Getting Around England: What You Need to Know
This post was originally published on July 14, 2018.
My motto whenever going on a trip, whether it be a road trip to somewhere in-state or an adventure to another country, has always been that getting there is half the fun. One of my favorite parts of planning any trip is figuring out transportation. Maybe that seems a bit nerdy, but it's true. I love searching for flights and figuring out the cheapest way to get from Point A to Point B. That being said, I have so much experience at this point with transportation in England. We've tried every type of transportation imaginable at this point, so I thought I would share the pros and cons of all the different ways to get around the country!
After returning from our first trip to London in 2015, Ma and I didn't feel like we had seen nearly enough of the country, so in 2016 we returned and rented a car for a couple weeks, driving along the southern coast of England.
Pros of Renting a Car
FREEDOM: You will definitely get to see everything you want to see by renting a car. Public transport can only take you so far, so if you want to get off the beaten path, a car is your ticket there.
CONVENIENCE: Renting a car allows you to run on your own schedule - not the bus or train schedule. You'll get from town to town very quickly and be able to drive right up to (or at least close to) your hotel/attraction.
Cons of Renting a Car
HIGH-INTENSITY: The biggest problem with renting a car in England is that you have to actually be prepared to drive in England. I was still a teenager when we rented our car, so Ma had the pleasure of driving the entire way, and I got second-hand anxiety just watching her and trying to help her navigate on the opposite side of the road.
HIGH-COST: Public transportation is definitely much, much cheaper than paying a rental fee for every day of your trip plus the insurance and things like gas. But again - I will refer you to how convenient it is to drive, and you can determine which is more important to you.
I have a very strong obsession with train travel. Riding swiftly through beautiful, new landscapes while reading an Agatha Christie novel is actually my definition of the perfect afternoon. On our most recent trip, when we visited Highclere Castle, we traveled strictly by train and it was honestly so fun.
Pros of Train Travel
LOW-COST: Train travel, depending on how often you're moving from town to town and how far the journey is, can be significantly less expensive than renting a car. As I've mentioned before, be sure to compare your options based on your specific itinerary.
EASY: Train tickets are very easy to book. In fact, the whole process of train travel is very easy once you've completed one or two journeys. Even if you get a little turned around in the station, there are plenty of transportation employees who will be happy to tell you how to get where you're going.
Cons of Train Travel
LOCATIONS: It might go without saying, but not every town in England has a train station. Some of the cutest villages you will ever see are only accessible by car. And even if all the towns you want to visit do have a station, it may be in an inconvenient location. If your hotel is a long way from the train, you'll end up having to call a cab, which will be yet another added expense.
LUGGAGE LIMITATIONS: I don't know if you've ever tried to lug a 50-pound suitcase, carry-on, and backpack onto the Gatwick Express during peak travel time, but *Spoiler Alert* it isn't fun. If you choose train travel, you'll have to keep luggage to a minimum. I'd recommend a small, carry-on sized spinner and a backpack.
Okay, so obviously this only applies to you if you're staying in London, but chances are that if this is your first trip to England, you're going to London. Why wouldn't you?? And London is a big place. You can't walk everywhere - that is for sure. While I will acknowledge the fact that you could take the bus to where you want to go for a bit cheaper, the Underground is quick and just so essential to your London experience.
Pros of the London Underground
CHEAP: The Tube may not seem like the cheapest way to get around as you're loading up your Oyster card what seems like every other day, but compared to taking a taxi everywhere, you're saving a fortune.
FUN: Remember what I said about how "Getting there is half the fun"...? That's so true of the Tube. The entire urban atmosphere - locals and tourists bustling about, the sound of a busker strumming a guitar from somewhere around the corner, the voice that so politely says, "Please mind the gap." It really is a cultural experience in my opinion.
Cons of the London Underground
SAFETY: After a certain time of night (I say 9:00 pm, some may say 10:00) the Tube can get a bit dodgy, especially if you're traveling alone. Make sure you've planned your activities ahead so that you don't find yourself in an uncomfortable situation later in the evening.
I realize that I did not talk about buses. Buses are another option, but one that I am not as familiar with. They take more time and are very difficult to do with luggage (hence why we haven't used them as much). For simple commutes within the town, though, they're an excellent choice.
Think BIG PICTURE. Overall, my basic rundown would go like this:
Going just to London, stick to the Tube.
Adventuring around one region and/or trying to cut costs, train travel is your best bet.
Looking to see everything and/or have a good budget, rent a car!