UK 7-10 day trip (1 hr Research)

Request:  What do you recommend for a 7-10 day trip to UK? I know Rick Steves’ suggestions… Would be interested in yours :0) also, how tricky is the driving on the left side or do we need a car at all? Loch Ness is a must see.  We are a family of 6. 
Putting it all together:
Day 1:
Option 1:  Rent a car and drive to Stonehenge.  Depending on what time your flight arrives you can also add Salisbury and Bath and make it a long day.  (Most flights to Europe arrive in the AM.  Since the airports are outside of the city this is probably the easiest and cheapest location to rent a car.  A full day will help you get over jet lag but the kids can nap without crashing.)
Option 2:  Day One in London.
Day 2:  Return from Bath or day two in London.
Day 3:  London.
Day 4:  London for one more day?  Take the train to Cambridge (I personally prefer Cambridge over Oxford).  Visit Windsor Castle (arrange for tickets well in advance of when you leave)
Day 5:  Train or fly to Edinburgh.  Go as early as possible to have as much time to see the sights.
Day 6:  Full day trip to Loch Ness.
Day 7:  Fly one way to Belfast or Dublin.
Day 8:  Rent a car for one day in order to get outside the city near Belfast or Dublin.  Fly back to London either late this evening or early the next morning.
Day 9:  Full day or ½ day in London.  Don’t return to London the same day as your international flight.
Day 10:  Fly home
Itinerary Suggestions:
  • London is a huge city with tons to do.  (It is my absolute favorite city in the world).  I think you need a minimum of 3 days in the city to feel like you hit some of the high points.  You can easily fill a week or even two.
  • For the trip to Scotland I would recommend flying from London to Edinburgh or taking the train.  There are great discount airlines in London (EasyJet is probably your best bet but also look at Ryan Air.)  But once you travel to the airport, get to the airport early, fly, and then get to the city from the airport, a train will be just as fast (under 5 hrs), comparable in price, and will give the kids more freedom to spread out.
  • From Edinburgh you can take the train or drive to Loch Ness.  The train is about 4 hrs and 50 pounds.  With a large family, renting a car would again be cheaper and give you some freedom.  This may also be one of those rare times I recommend a tour.  At a quick glance (let me know if you want further research), it looks like a tour to Loch Ness from Edinburgh runs about $60 USD per person.  This would be less stressful (driving in this part of the country will be more difficult), you can enjoy the scenery, it will help you fit it into one day, and you can be with some like minded travelers
  • You don’t have much time, but if you want to do a full day in Dublin or Belfast you could fly out of Edinburgh one way and then fly back to London
  • The above itinerary gives you a good taste of 3 of the 4 countries that make up the UK.  Wales is beautiful and worth a trip but it is hard to get to (need to drive) and it is less destination oriented and more of a place to hang out and relax or do outdoor activities.
Things to See and Do in London:
Tower of London
Walk around Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster, Buckingham Palace (time it to hit the changing of the guard), St Pauls
For a WWII buff – the Churchill War Rooms
British Museum – can take 1 hr or all day
Walk around Piccadilly Circus
Sherlock Holmes Museum (knowing how you love him)
London Eye, Natural History Museum, Science Museum, Madam Tussauds, Harry Potter Tour (if the kids would be into it)
A West End Show
More off the beaten path (some of my personal favorites):  Harrods Food Halls, Greenwich, London City Museum, Imperial War Museum
Driving:
  • I would not under any circumstances recommend renting a car in London.  Traffic is horrible.  Parking is worse.  It will be an expensive headache you don’t need.
  • That said, I would recommend renting a car to go to Stonehenge/Bath/Salisbury.  You can do this in one full day trip or a leisurely two days.  It will be cheaper with more freedom than a tour.
  • Driving on the left side is not as difficult as you would think it is.  For me, and most of the people I’ve talked to (I’ve lived in the UK for 2 years, Japan for 3 years) it is only difficult when there is not a steady stream of traffic and you have to turn.  Otherwise, drive slow and follow those in front of you.  But be careful of narrow roads and if you can’t drive a stick shift make sure your rental company knows you need an automatic.

Money Saving Recommendations:

  • Once you have dates, if you want help with hotel or airlines let me know.  But some overall thoughts…
  • Because you are a large family, I would recommend looking at Air B&B or a similar sight. It will be cheaper and you can all stay together.  London is such a big city that you don’t need to stay need a particular sight (you will be all over the city) BUT stay in zone 1. Even if you find an awesome deal outside of zone 1, you will most likely spend more overall (as well as eating up a lot of time) traveling between zones (tube prices are based on zone)
  • If you stay in an apartment, you can significantly cut down on food costs by going to the neighborhood Testco or Waitrose for breakfast items and snacks.  If you are really trying to save you can also pack a lunch (the UK has wonderful outdoor spaces).  British grocery stores also do wonderful prepared food so you can buy a dinner or two without having to buy a 100 ingredients or spend precious family time cooking.
  • If you decide to eat out – “tea time” (late lunch) is usually cheaper and is very filling.  You don’t have to actually drink tea and you can get a filling meal for less than dinner.  And of course, pubs and buying off the street is tasty, cheap and makes you feel like a local.
  • When looking for airfare some of the lesser known sites that will give you alerts and/or check smaller airlines:  whichairlines.com and airfare watch dog
  • Also keep an eye on Icelandic Air.  They often have wonderful deals and you can have a free layover in Iceland.
  • London has several airports.  Check fares going into all of them.
  • Put some thought into what you want to see in London.  It is a huge spreadout city.  You don’t want to waste time or money traveling back and forth.  See everything in one area at once.
  • Oyster pass for the tube.  Also if you think the kids won’t want to walk, look at the day passes.
  • Look at the London Pass.  It is not always a better deal than paying separately but look at the prices of what you know you want to see and compare the cost to the cost of the pass.  Don’t forget to include travel costs and if you think the kids would like the hop on hop off bus (I personally think you lose a lot of time waiting on the bus but I know hundreds of people that love them)
  • Westminster Abbey usually has a line and is quite expensive.  If you just want to go in, skip the line and go to the front and tell the guard you are there to pray/reflect.  You can sit in the pews but not walk around the abbey.
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