Saturday, March 26, 2011

London and southern England (Sept. 17-22)

5/29 Update: Departure date from Houston is Sept. 17, so I get into London's Heathrow Airport on the morning of Sept. 18.
9/5 Update: Decided to add one day to the stay (4 days in town, 1 day out of town).

I will have a Eurail pass before I leave, I'll get the one that is good for about 2 months and allows me unlimited access. The rail pass also allows me discounts on buses, ferries, and other stuff along my way, but I plan to do the vast majority of my intercity travel by rail.

I went to England with my family after I graduated high school in 1984. We went to Paris in 1988 after I graduated college, before I started my job (and ironically, I'll visit after I leave my job with that same company). But that's the extent of my journeys in Europe. I've always wanted to do an open-jaw trip (fly into city A, travel on my own to city B, and fly home from there) so that's where this trip came from. And a co-worker suggested that "if you have the chance to do something that you've wanted to do since you were a kid, do it" so I've got a few of those sprinkled in this trip too.
So, England. I have (reluctantly) decided not to hit the rest of the British Isles on this trip (like Ireland or  Scotland) due to too much other stuff. I plan on someday coming back and spending time in Glasgow and Dublin, as well as London again, along with maybe a stopover in Iceland. But that's another trip.
In 1984 we saw London and did a guided tour north of there, which took us through Oxford, Chipping Campden, Stratford-upon-Avon, Bath, and Tintern Abbey Chepstow (Wales). The main thing that I did not see back then was Stonehenge, so that's on my list this time. When I was in high school I started to really get into Arthurian legend, so I'd like to visit Tintagel Castle (Wikipedia, English Heritage) in Cornwall, in the far southwest. That's a 4-hour drive from London, though, which makes it part of an all-day trip (with Stonehenge on the way). There's probably a bus/train connection out there.

I like old stuff - Roman ruins, medieval castles, etc. - but I do love modern cities, too, especially when the new cities have old buildings. In the US, anything older than 100 years or so is practically ancient, so that's why I'm looking forward to Europe.

Here's what Frommer's suggests for a 3-day itinerary of London (not necessarily what I'd do though):
  • Day 1: Westminster Abbey, Parliament & Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, National Gallery, Covent Garden, Buckingham Palace, Tower of London
  • Day 2: British Museum, St. Paul's Cathedral, Tate Museum, the London Eye
  • Day 3: Windsor Castle, Hyde Park, Grosvenor Square, Oxford Street, Bond Street, Burlington Arcade, Picadilly Circus
Other things include the Royal Greenwich Observatory, Victoria & Albert Museum, Westminster Bridge, the Globe Theater, the Millennium Bridge, Tower Bridge, Apsley House, and St. James Park. Will probably skip the Tate since Modern Art isn't my thing.

I know there's a lot more that I can do in just 3 days but I'd like to limit it to that, at least for planning purposes. Maybe add one more day for stuff outside London proper, like Stonehenge or maybe even Bath again.

London to Paris via the Eurostar high-speed train through the Chunnel takes 2 hrs 15 min. Not included on the Eurail Pass, but they do give a discount for pass holders. The 8:02am train sounds reasonable, arriving at 11:17am.


  1. I would skip Tate Modern (unless you really like modern art - but there's nothing particularly "England" about it. We went to Hampton Court Palace (Henry VIII) and it was the highlight of our week there; and we missed Royal Museum in Greenwich, where I really wanted to plant one foot in each hemisphere.

  2. Ooh, good call on Greenwich! That goes on my to-do list. Not into modern art, cross that one off. I like old stuff, I'll add the Hampton Court Palace to the list too.

  3. You know that Windsor castle is in Windsor, which isn't London - right?

    I think that it would take longer than 4 hours to drive to Cornwall in likelihood too - but if you are set on Cornwall I would suggest making time for the Eden Project. The Gardens of Heligan are supposed to be special too. Cornwall is not a day trip.

    I would of course suggest Cambridge - which is a day trip from Cambridge, and is wonderful.

    In London I would try for the Natural History Museum (free) which is not only a cool museum, but the architecture is amazing too. It's also right next to the Science Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum (all free).

    Tower Bridge is right by the Tower of London (which is expensive, but worth a proper guided tour) - listen to my Lonely Planet podcast on London for more info. I work right by Tower Bridge too, so if you wanted to schedule lunch in on that day there's another unmissable stop on your tour ;)

  4. Honestly, I haven't really started looking at where things are and which ones I should group geographically. As for the 4 hours to Cornwall, that's what Google Maps says, so I'm just treating that as a rough estimate (and of course, longer with a stop at Stonehenge on the way out or back). But if Cornwall is too far for a day trip, then I could do something else that's closer.

    Remember, I haven't been to England since 1984, so anything I repeat will still be like new to me. Where's your LP podcast?

    And I will absolutely stop to see you somewhere. I took you to a Mexican restaurant, you'll have to show me something local. I'll ping you later when I get more in depth but feel free to comment anywhere else if you've got 2 pence to put in.

  5. I worked at the Natural History Museum in London for 7 years so I might be biased but it is a fantastic museum. It's right next door to the V&A and also the Science Museum (which has some good space/flight stuff), and just down the road from Hyde Park, which is great for walking.

    I agree about the Tower of London. It's worth the expense.

    My favorite thing to do in London though is to walk the South Bank from Westminster to Tower Bridge. If you have good crisp autumn weather, it can't be beat!

    You should really consider a 1-2 day side trip up to Edinburgh. The fast train from Kings Cross is under 4 hours now, I think. Overnight at a B&B or hotel on the Royal Mile so you're right in the middle of it all. Visit Edinburgh castle, go on one of the famous walking tours, eat haggis, drink whiskey, hear bagpipes, etc. It's just fantastic up there, and very atmospheric in autumn.