Ughhh, tours. I know. They don’t have a good rep amongst many travelers arguably because the moment you step on a tour bus, you lose the traveler title and become the much less desirable one: tourist. However, when you’re in a foreign city and lack the mobility of a local, sometimes hopping on a tour bus can be a good idea….or not.
After exploring London pretty thoroughly on my own, I decided on taking a tour outside of London for my last day. I registered only 2 days before and chose one that would take me to Stonehenge, Oxford, and Windsor castle.
Pro- After walking all over London for the previous 6 days, I was all too happy to be on a coach bus that was easy to find, big and comfortable.
Con- London traffic. We got off about 15 minutes behind schedule and found ourselves battling through a sea of cars. Though our itinerary was supposed to be set, our guide decided to head to Oxford first and then Stonehenge in order to bypass some of the traffic.
Pro- Oxford was a pleasant place to walk around and our guide was very knowledgeable about the school. The school was architecturally appealing and it was kind of neat to see in person.
Con- After the tour of the school, our guide gave us 40 minutes of free time to explore. He pointed us down the street to a cafe with overpriced muffins and a couple mundane souvenir shops. Not until I decided to walk back to the bus was when I stumbled across a much busier and much more exciting street. I had already wasted the free time and was highly annoyed that our guide had not pointed us in this direction in the first place.
Con- More traffic. While we were waiting in a long line of cars to get to Stonehenge, our guide informed us that we had to be at Windsor Castle by 4:00 or they would not let us in. After estimating our wait and travel time, he calculated that we would have a total of about 12 minutes at Stonehenge. Yes, that’s right. TWELVE MINUTES.
Pro- (I’m going to try really hard to make a pro out of a con.) Our guide was very knowledgeable. Even as we sat their fuming of lost time and traffic, our guide gave us excellent information on the history of Stonehenge, facts about the stones and theories on how they got there. I would have liked to get this information while walking around the phenomenon, but at least our guide was able to give us that information before we got there.
Con- Once we finally pulled up to Stonehenge, we had 12 minutes exactly. Our guide instructed us to NOT walk the full circle around it, but to just snap some pictures really quick and to come back to the bus. HOW DO YOU JUST RUN UP TO STONEHENGE, TAKE A PICTURE, AND THEN COME BACK?
Con- Not everyone decided to come back in exactly 12 minutes. We spent 10 extra minutes waiting on a couple until our tour guide decided that we would have to leave them behind. Yes, we left a couple behind. They probably spent the night in a field.
Con- We pulled up to Windsor Castle in an anxious mess at 4:02 exactly. Our guide sprinted to the entrance gates begging them to hold the doors and he was refused. The only views of Windsor castle that we got were of the surrounding walls.
Con- We were told we would be refunded for Windsor castle only, since we technically got to see Stonehenge. We had more unwanted free time to wander around the outside of the castle and the guide gave us a tour around the city, which was a poor substitute.
Overall, was it a successful tour? Not really. Instead of having a nice relaxing last day touring around England, I was frazzled, angry and disappointed. By the end of the day, I decided that I hated Oxford and wished that we hadn’t even gone there in the first place. Let alone go there first since it was originally supposed to be last. Had we of made Windsor Castle, I probably would have cooled down enough to enjoy the rest of the day. Did I receive my refund? No. Since I left London the next day, I was given International telephone numbers to call and it became such a hassle that I just didn’t want to deal with it.
If I were to do this all over, I would not book the tour on the last day in case it turns out being terrible. I would also probably look for a tour that only takes you to two attractions. Once you factor in traffic, the distance between attractions and their entrance times, three places might have been a bit too aggressive. Had it of all gone as planned, I would have had a wonderful time. But the problem with tours is that you have to expect the unexpected.