One of the best ways to explore England is by car. Yes, the public transport system in the UK is awesome but there are so many villages that you’ll miss if you don’t go by auto. We wanted to explore the countryside of England and see more than just the typical tourist destinations. And we only had one week to pack in as much as possible. Follow along on our “family road trip in England itinerary” to see what we did and what we would do differently. While there are many destinations and road trip itineraries you could follow, we found this to be the perfect way to visit the Cotswolds from London. You may, however, want to skip the trip to the hospital. Continue reading for more on that!
My biggest concern with road tripping in England was driving on the opposite side of the highway. Derrick did a LOT of research before we started our trip. He looked at images of the roads, general tips for driving on the left side and information on UK road signs. We were surprised to find how easy the road signs were to follow in England.
We booked our rental car through Auto Europe, which compare’s the best rates. We typically go with the smallest and least expensive option. For our road trip in England, we once again chose a small car (some of those country roads are TINY) but we upgraded to a diesel to save on gas money and went with an automatic. Usually we lease a manual transmission, as it’s significantly cheaper in Europe. For this trip, we didn’t want Derrick having to deal with shifting with the opposite hand AND trying to stay in the left side of the road. While it will cost you a bit more, he definitely recommends going with the automatic. We also spent under 75£ for diesel during our entire trip. That is significantly less than we would have paid for gas.
Driving on the left ended up being easier than Derrick thought. While he did keep drifting on the first day, he quickly became used to the difference. Because the driver sits on the opposite side of the car, it made sense for him to drive on the left side of the road. And because I was sitting in what “should” have been the drivers side, I kept feeling like I needed a steering wheel and wanted to adjust the rearview mirror so I could see behind us.
The second morning of our trip, Derrick and Lucy went to get the car while K and I checked out of the hotel. K and I walked up to the car as Derrick was getting out laughing and shaking his head. I didn’t realize what was going on or notice which side of the car he was getting out. Apparently he got in on the left side as he normally would in the US, buckled his seatbelt, then realized the steering wheel was on the other side. We won’t mention that even after a week, I was still trying to get in on the wrong side of the car…..
I think the biggest help during our road was a Garmin Navigation System. We purchased ours in France, so it’s a slightly different model what what you can get in the States. I can’t overstate how having a GPS helped on this road trip. It’s possible to rent one though the car rental agency, but we decided that it was a better investment to purchase our own. Whether you should buy or rent will depend on how often or much you plan to travel. I only missed our turn a few times and during each instance the navigation system instantly altered the route.
Another plus is the postcodes system in England. The Royal Mail has given every deliverable location a unique code. These postcodes are an abbreviated form of address with the first letter(s) indicating the general location. Making it super easy to plug it into our navigation system and head off to our next destination.
Tip – write down the postcodes for each destination on a sheet of paper in advance. This will be helpful when you’re plugging in each stop during your road trip.
One Week Family Road Trip in England Itinerary
Day #1 – Arrival & Oxford
We flew into Gatwick Airport on Easy Jet around 10am. Another option would have been British Airways into Heathrow, but that was more expensive. We also planned an early flight to maximize our time in Oxford. If you arrive late, you will need to add an extra day.
Starting off our exploration of the Cotswolds from London , we picked up our rental car and drove from Gatwick Airport, on what we consider the wrong side of the road. We spent the day exploring Oxford. This was probably the most stressful day of driving. I’m still in awe that Derrick didn’t end up turning right on one of those roundabouts.
After dropping our bags off at the hotel, we parked our car and took the shuttle bus into the center of Oxford. The shuttle bus was inexpensive and we didn’t waste time finding parking in the city or paying an expensive parking fee.
We saw the Bridge of Sighs, Carfax Tower, Magdalen College/Chapel, the Covered Market, Radcliffe Camera, the Old Bodleian Library & countless other sites.
Due to time constraints, we chose not to go on any of the University tours. We simply wandered around the town viewing most of the tourist attractions from the outside. We even saw the College tree from Harry Potter. Under the tree, Draco Malfoy says to Harry “you won’t last 10 seconds.” While you can only see the top of the tree, it’s still cool to pass by. I wanted to see the “Great Hall” from Harry Potter in Christ Church College, but we missed visiting hours. Poor planning on our part If you want to see more Harry Potter filming locations, check times and plan ahead.
I spent a lot of time trying to convince the kids how cool it would be to attend Oxford University. K now has the sweatshirt, but doesn’t seem too interested in picking out colleges.
We had dinner at Bill’s Restaurant. The food was delicious and we loved the decor. I thought it was hilarious when a college guy came in and told the hostess they were having a party over the weekend, so he was apologizing in advance for the noise.
If you want to see more of Oxford, you’ll need a full day. Our itinerary only included a half-day visit.