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UK - What to Expect in Vacation Rentals


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There are thousands of vacation rentals in all corners of England. The largest group of travelers in England are the English, heading out to the countryside for bank holiday weekends and summer vacations.

Vacation rentals are usually of a good standard. Most are registered with the English Tourist Council and assigned ratings depending on amenities offered.

In North America we call them "vacation rentals", but in England they are called "self catering" or "holiday cottages". We use the term "vacation", Brits call it a "holiday". These differences are important when Googling for holiday cottages in England.

Popular Vacation Destinations
Most parts of England are popular with travelers, but these areas are the most popular and have many vacation rentals.

London and Bath: Many travelers spend time in London on arrival or departure since there is good transporation between London and the airports. Bath, just south of the Cotswolds, is a beautiful Georgian city with Roman ruins.

Cornwall and Devon: The coastal areas of Cornwall and Devon in the southwest of England are popular with summer travelers.

Cotswolds: This rural area west of London is perfect for weekend getaways for Londoners and a popular destination for all travelers.

Peak District: National Park in the West Midlands with rugged mountains. Great for outdoor activites.

Lake District: National Park in the north of England with beautiful hills, lakes, valleys and villages. It is a popular summer destination.

Types of Places You Can Rent
In England there are a lot of vacation rentals in towns and villages. They may be detached houses or terrace houses (row houses attached on both sides) of varying sizes (from 1 bedroom to 5+). These may be second homes that the owners rent out for income when they are not using them or may have been purposely purchased to use as a vacation rental. Many owners and agencies offer discounts for longer stays over the winter (the off season).

There are also holiday cottages on farms, sometimes in renovated out buildings.

Apartments in cities, for tourists or business travelers, are plentiful.

Finding and Booking Vacation Rentals
There are many good local agencies in England and some have been in business for 20 years or more. Farm stays are popular - a farm or estate in the countryside with several cottages or apartments. There are good Rent-from-Owner Directory sites that cover England. Tourist Office websites have good lists of nearby vacation rentals.

ETC Star Ratings
The English Tourist Council officially rates vacation rentals on a 1 to 5 star rating. These ratings are a good indicator of quality and amenities, but they do not rate location. See the English Tourist Council website for a description of their ratings.

A 4-star place does not always have a 4-star location! A few years ago we booked a 4-star vacation rental in Salisbury. The apartment was lovely, but the location was horrible. The balcony looked out over a parking lot! The master bedroom looked out to a bicycle repair yard with the door to their toilet hanging open. The ETC did not consider location when giving it a 4 star rating.

Luxury Rentals and Extra Services
Some vacation rental agencies or farms have properties that are much higher priced than usual because they offer 5-star luxury places and extra services, like daily maid service and welcome baskets, or even doing grocery shopping for you before you arrive.

Booking Procedures
Rent by the Week or Weekend
: Most vacation rentals rent by the week, starting Friday or Saturday, but you will find places that offer "short breaks", rentals for the weekend. Many places offer short breaks year round, but some only do this in the off season. The day a rental starts is called the "changeover" day.

Payments: Booking procedures are the same as in the rest of Europe (25 - 50% deposit on booking, final payment 30 - 60 days before arrival). Many agencies take credit cards, but some charge an extra 2% for using a card.

What to Expect in English Vacation Homes
We describe the basics of what to expect in the About Vacation Rentals - European Houses section. Below we list a few things unique to vacation rentals in England.

The quality of vacation rentals in England is usually very good. In our years of renting in England, we had "bad" rentals only a couple of times. Towels and bedding are provided. Kitchens are fully equipped with all the pots and pans, dishes, cutlery, etc. that you need for cooking meals.

Older Buildings
Many vacation rentals are in historic buildings or barns that have been renovated. Some cottages are small - very small - with low ceilings. Check the photos carefully. Try to figure out ceiling height by looking at the doors and windows in the photos.

If you have mobility problems find out about stairs. A two bedroom cottage might be on three levels with steep, narrow stairs between the levels. Many bedrooms are in what used to be the attic. They may not have opening windows (some have skylights) and the ceiling may be sloped, so that it is very low near the wall.

For me, half of the fun of vacations in England is staying in historic buildings, so I try to be forgiving about small rooms, low ceilings and odd layouts. We have stayed in cottages where I could touch the ceiling (7 foot ceiling) and had to duck to get through a doorway, or where the bedroom was just a bit larger than the double bed in it. We enjoyed these cottages, but it is good to know what to expect before you arrive.

Many English holiday cottages have all the mod cons (modern conveniences) but always check to see what is in the cottage you are thinking of renting.
  • You won't find air conditioning, but you don't usually need it in England.
  • There may be a clothes washer but no dryer. If that is the case, there will be a rack to hang clothes on. Sometimes the washer/dryer is one unit that only does a small amount of clothes at a time. Some places do have a separate dryer - tumble dryer or condenser dryer (not vented to the outdoors).
  • Outlets can be switched off at the wall (if something is not working, make sure the outlet is switched on).
  • Refrigerators tend to be a smaller size and some places may have under-the-counter fridges with no freezer.
  • What we call a stovetop in North America is called a "hob" in England.
  • You will always find a good tea kettle, usually an electric one. You will always find a toaster (which you don't always find in other European countries).
I don't know if it is because of their refined kettle technology or the higher power current, but the water comes to the boil in seconds! Irons are hotter and do a much better job of ironing.

: Most vacation rentals in England have "double" or "single" beds. An English double bed is the same size as one in the US/Canada, but the US/Canada twin is 3 inches wider than a UK single. The UK King or "5-foot bed" is the same size as a US/Canada Queen. You rarely find a US King size bed, which is called a Super King. See About Vacation Rentals - European Houses for more information about bed sizes.

Shopping for Groceries
There are several chains of large supermarkets in England. My favorite is Waitrose (upscale, with many organic items and a great prepared foods section). Tesco is another popular supermarket chain. You find these supermarkets on the outskirts of the larger towns. In the villages there are usually smaller shops (bakery, deli, small supermarket).

Not Always Open in the Evening: Unlikes stops in southern Europe, shops in England are open all day long, but close around 5pm. Larger supermarkets (Tesco, Sainsbury, Waitrose) are open later to 8pm and are open on Sunday. Some villages have a small supermarket that stays open in the evening.

Closed on Sunday: Many village shops are closed on Sunday, but the larger supermarkets are open, but close earlier than during the week.


Breakfast outside on a summer day

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Booking.com Hotels in Europe
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