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First time visitor to England, need advice

Hello all. My husband and I are going to be first time visitors to England sometime in September! Yay! I am currently reading Rick's England guide book and have watched many of his shows. Any advice on other places to look for info? I'm very intimidated planning this vacation. This will be the first time we've ventured out of the US. I do not know how many days we will be there as of yet, my work goes through a vacation bidding process once a year and won't know the actual days until about a month from now. The very rough draft of the trip is landing in Edinburgh and leaving from London with stops in between! Definitely thinking of York as a stopping point also. Any advice welcomed!

Posted by
14280 posts

Part of the planning will come when you have your number of days exactly. Hopefully you can get the dates you desire! If you have a guess at the number of nights you'll have people can make suggestions...or you can wait until you know for sure. Many first time travelers tend to try to cram too much in to their trips. I love Rick's statement "Assume you will return"!!

Remember when you are planning that 2 nights = 1 day. Flying from the US day 1 is often useless for sightseeing, YMMV depending on where you fly from!

In addition to Rick's books, I like the local tourist board websites. Usually it's www . visit"XXCity".org, lol. I've found a LOT of interesting ideas when I've planned multiple days in places like Salisbury, Bath and Canterbury. Here's the link for York.

I also love to take walking tours wherever I go. In London there is an excellent company called London Walks at Years ago (really years and year, hahah) I did a wonderful walking tour from the Tourist Information center in York, so check to see if they offer something like that now. I'm sure that's available in Edinburgh as well. I was just there in June but was on a RS tour so that was included in our Edinburgh days.

To me you'll need at least 4 nights in Edinburgh, 5 nights in London (maybe a day trip to Windsor or Hampton Court if that interests you?) and maybe 3 in York. Do people "get by" with less? Of course! But this gives you time to enjoy things as you go. That's my style of travel but it might not be yours. I can easily spend 10-14 nights in London and not get everything done that I had planned!

This is going to be such fun for you!

Posted by
3262 posts

Look at as many travel books as you can; i.e., Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, Green Book, Frommers as Rick is excellent for logistics, but he limits his offerings. Also, other guides will mention sights Rick doesn't.

Posted by
884 posts

Another vote for utilizing additional travel books. I use Rick's books as a starting point, but have also found that he omits many unique and interesting places and things. As previously mentioned, his books are a great resource for logistics. Do double check his information on opening times and costs of various attractions, as I found several mistakes when looking at things, particularly in London. Lonely Planet's "Great Britain" was very helpful in planning our three week trip. We loved our stay in York and would highly recommend Southlands Bed and Breakfast. Bath is also worth at least two full days, and it is an easy train ride from London. (check out Hill House B&B in Bath) Windsor is an easy & enjoyable day trip via train from London. Will you have a car, or do you plan to travel only via public transportation?

Posted by
1072 posts

"My husband and I are going to be first time visitors to England sometime in September!"
" The very rough draft of the trip is landing in Edinburgh"

Please don't tell any Scotsman that you think Edinburgh is in England.:-)

Posted by
1332 posts

YouTube is also a great source, you can find travel videos for just about any place in the UK and get an idea of what it’s like. Have no hesitation in clicking on a video of a place you’ve never heard of or a place you don’t think you’d like, it’s only a few minutes out of your time.

Posted by
112 posts

All good advice as I read it, but I do say this on your first overseas trip. Keep it simple and manageable. You will need time to adapt to this experience, so once landed don’t put yourself into an advanced rush mode to do this our that. Especially if you doing all this on your own. I don’t say this to make you concerned. I’m sure you will love the experience, as we have. But one of our favorite expressions is “you cannot see it all.” So make what you see enjoyable and memorable. Stay long enough in locations to feel like you’ve landed for a reasonable exploration. Yes, other guidebooks may have overlooked worthy places to see, but for a “starter kit” the RS tour books, perhaps with another will give you most if not all you need. Remember you will be doing all this for the first time ... taking an overseas flight, getting transportation to London, taking a London cab, taking the Tube, ordering /eating meals in England, getting to a train station, taking a UK train, etc etc. Each its own little adventure. So, again, do not overbook your plans and travels, keep it simple and flexible. We love to travel and have the little adventures, but don’t pile them all up on the first trip to tightly.

Posted by
23 posts

harleydonski- I knew I should have phrased that better!! I know full well it's Scotland :) I figured since this was the England board though, I'd simplify! Am struggling with England logistics first and then onto Scotland!

We will rent a car, but planning on doing a lot by train. Not sure where we want to get the car yet. The thought of driving there does terrify me a bit.

An odd must see for us, or me really, is Ramsgate. My family goes back there many generations and I just want to see it. We figure we'll make a day of it and see Dover and Canterbury also.

Posted by
4012 posts

We will rent a car, but planning on doing a lot by train. Not sure
where we want to get the car yet. The thought of driving there does
terrify me a bit.

If something terrifies you, why do it? So much of England has fantastic public transport thus if you don't want to drive, you probably don't have to drive. I'm with you; I don't want to drive in England either.

Any advice on other places to look for info? I'm very intimidated
planning this vacation. This will be the first time we've ventured out
of the US. I do not know how many days we will be there as of yet, my
work goes through a vacation bidding process once a year and won't
know the actual days until about a month from now.

Your vacation bidding process sounds very stressful. I hope you get the days you want. Besides, RS, I like Fodors guides as well. I cannot imagine that you will be able to see everything you want to see in the UK so once you know the number of days you'll have, you can decide where to go and then plan to return again. Outside of London, I found York to be my favorite city in England. If you go, I advise planning to stay at least 2 full days/2 nights. Stay at a B&B inside the Roman walls too. London has many day trips available to you including Windsor/Eton, Salisbury, Oxford, Canterbury, Cambridge, Winchester, Greenwich, Hampton Court.... Frommers has a book called Best Day Trips from London which while several years old still has a great way for you decide which places to visit for the day based on your interest in gardens, cathedrals, coastal towns, castles, etc. I recommend it if you are planning to base yourselves in London for several days.

Posted by
33336 posts

It will be so much easier if you don't have to drive.

Even Ramsgate has a high speed train from London St Pancras, and buses once there. If you go to Ramsgate in the summer you may find parking interesting.

Posted by
2150 posts

What are your interests? How do you plan to travel? That will weigh heavily on your choices. It will also be determined by the number of days you will have.

Personally, I think you need a good 14 days if your plan is to do Edinburgh to London. You'll need a minimum of two full days for Edinburgh and 3-4 days for London. That would be nearly half of a 14 day trip.

Since this is your first trip outside the US, also consider taking one of the RS tours. A quick look shows a nice England tour and a nice Scotland tour, but not one that covers some of both. The nice thing about a tour is that everything is taken care of - you don't have to plan and make reservations yourself. OTOH, in the days of the internet, it is easy to find and make reservations for your accommodations.

Posted by
23 posts

I am hoping for 14 days in September, but won't know for sure for a few weeks, it might be shorter, don't want to go shorter than 10 days though. I really hate this is how we have to ask for vacations off, but I work at a large hospital in a 24-7 department. I guess it makes sense this way? Doesn't mean I like it though!

I actually have a European History degree (and yes I've never been, it's really embarrassing) So I plan on nerding out at all the historic sites that I've read about all these years. We like doing outdoor things too, and live in Oregon, so we are used to doing things in the rain :) We really don't have anything specific in mind, just exploring, playing tourist, and eating lots of hopefully good food!

We thought about a tour, but we really like doing our own thing. We did a tour vacation a few years back and really didn't care for it. Part of the fun is wandering around and seeing what you can discover for us!

Thanks for all the advice so far!

Posted by
1332 posts

I’d also suggest not getting a car. Keep in mind that not only driving on the left, but also pick up, return, and fueling a car can be a pain and they’ll suck time from your trip. I’d much rather be on a train relaxing and having your beverage of choice than dealing with traffic and car hire hassles.

Posted by
460 posts

Agree with the advice, if you are visiting Edinburgh, York and London you really don't need a car.

Another suggestion, if you were thinking of the car to get around in Scotland, look instead at Rabbie's tours out of Edinburgh. They have one day tours and other options for 2 or more days which might work for you and fit in with your Scotland trip.


Posted by
52 posts

My sister and I went to the UK last year...and it is known now as "Lori and Marna's Most Excellent Adventure". I did the research, planning and checked with her for itinerary approval. I was overwhelmed with researching, mindboggled and spent hours upon hours on the computer. It took me months and months to decide what I wanted to see, and keep cutting the list down to practicality. Many headaches, lots of confusion...but I learned a lot and actually enjoyed the research and felt as if I had already had a vacation seeing photos, videos, and reading posts.

My advice:

1) Decide the "type" of places YOU want to see. Your bucket list will not be mine. Cities? Castles? Ruins? Any special interests?

2) DO listen to everyone when they say not to cram too much into a short period of time. Take a few days at every stop. There is a lot to see at each place. And it is lovely to sometimes just sit and take in the atmosphere, smile, and say "I am here!" That said, nice bnbs or cottages are a good choice. (We rented a car and loved the freedom to get to the out of the way places we were looking for)

3) There are FB groups that are truly great...find them. Then you get to see the photos of their travels as well as recommendations! Also if search youtube it is a wonder!!!!

If you wish, you can pm me.......

lastly, if a gentleman here named Iain gives you any info...he is great. Helped me a lot.

So excited for you! I left pieces of my heart in many places there...and cried when we left.

Posted by
721 posts

Scapoose, I think you are headed in the right direction with your comment about checking out the historic sites that you've read about. Maybe you could start by writing down all the places you think you want to go, then map them out and see what you could realistically do in your time frame. The great posters on this site can certainly help you narrow down where to go and how to get there once you have some ideas.

I agree with the public transportation. We did no driving on our last trip to England and Scotland. Riding the trains and buses and figuring out schedules was part of the fun! BTW, there is some great advice here about figuring out train schedules and when to buy tickets. It can be overwhelming, but still is good information.

Posted by
15705 posts

In addition to Rabbies in Edinburgh, take a look at London Walks for two hour walking tours in London and day trips out. No reservations needed. Just show up at the assigned place and meet the guide.


Posted by
1881 posts

My first trip to England back in 1984 we didn't rent a car until the end of our trip which was the Kent area and we wanted to explore. We got a coach pass (bus between towns) and went all around. By the end of our time we were braver about driving. I would try to minimize driving as it adds stress and concentrate on the really good public transportation system. Also, keep in mind the more you change locations the more wasted time you will have. Changing locations always takes longer than you think it will. Keep your plan simple and remember to have a full day in any place you really need to be there 2 nights. Local guides can help you see even out of town sites. For instance Rabbie's Tours in Edinburgh has a large selection of tours. Part of my UK traveling in September will include Edinburgh, then York for a couple days, then London. My research has shown I will have lots of trains to choose from on that particular route.

Posted by
16924 posts

Ramsgate is very easy to reach from London by direct train, taking as little as 1:18 for some trains.

You can use the National Rail to research routes and schedules for your planned journeys:

Posted by
14280 posts

Are there any non-stop flights from PDX to Edinburgh? This year they have started some from SLC so if you are a Delta flyer this could be an option.

With 14 days, you'll lose the 1st 2 to travel. Here's a suggestion on how things can play out:

1/2 - Leave PDX, arrive Edinburgh
3/4/5 - Edinburgh
6/7 - York (one full day here)
8 - Possibly another city or add this day to London. You can never have too many days in London!
9/10/11/12/13 - London including a day trip to Ramsgate and possibly Canterbury
14 - Fly home

There is also a Rick Steves Meet-up group in the Portland area. If it's anything like ours here in N. Idaho it's people who love to travel and help others with their trips (and not necessarily people who only like to do Rick's tours!). You might get some good advice from them! Watch the forums for notices of when a meeting is planned. editing to add: This is the last meeting notice. You could PM Patricia if you are interested and see when they usually meet up. Fun to talk with people who love to travel!

Posted by
8881 posts

As many other posters have noted forget the car.

Also agree you need to decide what places are a “musts” besides York, Edinburgh and London.

Whatever time you are granted try to stay a minimum of three nights in London. That way u can see the Abbey, Tower of London, Churchill War Rooms, Buckingham Palace, St Paul’s and whatever free museum(s) strikes your fancy without being rushed.
Be aware that Elizabeth’s Tower ( Big Ben is the Bell) is covered in scaffolding.

I loved staying in Durham (south of Edinburgh north of York...hour on the train) overnight getting to see the famed World Heritage Durham Cathedral. Might research it to see if it would be of interest to you.

Don’t be stressed about the planning. It’s part of the fun. Come back here with train questions. Pretty certain our colleague Nigel will answer and advise.

Make a list, look at a map. Decide what’s important. Even with all of the Brexit drama you’ll find England a wonderful country to experience first hand.

Posted by
1176 posts

Since this is your first trip I'd say start with the mantra "less is more". You can have a list of all the things you want to see & do and work out a schedule that lets you do all of them, but you'll be rushing to and fro. My rule of thumb is 2 big sights per day plus free time. So in London it might be the British Museum and a 2-hour walking tour, with the rest of the day spent choosing from simple lower-priority items (riding the London Eye, walking thru Covent Garden area or a park) that we'll choose from a list we planned ahead of time depending on how we feel. Add in time to get between sights, breaks for lunch and rest, some tea, and it's a full day. If going out town on a day trip then 1 or 2 stops is all I would plan.

I would ditch the car. We've driven in France, Italy, Germany (no speed limit on the autobahn!) Cars can get you places that would be difficult otherwise, but I don't see this from your itinerary. For me I'd worry that my instincts would cause a crash; I've spent a lifetime driving on the right, in a moment of instinct I worry I'd do the wrong thing in a country driving on the other side of a road (especially at nite, while going around a rotary, etc)

Posted by
23 posts

Thanks everyone. You've given us some thinking to do until I actually get the days off. I really appreciate it!

Posted by
33336 posts

let us know when you get your dates.... excited

Posted by
1343 posts

To keep your dreams alive I suggest you buy (or print) a map of Great Britain and then start putting yellow stickers on it to indicate places you wan to visit. That will help you visualize your trip. When you know the time and length of your vacation you can start prioritizing:

  • Many yellow stickers close together = a place where you can stay and take many visits
  • One yellow sticker far from others = only if you have a lot of time

When you have prioritized you can start creating lists, but keep some "nice-to-see" in case some of your "most-see" are closed, unavailable, outside in rain, etc.

Posted by
1881 posts

I love the yellow sticker idea and am passing it on to my very organized sister who is planning a trip to the UK and Paris. I know this will help her organize her trip.

Posted by
857 posts

if you're tech savvy, instead of the physical map, you can log into your google account on maps and create a travel list with dropped pin sites, too. i'm doing that for our June trip to London and while I know I'm dropping far more than I will have time for, sometimes plans change so it gives you some alternates to do. plus it gives you a great visualization of where things are, etc.