I loved England! I love the history and that the palaces are still being used after 500 years or more later. That you walk up to Stonehenge the same way the people who created it did in the same field is was created in. That you can walk around a village where they filmed Harry Potter and it’s a real village that looks exactly like it did in the movie. Lovely people and we were lucky to have nice weather (take note of the incredibly blue skies in a lot of the photos) and I’m assuming things have changed because our food was outstanding. We only saw the area around London | London – Winchester – Bath – Cambridge but we will definitely be back. I’m looking forward to the south end with the cliffs and beaches, the north end with York, Scotland and Ireland.
We flew into Gatwick. It’s further out than Heathrow but you’re going to want to take the train in either way and the Gatwick Express to Victoria Station was 30 min. It’s smaller and it was cheaper and a direct flight from Orlando. Don’t rent a car in London you need a special permit and its too crazy. We used the Big Bus Tours to see the sights and Uber to get to restaurants etc. You can walk pretty easily too. Didn’t use the subway so I can’t help there. You don’t need a special driver’s license or a Visa for the UK either. (I think the Visa situation is changing so check with the USA.Gov website for Visa and other traveling questions)
We didn’t really need cash but as with any trip, wait until you get to the country and use your ATM card to withdraw what you’ll need for a couple of days. That way you don’t have to guess how much cash you’ll need and you won’t be carrying around a bunch of cash that can get stolen. Just get it when you need it just like at home. Watch your purse, don’t wear a backpack with important stuff in it use it for sweaters and umbrellas, keep important items in your front pocket and pull your purse around in front of you and cover it with your arm. There are lots of places like bridges where people are crowded together they would have your stuff in 2 seconds and you’d never even realize. We didn’t have any problems but we followed those rules as well. Also, anyone trying to distract you – holding up a map and asking where something is (who actually uses maps today) or they say they found a ring and ask you if it’s yours. We had both these attempts in France it really happens, just be aware and walk away they are distracting you so their friend can pick pocket you.
There are tons of good areas to stay in. We stayed at the Marriott County Hall. It was right on the Thames River at the foot of the Westminster Bridge across from Parliament. Mayfair was super fancy and probably really expensive to stay there. Nottinghill was quiet and really pretty. Now that I’ve been there I’m not sure there’s a central location to stay. There’s so much to do and it’s spread out all over. So I would say just find a hotel you like in your price range and make sure it’s near one of the bus tour routes. Also, there are a lot of rules about where cars can stop so when you’re using Uber it helps to pay attention to where you are having them pick you up or drop you off. Our hotel had a circular drive so they could pull in off the road. That helped a lot. Keep that in mind if you are going to use Uber from your hotel.
Ok so here’s the trip…
We stayed at the Marriott County Hall, it was pricey but beautiful and we did the club level which was nice. Breakfast in the morning then appetizers and drinks in the evening. They had bottled drinks and light snacks all day too. Service was great, rooms were beautiful, location was convenient and there was a Starbucks around the corner. Yes a Starbucks, judge all you want but I love Starbucks.
I recommend tours. There are some things you are going to want to do that our touristy. Booking a tour with a guide makes it so much easier. City Wonders for Europe is great. Of all the tours we’ve taken there was only one guide we really didn’t like. By booking a tour you have your tickets in advance so you avoid the long lines of people waiting to get tickets, most of the time the tour is early before the crowds get there, you have a guide to explain everything to you. It makes a huge difference. They know where they are going and have the transportation worked out. All the tours we take are 10-12 people. They can last all day or half a day. In London we did a combo tour – The Tower of London – boat ride down the Thames – St. James Palace and the changing of the guards – Buckingham Palace – then train ride to Windsor Castle and Eaton. We also took the Big Bus and used the London Pass. The bus is hop on hop off for 1 day so start early (unless you buy multiple day passes) and the London Pass gets you into almost every museum and sight you would want to see. I was a great way to get around the city too. One of the stops was directly in front of our hotel.
The British Museum
You walk in and boom, there’s the actual Rosetta Stone. Beautiful Museum and free. The line wasn’t too long to get in, they check everyone’s bag otherwise you would probably walk right in. There’s a cute cafe at the very top in the center but there’s so much to see you could definitely spend half a day here.
Lunch at the Holburn Dining Room
This was a really cute cafe. We walked to it from our hotel. Outside was an even cuter garden cafe but they were booked up. The food and service were great.
Dinner at Qui Vadis
Took Uber to Qui Vadis, this cute little restaurant was perfect for our first night there, it was all I could do to stay awake through the meal but I’m glad I did, it was delicious.
Albert and Victoria Museum
Lunch at Egg Break in Notting Hill
Really tiny little place not too far from Kensington Palace. You definitely need Google Maps to find it. Really great fresh food.
Dinner at Salon
This really tiny place was even harder to find than Egg Break. You go into an alley that they’ve kind of turned into a shoppping area with shops that front the alley. But we found it.
St James Palace and Buckingham Palace
Windsor Castle and Eaton
Windsor Castle is in Windsor which is an hour train ride from Waterloo Station in London. It’s a really cute little town, completely overrun with tourist. There were a few cute shops and places to eat but it was crazy. Inside the castle is actually less crazy. Most of the castles you can’t take pictures inside so that’s why there are so few photos. Across the river from Windsor was Eaton where Eaton College is. I highly recommend seeing Windsor then heading to Eaton to eat it was much nicer.
Dinner at Eaton Mess in Eaton
Portobello Market Area
Thanks to our well traveled friend Ryan we visited Farm Girl in Nottinghill. This fresh mostly vegetarian restaurant tucked away in an alley. The owners dogs were hanging out in the loft area. It was most definitely that neighborhood’s BakeChop. We felt immediately at home.
Portobello Road in London’s Nottinghill area is a nice shopping area with both permanent shops and vendors in tents along the street. Some of the shops have local items but most of the vendors are just what you’d expect, trinkets and well, crap. A little further down on Portobello Road turn right onto Westbourne Grove. Its a quiet little street with local shopping and about 3 blocks down is Granger and Co. delicious fresh food also inspired by the same Australian farm fresh trend of Farm Girl.
A restaurant in the Battersea area of London. I searched all over for specific pottery to bring home. I kept seeing it in the restaurants. Simple rustic and something made in England. Finally I got a lead that the place that made the pieces was in the Battersea area. Found it and when we got there, they were closed for vacation. Damnit. So we didn’t waste the Uber trip we decided to have dinner at the place next door. Really lucky it was delicious.
There are so many landmarks in London it’s crazy. Building after building, neighborhood after neighborhood. Here are just a few. King’s Crossing Station (yes, I am a Harry Potter nerd) St Pancras Station and Waterloo.
London Portrait Gallery, a street with carriage doors still intact, Scotland Yard and the garden where Whitehall Palace (Henry VIII) once stood.
Afternoon Tea at Sketch
If the movie Alice in Wonderland was a restaurant this place would be it. They had overlays playing on the walls in the reception area and the bar which made it feel surreal. Everything was just different. I’ve been to lots and lots of afternoon teas in lots of different places. This was just a little different. It’s hard to explain. Maybe the photos of the restroom with the egg shaped stalls will give you an idea. Click the link for the website, you’ll see. The food was delicious, the service was perfect. We asked what was either the owner or the manager to take photos of us and not only was he happy to he took several in a bunch of different spots. Great way to end our trip. (We came back to London after visiting the other cities and we had tea the last day).
In London we used buses and Uber and trains. Outside of London we drove. It was tricky with the whole driving on the left side deal but with both of us looking before we turned it worked ok. Only one close call. No special license. We took the train to the Hertz at the Heathrow Airport and rented the car there and drove to Winchester. All of the drives I mapped on Google Maps and used the avoid highways filter. It kept us off the major highways and on nice scenic roads. They were all easy to drive and wide enough for 2 cars. Only in cities like Bath were there tight places that we had to move over for oncoming traffic to pass. Otherwise no problem and the scenery was beautiful. Rolling hills, forests, meadows, farms. Just beautiful.
Winchester was about 2 hours from Heathrow Airport. It’s this amazing little ancient town where King Alfred the Great ruled the Anglo-Saxon’s and Wessex in the late 800s. But the Romans were there before that and pre-historic Gauls before that. The cathedral there was built in the late 600s and later enlarged by Alfred. There’s a college and ruins of 2 castles and the great hall that holds the round table that King Henry VIII claimed was from Camelot. This tiny little town is very easy to walk. We parked at our Bed and Breakfast and didn’t use the car again until we left. The roads and walking trails are quiet and scenic. Especially the path past the ruins of Wolvesey Castle and the Bishops Palace along the river.
Hannah’s Bed and Breakfast
Beautifully completely restored stable. Not only was the entire place perfectly appointed she was a perfect host. Located in the middle of town. We happen to be in England the year they have a 2 month long drought and heat wave. She didn’t have A/C (the only place in our travels that didn’t) but it didn’t matter. We were only in the room in the evening and morning and with the windows open it was completely comfortable. In fact I had a light cover over me. I would absolutely recommend her place.
Cute little cafe upstairs right downtown. It was about 4 blocks from Hannah’s. Great food and service. We split a fresh salad and a brownie and shared the Cream Tea for 2.
The Cathedral, Wolvesey Castle Ruins and the Bishop’s Palace, and Winchester Castle Great Room
The Cathedral is over 1300 years old. The cemetary in the front yard is so old that it’s used as a park. The ruins of Wolvesey Castle date from the Saxon period and the palace for the Bishop that was built in 1110 from the still standing chapel of Wolvesey Castle. It’s just incredible that these things are still there. And being used. No one decided to tear it down and build a Marriott (little local jab there). Winchester Castle was built in the late 1100s. You can see some of the castle’s ruins. The only remaining part of the castle is the Great Hall where Henry VIII hung the round table.
Winchester College and the Walking Path
As you walk past the Cathedral you pass homes and gardens and what’s left of the gates from the walled Roman City. After passing the Winchester College and the Wolvesey Castle ruins and Bishops Palace across the street from you come to the walking path between the outside of the old wall and the stream. I must have taken 100 photos. Here’s just a few. Because, really who wants to look at 100 photos of someone else’s trip.
The Rest of this Beautiful City
Dinner at Wykeham Arms
Perfect little pub near the college with delicious food and friendly service.
Stonehenge and Wilton Manors
Between Winchester and Stonehenge was Wilton Manors and Salisbury. We stopped at Wilton Manors to see what crazy rich people live like. It was well, crazy. The house, the garage full of cars and the unbelievable garden. They allow people to roam their house during certain days and times. We saw a young man leaving the garage in one of the many fancy cars he was just a friendly and polite as everyone else we met in England.
We continued onto Salisbury. It was close to Stonehenge that’s the only reason I picked it to stay the night. Next time I would just stay in one of the hotels off the highway near Stonehenge. We didn’t visit anything in Salisbury it looked very touristy and was hard for me to find a nice place to stay. We ended up at The Chapter House which was really really old and nice enough and across from the Salisbury Cathedral which we didn’t visit. We were gone all day to Stonehenge and then just returned to our hotel to eat and go to bed. I would skip it. But Stonehenge is a must.
They just finished the new visitors center it has bathrooms, a cafeteria, a gift shop (of course) and a museum that explains the history of the site. You reserve a time to visit so they keep the crowds evened out and you can reserve a headset that narrates what you are looking at. The incredible part of this site is it’s almost the same as when it was built over 5,000 years ago. It’s about a mile from the road. So you either take a bus or you can walk through a field just as the ancient people who built it did. There’s a path around it with a little rope keeping you away from it. While standing there with it all you can see around you is fields. You can vaguely make out the old path to the river that pilgrims took.
Bath and the Cotswolds
This is of course an ancient Roman city but the Roman Bath was actually covered up and the temple was lost for hundreds of years. Later in the 1700s when they were excavating to build a new building they discovered the old Roman Bath and uncovered. Soaking in spa waters had become very fashionable and the city because the place to visit on vacation. The Georgian architecture is elegant and there are lots of places here to shop. I would definitely visit the Roman Baths as well. The museum really helped to understand the timeline and they have done a great job uncovering the ancient ruins. They are still working on it the area was so big. Most of it is well below ground level now.
We stayed in the Bath area for several days and took day trips to the small towns near by int he Cotswalds. Places where lots of movies are filmed because they are just that cute.
The Bath Priory Hotel
Lovely boutique hotel with perfect gardens and service. We walked into town but it was a little ways. It was kind of crazy driving in Bath because the streets are windy and old and small and cars park on them. So we chose to walk through the park instead.
Victoria Park (we walked through from our hotel to downtown Bath)
The Roman Baths
The water wasn’t originally green. The minerals in the water turn green now because they are exposed to sunlight. Originally the entire bath was enclosed.
Breakfast Tea and Dinner
We had breakfast at Bertinent Bakery right in the middle of Bath. As usual I got way more than we could eat.
Tea at Jolly’s Tea Room
Also right in the middle of everything. It’s in a department store. If you enter from the front street into the department store you have to go through the store to the lower level to get to Jolly’s. If you enter from the street behind the entrance to Jolly’s is right on the street. Very cute little place. Great tea. They also had a lunch menu. It reminded me of the tea room in Bergdorf Goodmans off Park Ave in New York City. Not quite as swanky but a similar feel.
Dinner at The Salamander Pub
Really delicious pub food. Fun and friendly and great drinks. We made a reservation on Open Table but I got the feeling is was unnecessary and people don’t usually make reservations there. Bangers and Mash and Curried Chicken with an egg.
The next few towns are tiny. You park and walk the whole village in an hour. We did two or three in a day and didn’t have to rush. They are simply picturesque. Streams and bridges, tithing barns, cobbled streets, kids hanging out of windows while his buddy yells up to him to come fishing (yes that happened). These tiny little towns usually had some sort of castle or manor and a cathedral or abbey. From what I understand, the manor would have been built by the owner of a land and the village would have been built around it to sustain the manor. Then the abbey or large church for the villagers and the owner of the land. It’s really strange to see because there are these really tiny really old villages that haven’t changed in hundreds of years with a giant manor. Most of these towns have had movies filmed in them. They throw hay on the streets and just like that it’s WW II or a town in Harry Potter’s world or a Victorian era village with a wolfman issue.
Bradford on Avon
We had breakfast at Timbrell’s Yard full English Breakfast, just be sure to tell them you aren’t a guest in the hotel to avoid confusion. Walk around the town, along the path that runs along the river to the Tithing Barn.
From Bradford on Avon we drove to Iford Manor which is not in any city. The house is not open and the family still lives there. But the gardens are spectacular. From the Manor I had read about a walking path through fields to another small town. Apparently you are allowed to walk through peoples pastures, even ones with animals. A small sign notes, this way and to please close the gate so the animals don’t get out. On our trek we didn’t see any animals but the view was pretty.
They filmed parts of Harry Potter here in the village and the abbey. We had lunch at King John’s Hunting Lodge Tea Rooms and Restaurant. Wandering around we just came across it. Once again a beautiful garden and great food.