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Feedback on itinerary for 14 night trip to England in May

Hi- my husband and I are planning our first trip to England for May 2023--we are thinking of going to Rick Steve's 3 favorite cities--London, Bath, York, plus Oxford (on my husband's top list) and the Cotswolds. As Rick suggests, we're going first to Bath, leaving London to the end of the trip. We'd like to rent a car only for the places where it is really needed, and otherwise prefer public transportation. We're interested in culture/history and also experiencing the English countryside/gardens in the Spring. We generally prefer to spend more time in fewer places (but there is so much to see in England!),

One question I have is how hard/expensive is it to do a one-way car rental e.g. Bath to Oxford and is there any company particularly good for this? Also, any suggestions on the order of doing things (e.g. Bath, Cotswolds, Oxford versus Bath, Oxford, Cotswolds), whether we should rent a car in Bath or Oxford?

We are open to suggestions--One alternative would be to spend 3 nights in the Cotswolds and do Oxford as a day trip from London. Another alternative would be to leave out York (but seems like a good contrast to the other places we are visiting, and Rick really likes it).

Arrive at Heathrow- bus to Bath. 3 nights in Bath.
Train (or car) to Oxford. 1 night in Oxford.
Car--2 nights in Cotswolds, probably Stow-on-the Wold.
Return car in Oxford. Train to York. 3 nights in York.
Train to London. 5 nights in London.

Posted by
107 posts

I think Bath, Cotswolds, Oxford, London would be plenty for 2 weeks. I don’t think you can get much of a feel for a place on a very quick visit. You tend to leave with very superficial memories of a thing you saw rather than an appreciation of the atmosphere and the people who live there. It would be ideal to pick up a hire car in Bath and drop it off in Oxford. It will be pretty much impossible to see the Cotswold gardens without a car.

Posted by
2867 posts

In 2018 we picked up a car at Enterprise in Bath and dropped it off at Gatwick. If I remember correctly, it cost about £50 more to drop off at a different location. With the shortage of cars and the extreme hike in rental costs since then, I wouldn't be surprised if that fee is much higher now. That drop of fee also varied from company to company and where I dropped it off.

Posted by
2453 posts

My suggestion would be to make your way to the most far-flung place on your itinerary first and then work your way back from there ... in this case taking the train to York upon arrival. Would preclude backtracking and a wasted day in transit.
You won't need a car in York, but you could collect a rental as you depart for your drive to Oxford and the Cotswolds. Unless you really have your heart set on the extra day in York I'd also suggest that one day there would probably satisfy your curiosity about the place and allow you to see what there is to see. Add that extra day to the Cotswolds - you'll be glad you did.
If you'll be staying in Stow anyway you could visit Oxford as a day trip from there, with perhaps a side trip to spend a few hours at Blenheim - one of our favorite stops during our own trip last June.
I'd agree that to properly do justice to a visit to the Cotswolds you really do need a car.
Return your rental in Bath, enjoy the town for a day or two, and then take the train into London - would minimize the time you actually need the car and thus your expense in renting one.
You'll save yourself a lot of aggravation by renting an automatic. A manual shifter will cost less but you really need to be quite familiar and comfortable with one before trying to do it with your left hand ... while driving in left-hand traffic on unfamiliar roads.

Posted by
5679 posts

I agree with Robert about getting an automatic shift if you can. Auto Europe is a good way to look for rental cars and compare options. Noodle around there to see about dropoff charges, starting in Bath vs. York, and such.

I think your plan will work, though I'd find it rushed. People have different interests, I'd want more than one night in Oxford on a first visit, and I might settle for one night in Stow or another Cotswold town. You definitely will want a car for the Cotswolds. National Rail is a good way to explore rail options and it links to the railroad companies selling tickets. It shows a morning train from Oxford to York, changing at Birmingham, taking about four hours total. There are other choices but minimizing the number of changes is usually a good idea.

York is the outlier, time and distance wise, and if you think you'll be back to England (I hope so), you might want to save it for a future trip that focuses on what's north of London instead of west. Those three nights could be spread among your other destinations, or allow you to add places like Blenheim, Windsor, or even Salisbury/Stonehenge. You can't have too much time in London. Remember that the coronation will be May 6 -- London will be packed and hotels expensive, but it will also be a once-in-a-lifetime experience to share with our friends across the water.

Posted by
3169 posts

You have received good information from the forum members above.
You seem to be, originally, trying to decide whether or not to rent a car.
I noticed you said this in your original post:
"We'd like to rent a car only for the places where it is really needed, and otherwise prefer public transportation."


*For the trip from Bath to Oxford, it is totally unnecessary to rent a car. It can be done easily by train.
*A day trip to the Cotswolds can be done with any number of touring companies. It's a good way to tour the Cotswolds without a car.
Here are two great Cotswolds day trips.
You can take the train early morning from Oxford to Moreton-In-Marsh and be picked up by this tour.
https://www.gocotswolds.co.uk/product/cotswolds-in-a-day/

The other tour leaves from Bath and goes to Cotswolds towns.
https://www.madmaxtours.co.uk/
https://www.madmaxtours.co.uk/tours/tour-2-the-heart-of-the-cotswolds


This is if you wish to rid yourself of the need to rent a car. Many posters on this forum have been to England many times before, and have no problems driving there. Others see the car as a hindrance and prefer to ride the train.
There is no "right" or "wrong" here, just whatever is your preference.

Posted by
2491 posts

I will only add that I recently returned from a multiple night stay in Oxford after what I call an unsuccessful day trip several years back. I would stay at least 2 nights if you are going to bother. With 1 night, I would skip it and add that night somewhere else. Or do what Rebecca suggested and base in Oxford and take a day trip to the Cotswolds (or rent a car for the day and drive yourself). Heresy, I know, but you could also steal a night from London.

Posted by
22593 posts

Oxford's considerably closer to the Cotswolds than it is to London, so I think it's not a good idea to treat Oxford as a day trip from London here. I stayed in Oxford and, as already suggested, hopped on the train to Moreton-in-Marsh to meet my GoCotswolds tour. Although I'd have liked a bit more time at some of the stops, I thought the tour was a great opportunity to see a bunch of small towns/villages without having to deal with bus schedules (which would probably not have allowed me to see more than two places in one day). Bus service in the Cotswolds is limited, but Moreton-in-Marsh seems to be the bus hub. I have no idea whether it would be possible to spend the night in one of the smaller villages and get to Moreton by bus early enough to catch the tour.

If you intend to do some village-to-village hiking, you'll want to spend more than just one day in the Cotswolds, and you might well want/need a car to get you to your starting point each day. If hiking is not in your plans, I wonder whether spending more than the one day needed for a tour is the best use of your time, given the number of other places you want to see and the time you have available. The Cotswold villages are very cute, but the casual viewer is going to hit the point of diminishing returns eventually. I don't know whether that will be after the fourth village, the eighth or the twelfth for you.

Posted by
10 posts

Thanks so much everyone for your thoughtful and informative replies! I did some searching for rental cars and automatics (which I agree we'd need) are very expensive, plus the hassle of driving in England, especially narrow country roads. I am now thinking--as were in the suggestions-- we will take a MadMax day tour to the Cotswolds from Bath, take a train to Oxford and spend 2 nights there, with a day trip to Blenheim. Then on to York and London...

Posted by
6180 posts

We did a four week drive tour of England (not going to London) and South Wales in 2017,

Be sure and rent a car with automatic transmission. Also, rent one large enough so that you don't leave any luggage showing through the windows of your car.

If you don't have a GPS or phone that has the Great Britain Google Maps, you will need a nav system on your car. This is very important, since negotiating on the streets of Britain's old towns and cities can be difficult.

We visited Bath, the Cotswolds, and York, using Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds as our base to see the Cotswolds, Stratford Upon Avon, Oxford and Blenheim Palace. You will need a full day or day and a half to thoroughly do the Cotswolds. A great place to stay in Chipping Camden is the Volunteer Inn.

We spent three nights in York and loved that ancient city. You need three days to see all the sights. Don't miss the National Railway Museum.

You don't want a car for London, in fact avoid driving inside the M25.

Posted by
9229 posts

You can definitely do this without a car. We just did after seeing how much a rental car would be for 4 days in the Cotswolds. Coming from Liverpool by train to Oxford we spent one night and took a taxi to Blenheim Palace the next morning, storing our luggage at the hotel after checking out. We took a taxi back to Oxford, got our luggage and took the train to Bath for 4 nights. You can take a bus from Oxford to Blenheim but it takes longer and we didn’t have the time. We took a MadMax tour to Stonehenge, etc. as opposed to the Cotswolds tour because we had been to the Cotswolds before. I highly recommend this company. We then took the train to London. In my opinion 14 nights isn’t a long time and York is the outlier. It’s definitely not worth the time, effort and money for one night, as that doesn’t even give you a full day there. If York is a must see I would go upon your arrival and finish up in London.

Posted by
11099 posts

I've done the Mad Max tour of the Cotswolds from Bath and it is quite good for a day trip. I've done several of their tours and their driver/guides are interesting, funny, well-informed. I don't drive in Europe so this worked out really well for me.

I love that you have 3 nights in Bath which gives you 2 full days there. Are you going to add another night there to do the day trip?

You may have researched this already but if you are landing at Heathrow and headed straight for Bath, consider the National Express coaches which go directly to Bath from the airport coach station. Very easy. The driver will stash your luggage in the luggage bay and get it out for you when you reach Bath. The long-distance coaches in England are quite comfortable and are an easy way to leave the airport when you are jet lagged!

BTW, I love Bath and find a lot to do there especially if you have an interest in the Regency era.

What a fun time you will have!

Posted by
10 posts

Thanks Pam and Andrea. Looking forward to the MadMax tour. We do plan to take the National Express coach from Heathrow to Bath, and since we're doing a day trip to the Cotswolds from Bath (rather than overnight), we added an extra day in Bath- so are now there 4 nights. I don't think we'll want another day trip from Bath- we are slow travelers and the day after we arrive is allocated to recovery and exercise after sitting so long during travel. If we want more time outside of Bath itself, we could do a 1/2 day Stonehenge tour--though we are ambivalent about Stonehenge unless you can be there during one of the times of special light. Thanks for the advice on taking a taxi to Blenheim--we will compare taxi versus bus--we'll have 2 nights in Oxford, so.a bus is possible if it doesn't take too much longer.

Posted by
29323 posts

round about half an hour by one of several bus lines from Oxford, depends where, to the gate of Blenheim Palace where they give a discount for arrival by bus. Dunno how long a taxi would take.

Posted by
9229 posts

We decided on the taxi to Blenheim because the bus not only took longer, but we would have had to deal with the schedule. If we didn’t have a train to catch I would have happily taken the bus.

We spent 4 nights in Bath and it was nice to have that much time. One day was spent doing the Mad Max tour, which took all day. That gave us 2 more days for Bath. We did a walking tour and the guide mentioned there are boat rides one can take. We did that after the walking tour. We spent a lot of time walking around Bath and enjoyed a local festival that was occurring. We had done a day trip there from London years ago and this year we had time to actually get to know it a bit. I would gladly return.

Posted by
3521 posts

dcivic, I think your new plan is great. We enjoyed our Mad Max tour that included the Cotswold, but have no desire to go back to Cotswolds. York has a lot to see-you can walk the wall there.

Posted by
1410 posts

I just wanted to add that I was in Bath, Oxford & the Cotswolds in September without a car. I took the Stonehenge/Cotswold Mad Max tour from Bath and also the Go Cotswold tour from Chipping Campden where I was based later in my visit. I enjoyed both tours and felt I really got a good feel for the area. I took the train from Oxford to Moreton in Marsh and then taxi to Chipping Campden. I took the train from Oxford to Bath with only 1 transfer early in my trip. I was in England for about 5 weeks; 2 of which I was on the Rick Steves England tour. I took only public transportation with the occasional taxi. I really saw a lot and was so glad not to have the stress of driving (although I have done it in previous trips.) P.S. I visited Blenheim and York on the Rick tour. I have been to England many times over the years and was visiting several sites for the 2nd or 3rd time. It was a tremendous trip. I hope you enjoy your adventure as much as I did mine.