An English Christmas Trip: A Few Words About Our Car Rental and Plans for Leaving London


From our first time driving in the UK in 2009. Mrs. Anglotopia couldn’t believe that the cheapest rental car was a Mercedes.

The last few articles we have written have been all about our plans during the London portion of our trip. Now, it’s time to move on to the rest of the trip. Catch up on all the trip plans here.

One of the things I’m looking forward to most on our upcoming trip is renting a car. I love to drive in the UK – most Americans are scared of doing it – but it’s second nature to me (and it’s helpful to have Mrs. Anglotopia with me to scream CURB!). As our total time in Britain is 33 days, and only 8 are in London, we will need a rental car to get around for 25 days of the trip, something that is not going to be cheap.

Which Car Rental Company To Go With?

In the past we’ve rented with two companies, once with Hertz and the other with Europcar. Hertz was perfectly fine and we had a good experience. Europcar was also perfectly fine. Both times we got a good rate and had no issues with returning the car.

This time, we decided to let them decide. Being a publication we can offer advertising, coverage, etc in exchange for a car rental, so I decided to reach out to them directly and see if there was any way we could work together and save us some money.

Renting a car for 25 days, in the size that we were going to need for all the kid gear and car seats was approaching $2,000.

I got no response from Europcar after multiple attempts but Hertz did respond and were happy to work together. I won’t go into the details of the deal but essentially we’re still paying for a rental but they’re giving us a complimentary upgrade to the car we need plus a few extras to make the trip go more smoothly.

So, Hertz it is this time around and we can’t wait to work with them.

To Heathrow or Not to Heathrow That is the Question

We don’t need the car while we’re in London and we certainly don’t want to drive in London anyway. So, we’re not picking up the car until the day we’re leaving for Dorset. In the past, we’ve just taken the train out to Heathrow and picked up the car there.

But in practice, it’s not ideal as public transportation drops you at the terminal, then you have to wait for the free bus to the car rental place then go through the whole process. It takes a lot of time. I don’t reckon doing it with a wife and two kids and a ton of luggage in tow would be fun.

I could do this on my own, but again it will take a lot of time we’re not going to have that day.

So, we decided to rent the car close to where we’ll be staying at Victoria Coach Station. We’ll pick up the car, drive it back to our flat, pack it up and hit the road to Dorset. This will entail a small bit of driving in central London which is a rather terrifying prospect. But we should be able to manage.

Where We’ll Spend the Day

As we have to be out of our London flat by 10am and we can’t arrive at our cottage in Dorset until after 4pm, we have the day to spend doing whatever we like. A few weeks ago I lamented that we didn’t have time to visit the Harry Potter Studio Tour. Well looking at our schedule yesterday, I realized we had plenty of time to visit the attraction and make it to Dorset with plenty of time. So, it looks like we will indeed get to visit the Harry Potter sets. I’m truly very excited about this! They’ve decorated Hogwarts and Hogwarts for Christmas so it will be seasonally fun!

After we spend the day there, we’ll hit the road to Dorset, which will be a couple hour drive if traffic is good. If we have time, we’ll make a stopover in Salisbury to visit their famous Christmas Market. If we’re not up to it, we’ll do it the next day.

After that we will head to Updown Cottage, where we’ll be spending the next 16 days for our dream Christmas in Dorset holiday.

We’ll have an outline of some of the things we plan to do while we’re in Dorset next week. We’ll also have some tips for driving in Britain after we get back from our trip.

Have you rented a car in Britain? Do you have any travel tips to share with our readers? Let us know in the comments!

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  1. avatarMark Kaucher says

    Enjoy your Dorset visit. My mum is originally from West Bay. A D-Day prep war bride, she’s been in the US since 1947. She misses the sea.

    Mark Kaucher
    Little Falls, NY

  2. avatarPat says

    I’m an American who also loves driving in the UK. For our 18 day trip this past summer I drove 2200 miles! I just hope you don’t get any bad ice or snowfall. We’ve been over in the UK during winter and they aren’t as good as us over here at preparing for bad weather. they’re getting better as they realize climate change is bringing more brutal winter weather. I hope your car has four wheel drive because you’ll need it if it snows. but you’ll love it, especially London which is fabulous during the Christmas season.

  3. avatarPat says

    One complaint–my credit card offers CDW coverage if you rent a car. This past summer I got a flat tire and did some minor damage to the front fender and hertz charged the $1500 damage the day I turned in the car June 18. I filed a claim to get reimbursed thru my credit card and am still waiting for reimbursement. so beware if you decline CDW and damage the car it’ll be awhile till you get your money back.

  4. avatar says

    We love driving in Britain (usually Wales). We always get a manual transmission because having the stick on the other side immediately reminds me that I’m driving in Britain.

    Do be aware of credit card glitches, as Pat has said. I rented a car the last time I was there and while I had it, somehow the left side wing mirror was bashed off (not by me). I paid what they charged me when I turned it in, and made a claim – and my credit card tried to tell me that it didn’t cover outside the US. We went round and round and after I proved to them (via screenshots from their website) that they had implied that it did, they finally paid what turned into a whopping bill because the damage was judged to be far worse than just a broken mirror.

  5. avatarNicola says

    Jonathan, I assume you know you have to pre-book Harry Potter, you can’t buy tickets on the day. Anyway, It’s great, you’ll love it!

  6. avatarNancy R says

    Central London, able to manage?! HAH!! I rented a car at Eustace Station and left London immediately going north which wasn’t bad… but returning it was insane!!! Got two congestion charges to boot, which I had no idea I had incurred until I received a bill in the mail from the car rental company who paid it on my behalf and then marked it up (considerably $150 each). Pedestrians, bicycles, scooters, buses, taxis and private automobiles everywhere!!!

  7. avatarMal says

    My piece of advice is watch out for fast moving locals coming at you over one of those stone bridges built in the 13th century! I was almost to my destination in the Cotswolds when this car came flying at me; I panicked and ended up scraping my rental car down the side of the very narrow bridge – the other guy didn’t even stop! It took me another few days to recover my nerve and get back into the drivers seat. Luckily, I had used American Express and they prevented the rental company from overcharging for repairs.

  8. avatarSue says

    Jonathan, you won’t be disappointed it’s a great place. The last room is spectacular but I won’t spoil it for you…

  9. avatarDeborah says

    Jonathan and Mrs. Anglotopia,

    Hello– I think we have rented our cars from the same Victoria Coach Station–the one on Semley Place? If this is the one you are renting from– be ready- after you do paper work, they have you go outside around the side of building, you go through a door and then hike up a few sketchy stair cases. Then find yourself standing in an even sketchier parking lot to pick out your car……….. I had to go up to the parking lot once by myself with out my husband– I was not conformable, but I made it. I mean– it is in Belgravia, so the neighborhood is not a bad one. So if you are going to the Semley location– be ready.

    Enjoy your trip, no doubt it will be worth all the planning and money!!

    • avatarMinerva says

      Not entirely sure why anyone wouldn’t be comfortable going to collect a car from a privately-owned car park???? We don’t have to be as frightened in public (even in London) as some folks seem to be in America. Just walk with confidence, keep valuables out of sight & be aware.

  10. avatarToni says

    We were so looking forward to driving from Hammersmith to Milford-on-Sea, but when we arrived to pick up the car there was no GPS as promised. Apparently there was a little miscommunication, so make sure if you need GPS that you cross your t’s and dot your i’s. :). I am sure the Anglotopia family have it all under control, but those that are first timers like we were might benefit from that GPS. :)

      • avatar says

        I thing a GPS is a splendid idea. We use one whenever we’re traveling the back roads and villages in the areas we’re exploring. I like maps but this navigator got to see so much more with the GPS because my nose wasn’t buried in a map. I would imagine, with two little ones also along for the ride and needing attention a GPS over the ‘A-Z’ and OS maps might be preferable. And a GPS is mighty handy if you take a wrong turn. Both are great when you’re exploring – a GPS, though, is mighty handy.

  11. avatarNancy G says

    My sister and I were there in June and loved the Harry Potter studio tour! We took public transportation but would love to try driving on my next trip. Will definitely look forward to your stories! We stayed in the southwestern part of England, Lyme Regis, Penzance, Salisbury, Reading and back to London. Love the area around Victoria Station. That is where I have stayed on all my visits to London. Can’t wait to go back!

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