My son and I are visiting Europe for the first time. We land at London Gatwick around 7 AM on a Sunday in May. We would like to go directly to either York or Bath that day for 2 nights. My thought is that a smaller town will be a little easier to manage at first than the big city. Which location would you recommend? We've decided both places look interesting, but I'm having trouble determining whether our Gatwick arrival makes one location much easier to access than the other. Any other thoughts on activities would be appreciated as well.
I'm not sure if I really agree with going to York or Bath instead of going directly to London. Remember, London is made up of a lot of small villages that have been encompassed by London over the centuries. The Notting Hill area is very peaceful and "small town-ish" if you want a soft and easy intro into life in London. Bath is a good day trip, but I don't think it's necessary to stay overnight there, it's only a 90 minute train ride from Paddington Station. My wife and I arrived in London and took the double decker bus the first morning to the British Museum, and then when we were done there (after 90 minutes in the Egyptian Room) we walked to Covent Garden and toured the superb London Transportation Museum. I think a 13 year old boy might enjoy it! The trick is to start out slow. Don't plan too much on your first couple days. London has a lot of quiet calm places. Hyde Park near Kensington is one. Notting Hill another. I found the Russell Square area near the British Museum quiet as well. Wait until you are in London for a few days before you hit Trafalgar Square or Piccadilly Circus, it's mayhem in those places, full of people! London is worth spending time in. We spent 9 nights there on our first visit and came home wanting more! This fall we're going back for 10 more nights and we can't wait. A day trip to Bath is also on the calendar while we're there.
Of your two choices I would suggest York. The advantage is the old part is (virtually) enclosed within the old city walls, which makes it compact and manageable. Attractions (for a young boy) would include walking on and around the walls themselves- you get a very different perspective. The Railway musuem, D=castle museum, and for a period you could get into the excavations while they were saving the cathedral (may still have a video on that). Cathedral, Shambles (medieval streets) and also a Viking exhibit. As mentioned although London is huge, the tourist sites are fairly compact clustered around Westminster and also the Tower.
Janet, I would also vote for York over Bath as being more interesting for a 13-year old boy. But since you'll be arriving at Gatwick, you'll have to take a train or Gatwick Express into London, which takes about an hour and gets you to Victoria Station. Then you'll have to take the tube or catch a cab to Kings Cross Station (which is across the city) for the 2 hour train trip to York. That may be a bit much for a first-timer after a long over-night flight. I think the earlier comment about staying in London and taking it slow for at least your first day is very sound advice.
I, too, feel that starting in London is best. I don't like to immediately have to face MORE travel. If you feel strongly about it though, I'd go with York. A 13 year old will love it!!! You might find this article helpful:
http://www.aaacarolinas.com/Magazine/2008/Jan-Feb/britain.htm?zip=28105&stateprov=nc&city=matthews Additionaly- I love arriving at Gatwick as it is a smaller airport than Heathrow, but to get to either York or Bath you'd have to travel into London to catch the train. About the only place you could go to easily from Gatwick would be Brighton. It might be fun for a Sunday afternoon and evening, then take the train back into London Sunday night or early Monday.
My wife and I, both experienced travelers, found the journey from Gatwick to Bath on arrival day to be a very long and tiring day. I can only imagine that York will be at least that bad, if not worse. That said, if I were a 13 year old boy again (and I am, in spirit if not in body), then the answer is York absolutely. Castles, ghost tours, walking the city walls, Vikings! I'm 42 and I spent the first half hour in York running around the ruins of St. Mary's Abbey like a child. There is some cool stuff in Bath (esp. the baths themselves and the Museum of Bath at Work), but York wins by a country mile in my opinion.
Without question York for the normal 13 year old boy. I surprised no one has mentioned the great train museum in York or the city museum. However the idea of traveling anywhere after a long over night trip is not my choice.
York gets my vote, for all the reasons others have already mentioned. Here's a link to the Jorvik Viking Center, part museum, part Disney-like sets/displays, that carry you through York's history: http://www.jorvik-viking-centre.co.uk/ They have actors dressed up in realistic Viking costumes, which kids like. Some adults think it's kind of corny, but look at the website and decide for yourself.
Thanks to everyone who has responded. It sounds like we should consider staying in London initially. We arrive in London Sunday and can stay in the area until Friday afternoon. We could try to go to York overnight that Thursday (ghost tour and Viking stuff). It seems that the Mad Max tour to Stonehenge, etc, is the main draw for Bath in my son's eyes. There are some London based tour groups that offer a Stonehenge tour, so maybe that can be a day trip, too. I'm afraid I'm not brave enough to rent a car, so we'll have to stick with buses/trains for transportation.
Someone recently posted that they went to Stonehenge from Salisbury rail station by the big red and black busses. (public transport). I am not familar with them. But that and the salisbury cathedral would make a good day trip. There are coach tours from London to Stonehenge. Grey Line/Evan Evans etc. Forgot to mention- in London you get a much closer view of the dressed up sentries at Horse guards and at St James. You (or your son) can stand right next to them for photos etc. Buckingham Palace they are behind the fence a long way away
I second the advice to check out London Walks. We went on one of the ghost walks and liked it. But don't skip the other choices, too. They were all interesting and might be interesting to your son. The York ghost walk was fun as well. Of course, the most appealing walk might be one of the Jack the Ripper walks. I went on one led by an off-duty Tower guard (Yeoman Warder or Beefeater), but I suspect the others are good, too. You're from a big city. I doubt you'll feel overwhelmed by London. Yes, it is a lot bigger, but it is easy enough to manage. And it has so many things to do that might be of interest to your son. With the day trip from Bath, you'll eat up a lot of time traveling.
I would say York. My wife and I did the same thing - we saved London until the end of our month long trip in 2008. You can stay in London at first if you want, but there is nothing wrong with going to a smaller town first. If this is your first trip there, it is a smart choice in my book. That way you aren't dealing with jet-lag, culture shock, and big city all at once. Getting to York was pretty easy from Gatwick. You just take a train from Gatwick to St. Pancras in North London (in 2008 it was on First Capital Connect ) and then follow the signs and walk across the street (literally) to King's Cross Station and catch the train to York. Don't forget to find platform 9 3/4 outside of platforms 9 & 10. The only issue we had was to make sure and have caffeine and chat on the train so you don't fall asleep and miss the York stop. We were fine while we were walking around, but the train can lull you to sleep if you aren't careful! :)
We spent a year in England in the mid 80's with our kids ages 5,7 and 10. If you want to save London for later I would agree with York. The Jorvik Viking museum and the railway transport museum are great for kids.
I do agree that York is a better choice than Bath for a 13 yr old. We're headed to both in June, but plan two nights in York and only one in Bath. Lots more to do for a preteen in York. I would disagree with most of the people who have responded about going to London first. London is tough enough to handle without making it the first stop on your trip. Take a train to York and go to London last.
Again, thank you to everyone for responding. My son and I have pondered all of the suggestions. For better or worse, we've decided to go to London first. I let my son choose between Bath and York, and Bath won. I let him read all of the responses on this thread, but he also read several guidebooks and watched some short videos. I can tell you that the big draw seems to be the tours that leave from Bath (Mad Max to Stonehenge/Avebury during the day and Bizarre Bath and a ghostwalk in the evening). My 11 year old daughter (who doesn't get to go this time) is already talking about the next time we go...so York will have its turn.
Take a look at the website for Original London Walks. They have several ghost walks around London, as well as history walks and day trips out of town. I guarantee they have a ghost walk that your son would like. http://www.walks.com/London_Walks_Home/Ghost_Walks/default.aspx And you may find their day trips of interest also. Have a great trip!
Janet, Either York or Bath would be good choices, but I'm not sure if I'd be able to manage the travel to York after a long international flight. Bath will be an easier destination to reach and will be more manageable after a long flight. You could take the Gatwick Express to London Victoria, and then walk the short distance to the Victoria Coach station (as I recall it's about a 10-minute walk). Check the National Express website for departure times and prices from London Victoria to Bath Spa. When you arrive in Bath, take a Taxi to your Hotel. As your Son has decided on Bath, I'm sure you'll find lots to do and will have an interesting visit. I really enjoyed the Mad Max Tours, but Stonehenge may be a site that your Son gets easily bored with. If you're not comfortable with a rental car and driving on the "correct side of the road", you'll be limited to sites close to Bath or those provided on day tours. Depending on your Son's interests, one place that he might find really interesting is the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Yeovilton (it's the largest Museum of it's type in Europe - check the website for details). It's easily reached from Bath, but would require a car. Happy travels!
I agree with all the recommendation of York for the teenager. In fact, if I had to choose between Bath or York for any first-time visitor, of any age, I'd choose York. York may be a bit larger than Bath, but everything you are likely to want to visit is contained within, or just outside, the perimeter of the old Roman walls. That's not a very big space. In addition to everything already mentioned, you'll find narrow medieval streets lined with modern shops and filled with people. The stunning Minster is one of the largest cathedrals in Europe and likely to impress even a jaded adolescent. While there is a bus route from Heathrow to Bath, I don't believe there is from Gatwick to Bath. So, you'd be looking at taking a train for Gatwick (the Gatwick Express) into London. The Gatwick Express arrives at Victoria Station. I believe most, if not all, trains to Bath depart from Paddington Station. That would involve grabbing a cab from Victoria to Paddington. You could just as easily grab a cab from Victoria to King's Cross Station, where the York trains depart. Paddington to Bath is about 90 minutes or so. King's Cross to York is two hours. The stations in both cities are within a few blocks of the tourist area. However, for either location, I recommend taking a cab to get to your hotel/ B&B. Nothing wrong with seeing London first, either. In fact, after a potentially sleepless night on an airplane, dropping your luggage at your London hotel and going someplace to recuperate until you can check in might be a very good option.