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Three Weeks in the British Isles

Darling Companion and I are hoping to make this trip within the next few years. I've been on a quick trip to Belfast, Liverpool, and London, and he has never been to Great Britain. We're open to train and plane travel as needed, but odds are he'll want to drive (yes) most places with rentals. In addition to the usual places, including of course London, what would you think we could fit in during three weeks of travel? On my list with hopes are: Cornwall, Ireland and NI, Scotland including the Highlands and Iona. Thank you for your input. By the way, we are healthy seniors with primary interests in history, food, and beverage:) I would also assume that we would enjoy at least four to five nights in London.

Posted by
2640 posts

If you're going to spend 4-5 nights in London, that leaves just a little over two weeks for everywhere else. And that's not much. You could easily spend two full weeks just seeing the most popular sights of Scotland or Ireland (not both), let alone England. Your wish list includes Cornwall and Iona, which are about as far apart as you can get in the England-Scotland orbit. If you want to actually enjoy being there and not just rushing from one destination to the next, I highly recommend narrowing your range of travel.

Driving works out well, IMO, for travelers of a certain age (self included) because it reduces the amount of walking you have to do, especially wrangling luggage. Having your own car also gives you flexibility to spend more time in a place that piques your interest, and to move along if you arrive at a destination and find that it's not quite as interesting as you expected. A car in London, though, would be a useless headache. Ditto for other major cities. My rule of thumb for traveling in the UK with a car was to spend no more than 3 hours (or 4 max) driving on any given day. Again, this enabled us to be in Britain instead of just seeing Britain out the window.

Give some thought to what you are both most attracted to when you travel. Do you like to visit places that are famous and loved by millions? Or do you prefer out-of-the-way, offbeat places? Also consider your budget, as lodging and restaurants tend to be expensive in the major cities, especially London.

Hope this helps!

Posted by
17881 posts

Traveling around rural Scotland is not something that can be done rapidly. The most I'd want to attempt in 3 weeks would be London and Scotland. I actually spent 26 days in Scotland last year (though without a car, which did slow me down somewhat), and I had to cut places from my itinerary. Because the weather is iffy (even in mid-summer), especially in western Scotland, it's very helpful to have enough time to adjust the date you see a place, based on conditions. The gardens around the castles are often really lovely, but they are more enjoyable if it's not raining a lot. If you enjoy history, I think you'll want to allow a good bit of time in Edinburgh as well as in the islands and Highlands. I liked Glasgow a lot as well.

Posted by
1151 posts

If the 3 Weeks includes the 5 days in London...you might need to do some trimming. We have driven 2 times in GB, once 21 days, 2nd 15.
I would do the Cotswolds, Cornwall and Wales with London as one trip. Look at www.nationaltrust.org.uk for Overseas Visitor Touring Passes. Ireland & NI and Scotland as another trip without London. For Scotland www.visitscotland.com. We did Wales, Scotland and England both times. Ireland would have involved a long ferry ride if you took a car across. You could always rent autos separately for Ireland & Scotland. We usually stayed in B&Bs and small hotels or inns. Bon Voyage.

Posted by
597 posts

I'm sure you don't want to hear this but you seriously need to trim your list. They're all great locations but 3 weeks (even without 4-5 days in London) is just not enough time to do more than just travel. No time to stop and tour sites, enjoy the area.

Recommend reading the Explore Europe section of the website and the Plan tab where Rick lays out recommended itineraries for England, Scotland and Ireland. You might also want to buy or borrow his guide books for Great Britain and Ireland. Excellent advice for planning a trip.

Posted by
2739 posts

I agree that you will need to trim your list for an enjoyable 3 week trip. Save Ireland for another time. Look at multicity tickets that fly into one of the Scottish cities and out of London ( or vice versa) to save more time and money backtracking. 4 or 5 nights in London would be the absolute minimum for a first time visitor IMO. Your friend may change his mind about the pleasures of driving once he's experienced doing so in a European city. Try to lump your cities together and use trains for them, reserving the rental cars for the days when you'll be in more rural areas.

Posted by
4451 posts

What CJean said -- trim your list, use trains between cities and rent cars for countryside exploring. But you could make a pretty nice road trip from, say, York (reached by fast train from London) up into Scotland. Fly home from Edinburgh or Glasgow.

Posted by
10 posts

If you spent about a week in London you could spend two more weeks in two other places. You could go to Ireland (which I believe deserves two weeks on its own) or Scotland but I'd recommend flying between those places.
If you haven't been yet, go to Scotland, but then again I am a tad biased 😉

Posted by
4348 posts

As others have said, save Ireland for another trip. Cornwall is also a geographical outlier and you will spend a whole day getting from there to Scotland, so I would also drop that and focus on London and Scotland. Start in London for 5 nights then either take the train directly to Glasgow or Edinburgh or break the journey and have 2-3 nights in York.

Once you have explored Glasgow/Edinburgh for a couple of days, hire a car to explore western Scotland. Fly home open jaw from Edinburgh to avoid a day backtracking to London.

You can’t rush rural Scotland and it’s islands.

Posted by
51 posts

Thanks so much for all of the helpful comments. Yes, I'll pick up Rick's book and also look at Plan Your Trip - great ideas. Basically, for Companion, it's mostly Churchill and whiskey:) For me, it's the charming waysides. So, you all are right: Ireland will have to wait. Cornwall: oh, dear.

So now for the details...again, many thanks!!
Marjie

Posted by
4610 posts

We have visited the British Isles three times in the past 8 years. Our last trip was in 2017 when we did a four week drive tour of South Wales and England.

We had a trip to Cornwall planned this year, but it was cancelled due to COVID. I would advise you to plan a separate trip for Cornwall, it is more isolated and can get busy in the summer tourist season.

Some places that I recommend are Bath, Winchester, Blenheim Palace, Oxford, Cambridge, the Cotswolds, Warwick Castle, York, Whitby, Cardiff and Tenby Wales, Durham, Hadrian's Wall, the Lake District. Also, Canterbury.

Also, in Scotland, Edinburgh, St. Andrews, Inverness. We haven't done the Western Highlands, but want to in the future.

Posted by
1174 posts

I concur with the above comments that you are trying to do too much.

One other note, how senior are you. Our last trip to England I was going to drive except that when I went to make a rental car reservation, I was told that I was too old (75). We ended up taking 2 RS tours. Other considerations, is your husband comfortable with driving on the other side of the road. I did it several years ago in Ireland and it is a bit tricky. To go along with that, is he very comfortable with standard shift. An automatic shift car will cost you considerably more.

Posted by
585 posts

In 2015, we did Ireland and England in two weeks. We flew into Dublin and home from London. I grew up in the UK so am not opposed to driving when I visit, but as I age, I tend to find myself doing a mix of transportation. For Ireland, have you considered a small group tour? We used this Irish company:
https://vagabondtoursofireland.com// (look at the Driftwood tours). Very reasonably priced. Worth checking into.
For your itinerary, I would suggest flying from Dublin to Scotland (Glasgow or Edinburgh) then rent a car for the Highlands. From Edinburgh, take the train to London and stay a few days (3 days is enough IMO). Cornwall is too much of an outlier for this trip. 2-3 weeks is certainly doable for this itinerary.

Margaret

Posted by
51 posts

Again, so many thanks to all of you. My companion feels that he'll be comfortable on the other side of the road and knows a stick shift well. (We'll see, of course:) We are 68, so probably 70 or 71 by the time Covid restrictions are lifted (I'm an optimist), but good to know about the 75 age limit, and also about good tours of Ireland. The Cornish trip is a bit of a dream: much of my DNA & family lore are in Cornwall, Wales, and Brittany - my mother was never able to make the trip, but talked about Cornwall for many years. Also, three nights in London are probably enough for my companion; I was so lucky on my quick visit that my grown children knew just where to take me:)

Marjie

(I'm certain that I'll have many more questions in the months to come...)

Posted by
24641 posts

the 75 limit is not one founded in law - different companies have different rules. Some have a cutoff, some charge a premium and others have a higher or no limit.

Ask around.

Two days (with 3 nights you get 2 days, the other days are travel days) in London isn't much for a first timer like your C. Your original plan of 4 to 5 nights allows more flexibility and a chance to see some of the really cool stuff - and there is lots of really cool stuff. Such as a roof garden at the top of the Walkie Talkie building, perhaps with a drink at sunset...

I do acknowledge that it is bigger than Boones Mill, VA.

Posted by
4507 posts

Hardly any UK car rental companies have an age limit these days, although this is still somewhat more common in Ireland, and the some of the 'global' companies have agents that get confused between the two from experiences posted here.. There may be an insurance loading.

Posted by
7964 posts

I agree with Nigel that 3 nights/2 full days is not much for London.

I'm sure your Churchill lover will want to visit the Churchill War Rooms (need timed entry for here). If he spends time in the Churchill museum section that will use 1/2 a day.

Last time I was there I picked up a cool book called Winston Churchill's London at War Walk. It's an interesting self guided walk that starts at St. Martin-in-the-Field church and winds down toward the Thames, to Houses of Parliament, back in front of the War Rooms and the Horse Guards Parade and ends near there. I'd guess it would take 2 hours or so to do maybe a bit longer if you popped in for a pint or food along the way.

Laughing...I do see it listed on Amazon for $99!!! NOT! I paid £5.99 at the War Rooms gift shop but it was at the end of my time in London and my companions were not up for the walk. I'll do it next time. Here's a tinyURL link to the Amazon page so you can see what it looks like.

https://tinyurl.com/y5xlm8qz

There may also be a London Walk that is Churchill-themed that would be fun to do. Those are at https://www.walks.com/ No booking needed. I've done the WWII walk that used to be on Sunday afternoons and it was quite good although not totally focused on Churchill.

Posted by
1868 posts

As others have said please do not plan to drive in any major cities it is a headache you don't need and although your companion knows how to drive a stick shift believe me it is difficult to do so when you are on the other side of the car. Very wise choice to narrow down your trip. You are certainly going to wonderful places!!

Posted by
4610 posts

If you rent a car, carry many coins for parking. Also, I found an automatic reduces the stress of driving on the left, especially since you would shift with the left hand.
Further, having a navigation system is important to finding your destination and not getting lost.

Posted by
2643 posts

Considering you are not from a major city and that your DC does not like major cities, I'd suggest starting in Edinburgh and then see the countryside of Scotland. Drop the rental car in Scotland and train to London. Spend the last few days in London with day trips (Blenheim, Chartwell-private?). You will at least no longer be jet lagged, enjoy the change, be more accustomed to the travel, and you might be happy for the break from driving at that point. I'd recommend 4 full days in London/environs. Just make sure to enjoy the wonderful parks for some restful city time to alleviate the city stress for you.

Posted by
779 posts

Hi,
Jennifer has a very nice response.

If you are never returning...and you just want to see highlights...you must decide that your trip will be one disjointed driving/train riding/airport waiting experience. There, does that sound judgemental enough?

You might try a couple days in London, then outside of there, with a return to London for 2-3 days. This does three nice things for you. #1. You will give yourself a landing pad after a long flight and some time to recover from jet lag. #2. Returning to London after having been there gives you a fresh approach to the city and its rhythms. #3. You are in London the night before departure making that event less stressful.

Ireland...it is the people that make it great. A hurried trip makes meeting the people difficult. Here is how you meet the Irish when you have a car. Drive into a village/town that has more than one pub, and more than one grocer. A compact place like Kilfenora in County Clare. Go up to some one and ask for help finding a good pint of Guinness. Acknowledge that each Pub has its specialty and usually one serves a better pint than the others. This gets you in their pocket. What the heck, have a pint. Then you can find another person and ask where you can buy a loaf of Irish Brown bread and some cheddar cheese. Again, you now have them talking to you. Once inside either establishment you can start with , "You have been recommended as ..." One village, four possible conversations. Plus you get a pint of good Guinness and a most Irish lunch lunch on the roadside.

If you plan to get to Kilfenora, I can send you map of a lovely drive, from Killinaboy to Ballyvaughan. (wmcca@hotmail.com)

In all three of the areas you mention, Ireland, Scotland, and England, expect to road times to be slow. Yes, they have motorways, but they get clogged. Seriously. Often.

wayne iNWI

Posted by
5486 posts

For DC and all things Churchill you can stroll past where he died.

Discovered 28 Hyde Park Gate by accident. Was trying to get to the nearby Queens Arms Pub for lunch but discovered I couldn’t via Hyde Park Gate.

Was a pleasant surprise to see the Blue Plaque.

This is why I love meandering on foot in London.

Pleasant surprises.

EDIT: if any first time London travelers would like to see “mews,“ the Queens Gate Mews are lovely. Off Gloucester Road.

Posted by
202 posts

We're 72 and 70. In July 2019, we drove three weeks in England, Wales, and Scotland staying 2 or 3 nights each in a clock-wise loop after landing at Heathrow -- Eton/Windsor, Conwy (Wales), Liverpool, (1 night in) Haltwhistle, Oban (for our Iona visit), Inverness, Stirling, Edinburgh, York, and a night (with a favorite pub) near Heathrow before the morning flight back home. Driving didn't seem hard for us. We got an automatic (to reduce distraction), navigation, and full insurance to reduce worry.

We're not light packers so when we got our car we opened our medium size bags and stacked them open in the trunk, then got out what we needed at each stop and put those things in carryon bags that we took into the hotels and B&Bs. (We only had to wheel our medium size bags from Baggage Claim to the Sixt office in the next building over. After that, they didn't leave the trunk.)

We had been to Ireland and NI on a previous trip and so didn't go this time. We'd been to London before and decided to save it for another trip (which will be this June if miracles happen). We took tons of photos and wrote a blog each night. (We even ran into Rick Steves in Edinburgh.)

The British Isles are wonderful so you won't go wrong no matter where you end up. Bon voyage.