A Summer Holiday in the UK

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Red phone booths, black taxis and double decker buses. The land of Dr. Who, Sherlock Holmes and The Beatles. Pubs, fish ‘n chips and everything else that’s quintessentially British. I experienced it all last month, when I traveled to England and Scotland.

Over a span of two weeks, I visited all the places marked in the map below:

A Travel Map of my trip

Travel Map

England

  • London (3 days)
  • Stratford-Upon-Avon (1 day)
  • Warwick (1 day)
  • Cambridge (1 day)
  • Oxford (1 day)
  • Windsor, Bath and Stonehenge (1 day)

Scotland

  • Edinburgh (1 day)
  • Glasgow, Ruthven Barracks, Rothiemurchus Forest, Culloden Battlefield, Inverness, Drumnadrochit (1 day)
  • Urquhart Castle, Fort Augustus, Ben Nevis, Fort William, Glen Coe, Loch Lomond, Luss (1 day)

If you’re an Indian national planning a trip to the UK, you might find the below visa and travel tips useful.

Getting There

Well, the first thing you need for the trip is a UK Tourist visa. It’s advisable to apply for it well in advance, because the processing time is typically around 10 days, and can extend to 30 days in some cases. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Submit an online application at the Visa4UK website.
  2. Print the completed Visa application and attach all the supporting documents.
  3. Book an appointment at a VFS Global Visa Application Centre in order to submit the documentation and enroll your biometric information (photograph + fingerprints).
  4. The VFS centre will intimate you by phone/email when your passport is ready for collection.

If you’re really rich, or if you’re in a tearing hurry to travel (or both), there is an option for priority visa processing. This will cost you around INR 10,000 more than the regular fee, but will ensure that you get your visa within three days. There’s a catch here though – in order to be eligible for priority visa processing, you should have traveled to the US or Europe before.

After you have your visa sorted out, you’ll have to book your flight tickets. I’d recommend Emirates or Etihad for their service quality and in-flight entertainment options. I decided to fly out of Chennai by Etihad as the flight fares were cheaper than the other cities in South India. If you’re vegetarian, do ensure that you log in online and pre-book meals in all your flights in advance! I did see a couple of people going hungry on flights as all the vegetarian meals were sold out by the time the meal trolley reached them.

Mobile Calling

Lycamobile Logo

Lycamobile UK

There are several vending machines at Heathrow Airport from where you can purchase a Prepaid mobile SIM. Most Indians prefer Lycamobile as it has cheap calling rates to India (the coverage isn’t great though). The Lyca SIM I bought for £20 had 500 free UK minutes + Unlimited Data. I knew I was going to use GPS/Maps a lot, so this plan was perfect. In case your phone needs a pin to open the SIM Card tray, do remember to carry it with you. I forgot to carry the pin that opens the SIM card tray in my Nexus 5 and it was quite a hassle!

Exploring England

At Heathrow Aiport, you can purchase a Heathrow Express Saver Return ticket for £34 to Paddington Station. Once you arrive at Paddington, you can purchase an Oyster card for your journeys on bus and the Underground Tube within London.

London is divided into 6 zones, and traveling within them is a breeze thanks to the excellent public transportation system. It’s hard to get lost because no matter where you are in London, you’ll always find a Tube station within a kilometer or two. So what I recommend is to:

  1. Have a PDF map of the Tube stored on your smartphone for handy reference.
  2. Get the Oyster Travelcard so you don’t have to worry about your daily travel expenses. I purchased a one-week travelcard for £37 (valid in Zones 1-3).

For inter-city travel, you can book your rail tickets online, or at the station itself.

Birmingham Moor Station

Birmingham Moor Station

Of all the places I visited in England, these are the top three that really stood out for me:

London: There’s so much to see and do in London that it’s hard to summarize it all in a paragraph. Of all the touristy places, I thought St. Paul’s Cathedral was the best. The climb of 500+ steps to the top of the double-shelled dome is well worth it as you’re treated to some of the best views of London city from up there. And out of the places off the tourist map, I really liked Golders Green and the long stroll through Golders Hill Park. It has beautiful lawns, a pond, a zoo and a flower garden – stark contrast to the concrete jungle that is our Indian cities, where the biggest parks are probably a fifth the size!

Cambridge: Compared to Oxford, I found Cambridge to be less commercialized/touristy. I signed up for the 11 AM walking tour at the Tourist Information Center and explored the city by foot. Don’t miss the intricate Gothic architecture of the King’s College Chapel while you’re there!

Stratford-upon-Avon: This is a quiet little town, away from the hustle and bustle of London. Explore the street markets and visit Henley street to see the half-timbered house where William Shakespeare was born in 1564.

Exploring Scotland

If you thought England was beautiful, you should visit Scotland. You can reach Edinburgh, the city capital, by bus or train. The bus option was cheaper, so I booked an overnight National Express from London. We had a very comfortable journey, and the driver had a great sense of humor!

Edinburgh Panorama

The Edinburgh Old Town Skyline

Edinburgh looks like something out of a fairy tale with its medieval street layout and Georgian architecture, and the people there have a great sense of humor (even the bus drivers). I thoroughly enjoyed exploring this charming city by foot. Calton Hill and Arthur’s Seat have the best views of the city, so do make time to hike up to those places. I stayed the night in Edinburgh at Dene Guest House, and took a bus tour to the Scottish Highlands the following day.

I’m not sure if I got the best deal, but I thoroughly enjoyed the two-day tour (wish I could have stayed longer!). It was a wonderful way to see the countryside and learn about Scottish history go to the website. We covered the West stretch of the Highlands via Glasgow on the first day, and the bus halted for the night at a small town called Drumnadrochit. I enjoyed my stay at the lovely Clunebeg Lodge. The next day, we covered the East stretch of the route that included the spectacular Glen Coe, a U-shaped glen (valley) of volcanic origins. Overall, the East stretch is more beautiful than the West, so if you’re short of time, you know what to cover.

Below is a short video of my trip, filmed with the nifty Google Nexus 5. Hope you like it!

[youtube id=”rE1WWDmkd3g”]