Ask any typical American about what they know about England and they will likely rattle off the following things…
1. Ruled by The Royal Family
2. Birthplace of the Beatles
3. Gave us Simon Cowell
4. Home of Mrs. Doubtfire
5. Best place for Teas and Biscuits
All of which have some validity but to set the record straight; The Royal family has some nice privileges but the country is actually ruled by the British Parliament. It’s true the Beatles were born in England (Liverpool) but technically the US gave the Beatles their shot when they appeared on The “Ed Sullivan Show” on February 9th, 1964. England did indeed give us Simon Cowell but they can have him back. In the movie, Mrs. Doubtfire worked for the Smythe family in England but then again, Mrs. Doubtfire is not really an English Nanny but rather a character played by a cross-dressing Robin Williams thus making Mrs. Doubtfire not from England at all….Oh and for the record, The Four Seasons Hotel serves far better Tea and Biscuits than England. It’s just another English stereotype. Now that I debunked everything you thought you may have known about England, allow me to take you on a tour of what I consider to be my favorite country after America.
And why shouldn’t it be? The US has essentially emulated everything after England, including their language. England once occupied our colonies until we were fully liberated in 1776. Now The English occupy a nice chunk of land around 3500 miles East of NYC. You could take a boat to get there but that would take too long. I recommend a nice 7-8 hour commercial flight on British Airways, one of the most comfortable and reliable airlines in the sky. If you want to play luggage roulette then you can take other international commercial flights and if you are lucky, your bags may arrive at the same time.
Here’s the big geographical lesson we all need to learn before hoping off the plane. England is in close proximity to Ireland, Wales and Scotland. People from Ireland are Irish, people from England are English. England is also connected to Scotland. You could drive or take a train from England to Scotland. It borders on England’s northern tip and Scotland’s southern tip. It should be noted that people from Scotland are Scottish and people from England are still English. Lastly, there is a country that borders to the west of England. That country can be reached by train and or automobile. This country is called Wales. The people there are called Welsh. People from England are still called English. Do not confuse these nationalities it really irritates the people of this region. It’s like confusing a Canadian, a Mexican and an American and saying “oh it’s all the same general area.” It’s not. The reason why people get these countries confused is because…
A.The dialects are really similar
B. These countries are all part of the British Empire (I.E. The United Kingdom)***Not to be confused with The Magic Kingdom, which is found in Orlando
Once you reach the mainland, you will likely land in one of their two international airports. One is located in Manchester (Northern England). The other is located in London (Southern England). Technically London has two major international airports (Heathrow and Gatwick), each located not too far from each other. The natural question is, which airport should you fly into? Here is my rule of thumb. 75% of England’s main attractions are in and or around the London area. If your trip is less than one week, then I would fly, visit and stay in or around the center of London. If you are planning a stay for longer than 7 days, I would recommend beginning your trip in and or around the Manchester area. You’ll eventually train your way down south (around 3 hours in duration) to London and fly home from a different airport then where you arrived.
LONGER TRIP (Start in Manchester)
So you’ve made it past customs and made it to Manchester. The world is your oyster and Manchester is a great shiny white pearl. Before you get off the plane you must recognize a few things about England…
1. It isn’t Hawaii. Don’t count on tropical beaches and exotic waterfalls.
2. England is part of the European continent and they love churches. You’ll see them everywhere. What they don’t love is the European currency (Euro’s). You will need to stick with the English Pound. $100 American dollars may net you roughly 55 English pounds.
3. England loves drinking. They have pubs on every corner and it’s a simply a part of their socialization and culture. Embrace it and soak it in.
Manchester is filled with lots of bars and lots of shopping. It is also a big college town with 4 major universities all in the same vicinity. Every English city has a typical American city. I would equate Manchester to Boston. In addition to loads of schools and bars, they have a professional sports franchise that is the crown Jewel of the nation. That team is Manchester United. They are the perennial favorites of the national soccer league. Think of them as the Boston Red Sox. Many tourists flock to watch Manchester United play, very much like people in the US go to Fenway Park in Boston. There are plenty of places to stay in the downtown shopping area of Piccadilly Square. My suggestion is to use Manchester as a home base for the next 3-4 days and do little day trips.
The first trip should be to Liverpool. It’s about a 30 minute train ride. Liverpool is the home of The Beatles. Liverpool to the Beatles is what Memphis is to Elvis. Everywhere you look there are landmarks of where members of the band went to school, ate and or played. You can even do an organized bus tour (The Magical Mystery Bus Tour). It will take you to places like, Penny Lane (yes there is a real Penny Lane), Strawberry Fields Boys Home and the Bus Stop that is perfectly described in Paul McCartney’s epic lyrics. Liverpool also is home to the world most famous club, “The Cavern.” It is where popular bands around the world have played.
Another popular day trip is Chester. Filled with castles and historical landmarks. It is England’s version of our Williamsburg, VA. It is great to walk around and experience the beauty and enchantment of history. The cities appeal is the endless manmade fortressed walls that have stood over time and given the city some character.
The other day trip, which is about a 20 minute train ride from Manchester is Blackpool. Although, England is not exactly known as a destination for beachgoers, Blackpool serves as the closest thing to a beach town. It is on the coastline and has boardwalk-like attraction with stores and restaurants. There are also casinos, nothing elaborate enough to bring in top talent. You can say that Blackpool is a poor man’s version of Atlantic City….but oddly enough; it is still worth the trip. It’s such an abnormality in England that it’s like seeing a double rainbow.
When the upper part of England has been visited, I recommend taking a train South to London. You can drive but it’ll take a bit longer, cost more in gas and you’ll need to really concentrate on driving on the left side of the road. You could fly but why hassle with the baggage. London is a comfortable 3 hour train ride. Along the way, I would suggest a quick day trip to Stratford Upon Avon. It’s about halfway to London. My suggestion is to find a luggage watch area in the train station. They’ll watch your bags for 5 or 6 pound, while you walk about. Stratford Upon Avon is similar to Liverpool but instead of The Beatles, it’s all about the hometown of William Shakespeare. It is a great homage to his literary successes and failures. It also home to one of his greatest successes…Anne Hathaway, his wife not the actress, although she would have been a better success for William Shakespeare. I digress. Stratford Upon Avon has some terrific views, incredible theaters and brings in 3 million tourists annually.
LONDON…YOU’VE MADE IT
Geographically speaking London is so large it can probably be a small state. The city of London itself is half the size of Rhode Island. It is hard to explain this in any kind of logic but it’s EXTREMELY simple to find your way anywhere in London. The main reason is that they have the best inter-city train city in the world called “The Tube”. Every stop and landmark is easily identifiable. The train runs very frequently and the fare is relatively inexpensive. It drops you off at every major destination and it’s clean.
My advice is to find a hotel within a block or two of one of the major tube stops. To help you out, they are, Euston, Paddington, Victoria, Kings Cross, Liverpool Street, Southbank and Waterloo.
You can easily spend a week in England visiting tons of attractions. My advice is to keep you busy and map it out over 5 fun days. Some of the spots not to miss are The Globe Theater (a replica of Shakespeare’s original theater), a boat ride down the Thames river (splits the city down the center), a walk on the beautiful Schooners Wharf (great shopping and restaurants), a walk through the Camden Markets, a tour inside Westminster Abby (the most famous church in England), Spin around the London Eye (A 600 foot high enclosed Ferris Wheel with incredible views of the city), Tour the London Dungeon (a museum dedicated to the world of torture), Go through the Tower Bridge of London (one of the most iconic landmarks in London), Visit Big Ben and The British Parliament.
The most popular destination is Buckingham Palace. Truth be told, you will be supremely disappointed in the ceremonial “Changing of the Guard” but you still need to see it. The movies make it seem like you can get eye-to-eye with the guards. So close that you can entice them to smirk, smile or smack you. The truth is you will be at least 50 yards from those guards. The ceremony itself occurs 1-2 times a day when the guards actually change. It’s a lot of fanfare but mostly much ado about nothing. It’s enough for you to say, I did it and I’ve seen it and once is enough.
Shows are also very popular in London. I recommend you see at least 2 or 3 theatrical productions. They are relatively cheap by Broadways standards. $30 can usually get you a decent seat. More than half of the theaters are off the Piccadilly, Leicester Square Tube stops. That entire area of London is very similar to Times Square New York. It consists of upscale bars, costly nightclubs and bright lights fill a normally dark area. It’s a fun place to experience at night. It’s touristy, fun and safe.
IF YOU HAVE A FEW EXTRA DAYS
There are a few 1-2 day trips to wet your appetite while you are based in London.
If you are feeling really smart, visit Oxford. All the brilliant minds went there. That includes 9 kings, 49 World Presidents, 47 Nobel Prize winners and Hugh Grant. It’s England’s ultimate Ivy League school. It is one of those places that make you feel really smart just by walking around. There is also some shopping and scenes to take in.
I’d also hop along to go to Bath and experience its ornamental delights. The city has about 83,000 residents and a few million yearly tourists. The city was built by the Romans and literally has attractions of baths, some of which have never been modified from its original form. There are natural springs and breathless photo opportunities. Many people parlay a trip to bath with a trip to….Stonehenge (You thought I was going to say toilet?).
Stonehenge is probably one of the most iconic pictures of England. The actual tour of the magnificent rock formations lasts about 15 minutes. If you take your time, do some shopping and marvel and the wonders of the formation, you can make this a 45 minute stop, which is why many tour companies package it with a trip to Bath.
NOTES ABOUT ENGLAND
The country has warmth, character and diversity both in its population but in its wondrous slew of tourist attractions. It’s nearly impossible to pack it all in but one thing I would never suggest is “winging it.” You can get away with “winging it” for meals and securing theater tickets but I would definitely plan ahead and base your attraction visits on time and distance from your hotel.
I should also recommend you add a few days onto your trip and hope the Chunnel to Paris, France. Since 1996, tourists no longer need a quick flight to see Europe’s most romantic city. I’ll detail more activities that await your adventures there but I wanted readers to understand the ease and accessibility of travel within England and France. It’s about a 1.5 hr train ride.
In conclusion, I would say that everything should begin and end with London. It’s the epicenter of England’s greatest treasures but if you can add more days, you should consider Northern parts of England and surrounding countries with the UK. If you plan correctly, you can have an awesome 7 day trip to England for around $6500 (per couple with hotel, food and activities).