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Looking for suggestions within 1 hour of Heathrow Airport

My family (myself, husband, and our 5yo son) are tentatively planning/brainstorming for a Thanksgiving 2022 trip, spending a week (7 nights) in England. We can get a direct flight from our home airport in the US to Heathrow, but we've been to London several times before, so would like to be somewhere new. However, due to our limited time, we still want to be within 1-2 hours of either a cab or a train from Heathrow airport.

Based on my limited googling and review of the TFL Rail timetables, Oxford would be a 1 hour cab ride, or Reading would be a 1 hour direct train. I'm also looking at Hampton, due to my fascination with Henry VIII, but I'm not certain whether Hampton will have enough to keep us occupied for a full week. I'm completely open to any other suggestions and would love any and all input!

My son is an experienced traveler and does well with limited museum visits, but of course any place that has particularly kid-friendly sites would be a plus. He likes castles, science museums, playgrounds, parks, and climbing up tall things (i.e. church towers, the Arc de Triomphe, etc.) We adults like art museums, palaces, coffeehouses or cafes, and historical monuments. Given the season, we'd love to see Christmas decorations as well. I know this is a broad request, so I'm pretty much open to any suggestions, as long as it's an easy connection for us from Heathrow. Thank you so much!

Posted by
21039 posts

Your son might enjoy the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford. It has all sorts of interesting items from all over the world. If you find it difficult to read the posted descriptions, ask for a loaner flashlight in the shop. The Ashmolean is a also good; it both art and archaeological displays.

Some small-group (van) tours of the Cotswolds depart from Moreton-in-Marsh, which is a simple train ride from Oxford. That doesn't seem like the sort of thing that would appeal to a 5-year-old, though.

Posted by
27709 posts

I'm glad we've got so much time to help you on this quest.

By the way, is the darling son 5 now (6 in a year) or 5 then? My experience is that there's quite a difference between a 5 year old and a 6 year old...

I'm surprised you would want a one or two hour taxi ride (then they can't pick up so you need to pay for their trip back)??? Or did you mean bus? There are excellent coach services to Oxford from Heathrow but no trains at all from Heathrow to anywhere other than London Paddington.

If the Elizabeth Cross Rail line ever opens it may help a little but as many delays as that boondoggle has had, don't bet on it opening when it is supposed to (2 years ago).

You can grab a coach from Heathrow to Reading where you can pick up trains to the West Country and the Southwest, and coaches to Oxford are equally easy. I'd agree with sentiments above.

Hampton Court Palace is so very easy to get to by train once you are in London - at the end of a branch line a couple of minute walk to the entrance over a Thames bridge. Scenic, easy and fun. As far as staying in the vicinity, I can only think of one hotel north of the river, and south of the river is typical London suburb so quite dense. I'm a member so have been there many times and can image you could enjoy a few days exploring the Palace, but I wonder if a 5/6 year old would get bored after a whole day, even after discovering the Wilderness, the world's oldest Maze, the Magic Garden, even the Family Room. Plenty of walks in the Home Park, but a limited number of other attractions in the vicinity.

Posted by
5249 posts

Hampton Court would be a good place for a day, but not more unless you're more deeply into history and architecture than a 5-year-old (or even a 6-year-old) would likely tolerate. Oxford is a good choice for a base, "The Airline" bus service (link supplied above) makes it easy to reach from LHR, fun to explore the city and good rail connections elsewhere. Blenheim Palace, near Oxford, is another good place to visit.

But also, very close to Heathrow is Windsor, with its storied castle and interesting surrounding town. It's probably best reached from LHR by taxi but there may also be bus service. It might be good for your first or last day because it's so close to the airport.

Posted by
13049 posts

Maybe Windsor? It is very close to Heathrow (maybe 25 minutes by taxi or car service (ask here how to book an inexpensive one, as London cabs from the rank are expensive) or 45 minutes by bus ( that is what we used).

Your son will really enjoy the Legoland there:

https://www.legoland.co.uk/explore/special-events/legoland-at-christmas/

Then of course there is Windsor castle:

https://www.rct.uk/visit/windsor-castle

They have special activities for children at times. And you can enjoy the Changing of the Guard without even stepping inside the castle. Around the castle there is the Great Park for walks and running around for the child:

https://www.windsorgreatpark.co.uk/en

Oxford is a 50+ minute train ride away, with one change at Slough. You can see lots of other places that would be easy to reach by train on the Great Western Railway system map:

https://www.gwr.com/~/media/gwr/pdfs/maps/accessibility-network-map-poster-june-2020.pdf

Posted by
2933 posts

Another vote for Oxford, with its good rail connections.
Take the train north to Warwick, an interesting town with a good many medieval buildings, and Warwick Castle, with its suits of armor, jousting, and falconry demonstrations.

A short distance by train from Warwick is Stratford-Upon-Avon, if you have any interest. I believe you could do Warwick Castle and Stratford-Upon-Avon in one day trip from Oxford, if you wanted.

Oxford is close to the Cotswolds, with its many minibus tours. There are riding stables in the Cotswolds, with horses and small ponies.

Another vote for Windsor, also. We started staying here several years ago and found it convenient for Heathrow.

Posted by
292 posts

Personally, I'd stay in London. When the kids were in school, our family went to London a couple of times at Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving week is a great time to travel but it will be cold and damp. It gets dark really early and you have to plan around the weather. Make sure your son is kitted out with a warm, sturdy raincoat and boots. In London, there's something to interest every age. Seeing familiar sights through young eyes is amazing.

We stayed in the Bloomsbury area between two tube stations. We took taxis from and to Paddington for the Heathrow Express. From our hotel, it was a nice walk to Oxford Street to see the Christmas lights or pop into the British Museum for a quick visit. (We did it a couple of visits that week.) We took a warm, enclosed boat down the Thames to Greenwich. They liked the Observatory because it was a small, limited but very interesting tour. They remember the laser beam marking the Zero Meridian cutting through the misty fog as evening fell. There's lots of parkland to roam in and the Maritime Museum is cool. Plenty of Henry VIII stuff there. Before taking the tube back, we enjoyed the Christmas fair in the town of Greenwich. On the next trip, we took the train to Warwick Castle for a day visit. It seemed more "commercial" with roleplayers and activities but the kids loved it. That evening, there was a Christmas fair (yes, I like Christmas fairs) in the castle and we did it before taking the train back. We still have the homemade Santa hat that was in a grab bag. Some other thoughts: The Natural History Museum, The Imperial War Museum, the Cutty Sark, the Golden Hind, feed the pigeons in St James Park, sit on the lions in Trafalgar Square, puddle-hopping. Whatever you do, do not go to the London Dungeon. It scared the b-Jesus out of my daughter. The London Eye and Millenium Bridge were borderline scary for her.

As for the Cotswolds, I'd think twice with a kid in the winter. My daughter and I made a couple trips when she was between 5-8 to visit friends who lived in a small Cotswolds village. It was fun because we had a homebase, a local driver and my daughter had her good friend to hang with. Both trips were in the spring and it was lovely. My recollections are of gardens and friends. Oxford didn't hold much attraction to the girls but they liked the river. Yes, we played Pooh sticks. If you are considering that area, I will ask her what she remembers from those trips at that young age.

Posted by
152 posts

I liked staying in Ealing Broadway. Its fairly close to the airport when you come and go. Hotels are cheaper. Its got a selection of restaurants and shopping. Then take the tube/traiin everywhere.

I think the castles are generally in the north. Of course there is Warwich and Windsor. You can look up the other ones in Wales, and the north.

I have enjoyed seeing something somewhat unique to UK, which is the 500 year old destroyed churches in York and Whitby.

France's Dordogne region and German's Rhine area are great for castles. There are castles sprinkled around Italy and Sicily.

Posted by
189 posts

Thank you everyone for all the responses! I'm the type of person who is always in some sort of "trip planning" stage. This is mostly the early brainstorming phase for me, so I can start daydreaming now and then do more concrete research as we get closer.

Sounds like the most recommended would be Oxford or Windsor.

Nigel, My son is 4 now, and turns 5 in February, so he will be 5.5 at the time of the trip. I should have worded that better :) I meant a 1-2 hour travel time from Heathrow, whether that's a cab, coach, train, or combination. So if we were looking at Windsor, we'd likely hire a car service; if Oxford, we'd take a coach; if somewhere else, we'd be open to train/coach/combination.

Dick, I hadn't realized that Blenheim Palace is near Oxford. My son is actually named Winston, after Churchill, and I'm sure he'd get a kick out of visiting there!

Lola, thank you for those suggestions and links! I hadn't realized that there's a Legoland so close to Windsor. Funnily enough, we live less than a mile from Legoland Florida, so my son goes there at least once a week haha. I'm sure he'd love to see the British version!

Rebecca, Warwick sounds right up our alley. Falconry demonstrations! We would ALL love to see that :)

CT, thank you for your response! My husband and I have been to London for Thanksgiving, when I was pregnant, actually. We also have taken my son there and spent a week in London as part of a longer UK trip when my he was 2. My husband and I have done most of the London highlights (we've each been 4 times now), but we're not opposed to going back, as it will be a completely new experience with a 5yo versus a 2yo. However, we've never been to Oxford, or Windsor, or much of the other parts around London, so were looking to experience a new-to-us city. I'd love to hear from your daughter what she remembers from those trips!

RailRider, yes - on our trip to England a few years ago, we stayed in York and visited Whitby. The hollowed-out former churches were beautiful and unique. The detractor for us for staying out of London is that my son doesn't love the Tube (generally too hot and crowded). He does ok on short rides, but it would not be ideal for us to spend so much time getting into or out of London on a daily basis, and we find that it's handy for us to stay closer to the action so we can go back to the hotel or apartment if needed during the day.

Posted by
3986 posts

If you do go to Blenheim, and since your son is named after Churchill, check consider visiting his grave at The Parish Church of Saint Martin, Bladon. It’s only 1.5 miles from Blenheim Palace.

Posted by
189 posts

More great info - thank you! Maybe we'll turn the trip into a Churchill-themed exploration :)

Posted by
214 posts

You should visit the Churchill Arms pub at Paxford, between Moreton on Marsh and Chipping Campden

Posted by
189 posts

Thank you, Roger! We've been to the Chuchill Arms in London, but not to the one in Paxford. Adding it to our list.

Posted by
5249 posts

Here's the straight dope on Blenheim Palace. There are buses from Oxford, interestingly the line is called "Stagecoach." A "complete" Churchill-themed trip would include the Churchill War Rooms, but they're in London so maybe not this time for your 5.5-year-old.

Posted by
27709 posts

Its my bedtime so I don't want to figure out the travel time, but I'm pretty sure that Chartwell, the home that Winston and Clemmie made their final home just into Kent from Surrey, is probably just about an hour in the car from Heathrow, certainly within 2.

I don't know what they will be doing at the end of November - most National Trust properties had been transitioning to being open in the winter much more than they had been but Covid has put paid to much of that. Dunno in 2022.

If you do get to Chartwell the painting studio is left as it was, even with a cigar, and there are a number of paintings to see. Great views at Chartwell over the South Downs.

And if you get there you are not a million miles from 2 other special places - Biggin Hill Aerodrome where the Spitfires used to fly from and also Box Hill which is a very steep hill owned by National Trust but with no fee to enter. Good for a supervised 5 year old to roll down with one or more parent(s). And exquisite views over the South Downs.

Posted by
292 posts

Hey Erin, I finally cornered my daughter and asked her what she remembers from her two trips to the Cotswolds when she was 5-8. Now in her twenties, it was an interesting perspective. She remember hanging with her friend and their funny house that was three very small worker houses in a row joined together. From the first trip, she remembers the big rocks at Avebury and the 9-inches long skeleton key she and her friend were given to open the door to the local church. That trip, we also went to Cornwall and she says she remembers a lot of that. The second trip was mostly the Cotswolds with visits to Oxford. She only remembers her friend, getting stung by a nettle and feeding the wild ponies.

Her advice is go to London. Honestly, as a well-traveled mom of three, without very careful planning, I don't see Oxford as a kids' place. If you have a car and hit all the leisure centers and parks with quick visits to other places, it might be doable. A 5-year old will not last long as Blenheim Palace. Unless he is exceptionally well-behaved, he might be frowned upon in many places. I understand the need to see different things if that is the goal of your trip. However, I've been to London at least eight times and it never gets old. Stay in an area of town you've never stayed before. There's a plethora of free and easy things. I'd pick a hotel with a pub and bring your baby monitor. Not very American but you'll have some time to yourself after he conks out.

Posted by
175 posts

Several years we spent a week in Witney, a historic market town on the River Windrush, 12 miles west of Oxford and on the edge of the Cotswolds. at this small charming hotel. http://thewitneyhotel.co.uk/ . There are several hotels in Witney and you may cerainly choose another. The bus stops are right downtown and so probably a 3 minute walk from our hotel; keep that in mind as you choose a spot.
There are some great pubs and restaurants. And every day we went to a different nearby spot, some by bus and some driving our rental car. The bus to Oxford runs frequently, is cheap and takes 20+ minutes. Oxford is an all day treat!., Bus from Witney to Woodstock about 25 minutes,; to Bletchley Park we drove and it was another wonderful day trip. A bus does run to Blenheim palace, takes 35 minutes but we drove there .. also great. We drove to Warwick Castle and enjoyed the castle, the birds of prey show and the town itself. And since Witney is on the edge of the Cotswolds, we did spend a day driving about there. You can get from Heathrow to Witney by bus, but we rented a car, picked it up at the airport and drove to Witney with a stop at Windsor.

I have to say it was an awesome trip