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London and surrounding areas—itenerary ideas

My family (husband and two girls—12 and 15) and I are planning a London experience in late May/early June 2022! We could not be more excited to introduce our girls to England! It will not be their last trip but it most certainly will be their first—and we’d like to make the most of it. We will have approximately five days there as we then move on to Paris for the remaining five or so.
In London, I have tentatively planned to hire a touring car (Yellow Moon was one that was recommended. Any thoughts?) to drive us around one day to hit many of the highlights. Is this worth it? It would be a private car and we can specify which highlights we would like to see. I was hoping this would maximize our being able to see many of the top spots but I am fine if that is not the case!
I have read through many tips on this forum and have seen others not recommending Stonehenge. I just assumed it was some thing we must see but maybe it isn’t? My girls are flexible and will just enjoy being able to see things that they’ve read about in books — whether it’s Buckingham palace or the Tower of London or Stonehenge, etc.
We are not big “museum“ people meaning we wouldn’t spend hours in a museum. We also won’t feel the need to take our long tours of castles. Just being there and seeing the highlights is going to be amazing!
However, my initial thoughts, I would love to see if there are things we could see outside of the city and the best way to do that… driving to Bath, for instance, or Stratford upon Avon…
I know my oldest daughter would love to see the University of Oxford as she loves universities and we have visited many of the major ones in the US. Perhaps a driving (or a combination of train and driving) tour to bath/ Bristol — perhaps staying for a night in Bristol— and heading back to London via Gloucester/ Oxford. We would keep our hotel in London so we wouldn’t be traveling with our belongings. I realize there is a combination of train and or car transportation we could try to figure out to accomplish that. But is it even worth it?! That would take us at least 2 days.
Basically, while we want to be able to see some of the highlights in London, yet we also want to have some experiences that aren’t just London city. Are there any basic thoughts about how to accomplish this or if it’s worth it? It also may be that time is better spent going elsewhere such as Cambridge.
I realize this might be vague, but I am just starting to collect my thoughts and will be able to narrow things down as I get feedback! Thank you all so much— this forum has been very helpful!!

Posted by
2453 posts

Buy Rick Steves London guide. It has many great ideas. Decide which sites you want to see, get an Oyster card, use public transportation. A car in London, even if you are not driving, is a handicap. You’ll spend most of your time stuck in miserable traffic. If you want an overview a hop on hop off double decker sightseeing bus would be more fun but still, there is traffic. London is amazingly walkable and with that and the tube you can be nearly anywhere very quickly. Windsor is the one trip I highly recommend and it’s a pleasant train ride. You can reach Oxford, Cambridge, almost anywhere by train. With only 5 days (and I assume that does not include the day you land as you will be toast) there is more than enough in London proper to take up your time.

Posted by
3147 posts

I’ll take a shot at a couple of the items. Five days isn’t a lot of time, especially if one of those days is your arrival day, so try to determine what’s most important to you. If you want to visit Stonehenge, visit it, but don’t visit it just because others say you should. Bath is an easy day trip by train from London and very enjoyable. I enjoyed Stratford Upon Avon, but we had a rental car to visit other places too and it was at the end of a longer trip. Other than the university, what else draws you to Oxford? Oxford too, is an easy train ride from London’s Paddington station. Ask the girls what they’d like to see. A few years ago I took a coworker on a whirlwind tour of London while on a business trip, using the tube, and it took 3 hours without going into anything. Essentially, you need to plan very carefully to make the most of your limited time.

Posted by
8 posts

Thank you both! We definitely would not entertain a car unless we were traveling extensively outside of the city. I realize it’s a short amount of time. It’s kind of like traveling to the United States and only spending five days in New York City. I get it. It is what it is considering work limitations and what not. But it’s better than nothing? As far as what we want to see….That’s kind of the point is that we don’t really know and are very flexible!! We want to walk away saying that we did our best to see as much as possible in the short time that we had. I did a hop on hop off tour in New York City and didn’t love it. I considered a private tour to see if it would be more time-sensitive, but if that’s not the case we certainly can try to do walking tours and hit the highlights! It definitely might not be worth leaving the city but I wanted to explore every avenue before we got there. (For instance, if you went to New York City but were also interested in the New York countryside…lol not quite the same but you get the point. ENGLANd is more than just London so we are happy to try to incorporate as much as makes sense. The question is just what is worth the time!!)

Posted by
902 posts

Part of the experience is experiencing the transportation options that they may not get to use in the U.S. I don’t know where you’re from; however, if they haven’t taken the Tube or haven’t been on a train ride from one of the major train stations serving destinations beyond the city, then that’s part of the adventure. Catching the train to Bath or Winchester or Oxford or Cambridge, etc. may mean that you want to spend one night outside of London. Again, great experience to have.

Also, if it hasn’t been mentioned yet, London Walks is a great way to hone in on a neighborhood or time period in the course of a 2-hour walk (or day trip). Let your kids check the London Walks website to get an idea of the walks offered.

Posted by
3333 posts

Bath is a great day trip as is Hampton Court.
Are they Harry Potter fans? Those studios are often popular with tweens and teens.

I strongly suggest using public transport! The tube and trains are extremely easy to use. You tube is your friend on learning how to use public transport. Google “riding the tube” and several how to videos will pop up.

Posted by
8 posts

Great suggestions thank you!! London walks sounds right up our alley— with the “off the beaten path” tours. And yes we have done public transport many times but it’s always a fun way to see a new place!!
They do enjoy Harry Potter but I don’t think would care for a long tour. If we could get a highlight or two that would be awesome. I will look into it!

Posted by
2769 posts

The Harry Potter studios are great(I'm not a HP fan and I thought it was interesting), but you need to reserve far in advance. I wonder if they might find the double decker buses more interesting for seeing the sights than a touring car. With only 5 days, I would only plan one day trip outside London. I have been to England 7 times and have been to Avebury on a Mad Max tour from Bath, but have never been to Stonehenge and have no plans to ever do so. Bath would be better overnight but if you go, they might enjoy tea at the Pump Room.

Posted by
759 posts

"We want to walk away saying that we did our best to see as much as possible in the short time that we had."

Sadly, that is the the ONE thing never to say about a trip to Europe. Your about to deliver a "hop off, hop on" tour of England and France (I assume you will do the same for Paris) to your children..and in 5 years your children will remember little of it but will probably share the dislike you still taste over your "hop on, hop off" visit to New York City.

Do as you will but SLOW down. 5 days alone is not enough for London, subtract 2-3 days of day trips and your really seeing almost nothing.

Out in California there is a little house on a hill called Hearst Castle. Built by William Randolph Hearst in his 50-60s-- based upon his memories of Europe when taken there by his mother as a young boy. I'm not suggesting you spend 5 days in a single museum..but give your children time to see and absorb what they are seeing. Let them see things that will cause them to dream.

I would also suggest that you get a copy (buy it or Library) of Rick's London and Paris Guide Books. In them you will find a section listing highlights to see if you have only have 1 day, 2 days, 3 days... available...

Posted by
12 posts

Another vote for London Walks - have taken several on my 3 trips to London. Your girls might like Kensington Palace too if they like English history and Queen Victoria. They usually have great special exhibits like right now Princess Diana’s wedding dress is on display. If they like to climb and would like to see the city from up high St. Paul’s Cathedral has a great view outside from the dome.

Posted by
8 posts

I’m not sure how to reply directly to one fast Bob but this is the kind of comment that I found very unhelpful on forums like these. Please don’t comment unless you have some thing helpful to add to the actual situation at hand. We have five days and I think that’s plenty. If you told me you were coming to New York City for five days I will tell you that’s too much lol. Listen, The world has way more to see it in than some urban city. I’m sorry! That’s the truth. And we only have a certain amount of days we can do it in, and that’s also the truth. It’s possible you are retired or have a lot of money or a lot of time on your hands, but I would venture to say most American children have never ventured outside of the United States at all. And i hope to take my kids to see many things. And if we have to do it efficiently in a timely way, that’s fine. Like I said is the first toe dip in the water but not the last. You have lost your mind if you think a generation of children can be world travelers and savor each experience to that level. I spent two days in Paris once when I was in college and literally that was enough.

Posted by
8 posts

Will also add that my children and I have visited the Hearst castle! And we did it quickly as we had other things to get to and it didn’t lose its importance. Ha.
But I should add is that what I didn’t like about the hop on hop off tour of New York city was that we had to wait too long for the buses. Actual tour itself is pretty interesting and I learned a bunch of things I hadnt known about New York City even though I’ve been there many times!!

Posted by
1828 posts

I'm not very good at thinking like a teenage girl but a castle with a classic 'castle' look is Warwick Castle. I climbed the turrets and ran the ramparts like I was a 12 year old boy. It might be too much for 1 day, but it may be worth considering if you're already heading to Oxford.

In London my favourite site was the Tower of London. I'd usually also recommend Hampton Court Palace and the Museum of London, but if you're not museum people I'd likely skip.

Jack the Ripper tour? I know when my daughter was 15 she would have loved it. I think London Walks may have one.

Count me as another to recommend not hiring a car and driver to drive you to suites within London. The Tube is the best way to get around.

Posted by
5611 posts

No hiring a car is not worth it.

FastBob was trying to help.

Parliament Square is a main focal site. Houses of Parliament, Elizabeth’s Tower (Big Ben), Westminster Abbey, Westminster Bridge and the Horse Guards. All within easy walking distance of one another.

From Parliament Square it’s an easy stroll up Birdcage walk through St James Park to Buckingham Palace.

Tickets to see the Houses of Parliament are on this website:

https://www.parliament.uk/visiting/

Tickets for Westminster Abbey are on this website:

https://www.westminster-abbey.org/visit-us/prices-entry-times

Depending on your travel dates you may get to tour Buckingham Palace.

https://www.rct.uk/visit/buckingham-palace

From Trafalgar Square to Leicester Square is a 10 minute stroll and from there into Covent Garden another 10-15 minutes.

Get Oyster Cards for each of you and use the Tube. It’s efficient and your daughters should find it interesting.

After visiting the Tower of London be sure to walk up towards The Gherkin to the adjacent Leadenhall Market, the last glass covered market place in London. If your daughters watched the Harry Potter films they can search for the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron.

If they are interested in fashion consider visiting the V and A Museum.

Other places of interest for shopping would be Carnaby Street, Coal Drop Yards, Camden Market and Portobello Road Market. The latter can be massively crowded so go early. If your daughters have never seen the film Notting Hill watch it together.

Consider visiting Brick Lane and Spitafields Market as well as the Shoreditch BoxCar Market.

Brighton would be an easier day trip.

Lastly, get the RS London Guidebook. Read it. It’s practical and insightful.

Posted by
4686 posts

Personally, Stonehenge wouldn’t be on my list of top 100 things to see in the U.K., but others maybe interested. You don’t have much time, particularly if you are going to be jet lagged for a few days to see stuff that doesn’t interest your family. It always takes me a week to get over jet lag when returning from America.

Get the whole family to do some research online (so as to get a variety of views, not just the recommendations of one guide book) and try to formulate a plan. You need to decide whether 1 or 2 of your 5 days are going to be day trips out of London. Day trips can be exhausting if travelling any distance such as Bath, so bear this in mind in relation to jet lag.

At that age, I would have preferred Brighton or Windsor to Warwick or Bath as they are shorter train rides, meaning longer spent there and they have a good mix of history, scenery and shops. You may not be able to see much of the universities in Oxford and Cambridge if exams are being held.

Take buses rather than the underground between some locations, as you get to see more and they often don’t take much longer. I am not a HoHo fan. Personally, I wouldn’t bother with a car in London as you would spend half the time sat in traffic. At least on a bus, you can get there quicker in the bus lanes. Walking tours are good.

I enjoy some of the lesser known places such as the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden as much as the big name attractions.

The first weekend in June is a long bank holiday weekend to mark the Queen’s Jubilee, so there will be more crowds than usual in London.

Posted by
5640 posts

Have you and your girls watched any of the Rick Steves video shows on London and Paris? (Available to watch free on this website) Might help to solidify preferences for what items are your must-sees.

Posted by
698 posts

Hi - another vote here for avoiding a car and sitting in London’s notorious traffic jams for the better part of the day. A vote for comfy shoes and walking from me. The Tube is your friend for getting quickly about/across London but you see so much more by just walking through London. I know everybody says five days is not enough and they are probably right, but you will get plenty seen and done in that time. Personally, for me a stroll along the south bank of the Thames never gets old, but there’s so much to see and do. Thus the advice to swot up on what your priorities are before travelling is sound. My twopennorth would be to seek out a proper ‘chippie’ if you are determined to eat fish and chips and avoid pubs and ones that do pizza and curry into the bargain. It’s fish and chips and very little else where you you get the best version. (I am a northerner and accept that I am highly biased in this regard and believe there to be no good ‘chippies’ outside our northern enclave. But that probably isn’t true. Well, not entirely. But almost!).

As for Stonehenge, I would have to say I’m a fan, although most folk react to it on first viewing by saying (or thinking) “it’s smaller than I expected”. (It gets bigger in the mind, once away from it when you have learned about the alignments there are and how precise the positioning is. It should also be seen in the wider context of megalithic history and monuments within the U.K., and there is a wealth of that near and around Stonehenge if you know what to look for, Avebury for starters, which in my opinion is much more impressive. And much more accessible. And free! But if Stone Age history doesn’t generally appeal to you you lose very little by not going to Stonehenge, plus it’s a fair old way from London and will greedily eat into your time there. If this is the first of several planned visits maybe next time, when you could spend a little time outside London and be able to visit Stonehenge and the other nearby sites in a more in depth leisurely fashion.

I’m sure you’ll have a great time - a little pre planning, with a Plan B and/or ‘rainy day alternative’ will help you see as much as possible in the time you have.

Posted by
4834 posts

Don't even think about driving a car on the M25 orbital or inside it. Traffic is a nightmare.

Take the train or a tour to Bath. Also, Oxford and Stratford Upon Avon, all are amazing places. Also, Winchester, Stonehenge, Salisbury, the Cotswolds (rent a car in Oxford and see the Cotswolds, stay in Chipping Campden). Cambridge and Canterbury on the east side.

Posted by
18746 posts

There is something to be said for not spending all of ones time in the capital city. I always like variety on my trips. But it's also important to understand how much time is lost in transportation when you head out of town on a day-trip. You have to get from your lodgings to the Underground station, take the Tube to the departure train station, find the right track, take the train to your destination, get from that train station to the part of town you want to see. Then at the end of the day you have to do it all in reverse. So you are giving up a full day in London or Paris for much less than a full day in another town. And you're paying capital-city lodging rates for the privilege. One thing you can do to save time is pack food so you can eat breakfast and dinner on the train. If there's much transportation overhead involved, I would try to pick a destination that would fill all my available time rather than a place I'd be ready to leave after 2 or 4 hours.

I think it's worth doing considerable research about potential day-trips to be sure you're selecting something that will give you a lot of enjoyment for the time expended. Rick has videos right on this website (https://www.ricksteves.com/watch-read-listen/video/tv-show) that cover Bath, York and several potential destinations in southeast England (including Brighton and Canterbury). "The Heart of England" includes Oxford and Cambridge. For France there's a video on "Paris Side Trips".

Posted by
1009 posts

If it's your first trip to London, I'd stick with London with a day trip to Windsor Castle(if the girls are interested). London is so spread out and there are so many activities(The Tower, London Eye, etc) that 5 days is just scratching the surface.

Posted by
2769 posts

Although you're not big museum goers, you should consider whether your girls would want to see Egyptian mummies, Assyrian(or is it Babylonian) lion statues, Rosetta Stone, and Elgin marbles in the British Museum.

Posted by
1142 posts

I agree with many of the posters. Do NOT use a car, even for a day trip. Trains are so much fun in England and SO much nicer than in the US and the station is usually located close to the area you want to see. I would limit your day trip to only 1 of your days. I would suggest you watch some of the Rick Steves videos here on the website and also his lists of top things to do in his guidebooks before selecting one everyone agrees on. Cambridge, Oxford, Bath, Windsor, Brighton, etc. are all easily reached via train and the trip becomes part of your experience. I recommend using the Tube, buses and London Walks also. Museums in London tend to be free (although appreciate donations) so you can hop in and do a quick peek at anything that might interest you. A night at the theater is a fabulous experience and cheaper than New York. Museums are good places to grab lunch or afternoon tea also and that is an experience you might enjoy. If you are there on a Sunday, visiting Westminster Abby or St. Pauls for a service is a stunning way to see the building and enjoy music at the same time. Evensong is offered some evenings in both these churches and I find it a lovely and relaxing way to end my day. If anyone is interested in WWII history I absolutely recommend the Churchill War Rooms and museum on Winston that is part of it. You do need to get advance tickets for this one though. Be sure to get fish and chips (preferably with mushy peas) for dinner one night. Walk along the Thames or take one of the river cruises that are available. A visit to Harrods, especially the food halls can be really fun and their 'souvenir' section is full of quality gifts.

Posted by
223 posts

With only five days, there is a limit to what you can achieve. Make every day count! You haven't time to do much outside London and you need to ask yourself whether the time taken to get to and from places is actually worth it. The plan for the two days to Bath/Bristol and then back by Gloucester/Oxford would be very rushed and you would spend more time getting between the different places than actually seeing/visiting them.

The only way to try and include Bath, Stratford, Stonehenge and all the wonderful other places would by spending the full ten days in England!!

Plan on spending most of your time in London with possibly one day trip plus half a day to Windsor Castle (easily done on the train)

Begin by getting a good guide book with lots of pictures - DK Eyewitness London is my recommendation. The pictures are really good, especially the cut away images of some of the main sites. Get the girls involved in deciding what they want to do.

The Tower of London with the Crown Jewels must rank high on your list as well and Hampton Court. Westminster Abbey is also worth doing. What about the London Eye?

As your eldest is keen on seeing Oxford, then make that your day trip. It is easly done from London in a day on the train and makes a very good day out. Oxford is walkable. The University Colleges are spread out across Oxford, so you will need to plan which ones you want to see. There's information about visiting and their opening times here. Christ Church with its cathedral is always top of the visitor list, so you may want to plan your visit around that.

https://www.ox.ac.uk/visitors/visiting-oxford/visiting-the-colleges

If you have time, a tour of the Bodelian Libray is well worth doing. Part of it was used as the library in the Harry Potter films.

https://www.sloweurope.com/community/threads/bodleian-library-oxford.5900/

There is some general information about Oxford here.

https://www.sloweurope.com/community/threads/oxford.5690/

And information about three of the less commonly visited colleges here.

https://www.sloweurope.com/community/threads/three-oxford-colleges.4743/

Posted by
25583 posts

I know that your 15 year old is keen on Oxford (if they are still going stop in at MooMoos for a great mix-in milkshake in the Indoor Market), but has she considered the other OxBridge twin - Cambridge? I used to live nearer to Oxford and had a business nearby but since we now live pretty much half-way between we go to Cambridge much much more often. For a University city it really has it all, including what I consider far superior punting (all 4 of you would prob love that) and equally prestigious colleges. Not free but Kings College Chapel is spectacular. The university IMHO is better integrated within the town and both old and new colleges get an equal go. What would your eldest likely major in?

That's not to knock Oxford - some of the colleges there are beyond splendid.

Cambridge is equally easy to reach by train....

Posted by
12139 posts

I have read onefastbob’s comments through 5-6 times and do not see anything objectionable there. He is just advising you to slow down a bit, and not try to rush round in an effort to “see everything”. And from your original description of your thoughts, with a driver from Yellow Moon to take you around to see the “highlights”, it did sound like you might be content with a “drive by” the iconic sights like Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, or whatever. But now you have gotten some good advice and seem to be leaning toward walking tours, and other ways of exploring what London has to offer. I applaud your willingness to learn. And add some additional ideas for you to consider.

First off, I suggest that 6/4 London/Paris is a better split that 5/5. I say this in part because you said 2 days in Paris was enough for you before. But more on point is the fact that when we took our own daughters to London and Paris, they were crazy about London and had no love for Paris at all. They were 10 and 14 at the time, FWIW, and both were studying French in school. But although they could read some signs, they really couldn’t speak French, and so they felt intimidated and overwhelmed. In London, on the other hand, they really enjoyed talking to people, reading the signs, going into shops, riding in black cabs, watching buskers perform. . . You name it.

With 6 days for England, you will have time to get out of London for an overnight, to enjoy a small town or village. Possibilities such as Brighton, Oxford, etc. have been mentioned, and I will add Salisbury. The Salisbury Cathedral is stunning, and the town center has some lovely architecture, mostly half-timbered houses. The center is very walkable from the train station—-and the station is only 1.5 hours from London (Waterloo station). Walk to Old Sarum, or rent bikes and cycle the back roads to Stonehenge for a look—-you don’t need to go in, just view if from afar if you like. I believe it is 9 miles of riding but my memory may be off. We did it in an afternoon, with a stop for lunch at this charming pub in Lower Woodford:

https://www.wheatsheaflowerwoodford.co.uk/

We had no trouble crossing the motorway (A303), but that was 25 years ago and things may have changed. So be sure to get updated advice before planning to bike all the way to Stonehenge. Even without that, you could have a nice short break by cycling to the pub for lunch.

What kind of lodgings do you prefer? For something very traditional, without being “stuffy”, I suggest St. Ermin’s, especially if you have any Marriott points to use. The location is wonderful—-just blocks from Westminster Abbey, “Big Ben”, and the Parliament buildings, and the building is full of history (Churchill and MI5). They do have family rooms. The one downside is there are few restaurants in the immediate area, but you can easily cross Westminster Bridge for lots of choices, or jump on the Tube at St. James.
https://www.sterminshotel.co.uk/

https://www.sterminshotel.co.uk/about/our-history/

Or maybe you would prefer an apartment, for the extra space and options to make your own breakfast and dinner. As in many cities, London has restrictions on short-term rentals through AirBnB and other owner-directed sites. But you can safely book from one of the chains of apartment/hotels that are fully legal. Check out Marlin’s, which has apartment buildings in various locations. Queen Street, near St. Paul’s, is my favorite.

Include some time for your daughters’ interests. Is one of them a swimmer? Who wouldn’t love a chance to swim laps in the 2012 Olympic pool? We walked there on the Regnets’ Canal path, but there are faster ways.

https://www.londonaquaticscentre.org/

Gardens and flowers? Take them to Kew. Horses? Maybe a ride in Richmond Park, or at least go see the changing of the guard at the Horseguards Parade (very close to St. Ermin’s).

More in next post.

Posted by
12139 posts

More ideas on your daughters’ interests:

Tennis? (We had one of those). It will be pre-Wimbledon, but you could visit the tennis club and take a tour, including Centre Court. The All-England Tennis Club in Wimbledon is easily reached by a short train ride from Waterloo station.

https://www.wimbledon.com/en_GB/visit_and_tickets/what_to_see.html

Music? Check the concert schedule ahead of time; there is sure to be something. Or look at the schedule of shows—-there is sure to be a musical on (and hopefully by next May they will be operating normally). Or look for buskers and street performers—-around the Tate Modern, on the Thames Path there, is a place we have seen some good performers. Sometimes there is one under Blackfriars Bridge,, taking advantage of the echo. And in Covent Garden, although these are usually more oriented toward juggling and magic acts.

Shopping? Our girls enjoyed a walk through Harrod’s. Also Check out Camden Market or, better yet, Leadenhall (a Harry Potter site, I think):

https://www.leadenhallmarket.co.uk/

Cycling? Maybe you will have a chance to see the famous Tweed Run, a ticketed ride around London in vintage cycling clothing. It is usually the 2d Saturday in May, although they had to skip it this year. You cannot join the ride unless you plan well in advance, but it is fun to see the huge flock ride by. We saw them 3 times in one day.

https://www.tweedrun.com/

For getting around London, we prefer the buses and Thames boats over the Tube (I like to stay above ground). The buses are easy to use once you figure out the bus map and how to find the stops. Head upstairs and try to find a seat near the front for a first-class view. Much better (and cheaper) than any HOHO bus. The Thames boats are more expensive, but really nice, especially if you have some distance to cover.

The one sight I would consider a “must see” is the Tower of London. Buy your tickets ahead of time to skip the line.

May is our favorite time to be in London (along with September). Enjoy.

Posted by
991 posts

I've been to London many times. Not as much as some contributors here, but more than some others, and I still haven't seen it all. Here is my list for someone going for the first time:
The Tower No question. The most important place to see
Westminster Abby or St Pauls
The food halls at Harrods
Buckingham Palace
The Churchill War Rooms
A Jack the Ripper Walk
Trafalgar Square
Afternoon tea someplace nice but it takes up a of precious time
A pub or two
A Market. I'm a huge fan of The Borough Market (we always stay in Southwark) or Portobello road or whichever tickles your fancy.
The Eye
And I quite like a HOHO. They great for seeing major sites even in you do Hop Off
This is a lot for a few days I know but I still have more...a cemetery for example.. Pick and choose or none of them.

Take the tube. You can see more from a bus but they have to deal with traffic OR a nice Black Cab (which also has to deal with traffic but is still a fun experience) if you get desperate Or even if you don't. Times have been hard on black cab drivers because of UBER
Everyone here who has told you to do your research is right.

There are tours that will take you to Stonehenge and Bath for a daytrip. If Stonehenge is on your list, well then go. I love it.
Oxford or Cambridge are both beautiful. So is Windsor. Closer to London is Greenwich and you can get there by boat, another fun thing to do.
Onefastbob is only trying to help. We all are. London is my favorite city in the world. I want everyone to appreciate it.

Posted by
8 posts

Beyond thankful for the suggestions! Gives me so much to think about which is what I was hoping for! It’s hard starting from scratch on a city you aren’t familiar with. (A lot of people defending Bob and here’s the thing— I get what he’s saying. But sometimes you just have the time you have. If I say I have five days that’s just it and it’s not really worth judging why I wouldn’t do more. There are so many reasons why someone can’t do more than a certain amount of time somewhere. First of all it’s freaking expensive. And second of all we have two kids who only have so much capacity, and not to mention my husband can’t leave his business for that long! So if we wait until we have all the time to really truly do it “right“ we just won’t ever go. And that’s sad. So it’s just not helpful to comment on the amount of time someone says they have. Just help them figure it out if you have suggestions and if not don’t!!) what I really want to do and why I am doing the research I am doing, including reading comments from very knowledgeable people on this forum, is to maximize my time there— meaning, I don’t want to regret wasting time waiting on a car or a bus or driving to a location when I could’ve been doing other worthwhile things! Some of that is personal preference but some of it is helpful to hear what other experiences have been. For instance, if you go to New York City and want to see the Statue of Liberty, there are about 15 different ways to do that. You can see it from Manhattan and get a picture of yourself with it in the distance. You can take a one hour boat ride that sails around it and back. You can take a two hour boat ride that drops you off on the island and let’s you walk around and brings you back. Or you can spend hours and hours there. It’s totally personal preference and I think it just depends on what you want— there doesn’t need to be judgment on how you want to experience that particular thing to the exclusion of all the other things you could also be seeing/doing! We once took a many-hour long tour of Alcatraz when we visited San Francisco and it was the highlight of our trip! And we simply waved at the Golden Gate bridge when we saw it lol . There’s a time to wave at some thing from the distance and there’s a time to immerse yourself —and I’m just trying to make an informed choice about which things are which for our family!!

We will have to pick and choose so I’d like to pick and choose wisely :). Thank you all again for those of you who have given such good suggestions about certain spots and highlights and things. Very very helpful!!

Posted by
18746 posts

If your daughters like bling, the Victoria and Albert Museum has a really, really fine jewelry collection. It's a huge museum covering just about every category of decorative arts from glass to wrought iron, so there's probably something there for every member of the family. You could agree to meet up after 60 or 90 minutes. It's a free/donation-requested museum, so you don't need to spend all day there (it takes multiple days to see the whole thing) to get your money's worth. The V&A is popular but not usually mobbed, in my experience. Except the jewelry collection. If you're at the museum when it opens and go straight to the jewelry, there will be almost no one else there for the first 30 to 45 minutes. You can flit back and forth as things attract your eye. As more people arrive, you'll be a bit hampered in your ability to move from showcase to showcase, so start with what looks most interesting to you.

For any museum you decide to visit, it's worth spending 5 or 10 minutes ahead of time looking at the floor plan on the museum's website to figure out what you want to see and where it is. Quite a few of the museums are in rambling, repurposed buildings that don't have the stairs in the same place on each floor. Considerable time can be wasted just trying to find your way around, so pick up a floor plan as you enter the museum if they have them out. (Many of the museums here in Washington DC don't have maps at the moment.) You can probably download a floor plan to your smartphones in advance, and that would be a good idea, too.

Edited to add: I don't see anything in Bob's post to suggest that he was questioning the amount of time you have. (After all, a huge percentage of the people posting questions here have no more than two weeks.) He was suggesting there might be a better way to use that time.

Posted by
2769 posts

I think you should have your daughters read this thread and comment on what they want to see and do in London. Maybe your daughters are different but many girls that age can be quite difficult especially when they have to get up at a time that is not in sync with their internal clock-it has been recommended that schools start later in the morning because the body clock of teens is geared to stay up late and sleep late. They are likely to respond better if you are pursuing their sightseeing agendas.

Posted by
1881 posts

Have done several London Walks and they were all worthwhile. Last time we were there we went to Hampton Court for the morning and it was fantastic. Also really enjoyed seeing the Queens carriages/ amazing. The Tower is best seen first thing in the morning and go right to the Crown Jewels. We enjoyed the Beefeaters walk at the Tower but the last time it ended in a chapel and was beyond boring at that point so we got up and left. Also Windsor is very easy morning trip from London. Prefer St. Paul's over the Abbey but that is just a personal preference. If they are having the tours of Buckingham be sure to do that. It was pricey I think about $100 a person but wow it was the best thing have ever done in London. About 25 people on the tour ending with a champagne toast and were escorted out by a guard right under the balcony they use to view parades we felt like royalty!!! Last time we were there we stayed near the Waterloo Station which was convenient for trains to Hampton and Windsor. Also agree with everyone to use public transport, it is super easy,clean and not expensive. I don't know if they still have it but we got two for one tickets for St. Pauls and the Abbey by using training ticksts . enjoy and hope this helps.

Posted by
939 posts

Since there are four of you, I recommend taking a cab to get around not the underground (tube). I would also buy Rick Steves’ London guidebook but not his Pocket guide and take his self-guided walking tours. One day I would take the hop on hop off bus tour but don’t get off. The places that look interesting I would re-visit on foot. I would also spend an evening at the theater.
A good day trip from London is Bath (1h by train). Other day trips include Windsor and Cambridge (1h). Oxford is 1h 15m.

Posted by
698 posts

Forgot to mention that at the time you are visiting, the Globe Theatre will be open and for me taking in a Shakespeare play in its ‘natural habitat’, so to speak, is one the best parts of a London visit. If you can’t stand through the entire performance, book seats. If you book seats, shell out for a cushion - those wooden benches are hard! - AND a backrest. Take a warm waterproof coat too - the Globe is open to the elements.

Finally have a quick look before going at the basic plot of the play you are going to see via Wiki or such like - really helps to keep up with what’s happening on on the stage as the language is not always obvious. Generally though, it’s easier to manage than you might expect.

Posted by
25583 posts

I've had this thread open on my laptop for a long time after reading your last overnight post, ellen, trying to work out the best way to respond - or maybe just ignore and move on.

You put a lot of time into explaining your attack on onefastbob - one of our well respected volunteer sharers of information - and it is clear that when discussing time, pace, or money you are very sensitive,

I've read over again what he said, and I've reread your first post where you acknowledged being vague, and how "We will have approximately five days there as we then move on to Paris for the remaining five or so." I certainly read that as being somewhat flexible.

We have spent many hours over the years trying to help people - that's why I ask questions so I can can give advice personalized for the individual, even if my questions go unanswered - and it is very hard from a new poster's first question to know what red button is under the surface.

Too bad - as a local with a few years experience here I might have something valuable to offer, but I don't want to be treated like onefastbob.

I wish you a pleasant trip both here in England and in France.

Posted by
8 posts

Thanks Nigel. I get it. We really are flexible and definitely happy to have the help of locals and “Professional“ travelers. I definitely would never want to offend anyone especially someone who is trying to help and apologize if it came across that way. I reread that comment many times as well and still don’t find it helpful!! It does come across as fairly condescending. I’m definitely not trying to be sensitive either. It’s just we have the limitations that we have and not much that can be done about it! I mean, he quotes me and then tells me my kids are going to walk away unhappy and then proceeds to quote Hearst. After reading his comment I truly felt as though I was doing something wrong By bringing my girls on an experience that most children their age will never get to have. I am excited to see some of your beautiful country and the city of London and I’m excited to share it with my family! The majority of the comments on here I’ve been very helpful. It’s possible I do extend the days we spend there or spend our days differently than we had previously thought, but that’s why I came here to find out what that needs to look like!!

Posted by
5611 posts

Ask your daughters what they’ve seen in films and on TV series and wish to see in London. Make a wish list. Use Google Maps to see how close their “ must sees” are to one another.

Even though “ not museum people,” consider visiting the Museum of London on Day 1. Provides intel on the city you’ll be visiting for 5 days. Good perspective for first time visitors. From there walk over to explore Spitafields Market and have lunch.

Individuals your daughters age would enjoy Brick Lane, Camden Lock Market, and Portobello Road Market. Have your daughters see if the Box Car market is of interest.
https://www.tripsavvy.com/the-best-street-markets-in-london-4165253

Check www.walks.com
London walks are well done. I take one each time I’m in London. Let your daughters see if any of them are of interest.

Introduce your family to London Theatre. Visit Leicester Square 1/2 ticket booth for same day tickets. These days you can easily research online what shows are available. https://officiallondontheatre.com/

Review Timeout London magazine and the Londonlist websites a couple months before you go. A few weeks before as well. Might find intel on special events you haven’t even thought of. Make note of opening and closing hours and plan accordingly.

London is best seen on foot. Use the tube as well. If you are not from a big US city riding the London Underground will be another “ first time experience” for them. Try to avoid using the tube during commute hours.

Pub lunches are affordable. The Mayflower Pub on the Thames is Rotherhithe is a personal favorite. Good views from the Thames Path of the London Skyline.

Families are welcomed in pubs. Often so are dogs.

Lastly, June will be extremely crowded. Consider breaking up your days by picnicking in a park. Tescos, Sainsburys and Mark and Spencer all have pre made sandwiches and salads. So do Pret a Mangers.

Great city to explore. Have fun planning.

Posted by
4351 posts

I wouldn't worry too much about upsetting Onefastbob, I'm sure he can handle it. There have been occasions when I've found some of his comments somewhat dismissive this wasn't one of those occasions however I acknowledge your desire to seek something more useful in terms of advice.

For what it's worth I agree with much of what has been written on this thread. Yes, five days isn't very long at all for London but that's all you have. If all you're after is catching a quick look at the major sites then you may be able to achieve a great deal within your time frame. I still haven't been to the Tower of London because I'm usually in London for another reason but I've walked past it and seen it on many occasions. Is it a substitute for actually going inside? Of course not but it's still an impressive and iconic sight and simply seeing it up close and in person is still awe inspiring. I've never climbed the Eiffel Tower, I've stood beneath it and was satisfied enough that I didn't need to actually climb it likewise the Statue of Liberty.

Use the Tube. It's very easy and will get you to all the places you need to be or within a short walking distance however, London is very walkable and sometimes it's a better choice to walk than take the Tube. For a day trip you can't go wrong with any of the following: Windsor, Oxford, Cambridge, Brighton, Winchester, Portsmouth, Bath or Bristol. They're all different and each place has it's own particular highlights so decide on what attracts you all the most.

Personally I would spend more time in London than Paris. I've spent two days in Paris and that was enough yet I've barely scratched the surface of London. My two teenage boys couldn't care for Paris, given the choice London wins hands down every time. I would want to devote the entire time to London but I appreciate that you might want to incorporate two different major cities on the trip.

Yes it's a whirlwind trip, yes it only scratches the surface but you are limited in your time and you're right, most American kids have never left the US so your daughters will love whatever you choose to do and hopefully it will instill a lifetime love of travel in them.

Posted by
25583 posts

What do you hope to see in Bristol and Gloucester?

Posted by
31 posts

You've been given some great advice here, I will add a few thoughts. I travel with my daughter every year. One trip when my daughter was 14 we went to London for 5 days before Venice, Florence and Rome. I understand your interest with balancing famous sites from experiences. So my comments will address that..... First - Please use the tube! I say this because this will be one of the most important thing you can do for your girls. They will quickly feel very savvy and independent and as teens, this is important to their enjoyment. You can even have them lead the way on your daily outings plotting out how to get between sites rather than being the back passenger in a car. My daughter loved using the tube as much as any site. It will also prepare them for future trips they might take when they become adults (my daughter is now 19 and I think would feel traveling almost anywhere). My daughter really loved the Harry Potter Experience. You will take the tube and about an hour train ride out of London, so it gets you out of the city for a day and it will be fun for them and you. They will enjoy the Tower of London. It is a great mix of history and active exploring and the Crown Jewels are fun to see. Take them to the theater at night. I think we saw Matilda when it opened and also Anything Goes, which she loved. Pick a few London walks just to hear a little about the city from a local guide. The British Museum is great and because it is free, it isn't a huge commitment, you can stay an hour or four depending on interest. Also fish and chips in a pub is a great and inexpensive experience. After that, whatever you can fit in, Westminster Abbey, the London Eye, Harrods, Tea. I would also probably agree that there is so much diversity in the city that there is enough to stay put, but if you want a side trip (and I understand anytime my daughter at 14 wanted to see a college, I would go!) you might try Cambridge for a little smaller town feel. Enjoy!

Posted by
6517 posts

Buy Oyster Cards for The Tube and they are also good on Buses. We got them at the airport and then refilled them as needed in Tube Stations. You can buy them in Tube stations too. Trains will whiz you all over London. A private car will sit in traffic! Drop that idea.
Itinerary ideas:
Every time we go to London I have to return to Westminster Abbey. As a young grandchild said, it is a history museum and a church combined. Magnificent.
Check when Buckingham Palace is open for tours with audio guides. It used to be only offered summer and fall. It is amazing to stand in places you have seen photos of with world leaders and the Queen in them.
The Churchill War Museum is very interesting too.
Walk around the Kensington and Chelsea neighborhoods to see the charming townhouses. Take a walk along the Thames.
Go to Harrod’s department store to their Food Hall. Get ice cream sundaes there!
Go to Hyde Park. See the Princess Diana Memorial.
Have Fish and Chips at The Laughing Halibut, 38 Strutton Ground.
Take a boat ride down the Thames.
Harry Potter stuff- look where HP tours take you in London and go by yourselves. King’s Cross Station, Platform 9 3/4 is fun for the kids.
We had a hard time getting our kids to leave the British Museum.
Our kids did not want to leave London to go to Paris! They liked Paris well enough but LOVED London. And they preferred fish and chips to French food.

Posted by
615 posts

Ellen,

I think Jennifer mentioned this in her post, but I want to reiterate that the first week of June (2022) in London will be busy with the Queen's Jubilee celebrations. Trooping of the Color is usual held on the 2nd Saturday in June but has been moved to Thursday, June 2nd, 2022 to be included with the Queen's Jubilee Celebrations. You may want to include this in your schedule or avoid it. Personally, I can't wait to go to London and enjoy the celebrations. I think your teenagers would really enjoy getting a chance to see the Queen. Just go to the Mall early that morning (in front of Buckingham Palace) and find yourself a good spot.

Margaret

Posted by
3118 posts

I have been to England many times, and lived in London for a year as an exchange teacher. My comments are based on my experiences.
In my opinion, you have time for one day trip, two at a stretch. I recommend Bath above any other destination. Its Georgian architecture is just beautiful. You can visit the Roman baths for a taste of the antiquity of the place. There is a costume museum which show cases dress styles through the centuries.

I once visited Hampton Court by taking a boat trip up the river. My companion and I then took a bus to Windsor, where we toured the castle. Return to London was by surface transport ( train? Bus? Can’t remember). That was one of my all-time favorite day trips from London.
I’ll also chime in agreement with those who advise one or more guided tours in London.

Posted by
516 posts

I'll add a vote for Windsor. Visiting the castle, and having lunch in town along with the train ride makes it a wonderful diversion.

Posted by
25583 posts

I once visited Hampton Court by taking a boat trip up the river. My companion and I then took a bus to Windsor, where we toured the castle.

I bet that was a full day, Rosalyn. I'm guessing that you slept well that night...

Posted by
672 posts

I took each of my 3 kids to London (and Paris) when they were your kids' age. Here are some things they seemed to like:

The Tube

Yo Sushi restaurant (food on conveyer belts go by)

Street markets

British Museum (briefly, such as to see the Egyptian mummies)

British Library Treasures Room (originals of Gutenberg Bible, Handel's Messiah, Magna Carta, Beatles' lyrics, Lewis Carroll manuscripts and doodles, etc.) Rick Steves reviews it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1-0d_k7DEI

Hyde Park when Speaker's corner is active

Tower of London

Science Museum

And for Paris:

Catacombs

Sewer Tour

Science Museum (don't miss the revolving room in the physics/math area!)

Walking up the Eiffel Tower (no reservations needed!)

Top of Arc de Triomphe

Sainte Chapelle

Street markets and street food

Posted by
2 posts

Hi Ellen-
I mirror others: take the tube, visit the London Walks site, and just plan on seeing a couple of things. Most of the joy is in absorbing the culture and ambiance of a different culture. I took my boys (19 and 16 at the time) and used London as their introduction to public transportation. The tube is amazing and London is extremely easy to navigate via public transportation. Learning the tube lines and people watching were the highlights of their trip. I would recommend the Tower of London, walk across Tower Bridge, and then lunch at Borough Market. Maybe spend a day in Greenwich? Five days isn't much and it will fly by.