I am probably late to the game, but I am trying to plan a trip to England next June. My son is currently serving a 2-year service mission in England and we will be flying out to pick him up. Right now I am trying to flush out a good plan. We are a family of 5. My husband, Myself, My son (20), Daughter (16), and youngest son (12). My 20-year-old son needs to be picked up in Bristol. He doesn't mind if we do a few things before picking him up so we don't need to go straight to Bristol. Right now the only thing for sure that we want to do is to spend a couple of days in London (daughter's request) and my youngest who is a huge WWII fan wants to visit the tank museum in Bovington. We are currently thinking of a 12-day trip with day 1 and day 12 being travel days. When we go on trips we really pack things in so we don't mind long days, but I worry about overplanning since the last time I was in England was 1995 when I went on a high school trip to London. Right now it seems like we are trying to invade a small country. There is so much information and I don't know where to start. We are fairly outdoorsy and love to hike and bike. Any help or guidance would be greatly appreciated.
Spend some time here and with a good guidebook or two, and a map, to get an idea of what's doable and what interests you most. Bristol is about 1.5 hours by train from London's Paddington Station so you should have no trouble picking up your son. [This website] will help you plan rail travel. I'd suggest spending your first two or three days in London, then taking the train to Bristol, then renting a vehicle and exploring England's west country (Somerset, Devon, Dorset) on your way to Bovington. Here's a good place to start looking for a vehicle large enough for five of you plus luggage. From Bovington, drive back to the airport. That's about 100 miles, but I suggest doing it the day before your homebound flight because it could easily take longer than you expect. If you don't want to spend the last night right at the airport, consider nearby Windsor with its historic castle for your final night.
Alternatively, from Bristol you could drive into Wales, but that would take you farther from Bovington. Either choice would offer a lot of walking opportunities, great scenery, and interesting history.
If you don't want to drive on the left side of the road (some have no problem, I and others do), then I suggest focusing on one or two cities besides London. Bovington has no train service but nearby Dorchester and Poole do, and you could probably get a bus or taxi to the tank museum.
I've been to many World War 2 sites and battlefields, and the Bovington Tank Museum is among the best!!!! Worth making an effort to see.
12 is young, but if your son is truly interested in WWII, he may appreciate the sobering Churchill War rooms in London, or one of many of the other Imperial War Museums—including ones in London and Duxford. The latter has a huge collection of WWII planes. Portsmouth also played a large part in the history of this great conflict, although I have not visited it for this purpose. Outdoor hiking is everywhere, but the Cotswolds and the Southwest coast were very memorable for me.
Just some random thoughts on things to see and do:
While in London, a half-day trip to Bletchley Park, where the Nazi code for ship movements was cracked by the code breakers:
You can visit and climb all around the HMS Belfast, a WWII destroyer moored in the Thames near Tower Bridge. You can buy combined tickets to this and the Imperial War Museum. We were amazed at the access we had to all parts of the ship, with lots of ups and downs on dicey ships ladders.
You did not say how you plan to travel, but if by train, a Friends and Family Railcard will be useful:
For cycling with the family, you could rent cross bikes or mountain bikes for a day or more on the Ridgeway National Trail:
Or consider doing what my son and I did some years back : We rented bikes in Salisbury (a lovely small city to visit, with a beautiful cathedral that is home to the best-preserved of 4 original issues of the 1215 Magna Carta)
From Salisbury, we cycled a back road past Old Sarum to the village of Middle Woodford, for lunch at the Wheatsheaf Tavern, where I had enjoyed an evening in 1967, as a university student, playing darts with RAF officers and my fellow students after a day at Stonehenge. After lunch, my son and I continued on the bikes to Stonehenge for a visit there, then cycled back to Salisbury to return the bikes before the 5:30 shop closing.
It was 1997 when we did this, and the whole visitor experience and approach to Stonehenge have changed, but looking at Google maps it appears this might still work. . . . Just a thought since you mentioned cycling.
You could easily spend your 12 days in and around the area between Bristol and London, with plenty to fill your days. But I imagine others will recommend York, and I will say that there is some great hiking up that way, on the moors or along the coast. We spent a couple of nights at Whitby on a recent visit, and spent a day hiking a coastal path from there to Robin Hood’s Bay. York itself is a great place to visit, with lots of history (Viking as well as British) to offer, and a wonderful railroad museum:
Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy day to help me. This gives me a great starting place to start planning our trip. I will have to do some research to determine which areas work best for our family. I am sure I will be posting more in the future.
Here is another vote for Bletchley Park. https://bletchleypark.org.uk/
I really enjoy the historic dockyard at Plymouth where there is a variety of history presented over several periods of time. I found being on the HMS Victory to be somewhat amazing. https://www.historicdockyard.co.uk/
I find the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace are "must dos" for me.
Bletchley Park is great. It can be a full-day excursion if all parties are really interested in the subject. If there is a considerable difference of opinion on that score, it's worth addressing the potential timing issue upfront. It appears that the standard round-trip fare is about 42 pounds but buying individual tickets early enough (not necessarily a great idea these days) can bring the cost down to 20 pounds or so for the round trip.
For the WWII son be sure to visit St Paul's and imagine what it must have been like during the blitz and that wonderful picture of the dome as the fired raged around the cathedral. He can climb up inside the dome for a wonderful experience and then be certain to visit the chapel dedicated by the English people to all.the Americans who were stationed in England and died in WWII. there is a stained glass window by Chagal in the back with the names of every state (48 back fhen) etched in the glass and a book of the dead with the names of each of those Americans who were killed defending England while there.
A Friends and Family Railcard, combined with careful selection of Advance Fares, can bring the cost of a daytrip to Bletchley Park from Euston Station down to a total of £40,70 roundtrip for all 5 people (counted as 4 adults and one child).
Another vote for the Churchill War Rooms - they are fairly small and conveniently located. They are easy to work into a London visit without much trouble. To me...looking at the government buildings from the outside it's very powerful to think of people working in secret underneath them.
A couple of days in London, particularly at the start of the trip with jet lag isn’t going to be long enough to see much, particularly if you are spending a day at the excellent Bletchley Park.
If your son has been in Bristol for two years, presumably he has some views as to what would suit you.
Take the train from London to Bristol then hire a car as Bovington isn’t that easy to get to by public transport. Between Bovington and Bristol are the towns of Wells (charming) and Glastonbury (forget the town centre but the Tor is worth climbing) and an excellent day can be had at the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Yeovilton for all, not just WW2 fans.
Travel back to London via the New Forest for walking and hire bikes. Beaulieu House and car museum is excellent and you could take a day trip to the Isle of Wight.
A few points about the Churchill War Rooms:
The situation could be different if COVID-19 is still suppressing travel next summer, but in pre-pandemic times the ticket line there was way too long to just show up. You needed to buy tickets in advance, and I think you might find limited availability if you were late in doing so.
- The CWR are really two sights in one: the war rooms (small, some tight quarters, not too time-consuming; useful audio guide) and the Churchill Museum (modern, very interesting; could take half a day by itself, or perhaps more, for those really interested).
- The entry fee is quite high (£25 for adults, or £27.50 with donation; £12.50 for your youngest child). I'd consider it overpriced for someone only interested in the War Rooms section.
perhaps create a secret list of existing WW-II still existing damage visible to those who look, and go to some of the places and see if your youngest can see and imagine. There is loads to see for those who look.
Just a few -
Near St Pauls Cathedral is the garden at Christchurch Greyfriars Church Garden - Open public access to flowery gardens in the ruins of an 18th-century church bombed during WWII.
You need to book ahead but some abandoned Tube stations (I can think of 3) which were used as bomb shelters are available to visit on London Transport Museum tours.
The outside of one side of the V&A Museum still has lots of bomb damage - see the pock marks in the stone near the door.
Walk up South Audley Street in Mayfair and look at how so many buildings have changes in the brickwork where there is repaired bomb damage so it looks like some upper floors are like hammocks.
and there's so much more but its past my bedtime....
That's in addition of course to the Imperial War Museum, the Belfast, and the RAF museum, all mentioned above.
Then go back another 50 to 80 years and find the coal chutes as you walk the pavements all over central London....
I had no idea there were so many different things we could do that involved WWII. My youngest is mostly a tank lover, but I think he reads books about WWII all the time and I think he will enjoy visiting some of the other WWII sights that were mentioned. Also, thank you for the tips of other things we could see and do that were close to the tank museum. He would love to spend the whole day there, but I don't know if his sister will survive it. We just visited the USS Midway in San Deigo. It was amazing and so interesting to imagine actual individuals living and working in this huge aircraft carrier during WWII.