Made the leap for a UK trip, but need help with the itinerary!
April 2, 2018 6:46 PM   Subscribe

I did it, it was much needed, and booked a trip to the UK. It will be for 9 days (including travel time) in June. I'm not just staying in London and want to travel around the UK. I'm finding 7 day itineraries online, so I know it's possible, but what would be the major recommendations for these cities and the logistics of order? But also, should I rent a car? And also, I have a layover in Iceland now and will we have time to go hike somewhere? More questions below the fold, UK (and Iceland) experts appreciated!

Here is a tentative schedule of what my friend and I have come up with (this is all via public transportation):

-Day 1 Arrive in Gatswick airport, take the train up to St Pancras to Loughbrough (friend lives here)
-Day 2 Visit Nottingham (friend also lives here)
-Day 3 Say goodbye, head to York (chose this city because of all the rave things said about it in previous asks!)
-Day 4 York, then to Edinbrugh
-Day 5 Hadrian’s wall/Scottish countryside (unsure how to get to this or if we should switch the days?)
-Day 6 Leave Scotland, head to London, Do some London things
-Day 7 Cliffs of Dover?
-Day 8 Stonehenge??
-Day 9 Leave London, arrive in Iceland at 3pm. Hopefully go hike because it stays daylight until 2am?
-Day 10 Leave Iceland at 5pm. Arrive home.

It sounds pretty packed. It looks packed. Are we being unrealistic at how much we'll fit into here? This schedule is also based on just public transportation, as my UK friend says she does it all without a car, just by trains. We thought renting a car would be super expensive, so we just planned on booking trains ahead of time. But should we rent a car? That seems stressful to me, driving on the opposite side of the road, but maybe not. And also finding places to park in the city, like Edinburgh or London, that seems stressful!

My friend wants more outdoor things (thus Scottish countryside, Cliffs of Dover, Stonehenge, and Iceland hiking) while I want some city and museums and history (but I also REALLY want to hike in Iceland, even if it's just making it up to Glymur Trail and just looking at it.)

My specific questions are this:
-Is this itinerary doable with us just using public transportation? Should we rent a car and if so, how much should we plan for that money wise?
-How in the world can we go see the Scottish countryside and the highlands near Edinburgh? Is that a reach? Only able to see via car? I saw there are bus tours but wasn't sure what would be best.
-If you had to choose, would it be more worth it to see the Cliffs of Dover or Stonehenge? When I google, people on blogs are saying "Eh. Stonehenge. Not as moving as I thought." We would like to make a day trip out of either or both, but could be ok with eliminating one if it meant we got a day in London to just chill.
-Any YA GOTTA DO THIS for any of these stops? Or restaurant recommendations? We love to eat!
-Lastly, Iceland. We definitely want to try to make it to Glymur since it seems to be the closest (in comparison with other places) to the airport. Any tips for how to best get there? Is it just a car? We may just hike until the wee hours since it stay light outside. And then the next day, try out a hot spring before we have to leave to go home.
-Any tweaks or adjustments or "No, boo, don't do that" to the itinerary is welcome. I am clueless to UK travel but am studying up.

Thanks in advance.
posted by socky bottoms to Travel & Transportation around Manchester, England (33 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This itinerary will have you spend pretty much all of your time either in a car or on a train. I don't think you're going to have time to do any "London things", other than possibly sleep there if you're lucky, which I suppose is a Londony thing to do, statistically speaking.

I'd say you've got way too much going on in a very short amount of time. What are your top three things to see? I'd focus on those and give yourself a chance to actually experience them.
posted by Hildegarde at 7:09 PM on April 2, 2018 [5 favorites]

I’d skip Stonehenge AND White Cliffs of Dover, since you have so little time in York, Edinburgh and London (you really won’t see much if you only spend a day in each).

This bus for Hadrian’s Wall (which is well worth a visit), You don’t have time for the Scottish Highlands as well.

You’re spending a lot of time in (cough) really dull towns seeing your friends. Skipping London for a day in Loughborough is like skipping NYC for more time in Scranton. Can’t you get them to visit you in York? Or just stop off for dinner on the way north?
posted by tinkletown at 7:14 PM on April 2, 2018 [9 favorites]

It's packed; it involves a lot of place-to-place travel that will suck up big chunks of time even when the days are long in June; you're going north then back south then east then back west then back east; it's all a bit Clark Griswold.

The big hmmm is in the middle: it's 2.5 hrs from York to Edinburgh; the Scottish borders or Hadrian's Wall -- say, somewhere in the vicinity of Hexham -- aren't massively accessible by fast/frequent public transport, it's another five hours or so to London, etc. Skip Dover and Stonehenge and perhaps rent for a day from Edinburgh, then finish off in London. And if you're taking the train, get a rail pass before you leave the US because London-Edinburgh is not cheap.
posted by holgate at 7:17 PM on April 2, 2018 [3 favorites]

This sounds extremely, extremely packed. Have you already been to London or are you looking to hit at least a few of the major London sights? Because it's hard for me to see how you'd wind up with more than a couple of hours of London sightseeing time with that schedule. If you've seen the usual attractions there already or they just don't interest you, that's fine, but if you're looking to hit even two of the must-sees as part of your "London things," that sounds impossible. Dover and Stonehenge will take up most of their days, maybe you get a couple exhausted hours in the afternoons. You will get extremely little of the "city and museums and history" you want given the single-digit number of hours you will have to see anything in Edinburgh and London combined.

Take a look at Rick Steves' London sights (expand "at a glance"). If you want to do more than one or two things on that list of major attractions, not to mention just wandering around and exploring, you really need substantially more London time.

It really sounds like you're trying to do everything to the point you'll do nothing. Every change of location eats up not just the hours-long travel time between destinations, but also the easy-to-overlook time spent getting to/from the train station, checking in/out of hotels, packing/unpacking, finding your bearings, etc... I'd try to refocus this on what really appeals most to you (that could also involve splitting up from your friend for a bit if your tastes are super different).
posted by zachlipton at 7:28 PM on April 2, 2018 [4 favorites]

Just to reiterate: on Day 6, by the time you are up, have breakfast, check out of your hotel room and make it over to the station it will be mid-morning. Then five hours on the train to London. Check into your hotel, unpack, have a coffee. It’s now 5pm on your sole day in London, and you have an early start the next morning for Dover. You are going to see nothing of London except the inside of the local Pizza Express.
posted by tinkletown at 7:29 PM on April 2, 2018 [6 favorites]

Nthing the people who suggest that both Loughborough and Nottingham are not fascinating in their own right. If you must meet these friends spend less time on it. Would they be up for spending a day in London with you. Lots of connections from both cities and you have already done most of the travelling to meet them, when you get off the plane.

Also nthing that neither Dover nor Stonehenge are even remotely worth a day of the trip. See what that leaves you with. Spend more time on outdoorsy things in Scotland.
posted by koahiatamadl at 7:36 PM on April 2, 2018

Response by poster: Can’t you get them to visit you in York? Or just stop off for dinner on the way north?

They *really* want me to stop in Lough to meet their friends and what not, and they are pretty obsessed with Nottingham, so they have insisted on us stopping there. I'll see if they consider us just stopping by... or meeting in York though since our schedule is stupid packed.
posted by socky bottoms at 7:43 PM on April 2, 2018

They sound like good friends, and it’s really nice that they are so excited to have you visit. I would spell it out to them that it is Nottingham or London, you don’t have time for both. I can’t imagine that even the most diehard Nottinghamite would suggest skipping the capital in favour of whatever is in Nottingham on your first trip to the UK (I have been to Nottingham. Twice! And I still couldn’t tell you what there was to see there. Sorry Nottingham).

Travelling by train should be fine - it’s generally quicker than driving anyway. You certainly shouldn’t bother driving in London, you’ll spend all your time in traffic and the parking is awful. You could hire a car for the Highlands, but you could get a train to Mull, Lomond or somewhere else pretty like that and do a decent day hike. You just need the time free to fit it in....

Or you could just decide that this trip is purely for visiting friends, and hang out with them instead of doing all the travelling? It’s perfectly ok to make that decision if you are close to them. You’ll miss the big ticket tourist stuff, but you’ll see more of the real UK. And there is decent countryside not too far from Nottingham (Peak District) if your friends are prepared to drive you there.
posted by tinkletown at 8:02 PM on April 2, 2018 [3 favorites]

I am totally okay with the Loughborough / Nottingham start in the company of friends: provincial towns are not utterly terrible, and it's a way to acclimatise because you can just be led around and do non-touristy stuff. And they're not that far away from York by Big Country standards. (And as tinkletown says, the Peaks are there if they're inclined to drive for an hour.) The problem with the itinerary is when things get more stretched out, especially north of the border and back again: Scotland is fairly big and mostly sparsely populated and travel north of a rough line between Carlisle and Newcastle takes up more time than you'd expect.
posted by holgate at 8:11 PM on April 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

(Though I will say that asking friends in the Midlands to meet you in London would be imposing on them quite a bit, because it's really not cheap to travel/stay there and they're likely to be no more familiar with the capital than you.)
posted by holgate at 8:16 PM on April 2, 2018

Response by poster: And thank you for the suggestions! I think we already know that it's quite packed, but needed someone to tell me this for sure. We will DEFINITELY pare it down. Perhaps just concentrate on London, York, and Edinburgh (or just scottish highlands) and cut out Dover and Stonehenge (I guess those aren't as must-dos as we hear they are.)

Would a more realistic itinerary look like Day 1-3: London Day 3-5: York, with a stop in Lough Day 5-7: Hadrian/Scottish countryside, some Edinburgh Day 8-9: Travel back to London, chill out.

Very open to other itineraries or even ones you might have made for a short trip. We have no must-do's besides a couple things in London and definitely seeing my friend/meeting her family and Hadrian's Wall.
posted by socky bottoms at 8:16 PM on April 2, 2018

The most efficient itinerary is one where you're not doubling back on yourself until the end. So: Gatwick-London-Loughborough-York-Edinburgh-Borders-London. Or Gatwick-Loughborough-[etc]-London. Go north, then go south. You could do Edinburgh-Borders-Carlisle (a one-way rental would be great for this leg) and then take the west coast line back to London, which at least gives you a different view from your train window.
posted by holgate at 8:23 PM on April 2, 2018

Car thoughts: outside of major cities, having a car is better than not having one. It’s also helpful if your flights/transit are off-hours, because you can park the car, drop the keys in the box, and catch the shuttle to the terminal.

If you are not able to drive a manual car, automatic rentals are significantly more expensive. Traffic moves quickly (especially on smaller roads) and the lanes are very narrow, especially in road work zones (which can be many miles). As an anecdote, my boyfriend is English but has lived in the US for 15+ years. When we go to the UK, the first 5-6 days are spent with me white-knuckled in the passenger seat yelling, “Lane. Lane!!” as he veers dangerously close to things. He’s a very good driver, but motoring on the opposite side of the road definitely takes a while to re-adjust.

Having only driven in the US and being a very tentative manual driver, I know I am not up to UK roads.

Stonehenge: by all accounts, the postcard pics are better than the real thing.
posted by ortoLANparty at 8:54 PM on April 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

By the time you get to Iceland, you will be ready to take it easy! If you do want to sightsee, you may prefer to stay on the Reykjanes Peninsula near the airport: something like this tour. And there's always the Blue Lagoon if you need some recharge time in a pretty if overpriced tourist trap.
posted by toastedcheese at 9:11 PM on April 2, 2018

I get a britrail pass( 1st class because the likelihood of being creeped on is much less) before my uk trips and have gotten around fine w/o train reservations.
posted by brujita at 9:26 PM on April 2, 2018

I used the Trainline last summer and got a train ticket from Edinburg to London for £30, also a good website to price out your other travel compared to renting a car.
posted by ellieBOA at 10:35 PM on April 2, 2018

I’d skip Stonehenge AND White Cliffs of Dover,

Completely agreed. I think if you take out a day for either of these out of a 9-day itinerary, you will regret it. They are both only worth quick stops if you happen to already be going by there.
Use those days for more time in London.
posted by vacapinta at 12:27 AM on April 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yes, this looks like a pretty packed itinerary. I would also skip Stonehenge (super-super-touristy with no value otherwise) and probably also White Cliffs of Dover. Stonehenge is not really a hiking thing, it's more like see a bunch of stones in the middle of hordes of tourists and people selling souvenirs.

You were only going to spend a few hours in London?? And that includes a journey from Scotland? Unless you have a particular dislike of cities, then this itinerary is rather puzzling. I know that with limited vacation days, there's the real desire to pack in as much as possible, but really, a few hours in London won't bring much value, and an itinerary that involves hopping from one place to another place means you spend a lot of your time in trains (or cars).

If your interests are city, museums and history, London for a full nine days is an amazing place to be. Everyone has their own preferences, but I would just go to Edinburgh and maybe York, but that's about it. Definitely not Nottingham and certainly not Loughburough.

Unless you really like cars and driving, I would also skip the car and go on the train. Keep in mind trains can be not cheap, BUT it will be cheaper than renting a car and paying for petrol, which is a lot more expensive in the UK than in the US. And yes, trying to park in London is madness.

If you are not getting a rail pass, buy your train tickets in advance (literally, Advance tickets for a specific date and time) and it will be a lot cheaper.
posted by moiraine at 1:42 AM on April 3, 2018

Do you have to do Scotland? I know, I know. But if you're just going there for the history and countryside, well you're already doing London and York, and England has countryside too. The Peak District is right there. You could even suggest to your Midlands friends you all get a cottage together and spend a couple of days hiking. Slightly harder to do by public transport, but not impossible.

It's different to the Scottish Highlands and islands and Scotland's history is significant, but if you're just going there because an online itinerary says you must, well, we have lots of history and countryside.
posted by Helga-woo at 1:42 AM on April 3, 2018 [4 favorites]

I absolutely adore the Scottish Highlands but unfortunately I don't think you have time for that. Going by bus and boat (to the Isle of Skye for example) is feasible but it will take a lot of travel time out of your itinerary. And it's like the opposite side of Edinburgh, you would have been better off starting in Glasgow to go to the highlands. But honestly like 2 days is not enough for that region. I would stick to just Edinburgh and do a hike up Arthur's Seat and visit the castle.

One day in London on the same day you arrive from Scotland is not worth it, if even feasible.
Stonehenge is an easy pass, totally not worth it. It's by a motorway, it's smaller than you think, and you can't get that close to it. Just look at it from Google Earth, seriously. I don't think Cliffs of Dover is worth it either. So if you drop those, you have 3 days in London, which is much much better. You have a full day of central tourist things around the South Bank. Then you have another day to explore out West where the museums are.

I think the smaller cities can be fun if you are in the company of friends. So I would drop York for another time. It's super cute, and I'd love to return there one day but I think you'd have more fun with a slightly more relaxed schedule hanging out with your friends in their respective cities. The historic things York provides you can get in London via Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London.

And from London you can get to Bath or Brighton for a day trip easily. Both are small enough to explore in a day and picturesque. They are very different though, depending on if you like Jane Austen or hippies.

So my suggested itinerary is:
1. Arrive in Gatwick, go up to Lough (to basically just sleep because passport control can easily be 3 hours these days and you'll be so jetlagged)
2. Lough in the morning and travel to Nottingham in the afternoon
3. Nottingham for the day with friends but travel to Edinburgh by the evening.
4. Edinburgh for the day
5. Train down to London from Edinburgh
6. London, central tourist areas, maybe a show
7. London, museums out west
8. Bath or Brighton for a day
9. Leave from London to Iceland
10. Home
posted by like_neon at 2:10 AM on April 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

You need to pick a lane. Are you visiting friends in those locations, or are you visiting the more interesting places? A mixture of the two leaves you with lot of compromise and a lot of travel to locations inconvenient for the rest of the trip. So pick a lane.

Looking at your previous ask, I see that you're flying in from the East Coast. Your travel costs are the biggest expense already, right? In your position, I would strongly suggest getting your friends to meet you in the destinations you want to visit, rather than faffing about getting to their cities, which are by no means anywhere near the must-see sections of anybody's lists. (That said, I once had an American colleague who was obsessed with Leicester, because of the Richard III connection, so, maybe one person's must-see section).

Next, London. Just skip it. Seriously. It's not that pretty, and it's not that friendly a place. It does not have the best castle. It does not have the best minster. OK, some of the musuems are good. The pollution is fairly terrible, too. Buckingham Palace is unimpressive compared to many, many other stately homes. And London has a habit of lifting your wallet from you in such a way that you will never see it again. If you absolutely have to do those "must-dos" you mention, then do them in London at the end of your trip. My only must-do in London is see any play at the Globe Theatre. That is all.

So, go to York. Go directly to York. Do not pass go, do not collect £200.

Then, go to Edinburgh. For maximising your time experiencing the UK, rather than wasting daylight hours on travel, might I suggest taking the Caledonian Sleeper back to London. Or, you know, you could take it at the start, go to one of the more remote regions of Scotland, and work your way back via Edinburgh and York. London is about 2 hours by train from York, so it's fairly easy to hop back for your must-dos before getting your flight.
posted by Juso No Thankyou at 2:37 AM on April 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

Pick South or North, don't try and do both. Britain will still be there when you get the chance to take another trip. With your friend in Nottingham, sounds like you should go North, and stay there. Nottingham, York, Edinburgh, maybe somewhere in the highlands for a couple of days, fin. You'll want two days in both York and Edinburgh, at least. I'd do this:

1 day in London to do whatever your top one London thing is.
1 night Nottingham
2 nights York
2 nights Edinburgh
1 night Stirling or Aberdeen
Back to London to fly home. Yes take the sleeper, can vouch for this top tip.

This itinerary is doable by train and in fact I've done a very similar one that way.
posted by soren_lorensen at 3:51 AM on April 3, 2018

You should see if you can get a flight back from Edinburgh direct to Gatwick on the day you're leaving. Then you could do the trip in one direction, south to north, which would give you a bit more time.
posted by Azara at 4:56 AM on April 3, 2018

Skip Stonehenge and Cliff of Dover and replace with The Tate Modern and Victoria & Albert Museums in London.
posted by WeekendJen at 7:24 AM on April 3, 2018

The point has probably been made, but just on this bit:

-Day 4 York, then to Edinbrugh
-Day 5 Hadrian’s wall/Scottish countryside (unsure how to get to this or if we should switch the days?)
-Day 6 Leave Scotland, head to London, Do some London things

Makes me wonder why you're going to Edinburgh at all? Sounds like you plan to arrive with most of the day gone on day 4, and leave the following morning to head out of town, so why are you going to Edinburgh in the first place?

And on Day 6 - it takes most of a day to get door to door from Edinburgh to London, unless you're on, like, the 6am train. And once you're there, it can take 1hr or more to get between different parts of London, so 'Do some London things' barely really fits into part of a day, let alone the tiny part of a day that'll be left after travelling from Edinburgh.

Less is more.
posted by penguin pie at 7:24 AM on April 3, 2018

OP has said "We have no must-do's besides a couple things in London and definitely seeing my friend/meeting her family and Hadrian's Wall". So rather than Edinburgh, why not check out Durham and Newcastle? They are fantastic cities and the Durham/Northumberland countryside is beautiful, very different from Scotland's forests and lochs. Plus there are the Harry Potter castles Alnwick and Bamburgh, Holy Island, the Roman fort at Vindolanda, Hexham, Corbridge (Corstopitum), the tiny hamlet of Blanchland that used to be a monastery (and looks it,) you're spoilt for choice really. If you were intrigued by The Da Vinci Code, Hexam Abbey may interest you likewise. Always worth having a look at the old sculptures and ornamental features in these old churches, they are properly weird.

So you could have a sesh with your friend in Loughborough and Nottingham, some time at Hadrian's Wall and wherever else your research suggests in the North East, and some time in London. But the North East is fascinating and beautiful, Durham and Newcastle are fascinating and wonderful, find out a little more about it and work out what else is within easy reach of Hadrian's Wall and make the most of it. You will absolutely need a car and to plan your itinerary/map your roads, thoroughly - you'll often be in the middle of the countryside and the signage isn't the best. Be prepared to be challenged by the accent, more so than by Scots, I think.
posted by glasseyes at 9:58 AM on April 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

Durham has a university and a cathedral (Durham is where they brought the body of St. Cuthbert from Lindisfarne, 10C I think? which was the beginning of the cathedral.) It's a steep little fortified city with alleys cutting up to the summit where the cathedral and uni are. It's a tourist trap as well as a college town, lots of very expensive but original and classy shops. I love the North East, can you tell?
posted by glasseyes at 10:19 AM on April 3, 2018

If you take glasseyes advice (and you should seriously consider it), I can heartily also recommend Jarrow Hall, Segendunum Roman Fort, and the Beamish living history museum. I had a grand time at all of them, they're all first rate educational attractions. If you're a history buff you could easily spend 10 days just between Newcastle, Durham and York and wear yourself out on the daily. (This Ask is making me antsy for my kid to get old enough that I can take him to these places for the first time.)
posted by soren_lorensen at 10:25 AM on April 3, 2018 [4 favorites]

You really don't need to get the Caledonian Sleeper. The train from Edinburgh to London is on 4.5 hours in the day time, the over night train takes longer and you need to specifically book a cabin with a bed, otherwise you are just sitting on a normal train seat for a longer duration.

Agree with everyone else that your original agenda is fairly packed. As you have gathered from this thread there's plenty to see on this island and most of us who live here haven't seen all of it. If you base yourself in two or three places with day activities and trips it can sort of make sense though. E.g. 'Friends', Edinburgh, London with time in the cities in the evening to make the most of them.

Getting around here takes time, people generally don't travel the distances for a single day that folks in the US do so you should keep that in mind for planning your excursions.

(I'm Scottish and live in London so my vote is definitely to keep those in and see the other places next time!)

Why is Hadrian's Wall a must do? I haven't seen it since I was a 10 year old school child but I don't remember anything from then that's made me think I should go back as an adult.
posted by toamouse at 2:49 PM on April 3, 2018

One very quick point of logistics, because it'll be too hard to share all my thoughts:

On the first day, if you've had enough of busy indoor spaces by the time you've got on the train, instead of changing at St Pancras, stay on that train all the way to Bedford (about 40 minutes north) and change trains there. All the trains from Gatwick to St Pancras go all the way through to Bedford, and change onto the Loughborough train there (albeit that second train only runs once per hour instead of every half hour).
posted by ambrosen at 3:03 PM on April 3, 2018

Hadrian’s Wall is a much more exciting place than, for example, Stonehenge. You can walk on or beside the wall and imagine yourselves defending Civilization from the marauding Celtic hoards. Also, there’s the Roman Army Museum, and several excavated Roman Army bases. The west end of the Wall is well served by the AD122 bus.
posted by monotreme at 4:21 PM on April 3, 2018

Edinburgh to London will be quicker and cheaper by plane, see Ryanair or Easyjet. Edinburgh's airport is easily bussed.

Stonehenge is underwhelming. Don't bother. I'd drive the extra hour to Cheddar Gorge before stopping for Stonehenge. Winchester, Salisbury and Bath are also more worthwhile.
posted by biffa at 4:57 PM on April 3, 2018

I echo Winchester and Bath. Beautiful historical cities, and more importantly, 1-2 hour train ride from London
posted by moiraine at 4:12 AM on April 4, 2018

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