It’s now been almost a month since we left for the UK, which is really difficult to believe! After Mom and I had a few weeks to process, we’ve decided on some things that worked and some things that didn’t. I hope this wrap-up post helps you in your future travels to the UK!
1. Planning Our Trip
I had been planning this trip for quite a while, but we didn’t start making reservations until about ten weeks before the trip. We wanted to make sure that we got good deals, but if you’re trying to go to places that might be sold out (like Highclere Castle, the real life Downton Abbey), you can’t start planning too soon!
We really wanted a lot of time in London because there’s so much to do, so we limited our day trips to a few new places (Windsor and Stratford) and one familiar place (Oxford). Since our trip was relatively short, we decided to cut out some day trips to places that are interesting, but sort of out of the way. Places that got the cut were Bath, which I visited on my previous trip; Highclere Castle, because it’s a little out of the way and more costly to visit than other places; and Stonehenge, because it’s in the middle of nowhere.
I think this part of planning a trip to the UK is all about your personal priorities–there’s no right or wrong place to visit, you just have to decide which places are most important to you. Bath is lovely, and I would love to visit again, and I’m sure that Highclere castle is amazing, but we decided to stay closer to London and try to squeeze in all that we could there.
2. Travel to London
We booked our trip through Travelocity in order to get the best price we could, so we were slightly limited in terms of direct flights from Atlanta to London. The flights we did book worked really well. We flew British Airways, and I was really pleasantly surprised at the service and comfort. There were, unfortunately, about eighteen crying babies on our flight (at least it felt that way), but that is outside of British Airways’ control! We left Atlanta on Friday at about midnight (after a two-hour delay), and arrived in Heathrow at around 11:00 the next day.
From Heathrow, we took the Heathrow Express train service to Paddington train station. This is an absolutely easy way to get into the city center, so if you’re flying to Heathrow, I definitely recommend it. If you don’t book in advance, it can be a little expensive, but they run specials for return tickets, so keep your eye on those before you leave home. One of our cabbies told us that taking a cab from Heathrow to London was cheaper, but I simply don’t believe it. The train took us about 20 minutes, it was waiting for us when we walked out of passport control at the airport, and on top of all that, it was clean and quiet.
3. Where We Stayed
As I said earlier, we booked through Travelocity, and we found a great room at the DoubleTree London Kensington. The room was small with two twin beds, but it was absolutely perfect for our needs. South Kensington is a residential area, so the neighborhood was quiet and very safe, and the South Kensington Underground station was a straight shot from our hotel–it only took us about seven minutes to walk from the front door to the Tube.
The hotel wasn’t too far away from major attractions, however. We were able to walk to Hyde Park and Kensington Palace on the first day, and along the way we passed the Natural History Museum and Royal Albert Hall. All in all, it was the perfect home base for our trip.
When we stayed the night in Stratford, we stayed at the Grosvenor Best Western hotel. That was a little less wonderful than the DoubleTree, but for one night it wasn’t too bad. It was a five minute walk from the Royal Shakespeare Company, and it was clean. It wasn’t ideal that we had two hotels booked for the same night, but that was much easier than checking out of our London hotel and schlepping all of our luggage to Stratford, Oxford, and then back to London. If you are visiting lots of places, it might be worth it to just book separate hotel rooms, but we really enjoyed our “home base” setup!
Things to look out for when booking hotels in the UK: air conditioning, wi-fi, and breakfast. A lot of hotels in the UK don’t have air conditioning, so be sure to read the reviews online and see if that’s the case. Many will offer either free breakfast or free wi-fi, with rather exorbitant prices for whichever isn’t included. We went with free wi-fi over free breakfast, mainly because the English breakfast typically includes baked beans, and I knew I’d rather post on my blog than eat beans for breakfast.
4. Travel in the UK
While in the UK, we traveled by Tube and by rail. The Tube is really the best way to get around Central London, and I would definitely recommend purchasing some kind of Oyster card or transport card (more on that later). By the end of the week, we were self-proclaimed Tube experts. All told, we stopped (got on or off) at fifteen different Tube stops, not counting the multiple times we got on or off a train at the same station more than once! We also travelled on five Tube lines (Circle, District, Piccadilly, Bakerloo, and Central).
We took a total of nine trains, and we visited six different train stations in London alone. We also took a bus in Oxford and took a river cruise in London, so we had most types of transportation covered!
5. What Worked
- London Pass: We purchased a six-day London Pass that started on Monday. We used it every day that we were in London, and it saved us a lot of money on entrance fees.
- Oyster Card: We purchased this transport card with our London Pass. It was pre-loaded with forty pounds to use on the Underground. We used it every day of our trip, and we had a few pounds to spare on the card by the end of the week. You can buy transport cards there, but I think this was a pretty good deal!
- Getting Cash at the Atlanta Airport: We got cash at an international ATM in the airport terminal. We got a good exchange rate, and we never stopped for cash again during our trip.
- Staying in South Kensington: The hotel location and amenities were just perfect!
- Guide Book: I brought a pocket guide book with a tube map and a small fold-out street-by-street map. It was a lifesaver!
6. What Didn’t
- Shoes: We knew shoes were going to be an issue when we started packing. We couldn’t decide whether our rainboots were too heavy, but some days we wished we had brought them along!
- Cold Weather Gear: Both of us managed to pack fairly light, but still have everything we needed in terms of outerwear. There were two really cold days, however, where we left our fleece jackets at the hotel.
- Scheduling Heavy Walking Days: We tried to stagger our heaviest walking days, but it didn’t quite work. By Friday we were exhausted, and we didn’t have as much energy to do some things.
All that being said, we had an absolutely wonderful trip! We made great memories, had a blast together, and got to see the best the UK has to offer. I can’t wait to go back!!