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Help with England/Scotland/Ireland on a budget

My wife and I have to attend a wedding in UK the first week of August, and considered joining a group 10 day tour to the UK, Scotland and Ireland before the wedding. However, we hadn't planned to attend the wedding, so the trip for the wedding and sightseeing will need to be on a budget. The 10 day group tour itinerary is out of our budget and goes something like this:

London – Stratford-upon-Avon – York – Bradford – Lake District – Gretna Green – Glasgow (2 Nights) - Edinburgh Excursion - Glasgow – Belfast – Dublin (2 Nights) - Dublin Sightseeing and Free Time - Dublin – Kilkenny – Waterford - Cardiff – Bath – Windsor – London.

We prefer not spending too much time in museums and churches, but are partial to castles, the countryside, interesting shopping and ..... We are open to suggestions for places to visit, in effect a 'Top 10' of England, Scotland, and Ireland in 10 days. We don't have the luxury of being able to spend more time, and also prefer seeing all 3 countries, even though we know some people might recommend dedicating all 10 days to one country.

I was wondering: is it feasible to do this itinerary using public transportation? Is it a good idea to go on local tours offered in each city that we visit, or should we do things on our own? How much should we budget $$$ for each day?

We are just starting to plan this trip, so any and all suggestions and advice are welcome. Thanks!

Posted by
1249 posts

Where is the location of the wedding? It will help to know where you need to end your journey.

Posted by
153 posts

The wedding is in London. It's on Saturday August 3, and we need to return to the US by Aug 5, because my wife works in a school starting that week.

Posted by
10053 posts

With 10 days, I would stick to England only. London itself is worthy of a week (or more!). Fly in-and-out of London, so not rent a car. Look at Rick Steves' guidebook for England and pick one location outside of London for three nights, perhaps Bath or Salisbury, easily done by train. Then go back to London for touring and the wedding. Premier Inns are budget lodgings that might work well for you.

Posted by
8889 posts

London – Stratford-upon-Avon – York – Bradford – Lake District – Gretna Green – Glasgow (2 Nights) - Edinburgh Excursion - Glasgow – Belfast – Dublin (2 Nights) - Dublin Sightseeing and Free Time - Dublin – Kilkenny – Waterford - Cardiff – Bath – Windsor – London.

This is a very extensive tour, and would cost a lot of £££ (not $$$, though €€€ in Ireland). It has a few curiousities:
Bradford is an industrial city, not a tourist destination. Unless they mean Bradford-on-Avon, but that is in Wiltshire (southern England), not near York.
"Waterford - Cardiff" - how are you crossing the Irish Sea? Neither is on a fery route, or are you returning to a city with an airport and flying?

You could do most of this with public transport. I would do things on your own. Use that list as a starting point, make a list of where you want to go, and plan your own trip. Assume you can get from anywhere to anywhere by public transport, until proven wrong.

Posted by
9706 posts

Wow, even if that tour was in your budget it covers too much too fast for my taste. I AM a tour person (have done 10 Rick Steves tours) but not one that goes that fast.

I agree that you should consider sticking to England even though you want to do all 3 areas. You could fly in to Edinburgh, spend some time there and then head south via train to York and then London. To me you'll have to do some editing from that tour itinerary or you'll spend all your time in transit and no time actually seeing the sights.

Posted by
2940 posts

The group tour itinerary you've outlined is one of those "if it's Tuesday this must be Belgium" whirlwinds. (For those too young to remember, the Belgium reference is to a 1969 movie, an earlier TV documentary, and a still earlier New Yorker cartoon.)

Tour operators are able to whisk the group from one destination to the next quickly because they know the routes and have all the arrangements down pat -- plus they have a tour guide who is not there to enjoy a vacation but rather to work hard all day every day keeping things on track. Trying to visit all these places on your own in such a short time is asking for trouble, IMO. With just 10 days, and part of your time taken up by the wedding, I honestly think you'd be making a big mistake (and spending a lot of money) by cramming in all three countries.

Posted by
5547 posts

Sixteen places in 10 days? Wow. You are going to be spending a lot of time in transit plus it’s going to be expensive for so much travel. Day 1 will be lost to jet lag.

If you want to see Ireland, fly into Dublin for a few nights then fly to Edinburgh or Glasgow then fly to London. You won’t have much time for any day trips, but you can cover Windsor from London. Edinburgh is very busy and expensive in August when the Festival is running.

Stratford upon Avon is tacky and I would give it a miss. Bradford is an industrial city and some of the best curries in the UK can be found here, but there are many better places for tourists to visit. Likewise, I would give the cheesy Gretna a miss.

Posted by
153 posts

We spent about a week in London about 10 years ago. So this time we don't need time there except for the wedding. BTW, the tour that I mentioned is by Trafalgar. We are used to 'if it's Monday, this must be Rome' tours, but I appreciate your suggestions on cities that we can afford to miss, and attractions that we should add.

There is a choice: We prefer do one of these snapshot tours rather than just spend all our time in one country. We want to make the best use of the 10 or so days that we have to see different places, but as I mentioned, it doesn't have to be every single place on the group tour itinerary.

Posted by
6349 posts

Leave London early on the express train to York. City walls, Shambles, York Minister. 2 nights.

Train from York to Edinburgh. Old town, Royal Mike and Castle. 2 nights . Train to Glasgow; Cathedral, Peoples Palace, botanic Gardens. Overnight.
Train Glasgow to Windmere in the Lake District. 2 nights there. Train Windmere to Manchester and fly to
Shannon. Rent car and drive to Dingle 3 nights. See Slea Head, Gap Of Dunloe, Cliffs Of Kerry Portmagee, Killarney National Park, Muckross House. Drive back to Shannon and flight back to London.

I’m exhausted just thinking about this but hey if that’s how you roll.....

Posted by
21065 posts

I'm sorry. You may survive England-Scotland-Ireland (and the tour itinerary includes Wales!) in ten days, but few people would want to. You're going to be wasting too many hours looking through vehicle windows. Does that count as seeing things? Ireland, in particular, is not a good inclusion because it requires either ferry rides or flights. You will not see more by traveling this way; you will see less. This is like a 10-day version of a two-hour sightseeing bus tour in London.

In terms of logistics, there is a huge difference between a bus tour with dedicated transportation and carefully-timed meal breaks (with pre-ordered meals to save time) vs. having to depend on scheduled trains and buses. When traveling on your own, your city-to-city transportation is not parked right outside the door of your hotel, and you'll have to rustle up your own food.

I am not promoting that tour, whose itinerary I consider beyond laughable, just pointing out that you must cut way back unless you truly want to sit inside buses, bus stations, trains, train stations, planes and airports (or ferries and ferry terminals) for far too much of your precious vacation time.

If you haven't bought your transatlantic tickets yet, it would be much better to fly into Dublin, Edinburgh or Glasgow rather than London.

Rail tickets in the UK can be very, very expensive if not bought well in advance.

Posted by
153 posts

I really appreciate all of your replies, and it's clear that we need to rethink our plan. Just for info, we visited Italy, Greece, Switzerland and Paris in 2 weeks last June. It was also one of those snapshot tours. Did we wish we had more time in a particular country? Yes, only in the Berner Oberland area of Switzerland (Murren and Lauterbrunnen). We're definitely going back there but saw enough churches, museums, and art during that trip in the other countries to last us for the next 10 years.

I'll try to respond to some of your suggestions later today.

Posted by
1232 posts

To be honest, that itenerary sounds like a nightmare. Before even beginning to plan a trip to the UK, I’d sit down and really think about what you want to do there. It’s fine to avoid cathedrals and art if you have no interest, decide what interests you and build your trip around that. I’m a firm believer in less is more and reduce the moving around.

Posted by
21065 posts

We all have our sightseeing preferences. I love art museums, but the first Greek theatre ruin I saw was definitely more than enough. I'm guessing that in Greece you may have seen primarily Athens, which isn't a particularly enchanting place if you don't have much interest in archaeological ruins and archaeological museums. And even if you do like such things, I think the charm of Greece is elsewhere.

Which is kind of my point: If you have three days in a country, you're not likely to see much besides the capital city or some other major megalopolis, and you don't know what you've missed. I note, for example, that the bus tour doesn't seem to get to the Scottish Highlands. I'm very much looking forward to seeing Edinburgh and Glasgow this summer (for the architecture as well as the museums), but I have a lot of time and will be able to see some other parts of the country as well. I wouldn't go to Edinburgh and Glasgow and think I had seen Scotland.

Posted by
1246 posts

If you love castles; go to Wales. 3 Day Cwad Explorer Pass is only 34 pounds per couple for a ton of authentic castles. You can take the train. I would train to Chester, then to Conwy...you may have to take bus to Beaumaris, train to Carnarfen, etc. Or get a National Trust UK Touring Pass online for 7 days for 58 pounds for couple. This covers London, England and Wales. They have a list of 300 sites. Another train journey could take you to Land's End and Mount Michael. Go to Salisbury and Stonehenge. Go to Oxford and Blenheim in Woodstock. Go to Lacock Village (Harry Potter). Go to Portsmouth and visit the Mary Rose. etc. These are all in South England so you can make the best use of time. Driving would make even better use of time but you can still go to these locations by train or bus. Check you how far ahead you must book your train passes or tickets to save, etc.

Posted by
1249 posts

I agree with Kathleen's suggestion. But, I particularly like these areas and am of Welsh heritage. I would concentrate on one area such as south England and Wales and stay no less than 2 nights in each stop. Trains will work if you supplement with regional buses in some areas. As others have said the original tour suggestion would leave you exhausted and includes places like Gretna Green which just aren't worth seeing. I would leave out the Republic of Ireland and Belfast and Scotland as you will waste so much of your trip just getting there-unless you fly point to point for some places within UK and Ireland. In Ireland you aren't going to the best bits. I am happy to see you are thinking your trip. Have fun, relax and you WILL be back.

Posted by
799 posts

Are you familiar with rome2rio.com? If I were you, I would use the Trefalgar itinerary as an outline, eliminating those places you aren’t interested in (or which the knowledgeable people here have suggested you skip). I would then use rome2rio to determine how to get from point A to point B. The site will give you alternative forms of transportation, cost, and travel time. Then you can decide if what you want to do is within your timeframe and budget.

Posted by
13079 posts

You say you are on a tight budget. Keep in mind that moving around costs money. The more you move, the more it costs. And it eats up time. So trim down the number of destinations, and the distances, if you want to economize.

The best advice above is to (a) fly open jaw, into Scotland and home from London. In Scotland, spend 4-5 days in Glasgow, Edinburgh, and/or one smaller place in the Highlands or the countryside. (I can suggest Bridge of Orchy if you like hiking in beautiful nature; very accessible by train and a short journey from Glasgow. You can overnight at the hotel there.)

. Then make your way by train through England, maybe visiting the Lake District, Hadrian’s Wall, and York before ending in London. Or other possible combinations may be suggested. The point is to limit the bouncing around and time spent on trains (or planes or ferries). Firm up your itinerary so you can by Advance tickets on the UK trains. These are often a fraction the cost of full-price fares (like 1/5).

Posted by
389 posts

I'd definitely avoid Ireland as you won't get a cheap flight or ferry in August. You could do worse than Windsor > Bath > Cardiff > Tenby > London
Get your castle fix in Windsor and Cardiff, countryside in Tenby (take a boat out to Skomer Island too). Not sure what you mean by interesting shopping but Bath and Cardiff both have a wide selection and charming streets including Cardiffs Victorian arcades. In Cardiff don't miss St Fagans folk museum, Castell Coch and Cardiff Castle.

Posted by
799 posts

Scythian- Thanks for the Brandt guides recommendation. Exactly what I was looking for.

Posted by
153 posts

Here's my response to your questions/comments:

I copied the group tour itinerary thinking that these must be popular places since Trafalgar must take thousands of people on this route. But of course, we don't need to follow this route.

Laurel - I agree with you re: staying at Premier Inns, we stayed at one for one night in London on our way back to the US from Europe, and really liked it.

Chris - I think the group tour spends a night in Bradford probably because that city has inexpensive hotels. We don't need to go to Bradford. The tour goes by ferry to Wales from Waterford and then by bus to Cardiff.

Jennifer - we will consider dropping Stratford upon Avon and Gretna, and instead visiting other places recommended on this forum.

Claudia - thanks for your suggestions. I will research the places you mentioned.

acraven - thanks for info about buying rail tickets well in advance. We visited Athens where the Acropolis, National Archaeological Museum, and the Changing of the Guard were highlights for us. We don't regret visiting Greece at all, it was very interesting but we were underwhelmed with Santorini.

scythian - thanks for your detailed suggestions. I need to do some homework on those.

Kathleen, Laurie Beth, kclyons, ryan_and _gill, and Lola - I will definitely do some research into your suggestions.

Here's my plan going forward: It's clear that based on your comments I need to drop some places and add others, while reducing the total # of places visited. I need to do some reading from Rick's guidebooks, but we still want to visit all 3 countries in 10 days. I'll come back with a revised itinerary for your feedback, meanwhile please feel free to make suggestions about 'must see' places in each country. Thanks!

Posted by
21065 posts

Although Rome2Rio.com appears on the surface to be a great one-stop source of answers for transportation questions, it is not. It is just a good starting point when you're not sure what type of transportation to use. You absolutely cannot trust the travel times, frequencies or fares it displays. It's usually accurate about whether there is train service, bus service, a ferry, etc., and it seems to get the transfer points right. To find how long it will really take to get from A to B, you must go to the website of the company operating the transportation or a reliable consolidator of that information, like nationalrail.co.uk.

Posted by
1878 posts

As others have said this is way too much. I think stick to Scotland-England, fly open jaw into Edinburgh and out of London. Glasgow-Edinburgh-York-London. For smaller cities Durham, Lincoln, Canterbury are along the north-south axis in England. Canterbury has easy connections to the small town of Rye and the city of Dover which has a spectacular castle. You can easily fill two weeks in Ireland, Scotland, or England. Trying to do all three plus Wales in ten days, is way too much. Trains are expensive in Britain, you can save by booking in advance though. There are also busses though I don't have must experience with that. Doing a whirlwind itinerary is counter to budget traveling. Also budget-oriented places to visit tend to be smaller towns, which is less consistent with public transit.

Posted by
5476 posts

That 10 day itinerary is ridiculous. Way too much travel and you won't have time to really visit where you are going, except perhaps the places where you stay 2 days.

We did a 28 day drive tour of Wales and England in 2017. Originally, we planned to include Scotland, but the more research that we did, we realized that we needed more time for our visits, so we eliminated Scotland.

Here is my review of our trip.
28 days in Britain and Celebrity Eclipse home
https://www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=599139

Posted by
5476 posts

Another thought, for our 28 days, we spent about an average of 100 GBP per night on lodging.
The rental car with fuel cost about 1400 GBP. You have to rent a car large enough to keep your luggage in the trunk (boot).
Since we mostly stayed in B&Bs we had a free or inexpensive breakfast. We usually didn't eat lunch, but of course, had dinner and spent about 70 GBP per day on food. Admissions to museums and sights added about 30-40 GBP per day.

In some places, you might wish to take a local tour, but most you can do it yourself if you do the research in advance and have an excellent guidebook. Still, you will have to pay entrance fees for some places.

Posted by
3186 posts

Although tours are much more efficient than independent travel because someone else handles the logistics, that tour is a nightmare. 10 days isn't enough to even see England. For 10 days, I would do York and areas near London. London "requires" at least 3 days, including a day trip to Windsor. Dover is a great castle and is an easy train ride from London. Cardiff has two castles in the immediate vicinity and is also an easy train ride from London. Bath is a good base to take a bus tour to the Cotswolds with Mad Max or London Walks does a day tour to the Cotswolds from London. If you could find a not-to-expensive Air BnB or other rental in London near a good Tube line, the logistics of day trips is really easy from there. However, London is one of the most expensive cities anywhere for hotel rooms.

Posted by
5157 posts

Well, you’ve asked for input and you received it! I see that you doing a nice job of coming back and responding to comments. Everyone has already said what I would, so I’ll just add have a great trip.

Posted by
34 posts

Many years ago I went on a group tour of around 10-11 nights that touched on each of these countries. I can't remember the exact itinerary/number of nights in each place but it was roughly:

Fly into London->2 or 3 nights London->Overnight train to Edinburgh->1 or 2 nights Edinburgh->Drive to Wales & overnight (can't remember the town but it must've been Holyhead region based on next step)->Ferry to Ireland-> 1 or 2 nights Dublin->Drive west towards Killarney w/ stop in Blarney->1 or 2 nights Killarney->Return to US from Shannon

Something like this but in reverse could work for you, starting in Ireland and ending in London. Also possibly swap Edinburgh for Glasgow as your Scotland stop, depending on your interests. Or if you don't want any time in London except to attend the wedding, you could cut London down to 1-2 nights and spend an additional night or two in Scotland.

As others have said you'll need to research and prioritize what you really want to see, especially if you'll be relying on public transportation, but I don't think it's unreasonable to do a "highlights tour" of these 3 countries in 10 days.

Posted by
27 posts

I agree with the comments, except that I do like to look out the windows of trains and buses! Countries are more than just cities and towns.

Posted by
3428 posts

You should seriously assess your priorities. I'd drop either Ireland or Scotland. Even with that you will be hard pressed to really see and enjoy much. We used to do trips of about that length. After we'd spent LOTS of time in London over the years (more than 40 trips in just over 20 years time), we'd often just spend 2 or 3 nights there total. Personally, for this trip, I'd suggest dropping Ireland. Many of your desired destinations can be done as day trips from London by train (Windsor, Bath, Cardiff, Stratford-upon-Avon, even York). Consider something like this:
London- 5 nights with 2-3 day trips
Train to York- 1 night
Train to Edinburgh- 4 nights with 2 day trips, fly home from Edinburgh.