Travel advice for trip to England
March 6, 2011 12:59 PM   Subscribe

Have two days to kill before we can get into our rental apt in London. Thinking of going to Bath or Salisbury. How do we get there and where do we stay?

In May I'm traveling to London from the US with my 80-yr-old mother and 30-yr-old niece. We have a great rental apartment in London lined up for our stay, but it's not available for a couple of days.

I was thinking we could head out to Bath or Salisbury during that time since we wanted to go there anyway. Need advice on places to stay with some English countryside charm and suggestions on transport. My niece lived in Japan (is used to driving on the left and has an international driver's license), but I'm leery of putting her behind the wheel of a rental in a strange country after a long overnight flight. Is there a train we could take?
posted by SallyHitMeOntheHead to Travel & Transportation around England (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Yes, trains from London to Bath are easy, frequent, and not expensive.
posted by Cuppatea at 1:03 PM on March 6, 2011

Going to either Bath or Salisbury is very straightforward on the train from London. You can search for trains and buy tickets in advance (likely to be much cheaper) here.

They are both very touristy towns, so there will be no shortage of places to stay, but I have no specific recommendations.
posted by kadia_a at 1:06 PM on March 6, 2011

Go to Bath, rather than Salisbury. With the exception of a trip to Stonehenge from Salisbury, Bath has far more to do, and is of much more interest. It's a bigger place, and a prettier place.

Salisbury is a 1.5 hour train ride from London Waterloo. Bath Spa is a 1.5 hour ride from London Paddington.

Don't buy on the day. The further ahead you buy, the cheaper it will be. One of the best websites to buy in advance is The Trainline.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:22 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

But for goodness' sake - if you do get a reduced price ticket, it's for a specific seat on a specific train - get on any other train and they'll make you pay again.
posted by Grangousier at 1:38 PM on March 6, 2011

If you're flying in to Heathrow and travelling by train, it'll probably be easier to get to Bath - take the Heathrow Express to London Paddington, then a train direct to Bath.

Salisbury would seem to involve either crossing London to get to London Waterloo, or getting the bus (Heathrow Whatever Link Something) to Reading, then changing trains at Basingstoke, and probably somewhere you'd have to get on one of those slightly worrying trains that split in half somewhere.

Or there's always National Express, it's about two and a half hours on a direct coach from the airport to Bath Spa, and it'll probably be a bit cheaper than the train (there are also some direct services to Salisbury, which take about the same time but are not nearly so frequent). Not quite so comfortable, but if you're from somewhere where buses are yucky, remember that a bus from a major international airport will have a lot of international travellers on it, so perhaps not quite so yucky as some other buses.
posted by Lebannen at 1:49 PM on March 6, 2011

Seconding Bath. Also, I take trains in that direction all the time.

1. As others have said, you can book a cheaper ticket in advance for a train at a specific time. But then you must be on that train. Or, you can just show up at London Paddington and buy a ticket from a ticket machine.

2. If you do the second, the train you want from London Paddington will usually have Bristol as its final destination. With Bath as the second to last stop.

3. The cleanest way to get to Bath from Heathrow is:
-- Catch the RailAir bus wich takes you from Heathrow to Reading station. You buy a ticket for it from machines at the station. Ask for the bus to Reading. I've taken it. Its a pleasant ride.
---This will drop you off at Reading train station. Reading is on the way from Paddington to Bath and so you are already part way there!
---Buy tickets to Bath from the clerks at Reading station.
posted by vacapinta at 2:22 PM on March 6, 2011

Oh. As for charming places to stay you could try some of the Alastair Sawday recommendations for Bath.
posted by vacapinta at 2:27 PM on March 6, 2011

Nthing Bath, and getting a cheap ticket. I found if you work it right the first class tickets aren't that much more than standard and are much more pleasant.

Also Bristol is only a short ride (I think 15 minutes or so) from Bath, if your going by train you want Bristol Temple Meads (in the centre) not Parkway (out in the suburbs)
posted by Z303 at 3:39 PM on March 6, 2011

Thanks for all the quick answers!!
posted by SallyHitMeOntheHead at 5:25 PM on March 6, 2011

If you're going to Bath I highly recommend you go to Wells as well
posted by gravelshoes at 5:42 AM on March 7, 2011

Bath is delightful. As people have said, there is a direct train from London. In Bath, there are the Roman Baths - they are truly astounding, get the audio tour - the 18th century Assembly rooms, a great museum of costuming, the beautiful Bath Abbey; the city offers free walking tours that are a great way to start. You can do a day (or afternoon) at the modern spa (very luxurious). 

If you want to see Stonehenge as well, Mad Max Tours has a 1/2 day and full day tours going from bath -- they have a comfortable mini-bus, and it's more personal than many guided tours.

When we were in Bath, my 50-something mother and I stayed in a private room at the YHA Hostel, and it was a good hostel (clean, cheery, recently renovated), and definitely not a party hostel - many older people were there, as well as families. It is at the top of a steep hill which can be hard to get up and down, but there is a regular public bus that runs there.

There are also several hotels and many bed & breakfast places. Because Bath is very popular, you will want to book your accommodation early. Friends of mine didn't, and stupidly went the same weekend as the Jazz festival -- they paid £100 for two, when it should have been more like £50.

Oh! and you can take tea in a Tudor house. It's quite touristy, but in a delightful way.
posted by jb at 7:50 AM on March 7, 2011

on the driving issue: the UK, or at least southern England, is one of those places where you really can go almost anywhere without a car - there are trains and public buses, even in very rural places - and I'm talking about city-style buses between villages, not just coaches between towns. Taking the train is faster than driving; bus is slower.
posted by jb at 7:54 AM on March 7, 2011

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