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Southern England and London After Landing In Gatwick

We will have 10 days in early October and will be landing at Gatwick. I've scoured the forums here and have narrowed down the following places we'd like to visit:

  • London, for a few days (we've been once before, so not as necessary to spend a lot of time)
  • Arundel (castle)
  • Canterbury (cathedral)
  • Portsmouth (Mary Rose and possibly the HMS victory)
  • Salisbury (cathedral)
  • Seven Sisters cliffs
  • Dover (castle)
  • Leeds castle?
  • Bodiam castle?
  • Hampton court palace?
  • Chichester?

My husband and I are in our 30s and we have 3 children, 8, 5, and 2.

I know the list of potential places is too long, and I'm concerned that the area to be traveled is also too wide.

We plan to rent a car for part of the time, and I feel overwhelmed trying to figure out where I should do that. Some in the forums have said they'd take a train to Lewes and then rent from there. Is there a good reason to visit Lewes, or should I try to train to a different starting town? I am also tempted to just rent a car right from Gatwick. As long as I'm not driving too far that first day, I think that would be fine.

Are there any locations above that you would cut, in your opinion?

Any advice on what place to start with, or some sort of logical path?

Right now I'm thinking of ending in London, so we're more adjusted to the time zone. My husband is dead set on not driving us into London and ditching the car there, so we'd also need to figure out where to get rid of the car and how to get to London from there.

Thank you so much.

Posted by
1001 posts

You certainly don’t want to drive on arrival, so taking a train somewhere to pick up a train the day after would work well. As would Lewes, which is a lovely spot to start. But I’m not sure if you can hire a car there - you might need to go into Brighton to get one, but that’s a quick train trip.

What you absolutely need to do is to work out how you are going to seat your kids. Under U.K. law they will all have to have approved seats. Whether you hump suitable seats from the US or hire them with the car is up to you, but it will be tricky to bring seats for all 3 on the plane and then the train.

Hampton Court will be best seen on a day trip from London.

Don’t overload your plan. Your kids will just need time to play every day.

Posted by
6 posts

Thank you Johnew52! Good to know Lewes is a good place to start. Someone in another thread had mentioned an independent car rental in Lewes, so perhaps I will try that. Thanks for the tip on Hampton Court and the car seats as well!

Posted by
6795 posts

I like your list. When we visited that area we spent the first night in Tonbridge after arrival at Heathrow. It’s 36 minutes from Gatwick, and to me, very drivable upon arrival. Only you know if you could drive it after a flight. I’d then go clockwise towards Canterbury, Dover, then down to the coast and head west. Both Dover and Leeds castle can take a while to visit while Bodiam is best seen from the outside and isn’t a long stop. There very little to its interior.

From Tonbridge we visited Ightham Mote and Leeds castle before going to Canterbury.

One could easily spend a half day at the Royal Dockyard in Portsmouth, seeing the Mary Rose, going onboard the Victory and Warrior, looking at the figureheads, etc. It is fairly pricey to visit.

Salisbury cathedral was very much worth visiting. I only passed through Chichester years ago, but would have liked to spend more time there. I’d leave Hampton Court to the end. In the event you don’t get to it, it is an easy day trip from London when you return.

Since Salisbury would be towards the end of the trip and is southwest of London you could drop off the car at either Heathrow or Gatwick. Both are about the same distance from Salisbury.

An issue I see with going to Lewes first is half your list is east of it while the rest is west of it, meaning you’d be doing some backtracking.

Finally, check and see which sites on your list are English Heritage sites. If enough of them are, it may be worth looking into getting an English Heritage membership.

Posted by
6 posts

jaimeelsabio, this is amazing feedback!!! Thank you so much. I like your suggested path. I was thinking about doing that mote as well. I will look at Tonbridge, and also great tip on the English Heritage pass. I appreciate your reply!

Posted by
4292 posts

Someone in another thread had mentioned an independent car rental in
Lewes, so perhaps I will try that.

I had mentioned the car rental in Lewes, but I'd be surprised if it had car seats, it's a pretty small outfit. Lewes is an easy train ride from Gatwick if you want to head back to Gatwick to get the car. It's also a quick train to Brighton to rent a car.

I agree that Hampton Court is best done by train from London. With only 10 data I'd probably stuck to either the west with Salisbury and Portsmouth before heading to London or east with Canterbury and Dover. Your kids may love Bodiam Castle which has plenty of space to run.

Posted by
403 posts

It would be interesting knowing where you would base yourself. Many of these places are close together. For example Arundel, Chichester, Winchester (not on your list, but probably should be) - even Salisbury are all easy trips from Portsmouth. Similarly a base in Kent would cover Dover, Canterbury, Leeds and Bodium castles.

Some places have more to do than others. I can easily spend all day at the Naval museum in Portsmouth. Similarly Dover Castle.

Posted by
1172 posts

With regards to car seats: your 8 year old may not need one if they are over 135cm. The vast majority of British cars do not allow 3 car seats to fit on the back seat. You will really need to make sure you rent a large sized vehicle if you do need the 3 seats. Even some SUVs like a Qashqai won’t be big enough.

A VW Passat or equivalent is wide enough.

Posted by
33298 posts

I agree that the car seats may be an issue.

Bodiam Castle, in addition to being a real genuine castle with all the good castle stuff, benefits from having a real steam railway right outside - in fact you can take the train to the castle. What kid wouldn't love it?

Hampton Court Palace has the special Children's Magic Garden - "Meet mysterious beasts, storm the battlements and discover the secret grotto in the Magic Garden"; it has the Wilderness, and the Maze - oldest one anywhere; and loads of things for the big people too. You can get there by train, but you can also get there by boat, or leave by boat, right down to the city. I love the place. I was there last week and will be back there again next week. Oh, and a great cafe, food for all ages, really good food, and there are as many tables outside as inside. Can't be beat.