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First trip to England...a few questions

I have the Rick Steves England guide book but still have some questions. This is my first time going to Europe period but I am flying in to Heathrow and then staying 2 nights in Bath. First question: I have a quote from a driver for roughly $180 to drive from Heathrow to Bath. I am guessing I can do way better by rail or bus. How hard is it to hit the ground running and plan once you land OR should you have all this sorted out previously? Itinerary rough draft looks like this:
Bath 2 nights
Cotswolds 2 nights
Lake District 1 night
London 5 nights

Would an Oyster card be worthwhile?

Also, is it advisable to try to make reservations for meals in advance or just wing it? In April, how crowded are the 'must-sees'? Should I secure the tickets to items like Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Tower of London, etc in advance? May thanks. I have been reading this forum for a few months and the advice has been invaluable.

Posted by
533 posts

Look here for bus schedules from Heathrow to Bath: For rail tickets, go to

The Lake District is very far from your other destinations. Going there for just one night will leave you little time to actually see anything. Are you sure you want to do that?

No need to make restaurant reservations in advance, unless there's a particular place you have your heart set on that you know will be crowded. But you can save a lot of money and valuable time by making your hotel and transportation reservations in advance.

Posted by
12717 posts

I am not a fan of this suggestion of Rick's but maybe it's because I fly from a small airport in the West so usually have 18-24 hours of traveling before I get to my destination. It means another hotel but I would do 2 or 3 nights in London, then take the train to Bath. I'm glad you are spending 2 nights there as I love it! Then wind up with 3 or 2 nights in London at the end.

I have been to the Lake district but only on a Rick Steves tour but it seems like a really long way for 1 night. That doesn't even give you a full day. Others are more expert at advice for this area but I would leave it for another trip.

Two nights = 1 full day for touring.

Posted by
5828 posts

You may be trying to visit too many places over the course of 10 nights. The Lake District will take the good part of a day reach from London/southern England and a like amount of time to return, not leaving you much time in the Lake District.

I would split your time in London to start and end your visit. Getting from LHR to London is easy. You should be able to get a train from London to Bath for a lot less than $180 USD. Test ticket prices using trainline:

Posted by
3107 posts

It sounds like a lovely trip, and yes I'd say to buy an Oyster card for your time in London.

If you're traveling alone, you would indeed be paying a premium for the private car from Heathrow to Bath (for a party of 3 or 4, the contrast with 3-4 bus/train tickets might not be so stark). I Googled the question and found these answers on TripAdvisor. They are 4 years old (2013) but might start you in the right direction to find current bus and/or rail fares.

Heathrow Airport to Bath Spa, direct National Express coach

Bath Spa to London, First Great Western train

Bus to Reading rail station, and then transfer to the train to Bath.

However, given the recent rail strikes and the fact that you'll be jetlagged, you might just want to splurge on the convenience of a private car.

I don't think meal reservations are necessary unless you have your heart set on eating in some particular, very popular restaurant on a popular night of the week. April isn't peak tourist season for the UK so I wouldn't expect great crowds, except the Changing of the Guard is always mobbed. (For that, see the RS guidebook for the St. James Palace alternative -- more interesting, IMHO.) Perhaps others can advise you about whether it's a good idea to buy tickets in advance for things like the Tower; my guess would be it's not necessary.

Posted by
3 posts

Thank you for your replies...the Lake District was a spur of the moment decision and one we might cancel...I have booked a hotel I can cancel up to 2 days prior so it was something I thought would be fun but was also very cognizant of the fact that we may be overextending folks have been many times and told me I could spend a week or 10 days in London and still not see a fraction so I am completely open to suggestions......thank you!

Posted by
6814 posts

Yes, there are much cheaper ways to get to Bath. The easy path would be to go into London, then back out to Bath, but time consuming. You can also look into buses like National Express; there will also be waiting and a bit time consuming, but in the range of $50-60. There are also options taking a bus from Heathrow to a town with a rail connection, then on to Bath.

As for your itinerary, Bath, the Cotswolds, and London make sense, but the Lake district is a whole day of travel to get there, stay overnight, then a whole day to get back to London...not worth it, maybe side trip to Windsor, Oxford, or other near London sights.

An Oyster card would be valuable if you are going to be moving around in London, the advantage is you get a better rate than single trip tickets, plus it tops out after a few trips a day.

Reservations for meals? Not needed unless you are looking at really high end celebrity places. At best maybe the day of or day before.

Advance tickets? I was there in June, I assume more crowded, but hit the London Tower during the week, early in the day, and had no issues getting in, I imagine the other sites mentioned would be the same, though they are less visited, many see the outsides, but fewer go inside.

Posted by
36 posts

I agree, it's too far to go to the Lake District. I'd look at Cornwall and Devon, (nothing like a cream tea), or go to South Wales for one night. It's only an hour to Cardiff, much more doable when you are heading back to the Cotswolds.

Posted by
3428 posts

Personally, as a first trip, I'd just stay based in London. You can easily do Bath as a day trip. You avoid the expense of the private driver to Bath, and avoid loosing time to transit from place to place. With 10 days (I assume that's time on the ground and does not include departure from the States or departure from London), you could easily see a great deal of London and still take several day trips independently by train. Or take one of London Walks' trips- I know they do one to Bath, and possibly other places.

Here's a possibility
Arrival day- take subway (or if you buy ahead, the Heathrow Express) to tube stop nearest your hotel. Do buy an Oyster Card (do not order the tourist version ahead of time- it is not refundable. Get a regular card on arrival. Walk around and get oriented, possibly see some sites that you just 'see' as you walk by (Parliament, Buckingham Palace, etc.), depending on where your hotel is.

Days 2,3,5,6,8,9,10 pick no more than 2 major sites and 1, possibly 2 less 'major' ones for most days, plan your route ahead of time. Be flexible based on weather- spend time now looking at possibilities and prioritize them. Look at 'good' combinations based on location (and on not getting museum fatigue.

Days 4,7 (possibly also day 6 or 8)- Plan day trips- possibilities- Windsor, Canterbury, Dover, Brighton, Cardiff Wales, Bath, Stratford-upon-Avon, York, Oxford, Cambridge (and many others).
Use Day 9 or 10 as a 'catch up day- get to any major priorities that you didn't get to before. Do shopping, etc.

Get theatre or concert tickets for at least a couple of nights, if you want. And look at late hours on certain days for some museums- you can plan extra site seeing those days.

We often did similar itineraries during our more than 40 trips to the UK and Europe. Believe me, even if you only do a day trip to Bath, you won't run out of interesting things to do.

Posted by
13851 posts

A few things....

After a long flight, and this being your first trip to the UK, let alone Europe, take the easiest way to Bath--the bus. No changes and it picks you up right outside the terminal. You could take a bus to Reading then switch to the train but that will take about the same amount of time and you will have to be concerned with the transfer. No one knows how you will feel after that long flight so the simplest way may be best. Once you get to Bath, take a taxi to your hotel.

Where do you plan to stay in the Cotswolds and are you renting a car? If not, you may be better off taking a our of the area

And Oyster Card is the simplest way to get around London and worth the money since you can return it when you leave and get your money back. The Oyster Card is only good in London.

I agree you need to drop the Lake District. Add them on to London and do day trips to such places as Oxford, Cambridge, Canterbury, etc.

Buckingham Palace is not open to the public in April

Unless you are going to some celebrity chef or Michelin star restaurant then reservations far in advance aren't necessary.

Posted by
3455 posts

My preference would be to head to London, spend three nights, then take the train to Bath.

I would do 3-3-4. Three nights in London. Three nights in Bath. Four nights in London.

I would use the first three days/nights in London to see as many of your "must see" sights as possible.
Westminster Abbey, Tower of London, British Museum, St Paul's Cathedral to name a few.

The first day in Bath, I would see the Roman Baths, take a walking tour of the city, and enjoy walking around.
The second day in Bath, I would get up early and take a tour to the Cotswolds with these people, Mad Max Tours.
They do a couple of really good tours to the Cotswolds, so you would get a good look without having to spend the night there or worry about
After the third night in Bath, you will want to get a train back to London.

The four remaining nights in London, finish off your "must see" list.
Also take a couple of day trips out of London.
Take the train out to Windsor Castle and/or Hampton Court.
Look under "Days Out" on the London walks sight. They have guided tours to locations outside of London.

Also look at some of the bus tours out of London with these companies.
Some of these tours take you to several sights in one day out of London.
The best ones are any that take you to castles, in my opinion.

I just don't think you will have time for any more than what I've outlined above.
The Lake District is so far away and not worth it for one day. You would spend all your time traveling to and from it.
It would be worth it if you had a week to spend up there. It's a region, not just one town.
So maybe save it for next trip.

Posted by
3455 posts

You asked,
"How hard is it to hit the ground running and plan once you land OR should you have all this sorted out previously?"

No one has answered this yet, so here are my thoughts on the matter.

1.--It's pretty difficult to hit the ground running once you arrive, unless you have slept most of the way on the plane over. Even then, jet lag will get you sooner or later.
2.--"and plan once you land"--bad idea. Disaster. You are going to be in your best state of mind to plan right now.
3.--"OR should you have all this sorted out previously?"--Yes. Cannot emphasize enough. Do your research and planning now. Make your hotel reservations now. Plan what transportation you will use now.

You have more research tools at your fingertips right now, planning from home or your office.
You can look up things on the computer or ask us lots more questions to help plan your trip.
You can make out a schedule, print it and make hotel reservations now.
You will want to print out your reservations confirmation pages the hotels email you, and take them with you.
If you're planning for trains to be your transportation, you can book your journey(s) ahead of time and print your ticket(s) on your printer.

When you get off your plane at Heathrow, one thing the official checking you through may ask is "Where are you planning to stay tonight?"
They will want the name of the hotel where you'll be staying. Sometimes they ask, sometimes they don't.
I have had to show them my printed London hotel confirmation before.

Plans should be made before the trip. Otherwise, you're in for a certain amount of confusion and chaos if you try to plan your trip after you land.

Posted by
24935 posts

In addition to the points Rebecca made, I like to be well-organized with respect to availability of the key sights I want to see. Many have limited hours (i.e., are indoors or cordoned off at night). They may be closed one day a week. I want easy-to-access information about those limitations. You may be comfortable with the way your guidebook provides that information; if not, make yourself some sort of cheat sheet so you easily see what can or cannot be accomplished on any given day. The tighter your schedule is, the less you'll want to spend precious minutes on your smartphone or other electronic device, Googling for information you could have compiled at home.

Posted by
5828 posts

Rebecca makes a lot of good points. However, I would modify Day 1 advice to not include any specific must do or must see items. Not having specific plans for Day 1 is a hedge against travel delays or problems. Travel to your hotel from the airport, drop off bags if you are too early for check in, and walk around exploring the neighborhood.

Using Day 1 to just walk around (hopefully in the sun) as an aid in jet lag recovery and to loosen muscles stiff from sitting on the plane. I liked the B&B hotels in the Victoria Station neighborhood or rather the adjacent neighborhoods (Pimlico/Belgravia) because they are within walk-able distances of parks, Buckingham Palace, Westminster.

Save the "must sees" for days that follow Day 1. Use Day 1 to recover from the flight and to just enjoy being in England.

Posted by
3455 posts

Edgar, I agree. Day 1 is a good day for walking around and shaking off jet lag. You are right.

Posted by
660 posts

I watch a LOT of London tourist vlogs, and people regularly underestimate jetlag... Keep day 1 free to just wander around and rest. Hope you have a great time.

Posted by
3987 posts

Our new plan is to always have tea the afternoon we get to London after the transatlantic flight. Very restful and it can be an early dinner. Then I go to bed early.

Posted by
3 posts

Thank you all so much. I do have my hotel reservations squared away so that's set. You have all given me great ideas. Lots to take in !

Posted by
5934 posts

Edgar's right about not planning much, if anything, the first day. We were in England last year, and our flight from DFW to London Heathrow was about 5 hours late! By the time we got to London proper, it was too late - and we were too tired - to do anything. We walked from Paddington to our hotel, checked in and dumped our bags, headed out for a quick dinner and to buy a bottle of wine and a corkscrew, then back to the room.

If you do end up with free time, so much the better; walk around your hotel's neighborhood, find "your" pub and note the local restaurants. Ease into your trip. It'll be wonderful.

Posted by
518 posts

Congratulations on your first trip to Europe. England is wonderful. You will love it.

The Cotswolds are a lot more fun with a car. Are you opposed to renting a car for that portion of the trip? Driving in that area is really quite calm. Since you are going to land at Heathrow, I would spend at least 2 nights in London to begin, maybe 3. Then you could train to Bath. When you leave Bath, you could rent a car for the Cotswolds. Turning in a car at Gatwick Airport is easy. Then you can take the Gatwick Express straight to Victoria Station in London. Spend the last nights in London -- no better place to end a trip than London. If you do get a car, you might want to pay extra for an automatic transmission the first time you try it. Driving on the left is easy for some and hard for others. I didn't have any trouble at all the first time.
The Lake District is sort of out of the way for this trip. It's a long way to go for only 1 night. Spend that other night in the Cotswolds or London.
Put the TripAdvisor App on your phone. When you have wifi, you can look up places to eat or see near your location. Just keep your phone on airplane mode all the time from the time you get on the plane in the US to avoid big data charges. You can still use it on wifi, which is readily available. Also, have you found the tripadvisor forum? It is invaluable. It's a choice on the App.

I like to have a basic plan with my hotel reservations and transportation secured, but the best advice I ever received about traveling to Europe is to just relax and enjoy being there. Don't worry if you don't see every last thing on your list. It's a marvelous adventure.
Best regards,