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Need help with holiday itinerary in Scotland/England

My husband, 18 yo daughter, and myself will be picking up my 21 yo daughter from Univ Edinburgh on Dec 20, and want to spend 8-9 days in Scotland and England before heading home to D.C.. I'd really appreciate suggestions for an itinerary. We can't stay long enough for Hogmanay in Edinburgh, but would probably want to work our way south, and have at least 4 days or so to sightsee in London and/or Bath. But having said that, I'm very open to your advice an would also love to experience a smaller town. We also love pubs and traditional music. Where to stay? What to do? We're a pretty active family. Thanks for your thoughts.

Posted by
6254 posts

Please be aware that London public transport, shops, museums, cinemas etc shut down on Christmas Day.

Transport is limited on Boxing Day as well. If you are in London on Christmas Eve be sure to stock up on groceries if you are staying in an AirBNB. Hotels will offer meals. Some pubs will offer Christmas Day dinners which are often quite good. Many ethnic restaurants serve on Christmas Day as well.

Check Timeout magazine for intel.

Posted by
1238 posts

You should have your 21 year old daughter make the plans and reservations from her side. Maybe she has made friends that can invite you to House Parties. You might have real Winter weather. Friends of mine got snowed in at a farm B & B near York. Probably better to take the train if you really want to go to London. London closes down on Christmas. Unless you have made reservations for a special event there you may be out of luck for Christmas Dinner. I would take a pass on Bath this time. All the special holiday events will be sold out quickly. I was looking at nicer accommodations in England since things have opened and most are already booked until next year. And prices have gone up, too. If I were you, and as you say you like smaller towns, pubs and traditional music you might want to stay in Scotland. There are Pub Crawls in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Some friends of mine stayed at a house in the Country Side and went cross country skiing by some Castles. I would come back to London when you have longer days to walk around Town.

Posted by
1767 posts

Hi Julia, I would spend a couple nights in Edinburgh before moving on if you have never been there. From Edinburgh you can take a direct train to York (2h 30m) for two more nights. From York I would take the train to London (2h). Bath is a good day trip option from London.

Posted by
438 posts

I would also second MaryPat's suggestion. In the time available and particularly at that time of year, you won't be able to do too much. But do remember there will be no punlic transport onChristmas Day and trains on the run up to Christmas will be busy. Plan to leave Edinburgh on the 21st and then take the train to York for two nights (plenty to do and see and a good selection of pubs - try and attend sung evensong in the Minster which is a magical experience). On 23rd head to London.

Make sure youy book accommodation soon - places are likely to get booked up early. Also remember to book meals in plenty of time too!

Posted by
2926 posts

Wonderful advice in the above comments. I'll add that you should keep in mind the short days. It gets dark VERY early in the afternoon around the winter solstice, so any outdoor sightseeing needs to be timed carefully, and finding your way in the dark will be an added challenge. Traveling by train (as opposed to rental car or even bus) reduces your risk of getting stuck somewhere because of snow or ice. Train tickets are much less expensive if you buy in advance, but you have to commit to a certain train and departure time.

Bath is out of the way, so I wouldn't put it on the itinerary unless it's really important to you. A nice alternative in addition to Durham and York might be Cambridge (change at Peterborough, I think).

Posted by
5668 posts

I agree with the recommendations to spend a couple of days in Edinburgh and then go south. All three suggestions--York, Durham and Cambridge are good ones. But I would research what is open and available during your time. I can vouch for the fact that it is dark by 4PM the first week of December! I went to a sales meeting. It was wonderfully festive. You might go to one of the super local forums on TripAdvisor and see if there is local that can give you an assessment. But I did find out that the North Pole at Parker's Piece is open through January 3rd. And it looks like the pantomimes also going on Christmas week. There is another Winter Fair, Mill Road Winter Fair that has been online for Covid, but could be in person by Christmas.

Also, Cambridge is close to Ely and quick train ride back up there and see the Cathedral. I expect it is open Christmas week. And I think you might be able to take a tours of the colleges. I think that the Fitzwilliam Museum will be open.

Good luck! It's always interesting to be in the UK "off-season".


Posted by
3890 posts

In Edinburgh we stayed a A-haven townhouse/B&B. From it, the downtown area is a short bus ride away. We walked to Leith and listened to live traditional music at The Kings Wark. We took the bus to Rosslyn chapel one day and to Craigmiller castle on another day. After a couple days we picked up a rental car and drove to Glamis and Dunotter castles before heading to the Isle of Sky. We then drove the length of Loch Ness and down to Oban before cutting over into England to visit Harrogate, York, then to Bamburgh and Alnwick castles and Jedburgh and Melrose Abbies. Granted, you don’t have the same amount of time we did, but maybe I gave you some ideas. If you like real quality Scottish woolen items, there are a number of woolen mills in the borders area near Peebles.