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First visit to England- itinerary help, please!

We are traveling with my adult daughter and her husband to England in May. We have 11 days, not including travel days. Important sights for us to see are the classic London tourist sites, a show in West End, Stonehenge and my wife really wants me to photograph her at Stanage Edge to recreate a picture from her favorite version of Pride and Prejudice. After doing some research, York looks like a fun place to start our trip. So far, my thoughts are:
Day 1 travel (train) from Gatwick to York, evening in York
Day 2/3 York
Day 4 drive from York to Stanage Edge (near Sheffield) and on to ???
Day 5/6 ???
Day 7-11 London with 2 day trips to Caterbury/Dover and Windsor

I'd love some advice on where we might spend time between York and our time in London as well as any improvements to our itinerary. We love seeing old buildings and churches, are fit enough to hike, and enjoy the idea of a quaint B&B somewhere in the English countryside.
One last question for experienced Anglophiles: my wife is very concerned about me driving on the "wrong" side of the road. Has this been a scary or smooth experience for you? Any feedback is appreciated!
Thanks so much- travel on!

Posted by
3245 posts

Durham is in the same area as York and has a beautiful cathedral.

Posted by
4734 posts

Do you have to arrive in Gatwick? Manchester would be a more convenient gateway for starting in York especially since you don't have much time.

Posted by
10116 posts

You do not have much time in London especially with two day trips planned. Perhaps add more time there so you can experience more of London (we can’t get enough) or stay in Oxford or Windsor to facilitate that day trip then go to London one day earlier than current itinerary has planned.

Posted by
6462 posts

Waaay too much on the list and your are short changing yourselves with regards to seeing the classic London Tourist sites especially if you must see Stonehenge and Windsor Castle.

I suspect you’ve mentioned Gatwick as your arrival airport because you’ve already booked your flight.

If not then flying into Manchester and out of London is the more logical route. Manchester is an interesting city in its own right so maybe you spend the night of your arrival there then train to York the next morning.

3 nights in York. Rent you car there and do your day excursion to snap the Pride and Prejudice recreation. Return to York spend another night and then train to London.

Spend 6 nights in London with one day via a organized tour ( London Walks) to Stonehenge.

My math is off ( math atheist ) but easier base and do day trips out of London to Windsor Castle, Hampton Court and Canterbury by train.

Posted by
13211 posts

Lucky you to travel with your adult children. With your specific interests (especially hiking and a stay in the countryside), I will suggest an itinerary that includes more time in the Peak District, close to Stanage Edge. It would require dropping one day from York, but I found two nights/a full day there was enough time for us.

So on Day 3, pick up a car and drive to Stanage Edge for the hike and the photograph. Then continue to the village of Thorpe, where you can stay in a country house operated by HF Holidays, all-inclusive (all meals) with guided walking if you wish.

https://www.hfholidays.co.uk/holidays-and-tours/guided-walking-dovedale/

The 3-night stays begin on Saturdays in May, either the 10th or the 17th. You would have two full days to explore and/or hike. There are good sightseeing suggestions on the webpage if you wish to explore on your own rather than hike.

Then on Day 6 you would drive to Derby, turn in the car (assuming that is possible there; if not you would go to Birmingham). From either Derby or Birmingham you ride the train to Salisbury in 3-3.5 hours). You would arrive in time for an afternoon visit to Stonehenge, but better yet, book an after-hours “inner circle access” visit. This is by far the best way to visit Stonehenge.

https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/stonehenge/plan-your-visit/stone-circle-access-visits/stone-circle-access-form/

According to the page, there is availability in the 20:00 time slot on both May 13 and 20, either of which would line up with the dates of the Peak District visit. Spend the night in Salisbury (take a look at the Red Lion Inn), visit the beautiful cathedral the next morning (or the afternoon of arrival), and then continue to London by train.

Your wife has a valid concern about driving on the left. It is very stressful if you haven’t done it before. My husband and I managed OK in New Zealand, but we agreed we wouldn’t do it again, and especially not in the UK. My sister and her husband tried it in Ireland and it nearly ended in divorce. (Not really, but there was so much tension they also said they would not ever do it again).

So this itinerary minimizes driving, keeps you to a limited rural area, and avoids cities (unless you have to drop the car at Birmingham).

Posted by
5701 posts

I agree that you need to reduce the number of destinations that you are planning. Being a northerner, I would argue that you are spending too much time in London! I wouldn’t want the hassle of getting to York from London after a long flight - Manchester is far more sensible.

After Stanage Edge, Chatsworth House and the Peak District are worth visiting and nearby. Durham, whilst interesting is miles in the wrong direction for the rest of your trip.

Take the train into London, don’t drive. I would suggest that you reduce the number of day trips from London to give you time to explore the capital. Personally, I would drop Stonehenge, but it’s your trip, not mine.

Posted by
28105 posts

I wrote a long answer that has somehow gone missing.

Long answer short - given the great comments above - what happened to the rocks at Stonehenge? It is in your first paragraph but not the day-by-day.

Probably good because you don't have time for it - or did you leave it out on purpose?

You need a wand to magic up a few more days...

Posted by
12 posts

Amazing! I am always completely surprised and encouraged by the generosity of people's comments on this forum. Couple of answers to questions:

-must fly into Gatwick (got fares for $300 roundtrip from SFO that are making this trip possible!)
-received and understood regarding too many destinations (a very common comment for overachievers traveling to any destination)
-still leaning towards Stonehenge because everyone says you "have to do it". Am willing to listen to opposing advice...
-opinions on abandoning Cottswolds/West England to concentrate on York/London and just take day trips from London?

Thanks again- responses have helped us greatly enjoy several trips to Italy and Greece! You all are a wonderful resource!

Posted by
13211 posts

"Abandoning Cotswolds/West England": I do not see the Cotswolds among your wishes, nor in the suggestions by others, so I do not see how you could abandon them. Salisbury is not in the Cotswolds; it is a lovely small city with an historic and beautiful cathedral, and easy access to Stonehenge. Maybe take a look at photos of Salisbury, the Half-timbered buildings and cathedral, and compare to photos of a Cotswold village with the characteristic yellow stone houses and buildings.

As for Stonehenge, I wouldn't go there just because others say you must. Go because it calls to you. Not everyone is fascinated by these ancient and mysterious stones (how did the ancients move them there? And why?). But for those who are, it is well worth a visit. I have been several times, the first long ago before access was restricted and I spent a lovely afternoon reading with my back against one of the stones, with hardly anyone else around. It is not like that now; there are lines to get in, and ropes to restrict where you walk and how closely you can approach the stones. And crowds. Big crowds. So these days, I would only go again if I could get one of the before-or after-hours Inner Circle access tours (very early morning or late evening). I gave you the link for those.

What I would advise against is seeing Stonehenge on a daytrip from London. Your London time is short, and you already have too much planned there. A daytrip to Windsor is doable (and need only take half a day), but I would question the value of a daytrip to Canterbury and Dover. (You cannot see the famed white cliffs of Dover from the town; you have to be out in the Channel or see them from the plane. And apparently the town of Dover is nothing special.

Posted by
179 posts

I drove in Wales when I was there last spring. It was very stressful and I have vowed never to do it again. Honestly, at times I was near tears. The worst was driving in Chester, which is not a really large city, but was very confusing. The country roads in Wales weren't bad, and the freeway from Conwy to Chester wasn't bad. I did watch some youtube videos beforehand to familiarize myself, and I'm really glad I did that.

We did the London Walks tour to Salisbury and Stonehenge, and I can't recommend them enough. It was a wonderful day, even though it rained and was really cold for late May!

Posted by
2214 posts

Everyone is different, but a comment about the driving.......while I would not drive in London, I have driven all the way from London to Grassington, in the dales. I found the driving easy, but I do recommend Sat Nav. I adapted so well, that when I return home to the US from driving on “the wrong side” I head to the wrong side of my car for at least a week afterwards!

Posted by
1934 posts

I suggest that you use Google Maps & Streetview to have a look at the roads in the UK in order to get familiar with what to expect:> https://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/Stanage+Edge/@53.344489,-1.6338217,1321m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x487a2a9cd3b067c1:0x68ee234ca0aceef8!8m2!3d53.347292!4d-1.633261!5m1!1e1

As you can see, I have set a start point as Stanage Edge. Zoom out and look at where this is in relation to other places. (I have set the roads to be marked to show traffic flows. These will be live at the time you click the link - so click it in the UK night and it looks like they have hardly any traffic!

Here is a map of the rail network:>http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/static/images/structure/css/nationalrailnetworkmap.pdf

Best place to find schedules/fares is www.nationalrail.co.uk
The cheapest long distance fares are loaded around 11 weeks ahead. Pay on the day for longer trips can be expensive. You may find London (Kings Cross) to York cheaper as a separate ticket rather than Gatwick to York. This site will usually tell you if ‘splits’ are cheaper - but take a commission:>https://new.trainsplit.com

Posted by
5630 posts

We did a four week drive tour of Wales and England last October and it was great.
Here is my detailed review: https://www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=599139

The review includes details on what we saw, were we stayed and dined. York was great. We spent three nights there. Don't miss the Munster (Cathedral), walking the walls, the Railway Museum and more.

Driving in Britain is a bit of a challenge for those used to driving on the right. However, you simply must concentrate and use your partner to remind you to stay on the left (the risky part is when making turns). Driving on the dual carriage ways (similar to US interstates) are not a problem at all, except, I recommend staying in the slow lane. Driving through the countryside you will go through many small towns that are scenic, but the speed limit drops to 30MPH. Be sure to slow down to that speed immediately or your photo will be taken and even going 35MPH will get you a ticket (cost me 40 GBP).

Parking can be almost impossible in larger cities and even in towns, you must usually find a car park where you need coins to pay for the parking. Also, you will need coins to go to the public toilet.

When you rent a car, be sure you have the extra insurance. I buy coverage from American Express instead of the expensive coverage from the car rental agency. Make sure you have a GPS with UK maps or a nav system in the rental car.

You only have six days outside of London apparently will have two full days in York. We visited Castle Howard on our way to Pickering (Yorkshire Moors) and Whitby which were great, but you probably don't have time for that. Another interesting stop would be Warwick Castle or Stratford Upon Avon.

Posted by
963 posts

Hi Tom -

Here's a thought. If you wanted to see a major Neolithic site, but weren't entirely sold on the idea of Stonehenge, while in the Stanage Edge area (a fascinating place in its own right for all sorts of reasons) you could visit Arbor Low which is near Monyash.

The stones aren't standing and there is some debate about whether they ever were, it's on private farmland (it will cost you the princely sum of one pound per person to access - I believe there's an 'honesty box' or pay at the farmhouse) and is in remote moorland country, so you'll have a small hike to it and will need to be equipped/dressed for the prevailing conditions. Kills several birds with one stone!

If you do end up going to Stonehenge I would also suggest that if you are going by car that you visit Avebury which is comparatively nearby and which is free and you can get up close and personal with the stones.

At the weekend past we walked the Towton (not far from York) battlefield (1461, Wars of the Roses, reputedly the bloodiest battle on English soil) and after we were discussing the amount of historical artefacts in the UK which the country positively teems with and which so much of is unknown to the majority of people (including me). My friend who we were discussing these various sites with is preparing a book listing/describing sites in the country which are relatively obscure but nevertheless interesting. His criteria is that access must be free and you can touch the site (unlike Stonehenge, which to be fair is in danger of being loved to death). I've pre ordered a copy - he's still trying to find a publisher! The point being you can find something interesting near where you are without driving the length of the country to see a 'major' site which ultimately you might find a bit uninteresting.

If you were planning to stay in the Peak District area, then Hathersage is good as is Monsal Dale which has good hiking trails.

If you were driving south to Salisbury to see Stonehenge - and other sites - Salisbury itself is very nice but if you didn't want to drive the full distance in a day, the Malvern Hills are a good stop off point with good walks along the top of the hills.

Hope you can get everything organised to your requirements and have a great trip!

Ian

Posted by
44 posts

I'd consider Chester. It's only an hour and an half away from Stanage Edge by car I think. I haven't been there myself but plan to visit Cotswolds/ North Wales before heading to York and Chester seemed like an interesting stop between. I'll be training it between Wales and York so don't have to consider traffic.

Posted by
211 posts

Hello, Ian –

My friend who we were discussing these various sites with is
preparing a book listing/describing sites in the country which are
relatively obscure but nevertheless interesting. His criteria is that
access must be free and you can touch the site (unlike Stonehenge,
which to be fair is in danger of being loved to death). I've pre
ordered a copy - he's still trying to find a publisher! The point
being you can find something interesting near where you are without
driving the length of the country to see a 'major' site which
ultimately you might find a bit uninteresting.

Please add me to the list of people who would like a copy of this book! I would be happy to share our discoveries also, including an almost-abandoned church in the North we had to ourselves last summer.

I have wonderful memories of our short ramble, on a lovely summer evening, to the prehistoric standing stones Mên-an-tol and Lanyon Quoit in Cornwall, which we also had to ourselves. I will take that over the Stonehenge crowds and car parks any day. My husband did enjoy Avebury very much.

Tom – re your driving question. Some people are fine, and some find it hard to adjust. There is lots of good advice on these forums about driving if you search for it. My husband has driven in the UK on at least 20 different trips, for both business and pleasure, starting when he was in his 20s. He enjoys the challenge (but also feels relieved when we drop off the rental car!), and there are places that are much easier to access via hire car than by train or bus, but he still likes to allow himself a full day in the UK to recover from jet lag (we are on the West Coast) and fatigue before starting to drive. In fact, 2 months ago he broke his own rule and we drove to Oxford straight from Heathrow – which is a relatively short drive. Well, we were sharply (but civilly) reprimanded by a cyclist – we still don't know how close we came to hitting him. From now on we will stick to public transportation the first day!

Also, my husband avoids the really narrow roads. We visited a tiny church in Berkshire and got a warm welcome, but it is accessible only by a super-narrow road (and by boat, in summer), and my husband is refusing to go back :-) I think Rick Steves posted a video within the last year or two of driving in Dartmoor, where there is barely room for one car on the road – not even room for a bicycle next to the car. I'd follow the advice above to check out the street views of roads in towns.

Ah, here it is! Canyons of hedges: Dartmoor's single-track roads

Posted by
267 posts

A friend of mine from Girl Guides is working at the railroad museum in York, she really loves it, that might be a fun option. Recently (last week) I took a trip back to the last state I lived in, and rented a car for the 1st time. I actually did not really enjoy the experience, the car was way more automated and locked by itself when I didn't tell it to, and had several seat adjustments they didn't tell me about, and I had to use a lower gear to avoid a new feature that cuts the engine out at red lights. And I really knew the area, and had only hopped on a train for 3 hours. I turned it in after only 1 day, it wasn't covered by collision, and would have cost much more than taxis, so I bailed on it.
I might like to drive my brother in law's car in England someday, around a parking lot to try out the idea of driving on the older, left-side of the road. Otherwise I can't imagine having to depend on that car rental experience for my "vacation." I would NOT feel relaxed with dealing with all that stuff when I had no need to. If I had someone else with me who was feeling stressed out about it on top of the un-fun experience, I would never have done it for a day.

My Dad lived in Australia part of the year for a decade+, and when he came back here to drive on our side of the road again each year, it was a challenge for several days, and he was a VERY experienced driver, often going across country in his camper van. The blinker being on the other side of the steering wheel was one of the big challenges, so he'd hit the other stick too, and turn on the windshield wipers at the same time, to be sure he had his directional signal on.

Realistically, it's a great thing to treat yourself to the very most FUN trip possible, and to delegate as much of the chores as possible, I find riding overground trains and buses is a huge way to reduce stress and to see the sights.

Also I choose hotels in London which have some breakfast attached so the stress levels for the day start out low, then I can forrage later on for lunch or dinner :) Sometimes just finding a little store or cafe' for breakfast is a big challenge. I always go as low-stress as I can, and during most all the trips I've taken to London over the years, I've used only the buses (tube has very fast, very steep escallators and I have some double vision, buses are easier, you step up and poof, you're there), and have had great trips, sometimes need to call a taxi to save me from a planning mistake/lack of info.

If there's some really important photo op for one of your group that is not on an easy train line, require that person to plan the ENTIRE section of that trip. If they see it's really difficult, and if they see it will require them to drive on the left, they may think better of the idea, at least on the 1st trip. It could be something relegated to a 2nd trip.

Chelsea Flower Show happens in London in May, you might want to get some tickets for that if you can. :)
There's a zillion things to do in London without flowers, but just a thought :)
Have the most FUN possible!
-Alison

Posted by
6 posts

On our first trip to England we actually ended up basing ourselves in London and alternated one day in, one day out of the city. It worked out beautifully. The trains and buses were wonderful and very easy to use. We were able to get all over the place very easily and very quickly, leaving plenty of time to sightsee.
On our "outside London" days we toured Cambridge, Oxford, and the wonderful "lady's castle" at Leeds. Each one was marvelous! Oddly we didn't care much for Stratford-on-Avon - it was very touristy.

Posted by
12 posts

Ok- as always, thanks so much for everyone who posts and helps me improve our travel plans. We've done quite a bit more research based on the feedback I received to the first post- now the itinerary has changed to accomplish the following:

Day 1 (Thu) Arrive at Gatwick in the a.m., train to York, evening in York
Day 2 York
Day 3 Train to Hathersage, hike Stanage Edge- make wife happy
Day 4 (Sun) Train to London, evening in London
Day 5 London
Day 6 Daytrip to Canterbury
Day 7 London
Day 8 Long Daytrip- Bath/Stonehenge
Day 9 London
Day 10 (Sat) Daytrip to Oxford
Day 11 (Sun) Daytrip to Windsor
Day 12 fly to Reykjavik for one day layover

For all of you experienced travelers to the UK, I am hoping for answers to a couple of specific questions and then am seeking any additional feedback on the new itinerary...so, here goes!

Q1 Right now I am planning on Oxford on a Saturday and Windsor on a Sunday. Are there any closures or other events that could make these days for these places a bad option?
Q2 We've got 3 full days and a couple of daytrip evenings in London. Is that enough? Should I consider scrapping Oxford in favor of another London day? I like the idea of seeing the haunt of Lewis and Tolkien but it is probably the easiest to give up if we need more London time.
Q3 We are theater lovers and really want to see a show in West End. Is it worth the risk to wait until the day of and see what is available from the half price TKTS booth?

Thanks again for all the help. I really appreciate the opinions shared in this forum!!

Posted by
963 posts

Hi Tom -

I've been visiting London from northern England for years and am still discovering new things, so three full days won't show you all London has to offer. If you want to check out the main sights, three full days will get you round them, although if you actually visit some of them, Tower of London or Westminster Abbey for instance, then that is going to bite into your time, given that many are not an 'in and out again' visit. Just something to bear in mind, so make a list of 'must see/do's' or priorities and plan your journey to each as efficiently as you can.

While in Stanage, making your wife happy (good planning there!) don't forget to visit the millstones at the foot of the crags!

Have a great trip!

Ian

Posted by
20 posts

It isn't on your list, but since your wife loves Pride and Prejudice, it might be interesting to her to know that Jane Austen is buried at Winchester Cathedral. I sat next to her grave and reread the first chapter of P&P. I think Jane would have liked that.

s

Posted by
12 posts

thanks for those comments- I appreciate the input!