren't and there really isn't much to do there unless endless cups of tea and browsing antique shops are your thing. Yes, the villages are attractive but so is pretty much every rural village in the UK

I would suggest heading straight to London from Heathrow using public transport. It's a good place to deal with jetlag and is the best start to a UK trip. After a few days there (there's too much to see and do to consider day trips with such a limited time) decide on whether to head to Bath or York and explore the surrounding area for the remainder of your time before heading back to London.

Posted by
18862 posts

If you want to stay out at/near Heathrow the night before returning home, I can recommend the Premier Inn at Terminal 4. It's about a 15-minute walk from the terminal through an enclosed walkway--totally doable without assistance if you have (primarily) wheeled luggage and no mobility impairments. I booked a non-cancellable single room about 2 months ahead of time for one night in September and paid 37.50 pounds. Double occupancy is more expensive, of course. I think all the rooms have a queen bed and a single-sized day bed. (They call them "sofa beds", but they don't look like they have those uncomfortable fold-out mattresses.) You'd need two rooms unless it's possible to squeeze in an extra bed (highly doubtful). It would still be very inexpensive. The hotel is relatively new and quite large. I think they just aren't able to fill all their rooms yet. Otherwise, I cannot explain such rates at a decent airport hotel.

Posted by
4866 posts

Some people handle transatlantic flights well and can drive with no problem right after. I did it, but if you do, just be careful.

We did a 4 week drive tour of Wales and England and visited the places you mentioned and more.
Here is my detailed review of the trip.
28 days in Britain and Celebrity Eclipse home

Windsor Castle is about 9 miles from Heathrow and an easy stop. We drove to Bath after our flight and managed with few issues, except traffic and a poor nav system on our rental car.

We spent six days in the Cotswolds, staying at the Volunteer Inn in Chipping Campden. It is a great place to stay, they have a pub there as well as a great Indian restaurant. We visited Stratford Upon Avon, Blenheim Palace and Oxford as well as touring the Cotswolds. You will need a full day to do the Cotswolds. Look at Rick Steves Great Britain guide for a day drive through the Cotswolds. You could do Stratford Upon Avon on a day trip, there is a large parking garage there for parking your vehicle. Parking is a huge problem in Oxford. I recommend taking the train to Oxford if you go there. You could do Blenheim Palace on your way to York, it is not that much out of the way. We stopped in Warwick and saw the castle on our way to York.

Avebury and Stonehenge are great, but if you go directly to the Cotswolds from Windsor, you are backtracking. If you do Avebury, Stonehenge and Bath (that would take you two full days), do that before you go to the Cotswolds.

York is wonderful. We spent three nights there and there is a lot to see. The Minster (Cathedral) is amazing). We spend our 3 hours there. Don't miss the National Railway Museum near the train station in York. Also, walk the walls and visit some of York's museums and old neighborhoods. You need at least two full days in York.

If you plan to do Windsor, Avebury, Stonehenge, Bath, the Cotswolds, Blenheim Palace, Stratford Upon Avon and York, count on a minimum of 8 days by the time you come back to London. Remember, traffic in the South of England is heavy.

Be sure to get a rental car with a GPS or Nav system.

Posted by
1251 posts

To me it seems rather lopsided. You have five nights to visit - and travel between - six, maybe seven, places (don't underestimate the driving time and parking frustrations). Then five nights just for London.

If London is what particularly attracts you then perhaps extend the stop there and definitely use day-trips for Oxford or Cambridge (C. is better looking, O. is more interesting) and Bath. Then pick just one other base for the remainder. Bath, if not a day-trip, would seem an obvious choice given your stated Southern "visit goals" with a car. However, York is certainly a much more fascinating city than Bath and also has the Dales nearby, which are nicer than the Cotswolds. There are lots of stone circles in North Yorkshire - many real, ancient ones but also a 19thC "fake Stonehenge" folly called Druids Temple which is perhaps more impressive to look at than the real thing.

Blenheim Palace is next door to Oxford, so perhaps there is some way to combine the two?

Posted by
1118 posts

I gather from your post a sense that to properly visit England you feel obligated to drive and visit a variety of commonly identified tourist destinations. My recommendation is to first take a deep dive with exploring the huge diverse menu of opportunities found in the area of London and then define several day trip sites and one overnight location. My basis for this recommendation is the following:
1) minimize the number of times transferring from place to place in order to maximize the amount of time being able to enjoy the area
2) London offers an excellent metro (tube/bus) and train system which efficiently lengthens your ability to effectively visit outlying destinations while staying in central London. Example: Hampton Court Palace is SW of London and accessible by Tube, bus and boat. We utilized the tube and bus to arrive at Hampton Court, spent the day exploring and then took a boat up the Thames for the return. The river trip provided an excellent experience providing a sense of history obtainable only by traveling on the Thames. Windsor is another easy day trip from London. A stretch day trip would be York where you could depart early from Kings Cross station via train, spend the day in York and then travel back in the late evening.
3) by itself London offers well known sites (each requiring pre-planning and advanced ticket purchases in order to avoid wasting hours in lines), walking venues with almost guaranteed stumbling upon sites/experiences worth allowing serendipity to add to your travel memories, food experiences and markets of old and new offering a variety of chances to see, smell, touch and taste (and maybe purchase).
So I encourage you to start the research with a focus on opportunities within London and then add on an overnight based upon additional research to locations not achieveable as day trips. Fortunately this forum offers excellent posters expert in knowledge with recommendations. That said, since you have ample time to research the area I suggest the best investment you can make for this trip is to devoutly make a committment to study many avenues of web exploration to sate your travel planning. Enjoy!

Posted by
3477 posts

As others have suggested, please reconsider driving the first day. You'll be tired, jet lagged, on unfamiliar ground, and driving on the left side of the road to boot. Some are not bothered by any of those things, some are unwittingly driving while impaired to a certain degree, and still others shouldn't be allowed near sharp instruments. No sure which category applies to you, but even a minor fender bender at the start of the trip will put a damper on the rest of your time. Not my intent to be Debbie Downer, just offering food for thought.

Posted by
4527 posts

I am not a fan of whirlwind itineraries generally myself but some of the journeys and days here will leave little practical time to enjoy the destinations. Do not underestimate the time it takes to do some of the cross-country drives that you are contemplating. Just as an example, it will take at least 3.5 hours to drive from Oxfordshire to York (I know as I have done it plenty of times), most probably more and I have only factored in a minimal comfort stop. And on this day you are actually starting in the Cotswolds somewhere, and visiting Blenheim or Oxford itself before that journey.

You also have a lot of north/south travel over days 2-4 that could be rationalised.

I would suggest London first (as you have been contemplating) - Salisbury (for Stonehenge and pick up car there maybe) - Cotswolds - Oxford - Stratford - York - London. Fit in Bath if you really must after Salisbury but I would consider dropping at least one item.

Posted by
441 posts

Wow, thanks all. I really do appreciate the advice/suggestions. Y'all have me rethinking the Cotswolds...and maybe adding a day to York. I am researching and have read Lonely Planet and RS guide. But I like getting real people's input, so this is great.

I hear what you are saying about not driving on day 1, and am mostly in agreement. I think if we can find a reasonable VRBO/airbnb in London, we could extend the stay in London and do day trips. I do want to go to York-so what about this idea:

day 1 arrive LHR, fast train to York, stay in York 3 nights, day trip to Yorkshire Dales(?)
day 4, train to London, stay 7 nights, day trips to Windsor, Avebury, Oxford (or Cambridge) etc
day 11: depart home

The advantage I see of this is that we have a train ride to relax and maybe take a nap while we are jetlagged. And maybe no need to rent a car?

Or, I can maybe see doing something like this:
day 1: LHR to London, sleep 6 nights
day 7: train to York, 3 nights York
day 10: early train to London/Windsor, tour castle, sleep in hotel near LHR
day 11: depart home

The disadvantage of this is a one night stay. Advantage is cheap lodging and close to hotel. Our return flight is at 9 am.

Thank you everyone, would love your input on my changes!

Posted by
1217 posts

We've done Heathrow to a hotel just off the motorway in Salisbury on arrival day. It's not the most awesome drive ever, but we felt alert and safe. For us, the key on arrival day driving is to pick a route where you can just plonk yourself on a motorway in the slow lane and not have to make too many driving decisions about movement in more complex in-town road networks. In addition to Stonehenge nearby, there are assorted other bronze age sites, the Salisbury cathedral, which is pretty cool, if you must do a garden, Stourhead has enough trails and human structures that it's got some interest to the under-18s, and Bath isn't far either.

Do watch some youtube videos on driving roundabouts and other quirks of UK traffic laws. We find them more helpful than just text

Posted by
141 posts

You're first reworked itinerary was what I was going to come on here to suggest. I, too, would urge you to not drive the same day you arrive. Get through the airport, get to London, and get on a train to York, where you can relax and nap a bit to help alleviate the jet lag.

I haven't been to York or the Cotswolds, but I have been to London and Bath. I went to Bath when I was a high school sophomore, on a trip with the marching band. We took a long day trip from London - Stonehenge in the morning, then toured the baths in Bath, then a few hours of free time, during which some friends and I went to a tea house. Were I to go back now, I'd want to spend more time there, but at 16 (the age your oldest will be), that afternoon was the perfect amount of time in the city. You know your children best, but others have suggested the Cotswolds might bore them. Perhaps the compromise is to do (long) day trips to these areas? I think London Walks does organized day trips to most of the places you listed in your original post. This way you could stay in one place in London, without having to change hotels too often.

Have a wonderful trip!

Posted by
36 posts

I think either of your reworked itineraries would be better than your original. I have driven on my first day after an overnight flight, but only when I have made sure I would sleep on the way over. You have received some excellent advice and ideas from others on this thread. My only further suggestion is to make sure your children are involved in the planning - let them do the research based on their interests and see what they come up with. Obviously their ideas would have to work for everyone, but you may end up seeing parts of the country that you never even considered.

Posted by
18862 posts

I think it's a great idea to hop immediately on a train to York, with one caveat: To make that train ride affordable, you'll probably need to buy the ticket well in advance, perhaps very far in advance. The off-peak walk-up fare seems to be 109 pounds per person, one way! Big-league ouch. The Advance fare seems to be 37 pounds. So you'll need to guess how much time to allow between scheduled arrival at Heathrow and train departure time.

Others can provide guidance about how much time to allow. Just the tube into town takes about an hour, and there's a lot of uncertainty about time at Immigration. I'd research luggage storage near King Cross Station, build myself a big fat buffer, and plan to do a bit of walking around the area until train departure time.

Note: Do not try to look up fares direct from Heathrow to York; you will be frightened by what you see. Just check from London.

Posted by
4527 posts

Do be aware that there is a direct train between York and Oxford which might help in putting things together.

Posted by
441 posts

Thanks acraven-I was wondering what the best strategy would be to buy tickets in advance, with enough time to get to the station, but not too much time, if you know what I mean. I have heard it takes a while to get through immigration. I like your idea of building in extra time and planning to walk around the train station area. :)

I am looking at apartments either in Notting hIll, Covent Garden or Kensington. Too many choices! Anyone have a favorite neighborhood?

Posted by
441 posts

Thanks Marco-good to know! Maybe can stop in Oxford on our way to London from York?

Posted by
18862 posts

I can tell you a little something about the area around the Notting Hill Gate tube station, because I have a favorite place to stay in the area (but it's not airconditioned, and it's not an apartment). The Vincent House is definitely worth checking out for solo travelers on a budget. I paid 80 pounds per night, including breakfast, about 6 weeks ago, but I think the rooms are mostly singles. Breakfast is not cooked to order but is quite good for a place at that price point.

If you walk north from the tube station along Pembridge Gardens, you're on a residential street lined with large 4-story rowhouse-looking buildings which may always have housed multiple flats. It's a quiet street. Pembridge Road one block to the west takes you to the south end of Portobello Road. You can walk up the latter to get to the market. In the area west of Portobello Rd and east of Ladbroke Grove are additional residential streets, and from Google Maps it looks as if there are more residential areas beyond LG to the west, though I don't think I ever walked through that area. I did walk from near the Ladbroke Grove tube station to the Notting Hill Gate tube station several times just after it got dark, and I never felt uncomfortable. I also walked from the NHG tube station one long block up Pembridge Gardens many times at night after returning from the theatre. No issues.

Within about a block of the NHG tube station there are two or three bank ATMs not charging fees, a couple of good-sized supermarkets, a Boots pharmacy and a lot of chain restaurants and cafes (including Le Pain Quotidien, Pret a Manger and Pauls, plus many, many more). Zoom in on Google Maps to take a look. I had a decent pizza at a place called "Farina" west of the tube station; not sure whether it's a chain or not. There's also a movie theatre. There's quite a good and very reasonably priced Turkish restaurant, Fez Mangal, very near the Ladbroke Grove tube station. I think it would be worth going out of the way for, for a family on a budget. The menu is large but not really sophisticated. Servings are large, and they do a big carry-out business as well as eat-in. Might be convenient after visiting the market. It's a fair walk if you're starting from all the way down at the NHG tube station.

The NHG tube station gives you access to the Central, Circle and District Underground Lines, making the area around it a handy place to stay. Except for Portobello Rd. market, I think most tourists would use the tube to get around, because there's not a lot you can walk to in less than 30 minutes. Holland Park is a bit closer, as are (probably) the Design Museum, Leighton House Museum and Kensington Palace. The cluster of museums around South Kensington (including the Victoria & Albert and the Natural History) is probably about 40 minutes away. It's a pleasant enough walk, but I think most travelers wouldn't feel they had that much time to burn.

Edited to add: I'm not very familiar with the Kensington neighborhood. Covent Garden is downtown/trendy, very different from Notting Hill Gate. I think it would be more fun for teens, and it would put you within walking distance of a lot more sights. I think noise might be a pretty serious issue if your lodgings didn't have double-paned windows. I have no idea whether there might be rowdy people on the sidewalks at night; it wouldn't shock me.

Posted by
2932 posts

Just going to add my 2 cents:

My husband, working with American military people, mostly from places without public transit, all seem wedded to the idea of driving on their trips to England with their families. The vast majority end up regretting it or finding it very stressful.

I simply refuse. I've been to England 5 times now, including two trips to the countryside (Cotswolds one trip, Yorkshire including villages like Pickering, seaside town Whitby, and York itself) without renting a car. I have driven across France, Germany, and Austria and I grew up driving in San Francisco and you simply couldn't pay me to deal with the combination of wrong side of the road plus the narrow roads. I have American friends who have lived in England for 3 years - they choose not to drive. Likewise, I have British and Australian expat friends in Germany and they also choose to or try to avoid driving. It is hard to overstate how much the other side of the road thing messes with you. Sure, a handful don't mind it, and bless them, but it's not most of us.

We had a very fun and easy time getting around Yorkshire via train then bus from London. The buses are economical, if not that frequent, you just have to plan around the schedules. I didn't find it difficult at all. The Cotswolds are another story but aside from those postcard views I didn't find them terribly interesting - I much preferred the time we spent in Yorkshire.

For this trip I'd split my time between York and London, daytrips via public transit from both to get you to other interesting places perhaps.

Posted by
441 posts

Thanks Sarah-I do appreciate the input and I think I am ok without renting a car! We love European public transport, used it all over Italy, Germany, Czech Republic and the Netherlands. I think I am really warming up to the split between York and London with more daytrips! :)

Still can't decide on a London neighborhood, they all seem to have different benefits... :)

Posted by
1187 posts

I agree that it is an excellent idea to spend your first week in London. Public transportation is really great throughout Metropolitan London. A lot of the World Class Museums and Art Galleries are free. The Thames has many Water Services that make scenic trips to Greenwich and many other locations such as Hampton Court. The Street Markets that run on different days and locations are fun treasure hunts. The top historic sights such as Buckingham Palace Changing of the Guards, Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament with "Big Ben" chiming are wonderful. We used a National Trust UK Touring Pass and found that it saved a lot on Admissions, especially for a family throughout London and England. They don't cover everything but will lead you to some fabulous properties and locations such Lacock a village that was a filming location for Harry Potter and the Fox Talbot Museum for one of the forefathers of Photography. You must buy pass online and can pick up at the first place you visit. Properties are listed on line. Site is interactive so you can check hours sites are open. The pass is for 7 or 14 days (best value). My favorite NT property in London is Fenton House which has a collection of antique stringed instruments such as harpsicords and mandolins. Bon Voyage!

Posted by
441 posts

Thank you Kathleen, I will have to check out that touring pass, and thank you again acraven for the info on Notting Hill-that is helpful!

Posted by
257 posts

If the kids like history and food, Burough Market might be great :) It's nearby to the Tower Bridge, could be fun.
If you take a day trip from London to Windsor, taking the bus/coach from Victoria Station was easy, and also went on to Lego Land. If you take the train, go from Paddington Station (I found out the hard way that the train from Waterloo to Windsor goes the long way around, and ends at the 2nd Windsor station that's farther away from the castle).

Windsor's REALLY close to the LHR airport, can see the castle when you are landing sometimes. Always good to spend some time there, easy. They also let you validate the tickets after a tour and you can go back for free for a year, so if you spend some days there, it will become cheaper each day :) And they have a smaller changing of the guard there now too.

In London the teens might like Camden Market. That's a cool place usually, except for the row of shops that all sell the same tourist things, but most of them are unique and fun.

Have a great time!

Posted by
2621 posts

I have read all your threads, and I have a comment to make.
The Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors are, in my opinion, scenery much like you would see in Middle Tennessee out in the country, or heading up to the Smokey Mountains. It is hills and dales, may be foggy, misty, or rainy.
With the limited time you have, and having never been to London before, I would NOT devote days to seeing this. That's just my own personal opinion.
I say this with great respect for the other forum members who gave you advice on Yorkshire, and if you had a lot more time, I'd say include Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors. If you had three weeks.

York is very interesting, but could be done as a day trip out of London.
Things to see in York:
!. York Minster---beautiful, but if you are not into large cathedrals, look at it from the outside only and go on to other things. Expensive for 4 people to see if you go inside. Give some thought about this. You will likely be seeing Westminster Abbey in London; would the kids get bored with 2 cathedrals on the itinerary?
2. The Shambles--the street where the 2nd story overhangs out on the buildings. It's one street---won't take long to walk down it.
3. The city walls--walk a section of these. Visitors center may have a guided and free walk of the city.
4. Train museum--it's right beside the train station. You could make this your final stop of the day & train back to London.

You have thrown out this schedule:
"Day 1 arrive LHR, fast train to York,
stay in York 3 nights, day trip to Yorkshire Dales(?)
day 4, train to London, stay 7 nights,
day trips to Windsor, Avebury, Oxford (or Cambridge) etc
day 11: depart home

I am sorry that some of the posters on your threads talked you out of the Cotswolds, because they are delightful.
But I would not rent a car; I would do a tour by a local guide.

I suggest this itinerary:
Day 1: Arrive Heathrow, go to Heathrow bus station, take bus to Oxford. Sleep in Oxford for 3 nights. (it's closer to Heathrow than York is by many miles). Oxford is a great place to decompress, walk around and get over jet lag.
Day 2: Take the train early morning to Moreton-In-Marsh, meet your tour of the Cotswolds. "Go Cotswolds". Spend the day on the tour. Return to Moreton-In-Marsh at end of the tour, short train ride back to Oxford for the night.
Day 3: Take the train to Stratford-Upon-Avon, stopping along the train route to see Warwick Castle. Then hop back on the train, continue on to Stratford-Upon-Avon. Spend several hours. Then train back to Oxford. Spend the night in Oxford.
Day 4: Train to London.
Stay 7 nights, do day trips from here.
Day 10: train from London to Windsor, tour castle, sleep in hotel at Windsor.
Day 11: Take a taxi from Windsor hotel to Heathrow (really cheap--it's not very far at all).
depart for home.
There is no need to do a day trip from London to visit Windsor, because you will be right there by Windsor when you leave from Heathrow airport.

Posted by
2621 posts

The Cotswold tour company is "Go Cotswolds":

Check out the information and photos on their home page:
You will see lots of countryside, cottages, and villages.
Leave the driving to Tom, the owner of the company, who reminded us of a very young Rick Steves.

You will be picked up in a Mercedes mini van, and it has plenty of room for the 8 to 10 passengers he carries on his tour.
Here are some links to a few of the villages he will take you to, so you can decide if you want the Cotswolds, or the Yorkshire Moors.
Click on the photos in the articles to enlarge.
Chipping Campden:

Just a few of the stops. Tom gives you a town map at each stop, plus recommendations for pubs, cafes or tearooms. At each village he gives you an hour to an hour and a half to walk around and explore.

There is also a stop at a beautiful hilltop (Broadway Tower) from where you can overlook countryside in all directions, with little villages in the distance. There is also a stop at one of the many stone henges.

Posted by
18862 posts

I took the GoCotswolds tour last year while basing in Oxford, and it worked very well. I liked Oxford a lot and think it would be good to have some time to see that city, which I'm not sure you'll have if you spend just your first 3 nights there and take two day-trips. Both the Ashmolean and Pitt Rivers Museums are very good, and the Pitt Rivers seems the sort of place to appeal to children and teens (shrunken heads! weapons!).

Rebecca, as a native North Carolinian, I appreciated your comment about the Tennessee-like scenery. It's difficult to know whether scenery will be different enough to be worth more than observation in passing. There are always more interesting places than we have time to see.

Posted by
2621 posts

Hello acraven! I'm glad you enjoyed the Go Cotswolds tour! We did too! I cannot rave enough about how beautiful the Cotswolds villages were!

acraven, you are right. There's plenty to see in Oxford without leaving there.
ferrin, you may want to skip the second day trip (to Stratford-Upon-Avon) and just stay in Oxford for the day.
acraven is right. The Ashmolean Museum is great in Oxford, as is the Pitt Rivers Museum.
The tourist information centre also has walking tours of Oxford and the colleges.
Great suggestions, acraven, thanks for chiming in!

Posted by
2621 posts

You wrote;
"My son is into history and my daughter is a recent Harry Potter fan if that helps."
Do you know about the Harry Potter Warner Brothers studio tour?
It is just outside London. Warner Bros. Studios, in Leavesden, near Watford.
Here's their website:
Here is their page, Getting Here From London:
This may be a big hit with the kids!

If your son is into history, he will love the British Museum in London.
And he will love the Museum of London, which tells the story of London and how the city grew from a Celtic settlement to a Roman town, to a medieval town.
Don't miss the Tower of London.

Posted by
2621 posts

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:

Posted by
441 posts

Thank you Rebecca and acraven-I appreciate the comments. Makes me rethink York as our first stop, as I did want to see the Cotswolds...a lot to consider. I think Oxford for a few days would be great. And honestly, no one in the family is super jazzed about York (though admittedly, no one but me has done even a smidge of research for the trip lol, I am the planner!)

Has anyone taken the bus/taxi to Windsor on arrival and then a bus or train to Oxford to stay the night? I know it is a long day but we don't have flexibility on the departure to stay the night in Windsor (without paying for two lodgings, anyway). And it would save us from using a day trip while in London. Just thinking of options.

And yes, I was planning to go to the HP/WB studio tour, and I know I need to book tickets in advance :) And maybe try to do a HP walking tour in London depending on my daughter's level of interest.

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2621 posts

There is a bus from Heathrow to Windsor. (No train directly) Bargain price. You can also take a taxi, which may be cheaper because 4 will be in one ride. Price for taxi is 22 pounds.

My husband and I did this last trip.

You can take a bus from Windsor to Oxford. There is no train directly, that I know of.

We have taken the bus Windsor to Oxford and it was fine; comfortable and had WiFi onboard.

If you want to see the Cotswolds, then you should see the Cotswolds.
It is your trip.
Don't let anyone talk you out of it if you want to go there!

York is a long train ride north of London. If no one in your party is dying to see it (as you said), do skip it all together.

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1413 posts

I just wanted to say that everyone says to get the children involved but it doesn’t always work. It didn’t for me. Mine were young adults and I bought guide books and videos as gifts for our family trip to Greece. I think the videos were only watched at our house.

Still, we had a fabulous time. I did almost all the planning with some input from my husband. It worked because I took into account what I thought would be people’s preferences. We stayed 3-4 days at a location which was perfect. Of course, being the planner gave me lots of discretion!

So if your group is only somewhat interested in researching (but very interested in going!), my two cents is you get to figure out what you think will work best but also you should see what you want to see most.

Posted by
441 posts

Thanks Rebecca and Beth- Nice to know I’m not the only one who has a hard time getting family members involved in travel planning. Luckily they have loved the trips that I planned so far so I guess I know them pretty well. I’m now looking at places to stay in Oxford-suggestions? It’s always tricky to find good lodging for 4.

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2621 posts

The Macdonald Randolph Hotel is excellent. It is directly across the street from the Ashmolean Museum, and is walking distance from the train station. The hotel has several restaurants in it, for times when you return from the day's adventures and arrive at your hotel hungry. Good breakfast also.

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2621 posts

ferrin, I totally understand your process of trip planning!

Everyone here on this forum does the same thing when they are planning a trip; an itinerary is planned, changed, then changed again, then one or two things taken off the list. Or added.

You are doing a great job of planning for your family's trip! I think it will all come together for you as you begin to make hotel reservations, etc. after the first of the year.

Posted by
441 posts

Thanks Rebecca-you have been so helpful!
That hotel looks nice but having to get 2 rooms for us makes it a bit out of my price range. Hoping for 3 nights in the ~$700-750 range if possible. I will keep looking. :)

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88 posts

Depending on what you want from a hotel check out the Premier Inn chain. They are reasonably priced no frills type of rooms but perfectly ok and used by many families in the uk when travelling. They often have family rooms too and kids get breakfast free making them very economical for families.

Posted by
88 posts

Be aware that schools are on half term end of May beginning of June for a week so try not to leave booking accommodation as it will fill up.

Posted by
441 posts

Thank you Amanda-good to know about both Premier Inn and the school holiday! I have already secured lodging for London and also a refundable one for Oxford but am always on the lookout for better options.

Posted by
1 posts

Hi Ferrin. I’m a 31 yr. Flt. Attendant for AA.. Been lucky enough to have LHR as my “route” since 2013. I hope u will love the city, it’s friendly & helpful citizens as much as I. An easy 35 min. train ride from Waterloo station to King Henry
VIII’s, Hampton Court Palace, would be fun for your family. If you choose to settle into your hotel in London b4 venturing to Windsor, another easy train ride of less than an hour out of Paddington Station will get there u there. No stress of driving. Both stations are easily reached on the Underground, or Tube. Buy a Oyster Card for £5 at any Tube station, instead of paying more money for invidual tkts.. Not to mention, wasting time buying tkts each time you travel on the easy to navigate Tube. You can “load” £’s on the card at the machines in the stations. The Oyster Card can also be used on the iconic Double Decker buses, as well. Enjoy the city that I still find something to new to see every time I visit. Cheers!

Posted by
441 posts

Thanks redkayak! I think Hampton Court sounds fun. And we may do a double decker bus tour as well, just to get our bearings. :)

Posted by
44 posts

Ferrin, you kids might enjoy a river boat trip to Greenwich. I believe you can get to Windsor by riverboat too. Just a thought. And half a day strolling through any one of London's wonderful parks might appeal to them too. If you google London Parks you'll see what I mean.

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441 posts

Thanks Katy! Greenwich is definitely on my list, it sounds like a nice day :)

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93 posts

My husband and I and our 3 kids (ages 6, 8, 11)did a similar trip to your first itinerary just this past June. I absolutely loved the Cotswolds- so charming! Our kids enjoyed parts of them, definitely not their favorite part of the trip, but as a family we have an understanding that we try and balance our trips so that there are certain things that appeal to different family members, sometimes everyone, throughout the trip.

Our itinerary had been:
Flight landed at lhr 10:30pm (really like 4:30pm to us). We rented a car and drove to Travelodge in Windsor. Stayed one night.
Toured Windsor Castle and town in morning and early afternoon. Drove to our house rental in Stow on the Wold. We stayed there 3 nights and visited many villages and also spent a day in Bath.
Drove to York. En route, stopped and spent a good part of the day at Warwick Castle - highly recommend this! My kids loved it!
3 nights in York. Returned rental upon arriving. Tons to do in this charming town.
Took train up to Edinburgh- stayed 3 nights.
Train from Edinburgh to London (5 nights)
Eurostar to Paris (4 nights), then flew home from Paris.

Plan your trip with a balance so that everyone gets to see or do something on their wish list. If you really want to see the Cotswolds, then try and see them! When my kids got antsy about popping in more shops, we stopped and bought ice cream cones (they loved the chocolate flakes in them!), or something else fun and little for them.

With enough other activities mixed in, everyone should be happy! My kids loved our 3 week trip and are younger than yours, so hopefully it will be even easier for you!

Enjoy your vacation! We can't wait to return.

Posted by
250 posts

I have to second what Sarah said - split your time between York and London, use public transport to take day trips for places you want to go, then start planning that return trip to pick up what you missed. :) In addition to what she and others have said, you need to realize that fuel here approaches $8 USD/gal. If you drive any distance at all, this will be an expensive add to your trip. Apart from the misery of traffic on roads not always designed to handle it, parking is a pain. Contrary to what most Americans experience at home (and some of the more cynical locals may tell you :) ) public transit here works and goes most places you'll want to see.