Are you considering a tour such as the one I’ve just been on with Back Roads Touring in the UK? Cooper and I are fans of tours because put simply, if you’re short on time / on your own / not travelled much / don’t want the hassle of getting lost or stuck in dreadful accommodation, then generally with a tour you can’t go wrong. There are however, some important factors to remember if you’re embarking on a tour. Further to this, if you begin a tour in London but are a first-timer in the city, here are a few tips that may be of use…
Top tour travel tips London and UK
11 tips/preparing for a tour + first time in London:
How long will you be in London – is it worthwhile buying an Oyster (transport) Card? My rule of thumb is that if you’re going to be commuting in London for over three days then buy a ‘weekly pass’ – it’s MUCH cheaper than ‘topping up’ all the time and allows Tube and bus travel in all the areas you’re going to need. If travelling within the city for just a day or two, buy a ‘day pass’ each day, unless you literally are only planning one trip on the Tube for the day (unlikely).
Consider day tour options around the city – it’s huge with lots to see. The ‘big red bus’ hop-on-hop-off option is always a good one.
Be careful when commuting on buses and the Tube – while these services are efficient for familiar users, sometimes visitors will find the rush of busy passengers overwhelming and insensitive. Be aware that buses can pull off without warning.
PLAN what you want to see and where you want to go – Tower of London, Kensington Palace etc. Organise passes in advance. London is vast, and it can be arduous and tiring to navigate if you’re unfamiliar with the city.
Most pubs and cafes offer free WiFi, so if your hotel is charging through the roof for this service, chances are there is a free option within just a block or two of your location.
On tour, always be on time back to the coach – it is only fair on the driver/guide and fellow passengers, and it’s very stressful for everyone if people have to wait and/or come searching for you.
Never go anywhere / leave the coach without a credit card and your passport, as well as contact number(s) for your guide and other emergency contact details – just in case!
In the UK, Orange Mobile offers inexpensive pay-as-you-go SIM cards (easy to top up at any ATM) that can be utilised in most mobile phones, iPhones, and even iPad / tablet options. Orange or T-Mobile shops are all over London.
Don’t over-pack! Inevitably everyone who ends up with too many (large) bags admits they’ve brought too much, and it becomes painstaking trying to get from one place to another. Also, take clothes that you can mix, match and layer. It helps to bring clothes you can wash together too – you don’t want to be doing ‘separate loads’ on the go. If you’re stopping somewhere for two nights, do your washing as soon as you stop which leaves ample time for drying. Wrap washing in a towel and ring as much water out of it as you can, then hang washing around the room or on coat hangers. Jeans are serviceable, but can be quite heavy if you take too many.
Ask your tour guide where the nearest supermarket is, and buy your water in big bottles which is far cheaper.
If you see a person travelling on their own, include them in your outings. The more people you embrace, the better. You’ll also get more out of your trip by talking to and getting to know your co-travellers.
As those of you reading this blog will know, I’ve recently been on a journey through the ‘Heart of England’ with Back Roads Touring in the UK (organised via Escape Travel in Australia).
Back Roads Touring offers a wide range of options throughout the UK and Europe, and in fact I have my eye on several more trips in the UK that I’d love to book over the coming year or so (particularly the Corners of Cornwall 7-day, The Red Dragon of Wales 6-day, and Secrets of Southern England 4-day tours – take a look at the itineraries on the website and you’ll understand why). A few of our co-travellers had even booked two or three Back Roads Touring adventures in a row, with our Heart of England tour sitting in the middle of their holiday plans.
The Heart of England tour itself though is a classic choice, especially if you’re trying to decide on one particular option in the country. Four days was a nice length of time to be on a tour, there were no early morning starts and we generally had enough time to explore each destination. Best of all, this tour offers an overview of all that we’d typically associate with England – green countryside, old English pubs, castles, royalty, Shakespeare, medieval sites all the way through to mythological and mysterious destinations such as Stonehenge.
Evidently these tours are ideal for a person with a mature, intelligent and interested mindset who is a keen, (sometimes) seasoned traveller seeking a low-stress adventure, as well as quality, comfortable accommodation and up-market dining options.
With so many tour operators to choose from these days, why consider Back Roads Touring?
Small travel groups.
Mini bus means travelling through towns and seeing them (many large buses can’t go where Back Roads Touring can).
Quality dining options.
Personalised service including travel advice and assistance.
The opportunity to get to know everyone on board.
Relaxed travel experience.
Expert guides who introduce ‘local’ experiences at each tour stop.
Back Roads Touring offers the discerning traveller the ultimate in exploration options based on over 25-years experience in the small group and tailor-made tour industry in this region.
My own trip highlights? This time around I’d definitely say Windsor Castle (vast, stunning, lavish, historical) and Stratford upon Avon (romantic… Shakespeare! Need I say more?). I was also impressed by the accommodation and delicious meals that were part of the ‘Back Roads Touring’ experience.
Today’s last Back Roads Touring ‘Heart of England’ adventure was one we were all excited about. We set off early from Bath and headed out across the Salisbury Plain towards mysterious Stonehenge. Dating back to 3100 BC and a time when there were only about 20,000 people in Britain, there are many theories and debates surrounding just how and why this stone circle was built. One of the few things known for sure is that we had begun to master agricultural skills at the time when Stonehenge was constructed. Evidence strongly suggests the stone circle functioned as a calendar of sorts, to help determine the best time to reap and sow the land. It is quite incredible to witness the precision of the stone cuttings, given that they would have been designed using only tools available in the stone age.
Interested in more? Here’s a short clip from the BBC on the building of Stonehenge:
The site is a spectacle to behold, and we were fortunate that the sun was shining on the famous scene for us this morning. Once we’d all wandered around the site – inspecting it as directed by our handy audio guides – we left the growing crowds behind, driving not too far down the road to the pretty city of Salisbury.
This city is particularly famous for its cathedral – evidently the most painted of all the cathedrals by artists of the 19th century. Its iconic spire is the tallest in Britain, and the cathedral is home to one of only a few original copies of the Magna Carta. Just imagine, what must it have been like nearly 1000 years ago when some of these cathedrals were being built? Some towns would have even sprung up because of the work! Has anyone seen or read Pillars of the Earth?
It’s a particularly interesting and historical stop on the tour, and aside from the cathedral, Salisbury itself also boasts numerous other amazing museums, old churches and buildings to explore if time permits.
Our final stop of the tour was Windsor Castle. This particular attraction actually ended up being one of the key highlights of the trip for me and several others in our group. Preferred residence of the Queen, and a place where the royal family has been residing for many many years, Windsor Castle is brimming with spectacular rooms, relics, art, photographs, weapons, memorials and history that has been a long time in the making.
Unfortunately the Queen wasn’t there to greet us this time around – evidently her car was stuck in mud on the way back from Wales (it has been raining a lot here this week)! Ideally take at least a day to navigate the whole property properly, especially if royal history interests you. I was particularly fascinated by St George’s Chapel, a beautiful gothic structure that still regularly hosts religious ceremonies but is the burial place for many of England’s past leaders including Henry VIII who lies beside his ‘favourite’ wife and mother of his only male heir, Jane Seymour. The other highlight was Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House – spectacular, vast and apparently the largest dolls’ house in the world; and I quite enjoyed seeing a special photographic exhibition presented to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee this year.
Overall this journey was fun, interesting and absolutely highly recommended. Thanks to Back Roads Touring UK, Escape Travel Australia, and our terrific guide for this particular trek, VJ, for a truly enjoyable four-day adventure through England’s historical heartland.
Although there was a period in British history where bathing was deemed bad for the health (and consequently a freshen-up was only scheduled for once or twice a year), there are also important sections of history where a bath was so important that a whole city emerged because of it!
Today’s road trip to Bath included a stop-off at the picture-perfect town of Bourton-on-the-Water, dubbed ‘Venice of the Cotswolds’ – an immaculate little place that continues to demonstrate how inspiringly beautiful England really is.
We also explored a very interesting old National Trust property ‘800 years in the making’, Lacock Abbey and the Fox Talbot Museum.
Located in rural Wiltshire, Lacock village and its Abbey have been featured in numerous film and television productions including Harry Potter, The Other Boleyn Girl, Pride & Prejudice and many more. There are no street lights or antennas here, so the town is easily transformed into a film set for period pieces. The Abbey was originally settled by nuns in the 1200’s. It’s described as being a ‘quirky country house of various architectural styles’, complete with medieval rooms and a cloister court. Another great piece of history associated with this place is the fact that a former resident of Lacock, William Henry ‘Fox Talbot’, is credited with inventing photography, and a museum celebrating this is located in the Abbey.
Bath is a highlight of any trip throughout England. It’s a stunning little city (and a designated World Heritage Site) that really made its mark during the elegant Georgian age when none other than famous author, Jane Austen, resided here. Of course, people were travelling to Bath well before Georgian times. As legend has it, back in the 860s BC, King Bladud – once a Prince struck down with leprosy and forced to leave his home in disguise and take up a job as a swineherd in a regional part of the country – discovered waters that healed him. More on the legend HERE, however it’s these origins that set Bath on the map. So much so that the Romans decided they wanted in on this these ‘magical healing waters’, and the rest, as they say, is history. Roman architecture (or its influence) is seen everywhere in Bath and certainly adds to the city’s charm and intrigue. The original Roman Baths are still the city’s biggest attraction.
Ideally a few days are required to explore Bath properly – beautiful Bath Abbey (one of the last great medieval churches, begun around 1499, completed 1611), Jane Austen Centre, Assembly Rooms, Fashion Museum, gardens, more museums – attractions old and new. Bath certainly offers something for everyone. It’s a romantic and remarkable mix of ancient and modern history, as well as the very best contemporary dining, coffee, shopping and luxury options. We stayed in the heart of the city at the Abbey Hotel which is ideally situated for exploring on foot (which, by the way, is very easy to do – Bath is a small walking city, however there are numerous tours including the popular ‘red bus hop-on-hop-off option for those daunted by all the hills here).
FUN FACT: Yesterday we all discovered (from a co-traveller!) the origin of the term ‘posh’ (meaning ‘elegant, swanky, rich’). Evidently the term originates from passengers who were travelling on the P&O (Peninsula and Orient) between the UK and India – ‘port out, starboard home’ were the best seats in the house, hence ‘posh’ stuck.
I was looking forward to today’s visit to Stratford upon Avon. I haven’t seen all of England’s towns (wish I had) but I think I can safely say this is definitely one of the prettiest of them all. Obviously this medieval market town is particularly famous for one writer – William Shakespeare.
I’ll admit, I’m a fan. He’s influenced so much of our language and his stories continue to stand the test of time. I’m intrigued by the entire period he represents and so visiting Stratford upon Avon has always been part of my own ‘bucket list’ of places to see.
Today it’s my birthday – I’m an Anzac Day baby. Happy Birthday to me! It was a special day in Stratford upon Avon too, as April 25 marks the anniversary of Shakespeare’s funeral.
His birth home, Anne Hathaway’s cottage, Holy Trinity Church (where he’s buried) and various other monuments around the town showcased tributes and flowers to mark the occasion. Interestingly, William Shakespeare was born on April 23 – and he also died on April 23 (evidently in different years)! Weird – the thought did cross my mind today – is it sad, ironic or completely extraordinary that you’re born and die on the same day? Perhaps it just means you’re extra extra special, which he definitely was (and is).
Everyone in our group enjoyed Stratford upon Avon – apparently the second most visited place in England outside of London. It’s a delightful and interesting town where even if you’re ‘not into Shakespeare’, it’s impossible to not feel a little whimsical and romantic exploring the old streets and homes – all well maintained by diligent workers and fans of the Bard.
As part of the day’s adventures we visited Anne Hathaway’s enchanting cottage (pictured above). Steeped in history – if only the walls could talk.
Anne was William’s wife, and her family lived in this home for generations – up until 1911 in fact. Historical items in the home include beds (Anne’s parents’ bed as well as a bed that is thought to have been Anne and William’s ‘marriage bed’), kitchen and garden items.
The guide at the cottage, Alison, was SO knowledgeable and the visit was worthwhile for all her interesting facts and stories alone.
One thing I found incredibly entertaining was that she told us how in Tudor times, among much other baking, bread emerged from the oven burnt on the bottom (remember, no trays then); children under 11-years-old got the bottom bit first (they were ‘lowly’, like servants), next cut (or the ‘cut(s) above’) were distributed to the older children and so on; then the ‘upper crust(s)’ were given to the man of the house or distinguished guests. Hence class system connotations derived from a ‘simple’ process with a family loaf of bread – this, like so many other phrases coined from this period are still used to this day.
Today we also passed through quaint, intriguing little villages like Mickleton – home of the Three Ways House – a pub that lays claim to the popular ‘pudding club’ – renowned the country over! We also explored the exquisite villages of Broadway and Snowshill and stopped by a worthwhile lookout point (where on a clear day you can see all the way to Wales), Dover Hill – named after a guy called Robert Dover who actually came up with the concept of the Cotswold Olympick Games which this year celebrates its 400th milestone and highlights important cultural sports like… shin kicking – see a video here!
This is the second tour I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of, and once again I’m struck by how lovely it is to get to know different people from various parts of the world whom I might otherwise never have crossed paths with. Over breakfast, lunch, on the bus and while sipping on an afternoon coffee – each conversation with co-adventurers – solo travellers, couples, friends, mother-daughter teams and siblings – reveals something new: a positive attitude, life challenge overcome, surprising secret skill, a helpful piece of advice… It’s really possible to make lovely friends and be inspired on trips like this, because the bond of exploration and new experience is shared by all. We’re lucky to have amazing organised journeys on offer to us now – I’m a huge advocate of these tours because as I’ve said before – it ends up being about the travel and the (new) friends.
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