England for the first time

Hello , my wife and I are planning a trip to London in 2014 .We are thinking end of May for around 2 weeks . We are both in our 50 s .. We want to see most major sites as well as Beatle sites including some time in Liverpool but mainly staying in London . Any first time tips for us excited new travelers would be greatly appreciated thanks so much .. Steve and Carmela

Posted by Ron
southwest, Missouri, U.S.A.
1582 posts

Hello Steve. I recommend : read the travel guide book "Rick Steves' LONDON".

Posted by Gail
Downingtown, USA
1673 posts

Definitely get some tour books about London which will also include day trips, such as Windsor. Since you want to go to Liverpool, can you look into flights into London and home from Manchester, that way you won't be backtracking. Just an idea.

Posted by Steve
Langley, B.C., Canada
3 posts

thank you folks .. so much to figure out . i will keep reading and educating myself online here . tips etc keep them coming . I appreciate them ... . .as ... well . when going anywhere . the wife leaves it up to me .. so i better have my sh_t together ay ? haha .... I am assuming Heathrow is the Airport to arrive at . when staying in London .. any good cheap / clean Hotels to stay at . that are close to the tube etc .. places to get to . we are the type to stay put and get familiar .. yknow ?
thanks again Steve

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
5014 posts

"I am assuming Heathrow is the Airport to arrive at when staying in London" Not necessarily. Flights from North America to London use both Heathrow and Gatwick, and you should land at whichever one has the best prices, connections, schedules, etc. But if Google Maps is correct, you are in metropolitan Vancouver, so the easiest will be a nonstop from YVR on British Air or Air Canada, which do both use Heathrow. To research your flight options, use Kayak: http://www.kayak.com/. If you follow the advice above and fly into London and out of Manchester, that is called an open jaw flight. To find these, don't book two one-way flights (very expensive); instead, use the "Multi City" option on Kayak. It may not cost any more than a simple roundtrip, and even if it does, you save time and money not backtracking. However, it's only a few hours on the train from Liverpool back to London, and advance purchase train tickets are not pricey, so a roundtrip flight can work too, particularly with two weeks. "any good cheap / clean Hotels to stay at . that are close to the tube etc .. places to get to . we are the type to stay put and get familiar" This is what guidebooks are for - general questions (where to go, what to see, how to get around, restaurants and hotels, etc). Where a forum like this Helpline is best is for the stuff not in a guidebook. Such as, "We only have a day in Liverpool; which Beatles sights are the highest priority in our short time?" or "We're looking at two similarly prices hotels; which is in the better neighborhood?" Do start by getting Rick Steves England, and at least one other guidebook (to get varied opinions). And if you are asking about hotels, please post your budget, in actual currency. "Moderately priced" means different things to different people.

Posted by Michael Schneider
New Paltz, NY
7524 posts

Flights from North America to London use both Heathrow and Gatwick Not anymore from the US at least. Gatwick handles just two seasonal transatlantic routes from Orlando which is from British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.... that's about it. There are also charter flights from Toronto.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
22138 posts

Steve, As the others have mentioned, the RS England Guidebook would be a really good investment. The 2014 edition will be released on 17 December, or you can buy the 2013 edition as I suspect there will only be a few changes. The Guidebooks are a WEALTH of information and cover not only hotels and restaurants, but also transportation, sightseeing, etc. I'd suggest arrival at Gatwick Airport (LGW) if possible, as it's smaller and a bit easier to navigate. Heathrow is MASSIVE and I prefer to avoid it whenever possible! If you haven't yet booked flights you could look at Canadian Affair or Air Transat. Both operate flights from Vancouver to LGW. Air Canada typically operates only from LHR. From the airport you can use the Gatwick Express to reach London Victoria station. It's difficult to make sightseeing suggestions, as you didn't specify which "major sites" you're interested in. You might also consider either a day trip or an overnight trip to Bath. Good luck with your planning!

Posted by Lesley
Sidney, BC, Canada
439 posts

Airtransat fly into Gatwick from Vancouver. Also to Glasgow and Manchester. Their prices are about the same as Air Canada,worth paying for
Premium Club for slightly more leg room. Their economy seating is very tight. The earlier you book with them, the better the price.

Posted by Margaret
san diego, california, us
149 posts

any good cheap / clean Hotels to stay at? London has hundreds of hotels, B&Bs, and guest houses. What is your budget? (I'm sure you already know London accommodations can be pretty expensive). Most tourist attractions are in Zone 1, so that's a good place to make your base. Bloomsbury and Victoria Station are two neighborhoods that have relatively inexpensive accommodations. A lot of people like Earl's Court and Bayswater area. I'm not a fan...they are a little further out than I like to stay... However, they have good transportation connections, as does almost anywhere in Zone 1. One thing you might be interested in is London Walks. Inexpensive and interesting walking tours. they also do day trips outside of London: http://www.walks.com/ The Timeout London website also has lots of good info: http://www.timeout.com/london London is also well-known for its street markets: http://www.streetsensation.co.uk/markets.htm You can google each one individually for more specific info. My favorites are Covent Garden, Spitalfield's, Portobello Road, and taking the boat down to Greenwich Market. Since there are two of you, take a look at the 2for 1 site, which allows two people to enter many tourist attractions for the price of one. You must have a ticket from a rail station, not a tube station to be eligible for these discounts. See these websites for more info: http://www.daysoutguide.co.uk/2for1-london http://www.londontoolkit.com/blog/transport/2-for-1-london-pass-with-travelcards-train-tickets/

Posted by Southam
Windsor, Ontario, Canada
1277 posts

Two weeks is a good start, but you will never see everything and shouldn't try. Pick out a few highlights, enjoy them thoroughly, and don't fret about chasing a check list. One aspect worth thorough research is transport to wherever you decide to go. Trains and inter-city buses, plus the Tube in London, are all very useful but require plenty of advance study. www.seat61.com is an overwhelming expert on travelling by rail. http://www.nationalexpress.com/home.aspx provides schedules for many bus ("coach") services. The tall inter-city vehicles can provide better views of the countryside while trains allow you to stand up and move around.
You can sort this all out using Steves' advice and all the other Internet resources, sending your mind on vacation long before you board the airplane.

Posted by BG
SF Bay Area, USA
1588 posts

I really like, and highly recommend, the Premier Inn hotel chain. There are many of them at various locations in London. Reasonably priced.

Posted by Georgiatraveler
Atlanta, GA
236 posts

If you are going to spend the majority of your time staying in London you should also look at and consider renting a flat. We have rented flats and cottages in both England and Germany and loved it, I'm hoping to do it again next year. People will probably think we are weird for this but we love to go to the grocery stores and look around. Some of our favorite experiences have been buying things we think look good and maybe recognize and then figuring out how to cook them (mainly in Germany). We've had some wonderful meals that way and it saves some money. Plus I like being able to have my breakfast in my pj's and when I want it instead of having to get dressed and eat by a certain time. Another suggestion is that you can always get a picnic lunch or premade lunch from Sainsbury, Tesco's, etc to save money. We loved getting the premade sandwiches (our favorites were the chicken and stuffing and ham and mustard), a bag or two of flavored crisps and something to drink. We even bought a rotisserie chicken one night when staying outside of Manchester, took it back to our hotel room and had a wonderful meal and had enough left over to enjoy the next night (we carried a collapsible cooler with us since we had a car) with two salads that we ordered from the restaurant in the hotel we were staying in outside of Edinburgh.

Posted by Todd
Binche, Hainaut, Belgium
8 posts

I go to London about once a month for work. It is awesome and you have to love a place that speaks English, sort of... I would recommend visiting the London Pass web site and picking up one of their passes with transportation included (covers metro/bus to all 6 zones in London). The Pass is nice because you will have access to many of the big and very pricy sites like Hampton Court (great thing to do), the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, and I even think they may have a Beatles experienced event. Not saying buy it, but take a look to see if it would be a good savings for you and your wife. My family and I did this in April of this year and ease of travel being able to hop on and off buses and the tube was great. Keep in mind that many of the really great things to see in London are free (the National Gallery, British Museum, etc.). One benefit to the London pass is you get to skip to the front of the lines at some of the attractions. One word of caution, don't get sticker shock. Things are expensive when you do the conversation rate from dollars to pounds. It is enough to scare some away, but remember, how many times are you going to be in London. We always watch Rick's shows prior to going anywhere to get ideas for what we would like to see.

Posted by Steve
Langley, B.C., Canada
3 posts

Thank you so much folks .. so far I am getting some great info from you all ... I do believe an open jaw flight would be the way to go . .vancouver to gatwick . and then manchester to vancouver .. end of may 2014 ... keep your ideas a comin ... nice to be prepared in advance .. now to figure out .. what to see .. where to stay . as I said I love the Beatles so I would think a good 3 days would be good in Liverpool .. or less ? .. thanks again .. Steve and Carmela Jensen

Posted by gone
2081 posts

Steve, You will have a blast over there. be warned you will probably want to go back many times. All i can think of is to bring CONFORTABLE shoes. ALot of the streets are cobblestone too. lots of walkind and standing in lines. get use to looking the opposite way when crossing the street too! I just love the tube system over in London. Makes life so easy to get around. happy trails.

Posted by Charlie
Honolulu/Seattle, HI/WA, USA
2178 posts

If, in fact, this is your first trip to Europe/London, I would recommend you get a copy of RS "Europe thru the Back Door" and read it carefully. It is full of very useful information for first time travelers to Europe or those just wanting to their travel skills. You have asked so many questions that are answered in RS London Guide book that we used when we visited there, I hope you have a copy by now. If not, one can be ordered elsewhere on this web site. Happy travels

Posted by Keith
United Kingdom
953 posts

Steve, as you will know London also has Beatles' connections. The London Walks people mentioned already have a Beatles-related tour (no prizes for guessing what they call it!). If you just want to see the most famous link, the Abbey Road zebra crossing, then you can easily do that on your own, by tube go to St John's Wood station. Whether you would need three days in Liverpool for only Beatles things I'm not sure. There is a lot such a childhood homes, "your actual" Penny Lane/Strawberry Field, venues, etc. There are several options for a guided, full day tour; but to fill three days - I'm doubtful. However, there is a lot else in Liverpool too - it is a rather underrated city - and you could easily fill the rest of your three days (if you've any interest at all in boat stuff, the maritime museum is brilliant). As for seeing "most major sites" in England, that's going to be tough in two weeks, though it rather depends how you define "major" and "most". One option would be to book-end your holiday with five or six days in London (perhaps including some day-trips), and three days in Liverpool. Then use the middle portion to see some of the country. The obvious, well-trodden routes between London and Liverpool would be going west for a few days in Bath/Cotswolds or north for a few days in York/Dales. Would you have a car?

Posted by Judy
Adelaide, SA, Australia
850 posts

Steve, I arrived in London on my own on my first overseas trip. After checking into my hotel, I found the nearest tube station and asked how to get to Piccadilly Circus. I got there walked up the stairs from the tube right into the middle of Piccadilly Circus. I was a bit overwhelmed. Took a deep breath, caught the Hop on Hop Off bus and after doing the round trip, felt completely at home. I recommend you do the same. It was a great way to get a feel for the city.

Posted by Donald
Wichita, KS, United States
166 posts

I love to travel in England! I would recommend staying in the area around Victoria station, it's affordable and the tube will get you anywhere you want to go. My favorite hotel is the Lime Tree, rustic and the breakfast is great. Try to get tickets to the Globe theater for a Shakespeare play, I was amazed at the performance!! Take a trip to Oxford and visit Blenheim Palace, this was the best day I have ever spent in the UK and would love to go back. I bought a Brit-rail pass through Rick Steve's and found it easy to get anywhere I needed to be. Visiting the Tower of London is an absolute must, plan on spending at least 1/2 day if not more. Have a great trip!!!

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
22138 posts

Steve, As some of the others have mentioned, the Victoria Station neighborhood is a good place to consider staying. As you'll be arriving at LGW in a jet lagged state, it's an easy trip on the Gatwick Express to London Victoria (currently £17.75 PP for online fare), and from there you can walk to your hotel. I also find it a convenient area for walking to some of the sights (London Eye, Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, etc.). One hotel that's very popular in that area is the Lime Tree Hotel. However, their current rates for a double are about Cdn$250 per night, so another hotel might fit your budget better. The Guidebook has lots of listings in various parts of London. For getting around on The Tube, you might consider getting an Oyster Card. You'll pay a deposit on the card and then pre-load it with money. You can return it when leaving and get your deposit back. There are details in the Guidebook on transportation options and passes in London. The Guidebook will provide a lot of answers to your questions. Cheers!

Posted by Philip
London, United Kingdom
2593 posts

A warning regarding the Beatles in London: if you look at the railway map you will see a Docklands Light Railway station in London called "Abbey Road". This is in a completely different part of London to St John's Wood, where the studio is, and serves a new housing project that happened to be called Abbey Road. A number of confused tourists have been turning up there.

Posted by Southam
Windsor, Ontario, Canada
1277 posts

Back to the airlines. Air Transat is the bargain ticket right now, flying into London in May for several hundred dollars cheaper than AC. However, it does not have a full daily schedule in that month. Its website www.airtransat.ca also shows two flights a week from Glasgow to Vancouver. You could fly into one and out of the other. I cannot tell from the website if these are non-stop flights or just "direct" which can mean a stop without changing planes. This situation may change after the New Year as schedules (and prices) for the "charter" line and its rivals are firmed up. The start of June has traditionally been the watershed when trans-Atlantic prices hit the peak for the summer. Keep alert at the start of 2014 for momentary discounts on dates in May. I'm sure you know that Bellingham, Washington, sometimes lures bargain-hunters from BC, but price balances against inconvenience, especially the amount of time travelling through a border crossing that has a reputation for slowness.
It is tedious work searching out your best options on the Internet. I take the attitude that my vacation begins, in my mind, when I start clicking for information.

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

We have been to London five times. We have been there for 7 days up to two weeks each. London is beyond fabulous. We will never get tired on London. I actually live to go back there again We totally enjoyed taking day bus trips through Gray Line. I think the day tours are also booked through Evans Evans Tours (both can be booked on-line). We did one day trip around London, one to Windsor, to Stonehenge, Bath, York, the Cotswolds, etc. We also took train rides to Cambridge, Oxford and Wimbeldon. The booked day trips are a great way to see everything, with commentary. Then you can go back to some of your favorite places, another day. The Hop-on, Hop-Off buses are great, but take all day. Don't forget to take advantage of the "Tube". You are going at a great time. It will be daylight saving time. It will not get dark until 11:00 PM. Try to take a ride on the Thames. You can even take a boat ride out to Greenwich. You can take an early morning boat ride and end up at Hampton Court. Then you can take the train back. It is a full day doing that though. Don't forget Kew Gardens, if you enjoy beautiful plants. You can take the "Tube" there. The last time we were there in 2012, we visited Parliament in the morning. We were told to come back after lunch for a tour. Our tour was with one other couple from New Zealand.. We got to go into both Houses and see them in action. It was really cool to see the judges in their robes and wigs. One of the Houses had plexi glass up to the ceiling. The Parliament Building is gorgeous. This last time we stayed at the Doubletree (run by Hilton). It was right on the Thames. We could walk to the Parliament Building from our hotel. We could also see Big Ben, the Horsegurads Parade area, The Tower Bridge, etc. Have a great time and remember I'm envious.