10 days in a British Smart Car
We travelled through British countryside, Welsh national parks and Scottish castles. We did a round trip from London Heathrow airport.
Day 1 – Oxford
Day 3 – Warwick and Bourton-on-Water
Day 5 – Lake District (near Keswick)
Day 7 – Edinburgh
Day 10 – York and Cambridge
Click on cities for detailed day wise itineraries…
We stayed over in London for few days after the trip – but that saga is for another post! After all most convenient way to travel in London is Tube and not a car…
SS Tip: If you have extra time, suggest you drive down to Inverness in North or Jurassic park in South.
- Car – Booking a car in UK is very different from USA. While automatic car and zero deductibles are common in USA – it seemed manual and high insurance deductibles are a norm in UK. We finally found a good deal by booking Keddy (Europcar) through autoeurope.com. It was just 2 of us and our 2 suitcases, so we selected the basic car version. Cost us around GBP 200 with London airport pick up and drop. We were lucky to get the Mercedes Smart Car (4 seat variant). No issues with the car and no extra charges later!
- Driving – UK is right hand drive so it was easy for us. Get set for lot of ‘roundabouts’ in UK. Follow the symbols on the road to ensure you are able to exit smoothly. Speed limits are different on different type of roads – Refer https://www.gov.uk/speed-limits
- Petrol – We drove around 1,600 miles and thanks to fuel efficiency of the car, spent around 150 GBP. We used to fill around 20-25 GBP worth of fuel every time. There are plenty of petrol pumps and fuel price is cheaper in main cities (especially those linked to supermarkets). Some places were self-service and would need a chip card – so keep cash handy. SS Tip: Fuel is expensive so do the math beforehand using Google maps
- Parking – Not all tourist places have parking and even if they do it may be very expensive. We used parkopedia (app and website) extensively to find cheap parking options beforehand. No one wants a parking ticket on vacations – suggest you ensure that you park at proper locations and adhere to timings. Some places have free parking for few hours and some towns have ‘park and ride’ – you park outside main town and take the bus to city.
One of the biggest advantages of road trip – no need to drag Suitcases across airports or stations!
We chose places based on location, cost and the charm. We stayed in Hotels, Castles and B&Bs. Key things which played a part in narrowing down to below were free parking, free wifi and hot breakfast. When you are going to be on the road most of the day, it is better to start on a full stomach and not waste time searching for a restaurant early in the morning.
Cotswolds – Swindon Marriott Hotel
- To explore English countryside, we wanted a centrally located place and ended up picking town of Swindon. After the long flight we wanted a comfortable place with ‘no surprises’. So we used loyalty points to book this Marriot hotel for 2 nights. It was typical Marriott property with decent rooms, buffet breakfast and efficient service. The place served as good base to visit Oxford, Bath and other places in Cotswolds
Wales – Plas Efenechtyd Cottage B&B
- We wanted a location close to Snowdonia but convenient enough from travel time perspective. We stayed with a lovely couple in Welsh countryside. The setting of B&B amongstthe farms and hills is picturesque. The room was tastefully decorated and ensuite bathroom had a luxurious bath tub. The fresh homemade breakfast next day, served on lovely china was delicious. The hosts, Dave and Marilyn were very helpful and helped us plan the route and lent us some more warm clothes for the snowy day (Snowing in May)!
Lake District – Maple Bank
- This little inn is located adjacent to the highway and has beautiful clear views of the surrounding We stayed for 2 nights and enjoyed the fresh breakfast every morning (Rhona made some great omelettes). The place is located near Keswick so we were close to the tourist attractions and restaurants. At the same time, we could enjoy the peace and beauty from our first floor room.
Scotland – Melville Castle
- We booked a room in this castle hotel just outside Edinburgh for our 2 nights in Scotland. There was wedding going on and we were luckily upgraded to a superior room! The room was spacious with a seating area on ground floor and comfortable bed on first floor. The hotel consists of one big building with large grounds (including few horses in the back!). Breakfast in a typical ball room completes the experience. The entire castle experience was worth it!
York – Thistledown House B&B
- On the final way back from Edinburgh to London, we stopped near York. We stayed for 1 night is this cute lil place located close to highway. Hosts were very welcoming and served some great scones for breakfast. Similar to other B&Bs, they had cookies and hot chocolate ready for us! The place was close to York’s park and ride.
We are new to the B&B culture, but found these to be so very comfortable, warm and a much better experience than typical hotels.
- Phone – We got Lyca and Lebara sim cards in advance for the trip and topped it up in London. You can easily get any phone connection at the airport. Coverage is pretty decent in tourist places – but we lost network in between villages.
- Google maps – Absolutely essential on a road trip. We skipped hiring a GPS, as Google maps do an excellent job. To avoid getting lost, we would save the routes for the day beforehand (take prints if needed). You will see lot of sheep and very few people while driving through countryside – so not much hope if you plan to ask for directions. SS Tip: Remember to carry a plug for charging phones in the car. You don’t want to get lost because you ran out of battery!
- Scotland Pass – We bought the Scotland explorer pass for GBP 30 as it included entry to key castles like Edinburgh & Stirling and also to lot of smaller Abbeys/ Castles/ Towers.
- Walking Tours – There are free walking tours at lot of places – make the best of it. You can pay the guide ‘as-you-wish’ at the end. If you are fine with the walking, the guides do an excellent job of keeping you interested while taking you around the place. We went for tours in Oxford, Bath, York, etc
- Game of Thrones – Lot of places to keep GoT fans excited like Hadrian’s Wall, walled city of York and the Castles (including shooting locations in Scotland). UK history is quite an interesting story with wars and politics.
- Oyster Card – Buy oyster card at airport station for travel in London. This prepaid card makes traveling from and to airport very convenient.