Assistance with London, 2014 Trip

I have found the best way to get over the post-travel depression is to plan another trip! Having just come back two weeks ago from my first trip overseas (Paris), I have been bitten by the Europe/UK bug and received a tentative nod from DH to plan a trip to London next year. We are recent empty-nesters, fairly active and plan to travel in/out of Gatwick. I have looked at several postings out here but was wondering if anyone had specific thoughts on the following: 1. Best time to travel-we are limited to the months of April, May and mid to late June (which I see might be problematic with school getting out about that time). We would rather be cold than hot and it looks like rain is a given for anytime. 2. Apt or hotel - we would like to stay about 12 days. Have no problem using the Tube and would like a place with a nice view if possible.
3. Location - from what I've read Kensington, Paddington and Chelsea look to be the top 3 areas. We are looking for a place that is central to popular sightseeing arenas and relatively quiet at night (in Paris we rented an apt in the 7th if that helps anyone). Any assistance to my beginning research would be greatly appreciated...thanks so much! Cici

Posted by Leslie
Orange, USA
151 posts

Cici,
English schools run longer in the summer than American ones, so last day of school for summer term is late July. There will be more students out in April since the break between spring and summer terms runs most of April (probably due to the Easter holidays at that time also). You're right about rain in the spring, and it's more likely to be cold than hot, though you never know, we hit a heat wave in late September 2011. We enjoyed staying in Kensington, and it was quiet, but our hotel did not have a view (nor an elevator). Enjoy your planning.

Posted by April
San Diego, CA, United States
165 posts

Concerning flights, rates generally go up after May 31st so if you can return before then you SHOULD save on airfare. Children should all still be in school, but as you said it won't be particularly warm, but should be too bad. It will be warmer in June/July but airfares will be higher, so you have to decide. Have fun! We have been bitten too. :-)

Posted by Laura
Virginia, USA
2891 posts

I go to London almost every year in May. I've found that airfare tend to increase if you depart after May 15th (the date varies each year) and then go up again at the end of May/beginning of June. There are lots of great areas to stay in London. I'd suggest that you start by reading up on some of the neighborhoods and looking at places to stay to see what appeals to you. Once you've done that, get back with your top choices. Everyone has their preferences. The key thing is to be close to a tube station, preferably one that serves more than one line. There are two bank holidays in the UK in May. This doesn't impact you that much as a tourist, but be aware that they often due engineering works on the tube over the weekend and that includes bank holidays. If you are on a station with two lines, there is better chance that one of the lines will be in service. I think finding a flat with a view will be a challenge unless you are in a highrise along the Thames with a river view or outside of London up on a hill (like in Highgate or Hampstead). Instead, I'd suggest you focus on quiet by looking for a flat that is not on a busy street. I'm not a big fan of Paddington. I usually stay in South Kensington or near Earls Court. I also like South Bank and Bloomsbury.

Posted by Rose
NYC
922 posts

I have found the best way to get over the post-travel depression is to plan another trip! Indeed! The best antidote. That's why I start immediately dreaming and planning and jotting down notes while I'm on the flight home. It gives me something immediately to look forward to and anticipate. At least that was true earlier in my travel life. Now I have a mile-long list of desired destinations and the bigger problem becomes trying to choose the ones I want next, without changing my mind a dozen times. :)

Posted by david
washington
837 posts

While I have found flats to be a bargain in Paris compared to hotels, I have not found the same in London. That is unless you intend to cook in with some frequency rather than eating out. I found that a reservation at the Rembrandt, across the street from the Victoria and Albert museum and several blocks down the street from Harrod's, to be very reasonable when reserved in conjunction with travel reservations with British Airways. I also find that to London, British is the only way to fly. To the continent, Air France competes, as, perhaps does Lufthansa. Whatever you do, don't fly a US flag carrier. The Rembrandt is very convenient to the South Kensington station and has service on the Piccadilly, Circle, and District lines.

Posted by Cici
St. Augustine, FL
51 posts

Thanks for the information. Yes, I am finding that it may not be the bargain it was in Paris to rent a flat. I also have some Hilton points available so maybe I will look at using some of those. As I look through the areas, I am leaning towards Kensington. Are there areas I should stay away from? @David - I would be curious to know why we should shy away from US-based airlines to London and fly british - can you elaborate? We definitely want to see Stonehenge....some say day trip, some say overnight in Bath - thoughts? Is 12 days too long??? Thanks everyone! Cici

Posted by Rose
NYC
922 posts

Whatever you do, don't fly a US flag carrier. I have to disagree with that strong opinion. I have always found many better itinerary choices to LHR on U.S. carriers, and at lower prices than British Airways. Also, BA flights are often 'operated by' U.S. carriers, which means passengers are required to check in with the U.S. carrier anyway. It may depend somewhat on one's departure city.

Posted by Laura
Virginia, USA
2891 posts

Whatever you do, don't fly a US flag carrier. I'll also disagree with that. I'd say, whatever you do, try to get a nonstop flight. I've flown both BA and United to London in the last two years. I noticed very little difference between the two in economy. BA gives you free alcoholic drinks, but you have to pay if you want to reserve a seat in advance. United charges for alcoholic drinks, but lets you reserve a seat in advance at no fee. Other than that, I didn't notice any other difference. I prefer United because they offer a daytime flight for my route whereas BA only has overnight flights. I like BA fine; I just don't notice much difference between carriers in economy these days. If you stay with Hilton, I don't recommend the Hilton Kensington Olympia. I stayed there two weeks for business. I'd choose a Hilton with a better location. For Stonehenge, London Walks (www.walks.com) does a nice daytrip to Stonehenge and Salisbury once a week.

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

All my visits to London (quite a few, starting in 1967) have been in April or May. It is a great time to visit. We've had rain, yes, but also gorgeous warm sunny days ( in the high 60's, not too hot). There are few city sights as beautiful as the London parks in bloom- a sea of daffodils in Hyda Park is one of my favorite sights. Flights are also cheaper in April or early May. We always fly British as they offer a non-stop flight from Seattle. That is the decider for us, and now that we have joined their mileage program we fly in Biz class which is nice. BA is often higher that other carriers in the summer, but their April prices seem fine. For that length of time an apartment makes sense. VacationsInParis has a couple of studios in Chelsea you might check out. Also check out Vancouver Studios and AirBnB. maybe rent for a week, then head out for a night or two outside London, and return to a hotel in a different part of the city for your last few nights. For Stonehenge, we like to train to Salisbury and rent bikes for the ride to Stonehenge and back. I have found much more to like in Salisbury than in Bath ( although the Roman Baths are interesting).

Posted by Dick
Olympia, WA, USA
663 posts

I'd suggest April or May, especially if you prefer cold to hot. Spring is beautiful, it will cost less, if and when it rains you'll be in the big city anyway. For 12 nights I'd recommend an apartment, we've done well with homeaway.com. We stayed in South Kensington near the Gloucester Road tube station, but I'd think all the areas you mentioned would be fine. A "nice view" might be over rooftops, or just of an interesting street. Our flat was ground floor facing an intersection with an elementary school, fun watching all the kids arriving while we had breakfast (it was September so lots of parents dropping off). The main advantage of a hotel is personal service from a front desk, but with no language barrier (sort of) you need that less then elsewhere. I think the recommendation to fly BA has to do with a perception that British carriers get better landing and gate slots at Heathrow than others. Our Continental flight a few years back waited on the tarmac for about an hour before buses came to take us to the faraway terminal not a great experience after an all-night flight. I've heard similar stories from others. Heathrow has the reputation of a difficult airport where non-British airlines get the short end. Gatwick may be better, certainly smaller and less crowded. Twelve days gives you plenty of time to explore London and visit places like Hampton Court, Windsor, Oxford or Cambridge, Canterbury, Salisbury and Stonehenge, Greenwich, etc. A few day trips out of town would be good, but there's plenty to do and see in the city itself. Just remember to LOOK RIGHT when crossing the street!

Posted by Toni
Charlotte, NC, USA
2846 posts

There are lots more than 3 good areas to stay in London. In fact, Paddington is a bit far from most of the things you will want to see and do. I'd suggest you consider the Victoria station area, Belgravia, Trafalgar, Covent Garden and Neal's Yard, Earl's Court and other areas. Almost any location inside the Circle Line of the Tube (or within zones 1 and 2 if you want a bit bigger area to look at) is going to be 'good'. If you are wanting to rent, check out renting from a college/university. Many will rent spare dorm rooms and/or apartments. One I know of is London School of Economics. They have multiple dorm locations in central London and some of them are only apartments. Check out their websites. Just be aware that sometimes the website shows nothing available, but if you email or call, you will find they do have openings (it has something to do with a 'conflict' between their sites and certain web browsers. www.lsevacations.co.uk/?
www.lsetopfloor.co.uk/? You might also check out a serviced apartment (sometimes called an aparthotel). Once, when we took the kids we used Citadines. We stayed at their Covent Garden/High Holborn location. They also have several central London locations. Here is their website. http://www.citadines.com/en/uk/london/ Not sure what your budget is, but we have enjoyed staying at what is now called The Grosvenor (previously called The Victoria Thistle) inside Victoria Station. Great location, good atmosphere as it is a true Victorian Station Hotel, but the rooms have very recently been refurbished.

Posted by Sasha
Bainbridge Island
1583 posts

British Airways flights are " operated" by US carriers? Either you are on a BA plane or you are not. When people recommend flying BA to London, they are suggesting you fly on a BA airplane. If you fly a code share and end up on an American Airline or Iberia plane, that is different, and you would know when you booked it. I don't see how you would check in for a flight on aBritish Airways plane anywhere else but BA. Please explain.

Posted by david
washington
837 posts

Yes, Sasha, one has to check carefully to be certain that one is getting a "true" British Airways flight. I just find the level of service much better on British and Air France than US carriers. Admittedly, I have never flown a US carrier to Europe. I always find that BA has an itinerary as anyone else from the area from which I fly. I concur that I prefer to book seating as far in advance as possible. One reason I refuse to fly Southwest. But, I keep track of seating as the flight approaches. I have never felt the necessity of purchasing an advance seat assignment. Although insignificant in relation to the total flight cost, I view the charge for drinks to be indicative of the service attitudes of US carriers.

Posted by Claudia
Land of La
2010 posts

12 days is not too long for London IMHO but then it is my favorite city on the planet. Will be there again in October/November this year. Check out the airbnd website to see if any of the accommodations meet your criteria. I found a flat two years ago on airbnb and it's where I plan to stay each time I visit. It's in the Camden/Kentish Town area which is slowly experiencing gentrification. I like it because it's not in Central London. Anyway, I would think for 12 days an apartment would be ideal. You didn't mention a budget. London is expensive but with enough research you could secure something that doesn't break the bank. I've mentioned in previous posts that on a trip I did a Priceline search, bid $90 for a double room at the Regent's Park Marriott. Got it and if you look on the website the room I got is exactly like the one shown on line. A friend was traveling in from outside London to meet up so splitting the room cost proved a steal. Chelsea is not the most quiet area at night. I'd look at the Kensington, Earl's Court, Victoria and Bloomsbury neighborhoods for your first visit. Late April, early May is a great time to explore London and it's environs. As far as Stonehenge you might consider a London Walks sojourn. Great company. www.walks.com There is so much to do and see in London you will never be bored.

Posted by Laurie Beth
Was MN, now TX
638 posts

If you consider hotels, I would recommend Luna and Simone, a small, family run, typical RS hotel near Victoria Station in the Pimlico/Victoria area. For a little over 100GBP (if you pay cash and show the London guide) you get a simple, but clean double or twin room and bathroom plus full English breakfast. The #24 bus runs right outside the door and goes all the way past Trafalgar SQ which made it really easy getting around, plus you are between two underground stations. I love all the ethnic restaurants in the neighborhood. Also plenty of pubs, small groceries and atms. Very convenient. I travel alone and always felt safe. Get a RS London Guide and check out hotels and restaurants in the Victoria Station area. I also love early May in London.