First Time to London

This wil be our first trip to London (mid June) and I'd appreciate comments on our current plan. Wednesday: Arrive at Heathrow early morning, bus to Bath; afternoon Madd Max tour to Stonehenge; Evening in Bath; Thursday: All day Madd Max tour of the Cotswolds; Evening in Bath Friday: Train to London noon arrival; RS "City Walk" with pub lunch; theater in evening Saturday: Westminster Abby tour at opening; "Westminster Walk" with Churchill Museum; Covent Garden; evening theater Sunday: Tower of London at opening; Mid-day cruise to Greenwich; return to London; evening walk on the Jubilee Walkway; Monday: British Library; British Museum; Mid-afternoon walk through St James Park and view Buckingham Palace; 6pm train to Portsmouth Harbour; 10pm ferry to Caen, France Too much? Too little? What might we be missing? Other obvious alternatives? Thanks for your help

Posted by Tom
Oak Brook, IL
160 posts

Mad Max Tours is a tour company who offers guided tours of the Cotswolds and Stonehenge from Bath (maybe from other cities too)

Posted by Roy
Fredericksburg, VA, USA
405 posts

I'll offer my opinion (I'm sure you'll get others): Wednesday - After flying all night and busing to Bath, you are going to be too exhausted to enjoy yourselves on the Mad Max tour. I would just explore Bath - that way you can call it quits when you get too tired. There's plenty to fill your afternoon - the Roman Baths, Pump Room, the cathedral, perhaps the hop-on/hop-off bus, etc. Thursday - Do the all day Mad Max tour, but do the one of Stonehenge, Avebury, Castle Combe, and Lacock. You'll see a lot and get a taste of the Cotswolds. Friday - No change. We have seen War Horse, Billy Elliott, and Madeline the Musical on our visits - highly recommend all. Saturday - Expect Westminster Abbey to be crowded on a Saturday. Go later in the day and combine it with Evensong, which is not to be missed. Consider going to the Portobello Road market on Saturday morning before the crowds get too bad...a really fun experience. And the Churchill Museum is a "don't miss" attraction - LOVED it. You may want to go to just one show, which will allow you to have a few more options. Sunday - Get to the Tower early as you have planned and go right to the Crown Jewels. After that, hook up with a Beefeater tour. You might want to consider mailing ahead to get tickets to the Ceremony of the Keys for one of the evenings you're there. Monday - Too much to cram into one day. May I suggest that you take advantage of the late hours on Friday night for the British Museum (open until 20:30) and National Gallery (until 21:00)? That's what I did on one trip and had both places almost entirely to myself. And are you planning to tour Buckingham Palace or just swing by, perhaps catching the Changing of the Guard? There won't be enough time to do it all if you plan to do a full-blown tour of the Palace. Have a great trip and send any more questions my way!

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8732 posts

I'll start off by saying my newest RS London book is something like 1998 so I'm afraid I don't know what's on the various walks. I'd just suggest that to get to London by noon you don't have to leave Bath until 10:13, and with the morning given over to checking out and getting to your new place in London, why not leave Bath on an earlier train, still have a nice brekkie, and get a much earlier go on your first day in London. I don't know which pubs are on the walk but be careful if they close between lunch and dinner. Tom, you haven't said when your trip will be. Are you aware that you may need to move outdoor activities around due to weather? When you go on your walk through St James's be sure to stop and say hello to the birds... Trains from Waterloo are faster to Portsmouth Harbour than ones from Victoria... EDIT: I didn't notice the mid-June. The days will be the longest then - good planning. We can still get plenty cold weather sometimes here, and rain, in June so the advice to be ready to move outdoor activities from one day to another sticks. Plenty time to plan it all out then...

Posted by Laura
Virginia, USA
2891 posts

Tom, The only concern that I see is the Stonehenge tour on the first day. I'd suggest you try to rearrange that and spend the first day in Bath. I know that personally I always feel like a zombie after arriving on an overnight flight. The other concern is that if your flight is delayed or the immigration queue is particularly long, you could miss the tour departure. I like to keep the first day as open as possible to allow for such things. Your days in London look good. If you aren't set on a particular show then the TKTS booth is a great option. Each day, they post a list online to show what is for sale that night (www.tkts.co.uk/whats-on-sale/). If you check the list before your trip, you will get a good idea of what might be available. If you have your heart set on a particular show (especially if you want to see one that is not discounted at TKTS), then the website theatremonkey.com is useful for advice on where to buy tickets online and what seats are the best. I generally buy from whatever agency operates the official box office and select the option to pick up the tickets at the theatre. Finally, I really like London Walks; I prefer these to doing the self-guided RS walks. You might check their schedule (www.walks.com) to see if there are any of interest to you. You don't have to book in advance. Just show up at the designated time and pay.

Posted by Tom
Oak Brook, IL
160 posts

All, Thanks for the feedback. Roy and Laura, you might be right on the first day in Bath. The flight lands at 6:45am so I thought there would be plenty of time to catch the 9:00am bus to Bath. The tour doesn't leave until 1:15. Probably should reconsider. Roy, You mentioned Monday looked too busy. I actually thought it was an easy day. We do not have plans to tour the palace. The changing of the guard I'm told is so crowded that to really see anything you have to be there 90 minutes before (that's not for us). We will be seeing Versailles while in Paris so we thought that was enough "palace" for us. As for the museums, we thought we spend 2 hours in each getting the highlights which would essentially keep our afternoon nearly free. Laura good tip on the London Walks. I'll look into that. As for TKTS, I thought I'd use that for one night. My wife wants to see Les Miserables (her favorite) so I might have to pay up in advance for that one. :) Nigel, leaving Bath earlier is a good option. We currently thought we would take the 9:45am train arriving Paddington about 11:15. We'll be staying at the Henry which is close to the train station so we could easily get an earlier train after the "full English Breakfast" :) LOL I'll also look into the price and timing of the train from Waterloo to Portsmouth Harbour. Thanks again to All.

Posted by Charles
Austin, Texas, USA
307 posts

I agree that viewing the Changing of the Guard is not worth the trouble. I was there last year and structured my whole day around that and it ended up being the most underwhelming thing we did that day. Next time, I will skip the ceremony, and just see the palace from the street when there aren't as many crowds.

Posted by Gail
Downingtown, USA
1557 posts

Bath has a great free walKing tour from just outside the cathedral, I think it takes an hour but can't remember but was very interesting might give you a good way to get outside after your trip from US. We stayed at The Henry several years ago maybe five can't remember but is great location. It was going under renovations then and have since looked it up on line and now looks fantastic. Enjoy.

Posted by Sarah
Chicago (formerly St. Louis), IL, USA
1311 posts

Hi Tom. I have a general visiting-London tip. I assume you'll be taking the Tube most places in the city. It's a VERY good idea to check the Transport for London website EVERY MORNING, especially on the weekends, for planned engineering Tube line closures: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/. I learned this the hard way (didn't check the website every day) and ended up on a ridiculous 50-minute Tube ride to avoid closures, only to end my fruitless journey at a stop that I didn't know was also closed. After that, I checked the website religiously. Also pay attention to the weather in London starting a few weeks before you leave (weather.com is one site). I'd imagine June has less rain than September, when I was there, but you want to be as prepared as possible. And London is windy like Chicago. I didn't know that beforehand. Have a great trip!

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8732 posts

If you are in St James's Park you are just a few feet from Horse Guards Parade where a mounted Changing of the Guard happens with a much smaller crowd than outside the Palace, and its a much better show in my opinion. Sun (ok, maybe) glinting off the shining breastplates of the Guard, the sound of horses' hooves, the cobbles and sand. It really is a great show. Check the time.

Posted by Gail
Downingtown, USA
1557 posts

Nigel is spot on, we did both and it took far too long at Buckingham Palace and could barely see anything, the view further down is much better.

Posted by Brian
Los Angeles, California
1986 posts

Agree with Nigel. To me the Chaging of guard at Horse guards is one of my highlights on every trip to london. Much easier to see than Buckingham Palace change- there arent many toursist, so you can see it all- and much more colorful- plumed helmets, shiny breastplates, colorful costumes, mounted guards on horses, on some (all?) saturdays the chaging is accompanied by a mounted band which plays on Horse guards parade ground while the change is taking place.... even if you miss the change- stopping by Horse guards and talking tpo the horses is worth it, Monday- British library and British Museum, really need all day each to take it all in. i would skip these, take a couple of hours (max) at the National gallery and use the saved time to just walk trafalgar square, piccadilly cicus, piccadilly and get the flavor of london. Add green park and Hyde park to your park walks. I heartily approve of your evening theater visits- good way to spend the time. Although you will be a little jet lagged, Stonehenge is probably a good way to spend your first afternoon- het outside and walking, even if you sleep on the bus. Pepsonally, i would skip greenwich- takes a big chunk of time and other stuff to see. (hampton court, windssor, more of Lonodn)- depends on your personal wish list though

Posted by Nicole P
Truro, NS, Canada
708 posts

We used Scarper Tours for a stonehenge tour from Bath - it's about 3 hrs - an hour out and back, and an hour at the Stones. I think in the summer they do 3-4 a day...we enjoyed it...and Bath is really nice - we only had about a day and a half and really want to go back...(we were there early Oct and they did 2 tours a day)

Posted by Steve
WI
72 posts

Tom, for what it is worth, consider taking the train from Heathrow to Paddington Station, then train from there to Bath. I think it is actually quicker than taking the bus. We did this in June and it was really easy and there was plenty of room on the train. Also, some of the days on your itinerary are really busy (Wednesday tour after you get in; Monday seems busy too). For example, we found we could have spent at least 2 full days just in Bath, and your trip gives you basically enough time to sleep there and have dinner. In any case, these are just my thoughts so take them for what they are worth. Enjoy the trip! Steve

Posted by Keith
United Kingdom
678 posts

- Presumably you are not planning on doing the whole Jubilee Walkway - if you do (some of) the Western Loop, you will start near Covent Garden anyway and so could perhaps combine. - If you find getting to/from Changing of the Guard (at either location) breaks up your Monday morning too much, remember that at Horse Guards their is also a Four O'clock Parade each day (at 4 O'clock surprisingly enough). Perhaps not as interesting but a possible alternative. - I didn't think Monday seemed too busy, pretty relaxed if anything given you only plan a few hours in the Museum and Library. - You asked anything missing? St Paul's perhaps.