Can't miss versus wishlist versus reality??:Great Britain and Ireland

OK. Here are our flight/train arrangements: Arrive in London 8/7 at 9:30pm. We are staying at the Renaissance St. Pancras for one night, then going to our Airbnb rental the next day (5 minutes from Elephant station??). We are in London on the 8th and 9th, then take the train to Birmingham at noon on the 10th, where we will be picking up a rental car. We then have a rental car for 6 days, dropping it off at the Edinburgh airport on 8/16, where we will leaving for Dublin at 2pm. We leave Dublin at 6 am on 8/20 to head back to the US. So, basically, we have 8 days to explore Great Britain. I would like some suggestions as to the most effective use of our time. My daughter (who is 19) DEFINITELY wants to do the following: 1)See Kensington Gardens/ Hyde Park and the Peter Pan Statue there 2) See Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London 3) Visit the Eagle and Child Pub where Tolkien and Lewis met. 4) Visit Alnwick Castle where Harry Potter was filmed. Actually, anything Harry Potter related appeals to her. 5)Visit some Scottish castles
6)Get some Irish rings for herself and her best friends (a flea market, maybe) I know that I want to visit the Cotswolds. We were thinking that when we picked up our rental car in Birmingham, we would take a trip to Oxford for the pub (and maybe Christ Church), then drive to one of the little Cotswolds towns and get a B/B for the night. Any suggestions about things we absolutely SHOULD NOT MISS in our 8 days would be greatly appreciated.

Posted by Leslie
Orange, USA
151 posts

If you want to be outside to get over jet lag, then Kensington Gardens/Hyde Park, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey would make a good walking day on the 8th. I'd take in the Diana Memorial (and maybe the Albert Memorial too depending on how much you like to walk) while in Hyde Park. Then you could visit the Tower of London first thing on the 9th. I'm curious though: why are you taking the train to Birmingham to pick up a rental car and then heading back toward London to visit Oxford? Is there something in Birmingham you want to see? If not, then it would make more sense to take the train to Oxford, tour there on foot, then pick up a rental car and head to the Cotswolds.

Posted by Aiken
High Wycombe, Bucks, United Kingdom
37 posts

Alnwick is already covered in your previous questions, but as you're going to Oxford check out the visitoxfordnadoxfordshire.com site, go to the What To See And Do, down to Film and TV, and you can pick links for Harry Potter, Golden Compass etc - that will give you a load of locations your daughter may want to see. For example, Christ Church college provided stairways, cloisters and the original model for the dining hall. I would recommend adding that to your itinerary! Having made sure your daughter gets some of the things she wants to see in, what about yourself? Any specific interests to help us advise? We have a bit of pretty well everything, in most areas on interest, and one persons must-see would be another persons yawn-fest! As a shot in the dark - how about a punt down the isis while you're in Oxford. After charging around the colleges all morning a relaxing float down river might be just the ticket... I would also concur about not going to Birmingham unless you really, really must. I lived in Kingstanding for a year and occasionally go back to see friends, and I do love the town as a place to go out with mates, but as a tourist attraction - not so much. There's the Daleks Arse aka the redeveloped bull-ring, which is good for a laugh (as in "somebody got paid for that design!?") and there are the remains of the old trades quarters here and there, but that's about it. And navigating the roads through and around the city is an exercise in frustration even for locals - for years the Gravelly Hill motorway interchange was known as Spaghetti Junction. Give it a miss unless you're already committed...

Posted by Aiken
High Wycombe, Bucks, United Kingdom
37 posts

blasted typo... Should be VisitOxfordAndOxfordshire.com - sorry!

Posted by Claudia
Land of La
2010 posts

First thing is to get some rest after you arrive. Hopefully you'll be your hotel before midnight. There is no Elephant station per sae unless, of course, you are refering to the Elephant & Castle tube stop in the Southwark neighborhood. Trust you are traveling light. That's a bit of a ways from St. Pancras to Elephant & Castle. Opposite sides of the Thames. That said if you can check out and check in early you can start the 8th by hoping on the Bakerloo (Brown) line going one stop to the Waterloo station, get off, chains trains, and take the Jubilee Line (Gray)one stop to Westminster. Get off there and start your day. You'll be right next to Big Ben Parliament and Westminster Abbey. From the Abbey you can cross the street and take birdcage walk through St. James Park up to Buckingham Palace.
From there another nice stroll thru Green Park to Hyde Park where you see the Peter Pan Statue and Kensington Gardens. Maybe have tea at the Orangery. Maybe theatre that night. Next day be first in line for the Tower of London. Might have to consider an extra day in London if you want to fulfill the HP wish list: http://www.walks.com/London_Walks_Home/Harry_Potter/default.aspx Next morning train Oxford see the pub, rent the car and off to see The Cotswolds. You'll short change them by only spending a day there but.....

Posted by j.c.
Cary, NC, United States
842 posts

Big Ben is a clock in one of parliament's building, which is across the street from Westminster Abbey and across the other street from the Westminster Tube station. All very accessible. Bear in mind that you can't get inside Parliament unless you book a tour in advance, online, Slots for non-UK citizens are limited. This is a fine castle to visit in Scotland. It was restored about 100 years ago (most of them were somewhere along the line) and sits in a dramatic location. Very near to Skye, too. Urguhart castle is definitely not restored, and sits along the southern end of Loch Ness, not too far from Inverness. Unless you have a reason to visit Birmingham, consider taking the train from London to Oxford and getting the car there. I always suggest Americans who are not used to driving in the UK rent a car in a small town and spend the first day driving anywhere besides a city. At 100,000-plus, Oxford is not small, but Birmingham is ten times as large. The Cotsworlds are very close to Oxford, the city center is an easy walk from the rail station. One of my favorite things to do in London is to cross over Westminster Bridge from the Tube station and walk north along the south bank of the Thames. A city without a river is a city without a soul, and London has one of the better rivers.

Posted by Tena
Pinson, Alabama, USA
30 posts

Thanks! We already have our rail tickets from London to Birmingham, and have reserved our rental car to pick up in Birmingham. I was unaware that Bham was such a large city. I actually chose it as the pick up spot because I thought it was less crowded. I wonder if I could change my rail ticket to land in Oxford. And then pick my car up from there, instead.

Posted by j.c.
Cary, NC, United States
842 posts

The only time I changed tickets I needed to cancel the original tickets and just book the new tickets.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8732 posts

In order to help you with your train tickets to Birmingham, can you please share what it says on the ticket? On the top line should be a short name for the ticket type, such as ADVANCE, Super Off Peak, ANYTIME, etc. If you don't yet have the ticket, do you have the confirmation or the reservation email? If you have tickets from London to Birmingham, you will either have tickets on Virgin or London Midland; or you may have tickets which are valid on any reasonable route. I have a fair knowledge of ticketing rules and ability to change, if I can help.

Posted by Tena
Pinson, Alabama, USA
30 posts

Thanks! My ticket says advance purchase. It states that it is changeable with a fee. I suppose I could go online and see how much the change fee would be. It was $36 USD to purchase two tickets for my daughter and myself. It looks like it would be $26 USD to buy new tickets to Oxford. I would also have to see if I can change my rental car pickup location to Oxford without a fee. According to Mapquest, it is 1 hour and 23 minutes from Birmingham to Oxford. We were also thinking about spending a night in the Cotswolds, near Chipping Camden. Which, according to Mapquest, is about an hour from Birmingham. SO, we thought we might pick up our car in Birmingham, drive down to Chipping Camden and see a village or two, then drive to Oxford on the 11th and spend half a day there, then make our drive north towards Edinburgh. Is the traffic from the Birmingham airport horrible?? We will be arriving around 2 pm. Would it be safer just to rebook a train to Oxford, pick the car up there, spend the day there, then go t the Cotswolds the next day? We plan on heading up towards Edinburgh either late afternoon on 11th, or early morning on 12th.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8732 posts

I'm very glad that you appear to be getting your car at Birmingham International Airport instead of in central Birmingham near Birmingham New Street Station. The driving in Birmingham is not for the feint hearted especially not in the vicinity of New Street Station. New Street Station is in the middle of a complete rebuild and, while a zoo at the best of times, is a real madhouse now. I don't know of any car hire companies in the immediate vicinity of New Street Station. Driving in Birmingham is made even worse this summer because a number of the tunnels on the inner ring road - the Queensway - are closed or are closing for rebuilding. The absolute madhouse that the Queensway usually will be much worse. If you do wind up in central Birmingham - England's second city - and drive through Edgbaston you will see the two towers, one at the University and one nearby, which inspired JRR Tolkien's two towers. Sarehole Mill is nearby which is where he played as a boy and inspired other bits of the Lord of the Rings. Just a few miles south, buried in the countryside, is where the Shire was found. Collecting at Birmingham International Airport should be pretty easy but you will have a difficult exit from the airport onto the A45 and then onto the M42. It is somewhat complicated. My wife got lost there but many people do manage it. When you get off the train take the escalator towards the back of the train or the single small lift in the middle of the train, go through the seating area and bear left. Get onto one of the free cable pulled transporters which come every 90 seconds and take 2 minutes over to the terminals. Down the escalators towards terminal one and you should find the hire car counters. Driving in England add at least 50 percent to software estimated times and if you are on A or B roads often double it. You might prefer to do the Oxford pickup.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8732 posts

Regarding your existing tickets - can I ask 2 things? Who issued them? Virgin Trains? The Trainline? Red Spotted Hanky? London Midland? East Coast Trains? RailEurope? Where are you finding tickets issued in dollars? They should be in pounds. Have you got the actual tickets, or do you need to collect them before departure?

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8732 posts

While I'm waiting for your answers - here's something to ponder. I expect that it is likely that your Advance tickets are non-refundable and changeable for time for something like £15 per ticket plus the difference in available fare. It may be possible to change it for route but it is less likely. Stratford upon Avon is near the edge of the Cotswolds and many people enjoy going there. It isn't a place to park, except in the multistorey car park, especially on a Saturday afternoon, but the Hertz (I think) hire car is right in the station car park and maybe they could watch your bags for you while you checked out the town. If you get it now there are Advance tickets on Chiltern Trains at £6 singles on the 13:09 from London Marylebone Station (one of the easiest London stations to navigate) arriving Stratford 15:31 or only £9 pp on the 11:09 arriving 13:31. You wouldn't be far from Chipping Campden from there. The First Great Western trains from Paddington to Oxford can also be done very cheaply if the choose the right train and your tickets now. For £5 pp you can take the 11:50 from platform 5 in Paddington which arrives at 12:48. There are hire car agencies in the carpark of the Oxford Station. Again, Oxford is no place for a car to be parked and the streets are designed to be car-unfriendly to make traveling easier on foot or by one of the millions of bicycles on the roads. Something to contemplate. You can also take the First Great Western train past Oxford to Moreton-in-Marsh which is in the heart of the Cotswolds. It also has a car hire agency, but I have no memory of who.

Posted by Tena
Pinson, Alabama, USA
30 posts

Thanks, Nigel. We bought the tickets on RailEurope, which gives you the option to buy in $USD. I am not sure I can change my rental pick up from Bham to Oxford without a hefty fee. But I am going to check today. We are picking up at the Birmingham Airport. If we decide to drive down to Cotswolds, we were going to spend the afternoon, then perhaps get a bed and breakfast. We then thought we would leave after breakfast for Oxford. However, to avoid central Birmingham traffic, would it be better to leave Bham airport and travel back towards Oxford? The two things my daughter wants to see there: The Eagle and Child Pub ( where Lewis and Tolkein often met), and the dining room at Christ Church (the inspiration for Hogwarts dining hall).
We could then either spend the night in Oxford, and do the Cotswolds the next morning.

Posted by Gail
Orinda, CA, USA
10 posts

Since you are staying at the Renaissance St Pancras, which you may remember seeing in the final scenes of HP and the Deathly Hallows Part II (at the start of 19 years later), make sure you go next door to the Kings Cross station to see Platform 9 3/4 near the HP store on the main level.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8732 posts

Maybe you and she would like to go to the Harry Potter studio tours. I've never been but everybody I have spoken to have unanimously spoken well of it, It has been reviewed positively here, too. It is close to Watford Junction, north of London, the first major stop north of Euston Station. There is an easy bus just outside the station which goes right to the experience. It is by reservation so best to check soon if interested. Check the opening times of Christ Church College and Cathedral here. Because you are predicting a Sunday in Oxford it would be very wide to send them an email asking for a prediction of opening times on your dates. They only publish dates a week ahead but if you contact them they can give more information. The Harry Potter webpage at the College is at http://www.chch.ox.ac.uk/visiting/harry-potter and the Lewis Carroll pages at http://www.chch.ox.ac.uk/visiting/alice .

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8732 posts

leave Bham airport and travel back towards Oxford Route would be airport exit to the A45 towards Coventry. Be careful - confusing. My wife saw my previous answer and said it wasn't once she got lost there, it was several times. And we lived not far away. Then almost immediately bear left onto the slip road which loops around to the southbound M42 towards the M40. When British signs want to tell you that you are heading towards a different route it will put the route it leads to in parenthesis. So it would say M42 (M40). Then south quite a long way on the M40 towards London. At Junction 9, leave for the A34 towards Oxford. Then there are several various routes into Oxford. I strongly advise considering parking at a Park and Ride.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8732 posts

Your trip is less than a month away. It will be peak summer travel season and I suggest looking into your B&B in the Cotswolds or Oxford sooner rather than later of it may become a little difficult.

Posted by Gail
Orinda, CA, USA
10 posts

The Harry Potter studio tour is awesome. Expect to spend at least 1 hour getting there from Euston station before getting off the bus. My daughter and I spent 4 hours at the studio. Suggest strongly you eat before taking the tour as the food once inside is very limited.