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Scotland/England May 2022

We're just starting to plan this trip and I'm so excited since we've been unable to plan or go anywhere for over a year. I'm looking for suggestions for a 3-4 week itinerary to see Scotland and England. Is it better to just spend time in one country and not see 2. It just seems a shame since they're so close to each other. We are active seniors who love meeting locals, eating good food, tasting whiskey and exploring history. I haven't decided on any particular places that we must see so that's why I'm reaching out to get ideas. We like to spend at least 2-3 days in each place we visit. We don't mind driving but not too far, maybe 3-4 hours at most in a day. We live on the west coast and could fly from LAX. Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated.

Posted by
18923 posts

Is this your first trip to that part of Europe? London alone can keep a person occupied for weeks at a time.

A lot of Scotland's charms are rural. That you're willing to drive will be helpful; you won't be limited by public transportation schedules. But it can take longer to make those drives than you expect. The castles and their lovely gardens are not quick stops. Also keep in mind that the weather can be iffy. Especially in the western part of the country, there is frequent rain. It's helpful to have some flexibility in your schedule so you can adjust your plans if the weather dictates.

I think you really, really need to spend some time with a good guidebook to get an idea of what places intrigue you. I believe most people would have no trouble filling 3 or 4 weeks in either country. In 2019 I spent 26 days in Scotland (my first trip ever) and 21 days in England (my third trip in 3 years). I'd have liked to have more time in each, but I was pushing into the fall, and I don't like the short days at that time of year.

On the other hand, there's excellent, fast train transportation from Glasgow and Edinburgh down to York, London and major cities in between, so combining the two countries doesn't mean you waste a lot of time in transit. I'd just recommend allowing enough time to really see the more difficult-to-reach parts of Scotland that end up on your personal must-see list. I'd either skip Skye, for example, or allow multiple full days there.

Posted by
3226 posts

Agree with acraven in that what you like and want to see should be the determining factor. One can get a good feel for Scotland or parts of England in 3-4 weeks. Since you’re willing to drive that will make things easier. On our Scotland trip years ago we drove, had three weeks, and got to see all the things we wanted to. We were also able to spend some time in the borders area and driving over to Harrogate, York, and Bamburgh. Spending 2-3 days in each spot will require more planning so your time is well spent. Again, depending on what you want to see, you could split your time between Scotland and northern England, or spend all of it in one or the other. No matter what your decision, you’ll find plenty of places to visit and find that time passes way too quickly.

Posted by
4706 posts

Four weeks would be enough for a good first trip to both England and Scotland. Here are our host's recommendations for what to see, including a suggested two-week driving itinerary for Scotland. I think his guidebook includes something similar for England. Obviously you'll want to focus on what interests you most, with the help of guidebooks like this one and, for example, one of the Lonely Planet series.

You can save time and probably money by flying into one city and back from another -- for example, into London and back from Edinburgh or Glasgow (even with flights connecting in London). The rail system is very good, saving you from long drives like London-York or York-Edinburgh, but I'd definitely recommend a car for rural parts of Scotland and northern or western England. Driving on the left is relatively easy for many Americans, harder for others (like me). An automatic shift makes it easier but adds cost. A car is worse than useless in big cities like London, where you'll want to spend multiple days. Train fares can be high unless you buy tickets well in advance, which commits you to particular dates and times.

You're right about spending several days and nights in each place, but that means you'll have to make choices about your priorities. You'll never "see it all." People on this forum can give you good feedback (at least well-intentioned feedback) about itineraries you're considering, methods of travel, and specific places or sights. But you'll have to do the initial research yourselves. For many of us, that's half the fun.

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Posted by
1055 posts

Hi korndocs, it sounds like you would love to see both countries so do it. I agree with acraven about purchasing a good guidebook and I recommend Rick Steves’ Great Britain book.
I would limit it to no more than seven places choosing Edinburgh, York, London and Bath as the top four. Furthermore, you can day-trip to Bath from London by taking a direct train (1h 30m) meaning no connections required.
The place I would add on is in Scotland i.e., Glasgow and Inverness which you can also get to by direct train.
At this time there are no non-stop flights between LAX and Edinburgh or Glasgow, but you can fly non-stop between LAX and London. Still, I would do an open jaw as Dick suggests meaning fly into Scotland and out of England or the other way around.
Following is a list on how long it takes on a direct train to the places I suggested:
London to York (2h)
York to Edinburgh (2h 30m)
Edinburgh to Inverness (3h 15m)
Inverness to Glasgow (3h 30m)

Posted by
12224 posts

Of course you can include both England and Scotland in a 3-4 week trip. The island that they share (with Wales as well) is roughly 2/3 the size of California.

We did a wonderful trip focused on walking (or hiking as we call it here) that included stops in England, Scotland, and Wales in 2+ weeks in May* 2014. I called it our “UK sampler” and of course we did not go everywhere and see everything, but we loved what we did see, and have returned for more since that trip. We traveled with my sister and her husband and traveled exclusively by train and taxi. (Both they and we had previously sworn off driving on the left as a potential marriage-buster.)

Since that trip, we have spent as much as 3 weeks in London alone, and include at least 3-4 days in London every trip, but we like to add time in other places as well. York, Cornwall, Lake District, Shropshire, Devon (Jurassic Coast) —-it is all good.

In our experience, you are more likely to “meet locals” in Scotland than in England. The Scots were very friendly, whether we were in Edinburgh, the Highlands, Oban, or Glasgow. Twice within a week we had Scots sitting at the next table at dinner initiate a conversation with us, after hearing our American accents. Once we ended up pushing our tables together and extending the “visit” into dessert and after-dinner drinks. Fortunately we were all walking back to our hotels . . .

  • We chose May based on advice about good months for walking in Scotland, and it turned out to be an excellent choice. In the whole 18 days we had but one day of rain, in Glasgow. Indeed, the weather in Scotland was so nice my husband does not want to go back, as he says it will never be like that again. But I hope it is for you!
Posted by
4372 posts

Four weeks will be sufficient to gain a taste of what both countries have to offer. As others have mentioned, you'll only scratch the surface and with your intended 2-3 days in one place (which is a good idea) then you really need to identify the places that interest you the most. Exploring history can be done everywhere in the UK so what particular aspects of British history interests you the most will play an important role in deciding where to go. Good food can be found everywhere but so can bad food so it pays to undertake a bit of research and don't let the Scots know you spell it 'whiskey', that's the Irish (and US) way of spelling it, the Scottish forego the 'e'.

3 to 4 hours driving in the UK can cover a lot of ground however, as with all places, the route you take matters. For example, this week I drove from Portsmouth to the Forest of Dean, a journey of 134 miles, which took me around 2 1/4 hours however the vast majority of it was motorway and dual carriageway driving which isn't the most scenic of drives. I could have driven via Salisbury and through Bath or taken the route through the Cotswolds which would have made for a more scenic drive but it would have taken longer however from a visitor point of view, if I was transiting from one location to another then it would make sense to take the more scenic route allowing for stops of interest on the way.

Posted by
22 posts

Thank you so much for your responses. I have ordered the Rick Steve's Great Britain guide book so we can delve more into exactly what we want to do. I'm sure we'll have more questions as we prepare our itinerary.

Posted by
4706 posts

Good move ordering the book. I don't get a commission on the sales though. ;-)

The RS guides are very good for travel strategy in general and for the cities and sights they cover, which are the ones he considers "the best." But they're not as comprehensive as the Lonely Planet and other series, which cover, not necessarily in depth, pretty much everywhere a tourist might find of interest. You might want to check out a more comprehensive guidebook from your public library (doesn't have to be the latest edition) just in case something appeals to you that Rick didn't consider among "the best."

I like the previous poster's suggestion -- London, Bath, York, Edinburgh, Inverness -- though I might substitute Oxford or Cambridge for Bath. All these cities connect by train, but for some, especially York and Inverness, you might want to rent a car to explore the very scenic surroundings.

Posted by
1879 posts

I'm currently reading the Eyewitness Great Britain guidebook, which is another great option as well as Rick Steves and Lonely Planet. Is this a once in a lifetime trip or the beginning of many? That may help you determine how much you want to see and travel for this trip. Personally, I spent a week in London in 2018 and was supposed to spend a week there last September and our itinerary didn't include anything we saw the first time. I'm sure you'll have no problems filling your itinerary and so need return visits.

Posted by
228 posts

I too like the Eye Witness guide - there are lots of pictures and it covers many hidden gems not included in other guide books.

Don't underestimate the time needed to drive between different places. If using google maps you need to add 25% on to their drive times and then add on time for stops.

You won't need a car in London or Edinburgh - in fact they are a nuisance! There is a congestion charge in London. Parking is also expensive and public transport excellent. The same applies to Edinburgh and Glasgow (although they don't have a congestion charge). If you do decide you need a car, then make sure your accommodation has parking.

If you are looking for itinerary ideas for Scotland, then do a google search for secret Scotland: Scotland tours - self drive itineraries for lots of ideas of what you can do.

AND FINALLY - it is WHISKY in Scotland - if you want whiskey, you need to go to Ireland. The scots do get very upset by this...

Posted by
99 posts

I'll take a contrarian stance and suggest two weeks would be a good "quickie" including all three countries (add Wales) to allow you to size up where you want to visit next trip. My wife and I spent three weeks in the 90's visiting England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, and we're still married. We did not spend any time in London at all, since big cities are not on our list. http://user.cavenet.com/jgurley/UK-IE_1994.pdf

Prioritize your goals (neolithic, ruins, hiking, castles, scenery, music, food, etc.) and prepare to drive a lot. You might come home thinking you're in need of a vacation.

The argument about it being a shame to skip a country because it's nearby can quickly snowball to include Ireland, France, the rest or Europe, and why not stop in Iceland on the flight over or back?

Now that we survived the original madcap trip, we've slowed down. We plan to be in Scotland next June for 2 1/2 weeks and are going to miss a lot.

Posted by
4372 posts

Don't underestimate the time needed to drive between different places. If using google maps you need to add 25% on to their drive times and then add on time for stops.

I see this claim quite frequently and in my experience it isn't true. Whenever I use Google maps the drive times are accurate and certainly no requirement to add 25% on. You can't odds traffic jams or other unexpected delays but in general the estimated times are pretty accurate. What will affect drive times is confidence in driving in unfamiliar surroundings and vehicle. If driving along the motorway at 50mph instead of 70mph then the drive time will be longer than estimated or if crawling along single track country lanes at 10mph. I'm pretty sure Google's algorithms work just as well in the UK as they do elsewhere.

Posted by
228 posts

I think a lot depends on why you are driving (just to get from A-B or holiday) and how familiar you are with the driving conditions. Google can’t cope with the slow moving tractor, caravan, flock of sheep in the road or just stopping to admire the view. Navigation, especially in an unfamiliar town can also slow you down.. Google times also don’t take into account time for a comfort break either...

It is better to err on the side of caution and build in plenty of time. A mistake all to often made is to try and cram too much in a day . It is surprising just how much time you can take uponce you have reached your destination to find somewhere to park, get out of the car and head for what you are planning to do.

Many Americans are used to driving long distances in the States and think that driving in the UK will be the same - it isn’t.

Posted by
8246 posts

In my experience it is less expense to fly into London (taxes and fees) that it is to fly out. You could check both flying into London and out of Edinburgh or Glasgow and visa versa to see if it makes a difference for you. I would advise starting the trip somewhere that a car isn’t needed and wait until you are well rested before driving.

Posted by
4372 posts

Google times also don’t take into account time for a comfort break either...

Of course it doesn't, how would Google know how many times, if any, that you'll want to take a comfort break? It provides an estimated journey time based on an algorithm. If you decide to take a comfort break or two then it's down to you to factor that into your timings, that's different to claiming that Google estimates require a 25% adjustment which is a quite significant amount.