What to do in the UK and thereabouts?
July 10, 2013 8:50 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I are planning on going to visit my sister's family in Oxford in late August in September. We are in the US. We figured we'd just get around to booking some flights, and everything else would fall into place. Well, it has not! We're not sure where to go, what to do, and how long to do it, so we're looking for suggestions.

We're definitely going to spend 3-4 days in Oxford. That part is settled. We figured we'd spend a few extra days seeing other stuff in or around England. That part, we don't know what to do with.

We're in our thirties, and some things we like are nature, history, ancientness, wizards, shopping, eating, wizards, games, and walking and looking at stuff.

I personally revere certain cultural exports: the Adam and Joe podcast, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden. But I've been able to get plenty of that over here. My wife (Metroid Baby) has read the Harry Potter series upwards of five times.

Can you think of a couple of key zones we should hit up? Any other British trip advice is welcomed as well.
posted by ignignokt to Travel & Transportation around Oxford, England (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You could do worse than bang around the Costwolds. Stroud could be a spot to make day trips from. Lots of history, plenty of ancientness.
posted by rtha at 9:06 PM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Plenty of Wizards at Stonehenge and Avebury.
posted by singingfish at 9:12 PM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

With your interests you could spend months in the UK and never visit the same place twice.

Some thoughts from that area of the country:
* Bath and the Roman Baths
* Hay on Wye and the Brecon Beacons National Park
* Salisbury and Stonehenge
* Avebury and Silbury hill
* Stratford-upon-Avon

I you're interested in London then there's a whole other set of things to see!
posted by kadia_a at 11:06 PM on July 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Spend an evening enjoying the delights of Birmingham.
posted by BenPens at 12:57 AM on July 11, 2013

Do not go to Birmingham... But if you do, check out the electric cinema, very close to Birmingham New Street, where you can watch a film from the comfort of a sofa.

London is obviously full of awesome things: you can easily spend a day at the Natural History Museum/British museum/Science museum/ Tate/Tate modern. All of those are free! (although getting to them in the first place is a pain).

For getting round London, the tube (underground/subway) is the easiest, although buses are more pleasent. If you're just going to the tate you can possibly even walk above ground if the weather is nice and you have a good enough map. Just get a 1-6 travelcard and that'll allow you on all buses and tubes.

Bath is lovely and easily accesible from Oxford, you could check out the roman baths as mentioned above, but also check out royal crescent (fancy houses, some Jane Austen adaptions have been filmed there).

London is full of great restaurants, as are Oxford and Bath. I love Taz in London (Turkish cuisine), Yak Yeti Yak in Bath (nepalese cuisine. Hey anyone living in Bath, or near it, check it out! Its really, really great!). I've not been to Oxford enough to recommend food there.

Things worth noting:

-Tipping is not mandatory other than in restaurants, where 10% will be fine (occasionally the tip is already added. It will tell you so on the bill)
-August shooould be fine, but don't be surprised to come here and find it wet and not even that warm. We're having a pretty good summer so far, but Britain is ever a changable place.
-Most places, including central London, as mentioned above, are walkable provided you have a decent enough map.
-Past around 9 some city's streets can get a bit unpleasent with drunken people. In the places you might visit you should be fine: touristy places are usually nicer, but its worth bearing in mind.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 1:18 AM on July 11, 2013

This previous ask might be useful too
posted by Cannon Fodder at 2:56 AM on July 11, 2013

The Herschel (he discovered Uranus) house in Bath. You can go into the pools at Bath Spa for a small fee.
posted by brujita at 3:59 AM on July 11, 2013

Re: wizards (fictional)—you might be interested in checking some of the locations featured in the Harry Potter movies.
posted by misteraitch at 4:23 AM on July 11, 2013

Response by poster: Are the Cotswolds, Avebury, and Bath are places we could explore while still stationed at Oxford? We are interested in London, so perhaps we should consider also staying there for a few days if it's not feasible to explore London from Oxford, which I suspect it isn't.

Great suggestions so far and advice thus far! Please keep them coming. And it would be great to know where we'd need to stay to be able to see a site you mention, e.g. Stroud, Oxford, London. (I'll look on Google Maps, but it's sometimes not realistic about travel times.) That'll help us quite a bit in our logistics.
posted by ignignokt at 4:33 AM on July 11, 2013

A trip to Bath or London would be a full day out from Oxford, but perfectly doable. I would strongly recommend getting the train to both, as neither are car friendly even if you do have access to one. National rail will tell you all you need to know about train journeys, plus transport for London for the tube. Its about an hour and a half on the train from Oxford to Bath. The station in Bath is farily accesible: it's about 20-30 minutes maximum from any other location in central Bath. Essentially, you leave the station then walk up the hill.

Oxford to London Paddington is about an hour, so easy for a day. Paddington is a bit far from everything, but it is of course linked via the tube to everywhere else, so no worries there. That said, a day travelcard will set you back around £40-50, so if you're going more than 2 days in a row it might be spending the night somewhere... not that hotels in London are cheap.

Ooh, impotant tip on the tube: while going on escalators, stand on the right, otherwise commuters will hate you.

Stonehenge is easiest to get to via car I think, although you can get a train then a bus.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 5:22 AM on July 11, 2013

In Oxford you'll want to do the Christ Church college tour. Christ Church provided the model for Hogwarts Hall and many other scenes were filmed in and around there.

An alternative way to get to London from Oxford is one of the two 24 hour coaches services that run from here, The Oxford Tube and the X90. It's slightly longer than the train but each service has multiple stops in London, giving you a bit more choice in where you want to explore.

Once you're in London you then have the option of visiting the Harry Potter WB Studio Tour which is about 35-40 minutes from London Euston by train.
posted by garrett at 6:07 AM on July 11, 2013

I completely forgot to add, while in Oxford you really should visit the Museum of the History of Science, the Pitt Rivers Museum of Anthropology, and the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology.

They will satiate your inner history buffs, especially The Pitt Rivers.
posted by garrett at 6:16 AM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just get a 1-6 travelcard and that'll allow you on all buses and tubes.

I think 1-6 is serious overkill for normal London tourist-y things. They should be able to get an Oyster card sent to the sister's house or get one in London, which is probably the most cost-effective option, as it should cap daily expenditures at the cost of a day pass. (The TFL website tells me there are now 'vistor Oyster cards', but I can't work out what the difference is.)
posted by hoyland at 6:37 AM on July 11, 2013

We did a day trip from London to Stonehenge and Bath. I really could have spent a couple of days in Bath. It's a twee little place and the Roman Baths were fascinating. I never did get to any of the Jane Austin stuff.

I really endorse the guided tours. The folks really have a handle on history and give you some amazing information. Normally I'd chalk them up to being too touristy, but it is WELL worth it in England. We had a morning tour of London as part of our package and we went as a goof. We were bowled over by how much the little old dude knew about London and history, and he got us GREAT viewing for the Changing of the Guard. He frog-marched us from the bus, over a hill, down the street, past the group of Japanese tourists, we watched for 5 minutes, then back to the bus.

Stonehenge has delicious hot chocolate.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:29 AM on July 11, 2013

Hoyland, I have operated on the assumption that if one is visiting London externally then a travelcard is better for the last few years, so if I could have saved myself money by getting a return then using an oyster card that would be good news!

This website has a bit on oyster cards vs travel cards.

The harry potter studio tour is awesome, although a tad expensive.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 7:29 AM on July 11, 2013

A day return Oxford to London with a travelcard is £27.70 if you leave after 9.30am, and that will do you London buses and tube for the day. That's about £4 more than a day return without the travelcard, so usually worth it if you go for the day. The buses are cheaper, but can take a while to get in and out of the cities, especially during rush hour. Staying in London overnight will help if you want to do more than a day's worth of sightseeing in London, but hotels can be pricy, and travel times can be lengthy if you stay further out.

If you plan to do a lot of travelling around the south-east by train, consider a Network Railcard - it only covers the south-east of England and it has timing restrictions, but it might save you money overall (you can buy tickets for both of you with one railcard).

Daily Info is the local guide to Oxford - aimed more at locals than visitors, but it's handy for narrowing down pubs and restaurants by location and cuisine, it has a visitor's guide, and it's the place to find anything interesting which is happening on the specific days you're there. My food recommendation is the Yeti Nepalese restaurant.
posted by penguinliz at 7:44 AM on July 11, 2013

Get afternoon tea at Sally Lunn's in Bath.
posted by brujita at 8:13 AM on July 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

We're in our thirties, and some things we like are nature, history, ancientness, wizards, shopping, eating, wizards, games, and walking and looking at stuff.

When touring west England, we stationed ourselves in Bath and then day tripped to Stonehenge/Avebury (with Mad Max tours - great tour company), and then to Glastonbury (1.5 hours - train to Briston, local bus to Glastonbury).

by the list of what you like, the vast majority of Britain would be great for you - there is history and ancientness and walking and nature and tasty food in just about every old city/town in the country. Avoid Milton Keynes or industrial estates and you'll do fine. That said, the Cotswolds (near Oxford) are especially picturesque, and since you know people there (and you can't do everything), it makes sense to concentrate on London and west England rather than try to jump around too much. Bath is great for tourism - it's got ancient and medieval and 18th century all layered together in a small, walkable town. The Roman Baths museum is very good.

And if you're in the vicinity, Glastonbury is a wonderful town to visit. The Abbey (definitely historical, though not ancient) has one of the best audio tours I've ever heard - we spend hours there happily. The Tor is totally worth the climb - the view is amazing; the local farming museum is cool too. And if you want wizards/pagan stuff, it's everywhere. Also fish and chips, but not as good as in Lincoln.
posted by jb at 10:24 AM on July 11, 2013

in London, one the best things to do are the London Walks tours. And, if you like meat pies, go have a pie at the Blackfriars Pub for me. (Still drooling thinking of it).
posted by jb at 10:26 AM on July 11, 2013

I wrote quite a lot about what to do in/around Oxford in this thread, and a lot of the other answers seem to be along the lines you're looking for.
posted by Ned G at 9:44 AM on July 12, 2013

Your family will hopefully have recommendations for Oxford and around. If not, there have been recent threads here on Oxford itself. Blenheim Palace is worth a visit and will satisfy any stately palace itch you might have. Within Oxford itself, there is tons of strange and interesting history. This is where Tolkien wrote the Hobbit and the home of the beautiful Bodleian Library and layers of history.

You could do a day trip into London. The reason to consider this is that London hotel prices are insanely expensive. And trains from Oxford to Paddington can take as little as one hour. So, there's no reason to stay in London. People do Oxford day trips from London all the time.

If you want to see Avebury, which I recommend, you take the train to Swindon, an hour-long train trip, then take Bus 49 from Swindon bus station to Avebury - about a 1/2 hour trip

Bath Spa is also recommended. It is a gorgeous town and the Roman Baths are great. It is about 1.5 hour train ride from Oxford and you could easily spend the day there.

There's no reason to stay overnight anywhere but Oxford as there is plenty in the area, unless there is something specific you want to see further out.

Within your area, there's not much else I'd recommend for the short time you have unless you have a car. Do you? I live in the Cotswolds near Stroud and while there is tons to see and do, most of it is fairly inaccessible by public transport.
posted by vacapinta at 3:28 AM on July 15, 2013

Response by poster: Wow. Thanks, all. I could probably fill a year with all of your suggestions! Starting to rank and pick what we want to see, then sort them and map them.

Point taken about really expensive London hotels – maybe we'll just make a day trip there. I think my sister's family does have a car, but we're going to assume we don't have access to it, partly just to prune the tree of possibilities a bit.
posted by ignignokt at 8:45 PM on July 15, 2013

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