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York or Bath/Cotswolds/Wales? Itinerary advice!

In just a few weeks this July I'll be taking this trip with my husband, 17 year old daughter, and my 70+ old mother. This will be my mom's first trip out of the US, and I want to make this a great experience for her.

One purpose of this trip is to visit my daughter who is studying at Oxford this summer, so we plan to spend one day there.

We only have 6 days. We arrive at Heathrow at 9AM and will have to try to stay awake. I plan to start in London by staying outdoors and on our feet and visiting London Tower or Westminster Abbey, maybe even Abbey Road. I booked us one night at Seven Dials Hotel near Covent Garden.

I plan to spend our last full day in London again to see the British Museum and Library, since we'll probably be too tired to appreciate it our first day. I have a hotel near Heathrow that night so we'll be close to the airport for our 9:00 flight out the next day.

That leave 3 days, and here's where I'd LOVE some advice!!

One option would be to stay in Bath and do day trips to Cardiff, Stonhenge, and the Cotswolds.
(Our family emigrated from Wales (near Cardiff) in the 1800s, so mom might enjoy seeing where our family came from). My daughter and I are big Bridgerton fans, so Bath would be fun and interesting. And my husband really enjoyed our hikes through the countryside when we went to the Cotswolds years ago. With only 3 days there, I'm worried I'll be trying to cram in too much and not really enjoy any of it. Additionally, I've already been to these places! I'd sort of like to see another part of England.

So the 2nd option is to go from London to York and spend some time there before going to Oxford and then London and then home. I've never been to York. From reading the Rick Steves book, it sounds like there's a lot to see and do. I could switch it all around, go straight to York upon arrival, then go to Oxford to visit my daughter, then 2 days in London at the end of the trip.

Help! I'm planning this all on my own! I'm spinning in circles here!!

Posted by
1010 posts

I can’t see how you can have 3 days in Bath and do 3 day trips as well as seeing Bath itself?

Posted by
880 posts

With so little time - is it five nights - I wonder whether it might make better use of your time to go directly to Oxford from Heathrow [easy bus ride], make Oxford your first base, tour Oxford sites, maybe Blenheim Palace or a day trip to Bath, then head to London. Less traveling might allow you to see more in this case.

Posted by
1882 posts

This is way too much for a short trip, especially for your Mom. I am near her age and in pretty good shape, but that flight over with poor or no sleep can really steal your energy for a couple days. I'd go to Bath directly from Heathrow for 3 nights (2 days). One day you would explore Bath, the next day you could take the Mad Max van tour that takes you to Stonehenge and a couple of southern Cotswolds villages. I did this in 2022 and LOVED it. For your first day stay outdoors and active, but maybe have a cream tea at 4pm and then try to stay up til 8pm and make it an early night. Then you could go to London for 3 nights (2 days) and see Westminster Abbey OR the Tower one day and spend the next day exploring London via bus or tube. You might look at London Walks to see if any of their walks appeal to the family, particularly the 17 y.o. Don't be afraid to take a Black Cab to get around London, especially for your Mom and it's a fun experience anyway. With 4 of you it will be cost effective, too. Don't forget any time you change locations you lose at least a 1/2 day with checking out, transferring to the new location & checking in,

Posted by
1306 posts

York is easy transportation wise and is a fine fine place to vist.
The Dales are FAR grander scenery than the Cotswolds and are close at hand to York.

Posted by
27 posts

This advice is why this is the best travel forum in the world. This is all very helpful. There is so much I want to squeeze in to this trip.

Posted by
4482 posts

I would stay in Cardiff and do a day trip to Bath and an easy day trip to St. Fagan's Museum of Welsh Life. I think Cotswolds should be a low priority for you.

Posted by
4482 posts

I would stay in Cardiff and do a day trip to Bath and an easy day trip to St. Fagan's Museum of Welsh Life. I think Cotswolds should be a low priority for you. I love York but with your Welsh heritage, i'd go to Wales.

Posted by
442 posts

Do you know a town of your ancestors? My husband and I have found visiting ancestral locations often are highlights of a trip. Sometimes there's a surprising visceral reaction. When we're in the UK we try to fit in at least one location (or very likely location), so I think my two cents go for Bath/Cardiff area. Have you asked your mom if she has an interest?

York is also a great place to visit but with the short time it might be harder to find accommodation there than somewhere along the route to Cardiff.???

Posted by
27 posts

OK, what are your thoughts on this:
Arrive at Heathrow at 9AM and go straight to Bath (I think we'll take a train?). We'll stay in Bath for 3 nights.
Upon arrival in Bath we'll walk around town, maybe have tea, an early dinner, and then stay awake until 8PM.
The 2nd day we'll see the Baths and maybe do a walking tour.
The 3rd day in Bath we'll go to Cardiff and the Welsh Life museum and look around Pontllottyn where our family is from. We will look into renting a car for the next couple days.
The fourth day we'll leave Bath and drive to Oxford. I was hoping to book a Stonehenge/Cotswold tour with Mad Max but they are all full. So any thoughts on just driving to Stonehenge on our own? Then returning the rental car in Oxford? Then see Oxford (and my eldest daughter) that evening and sleep in Oxford.
Day 5 will be Oxford in the morning, then traveling to London. Perhaps a walking tour or Westminster Abbey when we arrive?
Day 6 will be London, especially the British Museum and Library.
Day 7, depart for home. :-( And then begin planning my next trip so I can see even more.

Does this still seem like too much?
Any thoughts on car rentals?
Any other tour groups you'd recommend since Mad Max's isn't available?

Posted by
6766 posts

For Pontlottyn the closest (very close) rail station is Rhymney, with regular services from Cardiff Central. There are buses from Rhymney, but you could just get a taxi from Rhymney to tour the town, and maybe visit any known addresses (if they still exist) or family graves in the Churchyard (if any). Or the chapelyard if they were Chapel folk. It's not clear how much depth you know your genealogy.

Posted by
2494 posts

Pontllotyn has its own station = 1 stop short of Rhymney and it is an hour each way from Cardiff Central by train. (Pay on the day £8.70 each). It's a miserable ex coal mining town. If you do go to Pontlottyn, I would definitely alight at Caerphilly on the return journey to Cardiff and see the huge medieval castle - which is about an 8 minute walk north from the station.

As others have mentioned, St. Fagans Castle & Museum of Welsh Life is well worth seeing if staying in Cardiff. This is a 30 minute bus ride west of the city centre (Cardiff Bus 32 hourly). Then, you also have Cardiff Castle in the city centre and the waterfront area known as The Bay (Cardiff Bus 6 from behind the library near the Marriott entrance) is also worth a look. The Bay can also been done by train via Cardiff Queen Street station which is on the line to Caerphilly & Rhymney.

Castell Coch is yet another castle found in the Cardiff area but is rather more awkward to reach and involves a steep climb up a hill from the bus stop in Tongwynlais. You would not be able to visit Pontlottyn and St. Fagans all in the one day - not even if you skipped Caerphilly Castle. https://www.visitcardiff.com
So, armed with this additional information, you must decide your priorities. York is the outlier in the places you have mentioned. Bath to Cardiff is 1 hour by direct train (hourly). You can also go from Cardiff to Oxford by train with 1 change at Didcot Parkway.
Trains see > https://www.thetrainline.com (Who charge a booking fee). OR the official train site for all of Britain = https://www.nationalrail.co.uk

Posted by
442 posts

Personally, I'd skip Stonehenge and use part of the day to accomplish more in Wales (stay in Cardiff last night) or have a little diversion to a few towns in the Cotswolds en route to Oxford, if you're driving.

Posted by
4482 posts

I think you need another day in Wales and I think you should stay in Cardiff instead of Bath. With regards to FOMO Stonehenge, others may disagree, but I have been to England numerous times and have never been nor intend to go to Stonehenge. I did see the smaller site Avebury on a Mad Max Tour, but especially with your heritage, I think Wales is where you should spend your time.

Posted by
1196 posts

I would look at Pontlottyn on Streetview and see if it’s somewhere you actually want to spend your time. So many British towns are actually quite run down and depressing. We try to only recommend the decent places on here!

You mentioned afternoon tea in Bath. I recently went to the one at the Royal Crescent Hotel and it was absolutely excellent. The gardens are beautiful and on a nice day they serve it outside.

Posted by
27 posts

After talking it over with my mom, Wales is no longer something she feels she needs to see. I think the "depressing old coal minining" vibe is putting her off. I think we're going to head to York, since it will be new for all of us. It seems like there are some fun excursions from there into the Dales that will make my 17 year old happy.

Should we go straight to York on the day of our arrival or spend the 1st day in London and leave for York the next day?

Posted by
442 posts

If you need to go in to London to catch the train to York, you might as well stay overnight that first night in London. That gives you a buffer night in case of flight disruptions before you begin your days in York. Perhaps the ease or difficulty of finding accommodation may dictate whether you go straight to York or stay in London.
You'll have a great time in York, and wherever you visit in the Dales. Enjoy!

Posted by
2494 posts

Trains to York leave from London Kings Cross (KGX). You will get the lowest price if you pre-book ahead for a specific train (non refundable). Same applies coming back.

If you intend to visit Oxford or Bath, note that you can go by train from York using a different route via Birmingham. Trainline will tell you if splitting the ticket works out cheaper going this way.

Check out > https://www.nationalrail.co.uk/railcards/

PS. Most of Wales is very scenic* - just not the old coal mining valleys in a narrow band in the south. (This area was at the forefront of the industrial revolution). *Eg. The Brecon Beacons National Park is just north of the former coal mining valleys.

Posted by
1306 posts

Head North

Then you can have a lazy recovery day in York catching up on sleep rather than have to deal with London.
Make sure to vist Gatehouse Cafe at Walmgate bar...its easy to lounge on the sofas a good long while or go up on the terrace for the view back over the city to the Minster.
Play your cards right and you could be at Evensong the first night of your trip.Its awesome in the truest sense

Posted by
653 posts

I strongly recommend staying in Bristol rather than Bath. It's far less expensive, train service from Bristol Temple Meads goes to far more destinations, and you avoid the many busloads of tourists. Plus, Bristol itself has a lot to offer as a city with masses of universities and students.

Posted by
1196 posts

I wouldn’t necessarily suggest Bristol over Bath. Bristol is a much bigger city and it’s definitely a lot more ‘urban’ in feel and so you need to work a bit harder to see the good bits. The area around the train station is a disgraceful mess of unbuilt sites (what was supposed to be an arena) and derelict buildings (don’t even ask how or why. It’s an endless saga). Bath is smaller and so pretty that it might suit an older traveller better. It’s easier to appreciate, I suppose.

Posted by
5065 posts

You are arriving in the early a.m. It's highly unlikely your rooms will be ready before mid afternoon. Many hotels will allow you to drop your bags, and then go out and about. But why not just continue on to York? Your rooms might still not be ready, but you will be at your intitial destination. The next day you'll not have to travel, and should be refreshed and ready to go. Just something to consider.

In York, try to go to Betty's Tea Room on St. Helen's Square. Downstairs there is a mirror that, during WWII, airmen from a nearby base used to etch messages and their names. Very emotionally thought provoking as one can't help but wonder which ones didn't survive.

Posted by
27 posts

Thanks to all of you! I really appreciate all the input. I've booked a room for 3 nights in York at Queen Anne's Guest House, which is now apparently called York Guest House. Someday I will come back to see more of Wales when I can do it justice.

Posted by
124 posts

I am here now (leaving Wales on Sunday for Oxford-ish and then on to York and the Dales.

Someday reconsider visiting Cardiff (but not on a weekend or on a big concert night.). Your mother might not want to see the ancestral village, but you/she might enjoy experiencing the vibrant “Welshness” in Cardiff (btw, I have not bothered to go to Merthyr Tydfill to find my great grandfathers grave if I could find it ….). And I have just spent a wonderful 10 days wandering around Wales on public transport.

York will be exploding with tourists, so I am glad you have booked accommodation.

For the Yorkshire Dales, you might wish to look around Grassington where ACGaS is filmed. Train York to Skipton, then the bus to Grassington.

Oxford is an easy day-trip from many places by rail or bus. I will take a train from Cardiff to Oxford and the a bus to stay in Chiselhampton (about 4 miles SE) — again, booking rooms on short term notice was very tight. After Oxford I will take a train to York to launch into the Dales. This could, of course, be done in reverse.

BTW my understanding is that if you have a car for Oxford you will need to use the Park/ride lots outside of town and take a bus in. Someone else here can tell you more.