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Advice on a trip to London in May?

by xoxoxenophile Online Now Jan 28, 2013 at 3:29 PM

My best friend and I will be going on a study abroad photography trip to London, Edinburgh and Paris this May. We will spend most of the time we are there in London and will have a few free days while we're there.

We're looking for some fun things to do on our free days (so far we are thinking maybe Harrods, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, and just old-fashioned exploring). We will have the London Pass, so anything on there that we should check out would be great too. Is there anything that's particularly good at that time of year?

Below are the places on our itinerary. If you have any advice about these destinations as well, please post and let me know that as well! Thanks in advance :)

Trafalgar Square
British National Gallery
Big Ben
Hampton Court
Piccadilly Circus
Buckingham Palace
Tate Modern
St. Paul's Cathedral
London Eye
Warwick Castle
Atlas Gallery of London
Tower of London
Westminster Abbey
British National Museum
Camden Market

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27 Answers
  • Dabs's Profile Photo

    Re: Advice on a trip to London in May?

    by Dabs Online Now Jan 28, 2013 at 3:55 PM

    Have you already bought the London Pass? Over the years of reading travel boards I've rarely seen it recommended as so much in London is free. And the travel compenent rarely makes sense as you can easily get a travelcard or an Oyster card for your transport needs. plus if you have a certain kind of travel card you qualify for 2 for 1 admissions to many of the places on your list-Tower of London for sure, Hampton Court, sometimes the London Eye (seasonal). In all my visits I've only bought one once and that was because I got it for 1/2 price.

    I don't see Windsor Castle on your list I always enjoy visiting the castle and the town of Windsor, it's a quick 1/2 hour by train. Try to go see the big attractions (Tower of London, Windsor Castle etc.) in the earlier part of the day, usually less crowded which makes it more enjoyable.

    Some people will say that Harrod's is a tourist trap but I love the food halls and if you are photography buffs I think it would be an interesting place to take photos.

    If you want to go to a good place for a view of London, think about going to the top of the Monument (small charge) or to Primrose Hill (free). The parks should be lovely that time of year, one of my favorites is right in the heart of London, St. James' park. Also for photography, consider going to Highgate Cemetery, there are some interesting monuments there. Unless it's changed you must have an appointment.

    Other daytrip options, Oxford is an easy trip from London and has some interesting architecture including some gruesome gargoyles. I haven't been to Highclare Castle but if you are a "Downton Abbey" fan you might give that a look. York is a delight, it's a 2 hour train ride from London. Bath is wonderful, if you are a fan of Jane Austen it's a must. Plus there are the Roman baths which is fun to photograph.

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  • ranger49's Profile Photo

    Re: Advice on a trip to London in May?

    by ranger49 Online Now Jan 28, 2013 at 4:23 PM

    As you have only a "few free days" that looks like a long list of things to do to me.
    A note about For Warwick Castle - you would have to take the train from Marylebone Station - a journey then of a bit under two hours. The visit to the castle is a full one (costs about £21 these days) so it is really a whole day out.

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  • rexvaughan's Profile Photo

    Re: Advice on a trip to London in May?

    by rexvaughan Online Now Jan 28, 2013 at 4:24 PM

    I agree with Dabs about including Windsor Castle. It is opulent beyond description and an easy day-trip. As I am pretty sure Buckingham Palace is only open when the Queen is in Balmmoral (August-September "ish"), you can see another of her residences in Windsor. I don't want to crowd your agenda, but Churchill's Cabinet War Rooms where he spent a lot of WWII are open and in the same state as during the war. Also, Greenwich is a short boat ride down the Thames and you can see where time and space are measured for the world. Check ahead of time on the Globe if you want to see a play there, which I recommend. There is a very nice place to eat beside it, The Swan at the Globe. Have a great time in this most wonderful city.

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  • Dabs's Profile Photo

    Re: Advice on a trip to London in May?

    by Dabs Online Now Jan 28, 2013 at 4:41 PM

    Yes, Buckingham Palace's interior is open later in the year, not in May, and if memory serves you can't take photos inside. But you should still go and see the exterior being as it's one of the most famous buildings in London. There's a particularly nice photo that you can take from St. James' Park on the bridge. I think the changing of the guards is massively overrated, you can see a similar less crowded ceremony at Windsor Castle.

    I understood the bottom list to be things that they were doing for photography and not included in the few free days?If not, I might take Warwick off the list, it is a full day trip, 2 hours each way, and Windsor is a lot closer. That can be visited in a 1/2 day and still leave you time for Eton which is close by and the town of Windsor.

    If you are going inside Westminster Abbey consider a verger tour, it's just a few pounds more and it allows access to places the regular visitors can't go.

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  • mccalpin's Profile Photo

    Re: Advice on a trip to London in May?

    by mccalpin Online Now Jan 28, 2013 at 7:53 PM

    Since you are going to study photography, let me suggest that you do some planning on these locations. Go to Google Maps and start to look at how these places are laid out to the sun.

    For example, Big Ben (and the Houses of Parliament) run right along the Thames. But the Thames at this point is running almost due north-south, not east-west like it does elsewhere. This means that if you get over to that area too early in the morning, the sun will be behind the buildings, if you take your photos from the space in front of the buildings (i.e., next to Westminster Abbey). But you MAY want to go across the river and take the photo from the east with the river in the foreground...that's OK, but you wouldn't want to do that late in the afternoon, unless you were looking for a special effect.

    Buckingham Palace faces northeast. St. Paul's faces almost due west. You see where I am going with this...take a look of other photos of these sites in London, and get a feeling for the time of day you want to be there...of course, if it's raining or overcast, maybe it won't matter so much ;-)

    Oh, also go to http://www.sunrisesunset.com/ and see when the sun comes up and sets in May. Repeat for Edinburgh especially because it is so far north of London.

    Bill

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  • hawkhead's Profile Photo

    Re: Advice on a trip to London in May?

    by hawkhead Online Now Jan 28, 2013 at 11:31 PM

    You might consider doing one of the London Walks.

    I second the comments about the London Pass.

    I personally would not bother with Harrods at all - cannot see the attraction; there are other 'food halls'. Also not sure how they would react to photography within. In any case, you are already going to Camden Market.

    I am guessing that the list of places are places that are included in the study abroad photography trip and not ones you intend to visit during the few free days. In any case, that is a long list! The list of things to do in London is endless and I think that as you go around on your study days you will probably see places that you wish to return to. Shakespear's Globe is within easy walking distance of Tate Modern and St Paul's is 'just across the river' via the Millennium Bridge.

    Piccadilly Circus? Why?

    As a contrast to "olde London towne" a visit to Canary Wharf and the environs might be interesting. While you are at the Eye you could cast a look at The Golden Hind.

    On your visit to Westminster Abbey, do take time to visit the adjacent church of St Margaret's - this is the parish church for Westminster, is often ignored and is well worth a visit. It is quiet and free and the guides are extremely informative and it is full of history.

    Hampton Court would be most of a day.

    Also, I would recommend a visit to Greenwich - Old Royal Naval College, Queen's House, Royal Observatory, Fan Museum, Ranger's House, Maritime Museum - very picturesque even if you don't go inside any of them, as are the back streets of Greenwich. There is also a wonderful view of London across the Thames from both down at river level and up the hill a bit.

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  • leics's Profile Photo

    Re: Advice on a trip to London in May?

    by leics Online Now Jan 28, 2013 at 11:34 PM

    I think by 'British National Museum' you mean the British Museum? It's free (as are the vast majority of our museums) and absolutely wonderful. Allow yourselves at least a couple of hours to explore (yes, you can take photos).

    Hampton Court is some way outside London. This page gives info and details of how to get there by public transport (under 'plan your visit' on the left-hand side):

    hrp.org.uk/HamptonCourtPalac...

    Warwick is a magnificent example of a Norman castle lived in and changed for centuries afterwards. It is well worth visiting (and Warwick itself has some wonderful buildings, including the superb Collegiate Church of St Mary with the Beauchamp Chapel) but, as noted, it is quite a way from London:

    http://www.warwick-castle.com/

    You can find train times, details and fares on the official UK railway website:

    http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/

    As Dabs notes, Windsor is much easier to access.

    You might also consider a daytrip to Winchester, easy to get to by train and not as far as Warwick. It was the ancient capital of England, has a superb Medieval cathedral and is stuffed with history and architectural interest:

    "Ancient capital city of England." - Winchester by leics

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  • anilpradhanshillong's Profile Photo

    Re: Advice on a trip to London in May?

    by anilpradhanshillong Online Now Jan 29, 2013 at 12:39 AM

    Camden Market=Go very early. Be there before 8 am. Lots of bargains.

    London Eye=You sure you want to waste your money on that?? Spend it on St. Paul's Cathedral - go right to the top.

    Buckingham Palace=Don't forget the Horse Guard Parade as opposed to Changing the Guard (Buckingham Palace). Here's the link:

    tourist-information-uk.com/h...

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  • christine.j's Profile Photo

    Re: Advice on a trip to London in May?

    by christine.j Online Now Jan 29, 2013 at 12:49 AM

    Don't forget the parks. London is actually a green city and in May the parks are just beautiful.
    Another nice place which is often overlooked by tourist is the Regent Canal and the area called Little Venice.

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  • toonsarah's Profile Photo

    Re: Advice on a trip to London in May?

    by toonsarah Online Now Jan 29, 2013 at 2:49 AM

    The advice and ideas you've had already show just how subjective this is! And London is huge, so you are going to have to be selective if, as you say, you only have a few free days. But by May the evenings will be quite light, so you should be able to get out and about after your days of studying too. Many buildings look lovely just before sunset - for instance, the west front of Westminster Abbey is at its best then.

    Like some of the others I would question whether Harrods should be at the top of your list, though I know it has a fascination for tourists. But if the foodhall is the draw you will get better food photos at any good market. Borough is the most famous food market in London - but also the most crowded. Go early to get good pics and good food :-)

    I disagree with the poster who dismissed the London Eye - I love it, though I agree it's expensive and you only get 30 minutes. But even if you don't go on the ride, it can make for some great photos from ground level. There are lots of good photo opportunities along the river in fact and you could easily spend a day walking much of its length. Do so on the south bank - it's better for walking and the sun (if it's out!) will be shining on the buildings across the water.

    And please ignore the post which says "stay away from the boroughs of London"! For one thing, ALL of London is made up of boroughs, so that's impossible ;-) I think the intention was to warn you away from anything other than the centre, but if you want to get some photos a little different from just the big tourist sights you will have to venture further afield and thee is no reason not to do so. Use your common sense if anywhere looks a bit dodgy, but do take time to go exploring. Docklands has already been mentioned, and VT member planxty has loads of info on his page about the more traditional parts of the East End. To the west Kensington has more than just Harrods - there are the lovely Kensington Gardens (great for people-watching on a weekend) and Holland Park. And maybe grab your cameras one day and head further out for a wander, just to see regular daily life in London?

    For views, Primrose Hill has already been mentioned, and PArliament Hill is also good, as is Hampstead Heath. There are also super views from Greenwich Park. All of these are free of course :-)

    If you're interested in the history of London then I really recommend the London Museum. It has a fantastic collection and it's really well presented. You can easily combine a visit here with seeing St Paul's Cathedral and maybe a wander around what's known as the Square Mile - the original City of London, now its main finance district but with loads of picture-worthy old churches and other buildings.

    For day trips out you probably already have more suggestions than you can fit into your schedule! My own favourite is Bath, which is easily reached by train and has just enough to fill a long day without making you frustrated that you missed many of the best sights ;-) As well as the lovely Regency buildings and Jane Austen connection, the Roman Baths are incredible - so well-preserved and really well exhibited and explained.

    As for what's on around then, the Time Out website is useful, while London Town have month by month listings (see londontown.com/London/May-in.... I also really like the Londonist website (http://londonist.com/) which is good for more off the wall idas, small exhibitions etc. including a daily "things to do" listing.

    And finally, talking of exhibitions, if you're studying photography you should certainly visit the Photographers Gallery (thephotographersgallery.org....) just off Oxford Street.

    Have fun!

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  • KakapoTheParrot's Profile Photo

    Re: Advice on a trip to London in May?

    by KakapoTheParrot Online Now Jan 29, 2013 at 3:23 AM

    I have to say if you're planning one big out of London trip that Warwick Castle is probably very hard work to get to compared with other places. I live about 15 miles from Warwick and very grand it is too, but I'd have thought Oxford and Blenheim Palace would have been more time efficient.

    I'd put Hampton Court and Kew Gardens in my top 5 places, particularly in May. They are worth a day each.

    I did the Globe Theatre tour a couple of years back. Again, as I live not far from Stratford and get to the RST from time to time, I maybe have a different view to others, but I felt the tour was overpriced for what you got to see and do. We were warned off photographing any actors warming up on the stage, even though none of them were of note, so photography was very restricted.

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  • xoxoxenophile's Profile Photo

    Re: Advice on a trip to London in May?

    by xoxoxenophile Online Now Jan 29, 2013 at 10:55 AM

    Wow! Thanks so much for all the advice! :)

    Just to clarify, the instructors of the group planned all the activities listed at the bottom and also purchased the London Passes for us. Not all of those would have been at the top of my list either, and I probably wouldn't have gone the London Pass route, but as long as we have them we might as well use them. :)

    Windsor Castle sounds great, as well as many of the parks and such mentioned. Thanks also for some of the photography tips! :) My friend and I are both big Jane Austen fans, so I was wondering if you have any more information on Bath? How far is it from London by train? That sounds like a destination we could definitely devote a day to. :)

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  • Dabs's Profile Photo

    Re: Advice on a trip to London in May?

    by Dabs Online Now Jan 29, 2013 at 11:04 AM

    Bath is reachable from London by train, it takes about 90 minutes, I've found that it is cheaper if you prebook the train tickets, waiting to buy until the day of is usually more expensive for the longer trips.

    londontoolkit.com/whattodo/b...

    Windsor you can get the train tickets when you travel, same price. Also Hampton Court, those are both shorter trips.

    This website lists some walking tours of Bath, one specifically for Jane Austen and another free one for the town of Bath. I would put the Roman Baths at the top of my list, a walking tour is lovely and we enjoyed having tea at the pump room

    visitbath.co.uk/things-to-do...

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  • leics's Profile Photo

    Re: Advice on a trip to London in May?

    by leics Online Now Jan 29, 2013 at 11:07 AM

    Bath is very easy by train from London.

    Train times, details and fares on the Nationalrail link I gave above.

    Trains to Bath ('Bath Spa' on the website) leave London Paddington roughly every 30 minutes. Journey time is around 1.5 hours.

    UK trains cannot get full-up, so no need to panic about getting a ticket. The fare for the train depends on the departure time, but you can buy cheaper 'advance' tickets for some departures at the station up to 6pm the night before departures. You can get a return ticket from 53.50GBP (UK trains are not cheap, I'm afraid) but if you select your departure and return times carefully you can reduce this to 38.50GBP by buying 2 single (one-way) tickets. Yes, I know it's insane.

    If you choose the two single ticket idea make sure you catch the right train at the right time. The tickets are not valid at any other time and you'll end up paying the proper fare.

    An alternative is to take an organised daytrip out of London. These often include e.g. Stonehenge as well as Bath (sometimes Windsor too), and there are several operators e.g.

    evanevanstours.co.uk/stonehe...

    andersontours.co.uk/tourdeta...

    premiumtours.co.uk/tours/sub...

    (and more if you google).

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  • toonsarah's Profile Photo

    Re: Advice on a trip to London in May?

    by toonsarah Online Now Jan 29, 2013 at 11:10 AM

    Trains to Bath leave from Paddington Station in west London, which you can reach very easily on the Underground. It takes about 1.5 hours. The price will vary according to when you travel (it's cheaper to wait till after about 9.00 am, but of course you get less time in the city then) and whether you can book in advance. If you know for sure what day you want to go, at least a couple of days ahead, I recommend booking online on the Trainline website (www.thetrainline.com) as you can usually easily identify the best value ticket on there. I just had a look for a random date in a week or so and it would cost about £40 return per person if leaving London at 8.00 am, and about £10 less if you waited till later in the morning. But it could be more, or less, in May!

    The station in Bath is called Bath Spa and it's about a 10 minute walk to the centre. My Bath page here ("An afternoon in Bath" - Bath by toonsarah has some ideas about things to do, and the tourist information office there (right by the Abbey) is very helpful. You can also do coach trips from London but there's no need to do so as getting there and getting around is so easy!

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  • Dabs's Profile Photo

    Re: Advice on a trip to London in May?

    by Dabs Online Now Jan 29, 2013 at 11:59 AM

    By looking a month out I was able to find a 22£ round trip fare but as Leics points out you must select the trains and you must take the ones you select. Day of appears to be 53.50£. Yes, train travel is not cheap and it usually comes down to flexibility vs. cost.

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  • mccalpin's Profile Photo

    Re: Advice on a trip to London in May?

    by mccalpin Online Now Jan 29, 2013 at 12:46 PM

    Since you are a fellow American, let me note the following English-ism in case you haven't seen it before:

    "a return ticket from 53.50GBP"
    "about £40 return"

    Neither of these are talking about the return trip ticket, they're referring to the "round-trip" ticket, hence:
    "a round-trip ticket from 53.50GBP"
    "about £40 for the round-trip"

    It was confusing the first time I heard this...and I still don't know what they call the "return" trip, you know, just the trip from Bath back to London ;-)

    Bill

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  • leics's Profile Photo

    Re: Advice on a trip to London in May?

    by leics Online Now Jan 29, 2013 at 12:50 PM

    I was talking about the return ticket, Bill. It's what a 'round-trip' ticket is called in the UK.

    A return ticket simply means you pay for travel for A to B and from B to A.

    For example, the poster would ask for a 'day return to Bath' at the station ticket office. :-)

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  • mccalpin's Profile Photo

    Re: Advice on a trip to London in May?

    by mccalpin Online Now Jan 29, 2013 at 1:20 PM

    I think you misunderstood, J. I know what you mean by "return" ticket: A to B and B to A. But I don't know what you call the "return trip" in the US sense, that is, what do you call B to A by itself? For us, that's the "return".

    Or, as we say:
    "How much is it for London to Bath?" ==this presumes one way
    "OK, how much is it round-trip?" ==this presumes "There and Back Again" (with apologies to Tolkien)

    Bill

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  • leics's Profile Photo

    Re: Advice on a trip to London in May?

    by leics Online Now Jan 29, 2013 at 10:39 PM

    We would not call a separate train ticket from B to A the 'return'. A return ticket you pay for the journey both ways in one go. When talking to someone else we might call it a ticket for 'the return trip' or 'the trip back'. But when buying it we'd call it a single (one-way) ticket from B to A.

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  • hawkhead's Profile Photo

    Re: Advice on a trip to London in May?

    by hawkhead Online Now Jan 30, 2013 at 12:34 AM

    It is rather a misnomer to say that UK trains never get full up. There is a legal limit to the amount of bodies they can cram in and on occasions, very rare ones, the trains are full. That's it, folks, no more aboard! However, in your case, unless there is an invasion calling for a mass exodus, then you will be fine.

    Just a word about the trainline - I have found that the fares listed on the site are more expensive, not much but a little. I use it for seeing which train companies go where, and when, and how and then use the relevant train company website to book the ticket. If there is more than the one of you (sorry about the grammar!), then you could possibly take advantage of some sort of special deal i.e. two travelling together, or for a group. Look at the various websites for the deals and also for the various rail cards.

    Btw, if you have a rail ticket or a travel card with the "crow's feet" rail logo on it, you can use it to take advantage of the 2 for 1 offers on daysoutguide. Travel card needs to be purchased from a railway station (e.g. King's Cross, Waterloo, etc.) in order to have the 'crow's feet'. I use this often in London and you could too and also perhaps for Bath. Pity you had to pay for the London Pass - definitely not worth the extra expense.

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  • leics's Profile Photo

    Re: Advice on a trip to London in May?

    by leics Online Now Jan 30, 2013 at 10:53 AM

    I'm sure you're right Hawkhead, although the number of occasions when I've travelled on the odd sardine-d train (both recently and in the past) suggests that if there is such a rule then it is not generally applied. I suspect it's more a case of 'we can't squeeze anyone else on and we have to leave *now*!' rather than a set number of passengers per train (who counts??).

    But, as you say, there's no need to be concerned about this. Unlike e.g. US trains, standing is allowed on UK trains. So even if all the seats are taken, you can still travel (you can stand or you can sit on the floor/our bag). :-)

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  • Re: Advice on a trip to London in May?

    by Melsmith128 Online Now Feb 1, 2013 at 5:37 AM

    It's either a single or a return.

    I overheard this at Victoria a few years ago

    American student:"Hello, can I have a return ticket please?"

    Cashier: "Where to?

    American student: pause.."well, back here"

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  • hawkhead's Profile Photo

    Re: Advice on a trip to London in May?

    by hawkhead Online Now Feb 1, 2013 at 6:31 AM

    This is in danger of going off-topic but can I just say that you have to know to where you are going in order to return!

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  • Re: Advice on a trip to London in May?

    by Reahm Online Now Feb 26, 2013 at 7:00 PM

    hey!

    I just got back from london a few days ago! I was only there for two days but omg i am in looooove! I would definitely recommend taking the thames river cruise! It was short, but the views were amazing and so was the guide.

    Also, definitely try afternoon tea. Since you are going to St-paul's cathedral, try Bea's afternoon tea. It was the cheaper of the two we tried and it was sooo good. I have been craving it ever since I got back. It was 18 pounds per person. The other afternoon tea we had was at the dorchester which was 41 pounds.. so that was more of a splurge.

    Also, Definitely book the SHARD! and try going for 4:30-5pm, for when the sunset is. Absolutely breathtaking. It was amazing.

    Harrods - you need like 3 hours in there. I was so mesmerized by its beauty! lol! They also serve afternoon tea.

    Covent gardens - Ben's cookies. so good! best cookies i've had, EVER.

    We also took a one day trip to berlin, germany. That was beyond amazing.

    Or, try going to oxford. There's an amazing outlet and its home of alice and wonderland! so much fun!

    Hope you have fun!

    I did lots of shopping, especially at Next. It was my favourite store there.

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  • leics's Profile Photo

    Re: Advice on a trip to London in May?

    by leics Online Now Feb 26, 2013 at 10:58 PM

    Crikey...a daytrip to Berlin? You must have been exhausted! :-)

    Which outlet in Oxford did you visit? Or was it Bicester outlet village, quite near Oxford but not in it?

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  • Re: Advice on a trip to London in May?

    by Reahm Online Now Mar 1, 2013 at 6:58 PM

    yes i meant bicester outlet! sorry!

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