Travel recommendations are so particular. My fun might evoke your despair. So rather than advice about travel to England on a general level, here’s the story of what my daughter and I did on our summer vacation. If we arrive at wider insights, bonus points for all.
Our Somewhat Jaw-Dropping 10-Day Itinerary
First, the not-short 10-day itinerary. Links included for those who want yet more information. In sum, we spent 4 1/2 days in London, 2 days in Oxford, and 2 days in a Cotswold town called Chipping Campden. Chipping Campden. Isn’t that lovely? Onward.
- Land at 7:15am, after 10 hours in United Economy Plus. Take the Heathrow Express train to Paddington Station, freak out at Tube prices, take a cab to the Shangri-La at the Shard. Wonder whether it might have been cheaper to take a cab all the way.
- Get early check-in, feel incredibly grateful, eat breakfast, drink 6 gallons of tea.
- Go straight to St. Paul’s Cathedral, remember you don’t like ornate anything, feel grumpy, get audio tour, realize it’s all about Christianity instead of architecture, feel grumpier. Daughter decides to climb to top, mother sits listening to services. Feel even grumpier. Fall asleep sitting up in a chair meant for worship.
- Head off to tea at the Ham Yard Hotel with Jane Potrykus of simple+pretty. Feel much better. Turns out that keeping on the go does go a long way to prevent the effects of jet lag.
- Sleep coma.
- Grab coffee and tea at the Borough Market, just outside the Shangri-La. Meet friends at Southbank, where their children will be able to play inside and out. Arrive late because mom mistakes the time of meeting. Eat Mexican food, which apparently is now readily available in London.
- Walk to the Horrid Vortex Of Tourist Hordes, where one can visit the Houses of Parliament and the National Gallery in one afternoon. Both well worth braving hordes. However, recoil in shock at the cost of historic venue tickets (~$40USD), wonder if free museums compensate, muse on the pricing of power over art.
- Walk to a nice small plates dinner with friends at Polpo Covent Garden, and spectacular cocktails at the Savoy after. Sit just outside the jazz bar, so that you can actually hear each other talk.
- Sleep coma.
- Be first in line for the Tower of London. Once inside, make a beeline for the Crown Jewels. Ooooh and ah, enjoying the newish display layout. Take the moving walkway past Big And Sparkly more than once. Enjoy the history, and the pleasant docents, very much indeed.
- Eat lunch back at the Borough Market. Mom devours a hog roast sandwich, daughter Ethiopian vegetables, both delicious.
- Gird our loins for more tourism, visit the slightly quirky Tate Britain Gallery, in hopes of some Turners, appreciate English buses as long as daughter is the one interpreting the posted schedules, move on to the fascinating Churchill War Rooms, finish at Westminster Abbey in hopes of evensong. Find no evensong, only a service. Briefly wonder if my atheism has offended someone or some thing.
- Eat dinner in Pimlico, at a family restaurant, with actual family on my father’s side. Gawk at the beautiful skies.
- Sleep, in a little less of a coma.
- Take the Tube to Notting Hill, walk around
- Proceed to walk through Hyde and Kensington parks, with a surprise visit to Kensington Palace Gardens. Serendipity begins to work in your favor.
- Lunch, at Dinner. Absolutely fantastic food, not the best service, or maybe Americans just like to hurry more than everyone else.
- Wander through memories at Brompton Square and 17 Tregunter Road, visit the equally important Margaret Howell shop and Buckingham Palace. Or at least the outside of Buckingham Palace. In short, I would want to wear Howell but I wouldn’t want to live at Buckingham.
- Adventure up to North London for dinner at another friend’s house. Yes, we were quite lucky in the friends and family department. And there were others I would have loved to have visited, had we but world enough and time.
- Wander Shoreditch, appreciating graffiti and the remains of London’s industrial day.
- Lunch back at, you guessed it, Borough Market. Eat burgers, drink some ale, enjoy.
- Take the Oxford Coach from Victoria Station to, you guessed it, Oxford.
- Check in to the exceptionally pleasant Old Bank Hotel, where they blend modern luxury and old style very well, eat a reasonable dinner at its restaurant, Quod.
- Sleep. Turns out to be necessary every dang night.
- Walk through the absolutely beautiful Balliol College, visit the Museum of the History of Science, browse Blackwell’s books.
- Meet friends for lunch at the Cherwell Boat House.
- Experience the great pleasure of punting, complete with brief rain showers, and a subsequent ale at the pub
- Revel in homemade cake and tea with said generous and highly hospitable friends.
- Wander about looking for a pub for dinner, find sunset instead.
Dinner back at Quod. Dreadful service.
- Sleep. Wake up at midnight in annoyance at two women drinking and talking in the courtyard. Note to travelers, take a room on the street side.
- Try to visit Christ Church college, find out the courtyard is closed until 2pm, walk through the meadow instead. Sigh at the verdant vista.
- Take the bus up High Street to Oxford Station, and a train to Moreton-on-Marsh in the Cotswolds.
- Get picked up by the wonderful Reg in his taxi, having arranged the service previously, and dropped at our “cottage,” found via TripAdvisor’s “holiday lettings.”
- Pick up a few provisions ’round the corner, head off for a 6-mile walk on the Cotswold Way to Broadway. Traverse a lot of meadows, and only a few roads.
- Have Reg pick you up again and take you back to Chipping Campden. If you do this walk earlier in the day, on the right day, you can manage with buses.
- Peek out the window to see a steady downpour. Take some time to enjoy having a kitchen, eat breakfast.
- Walk the village. See Grevel House, built around 1380, and wander up to the church and graveyard. Don’t bother with the Arts and Crafts museum.
- Have a proper English tea at Badger Hall, which perhaps needless to say includes memorable scones.
- Make the long journey back to Heathrow. Perhaps a day into which we could have crammed more sights, but it felt good to have time given only to the blank slate of transportation.
- Determine that despite the attempts of Mr. Tourist Information to sell you a coach ticket, the public bus takes you to Bath Road for free. It’s the Number 111, in case you’re wondering.
- Enter the netherworld of airport hotels at the Sheraton Skyline Heathrow. It is wholly unobjectionable.
- Eat Indian food, which turns out to be plentiful and good in the area, at Annayu,
- Take that same free bus back to the airport and fly on home. The return trip is apt to be less miserable than the flight over, however, someone may spill a full 7-Up and rum on your new Max Mara coat, so do put it away.
Those Promised 7 Tips On Travel With Adult Children
1. Planning, Or More Accurately, How We Didn’t
Both my daughter and I, ordinarily, are big planners. I thought she’d want to run the show, she thought she’d like her mom take care of it. We forgot to communicate as much until halfway through the trip. Luckily, English-speaking destinations forgive a lot of bumbling, but it helps to talk about a journey with your companion in advance, even when you’ve known her for 27 years,
2. How Much To Do In One Day
People who are 57 are 57. People who are 27 are 27. In my experience, the first species likes to do 1-2 things per day, the second, more like 12. Meet in the middle. You’ll feel amazed at your capacity, she may see her mother’s aging for the first time and that’s not bad.
3. What You Need To Know About British Transportation
Get an Oyster card at the first Tube station you find with a staffed ticket counter. This is a stored value card that saves you money and time, on both the Tube and the buses. You put down a small deposit for the Oyster but it’s easy-peasy to return at Heathrow on departure. And I’d say London cabs, like almost everything else in the city, costs more than twice as much as a New York City taxi. Caveat Hailor.
4. Hauling Your Belongings
In my opinion, carry-on baggage is overrated on a non-stop flight. And beware your expert packing skills. Whatever you stuff into a bag at home you’re going to have to restuff each time you move. Oof.
Bring two handbags, one tote (for cameras, umbrellas, the Valentino heels you want to wear to dinner) and one small crossbody or other zipup (for money, Oyster and credit cards.) Establish a place for everything and stick to the plan. I lost my camera case after one too many It’s Off It’s On It’s Off It’s Ons.
5. Wearing The Right Clothes
England’s changeable climate, in conjunction with midlife’s decreased ability to regulate body temperature, leads to You’re Hot You’re Cold You’re Hot You’re Cold. The trench and the Barbour became British style icons for good reason, one piece of outerwear and you’re set. They are also easily removed in un-airconditioned Tube cars. Bring scarves if you suffer from fashion boredom, just make sure they are appropriate for the season. My long pink cashmere muffler was too hot for even a British summer. Duh, to everyone but me. BTW, even if you can make room for more than 4 pairs of shoes, don’t. Make sure you have waterproof city and country options.
6. Budget Priorities
This one’s simple. Budget where you don’t care, spend where you do. My daughter and I were happy to forgo cabs, traveling by Tube and enjoying the hustle, or walking in great peace and contentment through London’s parks. We ate either at street markets or at one of the best restaurants in the world, where we chose expensive wine. If you’re going big, don’t niggle the small bits.
7. Midlife Compensations And Joys
The middle-aged are not the young. See #2. We have trouble hurrying, our feet hurt, we see less well than we used to. And let’s share a collective moment of silence for our short-term memory. Wait, what were we talking about? So set yourself up to minimize the need to orient and any resultant fumbling. Most of this is solved in #4 and #5, by good shoes and carrying strategies. But you’ll minimize dithering if you keep a list, on your phone or even paper, of what happened yesterday and what’s supposed to happen today.
Luckily, serendipity and a boon companion favor us all. I wish you every happiness in your travels and time to see what is still new.
Note: My daughter just texted me to say I had forgotten the Victoria and Albert. So I had. We slipped that in on the way to Buckingham Palace;).
Hotels on TripAdvisor included the Shangri-La at the Shard, in London (room rates of $400 seem to be the lowest possible but you might want to check across several dates), The Old Bank Hotel in Oxford, a cottage rental in Chipping Campden, in the Cotswolds, and a pre-flight night at the Sheraton Skyline at Heathrow Airport. Links may generate commissions.