Trip to England...need advice on a little bit of everything

Hello RS Community...we are a family of three taking trip to England end of May. We will be staying in London for 9 days. I am looking at an apartment rental through Ivy Lettings during our stay. The apartment is located in the Kensington area west of Kensington/Hyde Park off of Kensington Church Street. We are trying to keep our budget around $2000 for lodging. The nearest tube is approx 2-3 blocks away (nottinghill station), so this appears to be a real plus as far as easy access to transportation.

As this will be first time trip for myself and our 13 year old, we will be hitting the main highlights...all things around Trafalgar Square, London Bridge, Tate Museum (modern), British Museum, theater district, etc. We will arrive via Heathrow from the states and may take a day trip or two out to Stonehenge/Bath, maybe Dover Cliffs, etc. We intend to rent a car (or maybe train or air...not decided yet) and drive to Edinburgh and spend about 4 days there.

I love the city and nature, so that is why we are trying to cram two wonderful places in such a short time. We realize that we will be sampling, but trying to get the best of both worlds. And naturally, being a Robertson, my husband has to visit Scotland or we might be stricken down by ancestry!

Do any of you have any thoughts on the apartment rental company, the location of the apartment, ease of transportation into the main areas of interest, insanity of trying to drive to Scotland?

Thank you for your input as this community is a terrific resource! Ruth

Posted by Joel
Tempe, AZ, USA
937 posts

Ruth, I'm not sure which airport you'll be flying out of from Texas. Would you considered flying open jaw into Edinburgh and flying out of London. Car rental can be pricey, you could take the train from Edinburgh to London for as little as £44.40 for the 3 of you(if you purchase your tickets early enough). Checkout www.nationalexpresseastcoast.com for ticket prices.

I'm also a little confused, do you have 9 days total in country or were you planning on 9 days in London and 4 days in Edinburgh? With only 9 days in country and wanting to spend 4 in Edinburgh, I wouldn't consider any day trips.

Posted by Leslie
Orange, USA
159 posts

Ruth,

I know nothing about Ivy Lettings, but the apartment location is very nice. We stayed in a B&B on Vicarage Gate and walked up and down Kensington Church Street to the Portobello Road Market, Notting Hill and Holland Park. We enjoyed the Churchill Arms Pub--very traditional looking, but with a Thai menu--located on right on Kensington Church Street. There's also a Whole Foods market located where Kensington Church Street meets Kensington High Street.

You should have no trouble getting where you want to go using the Tube and walking. If you visit the websites for the places you want to visit, they usually tell you which Tube stations are the closest, plus the stations are marked on Google Maps.

I would put in another vote for the train to get to Edinburgh. By the time you figure in the rental cost and the very expensive gas (compared to the US) the train comes out ahead most of the time, if you book advance tickets. However, just like plane tickets, they're good for one specific train and if you miss it you're out of luck. Still with the length of time it would take to drive, plus the pick-up and return of the car, I'd opt for the train.

Enjoy your trip!

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
9110 posts

For factual balance:

You can drive from London to Edinburgh in less than eight hours of road time. If you rent a car for about four days, the daily cost is about twenty-five bucks. Gas is more than double, but so is the mileage - - the aforementioned run will cost less than a hundred bucks for fuel. London is full of pick-up spots; Waverly Station is a handy drop point. There's just a couple of things to see along the way - - okay, maybe a couple hundred. If you combine the Scotland run with Bath/Stonehenge, transportation costs are real close to a wash.

Door-to-door, flying will take the most time.

London Bridge is in Arizona.

London has over two-hundred fifty tube stations, it's hard to be far from one.

Running down to Dover and messing around will eat a whole day - - ignoring all art museums, two weeks in London will barely scratch the surface.

Posted by Lesley
Sidney, BC, Canada
428 posts

Actually Ed, London Bridge is still in London; except that it is a modern one that replaced the one that was moved to Arizona....I have a feeling Ruth was probably thinking of Tower Bridge in which case she could add the Tower of London to her list as it is right next door.

Ruth. Personally I would forego the White Cliffs of Dover and go to Beachy Head or the Seven Sisters in Sussex which are much more impressive and there are some great walks across the cliffs. For a day out that is closer to London nothing can beat Hampton Court. Aside from the Palace itself, there are beautiful gardens and nearby Bushy Park with its herd of deer.

I personally prefer Avebury to Stonehenge. When I last visited it (admittedly about 14 years ago) you walk among the stones and also along the Kennet Way. Avebury village is small and old and is built within the confines of the circle. There is a nice pub for lunch and an old Tudor Manor house run by the National Trust for afternoon tea! Have a look at the National Trust - Avebury website http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/avebury/things-to-see-and-do/avebury-manor-and-garden/ for information.

I am for taking the train from London to Edinburgh - city centre to city centre - no hassles with parking. For four days you won't need a car.

The open jaw ticket (fly into London out of Edinburgh) is a good idea. If you can't get a flight to where you need to go in the US from Edinburgh, have a look at Glasgow (Prestwick) they do a lot of transatlantic flights.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
9110 posts

Since were picking at straws:

London Bridge of the song has been moved. It was one of several that have been at the crossing. The 1970's one is unremarkable. There was no doubt in my mind that Ruth had Tower Bridge in mind, but , had she told a taxi to take her there, she would have been dropped almost a mile upstream.

Even counting the little dead end stub that runs from the crossroads past the antique shop, only about half of the Avebury high street is within the henge. The bulk of the structures in the village are not. Even fewer are within the stone circle. The pub is the Red Lion - - you will catch hell if you park in their lot and aren't inside. Just out of town are the West Kennet Long Barrow and Silbury Hill, both worthy of a stop. Woodhenge is about a mile from Stonehenge (by road) on the way to Avebury - - you can walk there from the path that starts at the back end of the Stonehenge parking lot in less than ten minutes.

Posted by Karen
Naperville, Il, USA
15 posts

Kensington is a great location. We are going the end of March and took a house in Kensington for the week. We will have 3 children with us and plan to go to Hampton Court ( to do the Henry VIII thing and Windsor Castle in addition to the London sights. You will love London!

Posted by ruth
tyler, tx, usa
44 posts

Thanks to all for the wonderful tips! You will have to excuse some of my errors as I am thick in the middle of Girl Scout cookies and have cookie brain at this point...trip planning is happening in brief increments between counting thin mints and do si dos!

Yes, I meant Tower Bridge as my husband has been driving into my brain that London Bridge is a nice song but is not the iconic bridge...thinking one thing, typing another. Well aware of the difference between the bridge and the tower. :)

As per other details, we will be spending 8-9 days in city of London, and then 3-4 days in Scotland. I do realize that this is scratching the surface, but that is the sacrifice we are willing to make. Was thinking that at least one day trip out of London on a guided tour would be possible. Had considered eliminating the idea of Scotland and just adding more day trips in London, but really hate the idea of being so close and skipping it. Day trip would probably be either a tour of Dover Cliffs or a tour of Stonehenge, Windsor and Bath. Any recommendations on tour groups? I realize two day trips on our tight schedule is probably a dream. Itinerary still up in the works. Thanks for the recommendations for trips as well!

The reason for car rental is the intention of seeing a few things along the way, but primarily to have a car when we are in Scotland as we do want to get outside of Edinburgh and see the country side...thought a car would be best option for this. My thought was to get a car on the day we are ready to leave London, then rent somewhere on the outskirts of city as we would never be brave (or crazy) enough to drive in city. Should we take the train to Edinburgh and wait to rent the car there?

We are flying out of Dallas into Heathrow, then we are flying open jaw out of Dublin to Dallas. Saved about $500 per ticket leaving out of Dublin versus Heathrow. Intend to spend full day in Scotland then fly to Dublin that evening and we leave out the next day around noon. So, just an overnight in Dublin because we didn't want to risk missing flight to Dallas. Any recommendations on air from Scotland? Or at least, who to avoid. Haven't booked that flight yet.

I will read over replies again to see if missed anything. Thanks again for all of your comments!

Posted by ruth
tyler, tx, usa
44 posts

Thank you Leslie for tips on places to eat! Glad to know we are looking a good location.

Posted by Elaine
Mission Viejo, Calif., USA
820 posts

Three years in a row we stayed at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, South Kensington. It is part of the Intercontinental Hotel Group. It is owned by the same people who run Holiday Inn's, Intercontinental Hotels, etc.) We absolutely loved Kensington and South Kensington. We had just a short walk to Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, buses, etc. Our Tube station was directly across the street from our hotel (Gloucester). The Gloucester Tube stop is one stop away from Knightsbridge station, where Harrod's dept. store is. Harrod's has a great food court on the first floor and the Georgian restaurant upstairs is lovely for a lunch buffet (served until 3:30 PM) or afternoon tea. The area you are staying in is one of the best areas to stay.

Posted by Leslie
Orange, USA
159 posts

Ruth,

My son and daughter-in-law flew Aer Lingus from London to Dublin this last fall and thought it was okay for a short flight. He said they paid 10 Euro in advance to check one bag and select their seats (rather than being assigned seats at the time of the flight). They do fly out of Edinburgh.

Windsor/Stonehenge/Bath makes for quite a long day. I remember someone else thinking about doing a tour like that and people tried to talk them out of it. Have you considered a Stonehenge/Bath tour, with Windsor on a separate day? Windsor is pretty easy to visit on your own (a short train trip from Paddington Station), perhaps even as a 3/4-day trip. My husband and I spent all day there a couple years ago, but we love to walk and used the time between pub lunch and afternoon tea doing the length (and back) of the Long Walk.

If you want to see/visit things on the way from London to Edinburgh, then a rental car is the way to go. I'm biased towards train rides since I'm always the navigator and miss at least half the view while trying to keep track of where we are and which exit to take at the next roundabout! Plus it always seems to take longer than we planned once we get off the M roads and onto the A roads. However, we've enjoyed both train and car trips in England.

And as far as food in Kensington, there's also a Wagamama on Kensington High Street and tea at the Orangery at Kensington Palace. Makes me want to get to planning our 2015 trip. :-)

Posted by ruth
tyler, tx, usa
44 posts

Thanks Leslie! Terrific advice. Thanks on heads up about the long tour. That would probably be our only day trip out of London for the length of time we are there. I am certainly going to take your advice into consideration. Also, I appreciate the tips on Air Lingus. That is one of the carriers I am considering.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
11098 posts

To elaborate on the previous post, Eurail passes are NOT valid in the United Kingdom.

Posted by Kathleen
Reston, VA, USA
475 posts

We've had very good experiences with the London Walks www.walks.com walking tours in London. I know they also do day trips to Stonehenge/Salisbury and other locations; I haven't done any of those longer trips but have seen excellent reviews of them from other RS forum folks. You mention the theater district - I hope you're planning to see a show as London has wonderful theater! You can often get discounted tickets to good shows at the TKTS booth in Leicester Square. Also check out the Ceremony of the Keys; you need to order your (free) tickets well in advance [probably by mid-March for your late May trip], but it's a very fun tour of the Tower and it was nice to feel part of a centuries-old tradition. My teen daughter enjoyed it so much that we went back the next day for a regular daytime tour. Have a great time!

Posted by ruth
tyler, tx, usa
44 posts

Thanks Kathleen...yes! We definitely plan to visit the theater...hoping to get tickets to Wicked.

London Walks is also on our agenda...am looking at them for day trip out of London as well as I have also read very favorable reviews of their tours.

I think we have decided to set aside Stonehenge...too much time and am afraid we will end up disappointed...too much hype associated with large crowds and it appears as if you would be too far removed from the exhibit to capture it's essence. So, now we are exploring options for day trips out of London...what has been your most favorite side trip? Everyone is welcome to comment on that.

Posted by Katy
London, UK
154 posts

Hi Ruth, I've done probably nearly half of the London Walks day trips out of London - hope to get round to doing them all when I've time. All pretty good, some excellent. Have done their Stonehenge and Salisbury trip - glad I've been to Stonehenge, but it wasn't a big hit for me.

Do think of doing the London Walks two hour walks within London for some of the sights if it fits in your schedule - eg I did their British Museum walk which is a great way for a first visit, the guide was terrific and I learnt way more than I would on my own (which would have been overwhelming).

Posted by Cary
Hayden, Idaho, USA
120 posts

If you had more time, driving from London to Edinburgh would allow you to visit SO many other sites, but the train is really the best option for your time frame. In Edinburgh, the royal yacht Britannia is now privately owned and open to the public---easy to get to by bus.The Scottish Parliament Building is stunning---not sure if they give tours. With the vote for independence approaching, this could be a truly historic site to visit.

Dover Castle w/ the underground tunnels & WW II offices is interesting; this would be an entire day down & back, though. Hampton Court and Windsor are easy to do on your own by train.

Since your daughter and you are involved in Scouts, you might like to visit Olave House and/or the Girl Guide headquarters while in London.

Posted by ruth
tyler, tx, usa
44 posts

Thank you Katy...yes, London Walks (along with 100 other things) is at the top of my list...spent the evening tonight reviewing some of the local 2 hour walks which is probably all I can manage...it is so difficult to come up with a schedule wherein you can fit in all of the wonderful things offered by London...had a friend who did the walk and he indicated it had been one of the most memorable moments of their trip...our daughter was a huge Harry Potter fan...so considering that one, although she has outgrown Harry so not sure if interested...British Museum sounds good as well...trying to find something that will appeal to all of us as a lot of them maybe geared towards info she hasn't encountered in her studies just yet...thanks again!

Cary...thanks so much for reminding me about the guild for scouts...we actually just visited with a group from Japan last month...will have to figure out location and see if we might could stop by...I haven't even begun to think about the "Scottish" leg of our journey yet, so thanks for those tips. We have decided to take a train...just more convenient and would be too stressful on the hubby to drive that far...although we will get a car for the day on Sunday. I am now waiting for the train schedule to open up for the day we will travel to Edinburgh so I can try to catch the best price on train tickets as they seem to get out of hand if you wait too long.

All tips and observations are greatly appreciated! Update to itinerary coming soon!

Posted by parkinsara
1 posts

Another big recommendation for London Walks as I go to London every other year and still have walks to take! Also two of the best food bargains in London especially with kids is The Crypt at St. Martin in the Fields which is in Trafalgar Sq. You will see a glass tube next to the church and that is the entrance. The other is Pret a Manger which are all over London with good fresh soup and sandwiches as well as drinks and snacks. Quick and very reasonable prices for this expensive city. When I am in London I go to the theater every night and my method is to start about 15 or 20 minutes before the curtain and walk down one of the streets in the district with 3 or more theaters and ask if there are any returns. I always see something and usually never pay over 15 pounds. This is easy for one person I know but often on a week night they will have several tickets at the big theaters. The half price place is not that great and it's much easier to go directly to the theater box office during the day and see what they have and what the prices are. Don't be afraid to ask about any discounts, family group price or whatever! London is a great city and you will have a wonderful time no matter what you decide.

Posted by David
Sacramento, CA, USA
279 posts

Ruth-- as noted above...check out London Walks for simple but informative walks within London and their full days out (they used to call them Explorer Days, now they have a new fancy title). They changed their wlak schedule at the end of April HOWEVER..in summer they add..so the current winter schedule will give you an idea of daily activities AND on their website they have gone ahead and already listed ALL of their full day 'walks" outside of London for the year. So you can match up now with whatever strikes your fancy. Oh, no prebooking-you just show up at the appointed spot.

If you need further info on London walks send me a PM and I'll fill you in. In 12+ trips to London since 1996 I've done most of them (and many no longer on their schedule).

On a personal note...when you have Tate Britian available...why Tate Modern....aren't you going to London for art???? Actually strike both and go to the National Gallery--stunning building in and of itself and art (early renaissance to the impressionists)

Posted by theneales
33 posts

Bath or Oxford for a day trip outside of London would be nice. Bath has the royal baths and the Abbey, really showcases Roman history and is a lovely town. You could walk along the river and be in a bit of a more pastoral setting than London anyway. :)

Posted by ruth
tyler, tx, usa
44 posts

Thank you everyone for the updates...haven't had a chance to check in lately...London Walks has moved up high on the list for us...just haven't had opportunity to explore the options. Thanks for the tips on dining in and around the city! I will certainly explore those options as we are slowly "fleshing out" our itinerary and will most likely try to find places to eat near whatever sites we will be exploring. As per museums, that is the hardest part ever! There are too many and we want to go to all of them.

I have moved on to the Scottish portion of our trip at this point as I had to set up hotel and air at that location and am currently have panic attacks about the whole trip! Pre-trip jitters about horrible fog storms hitting or other various reasons why our flight to Dublin will be cancelled and then we will miss our flight back home...trying to talk myself down! :) Think I am ok as we will leave Edinburgh Monday evening to fly to Dublin as we leave the next day at noon for Dallas. So, hopefully that leaves me a full night to try to get to Dublin without any troubles. Currently waiting on advance fares to open for train to Edinburgh which appears to be opening up in next few days for our travel dates....excited about our train travel as will be a first for all of us.

Will catch everyone up soon! Keep all of the tips coming!