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Trip Report: London and Day Trip to Salisbury/Stonehenge

While planning my trip to London, I found many helpful tips on these forums. I am posting this trip report with the hopes that someone might benefit from the information that I provide.

I just returned from a seven day/six night visit to London last week. Although I have been to London seven or eight times over a thirty year period, there was much more I wanted to experience. I have visited the A-list sites on my previous trips (St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Jack the Ripper Walking Tour, etc.) and I considered this trip an opportunity to delve deeper into areas of interest including English history and cathedrals. I was a solo traveler for the first four days, and then planned to spend some of the remaining time with my neighbors who were there on spring break with their children (7 and 4 years old).

I took advantage of a super low fare on Icelandair and was satisfied with my experience. Flights were on time and service was as-expected for a budget airline. After reading reviews on several sites, I knew what to expect for aircraft configuration, airline amenities and Keflavik airport. My layovers were about 90 minutes, and the small airport was very crowded. I found a large waiting area and bathrooms on the lower level. These were no signs pointing to this area, so there were plenty of seats available and there was no line for the bathrooms. Keflavik Airport looks like it was furnished by Ikea, and the there should be a user's guide for all the motion detectors in the bathroom.

Upon arrival at Gatwick, I made it through passport control, baggage claim, customs, and shuttle to the South Terminal train station in about 30 minutes. By contrast, my neighbors arrived at Heathrow several days later, and were standing in the passport control line for 30 minutes before an agent moved them and their children to the front. They said the lines extended into the hallway and estimated the waits to be longer than an hour.

I planned to take the Gatwick Express to/from the airport as it was the fastest option and the Victoria Station terminus was only two tube stops from my hotel. When I arrived at Victoria Station, I went to the tourist information center and purchased an Oyster Card which I loaded with a seven day travel pass plus additional pounds for extended tube trips.

My travel to London was hassle free up to that point, and then I attempted to navigate the tube system with a rolling bag. I had to wade through the sea of humanity at Victoria Station and carry it down a narrow stairway, and then carry it up a flight of stairs at Gloucester Road. It was quite an effort to keep my balance and move through the crowds. There are multiple postings on this forum about step free travel at train stations in London, and I wish I had paid more attention to the information when I planned my trip.

I stayed at the Ashburn Hotel on Cromwell Road in South Kensington. It is located two blocks from the Gloucester Road tube station which is on three lines and provided ready access to all the sites I intended to visit. The neighborhood has restaurants, convenience stores and a laundromat. The National Science Museum and V&A museum are a short walk down Cromwell Road. The hotel building is best described as a quasi-boutique hotel that is clean and comfortable. I had a double room that was nice sized for central London. Amenities included a hair dryer, room safe, free Wi-Fi, a fluffy bath robe, a mini refrigerator, and a selection of soap, shampoo and lotion. The staff was professional and friendly. My reservation included continental breakfast with juice, fruit yogurt, cold meat, cheese, pastries, cereal etc.

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London Trip - Continued
As I was trying to decide what to pack for the trip, I checked the London weather each day and looked at the forecast. I was especially concerned about what kind of coat would be most practical for early March. I finally settled on a lined waterproof coat and packed clothes that could be layered. I threw in a pair of gloves and a couple of scarves for day trips and evenings. As it happened, the weather was spectacular during my visit. The days were mild, mostly sunny and there was only one brief period of rain. After a few days, I realized that except for the coat, I probably would have packed the same things regardless of the weather forecast.

My itinerary included two day trips (Salisbury/Stonehenge and Hampton Court) and one planned activity per day in London, with the remaining time to be filled in based on weather, location, mood or whatever I felt like doing. Wherever feasible, I prepurchased tickets to take advantage of discounts and avoid lines.

When I arrived at the Ashburn, my room was ready even through check in time was not until 3:00PM. I unpacked, took a shower and put on some fresh clothes, and then went outdoors to ward off jet lag and familiarize myself with the neighborhood. I scouted out restaurants and convenience stores, found the ATM and post office, and then I enjoyed a late lunch while sitting outside a small restaurant. I walked to the V&A museum for a brief visit, and meandered the back streets when returning to my hotel. I especially enjoyed looking at the gardens and seeing the blooming daffodils and crocuses.

Some of my favorite London memories are walking tours, and I after some research, I selected two for this trip. I reserved a spot on the Insider London Underground and Tube Tour. The tour cost is 20 GBP and the planned time is 2 hours. Our tour lasted slightly longer because of short delays at several stations. Nevertheless, it was fascinating to learn the history of the tube system. I found myself seeing the stations differently after the tour. I also went on the London Walks Old Westminster by Gaslight Tour. This tour cost 10 pounds and no reservations were required. It was an evening tour that started at Parliament Square just as some protests were winding down, and it was especially memorable because I took it on the night that critical Brexit debates were taking place in Parliament. For both tours, the guides were professional, knowledgable and enthusiastic. I enjoyed how they related to the tour members and handled questions. I highly recommend guided walking tours in general and these two tours in particular.

I also did two self-guided walking tours; Rick Steves’ City of London with his audio guide and map, and a Bankside Tour that I found on the internet. I downloaded several other walking tours before I left, including one in the Hampstead neighborhood that I was looking forward to using, but I didn’t have enough time to take them. I guess they’ll have to wait for another trip.

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**London - The Imperial War Museum and Southwark Cathedral**

I also paid a visit to the Imperial War Museum. The building is located in a less touristy area south of the Thames. It contains an array of exhibits on WWI, WWII, recent British military interaction, spies, and the Holocaust. It was interesting to see the tanks, planes, uniforms, and other assorted weapons, and it was sobering to visit the Holocaust exhibit. Admission to the building is free of charge, and there are multiple gift shops with a broad selection of books. I spent several hours looking at the exhibits, and then took a lunch break in the cafeteria (fresh slice of pizza and shredded winter salad - very good) before I returned to the halls for a few more hours.

Since I was already in the Bankside area, I decided to use the self-guided walking tour to find other interesting sites. I made my way to Borough Market and stopped in at Southwark Cathedral. There is no charge to visit the building, and rehearsals for a service were underway when I was there. After a reading, the choir practiced a hymn I didn’t recognize. The choir director spent a few minutes talking to the teen aged choir members, and then the organ struck a chord and the choir launched into a rousing version of “God Save the Queen”. I got goosebumps listening to their voices echo in the beautiful building.

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London Continued - Stonehenge/Salisbury and Hampton Court Palace

One of the most-anticipated days of my trip was a visit to Stonehenge. I researched tour options on the internet, and debated the pros and cons of a full service guided tour from London versus doing it on my own. I decided I wanted the flexibility of an independent trip. I pre-purchased a round trip train ticket between London and Salisbury and made reservations with the Stonehenge Tour for bus transportation and admission to Stonehenge.

The tour fee included an audio guide that provided a brief overview of the history of the area as the bus traveled the short distance through the countryside to Stonehenge. After arriving, I made a beeline for the exhibition enter and took in the informational displays that included artifacts from the site. The site is about a mile from the exhibition center, and buses continually shuttle tourists back and forth. I elected to walk to the site so I could experience it from several angles as I approached it. The stones are not as big as I they seem to be in pictures, but it is still impressive. I used the audio guide to learn more as I circled the stones, and then I made my way back to the exhibition center where I visited the gift shop and the small cafeteria. I caught the Stonehenge Tour bus and returned to Salisbury. In total, I spent about 2.5 hours at Stonehenge.

Once I got off the bus at the train station, it took about 15 minutes for me to walk to the beautiful cathedral. There is no admission fee to the building, and I spent about 90 minutes on a docent-led tour through the interior. After the tour, I made my way to the Magna Carta exhibit where one of four remaining copies is displayed in a climate controlled environment. I made some purchases at the gift shop, and then crossed the lawn to visit the small Museum of Salisbury.

It was a beautiful day, and I as I was admiring the garden beds around the museum, I was approached by two local women. They asked me where I was from, and we had fun comparing Minnesota and English gardening tales. It was a memorable “back door” experience and I was glad that I decided to do the Salisbury/Stonehenge day on my own.

On my last day in London, I took a day trip to Hampton Court with my neighbors and their two children. We used our Oyster Cards to take the train from Waterloo Station to Hampton, and then made the short walk to the palace. We agreed to split up so that we could all explore at our leisure. I used the audio tour to visit Henry VIII’s apartments and kitchens, and then we met up for lunch at one of the palace cafes. I still had a few things I wanted to visit via the audio tour, so we agreed to meet again later that afternoon when we strolled around the beautifully landscaped grounds and navigated the maze. We made sure we checked out the gift shops situated throughout the property and then headed back to London. Hampton Court is equally enjoyable for adults and children, and it is a convenient day trip from London.

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London - Reflections and Lessons Learned

•Packing. I made a packing list based on my experience and suggestions from this forum. It was the lightest I had ever packed for a seven day trip, and I could have managed with even less. I am not adverse to sink laundry and wearing the same thing more than once on the trip, and I don't need a full supply of all the health and beauty products I use at home. (And next time I won't wear that heavy knit sweater on the airplane. It was loaded with metallic threads and I got a full TSA pat down!)

•Itinerary. Planning is almost as much fun as the trip. The temptation is to try and cram as much as possible especially for first timers. Based on experience, I stuck to the model that works for me; one scheduled activity per day, a day trip (or two) for some variety without the hassle of changing hotels, and a laundry list of other interesting things to do and see. I wasn't madly rushing from one place to another, and I was able to really enjoy the things I wanted to see on this trip.

•Traveling with technology. I decided to leave the iPad at home and use my phone instead. I downloaded maps and my planning notes, and I used hotel Wi-Fi and hotspots as needed. With the exception of the late news, I didn't watch any television. I was pretty much unplugged for the duration of my trip, and it was nice.

•Walking. I expected to walk a lot on this trip, and I prepared by working up to 4 miles each day while wearing the shoes I planned to take with me. I was still tired at the end of the day, and standing for long periods of time on walking tours was uncomfortable at times, but I didn't suffer with blisters or sore feet.

•Meals: The continental breakfast at the Ashburn was plenty to keep me full until early afternoon. I ate lunch at museum cafeterias several times and found that they were good food for good value and convenient. If I needed a pick-me-up, I ducked into a convenience store for an energy bar and a piece of fruit. I treated myself to a delicious Indian dinner, and I loved the Pret a Manger salad selection.

Miscellaneous: a) Although I was leery about it, I liked traveling solo. I got to see and do what I wanted at my own pace. And for some reason, I found that I visited with strangers I met along the way more frequently b) Traveling with children has a different set of considerations than with adults. c) Walking tours in London are the best!! d) I have travel templates that will make future trips easier. They include packing lists, instructions for house-sitter and cat-sitters, trip itinerary and day-by-day schedule, contact information. f) Mass transportation is the easiest and most affordable way to get around. Use it whenever feasible. e) Even in 2017, people are thrilled to get postcards from overseas.

Posted by
6098 posts

Thanks for this great report, TC! I had a solo week in London last fall and I wish I'd been as organized, and as prepared for major walking, as you. It was wonderful but I was worn out at the end of each day. I've stayed in the Gloucester Road area (on a previous trip) and it's a great choice.

Next time I'll look for that Tube walk, it sounds very interesting and I hadn't heard of it before. I took a couple of the London Walks on a previous trip, but this time their brochure put me off -- lots of cutesy language and little specific description of what the walk covers. Their walks may be just as good but their marketing strategy has changed to target different customers. (Or maybe I'm just older now and "wiser.")

I agree with you about public transportation but I do like to use a taxi to get to the hotel when arriving in a city with bags. I think you might agree after your experience between Victoria and Gloucester Road. The tube is fast and efficient but you have to be able to handle stairs and move quickly through the stations as most passengers are doing.

Thanks again for this interesting, even inspiring, report. I'm ready to return!

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985 posts

TC - I really enjoyed your trip report. We are heading to London in October for our first visit and we are really excited. Apartments in London, Paris, and Amsterdam (yes, again lol) have just been reserved and airline tickets purchased so now itinerary research can begin.
We enjoyed our RS tour that was days packed full of things to see and do, but like you, we really enjoy a trip where we don't cram too much into a day. For us that means staying longer which also allows for some day trips.

Thanks for sharing with us!

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613 posts

What a wonderful trip report! thanks for taking the time to write it.

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731 posts

TC, I thoroughly enjoyed your trip report. We, like Nance, are planning an October London trip. We will only have 3 days on our own because we plan to take the RS London tour. I'm probably in the minority but I love action packed days!

We will be taking the Stonehenge day trip and I am seriously considering the Hampton Ct tour as well!

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2249 posts

I very much enjoyed reading your trip report, TC. It sounds as if all your planning and research really paid off in affording you a terrific time. Thanks for sharing all you were able to accomplish in a relatively short time without totally wearing yourself out!

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34 posts

@MrsEB -
My flight arrived midweek at 11:00AM. Their flight arrived Sunday morning at 9:15.

They don't know why they were moved to the front of the line at passport control, but they were very grateful. Mom was suffering after effects of airsickness and the kids were still in pajamas.

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11294 posts

Great report - thanks for taking the time to write and post it.

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681 posts

Loved the report! It gave me a few ideas. We just got permission from my son (we won't go there) to take our grandson to London (his choice). He is graduating from high school and we told him to pick a place and he choice London. Can't wait to see what his ideas and ours are of travel. It will be his first plane trip, trip without parents and first overseas. Should be interesting to see how it all unfolds. Wish me luck!

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34 posts

@MrsEB - Point of clarification, "Mom" is the neighbor who traveled to London with her husband and two kids (who were in pajamas when they deplaned at Heathrow). Despite an ominous beginning, they had a great trip. The kids especially enjoyed Hampton Court, the Eye, rides on double decker buses, and the Museum of London.

@Nancy - Your grandson is going on the trip of a lifetime. It sounds as if he is going to be actively involved in planning, which will make it even more memorable.

I am already looking at airfares and plotting my next trip. I have a good reason (excuse) to return to London, as I forgot to refund my Oyster Card on the way to Gatwick, and there are several unused walking tours on my cell phone.

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6098 posts

@TC -- I had two Oyster cards with unused money on them, left over from our previous trip, when I returned to London last fall. I took them both to the TFL shop in Paddington and they credited both unused amounts to a 7-day Travelcard -- 8 years later.

@Mrs EB -- It's possible that the customs people just took pity on that young family and gave them a break. That would be consistent with the kindness and thoughtfulness Brits seem to display often.

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2020 posts

Great report!
I just found out my wife is working on a fact finding trip to London next October. She's the director of a school of Nursing and they are looking into setting up a studies abroad program in London. The school already has a full semester program in Sweden. They also do medical mission trips that count towards the clinical requirements they have. Deb has been to Honduras several times and will be going to Tanzania in April!

If she goes to London, I'm planning to go with her. It will just cost my airline ticket and food, although she gets a meal per diem and we eat light.

Your report was very helpful. We haven't been to London since 1966!

Posted by
9101 posts

A fun read TC, thanks!
We loved Keflavik airport. It's clean, modern, well designed, small and easy to navigate. And the food was amazing. Fresh, healthy and so good. They were opening for breakfast soon after we got there for a 2 hr layover and their breakfast buffet was fantastic. Food is expensive, but after a 8+ hr flight from SFO, we were thrilled to have the option of great food.
Happy to say it was not crowded both times we were there.
And the bathrooms, where the food area and shops are, were super nice. Each "stall" was a bathroom with a full closing door, a sink, very large and very clean. That was a pleasant surprise.

Posted by
12695 posts

Terrific trip report! Thanks so much for taking the time to post it!

I love Salisbury, the bus to Stonehenge, the Cathedral and the Salisbury Museum! Some of my favorite spots! Next time, spend the night and go to Evensong at the Cathedral. Really magic.

Posted by
1186 posts

I enjoyed your trip report. Thank you for sharing.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your trip report! I enjoyed it so much and took lots of notes for our July visit!

Posted by
993 posts

TC, Thank you for taking the time to write such an excellent report.

Posted by
14036 posts

Thanks for the detailed and interesting report. Traveling solo is really no big deal as you experienced. My first time to London was that of a solo traveler. I'll be going back there in a month, landing at Heathrow., also solo.

Posted by
88 posts

Thank you for the report. The Tube tour sounds interesting. I might look into it if we make a return trip.

Posted by
10 posts

Thanks so much for taking the time to detail your experience. We are heading back to London toward the end of the month. Our first trip was three years ago and only 5 days (and largely filled with football), so we're excited to spend 12 days there this time. My sister-in-law and her husband are meeting us for the last three days of the trip, before we head home and they head out into Europe (lucky!), and have requested that we take a day to visit Stonehenge. My husband wants to add Windsor- he remembers visiting as a boy and wants our boys to see it. After reading this and several other forums, I think the London Walks tour will be best for our travel style- unfortunately they don't offer Stonehenge on the dates that we are there. If we take the train ourselves, as you did, any idea if there is another train that goes to Windsor, so that we might add that bit ourselves, as well?

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34 posts

I googled "Salisbury to Windsor Eton" and got a hit for the train schedules. I found that there are no direct trains. All scheduled departures showed 3 changes. The trip durations range from 2 to 2.5 hours. Depending on how much time you want to spend at each site and what your budget is for a day trip, this may or may not work for you. In my experience, 2 hours at Stonehenge was plenty of time to enjoy the audio tour, walk from the Visitors Center to the stones, visit the gift shop and buy a snack at the small cafeteria.

If you catch the first bus from Salisbury station to Stonehenge at 9:30am and plan to spend 2 hours at the site, you could catch the 12:30pm train to Windsor Eton and get there by 3:00pm. That leaves you time to explore until closing time at 5:30pm and then catch a train for an hour return trip to London. Somewhere in there you would want to grab lunch.

If you decide to pursue a do-it-yourself day trip, you may want to consider visiting Windsor in the morning (opens at 9:30am) and making your way to Stonehenge for the afternoon (last bus leaves from the Salisbury station for Stonehenge at 5:00pm and last pickup from Stonehenge is at 7:00pm). This gives you the option of spending more time at Windsor.

Just for comparison, I looked for bus tours for Windsor and Stonehenge. I only found one, and that did not have a timetable or prices as the tour is "scheduled based on demand". I did notice that it was listed as 12 hours in duration from London's Victoria Station.

Have a great trip!

Posted by
10 posts

Thanks for the info. I actually looked at a lot of those things after reading your post and asking the questions, and found pretty much the same thing. It may just have to be a bus tour, as that might make the most sense with 6 of us going. I'll try and do some comparisons on tour companies and see what I end up with.
I am rather partial to Windsor in the morning and Stonehenge in the evening- good call.
Thanks again!

Posted by
77 posts

Thank you TC for a great report on your visit to England. Your planning for the trip is what made it memorable. I am doing the research about buying an Oyster Card for our trip. We will be in London 9/10/17 to 9/13/17.
I will come back to read your review again and again.