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Need help planning trip to England, Ireland, Scotland

We are a family of 4 (husband, wife, 2 college age daughters). We are experienced travelers and like to do a variety of activities, some museums, some shopping, some sight seeing, outdoor activities (including hiking and golf). We like to get off the beaten path and see places that are not "touristy". We have carved out 2 weeks in May 2016 to take a family vacation. We want to visit England, Ireland and Scotland and have begun to do some research. We are having a hard time figuring out where to fly in/out of (we live on the east coast of the USA), how to get around, what to do. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Posted by
82 posts

My first reaction would be that 2 weeks is a very limited time - arguably nowhere near enough time - to see all three countries, particularly if spending time in London as part of the trip. I know the British Isles looks small on a map but it can take a long time to travel around, particularly in rural areas. Once you build in time taken to travel to/from the US, travel days beween countries Plus maybe a little jet lag what time you do have may be very limited indeed and you could find yourself very rushed with little time to properly see anything!

In light of the above I would strongly suggest a more limited itinerary. You could easily spend 2 weeks in Scotland alone, but if you want acombination, Scotland plus Ireland or Scotland plus Northern England or one of Scotland or Ireland combined with London are all more realistic itineraries.

Often people come on here and other similar forums and say they want to avoid touristy places - Then in the next sentence they say they want to visit Edinburgh,Inverness, Loch Ness and Skye - arguably the four most touristy places in Scotland! If you really want to avoid the touristy then look at places that have a lot of to offer a tourist but are maybe not as packed as the honeypots above, for example Glasgow instead of Edinburgh, Applecross/Torridon instead of Skye and Perthshire or Speyside instead of Inverness/Loch Ness. For golf, St Andrews can be quite touristy although May is not too bad and North East Fife is nice. Alternatively I guess you could look at the Ayrshire coast, ie Troon and Turnberry, but there are great golf courses allover Scotland!

In England beware the Lake District can be so touristy that there are traffic jams in the villages and small towns, although May shouldn't be as bad.

I'm ashamed to say I've never been to Ireland so I can't really advise on that.

With limited time it may be better talk to look at flying tween the countries instaed of driving or public transport. Ferries in particular can be quite time consuming.There is a very comprehensive net work of domestic flights the UK and Ireland between many many destinations. Do look at maps for the closest airport to your destination, the amount of people who book a flight to Edinburgh to reach Skye is mind boggling!

That said the train can be a good option in many cases too. In Scotland itself, and I would imagine in Ireland too, it's best to hire a car as public transport can be limited in rural areas. You don't want a car whilst in Edinburgh or Glasgow though. Try one way car hire to avoid having to drive back over previous steps just to hand back a car.

Direct non stop flights from the US east coast exist to London,Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle (in summer), plus Belfast and Dublin in Ireland. On top of that, there are myriad one stop opions via the likes of paris and Amsterdam to these plus many additional smaller UK airports. It depends on your exact location, final itinerary andprice preference which you go for. Whatever way you go you should be able to get open jaw into one of the airports and out of another, saving time on backtracking just pick up a flight home.

Posted by
6 posts

Thanks for the great feedback. We are now thinking we will limit to one or two countries. Ireland and Scotland and plan a separate trip for England. We are looking for direct flights to/from Atlanta, GA, USA. I will look into all of your suggestions. Thanks again!

Posted by
453 posts

Liz, I did an October visit to Scotland that included Edinbourgh, Ft. William/Glencoe area, and the Isle of Skye. we took 10 days for these locations. We are 60's and enjoy hiking so I based my planning using Rick Steves, Tripadvisor, and this website If you enjoy hiking and outdoor beauty this site will give you some direction. Driving was tough, kept that in mind if you are from a ontherightdriving country. I'd do it again in a heartbeat but would get a smaller car. hope it helps

Posted by
711 posts

I would pick one of the three and spend your full time there. You will not run out of things to do. If you pick either Ireland or Scotland, I would rent car, other than time you spend in cities. Put the cities at the beginning or end and rent the car when you leave town, drop off when you come back. If you decide to do Ireland and Scotland, definitely fly between them. Flights are very reasonable, you have many choices and flying will save time.

For England, you can use trains to get around, but with 4 people, a car may be cheaper and it will be more flexible, esp if you want to go to small places. Get the smallest car you can. Don't bring much luggage. For England, I would recommend visiting one area plus London. There is so much to see. Two weeks is so short. Don't try to see everything because it's impossible.

Think about what you want to do and what your interests are. My family loves walking or hiking. We love history. And I've got my boys loving churches and cathedrals, so that's what we do. My favorite is England, but I have enjoyed my time in Scotland and Ireland as well.

Good luck with your planning.

Posted by
3252 posts

Suggest you fly into Glasgow or Edinburgh and fly home from London. Drop the car somewhere outside of London like York or closer in like Luton when you are done driving around and take the train to London.