Description of two weeks vacationing in England – both sightseeing in London and exploring ancient sites in the English countryside.
A friend and I recently spent two wonderful weeks in England on holiday. We enjoyed several days in London, followed by a week on an organized tour in the countryside, then several more days in London before returning home.
Our adventure started with my friend driving from Sacramento to Concord where we left her car at a relative’s home. We caught a Lyft ride to the Concord Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Station. BART delivered us right to the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) International Terminal!
We had been checking out the cost of parking at SFO, as well as nearby parking lots, and the cost of doing so made the decision to take BART to the airport a no-brainer.
We were flying United Airlines – a direct flight – leaving that evening. We had enough time to navigate security and relax a bit before boarding our flight – but not so much that we had time to become restless.
I was very glad that I had been TSA PreCheck approved as it allowed me (despite the fact that our flight was international, not domestic) to virtually waltz through security.
See related blog post: PreCheck – Quick and Easy
Our flight from SFO to Heathrow Airport (LHR) took about 10 ½ hours. The flight was bumpy at times as we hit pockets of bad weather, but nothing serious.
The United Airlines crew was very attentive. Several meals and snacks, including beverages, were served. I turned down a “snack” at 4:00 a.m. (California time) as I was not hungry having had dinner earlier.
We left on a Wednesday evening and arrived Thursday afternoon at LHR. This was my very first time visiting England.
LHR is huge, but it has good signage. According to Visit London, the official visitor guide, LHR is located 20 miles to the west of central London and is one of the busiest airports in the world with 190,000 passengers arriving and departing every day!
After arriving at LHR our first stop was Customs. Going through Customs at LHR was a breeze. The UK Government has expanded the use of eGates at LHR to include nationals of Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and the USA who have a biometric e-passport.
There are two queues at passport control – one for British, European Union, European Economic Area, Swiss, American, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Korea nationals and a second for all other nationalities.
All we had to do, therefore, was scan our e-passports at the Customs barrier. The system runs a face-recognition check against the chip in your passport, and if you are eligible to enter the UK the gate opens automatically.
The first time I tried to scan my passport the gate did not open! It did not take me long to realize that looking at my passport as I held it down on the scanner screen prevented the face-recognition function to operate (duh)!
Once through Customs we headed to luggage claim and then made our way to catch the Heathrow Express. We had booked the train in advance to take us to Paddington Station in central London.
Getting from LHR to London can be a hassle and/or expensive. Taking the tube from the airport with two pieces of luggage each (even though one was a backpack) did not appeal to either of us.
Later, as we traveled around London on the tube sightseeing, we witnessed the struggles of numerous tourists traveling with luggage on the crowded cars and congratulated ourselves for making the right decision.
In fact, I should mention that while utilizing the tube to make our way around London we heard warning after warning, via loudspeaker, advising those traveling with luggage to hold onto it tightly because of the prevalence of thieves.
Booking the Heathrow Express in advance (30 days, 60 days, and 90 days) reduces the cost – although one can of course buy a same day ticket. A 30-day advance Express Saver Single cost 14.30 pounds (weekdays) and 8.80 pounds for the 30 Days Advance Express Saver Weekend Single.
In our case we each purchased four tickets – LHR to Paddington Station, Paddington Station to LHR (to meet up with our tour group), LHR to Paddington Station (after the end of our tour) and Paddington Station to LHR at the end of our holiday when returning to the airport for our trip home. The four tickets (two weekdays & two weekends) averaged out to 11.55 pounds per ticket – a bargain considering we traveled on a comfortable, clean train with luggage storage areas – and the trip only took 15 minutes each way.
Note: Gatwick Airport has a similar train service to central London. The Gatwick Express, which runs between Gatwick Airport and Victoria Station reportedly takes about 30 minutes.
My friend is a Hilton Honors member, so for the first few days of our vacation we were booked at the Hilton London Paddington adjacent to Paddington Station. Talk about convenience – we could walk out a door at the back of the hotel lobby and be in Paddington Station! The proximity of the hotel to this transportation hub (Paddington Express, the Windsor & Eaton Central train, tube, taxi) was most convenient to say the least.
The Hilton London Paddington is an older hotel – but very nice with excellent service. We started each day with breakfast (included). Offered was a buffet breakfast with a wide variety of breakfast items – including such uniquely British breakfast fare as pork and beans and tomatoes.
London – Part 1
Changing of the Guard – Buckingham Palace
Queens’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries
Mysteries of England Tour
We checked out of the Hilton London Paddington on a Sunday and took the Heathrow Express to LHR to meet our tour guide at a restaurant inside the airport. Once there we made ourselves comfortable at a high-top table, and each had a beverage while we waited. I scanned the crowd in the vicinity and wondered who among them were to become our companions on the tour.
It was early afternoon when Hugh Newman of Megalithomania arrived and gathered together the members of our group. We and our combined luggage were piled into the 17-passenger van that was to be our transportation for the next seven days. We were headed to Amesbury, a town and civil parish in Wiltshire.
- The Amesbury Archer
- Amesbury Today
- Amesbury History Centre
- The Abbey Church of St. Mary and St. Melor
- Antrobus Arms Hotel
- Abbot’s Porch
- St. Augustine’s Well
Nine Ladies Stone Circle
Knowlton Henge/Knowlton Church and Earthworks
Avebury Stone Circle and Henge
- Avebury Village
West Kennet Long Barrow
- A Brief History
- Lady Chapel
- King Arthur Connection
- Holy Grail Connection
- Chalice Well/Red Spring
Stanton Drew Triple Stone Circles
- Dragon Hill
Salisbury/Salisbury Cathedral/Salisbury Museum
- Crop Circles
The end of our week-long Mysteries of England Tour came all too soon. It was a Saturday morning when we piled into the van and headed to Heathrow Airport with Hugh at the wheel. By that time the members of the group had gotten to know each other, and we chatted during the drive about all we had seen and done. We also vowed to share pictures after we returned home. As Hugh drove we all voiced our sincere thanks for what had turned out to be a most interesting and fun experience.
After hugging our fellow group members, and saying our goodbyes, my friend and I made our way through LHR to catch the Heathrow Express back to central London. Several members of our tour group did likewise.
London – Part 2
Once we arrived at Paddington Station we took a Black Cab to the Hampton by Hilton Waterloo Hotel.
The London traffic appeared much worse than when we first arrived in London! Our driver informed us that the annual Pride Parade had just ended – so that explained the traffic. Indeed, we were grateful that our timing was such (post-parade) that we were able to reach our hotel.
The Hampton by Hilton Waterloo Hotel is a more modern hotel than the Hilton London Paddington. Its location so near to Waterloo Station (a short five minute walk) was a plus as we intended to utilize the tube to fit in a bit more sightseeing. Similar to the Hilton London Paddington, breakfast was included.
Upcoming blog posts:
Hop On/Hop Off Bus Tour & Thames River Cruise
Tower of London
Farewell to England
The day of our return home to the U.S. had arrived! As one might expect in a city with so much to see and do, we had to pick and choose where we spent our limited time. We had agreed in advance that we were going to be flexible, enjoy ourselves, and not overdo it – an agreement that served us well.
Our United Airlines flight was leaving in the early afternoon, arriving at SFO late afternoon that same day. The estimated 11 hour and 15 minute flight actually took 10 ½ hours. We arrived early – but then had to wait until it was our turn to disembark.
After the ease of getting through Customs at LHR utilizing its eGates I was very interested in comparing the experience at SFO. At SFO there were three queues to enter the U.S. – one for airline crew members and passengers with Global Entry status, one for passengers in wheelchairs, and one for everyone else. We joined the “everyone else” line and waited patiently for our turn to have the Customs agent check our passport.
One thing for sure – before I travel internationally again I am going to secure Global Entry status. Global Entry allows pre-approved low-risk travelers to receive expedited clearance upon arrival in the U.S. Note: Global Entry status includes the domestic TSA PreCheck.
Comments on England and/or London?
What has been your experience visiting England and/or London? What would you add?
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