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Renting a car in downtown London

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San Diego, CA
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Renting a car in downtown London

I'll be flying into Heathrow with my wife on a Monday afternoon. I suspect we'll be jet lagged, and anxious to get to our London hotel and relax a bit (and soak up London). One of the few days after our arrival, I'd like to rent a car and take a day trip to Bath, Windsor Castle and perhaps Stonehenge.

Any issues with renting a car downtown? I'd like to keep it just one day.

Any issues with an American driving in the UK (other than playing opposites)?

I am not insured under my regular car insurance in the UK. I assume I can purchase car insurance from the rental car company?

Vancouver, Canada
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1. Re: Renting a car in downtown London

There is the potential for having to pay the Congestion Charge, depending on the location from which you hire the car and the time of pick up / drop off.

Petrol prices are high, around £1.38 per litre, parking isn't cheap, and if you try to visit Bath, Stonehenge and Windsor in one day you'll spend more time driving than you will sightseeing.

There are a handful of companies (International Friends, Golden Tours, Evan Evans) which offer one day coach tours to Bath and Stonehenge; trains from Paddington to Windsor & Eton Central are frequent with return fares from about £9 per person.

But if you do want to hire a car then consider picking it up and dropping it at Heathrow, to avoid the congestion charge and making the journey a bit shorter. You may add Damaage Waiver and Excess Protection coverage when you book the car.

Pittsburgh, PA
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2. Re: Renting a car in downtown London

Don't be too certain you aren't covered by your own insurance while you are in the UK. Or at least, call your insurance company and check. also certain credit cards give coverage (I'm covered by my primary insurance but by AAA visa card gives secondary coverage). I agree about renting at Heathrow. Depending on your driving experience, don't forget to reserve an automatic.

London, United...
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3. Re: Renting a car in downtown London

I would ditch Stonehenge and spend the extra time in Bath. Leave early and get a car from Heathrow - Bath is only a couple of hours at a steady pace. Do Windsor on the way back.

Destination Expert
for London
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4. Re: Renting a car in downtown London

The problem is that even in a car it is still difficult to do all of that in one day and pick up/return a hire car to a central London office. And Bath isn't terribly car friendly either.

You could hire from a West London or North London office (near Euston or Kings Cross for example - it need not be Heathrow - and then get out on the M4. Windsor (can be tricky for parking, but Windsor expert Laura may have suggestions) and Stonehenge would be doable in a day plus maybe a short detour somewhere else en route or perhaps the stones at Avebury.

Bath is easy to do by train and deserves a day to itself IMO.

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5. Re: Renting a car in downtown London

If you really want to do all this in one day, I'd go with TP's suggestion of an organised tour. Driving a strange car in unfamiliar driving conditions can be hard work.

If you are determined to drive, the suitable pick up location depends on where you will be staying?

Issues with driving for an American? It's entirely possible - thousands of visitors do it successfully every year. But there are differences.

- Rental cars are manual unless you specifically reserve an auto.

- Most ordinary roads are narrower than you are used to.

- Driving style in London and the SE of England can be described as 'positive' or 'aggressive' depending on your point of view.

- Within central London you'll encounter far more pedal cyclists and motor-cyclists than you could believe - who will routinely (and legally) "split lanes" in heavy traffic conditions.

- London and Bath have lots of bus lane restrictions which you must obey to avoid a fine.

- Road signs are different from what you are used to - but most are intuative

- UK rental car companies do care about every single mark and scratch - to a level of detail that many American visitors find astonishing - so do inspect the car before you drive away and ensure every single item of damage, however small, is marked on the pre-inspection sheet

Sydney, Australia
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6. Re: Renting a car in downtown London

Whether you choose to drive is a choice I'll leave up to you. The info below is based on what I did last year.

I hired an automatic car from Hertz Marble Arch when I headed to Bath. It's on Edgware Rd which is the border of the congestion zone, so as long as you are aware of the border, you can get your car here and avoid the charge.

I found this saved me time (even thought I left during the morning peak time) as opposed to heading out to Heathrow to pick up the car.

When you return the car, there is a service station just a bit further up Edgware Rd (heading towards Marylebone Rd) where you can refill. A loop around the back streets will get you back to the Hertz office.

The one thing I regret not getting was a car with GPS. I found myself spending too much time looking at Google Maps on my phone. Of course, I was by myself so having a passenger can help in that regard.

Hampshire, England.
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7. Re: Renting a car in downtown London

Also a good idea to read this before driving in the UK:


Bucks, UK
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8. Re: Renting a car in downtown London

No need to hire a car. Bath and Windsor are more easily accessible by train. I would ditch Stonehenge and devote a day to each of those (Windsor can be done as a long half-day). Train details are here


By the way, most Brits will be a little puzzled if you start using phrases like "Downtown" - that phrase derives from the geographical lay-out of New York and is not used over here, we say "central" London or, if we're referring to the financial district (also the historic core of London) we refer to "the City" (short for City of London, so not applicable to other UK cities).

Likewise "how many blocks?" will elicit a vague answer at best, since our cities are not built on a grid pattern.

Here endeth the history lesson.

Bath, United Kingdom
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9. Re: Renting a car in downtown London

"our cities are not built on a grid pattern"

Never been to Glasgow City then?

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10. Re: Renting a car in downtown London

You'll see more if you go on a tour with less stress.

If you drive, you have to find parking places, manage the time, navigate between sites, and get back before the car rental depot closes.

On a tour, its all done for you. The driver wont get lost, can drop you off at a place you can't park a car (saving time), knows how long is reasonable to spend at each place to leave enough get you to the next one, and doesn't have the deadline of a rental car depot closing.

Don't imagine you'll avoid a rushed and frantic day by doing it yourself rather than one of those rushed, "hurry along now" tours, the rushed hurry along now part comes because you are cramming so many places in, not because you are in a coach.