I think we’re probably nuts, but what would you all suggest for mode of transportation in visiting 4 countries? We will be (potentiality) 3 adults and 2 young children. Our timeline is 2.5-3 weeks. We have a few friends to visit (Birmingham, Paris, and finally in Brittany). Ireland may not make the cut though would love to fly into Dublin and out of Paris. We’re not major pack rats but having kids does come with additional gear. Leaning towards renting a car unless train deals are so phenomenal it would be foolish to not consider. Thanks in advance!!
Could you be more specific about where exactly you want to visit and about how long in each place. For instance, do you want to spend an afternoon with friends in Birmingham on your way to London or stay for 2-3 days and explore the area. If you cut out Dublin where would you fly into? Where will you fly out of from Brittany?
Planning a trip from one island to another island to a continent doesn't scream rental car. And a car suitable for the islands (driving on the left) would be a pretty big disadvantage in France - not to mention huge drop-off charges, if it's even possible. You'd need a pretty big car to put 2 car seats in the back seat and have enough space for an adult to be comfortable.
If you rent a car in one country and drop it off in another, you are normally hit with a very high international drop charge--at least many hundreds of euros. I believe you may have difficulty finding a UK rental company willing to let you take its car to France, or vice versa. And it's fairly common for rental companies to prohibit taking their cars on ferries (such as to or from Ireland).
Car size might also be a challenge. A vehicle that accommodates three adults and two child seats might not have nearly enough room for all your luggage.
I wouldn't want to cover so much ground in just 2-1/2 to 3 weeks, but if you are selective about the places you go in each country (e.g., no London), you could do it. When traveling between major cities (Birmingham to London, London to Paris), a train is usually a lot faster than a car. But a car would certainly be helpful in Brittany as well as for rural Scotland.
Edited to add: I spent 26 days in Scotland this year (without a car), and I had to be very choosy about where I went. A quick trip there might mean just Edinburgh, which would be a real shame in my view. It's an interesting city, but a lot of the charm of Scotland is outside the cities, and rural Scotland is not an area you can easily rush through.
Are you planning to visit London?
It makes a difference for advice on how to get from the UK to France.
If you do rent a car you will need to rent a separate car (and return it) in whichever country/ies you want the car.
Exactly how many days on the ground excluding arrival and departure days will you have? Fly into London and spend a few days to get over jet lag.
If you are visiting friends for the day in Birmingham, take the train. If you are staying with these friends, either take the train or hire a car, depending on where they live (parking available?) and what you want to do there. Three adults and 2 children (car seats required?) plus luggage means something bigger than a compact car. What else do you want to see in the UK?
Fly from Birmingham or whichever regional airport you end up at and fly to Paris. There’s no point in going all the way back to London to catch the Eurostar to France, as if you book early, flying will be cheaper and quicker.
Spend a week in Paris then hire a car for the Brittany element.
You lost me right here...
Ireland, Scotland, England, and France
Our timeline is 2.5-3 weeks
Sorry, I would suggest you take a sober look at how much usable time you really have. Stop speaking in vague generalities of "weeks" (allows you to tell yourself little white lies, don't wait until you're committed to some impossible plan before you start being honest with yourself). Start talking about specific dates, which will give you the most critical piece of data: how many days/nights you really have. Only then can you start being realistic about how much ground you can (or will want to) cover. I don't think you would be able to (or want to) "do" 4 large, diverse countries in "2.5 weeks" even if your were 18-year-olds, hopped up on speed. With young children in tow....fuggedaboudit.
Get out a calendar, propose specific dates for your flights (even if you don't have them booked yet - DON'T BOOK THEM YET!), then get out a map and some paper and start looking at how long you have to spend. I think you will end up reducing the scope of your plan substantially (at least I hope you do...you don't want to pay for a lifetime of therapy for those kids, couples counseling, etc.).
I know this is not what you wanted to hear, but I think you need to take a long, hard, brutally practical look at your plan. Do not book flights yet until you sort this out. Sorry, and I hope this ultimately helps.
Relatively cheap airlines like flybe, easyJet, and Aer Lingus now offer flights within Europe that weren’t available just a few years ago. So while it still involves getting to the airport early, going thru security each time, and checking and reclaiming luggage, it could be the way to cover a lot of ground (and ocean).
Fly into Dublin, short flight over to England, train or car (or plane?) to Scotland, fly to France. One Brittany trip, we flew into Brest, and rented a car there. Finally, turn in car and take train to Paris.
Relatively cheap airlines like flybe, easyJet, and Aer Lingus now offer flights within Europe that weren’t available just a few years ago.
They've been offering cheap flights for years and whilst there are cheap flights available it doesn't alter the fact that the OP is intending to cover so much in so little time. I'm fortunate enough to be able to take short flights and spend long weekends in cities all over Europe but these are 3 to 4 days in one city not visiting an entire country. I appreciate that when presumably coming from a long distance there is the desire to cram so much in but all it results in is a tiresome, frustrating exercise in futility where no-one actually experiences the places they are visiting. 2.5 weeks isn't enough for one of these countries, to suggest visiting all four is mind boggling
Thanks everyone for your erm straight shooting (especially, you, David, ha) advice. Our timeline is flexible, too. Here’s a proposed itinerary:
Sept 1-Sept 20
DFW-Dublin 2.5 days
(Glasgow, Glencoe, Oban, Edinburgh) 5 days
(Cotswolds, York) 4 days
(Paris) 1 day
Paris-Bretagne 3 days
After all of your input, I’m thinking just do a quick visit of Dublin, fly over to Glasgow (base town for Scotland), take trains in Scotland, take a train down to Birmingham, ask our friends to drive us to Cotswolds or York, train to London and fly to Paris where we rent a car for our trip to Brittany. I wouldn’t be opposed to taking the train to Brittany from Paris. Friends can likely give us a lift.
It’s tricky planning for car seats. I might have to scrap all of this simply because we’ll need the car seats at some point.
Thanks for the followers so far. You are troopers.
If you want to see York, I think the way to do it is to hop on a train in Edinburgh, which will get you there in about 2-1/2 hours. That's for over 180 miles (4-1/4 hours via car with no stops, getting lost, looking for parking, etc.) The onward trip from York to Birmingham can be less than 2 hours by train (2-1/2+ hours by car). It doesn't make any sense to go to Birmingham and then drive (or even take the train) 125 miles back north to York. I'm quoting driving-time estimates from ViaMichelin, which is probably more accurate than Google Maps but still optimistic.
Now that we see the details of what you hope to do, I will join the chorus saying you have too much moving around, not enough time for actual sightseeing.
Why drive from the Midlands to London to get a flight to Paris?
There are pretty decent planes at Birmingham International Airport.
Or if you take a train to London why not take the Eurostar train from a station 10 minutes' walk (maybe a bit more with 2 young children) to the centre of Paris at Gare du Nord? Faster than the plane from a London airport (you will be arriving brefore you could get on the plane) and much more scenic and easy.
What Nigel said.
Your trip would be less rushed if you dropped Dublin.
Glasgow isn’t a sensible base for Oban and Glencoe. It takes upwards of 3 hours from Glasgow to Oban by train. Oban is a very average town with little of interest, other than a great chocolate shop and the ferry to the isles, but you don’t have time for islands. There is no railway station at Glencoe - the nearest is at Fort William, 20 miles away. A car would be better for this element. I like Glasgow, but most on this forum would pass on Glasgow and focus on Edinburgh. There is a good rail service between Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Your children will be bored in the Cotswolds. York has much more of interest, such as the National Rail Museum.
Thank you all for continuing the conversation! I know many of you will be shaking your heads when you read this but, the initial thought was to meander through England on our way to France 🤪
We haven’t decided definitively on any of the stops, though I think we should cut Ireland out and maybe also the Cotswolds. We have very young children (4 and 18 months) so we do not anticipate spending long hours sightseeing. Our intention is to see friends and “travel through” the UK.
It seemed logical to start in Scotland and head south to France. It sounds like some of our side trips to York or the Cotswolds would be more challenging than I realized. I’ve allotted about 5 days for travel, so perhaps we should take the Eurostar! I do enjoy riding on trains; must think about the car seats...
So for the British Isles portions, you’ve listed cities/towns. And mentioned Paris, too. But since Bretagne is a region, and with just 4 days for all of France, are you considering just a quick visit to a town or two in that region? If so, stopping off in Saint Malo, with a great old town, and awesome waves hitting the coast? Or other, more far-flung but wonderful parts - like Pont Aven, Quimper, Josselin, Granit Rose coast?
Cyn I can’t see your post on this reply page. Forgive me if I’m not answering your thoughts/questions exactly...
Our friends live near Roscoff, so I’m just sort of planning to get straight to them and let them show us the area. Would love to go to St Malo of time allows! Have heard of Quimperle from a friend (is Quimper it’s big brother?). Thanks for your suggestions!
bkoss, I couldn’t recall Quimperle off the top of my head, but on a map, I see it’s a town about 25 miles southeast of Quimper, all in the western part of Brittany, and close to the town of Lorient, from where we were based a few nights on our visit. Enjoy your trip, and I hope the transportation and connections go well.
Your children might be rather young for a meandering trip. Are they experienced travelers and comfortable staying in a series of new hotels? Mine at that age would have preferred 2-3 nights before packing up and moving on, so I would propose something like this:
Sept 1-Sept 20
02 Sep: arrive Edinburgh stay 3 nights: Castle, Greyfriars Bobby, maybe Stirling, Holyrood, zoo
05 Sep: fly to Birmingham stay 3 nights
08 Sep: train to London stay 3 nights: Museum of London, zoo, Kensington Park, Tower, etc.
11 Sep: train to Paris stay 4 nights
15 Sep: train (?) to Brittany stay 4 nights
19 Sep back to Paris for one night before flight home
Adjust the number of days in each city depending on what you want to see there. You'll probably find that every time you move to a new location you lose a day packing, traveling, checking in, etc. I find it helps to think in terms of nights (4 nights in Paris=3 days of sightseeing).
It's probably a good idea to spend more nights per place at the end of the trip when everyone is tired and cranky, although you might want an extra day in Edinburgh because when you come off the flight you might be jet-lagged zombies with wide-awake children and need to resort to tag-team parenting to allow the off-duty parent to nap. Think about renting an apartment in some locations to allow fixing meals and snacks, access to a fridge, etc. If you can track down the out-of-print book Take Your Kids to Europe by Cynthia Harriman. The Guidebook section will be outdated (museums close, relocate, etc) but her ideas for helping the children enjoy traveling are wonderful.