My husband and I would like to plan a trip to England and Scotland next summer. We have traveled to Europe once before but stayed with family/friends with no real plans. This time we want to do a mix of guided tours and free time so we make the most of our time. We have never been to either England or Scotland before and would appreciate any ideas on how best to see both places. We would like to be gone no longer than two weeks, traveling from California. There are so many places we want to go it's hard to know where to start!
Knowing the mixture of city and country that you prefer will help us give advice. They both have their own unique challenges.
How comfortable are you with driving in Scotland? Would you prefer a multi-day organized tour?
Do you like history? Architecture? Culture?
Would you rather see a lot of London sites, or split London between some side trips like Bath/Stonehenge/Cambridge/Oxford/York?
Do you want to go "full" country with the Cotswolds or Lake District?
Your question is very broad so any help you can give in narrowing down what you like will be important.
We are near the end of a 2 1/2 week trip to England, Scotland, and Wales. We have had a fantastic time. We have been to London before, many times, also to Salisbury and Bath, but this is our first time out of southern England.
The first thing you need to decide is whether you want to rent a car at any point and drive on the left. We did not, so have been traveling entirely by train, which has worked fine. You do not want a car in the cities anyway, and for the rest our focus has been on walking in rural areas that could be accessed by train.
You can get most anywhere in England by train, but Scotland is tougher. Many will recommend a car for touring the Highlands. So decide on that one first, and people can help you work out an itinerary.
Whatever you decide on the car, you will probably do well to fly into London and out of Edinburgh. Spend the first 3-4 nights in London and then head out on your adventure.
No driving on the left, yes to the organized tour idea. We would like to split our time between London and other places. I'd love to see Bath, Cambridge and also tour some of those amazing homes in England. We'd like to see the major sites in Scotland, and we love museums, classical music, culture and architecture. The Singer Sargent part of the Tate and the Victoria and Albert museum are must sees. I also love Guinness. Just sayin'. We really like the idea of organized touring since it takes the transportation planning off our plate. We've never done one before and would like to give it a try. We don't mind travelling by train or coach at all.
Rabbies, Timberbush, Highland Experience and Heart of Scotland all get good reviews for 1, 2, or 3 day tours from Edinburgh or Glasgow. Multi-day tours include accommodations arranged by the tour company.
Guinness is Ireland. ;) But you can get plenty of good bitters in the UK.
For the trains, you'll really have to set a tentative itinerary to decide how much time you would want to spend on a train. National Rail passes may or may not be worth it for a two week trip. We are only visiting Edinburgh and London (nothing in between), so our ten days didn't justify a hundreds of dollars rail pass. Instead, I purchased my rail ticket from Edinburgh to London two months in advance and got first class for considerably less than a on-the-spot second class fare. If you intend to just spend a day or two in many different locations, it may or may not be worth it.
Consider Rick's "Great Britain" guide to get a good summary of all the sites you could visit too. I have the 2013 one for my trip in less than a week and it has been super valuable to have in planning.
Once you get a rough idea of the proportion of time you'd like to spend in your places and we can help you some more. Warning: Don't try to do too much. I wouldn't do more than four on a two week itinerary. Of course, one "site" could include several day trips.
An example: If you really wanted to do the Highlands well, you'd have to do at least a two day tour. Edinburgh needs a minimum of two days to see well, in my opinion. That's four days right there.
Day 1- flight from home to London
Day 2- Land London- possibly Hop on/off bus to orient to London- or a 'wander' by yourself , or a London Walks tour
Day 3- 6- London with possibly 1 or 2 day trips by train (Windsor 1/2 to full day, Canterbury and or/Dover, Bath, Cardiff, Winchester, or others)
Day 7-8 train to Edinburgh, spend either 1 or 2 nights
Day9- train to Aviemore- spend 1 night
Day 10-13 train to Inverness- day trips as desired - Loch Ness/Drumnadrochit (less than 1/2 day), Glencoe, Great Glen, Isle of Skye (various companies do combinations of these), Orkney (one VERY LONG day- but worth it).
Day 14- early flight back to London then home (might have to shave a day somewhere unless you can get a flight home from either Edinburgh or Glasgow)
My advice is very similar to Toni's. I too would recommend that if you don't feel that you can drive you should day tours out of Inverness. There are some great ones. Or take one of the longer tours out of Edinburgh that last over multiple days. You need to look carefully at the bus time that these tours offer.
In Inverness you can take public transportation to Culloden and it's a nice walk over to Clava Cairns and back if you've got good weather.
My favorite Scottish sights that are on the railroad include:
- Stirling Castle--I love this castle and it's been recently restored.
- Linlithgow--this is another royal castle that is close to Edinburgh and a good one to visit.
- Glasgow--It's the biggest city in Scotland and has lots to offer including the Glasgow Cathedral, the new Riverside Museum, Kelvingrove and the Tenement House to name a few.
- Dunkeld and Birnam--I like the walks, the scenery, the cathedral, the old bridge, the wee Beatrix Potter Garden, and The Taybank.
- Pitlochry--The Festival Theatre, the Explorer's Garden, the Blair Atholl Distillery, and walks by the Tay.
- Blair Castle--great castle and garden.
- Plockton--Nice little highland village on the way to Kyle of Lochalsh and Skye. The train ride from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh is one of the most beautiful train trips in the world.
This is so helpful, thanks to all! (I know Guinness is Ireland, I just figured I'd be closer to the source than ever before...) I have an excellent starting point with all your information. I plan to buy the books and start triangulating on an itinerary. I'm sure I'll be back with many more questions, so thanks in advance to everyone who responds.
OK, I already have another question. Have any of you toured those beautiful homes in England? Which were your favorites and are they worth a side trip?
I toured Castle Howard and really enjoyed it, but I've yet to get to the really big ones in England. You might want to start a second post in the England section asking about the grand houses and places.
There are some interesting ones in Scotland too. Hopetoun House is near Edinburgh and it's quite good. You might be able to take a bus out to visit. Ask at the TI or email them. Blair Castle, which I mentioned above is not ruin and so is good. One of my favorites was Floors Castle, but I think that the bus ride is too long. Glamis Castle is quite magnificent, but again difficult to get to by train. Their might be tours though from Edinburgh. This was where the Queen Mum grew up.
Historic Scotland has an "Explorer Pass" that may be of benefit to you if you plan on visiting multiple castles...
Your third castle visit starts saving you money and its good for 78 properties, including Edinburgh and Stirling. Note that they are sold in three days (over five day span) or five day (or 14 day span) versions.
It can, but does not have to be, purchased in advance.
A couple of things, for what it's worth. It's been a few years, but London was full of pubs with Guinness on tap. Many also featured Guinness Extra Cold, which we didn't try, but were told it was supposed to appeal to the younger drinkers, many of whom were drinking lagers like Heineken. So not everyone in England is drinking strictly English brews.
We're going to Scotland this August (after flying to Heathrow from the USA) and taking a cheap Virgin Air flight to Edinburgh - faster and cheaper than a train would be, but of course, we're not seeing any of England along the way, except from the air. Also, there appear to be many local Scottish real ales available, in addition to whisky and other beverages. So you might consider some other transportation or drinking options, if they would work for you. Have a great trip!
Guinness has had its corporate HQ in Britain for decades, and was brewed in London until 2005.
Thanks Marco. There are definitely people who would post thinking that they're going to tour the "original" Guinness factory and I don't want them to be surprised.
We paid £33 for the train from London to Edinburgh in First Class by buying early. The journey is about four hours center to center, with no airport hassles.