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Family England Trip - October

Hi,

We canceled our Spain trip in April, where we had been planning to bring our two children (4 and 2). Obviously we aren't doing that now. We had picked Spain because we had a family member studying there, but now that she is home, we'll save Spain for a future trip.

Instead, we're looking at going to England. My wife and I have both been to London a couple of times, but never outside the city. We're favoring England now because we think it'll be an easier first trip to Europe for our kids, there are incredible flight prices, and because I need to use the vouchers for our canceled flights!

I had a few questions that I was hoping some might be able to answer:

  1. Understanding that on any given day things can differ, which is the easier/faster airport to get a rental car from - Heathrow or Gatwick? I can fly into either nonstop for the same price. We are planning to head straight from the airport out to the Cotswolds, so Heathrow is a little closer. But if Gatwick is typically faster, we'll go there.

  2. Given that we'll have our young children with us, my plan is to stay in just two hotels - the first for five nights somewhere near the Cotswolds, and one for four nights in London. I'm pretty familiar with London and have our plans mostly set for there. But for the first bit of the trip, is Cheltenham a good base? There is a 4-star DoubleTree hotel just outside the city center with large family rooms, what appear to be nice grounds, and a swimming pool (and as I'm Hilton gold, we all get free breakfast, a nice perk, particularly for the little ones). And it has really good prices for our dates. It looks like it's an hour to Bath and an hour to Cardiff (and otherwise close to some sites in Wales), in addition to being very close to the Cotswolds. Has anyone used Cheltenham as a base? Or any recommendations on an alternative base for that part of our trip?

  3. It looks like I can drop the car off right in Cheltenham or Gloucester and take a direct train, about 2 hours, to Paddington. This seems easier, cheaper, and faster than driving closer to London and taking a train from there. Has anyone done this?

Thank you in advance.

Posted by
379 posts
  1. Although I'm familiar with London, if anyone has any recommendations for kids (particularly little ones like ours), I'd love to hear them!
Posted by
2627 posts

If headed to the Cotswolds upon arrival, Heathrow is more convenient. When I fly into terminal 5, the rental car pickup is right at the terminal. Quick and easy, and in about 5 minutes you’ll be on the motorway headed to wherever it is in the Cotswolds you’re headed. Gatwick is on the south side of the city and would add maybe 30-45 minutes to the trip depending on traffic on the M25. Depending on traffic and construction zones, it takes just under 2.5 hours to get to Cheltenham from Heathrow.

I haven’t used Cheltenham as a base, but have been there on business, and it’s really on the western edge of the Cotswolds (and not much to see in the city). As a guide, the popular Bourton On The Water is 40 minutes from Cheltenham. Cheltenham is a great location if you want to visit Bath or Wales, but maybe not so great for visiting the most popular Cotswold villages. If you do stay in Cheltenham and want a quiet town to walk around, I found nearby Tewksbury to be enjoyable. Its abbey was nice for a short visit.

Posted by
1064 posts

We had reserved a car online with one of the popular venders at Heathrow...so it was ready for us when we landed and checked through. We then drove the M40, A40 to Woodstock which is the location of Blenheim Palace and is about an hour drive. The Bear Hotel is located there and it is historically a Coach House. Liz Taylor and Richard Burton stayed there. We didn't stay there because we usually stay in residential owner operated B & Bs; we stayed in Bladon which is near Winston Churchill's grave at St Martin's church...probably a little too quiet for you and the kids. Woodstock is on the Eastside of the Cotswolds, so you don't have to backtrack. You can use this to get over your jet lag and either walk about charming town or go to Blenheim. Bon Chance!

Posted by
3944 posts

Sorry, but it’s not recommended to get off a long flight jet lagged with (probably) cranky children then drive for 2.5+ hours on roads that you aren’t familiar with, so please don’t do it! Heathrow is closer. Stay in London first to get over your jet lag as it’s more child friendly.

The Cotswolds isn’t the best area with young children and there will be little colour left in the gardens by October. Why did this area appeal? (Other than everybody else on this forum heads there?). Why not just stay in London for the duration and have some day trips by train? It’s less hassle than packing up and moving on half way through the trip.

Posted by
1029 posts

Yeah, I can’t at all suggest getting off a plane and then driving, especially with 2 young kids. That’s disaster waiting to happen.

And another, Why the Cotswolds? I’m not sure go with adults that time of year.

I’d probably prefer to base in London with a day trip or so, no form of travel is going to be ideal with kids that young, but at least traveling by train there’s no risk of the driver getting distracted. You’ll also save time by not dealing with a car pick up and return and a hotel change.

Posted by
379 posts

Thanks for the feedback here. For the first leg of the trip, I shouldn't have focused exclusively on the Cotswolds in my original post. What we're looking for is somewhere outside of London that is a good base to see a couple of different places. So Chelthenham looked good to me because we can not only be close to the Cotswolds, but also Bath, Cardiff, and some other sites in Wales that interested us. I do now understand that October isn't prime season for visiting the Cotswolds, although the other places I've listed are still interesting to us. So that being written, do folks have another place they'd recommend using as a base for the first leg of the trip?

I've landed in Europe (or even home after a west coast business trip) off a redeye and picked up a car and driven multiple times. And getting the car and being in it for 1.5 to 2 hours is part of the plan with the kids here: they will sleep. And one hotel change isn't anything I'm concerned with - on our last family trip we did two. We're used to traveling with them and know what it takes to do so.

Posted by
1064 posts

Check online www.nationaltrust.org.uk for some great base locations and itineraries with activities for kids (and parents). Properties are closed for Covid-19 right now so you will have to get updates of their listings when the Blue Birds are over the White Cliffs of Dover. They have Overseas Tourists passes available for couples and families (kids your ages may be gratis) for admissions to historic properties and parklands. They even have accommodations (these must be booked ahead) such as cottages and farm houses, etc.

Posted by
41 posts

We traveled to the Cotswolds in October and the weather was pretty good, cool and mainly sunny.

Probably wouldn’t take little toddlers to England or the Cotswolds either, not much going on little kiddos care about. Just a thought but if this were my trip I’d save Europe for when the kids are older and will remember the sites and stay in the US for vacation. Savannah or Charleston come to mind.

Posted by
3944 posts

One possible location is the New Forest - probably slightly shorter journey time from Heathrow, although Gatwick is quicker to get through, so not much difference in total travel time from landing. Look out for the local wild ponies that graze on the heath, visit Beaulieu Palace House and Motor Museum, Bucklers Hard (living history maritime museum), take the ferry over to the Isle of Wight for the day and see Exbury Gardens and Steam Railway. There are also good short walks and many cafes and restaurants.

I am not convinced that the world will be back to normal by October, so this may be a 2021 trip.

Posted by
1064 posts

Jennifer's suggestion about the New Forest is wonderful. If you had time you could add Portsmouth with a visit to the HMS Victory and the HMS Mary Rose.

Posted by
379 posts

Really, really appreciate the tip about the New Forest area. I'm evaluating that now. It looks like it ticks all the boxes.

Posted by
4053 posts

We tried to visit the New Forest area in October 2017. It was beautiful, but the nearby village was extremely crowded. We could not find a parking place anywhere in or near the village.

We also did 6 nights in Chipping Campden, using it as a base to visit the Cotswolds (2 days), Oxford, Blenheim Palace and Stratford Upon Avon. We really enjoyed the Shakespeare center five site tour in Stratford.

Posted by
10 posts

Well, fingers crossed you can get to the UK - and if so I think you are doing a brilliant thing to choose to get out of London and visit the Cotswolds! So here is my advice for you...

(1) If you are heading to the Cotswolds, then I would say get a car from LHR and not LGW as it will be quicker to get to the Cotswolds - and the journey from LGW will add another hour to your journey. One thing to consider also, is to make a detour on your way from London to Stonehenge (am sure the kids will love it)... (check out details here for more on how to do this from London by hire car cheaply).

(2) Cheltenham would be a lovely base, although driving around Cheltenham isn't great and theres quite a few one ways - I would ensure you car comes with satnav personally. Also, make sure parking is included as that can also be troublesome in Cheltenham - the DoubleTree is a nice hotel but you need the car to get to the centre and again you may have some challenges with parking.

(3) If you can drop the car off at Cheltenham Station then that's great, again parking can be difficult at the station - but the train to London is fine. Also, my recommendation - there is a coffee shop over the road of the station next to Tesco, better getting a coffee from there than at the station if that's of interest to you. You might find it easier to drive to Swindon Station and get a train into London Paddington from there (50 mins)… just something to consider.

Fingers crossed for your trip.

Chris