Headed to the UK next Spring. Maiden voyage. Primary focus of the trip is London (7 nights at London County Hall), but I am hoping to be able to do about 5 days of sightseeing in the countryside outside of London prior to the London stay. Thinking it would be good to keep the sightseeing within fairly close proximity, so as to not waste precious time and expense in transit. I am considering visiting Chepstow (Tinturn Abbey, Caldecot Castle, walking trails of the Wye Valley), Gloucester Cathedral, Bristol sights (Cathedral, Harbour, Park St., Corn St., Clifton, etc.), Bath (Palladian Bridge, Royal Crescent, Bath Houses, etc.), Cotswolds, and Salisbury (Stonehenge). It is my hope to return to Great Britain after I am retired, so there is no worry about missing other perhaps arguably more worthy attractions outside of London (I know there are many).
I am also thinking about hiring a car at LHR for this countryside portion, then returning to LHR and public transporting in from there.
1) Is this too much to squeeze into 5 days?
2) I haven't driven on the left (wrong ) side of the road in over twenty-five years. It shouldn't be that hard to do on country roads or open highway, should it? Those of you in the UK who have driven abroad on the right side of the road, how did you find the adjustment to be?
Any and all additional suggestions for this area (attractions, dining, transportation, etc.) would be appreciated (I have no idea what I'm doing really, just stumbling around in the dark, focusing on where the spinner landed). Hoping to hear from some of our UK friends sg1974, arkwright, chrisf, proelite, absolutelegend1, though recommendations from all Insiders are sought, and many thanks in advance.
Wow, what a plan! Congratulations!
You will get a lot of suggestions from this post and will have more for you later. My initial thought is that you may be trying to do way too much on your first trip. You have a great place You will have a train station close (Waterloo), so that may a place to study the destinations from there.
pluto, will await to hear from our MRI from Great Britain.
In closing, you will find County Hall will save you a lot of time and money because of its proximity to so much.
Look forward to assisting you in this matter.
pluto77, I'm heading to London in just over a week, so I'll share my experiences when I get back in early November. After a few days in Brighton (for a conference) and four days in London, I am renting a car at LHR and driving west for the last part of my trip. I'll be staying at the Bristol City Centre for a couple nights with plans to visit Bath, Glastonbury, Wells, Stonehenge, and Avebury. I'll pass along my favorite sights near Bristol as well as any difficulties I face.
I too, have not driven on the left in about 25 years (when I last visited Australia). That turned out fine and I expect this trip will as well. One tip I can pass along even before the trip is that most cars are manual transmission, so if you aren't comfortable shifting with you left hand, make sure you request an automatic.
If I can, I'll post a few thoughts while I'm in the U.K. while the ideas are fresh, but if not, I'll upload my experiences (and some photos) when I return (the 2nd week of Nov).
MRI provided me a wealth of information here What are the must-see London sights?, so I hope I can return the favor with a few tips about what to see near Bath and Bristol.
Will do. I expect to take a fair number of pictures which should make a nice photo album on MRI.
I'll pass along any wisdom I gain about car rental from LHR and driving to and from Bath and Bristol. (I am renting a manual transmission, so I'll let you know how that works out.)
We have traveled around the UK by rental car a few times over the past 30 years. Our experience is that there is something interesting around almost every corner. We have often just enjoyed what comes and appreciated the experience. I think as a first timer, this will be your reaction as well.
As to the car, the fact that the driver's seat is on the right helps remind you of staying on the other side. As previously pointed out, most cars are manual and the shift will be on the left. If not experienced with shift, then try to find automatic. The foot pedal orientation matches ours and that helps a lot. Only once did I boo-boo and get in the wrong lane - it was in New Zealand, out in the country. Made a turn and turned into the wrong lane (momentary lapse of focus!) Fortunalely no one else was around. This was after 10 days and probably 2000 KM of driving! In any case, I think you will be fine. Getting out of Heathrow will be the biggest challenge - after that, it will seem easy. Alternatively, to ease into the driving routine, you may want to consider train to a nearby town and renting there to make the initiation a little easier.
if I had 5 days I'd potentially look at 2 areas. Bath / Bristol where you can stay in one of the two marriotts there.
Then for the Cotswolds area you could stay in the Swindon marriott.
drive to Bristol see the sights in bath & Bristol. Then drive back stop off at Salisbury then onto Swindon marriott.
we have used the Swindon marriott as a base quite a few times to see parts of the Cotswolds.
i Wouldn't go all the way over to Wales I think it would be too much of a rush and you wouldn't see all the places you may want.
also you did say you will be back therefore probably better to see just a few areas.
i think it would be a better idea for you to get an auto if driving on this side of the road is a concern. It will be more expensive and there will be less of them so don't leave it to late to book up.
driving on the motorways will be fine, but it is the smaller roads where you will need to be more careful.
we have visited this restaurant a few times and have enjoyed: http://www.theswanatsouthrop.co.uk/
plenty of good information about the Cotswolds here: http://www.cotswolds.com/
there are many very pretty little places to visit.
Picking up a rental car at the airport (and many rail stations) will incur additional charges. If you pickup at an off-airport location, you can still return the car to the airport but get a more inexpensive rate. I've picked up at city locations or if you don't want to drive within London, you could take a taxi to a rental office outside of the busy, city center. Pickup and drop off locations don't need to be the same.
Try kemwel.com and autoeurope.com for the best rates. They are brokers (and are sister-companies) located here in the US. Also, you can try their UK websites which I've heard has even better rates... www.auto-europe.co.uk . If you find a better deal elsewhere, they will beat it. I use them all the time for Europe. Most of my rentals have been through Europecar. This year's was through Avis. They are terrific to work with.
Love your itinerary! I loved the Cotswolds! Gorgeous! We stayed in Cirencester and a smaller town that I cannot remember the name of.
Have you considered Stratford upon Avon for a day?
I concur with newhilton member's comments about AutoEurope. Have used them several times and they are always helpful and their rates are quite good. They are a pleasure to do business with - have had at least a couple of occasions where they had to intervene with the rental company during or after the rental on my behalf - was done willingly and with successful outcome.
Good to hear that you are due over here next spring.Be wary of one obvious point: the unpredictable movement of jet streams at that time can make the weather anything but spring-like. That said, here's my 'sixpenny worth' in answer to your questions:
1. Yes, I think you are in danger of trying to do too much in five days, particularly if you are going to move from hotel to hotel. My suggestion - as with SG - is that you use one as a base: either the Bristol Royal ( an older building nearer to The University and Clifton) or St Pierre, but note this is a 'leisure etc hotel' and therefore probably won't have an Exec Lounge, if this is important. It is nearer the Wye Valley:
For I have learned to look upon Nature,
Not as in the hour of thoughtless youth, but hearing oftentimes,
The still, sad music of humanity...'
2 On locations to visit, I'd skip the Cotswolds, and focus on Bristol, Bath, Wells( a superb cathedral city), and Salisbury (likewise). Each of these are easily accessible by train from Bristol. For the Wye, you'd need a car but hired in Bristol for 1/2 days.
3. Driving in UK? Avoid London and the "rush hours" and you'll be OK.
Let me know if I can help any further.
And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused…
I cannot find it within my being to let go of this Tinturn Abbey/Wye Valley thing…
If the weather in Spring is often not Springlike... when then - during the off season and while school is still in session - is the weather typically at it's best?
We traveled in Czech Republic, Germany and Austria this past late-May, when to our surprise, it was monkeys outside. Since we didn't bring jackets, we were forced to do a bit of shopping. I don't delight in having to pack a heavy jacket, though an umbrella is compulsory in Europe.
Here's a link to a trip report on Fodor's that you may find interesting...
One further thought and then a slightly provocative comment:
1. If you get tired of London's better known tourist venues, try spending a couple of hours in the Chelsea Physic Garden - a haven of tranquility and interesting too.
2. I note - with vague disquiet - a very evident southern bias in your UK plans. To play devil's advocate for a moment, after spending the statutory time in London, I'd head north to either York (1hr 50 mins) and/or Edinburgh, if you have time. York itself, and the countryside around it, is a diverse delight and tends to be less of a hassle than its southern rivals.
Whatever, have fun
A thousand thank you's for your most helpful responses. All have given me good insight into these areas and all answers are indeed correct to my mind.
As a result of reading responses (provocateurs of further research), what strikes me presently is that there is an unending list of places to experience in Southwest England, indeed way too much for 5 days. It makes sense therefore to focus on a smaller area so that a more rich experience and deeper communion can be achieved within each region. Great Britain is truly a fantastic place with endless worthy attractions of great experiential wealth. As such, it may be likely that each place visited will only be seen once, so it would make sense to "see it well." Perhaps a good place to draw the line would simply be the M4 motorway, focusing on either the area to the south of it (Somerset, Wiltshire, including all of the places that bejacob mentions) or the north of it (Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire - the Cotswolds, including Stratford-upon-Avon). Bristol, along with Chepstow could even be it's own vacation. I could easily envision three separate vacations to these three areas. So which one first? Ah, the best kind of problem!
As far as the car hire, I am perfectly comfortable driving a manny, and I did drive a left handed manny in Japan for four years, but it was a long time ago. I suppose It'll all be fine, just feeling a bit of anxiety. I always thought that hiring a car at the airport was cheaper, but 'No' you say? I also thought that LHR would be far enough out from London that traffic would be rather manageable. Perhaps not. I'll check out the websites offered up, newhiltonmembr, and thank you. Maybe a train from LHR to a smaller town would be in order.
Jerry, Sg and Ark, thanks for reigning me in.
Bejacob, I shall eagerly await your report of your visits within Somerset and Wiltshire, as well as Bristol.
Sg, what is the concern with the smaller roads, please? (And thanks for the links, particularly the Swan at Southrop - lovely.)
Artisttraveler - "Our experience is that there is something interesting around almost every corner. We have often just enjoyed what comes and appreciated the experience. I think as a first timer, this will be your reaction as well." Stupendous.
Pained One, Absolutely!
Aaronplatinum4life: Windsor Castle. Thank you, I hadn't thought of that. St. George's Chapel, hmm...
Arkwright: None whatsoever. I would love to cover every square inch of GB. And hope too. Just presently operating under a time constraint this visit, and with London as the base. I have never been to GB (outside of LHR). Even never having been, I know I will love it and want to return many times, even if it means leaving the stones of many other countries unturned. (And I also still have my cricket game to pursue.) A garden is always a good place to be, and my thanks!
i was just letting you know that the motorways are easy to drive on and if you did have any issues they would potentially be on the smaller roads. I don't think you will have any problems though as you have driven in other countries.
the hire cars are generally more expensive at the airport. But what you need to consider the cost of getting to another location and the time.
you will be pretty quickly on the m4 after landing at lhr. Like all airports you just need to go slowly to start off with to make sure you are heading in the right direction.
we also enjoyed this restaurant, it is close to Marlborough.
Righty-O. (I thought you might tell me that folks don't stop at blind corners with foliage or tall hedgerows, or at intersections - they surely don't in California.) Thanks again, Sg.
P.S. The Menu at The Harrow looks phenomenal. Your espial skills for unearthing gastronomical gems (worldwide, I might add) is sublime. We are so fortunate to have you in our midst.
Ah, a mention of cricket works wonders - particularly as I'm presently sitting in a UK awaiting a major frontal system.
As for my reference to an anti-Northern bias, t'was only in jest. The suggestions you've received seem rich and wise. On a future visit, however, you might consider a trip to York and Durham ( each having truly exceptional cathedrals dating back to 12/13th centuries); and from these onwards to Edinburgh.
Most importantly, have a great trip - and let me know if there's anything I could help with.
I hope the storm isn't too bad up your way. It looks fairly onerous in some parts in the south (tree trunks falling and such).
Yesterday, to my surprise I noticed that my San Francisco Forty Niners were playing a football game in London. Turns out the NFL has been scheduling games at Wembley for a number of seasons already. I was pleasantly surprised to see so many fans in attendance wearing NFL gear for their favorite teams. It made me wonder if the there are any first class cricket or international competitions held here in the U.S. A couple of questions, please... How would one go about discovering match schedules? When is cricket season? I couldn't seem to find anything on schedules. Would you be able offer some insight? Thanks!
It seems ages since I last posted on MRI. I had a lot of problems posting whilst on our 3 month tour earlier this year and I guess I got out of the habit … I was also daunted by the amount of catching up that I had to do. Well, your posting has prompted me to get back involved … thanks.
I can see that you have had many helpful responses. I agree that focusing on a smaller area would be wise, especially given our unpredictable UK weather in the spring. I have frequently flown into LHR and had to hire a car to get to a meeting in the Bristol area. Getting out of LHR is not too bad … the car hire locations (I generally use Hertz) are away from the main terminals and all have fairly frequent shuttles. From LHR, it is a fairly short drive to the M4, which takes you straight down to Bristol.
Getting into Bristol is not too bad and it is easier to get to the Bristol City Centre Marriott than the Royal. The Royal is a more historic building but the City Centre one is where I stayed more often as the parking was easier and the rates better. The City Centre Marriott is a bit of a modern block but they did have a CL when I used to stay there. I think other people have given you many ideas of places to visit in the area. If you fancy trying a quirky English pub, the Bridge Inn in Passage Street is worth a visit … it's a pretty small pub and generally has real English ales from local micro-breweries. I am sure that the Marriott Concierge will be able to give you directions.
When you get back to London, please touch base again. If you send me a personal email, I'll give you a contact number. If you fancy meeting up, my wife and I would be happy to get together with you one day. Perhaps we could give you guys a guided tour of one or two historic locations and do dinner somewhere interesting. If you like Italian, there is a great restaurant near Oxford Street called Latium. But there are hundreds of restaurants to choose from. If you fancy taking in a show at the theatre one evening, go to the ticket booth in Leicester Square … they have cheap tickets for that evening.
Glad to hear that you are coming to Blighty!
Welcome back to Insiders, and thank you for the excellent info. I believe I can use my cat. 5 certificates at the Bristol Marriott and St. Pierre, which would be a plus. The micro-brew pub sounds perfect.
It would certainly be a delight to get together with you and Ann Marie. (We are serious connoisseurs of Italian cuisine. Well okay, to trim it down a bit, we simply love authentic Italian especially made with imported ingredients. The Latium menu looks quite splendid.) I will touch base with you as the date moves closer.
About this quirky springtime weather in GB that a few here have mentioned... I was a bit puzzled by it and so did some researching. Here's what I found: "If the rain will ruin your holiday, then you need to choose another country." "There's no point in picking a date based upon the weather; it's completely random, any month can be glorious or terrible. Pick a date and just take what you get." "But of course, everyone knows that London weather can be quite unpredictable." (Oh, rightio, well now I too know ). I don't mind rain. I'll be sure to bring a coat (sigh) and dress in layers.
"Tiddley, Iddley, Ighty,
Hurry me home to Blighty,
Blighty is the place for me!"
That's great Pluto. Yes, layers are always good!
Just a few more pointers re travel between the airport and Central London and travelling around in the city itself. Apologies if anyone has already covered this but I couldn't see it on a brief read through the history.
As I mentioned before, getting in and out of Heathrow in a rental car is not too difficult and, once you are on the M4, you have plenty of time to practice driving on the wrong side of the road on a large highway. You need to avoid the rush 'hour' periods of 0700-1000 and 1600-1900 if possible.
If you do decide to hire and return a car to the airport, the fastest way into London is on the Heathrow Express. The Express runs every 15 mins and takes about 15 mins … the cost of a return ticket is currently £34 per person. (I have always found it easy to manage with bags.) The Express arrives at Paddington Station which is about 4 miles from County Hall. You could get there by using the Underground Tube system but that would be a challenge with bags. The last time that I did it by Taxi, it cost about £20. (If you want the easiest route, a Taxi from Heathrow would cost £45 to £85, depending on traffic … you could check options with Jerry as I believe that he uses a car service from Heathrow.)
Getting about London is quite cheap. If you buy an Oyster Card, you can use that to travel on any buses or underground trains. The card will cost £5 deposit each and then you just top up with cash as you travel. They guarantee that the charges in any one day will not exceed a Day Travelcard cost. We use the cards all the time when we are in London.
If you would prefer to do the journey to Bristol by train, there is a website that gives you times, costs etc. I'll send you the link but I don't know if it will work internationally. If it doesn't, let me know and I'll check out any trains that you are interested in …National Rail Enquiries - Official source for UK train times and timetables. The station that you would need for Bristol City Centre would be Bristol Temple Meads.
Good luck with your planning. I am in the process of planning a tour of Ireland for next year. Ann Marie has banned any long-haul journeys and wants to do something local!
Great information! (As usual)
Yes, I arrange for the Concierge to have a private car at LHR that greets you as you clear customs, walks you to a nice vehicle, and takes you directly to the hotel. The charge is THE SAME as a taxi, but a much better ride. Likewise, I put the charge onto my room bill and do the same thing returning to LHR. I think the charge is around 60 L, but the concierge can give you all the details. If anyone needs the email address to the Concierge, please let me know. The Head Concierge, as well as the rest of the staff is wonderful!
chrisf, you may remember meeting this guy, he has always been most helpful!
Nic, is a "Master" Concierge at making your London stay memorable!
The Heathrow Express runs underground until it gets outside of LHR. Then it runs outdoors the rest of the way to Paddington, but there isn't much to see. The ride only takes about 20 minutes.
The Piccadilly Line (Underground) runs underground until it gets past Hounslow, I think. Then it is outside until Baron's Court. There's more to see than on the Heathrow Express but not a lot. After Baron's Court, the next stop is Earl's Court which is in the "tube" so it's a deep line. It runs that way all thru Central London...The ride to Central London takes about 70 minutes, it's much cheaper than the Heathrow Express, buy an Oyster Card.
Pluto, coming into London from LHR is not a particularly scenic route regardless of which way you come. It also depends upon 'when' you arrive. The London 'rush hour' periods are pretty horrific (but not as bad as LA!!). Also, in March/April daylight hours are between about 11 and 14 hours a day and we also have a swap over by 1 hour for Daylight Saving Time at the end of March. So, it may be dark when you arrive. However, if you have quite a few bags and would like a relaxed journey into Central London … use the Jerry option and arrange a private car … even if you sit in traffic, it is far less stressful.
Both the Heathrow Express and the Heathrow Connect follow the same line (mostly above ground) from the airport to Paddington station. I only used the service when leaving London and based on my experience, I'd reccomend the Express even though it is twice as expensive (about 20 pounds one way) as it is more frequent and faste. At Paddington there was also a longer wait for tickets becasue while the Express has a dedicated ticket area, the Connect involves waiting to buy tickets with train passengers going to other destinations (not an issue at LHR). There is not too much to see, so that isn't an issue, but if cost is a factor, the cheapest way is the underground on the Piccadilly line as others have mentioned.
Sounds like a good trip. Lots of places you could go north as well, though Marriott properties can be farther apart depending on your destinations. As for outside of the airport vs at the airport for rentals, you might find it easier/cheaper to hire a car locally and take the train for longer distances. Fuel prices aren't cheap by any means and there's a fantastic railway system to get you from most anywhere to anywhere else. Just something to consider....plus you can sleep on the train perhaps.
As for roadways, you have the standard interstates, then town roads, but different than the US, when you get outside of town you can find roads like this which is actually a two way road We encountered a variety of oncoming traffic on roads like these, mostly giving way to the "size matters" rule and getting out of the other guy's way
You will definitely want/need a good GPS with current maps. Many roads are not marked well, if at all and if possible get one that can reroute you should there be some issue with traffic. Which I'm sure is how we wound up on the road above.
Have a great time, take lots of pics!
No doubt a day late and a pound short, and perhaps somewhere in the discussion, this might already be posted (I didn't read thru, busy planning my Oahu trip, but I saw sg's answer and the word cotswolds) - but just in case, here are some possible relevant offers - be sure to check the side and review, every few weeks. Good luck in planning.
Ouch! misterchk … that's a bit harsh on Glasgow.
I know that Glasgow suffered badly from WW2 bombing raids and that there were a lot of 60's block buildings that replaced the historic bomb damaged buildings … however, there is still a lot to see and do in Glasgow and the surrounding area. This city is the home to Rennie Mackintosh and there are many examples of his work to be seen … The Willow Tea Room and the House for an Art Lover … are a couple of great examples. Glasgow is also home to one of my favourite restaurants … Rogano's. Merchant City used to be a very run down area, but it has now been redeveloped and is quite a fun place, especially in the evenings. There are also still some great examples of historic architecture, especially around George Square.
I also enjoyed a visit to the Auchentoshan Distillery in Clydebank, which was on the way to Loch Lomond … another great place for a day trip from Glasgow. I have also found the Glasgow Marriott team to be very welcoming when we visited … however, I do accept that externally the hotel is not stunning architecturally.
I also enjoy Edinburgh and agree that it is a very historic city and more 'compact' from a tourist perspective. However, I have found Glasgow to be far from just a "large industrial city". To qualify my perspective … I live way down south, just north of London, so I have no specific ties to either Scottish city other than as a tourist.
Pluto, despite the attractions of both Scottish cities, I suggest that these should be on a schedule for one of your future retirement trips.
I am a hiker, so my ideas of good things to see would probably differ from yours, so I won't get into that, unless you want me to.
Regarding the driving. I spent 6 months there, at first with an auto (with GPS), then, after getting used to the driving (and there is more to get used to than just which side of the road) I switched to the less-expensive manual (still with GPS). What I found out to be the easiest way to handle which side of the road to drive on was to think of it as, "driver is always in the middle of the road." Doesn't matter where you are in the world, the steering wheel will always be positioned so that the driver side is in the middle of the road. With that in mind I never found myself on the wrong side of the road.
Edit: One thing I would suggest seeing are the Cambridge Botanical Gardens. They are utterly beautiful, and far more than just a conservatory, the outside gardens are the best I've seen anywhere.
Glad to have you on Insiders.
I enjoy hiking as well, but you are correct, my intention this trip is to only do a one day 10-12 mile hike in the Wye Valley (Peak and Lake Districts will be for another visit.) I've also read about a great hike through Wales (something like 136 miles over 12 days, not exactly sure; here's the link The Wye Valley Walk - A perfect mix of hill and river walking). Though honestly, I don't know if I could sustain that schedule over 12 days, having never done anything of such scope. One or two days is one thing; twelve days, an entirely different matter, though it sounds fantastic.
That's a brilliant thought regarding the driver being in the middle of the road. I had forgotten about that mental strategy, but remember now trying to focus on that concept when first driving in Japan (too many years ago).
My cousin lives in Cambridge (married to a scientist who works at the Uni) so just may have an opportunity to visit the botanical gardens. Thanks so much for the suggestion!
Thank you for the kind words.
I don't know if you've hiked in England before or if this will be your first time. I was in the Midlands, and found out that many of the hiking trails are far different than what we have here. Most of the trails I was on were pathways through "private" property, farms and the like. Spent a lot of time opening and closing gateways from one farm to another. People, and the animals, were all very friendly to hikers, but it was an odd experience.
Just returned from England. I'll share my experiences and advice across a couple posts to this topic, but the first thing I want to stress is that if you think your agenda might be too aggressive, it definitely is. Don't try to cram in too much. There is so much to do and leaving extra free time in your schedule will make the trip far more enjoyable. You'll have no problem filling the time.
Here is what I managed to accomplish on a day trip from Bristol. Left the city about 7:30 and drove to the village of Cheddar and up through the Cheddar Gorge. What scenery! Arrived in Wells by about 9:00 and toured the amazing Cathedral. Before leaving, had morning tea in the cafe. From there, drove to Glastonbury where I climbed the tor (quite a hike especially in the rain). I thought about touring the ruined abbey, but with between the rain and the climb, I opted out. Leaving Glastonbury, I drove to Bath by way of the village of Nunney and stopped at the ruins of a fantastic 14th century castle. Only stayed about 20 minutes (which was enough), but really enjoyed it. By the time I got to Bath it was already 15:00 and in early November, that meant it would getting dark in an hour or so. Stopped for afternoon tea, but didn't get to do much of anything else (must go back to rectify this someday). By the time I got back to Bristol is was well past dark (18:30 or so).
The round trip drive accounted for maybe three hours, but with all the stuff to see along the way, it became a long day and even then, there were many things I missed.
On the plus side, I had absolutely no problem driving. The car was a small, manual transmission, diesel which got great gas mileage. I expected to have trouble adjusting to shifting with my left hand, but did not (it was incredibly easy and I haven't driven a stick regularly in more than a decade). The only difficulties turned out to be the narrow streets in the towns and villages and the traffic in the cities.
I'll add some more comments on driving and about the Marriotts in Bristol when I get a chance. I'll also post some pictures.
pluto77, here are a few photos from my recent venture into the west of England. Your interests and mine may intersect in a few areas, so I hope you find these useful.
You mentioned wanting to stop at Stonehenge. It would be almost a crime to get that close and not stop.
A new visitors center is under construction, but I don't know if it will be complete by next spring or not. Parking will likely be a challenge if it is still being built, but don't let that stop you.
If you find stone circles interesting, you might also consider a stop at Avebury.
This site is much larger than Stonehenge and you can walk amongst the stones. In fact the village of Avebury is actually inside the ring of stones. It's only a short drive from the M4 between LHR an Bristol and well worth a visit. If you go, have lunch (or a pint) at the Red Lion.
This place has the distinction of being the only pub inside a stone circle. Inside the pub is also a medieval well that is reported the final resting place of the wife of one of the villagers some centuries back. BTW, it's covered with plexiglass now, so no one will try to repeat history. Decent food and fabulous ambiance.
In Bristol, it you stay at the City Center try to secure a room overlooking the park.
Not that you'll want to spend much time in your room, but a view is always a plus. BTW, don't forget to look up things to do in Bristol. There are a ton of things to do. I didn't have time, but I'd love to go back a tour the SS Great Britain. I saw it from across the river, but would love to have explored it.
Not sure if you are planning on going to Wells, but the cathedral there is awesome (I guess most cathedrals are rather awe inspiring).
Finally, if you get anywhere near the village of Nunney (along the A361 east of Wells, south of Bath) stop at the ruins of Nunney Castle.
Another truly impressive sight (one that is likely to be devoid of tourists since it a bit off the beaten path).
I really wanted to visit Cornwall, so I didn't spend as much time around Bristol as I could have. There is so much to do. Limit yourself to a couple areas and really focus on them. You'll enjoy the trip much more and have time to discover things you didn't know about before you left.
Thanks so much for taking the time to post information about your trip, and especially for the info/photo of Nunney Castle. Excellent! It looks like you had a terrific holiday and I am happy for you. Ponder thoughtfully on your advice, I shall...
I'm encouraged to hear that the driving went well. I just returned from Australia, but I didn't drive. I sat in the back seat and was chauffered by my kind brother-in-law. Every time my mom got into the front seat, she kept getting in on the driver side. One time, she didn't even realize that the steering wheel was in front of her, though she knew something wasn't quite right. It was hilarious, especially when my brother didn't miss a beat and just hopped in on the passenger side and said to her, "So where are you taking us today?"
Your photos and report have filled me with excitement and anticipation for my forthcoming journey. Thanks again.
Help is at hand but I'm not sure whether being a Brit makes me the right person to answer but here goes:
I would highly recommend Brighton- Used to live here and loved it. It is about 50 minutes from Victoria (close to County Hall) and is a lovely, laid, back bohemian town. Don't miss North Laine, the South Lanes, Hove etc. Also, the Mock Turtle is a good spot for tea as it is a little like an eccentric aunty's house. Preston street has plenty of reasonable restaurants (think Indian, Chinese). Pomopoko is great value for Japanese food or you have Jamie's Italian. There is a beach, but be warned that it is not exactly the Seychelles. Having said that, a walk along the seafront and a visit to the pier is worthwhile (a strangely British experience- you will know what I mean once you've been there).
Second tip would be the Cotswolds. I come from here but this a very accessible area from London with lovely scenery and probably the rural England you would imagine. The Cotswolds is a loosely defined area but I wouldn't recommend staying in Swindon (not a great place and not really in the Cotswolds if you're a purist). If I were you, I would consider a non-Marriott option and maybe stay in a B&B. Places to check out include Broadway, Stow on the Wold, Bourton on the Water, Winchcombe, Kingham. The train from Paddington to Kingham takes about 1.5hrs. If you prefer to stay in a Regency town, how about Montpellier Chapter in Cheltenham. If your trip coincides with (horse)racing in Cheltenham, I would recommend checking it out (not everyone's cup of tea I know).
Oxford is worth a look too and not too far from the Cotswolds as well as Bath. I'm sure the Lake District is lovely too but unfortunately never been (far from London). In 5 days, I think a flight to Scotland would be pushing it.
My suggested (only suggested mind you) itinterary would be:
Day 1: Brighton
Day 2-4: Cotswolds
Day 5: Oxford, Bath or Cambridge
I recently posted about London off the beaten track so you might like to check this out too.
Hope that helps and would be interested to hear how you get on.
Thank you very much for your informative post. Brighton does sound interesting. I hope I can get to all of these places someday, if not this next trip (assuming I can fulfill my plans - some family priorities have crept up this year). I'll be sure to post about how it all shakes out. Thanks again for taking the time to share your knowledge.
Also timed tickets from 1 February 2014: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/stonehenge/
We did something similar- and here's how we did it, we started in Bath, stayed 2 nights at the Hilton (no Marriott!) then took the train to Swindon. We picked up a rental car in Swindon and did Avebury, Stratford, and the Cotswolds as day trips. Then returned the car at Heathrow. We rented a automatic, and the motorways were fine. Some of the smaller roads were hard, but we survived.