So you’re spending a semester studying in London or you’re holidaying here for a few weeks. Better yet, you’ve moved to London. Yay!
After you’ve seen Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and hit up a few museums and pubs, it might be time to start thinking about taking some trips outside the city to see what the rest of England is all about. If you’ve reached this point in your London life, then I’m here to help! Below are some tips and some advice on how to plan for short trips outside of the city.
First thing’s first – Where should you go?
While I definitely haven’t been everywhere, here are my top picks for day trips outside London:
2. Cambridge (visit Oxford or Cambridge, but don’t waste time on both!)
3. Bath and Stonehenge (Often done as one trip)
4. Windsor Castle
5. Leeds Castle, Dover Castle, and Canterbury (Often done as one trip)
6. Hampton Court Palace
7. Brighton (in the happier, sunnier months only)
And now here are my top weekend destinations (again, not an exhaustive list):
2. Stratford-Upon-Avon and The Cotswolds
3. The New Forest
4. Jersey or Guernsey
5. Isle of Wight (Take a train to Southampton, then hop on a ferry)
Once you’ve picked a destination, it’s time to start thinking about how you’re going to get there. For most city destinations, trains will do just fine. Try www.nationalrail.co.uk to see routes and pricing. Once you get to your destination city, you can either use public transport or one of those city tour buses to get around.
The more remote destinations like Cornwall and New Forest are reachable via train as well, but it’s best to hire a car if you can.
Then there are the specialty tourist destinations like Bath, Stonehenge, Leeds Castle, and Dover. Because these places are so popular, the easiest way to visit them is by tour bus. I’ve done several day trip tours and found them to deliver on their services in that they provide easy and direct transportation. I wouldn’t, however, expect a great tour guide or anything. Nevertheless, it’s a good option if you don’t feel like driving yourself.
The only automatic car available for rent – Oh yea, I totally crashed it.
A word on car hire in the UK:
There are four major things to know about hiring and driving a car in the UK.
- All standard rentals are manual/stick shift. You will have to pay a hefty daily rate (often £75 – £120) if you want an automatic car.
- Some major rental companies will not rent automatic cars to you if you are under 25, so double check if you’re in that age bracket.
- Driving on the left side of the road is weird, but it’s probably not as hard as you think. Just drive slowly and you’ll be OK.
- US, Canadian, Australian and European driver’s licenses will work just fine for hiring a car. I don’t know about other nations.
There’s nothing out of the ordinary involved with booking a hotel in England. I’ve noticed that some of the older and more traditional B&Bs don’t have great web reservation systems, but they’re still adequate. Bring your passport along as the hotel staff may ask you for ID (and it’s good to have your passport on you when you travel anyway).
B&B in New Forest
Travelling on a Budget
If you’re a student (or non-student) reading this and thinking “this sounds great, but it also seems really expensive”, then I’ve got a few more tips for keeping within a modest budget:
- If you’re a Youth (16 – 25) and are going to be in London for a year or more, look into the Youth Rail Pass. It costs £30 but will save you 1/3 on all rail fares for 1 year.
- Big bus tours to places like Stonehenge and Bath typically offer student discounts, so check them out.
- Travel in a group – If you can bring along 4-5 people in one car you’ll probably save on transportation. Groups of 2 or more are also eligible for group rail discounts.
- A lot of towns in the UK have youth hostels where you can get a bed for less than £10/night. You could also try camping if you’re brave enough!
- If you enjoy eating out, opt for lunch specials over dinner. Meal deals at lunch are almost always a better bargain than at dinner. Head to the local supermarket and pick up some snacks and sandwiches for dinner.