Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Planning a trip to the UK?

Bristol harbour
I love Bristol!
A friend is coming to visit England in June and I've been excitedly giving her travel tips so I thought I'd toss my ideas out for you to play with.

Tip one: Public transport
Coming to England from some countries (like New Zealand) you might not be used there being as much public transport as there is here. I never used the train in New Zealand, whereas here it's often the best (if not cheapest) way of getting around.

Trains are generally the nicest way of travelling (as long as they're not packed commuter trains). They are substantially cheaper off peak, on weekends and if booking in advance (months in advance). Try the Trainline. Be aware that trains are sometimes cancelled or late so given yourself plenty of extra time if you're doing something time-critical, especially in winter.

Inter-city coaches are much cheaper than trains and fine if you're on a budget. They can be slowed down by traffic and they need to get a bit smelly and tiresome after several hours. I've used National Express coaches several times.

In London get an Oyster card and load it up so you can easily get around by tube, bus or train. I find the tube heaps easier and quicker than buses, although I'd suggest trying to avoid travelling at rush hour in central London as the natives get pretty shirty at anyone who isn't sure of where to go or isn't moving at top speed.

Tip two: Winter closing
It annoys me mightily, but lots of the National Trust properties and some of the English Heritage properties close during winter. Closing times vary from October late December to February or March. The lovely Welsh guys Cadw are better at staying open and they have amazing castles to visit just over the border from England.

Tip three: Sunday closing
Basically the best thing to do in England on a Sunday is have an enormous roast lunch at a pub then toddle off to Evensong at a cathedral. There's not much else to do* as shops are only open for about five hours and much of the public transport doesn't run.

Tip four: Where to go
Well, I think there's so much cool stuff that it'd take a lifetime to scratch the surface, but if I had to chose a few favourites...
  • Bath - Georgian architecture, Jane Austen settings like the Pump Room and Sydney Gardens, lovely museum/art gallery called The Holburne, evidently the Roman Baths are great but I haven't been yet.
  • Salisbury or Winchester - both cute small cities with a quaint old town centre. Salisbury has a deservedly famous cathedral while Winchester has the ruins of a castle with an old round table (the inspiration for Arthur's Round Table?)
  • Cardiff - great shopping and eating and a lovely restored castle right in the middle of town. Also the Dr Who Experience for fans. 
  • Pretty much anywhere in the countryside. You'll need a hire car, but there are different sorts of gorgeous scenery all over the place. The Cotswolds are a line of hills running through Oxfordshire. Gloucestershire and surrounds - they are an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (it's a thing). The National Parks I've been to are lovely - Exmoor and the Brecon Beacons particularly. Pretty much the whole county of Dorset is stunning.
  • York or Chester (but probably York) - medieval city walls in both, Roman ruins in Chester, Tudor houses and cute little shops in both, York Minster church.
You'll notice I'm not saying London. I think most of the touristy things you see in London can be replaced with similar things elsewhere that are less crowded and cheaper to get into. I do recommend Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, but you'll have to book six months in advance to get in (worth doing nonetheless). The shopping in London is better than anywhere else in the country but Oxford Street is craaaaazy busy at peak times and some of the chain stores are overwhelmingly huge. I loved Kew Gardens.

I'm also not saying Bristol, even though I love living here. It is the best place to live in England and there is plenty for tourists to enjoy here, but it's not one of the top few tourist destinations in the UK. 

Also, I haven't yet been to Northern Ireland and I didn't looove Edinburgh. I'm looking forward to seeing more of Scotland so I'll let you know how I get on.

Tip five: A dearth of squirrels
British people don't seem to realise how cute their wildlife is and how much we foreigners would really like to see it.

You can go and see deer in deer parks and otters in WWT wetland centres (highly recommended), but there isn't really anywhere to see foxes and badgers and squirrels etc. I spent my first few trips to England staring at trees as I walked about but only saw about two squirrels in two weeks. If you want to see squirrels - go to a public park where people feed them and look on the ground as well as in trees.

Right, I think that'll do for now. Anyone got any other tips to share? Or any challenges to my admittedly biased viewpoints?

* This is a wild exaggeration.


  1. I've always wanted to visit UK. I have friends in Liverpool and, being a die-hard Beatles fan, would love to see the sights. My main hesitation is accessibility issues. I've been to other parts of Europe when I was on crutches and even that was a challenge.


  2. Hi Alicia, I'm not an expert but I know that the UK has disability discrimination laws that require businesses to make reasonable adjustments to enable people to use their services. Older buildings can be pretty inaccessible for people in wheelchairs, but it'd be worth doing some research and seeing if you could plan an enjoyable trip. A quick search gave me these links as a start: http://pantou.org/ http://www.holidaysforall.org/ http://www.visitliverpool.com/travel/access-for-all

  3. If one is a city person, then I would not miss London. It is after all, one of the great world cities. If you must, take a guided city tour, get it over with, and then wander. I really love cities, and though small ones are charming, London is a varied, rich and old metropolis (to those of us in North America) that unfolds its delights in layers and many tones.

    1. True (your last sentence). I'm thinking I've been a bit unfair to old London town. I might do a post about good bits off the usual cliche of 'the tower of London' 'Westminster Abbey' etc.


I get really excited when I shout into the void and the void says "hello" back at me. Thanks for your comments!