London+England trasportantion, baggage shipping and hotel chains
June 2, 2008 2:09 PM   Subscribe

London+England transportation/extra baggage shipping / hotel chains questions. A minor question about Scotland as well.

Hi there. After looking at previous posts tagged london+travel, I'd like to ask the following questions:

- Hotels: I am used to book Ibis/Mercure (Accor Chain) alike rooms, which are often spartan , but clean, with air conditioning + tv and the occasional in-room wifi and broadband, which are a good bonus. and were both recommended in a previous thread, and I get the impression they both are of very standardized, tiny, corporate just-to-sleep in chains. I'd like to know wheter my impression is correct or not OR if you know of any similar, no-frills no unpleasant surprises chains in London (even better if present all over England)

- The tube relative to tourism attractions: It seems to me that most of the attractions in London are quite concentrated in the center, which is Tube's Zone1 or 2 at worst, except for Kew, Greenwich and Windsdor. I was wondering wheter a locally bought Oyster card + Pay-As-I-Go (which I assume can be bought by non-nationals as well) could be more convenient than a x days Travel Card (which I also supposes is routinely contained in a Oyster)

- Excess baggage shipment: I have noticed that Royal Mail doesn't seem to be shipping packages internationally (to europe) whose weight is greater then 2 Kg. That's quite inconvenient as I will
prob have to ship books and other goods, but airplane extra weight fare is out of question. I'd like to know if there is any less expensive (in comparison with Fedex ad UPS) and reliable shipping company that can organize a pick-up of a +-30 Kg baggage/package or have a drop off location
in central london.

- Transportation: So far I have tried site to figure out expenses and timetable, but I have also learned about buses which seem to be even less expensive. While I try contacting them, I'd like to know if their bus service is, in your experience, usually on-time and reasonably clean. Also information about better bus/train services
and sites would be appreciated.

- Scotland, Glasgow, Edinburgh

Damn, why is so damn expensive in august? Additionally, where's the best nearby location to get the highlander/trainspotting alike highland experience and what else is noteworthy
in Scotland (no lockness thanks) , except Edin of course.

Thanks for your time!
posted by elpapacito to Travel & Transportation around Scotland (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Premiertravelinn is where I stay most of the time when I have to travel for work - it is all the things you said - they are all over the country.

Zones 1 & 2 covers most sights. Depending on how long you are going to be there you may well find that a weekly travel card is most economica. You can also ride the bus with one of these.

I've only used National Express once and the bus was on time and clean and not at all unpleasant. Trains can be quite economical if you can book ahead. If you turn up on the day they can be very espensive.

For your shipping of books try Parcelforce
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:43 PM on June 2, 2008

Many questions! Hope I can help with some of them.

Regarding hotel chains-

Travel Lodge and Premier Travel lodge are exactly what you think they are. Small, standardised rooms that specialise in clean but boring functional rooms. But they are usually a decent price. You are unlikely to get free wifi though.

Other similar chains include Holiday Inn Express and Novotel. These are slightly more expensive than TL and Premier Lodge but you get slightly better facilties such as free breakfast, etc.

Why is Scotland so expensive in August? A little thing called the Edinburgh Festival and the associated Fringe sees every hotel room (and many apartment owners) charge exorbitant rates as people descend from all over the world to the town. This can have a ripple effect on prices in the rest of Scotland. You also get many people coming from all over Europe around this time (the weather is often as good as it can get at that time of year) which further drives the prices up.

As for what there is to do in Scotland, it depends what you like and want to do. You could go on a pub crawl in Glasgow and see some great architecture into the bargain, go to some of the islands off the west coast, go hill climbing, go and see some great bands. You could do a lot worse than pick up a copy of The List when you get here and see what floats your boat.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 2:46 PM on June 2, 2008

Right, going from the top. Your impression of premier inn and travelodge is pretty much accurate, though the room sizes are generally not too bad (smaller in central london tho). They can be found pretty much everywhere. They're the mcdonalds of places to stay.

Oyster could well be cheaper than multiple travelcards, but it depends. A 7 day anytime travelcard for zones 1-2 is £24.20, a 3 day is £17.40 or £6.80 a day, and gives you free travel by bus or tube within the zones all day. Oyster single fares are £1.50 for zone 1-2 I think. So depending on how much you use the tube - and given how close everything is in central london, you'll walk a lot more than you think - the oyster card may well be cheaper for a stay longer than a few days. You will very rarely leave zone 1, let alone zone 2 as you say. Oyster can be a cash-only top-up card with a £3 refundable deposit which is the simplest for short stays.

Royal mail standard airmail letters is up to 2kg. Airmail Printed Papers (i.e. books with no letter) can be up to 5kg. Signed for airmail and surface mail can also have 'small packets' up to 5kg, which can be anything other than a letter (i.e. a gift or goods). "One surface at least 9cm x 14cm. Length, width, depth combined: 90cm. Greatest single dimension: 60cm.".

Bigger than 5kg, i.e. you want to ship in one go, parcelforce is one option (shipping company owned by the post office). They'll take the parcel at post offices, international standard delivery, up to 30kg, 4-6 days, or international datapost 30kg for 1-2 days, but at a higher price.
Best bet is to ask directly at the post office, they'll be able to advise you the best price. Higher than 30 kilo in one parcel will probably not be doable unless you send it as a pallet!

National express buses are a lot cheaper than trains. They are clean, they are reasonably punctual, but they are not spacious, and they are very slow.
I personally do my train ticket ordering through Traveling outside peak hours and/or ordering in advance is a lot cheaper.

I'm afraid I know very little about travel in scotland.

Hope that helps though!
posted by ArkhanJG at 3:31 PM on June 2, 2008

In my experience, travelling with National Express was about as punctual and enjoyable as going by plane. Usually on time, occasionally very late because the coach was delayed long before it got to you. Seating is cramped, neither comfortable nor unbearable.

Not a bad way to go, although train stations are, in my experience, easier to find and more centrally located with more amenities.
posted by Martin E. at 3:31 PM on June 2, 2008

Travelodge and Premier Travel in are fine. No frills, but clean and comfortable.

I haven't used a National Express for a few years, but they certainly used to be fine. If expense is your prime consideration, you might also want to consider Megabus. Can't vouch for the quality, as I've never tried them, but they seem to be pretty cheap. It would be best if you could find a cheap train fare through the trainline.

Visit Scotland is the official tourist site for Scotland, where you can find info on a huge range of attractions. Some of the big attractions in terms of visitor numbers are Kelvingrove Gallery and Museum (Glasgow), Edinburgh Castle, The National Galleries (Edinburgh), Stirling Castle and the Falkirk Wheel. Good food and bars can be had aplenty in Glasgow and Edinburgh, and with a little research elsewhere.

For scenery, a trip to the islands of Skye or Arran might be worthwhile. Arran is more accessible, but the trip to Skye is more scenic.

If you have some specific preferences, post a follow-up, there are enough Scots around here to have a good chance of getting the info you need.
posted by Jakey at 3:51 PM on June 2, 2008

i there. After looking at previous posts tagged london+travel, I'd like to ask the following questions:

- Hotels: Don't know about Premier Inns, but Travelodge is generally basic but fine. Avoid Comfort Inns or Welcome Breaks, they're everywhere, but they're the pits.

- The tube relative to tourism attractions: You can buy an Oyster Card for £3 and load it up with Pay As You Go, or you can buy an Oyster Card with a week travelcard loaded on it. A seven day travelcard in Zone 1-2 will cost you about £22, and there's very few major attractions outside Zone 2. If you plan on making more than one or two trips a day, a 7-day travelcard is your best option - it gives you uninhibited travel on bus (across London, all zones and night buses) and train/tube in Z1/2. It'll also give you a 1/3rd off on Thames Clippers commuter boats (well worth zipping down to Greenwich as a day trip by the way).

- Excess baggage shipment: You can ship 'media mail' if it's books, with USPS pretty cheaply, takes about six weeks to get here though.

- Transportation: National Express buses are fine, and cost typically about a 1/3rd what an equivalent train journey would. The difference is in journey time - London to Edinburgh you're looking at ten hours or so. For train booking, I recommend, which is the official ticket portal for all the various operators. If you're going to Scotland, consider taking the Caledonian Sleeper, which, if booked early enough, can be pretty cheap, removes the need for a night's worth of accommodation and, because cabins are often shared, can be really interesting. I once shared a cabin with an Army Major who had just helped move the last Concorde to its final resting place in a flight museum in Scotland. Good times.

- Scotland, Glasgow, Edinburgh

It's expensive in August because the Edinburgh International Festival, AKA the world's biggest arts festival will be in full swing, and the population of the city will roughly double. If you can, consider staying outside Edinburgh, because it will be absolutely rammed. An outfit called Haggis Backpackers does good tours of the central Highlands, or you could take a daytrip from Glasgow to somewhere like the Trossachs.

Have a great time, MeFi mail if you have any more questions, I'm from Edinburgh and live in London so I can help more on both counts if needs be.
posted by Happy Dave at 5:21 PM on June 2, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks to all you guys so far for the quick and details answers :-) !

I may be mailing some of your kind scotland experts in the next fews days, I'll first do some more "homework" research before bothering you. As for for Edin Festival, I'd looked on the net and unsuprisingly found out the major event (The Tatoo) seems to be completely booked, but the Festival seems to embrace a lot more , so I guess I'll add one extra day to Scotland and maybe pickup an hotel in Livingston which is reasonably close (chances are I'll get there by rented car).

As for my "idea" of what Scotland scenery is about, it's a confused mixup of pics from Highlander and Trainspotting , which is hard to describe , it has that particular kind of gray blue overcast and green pasture, uncontamined but by an occasional adrian wall alike formation of rocks (yes I know adrian wall is further south, I'll visit the fort with any luck).

So far it seems that ParcelForce is the answer to my "problem" , so thanks to all the people that pointed it out.

As for buses, I may be picking them as the train booking system requires me to use my CC at the ATM ticket machines, which is fine with me, but I may run into trouble should my CC suffer magnetic alterations (a not so rare event)...whereas e-tickets are printed and durable.

I think I'll not pick a best answer cause you guys all did a great job! Thanks again.
posted by elpapacito at 6:07 PM on June 2, 2008

As for for Edin Festival, I'd looked on the net and unsuprisingly found out the major event (The Tatoo) seems to be completely booked, but the Festival seems to embrace a lot more , so I guess I'll add one extra day to Scotland and maybe pickup an hotel in Livingston which is reasonably close (chances are I'll get there by rented car).

The Edinburgh Festival is really a whole bunch of different festivals (for comedy, film, etc) all happening at the same time. It's such a big deal that I'd expect most out-of-towners who want to be there for the 2 or 3 weeks it runs will have planned their trips and booked accommodation/car hire/whathaveyou many months in advance. So I'd bear that in mind.

But with regard to hotel chains, there are Ibis hotels in Britain, too. I stayed at the one next to Euston a couple of years ago; like Premier and Travelodge, basic but clean.
posted by macdara at 1:33 AM on June 3, 2008

If you're staying outside Edinburgh and driving in, bear in mind that parking in the city is a freaking nightmare! This place has the most overzealous parking inspectors in the world AFAIK.

As far as the Highlands go, the drive up through Stirling and the Trossachs and then across the Rannoch Moor to Glen Coe is absolutely glorious. From there it's easy to head to Fort William and then over to the Isle of Skye, which is pretty awesome.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 6:29 AM on June 3, 2008

If you're planning to travel a lot by rail and if you're under 26 or can get hold of an ISIC (International Student Identity Card, costs about £5 in the UK), you can get a Young Person's Railcard (costs abut £20) and get a third off most train tickets (although I don't know how/if there's a discount for the Tube). You can still get the railcard if you're a mature student, but if you don't have an ISIC the application form and a photo have to be signed and stamped by someone at your college; to get an ISIC you just wave your college ID and fill in the form, much less hassle.
posted by Lebannen at 8:48 AM on June 3, 2008

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