Visiting England

Parent Q&A

  • Navigation tools for UK Trip?

    (8 replies)

    My family and I will be travelling to the UK in January for 9 days and, while there, will rent a car to visit various places in and around Oxford. Unfortunately most of the rental cars do not come equipped with navigation systems so we are left to fend for ourselves. We have cell phones with AT and T as well as Verizon service and have Google maps installed in them. Our fear is that if we use these applications while driving around the countryside the cost of the data used will be very expensive. We would very much appreciate knowing from experienced travelers if there are any other type of navigation systems or applications which we could use while we are there without incurring a large bill. Many thanks.. 

    I always used these funny things called maps.  You plan your route in advance.  If something new crops up, you pull off the road and look for a new route.  Never had a problem -- from Cornwall to Land's End.  I like the spiral-bound AA Road Atlas:

    You can download maps on Google to use offline in the Google maps app. You can also download TripAdvisor city guides to use offline within the app. 

    Or, get T-Mobile and stop worrying about international roaming and data charges!

    We moved from Oakland to London a few years ago. There are plenty of cell phone stores on any high road (main street) where you can pick up a chip and have it put into your phone for the duration of your trip. Then before you head back you can just pop your regular, US SIM card back in. I have an unlimited plan for about $35/month through a UK carrier called Vodafone, and there are much cheaper packages available for less data, which would be fine for the duration of your trip. I’ve held onto my US SIM card while we’ve lived here and have switched back and forth between the two whenever we visit the US and then come back here. Enjoy, and definitely check out the Cotswold villages during your trip!   

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Visiting England


 England, Ireland, Scotland vacation

March 2013

Our family is planning a trip this summer for 3 weeks in June to England, Ireland and Scotland. We would love ideas on where to go and how to figure the timing of the trip since we want to cover alot of ground in a short time. Are there any regional events we should try and attend? We will be flying into London and renting a car. Our two children are 15 and 17 years old. Looking forward to the British Isles. Karen

Based upon my experience, please note that it takes a lot longer to drive anywhere in the UK than you think that it will! I've learned to allot twice as much time for car travel than I think that I should need due to windy, slow roads. I suppose if you were strictly sticking to the M roads this might not be an issue, but it wouldn't make for all that fun of a trip!

As for where to go, it really depends upon what types of things your family enjoys. Do you like to visit castles? Roman sites? Beautiful natural scenery? Museums? I suggest that you spend some time looking at the English Heritage ( and National Trust ( websites for ideas about where to go. You could spend three weeks just seeing national parks, or just seeing cathedrals, etc. All of it is worth seeing!

I'm a believer in the 'thumbprint theory' of travel, where you pick a spot on a map and then explore whatever fits under your thumbprint, so that you really get to know a place. I'm jealous of your trip! You're going to have a great time.

I would recommend not trying to hit all three countries. Our only disappointing vacation to England & Scotland involved too much time in the car and not enough time settled in one place.

Favorite places for this family: Edinburgh; Lake District; London.

Do not rent a car in London. Don't. Seriously. Even if you fly into London and stay for a bit, use the Tube, train or hired car to get to wherever you're staying. Return to Heathrow or the outskirts to rent a car and drive elsewhere. (Have you ever driven on the left side of the road? It can be harder to adjust to than you might think.)

Without knowing your interests, it is difficult/impossible to know what to recommend. For example, if you like plays, then the Edinburgh festival is a must (or almost a must). If you don't, then it's not worth battling the crowds. If you like hiking/walking and beautiful scenery, the Lake District is the best. If you don't, then it's not worth the hassle of getting there.

I have far too many possible recs for this post. If you can give more info about what you think you'd like to do/see, I'd be happy to forward tips on where to go/stay/etc.  Love the Isles

Hello First piece of advice might be to get your pounds now as the pound is pretty weak against the dollar at the moment. That could change in any way of course, but it is the lowest I have seen for a while. As for places to go as a brit who lives in Berkeley the best places I took my California in-laws to were:

Bath - thermal spa - bit expensive but the roof top pool overlooking the cathedral is pretty cool (actually naturally heated) and as long as you are not expecting a luxurious spa it tends to go down well. The city is really nice with Royal Crescent and Jane Austin's house. The surrounding countryside is good as well.

Oxford and then the Cotswolds visiting Blenheim palace on the way from Oxford to the Cotswolds or back. For the Cotswolds Bibury and Lower Slaughter are nice villages. Lots of walks.

Then there is Herefordshire a little further west. There is the Hay literary festival at the end of May and beginning of June that is really good but very busy. GB In Herefordshire I can recommend a crazy place called The Howling Hill House This is an experience. I and my inlaws loved it but you have to accept that it is quirky and run by a crazy (really nice) man. Maybe read some trip advisor reviews to see how it can divide opinion.

Bath, Oxford, the Cotswolds and Herefordshire are all pretty near (1-2hrs drive) from each other in a sort of loop so it work well. Other places like Dorset, Devon and Cornwall are nice as well but involve more of a drive. These are south west of London.

For Scotland Edinburgh is definitely the best city in Scotland and then the highlands and Islands are pretty spectacular. There are a lot of different areas but I like the Isle of Mull which is a drive from Glasgow and then a ferry across from Oban. I would avoid the east coast of Scotland apart from maybe St. Andrews.

Are you into literature? If so, I'd go to Stratford-upon-Avon and Bath. Bath's celebrating the 200th anniversary of the first publication of Pride and Prejudice this year. (you can check Stratford's super close to Warwick, a small village that in the eyes of Americans is cute and nothing like what you get here. There's also Warwick Castle, where they hold festivals of all sorts all year round.

Oxford, near London (and Stratford) is a must. Beautiful buildings, free museums like the Ashmolean, the Pitt Rivers. But really, just wandering around is worth it. The architecture is so different from here. Some colleges charge a small fee to go in and see their grounds. The Christ Church is where Harry Potter was filmed. Lovely grounds for a pic-nic on the meadows, weather permitting.

In northern England the Lake District is beautiful. Plenty of outdoor activities to do if you like walking, trekking, biking etc. Also in the north, the city of York. We've only been once but we liked it. Loved their famous tea room Betty's cafe. Very English, very proper. I could go on and on about England (don't know much about Scotland and nothing about Ireland) and would move there if I could! Have a great holiday! England, oh my England!

You'll have a great time! Last summer we took a fantastic 2.5 week driving trip from London to Dublin via Wales -- three adults and 2 teen/preteen boys. We stayed a few nights in London first, which was fun for everybody, and then rented a car and drove across Wales all the way up to the north where we took a 3-hr ferry trip to Dublin. (BTW it's probably going to be cheaper to fly to Ireland or take a ferry and get a new rental in Ireland than to take your London rental on the ferry and drop it in Ireland.)

Scotland is really great, but I want to highly recommend going east thru Wales instead of north to Scotland to get to Ireland.  It's easy to get to Dublin from Wales. So from London, it's only a 3 hour drive to Cardiff, and Bath is on the way. Just over the border you have the surreal Tintern Abbey. Aside from Cardiff, which is not a very big city, there are hardly any people in Wales - they say there are 4 times as many sheep as people in Wales.

The countryside and coast are very beautiful and misty. That's where Merlin and all that lot comes from. There are some really charming coastal towns in the south. As you go north, all the signs are in Welsh, and people are speaking Welsh, which is a lovely language to the ear. What we loved most about Wales was the string of imposing castles built in the late 1200's along the western coast of Wales by Edward I to try to get control over the Welsh. Our favorite part of the trip was walking through these castles and visiting the small towns around them. Many of the castles are close to Roman ruins which are also pretty cool. Another top pick for all ages was a night in Portmeirion in N. Wales which was a total splurge that was totally worth it.

We didn't need a car in Dublin, so we dropped it at the ferry building in Wales and got a cab to the hotel in Dublin, but we rented a car very cheaply for a couple days to drive down to Cork to visit relatives. Dublin was also very fun for both the adults and the teens and I wish we'd had more than 4 days to explore there.

We used Tripadvisor to find some great places to stay - a comfortable moderate hotel near the London Eye, a shabby little Victorian seaside hotel in Wales with incredible views, food and wine, a 'family room' in Caernarfon with 5 twin beds in it (!) and fabulous Welsh lamb and cheeses for dinner, and a B&B on a farm near Cardiff with a river, sheep, woodsy footpaths, and a Victorian 'folly' castle we could walk to. That farm was a great stress reliever after the big city hubbub of London and I think was my 11-year-old's favorite part of the trip.

We spent two weeks in Scotland and England when our girls were 12 and 14 and it was one of our best family vacations. Some highlights for the girls were a day trip we took from Edinburgh to Sterling Castle and the Highlands (it was a van tour); the train museum in York (huge and free) and the York Museum; everything we did in Bath, including the Roman Baths, tea at the Pump Room, and a van tour to Stonehenge and other sights around Bath. We ended the trip in London, where the only thing that was a bust was a visit to the Tower of London, mostly because it was raining. We let the girls sleep in one day and my husband and I visited the Churchill War Rooms which was fascinating, especially for WWII history buffs. If you like theatre, there is a half-price ticket booth in Leicester Square for West End theatres and unlike the one in NYC, it has a shorter line and sells tickets for more than just same-day performances.

In London, most of the art museums are free, so if the kids get bored easily, you don't feel like you've wasted money if your visit is a quick one. Our girls most enjoyed the British Library (saw original Beatles lyrics as well as a Shakespeare folio) and Victoria and Albert Museum, where you could spend days.

We did not rent a car but took trains and public transportation, which worked out just fine. We used Rick Steves' Great Britain book to help us find lodging and got family rooms at B&Bs in Edinburgh, York and Bath, and rented an apartment in London. The most surprising thing to me was that we had pretty good food everywhere, British cuisine has come a long way, even my vegetarian daughter could find plenty of choices (and we became very fond of Wagamama).

Have a great time! An Anglophile

Travel to North England/Scotland with kids

Feb 2009 

We are planning a trip to Britain at the end of March/early April and I'm looking for suggestions on where to go with a 2 and 4 year old. We will be in London for about 4 days, then we would like to leave the city for Scotland or northern England for about 5 days. I think we'd like to go somewhere with accessible outdoor activities for kids (easy walk to beach, easy hikes, bikeriding, other fun things I'm not thinking of). In addition, it would be nice to be close to a town where we could buy groceries, or go out to eat on ocassion. Ideally, we would like to rent a house, as we'll be traveling with another couple with a small child. I'd appreciate any recommendations, particularly if you've made such a trip with kids. amg

They would like Edinburgh Castle, I think. York is also very cool and has some very user friendly museums/attractions on their archaeological sites. I would look for Bed and Breakfasts who welcome children. (They are not the expensive sort of operations we call b and b's here, for the most part. Also, the National Trust rents out very cool houses with historical significance, like an old lighthouse, old farm house, manor, etc. KL

I would recommend the Lake District. The scenery there is beautiful and it is an area with lots of holiday accommodation and outdoor activities. The weather at that time of year is somewhat unpredictable so you should expect anything from snow to sunshine. Here are a couple of websites that I found: Tiffany

We took my then-18month old to England and Scotland a few years ago, with my dad. I would recommend staying in apartments. We had 2 BR apartments, and it was much better than hotels. You can put the kids to bed and still have a ''family room'' to hang out in, which you don't with a hotel room. You can cook some meals, and at least have breakfast foods ready for the kids. And the cost was generally less than a hotel. Edinburgh was a great place to visit. We stayed in an apt called Knights Residence. It was modern and clean and the staff was very friendly. They had a DVD library, and it was located just south of the Castle. Easy walk to the Castle and the main street; the immediate surroundings had an adult bookstore and a shady-looking pub, but we didn't feel uncomfortable and other shops/groceries/pubs were a short walk away. I would definitely recommend it.

York is also a great place to visit. The old town and walls are mostly intact, and you get a great sense of a midieval town. Unfortunately, the shops are pretty touristy and lots of big chain stores (e.g. Gap) around. But it is still worth visiting. we stayed in a B&B outside the walls, maybe a quarter mile walk, so it was not inconvenient. I wouldn't bother stopping in Newcastle. Or at least there was not specific reason we saw to stop there. One thing we were surprised at in England was that they don't allow kids in the pubs. They do in some pubs where they serve food and have special family rooms. Given that we think of the UK has having ''liberal attitudes'' toward drinking, I was a bit surprised. They do have the concept of ''sunday roast'', and most pubs have this on the menu for an early sunday supper. Bryan in Oakland

I am sorry I did not respond earlier. I would take the kids up north to Loch Ness. There are great small towns to stay in or you could opt for the bigger city of Inverness. Stirling is soaked in William Wallace historic sites. Also, down South of Oban (which is a great town) there are magical spots which have prehistoric burial cairns, standing stones, medieval knight tombstones, etc... We stayed at a Bed and Breakfast in Kilmartin where many of these sites are located. It is called Dunchraigaig House. Lovely place! Have a wonderful time! jmb

I was raised in the North of England and my eldest child spent every summer with his grandparents there. We also took our little one back when he was a few months old, and were really impressed by the rest stop facilities for families along both the A1 and M1. Family bathrooms seem to be the norm too.

Yes, everyone goes to York and Edinborough and for good reason, both places are awesome. Other areas to look into are the city of Durham, the Dales (think James Herriot country), Alnwick castle (a film location for Harry Potter), and the Holy Island of Lindsifarne (it becomes an island when the tide goes out). Beamish museum is a must see and it is close to Newcastle upon Tyne where you can see the Angel of the North and walk across the millenium pedestrian bridge. If you have the time, there is a mini cruise that leaves from Tyneside to Amsterdam. You travel there and back at night and get one day in Amsterdam and it is inexpensive.

There is a great World War II museum near York called Eden camp where you experience life during the war. Don't forget Harrogate where you can drink tea at Betty's and Knaresborough where you find Mother Shipton's cave. Oh, Whitby is a great place for kids, arcade games, dracula, a beach and Captain Cook. Have you thought about Hadrian's wall and the Lake District (one of the most beautiful places in the world)? I could go on. The North of England is magical and most people are friendly and love to talk to Americans.

I am not sure about the pub comment, maybe it is particular pubs. I have always taken my children into pubs to eat where the food is usually reasonable and yummy. They even have pubs with play areas! Happy travels. Andi

Lake District

September 2003

This is a vacation we've done and I'd do it again at the drop of a hat.

One of our favorite places in the world is the Lake District of England, just south of the Scottish border. Beautiful scenery, walks about marvelaous lakes ranging from the easy (Tarn How) to strenous (Wastwater), Beatrix Potter land for little kids, easy day trips to Yorkshire (Fountains Abbey should not be missed) and Hadrian's Wall, boat rides on Coniston Water. I'd rent a house or houses (depending on how much time you want to be in each other's company) in Ambleside and spend a week. Fly Continental into Manchester via Newark and rent a car for the easy drive to the Lakes. Then I'd drive down to London (unless I wanted to hop up to Scotland for a few days to see Loch Lomond and Loch Ness), with a stopover in Warwick (Warwick Castle is hecka fun, although now run by Madame Tussaud's) or Stratford (Shakespeare country). Drop the rental car at Heathrow (no way will I drive in London) and have transport company pick you up for drive to hotel or, again, rental flats. We love having the extra space/privacy of a flat and the ability to have breakfast and the occasional dinner in rather than always having to go out for food. Theaters (there's something for every age group: Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap, Queen's We Will Rock You, Les Miz, Shakespears at the Bobe Theatre, etc. etc. etc.), history (the Tower, Buckingham Palace), museums galore (and most of them free). Day trips to places like Windsor (not just the castle, Legoland Windsor is 10 times better than San Diego), Stonehenge (touristy, but still magnificent), and Hampton Court (Henry VII's place and fantastic tour guides in period costume). No problem finding a week's worth of things to do. For a third week, you could take the channel tunnel train over to Paris.

If this sounds interesting and you want any specifics, like rental agencies for the Lakes and/or London and ideas about getting around (e.g., best buys for Tube passes), drop me a line and I'll be happy to give you web sites, phone #'s, etc. Happy travels, wherever you go. norm

Taking Kids to England

re: travelling to england. We spent 6 weeks in England last summer with our then two year old daughter. You don't mention the ages of your kids but if they like to travel they will have a great time. The Cotswolds are lovely and I also highly recommend the Lake district- its beautiful and there are sheep cows etc roaming all over, loads of green fields and walks-country living!(Beatrix Potter lived and painted there). Kids love castles and there are plenty to choose from but they can be very espensive to get in so take the time to investigate costs before you choose. Cornwall is lovely too, but more touristy as its coast and beach. Brighton is always a lot of fun for the kids because of the amusement park type rides on the boardwalk and the beach (rocky beach cold water but thats england for you-its still loads of fun).

As to cheapest stays: With families your options are more restricted, but there are hostels with family rooms (so family all sleeps together) still much cheaper than other options. Next best bet are B and Bs but quality varies tremendously to great to awful, so again cull through travel guides before you book. Book ahead as summer is a difficult time to find accomodations.

In London, the tower of london and madame tussauds are what kids usually like to see. Greenwich is a lovely outing as well (loads of green space views lots of other kids and play areas, some deer...). Get to greenwich on a double decker bus, and sit upstairs it gives you a great view of the city and the kids will love it. Have a good trip. Christina

Oxford with 1 year olds

We are going to Oxford, England, for a week in June with our 1-year old twins, and I'm wondering if anyone has any suggestions for:
- What to do with them in the area (parks, restaurants, entertainment)
- Travel tips - To stroller or not to stroller? How to get from Heathrow to Oxford? Renting a car (with carseats). What items should we absolutely bring with us, and what should we leave at home?
- How to adjust to the time change
Thank you for any and all advice/recommendations! Leigh (2001)

I don't have kids but I am from England and can recommend some things. Firstly, if you're going to rent a car, and I always do, make sure you book it from the US, as the price will triple when you get there if not. You can order car seats for the children, and is enforced by law. I would pick the car up from the airport and get on the orbital motorway, M25, and go clockwise, which would be north from Heathrow. Signs are excellent there. Driving in the UK has 2 main rules besides driving on the left. 1. keep the flow of traffic moving,i.e., let people in, and 2. always keep to the left unless overtaking. Americans tend to putter along in the fast lane, and the Brits won't stand for it. It's illegal there to overtake on the left. Most restaurants are child friendly, same as restaurants in the US, although I don't think many provide toys,crayons etc. To be honest, Oxford is my favorite city, but I don't see much attraction for 1 year olds. A lot of college's, churches, and cobbled streets, and pubs too. You may have to be imaginative, and bring your own entertainment. Adjusting to the time change, you'll probably arrive early in the day or noonish and feel tired. Do not go to bed, even for a nap. Go to bed early that night, say 8pm, and you'll wake up about 7am and feel ok. Coming back is a different story I would stroller, they are called pushchairs there, because in Oxford you'll do a lot of walking. Cars aren't allowed everywhere. Hope this is helpful Paula