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Driving vs. Trains/Buses

I've got the accommodations for our trip in the fall all worked out and now I'm working on the travel part.

We're starting in Bath, going to York, then Whitby and back down to Oxford. The last week of our stay will be spent in London so we're good there, but I'm debating about renting a car for the first week as opposed to relying on buses and trains to get from A to B.

My husband didn't want to drive in England as he thought it might be too stressful and take away some of the enjoyment, but bad is it? Right now I'm finding the idea of making all those various train and bus connections very stressful, not to mention rather limiting.

I don't know how much longer it would take to drive from York to Oxford, but at least we'd be able to make stops along the way as opposed to just watching the world go by.
I guess I'm just looking for some support to help convince my husband that driving is a better option. :)

Any travel trips or good route advice would be welcome as well!

Posted by
9110 posts

" bad is it?"

Not bad at all. I just got back from driving 4000 km in RoI and Northern Ireland without incident.

I routinely pick up a car on the continent, cross-channel it, and drive the left-hand-drive car in the UK and even that isn't daunting.

Admittedly, I'm as anti-train and and anti-bus as you can get due to the flexibility of being schedule-free, being able to detour on a whim, and being able to leave un-needed luggage in the trunk at night.

Leaving Bath, you're either going to go through the Cotswolds or duck back to Stonehenge, Woodhenge, and Avebury, so a car is almost essential. Heading up to York opens all kinds of options only possible by car.

The only people I know (with very few exceptions) who hesitate to get a car are the ones who've never tried it.

Posted by
970 posts

Tara, I used to live west of London and have been back several times.

The first difference about driving in the UK is that the driver sits on the right and drives on the left. If your first day's exposure to this is in small towns and rural areas, you shouldn't have much trouble. Keep your wits about you and keep thinking "Stay left".

England has Motorways, the equivalent of American interstates. I recommend tourists avoid them. You can make great time, but traffic moves very fast and the scenery is as obscured as it is on an interstate.

Standard 2 or 4 lane highways are called "A" roads, i.e, the A33, the A4, etc.

Rural roads are tagged "B" roads and, in some places, can be single lane.

I've always enjoyed driving in rural England. I assume I'll get lost, but that's not a problem. Every road goes someplace.

Now, Bath, Oxford, York, etc., are not villages. They are busy towns of 100 to 200 thousand people. There will be traffic to deal with.

A train is the fastest way between two points. But, as you say, you can't stop and wander around.

I recommend renting a car, taking it easy for the first day or so, and then having fun.

You might want to look to rent a car with an automatic transmission, since shifting gears with the left hand can be very foreign to Americans. Most UK rental have standard transmissions.

Opting for a rental with a GPS is also a good idea.

Posted by
20 posts

For a different point of view, traveled from London to Inverness and numerous points in between using all public transportation, and it was no problem at all. One day in Northumberland buses were running about 20 minutes late. Otherwise everything was close to the time tables. I'd happily do it again.

Posted by
2785 posts

Hi Tara, Ed & J.C. gave you a lot of good information. I would suggest you driving, you will travel thru some beautiful quiant villages that you won't see if you use the train. If you are driving you can stop and look around if you come to a village that you would like to visit. After the first couple of hours driving to so easy.

We never had travel finding parking places in Bath or any other place.

Posted by
3428 posts

We like to use the trains in the UK. No worry about parking (a real bear in cities like Bath, York, etc.), no worry about the high cost of petrol (gas- often $7-$10 a gallon) and no problems geting lost. The trains/buses are easy to use and have never interfered with our flexibility. The connections are not a problem and we enjoy looking at the scenery rather than the map.

Posted by
333 posts

As long as there is accessible parking areas, driving is the way to go for me.

We have historically bad luck with trains and I hate &$&^%&$^$ buses. (Probably goes back to my experiences with AC transit and Muni in the SF Bay Area)

Like Ed said, the freedom to not be tied to a schedule and being able to divert and explore places not on the main lines is well worth the added cost of a car.

Posted by
44 posts

Other than London (the tube is the way to go there) driving is best, at least for me. I have been to the UK many times and have driven THOUSANDS of miles. You simply cannot beat the flexibility. For example, while going north from Glastonbury we were headed to Snowdonia for hiking. The forecast was for rain and wind. We kept heading north to the Lakes for better weather. That would be hard to do via train on a moment's notice.

A post above suggested tourists should avoid the motorway. That is true if you are "touring". BUT to get from one area to the next the Motorways are great. You can easily cruise at 75-85 (yeas that is over the limit, but....). Keep an eye out and DON'T linger in the right hand lane. You might just have a Jag or BMW on your butt at 90-100. UK drivers are THE BEST in the world IMHO. Aside from the congested motorways, NOBODY stays in the fast lane, but quickly move over. So if you are from NJ, NY, and MA take note :)!!!

Once we get off the motorways, I love the B roads and out of the way places that public transport cannot easily get you to. Driving the narrow lanes of Devon are what England is for me.

Posted by
970 posts

As Toni said, trains are the way to go if you are traveling from Point A to Point B and plan to spend at least a full day there, and you don't really care about what's in between..

However, if you want to meander at leisure through the British countryside, cars, and bikes, are the only way to go. I've found slow, almost purposeless driving on the B roads to be some of the most rewarding time I've spent in the country.

Posted by
12 posts

we just did 2 week trip of train/bus/combo- re:driving-I found the first hour sheer terror trying to shift lefty and staying to the left but then after awhile it was fine-your brain just has to reverse itself, i found the key was not to think about it too much and just follow the cars in front of you: the ony other thing is that whoever is driving won't get to see much scenery unless you're on a highway, the country roads require 100% concentration (tractors, sheep, other things in the road- for most places there is sufficeint train/bus frequency that if you miss a train there will be another one sooner or later-

Posted by
18 posts

We spend 2 weeks in Ireland three years ago and found driving left a great adventure! My husband did a super job and I constantly reminded him to look right and stay left. In just a couple of days it felt natural even the round-abouts backwards! Go for it and enjoy the freedom you have.

Posted by
18 posts

Oh, but rent a really small car and spend the extra for an automatic - that means one less thing to concentrate on.

Posted by
2397 posts

driven ireland and england several times recommend automatic if you can get one drive stick in states but had hard time going from first to second gear usually went from first to fourth anyway don't sweat it you will have so much more flexibility than train/bus we found going around traffic circles to think of it as a clock when you enter circle think of it as 6pm then 9 pm etc and person navigating will tell you what "time" you exit worst case just go around again

Posted by
970 posts

I agree with the recommendations to rent an automatic. Shifting with the left hand is an odd experience, more so than driving from the right on the left side of the road.

Watch out for multi-lane traffic circles. These are often found at busy motorway interchanges and exits. Not much of a problem when you think about it, but they can take a bit of getting used to. Remember, too, that the worst that can happen in a circle is that you go around again.

Posted by
347 posts

So here are my thoughts.

First, the physical part of driving is not too difficult in Britain. When my wife and I went, we stayed for a week in North Wales and then several days in the Cotswolds and then over to Cambridge. Trying to connect so many smaller locations would have been difficult by train - especially trying to see sights in N. Wales and getting to Chipping Campden. Our Fiat Punto was a standard, but that wasn't too big of a deal. Just remember as the driver to keep yourself to the middle, just like in America. It is a lot easier when there are other cars on the road, as you tend to just mimic.

That being said, the mental part of driving can be extremely stressful, especially depending on your personality. My wife and I did pretty well, but we had some intense moments in the car. As the driver, you are responsible for what happens, and when you are in an unfamiliar city trying to figure out where to go it can be rather trying. Now put being on the opposite side of the car, on the opposite side of the road, and using round-a-bouts on top of that and you could have a recipe for disaster.

If you are willing to do the driving, then you shouldn't worry about what your husband thinks (in regards to whether or not it will be stressful). However, if you are asking him to do the driving, I think you should listen to his opinions more than any of ours. It doesn't matter how many people on here think it is no big deal, if it is a big deal to him, that is all that matters - as that is who you are going to be with and I doubt you want him stressed the whole time (for his sake and yours!).

Just my thoughts! :)

Posted by
2033 posts

We loved the freedom the car afforded, but we did find driving in the UK stressful. We're really cautious drivers. It required a constant concentration that took it's toll. We reduced our daily drive times/distances and that helped. I would do it again but plan a bit differently.

Posted by
1446 posts

We always get a car and have seen things we would have never been able to if we took trains/buses.

Posted by
11 posts

Thanks for everybody's replies and advice. I had finally convinced my husband that driving was the way to go and then he went and had a heart attack last week so that's totally turned our plans upside down.

We're still planning on going in September, but now I think I'll cut out the driving as much as possible as I know it's something that really stresses him out and we certainly don't need that now!

I've revised our route somewhat as getting from Bath up to York without a car was going to take too long (and York is a must on our list--Bath was a last minute choice). We're now heading north after we arrive in London and stopping in the Peak District for a couple of nights.

So...train from London to Derby, possibly picking up a car for a couple of days (just to get around the area), then train from Derby to York and renting a car for one day to get out to Whitby and back. Then we'll take the train back down to Oxford for our two nights there. I think that all sounds doable without too much fuss (or stress!)hopefully.

Posted by
32263 posts


Another option you might consider would be to use a combination of public transit and rental car. I've used both rental cars and public transit in the U.K. and have found that (for me) a combination of methods is the best solution.

I've also found that driving in the U.K. always seems to take longer than driving the same distance at home (that includes driving on the M6 Motorway). Be sure to allow for that and I'd also highly recommend a GPS unit along with a good Map.

Using train for the longer portions of your trip will not only be less stressful (especially considering your husband's condition) but also far quicker. However, especially in the U.K. the trains tend to be a bit on the "pricey" side. You could also look at National Express for Coach routes as they're a bit cheaper and in some cases the travel time is not that much more.

If you haven't driven in the U.K. before, I'd highly recommend an automatic transmission, although it will cost more. If you're only using the car for a limited part of your trip, the petrol costs shouldn't be significantly higher. Be especially careful with parking, as having "The Boot" applied or being towed will increase your costs in a big hurry!

If I were taking the same trip, I'd use a combination of very well planned public transit routes and limited car rental. I've found that driving in the North (Whitby) is somewhat less stressful than driving in the south (although there are a lot of narrow, winding roads in that area, some with little room to pull over when a huge Lorry approaches).

Good luck and happy travels!