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London and Scotland in 10-12 days

I would like to take my wife and her 86 year-old mother to the countries of their heritage in 2012 and I'm open to any advice you'd like to share. I took them on a similar trip in the fall of 2007 and planned virtually all of it with RS books, and DVDs and the help of the people on the traveler's helpline. It went very well and they had a ball, so here I am again asking for your assistance. On that trip we flew into Rome and out of Paris and stayed in hotels and apartments in between. We learned to use hop-on/hop-offs, rail passes and even took a night train, so I have that experience, albeit in Italy, to fall back on. At this point I have no specific itinerary except for wanting few days in London and a few in Edinburgh. Side trips and day tours are fine, and if I could find a way to sneak off for a day and play the old course at St. Andrews, that would be the highlight of the trip....at least for me. I have no specific agenda, limited knowledge of the British Isles and what to see, and will welcome any suggestions you can provide. My wife and I did spend four days in London 18 years ago and went to Warick Castle, Shakespeare's home at Stratford on Avon, Oxford and took a river boat to Greenwich, It might help to tell you that my M-I-L is in excellent health and has played the organ at her church in Tennessee for the past 58 years, and still donates her time to accompany the local MS and HS chorus. I have also looked at RS tours, but I'm not sure I have the "touring" personality. Both my wife and M-I-L have been on a big bus tour in Europe and I'm wondering if they would get more out of a RS tour than with me putting it together. Does anyone have experience with the RS tours of GB? Thank you. Jim

Posted by
1891 posts

We took a bus tour years ago and did not like going to a different place each night, but that was just or opinion. We have been to London several times and Edinburgh a few more and liked the idea of staying one place and then doing day trips. What did your wife and mother like and not like about the tour they took and what is their opinion?

Posted by
5574 posts

I am going to suggest that you think about two stops in Scotland. Do spend some days in Edinburgh. It's not a big city and you'll find it easy to get around. The public buses are easy to use. I would suggest spend 2-3 in the highlands. Inverness would be very central. You could take some lovely day trips from there to the west coast or to Speyside or the Cairngorms. I would recommend getting some additional guidebooks for Scotland other than Rick Steves. I like the Footprint Guides. Or simply use Undiscovered Scotland online. Pam

Posted by
524 posts

You asked for RS GB experience, my husband and I took the Scotland Tour and had a wonderful time. It was nice to have the transportation and planning taken care of. The coach was a large capacity one, so there was plenty of room to spread out. With RS Tours you stay for two days in each location. The tour did visit St. Andrews, but does not allow for time to play. We stayed at mostly small local hotels or B and B's. In Oban, the group was spread out in two B and B's. As with all RS tours there is plenty of free time to do things on your own. The guides are knowledgeable, friendly and well prepared. The activity level, in my opinion, is not that strenuous. But beware, you must carry your own 21" suitcase yourself, even up stairs. It is fun to make new friends from all over the states. Check site to see if the itinerary meets your expectations. PM me if you want more info.

Posted by
1986 posts

In your circumstances it may make sense to take a tour as long as you are aware upfront of the drawbacks. Nothing to stop you leaving the tour for a day or two in Scotland and hitting St Andrews on your own If I were to do that I would want some additional days at the end of the tour to do my own thing in and around London

Posted by
312 posts

Hi Jim, My first trip to Europe ever was a tour and then I made some independent trips to England/Scotland. After 4 trips to England/Scotland with my own pacing and itineraries, I don't know that I would take a tour there, or anyway not an entire trip of touring. For full/balanced disclosure, I did do the RS London city tour as part of one trip, so I do know how nice it can be to have a terrific, knowledgeable tour director, but looking at the other RS England/Scotland tours and enjoying the freedom I gained on my independent trips, I'm not likely to use one. You could do an open jaw trip, into London, out of Edinburgh (or reverse) and travel along the train in between, ex: fly into London, stay 3 nights. Train to York, stay a night or two. Train to Edinburgh for remainder of nights. I've used Rabbie's (http://www.rabbies.com/) for a multi-day tour of the highlands from Edinburgh. Yes, it put me into an itinerary from someone else, but I am a terrible driver at home and do not plan to try driving the other side of the road (just won't). The nice thing is they use the 16 passenger vans, which go on roads where you will not see the 50 passenger coaches! What are your interests? Perhaps some of us will have trip ideas to share. I've ideas from 3 trips to Scotland and other regulars on the board have made many more, so you've access to in-depth details not found in guide books :-)

Posted by
5574 posts

I really enjoyed my Rick Steves tour of Berlin, Prague and Vienna, but if you did Italy on your own, you'll be fine in England and Scotland. I know that you say that your M-I-L is healthy, but the Rick Steves tours are different from Big Bus tours. First, you handle all your own luggage. And sometimes you park a few blocks from the hotel and so must carry or wheel it to the hotel. Second, Rick Steves hotels tend to be small ones, which I like, but they rarely have elevators. Third, there is a fair bit of walking. The people and tour guides were great, but I think you can likely do this on your own. Rick's tour of Scotland is 11 days which wouldn't leave you any time for London. Conversely, the tour of London is seven days which wouldn't leave you much time for Scotland. ; ) Get Rick's book on Great Britain. Then also get the Footprint Guide or one of the other guides to Scotland. Spend some time in them and figure out the trip you want to take. If the RS tour overlaps with your plans, then explore it further. Also, tell me what your interests are and I can give more suggestions on specific things to see and do. Do you like history? Golf? Music? Art? Walking? Photography? Whisky? Boating? Literature? Pam

Posted by
3419 posts

We have done similar trips numerous times. I'd recommend something like the following: London 3-7 nights with possible day trip(s) to the following - Windsor, Stratfrod-upon-Avon, Canterburry, Dover, Brighton, Cardiff, Winchester train to York- 1 night train to Edinburgh- 2-3 nights (if you want to golf at St. Andrew's contact them EARLY to see about tee times)
train to Inverness- 3-5 nights with possible day trips- Orkney (VERY long day on the bus- but worth it), cruise up Loch Ness with stop at Urquart castle and Drumnadrochit, drive through Glen Coe, Great Glen, etc. , Isle of Skye with stop at Eliean Donnan Castle, cruise on the frith with whale, dophin and bird watching and views of the Black Isle, whisky distillery tours. If you want one additional stop, I reallly enjoy Aviemore (in the Caringorm Mts. on train route between Edinburgh and Inverness). It is a lovely small village with lots of things to see and do. 2-3 nights. Some things to think about- I'd try to avoid the Olympics in London and the festival in Edinburgh (travel late May-early June or September )as the crowds will be HUGE and everything more expesive and rooms difficult to find. You will want to do some pricing on point-to-point vs BritRail tickets and will need to think about whether you want/need flexibility for any day trips by train or want to take advantage of early price deals but have fixed dates. Or, you may be more of a car person (private message Pamela- see loves the wee roads in Scotland- I prefer trains). If you will only be doing 2 stops (say London and Inverness or London and Edinburgh) consider getting an apartment rather than staying in hotels.

Posted by
1717 posts

Hello Jim. I understand your need for advice. There are many good places in England, and not enough time to go to all of it. Travelling in a group of American people in a bus - an organized tour with a guide, does not appeal to me. And those bus group tours are very expensive. My favorite travel guide book is the book on ENGLAND from Lonely Planet. Travelling in England and Scotland a total of 10 - 12 days, and one of the traveler's age is 86, I think having overnight accomodation at a total of three places is a good idea. The three places could be London, and a town in northern England (York ?) and Edinburgh. Or London, and a small town in England, and Edinburgh.

Posted by
516 posts

I'm overwhelmed by your responses and thank you all very much. Several asked questions that I will try to answer and maybe that will stimulate more conversation. Pamela, they we're accompanying the HS chorus of 40+ on one big bus, staying in modern hotels. I think they enjoyed the scenery but not the bus. I believe my M-I-L would have trouble carrying her luggage up steps. On the trip to Italy I was the planner, financier, organizer, security guard and pack mule, but it was a gift to them and I didn't mind. I'm happy to do it again, but there were things in Italy that I missed out on doing for those reasons and I don't want that to happen in GB. I've been trying unsuccessfully for the past four years to go back alone to Italy to retrace some of our steps. Betsy, I fell in love with history and went through Italy asking "How?" the whole time. Both of them lover art and music and while I want to play St. Andrews it is not a necessity. After all, it took me 30 years to finally play Pebble Beach last month. Toni, in addition to the above we all enjoy meeting people, watching people and observing a different culture. Both of them are interested in learning about their heritage and knowing that inspires me. In Rome and Paris and everywhere in between I stood amazed at what I saw, the slower pace of life and how many things have not changed for centuries. Sorry to go on and on, but your posts have gotten me excited about planning s trip which seems to be more and more like another independent, yet Traveler's Helpline guided adventure. Thanks again. Jim

Posted by
3419 posts

Jim, We will be glad to offer additional info and suggesstions. If you love music, Inverness will be a great base- I've heard great things about some Ceilidhs and trad clubs there (ceildhs are gatgherings of local muscians often with dancing and refreshments- trad music is traditional music). As for history- Scotland is drenched in it! Again Inverness makes a great base and Edinburgh itself is rich in it. Both have good to excellent art museums, though Glasgow probably has a one up on them there. Pamela and I both have made multiple trips and each have a slightly different perspective that seems to complement each other, and there are several other people on this board who offer excellent advice. And of course we each have our favorite places, so feel free to ask away. I think you , your wife and mother-in-law would enjoy Scotland and England. With good planning you can probably avoid some of the "steps" issues and plan a trip you all will like. Feel free to private message me also (FYI- I've been to the UK more than 40 times in 20+ years)

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516 posts

Can anyone tell me if it's better to do open jaw flights into London and out of Edinburgh or vice versa, or round trip to one of them and take the train back to the first in time to catch the return flight. I've had some difficulty getting flights that coordinate with the use of FF miles and the prices for flights next may are very high. I've checked into the B&Bs that some of you have recommended and they are reasonable, except for the exchange rate on the pound that is up to 1.65 to the dollar.

Posted by
112 posts

We just did day stops in Greenock and Invergordon where we had a driver and guide each day. We went with Craig Flynn of Mini Tours Scotland in Greenock and Wow Scotland (with younger brother Alan Pearson) in Invergordon and had super days with both. They will do whatever you want them to do and were well worth our time and money; I believe both are available in and around Edinburgh as well. We saw London and Edinburgh on our own.

Posted by
340 posts

Jim, my husband and I considered flying open-jaw into London and out of Edinburgh (or visa versa), and decided it wasn't worth the extra cost to save 5 or so hours on a train. After all, it is a vacation. On our last trip we arrived at Heathrow, and using BritRail FlexPasses we caught the Heathrow Express to Paddington, took a cab to Kings Cross (didn't want to deal with all the steps in tube stations with luggage), and caught a train to Edinburgh. It might seem like alot of travel time after the plane trip; but the 5 hour train ride (in 1st Class) was so comfortable and relaxing, it was a real pleasure to sit and enjoy the scenery. And a light lunch and tea on board didn't hurt either. We spent 5 days in Edinburgh, took the train to Leeds for 2 days, then back to London for five more days before returning to the US. In fact this fall we're doing almost the same thing - into London, immediate train to York for a few days, train to Edinburgh, then back to London to see more of what we've missed on our other trips there. On past trips to Edinburgh we've stayed at Stuart House, 12 East Claremont Street, and Broughton Guest House, 37 Broughton Place (www.broughton-hotel.com). They are about a 15–20 minute walk to the Royal Mile. The Broughton is a couple of minutes closer to the Royal Mile, has a nice neighborhood pub one block away, and across the street from the pub is an excellent restaurant called the Olive Branch. Both places were nice, breakfasts very tasty, and the owners were accommodating. This fall we're staying at Fraser Suites which is 1 block off the Royal Mile, within walking distance of the train station, and has an elevator. A friend just returned from staying there and said it was very comfortable, convenient, with polite and caring staff. PM me if you want more details.

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516 posts

Dellinda and Mary, thank you. I think you just solved my problem, saved me on the cost and inconvenience of the flights and gave me some ideas on how to make it more enjoyable for my wife and her mother. Do you think that spending three days in London on the front end of the trip and then one day there before flying home would be a good idea? Guess I'm thinking that we could try go get in everything we want to see there first and then use the last day to catch up on what we may have missed in London. Make sense to you? Thanks again. Jim

Posted by
3419 posts

Jim, We also fly into and out of London. There's no other direct flight to Charlotte from the UK except now from Dublin (added in May). I like you idea of a few days in London and then one or two at the end of the trip. In London we like the Vitoria Thistle (now called the Grosvenor). But that's partly because we fly to/from Gatwick and it is very conviently located INSIDE Victoria station. In Edinburgh we stay at the Royal British. It is across Princes St. from Waverly train station. They have great breakfasts, too. In Inverness we stay at the Royal Highland- next to the train station and in York at the Royal York- also attached to the train station. None are really 'small' hotels and all are 3-5 star hotels. But its what we like. In Aviemore, we stay at the Caringorm Hotel. It is a small independent hotel, and looks like a miniture castle outside and Scottish hunting lodge inside. It also has THE BEST food ever!!! It is across the road from the train station. All of these hotels are very well located for sightseeing and train travel.

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340 posts

I would probably opt for spending 2 days/nights in London before heading home. You would catch the train in Edinburgh for the 5 hour trip back to London, probably arriving around 3 or 4 in the afternoon; then you would have the entire next day to see whatever you missed earlier, then fly home the day after that. But alot depends on what time your flight is. Remember it'll take you about an hour to get to Heathrow depending on your transportation choice, and you need to be there 3 hours before your flight, so your departure day won't allow for much else.

Posted by
991 posts

As fit as your M.I.L is, I agree it's a good idea to stay in London a bit at the beginning for a little breather. If you decide against a tour, is it your intention to take the train? With only 10-12 days it makes the more sense than driving which I usually advise. I have to agree with Toni (but just this time!!) You know, it's only 54 miles from Edinburgh to St.Andrews, so if you got on your skates early one morning you could get in a swift 18 if you're really good. If you arrange to get an early tee time it could just work. Just a suggestion.

Posted by
516 posts

Laurel If I take a day out of the trip and go to St. Andrews, is Edinburgh safe for two women sightseeing for a day and a half. I'm told that if I stay at the St. Andrews Hotel I can be assured a tee time on the Old Course. My handicap is 7 on a good day, but there I may shoot 100.

Posted by
3419 posts

Edinburgh is perfetly safe! Your wife and mom should find plenty to do without you. They could tour the Britaniana, see the botanical gardens, see Holyrood house , do a day trip of their own to Aviemore or Sterling or any of several small towns or villages. They could do a distillery tour, visit all the jewelery shops, wollen mills, crystal shops etc. in Edinburgh, even research family history at a clan center, or just take it easy and play it by ear.

Posted by
1891 posts

Edinburgh is a very safe city, I thought it was one of the safest we have been in. i agree with previous poster, they can see the Royal Yacht which you can get to by bus which drops you off right there, I think the Gardens are also near a bus route, maybe only a couple of blocks and worth a few hours. I would not worry about them at all.

Posted by
340 posts

Jim, while you're at St. Andrews hitting that little white ball, your ladies will be perfectly safe and can find alot of things to keep them entertained in Edinburgh. One thing they might want to consider is a leisurely tea at Clarinda's Tea Room, on the Royal Mile at 69 Cannongate.

Posted by
556 posts

Jim, I had the chance to visit St. Andrews last year on the RS Scotland tour (it was a lunch stop; probably 1 1/2 hours total). I don't know how you plan on arranging transport to/from St. Andrews back to Edinburgh, but I thoroughly enjoyed St. Andrews. I think your wife and M-I-L could enjoy walking around for a few hours while you play a round, rather than spending another day in Edinburgh (although I loved that too). Just a thought. :)

Posted by
5574 posts

You can take the train to Leuchars where this is very good bus connection to St. Andrew's. I've not done the trip, but I've read about it many, many times on the Helpline. You can do it as a day trip. I'll join the chorus saying that Edinburgh very safe for two women. Is their background Scottish? Do you know what name? We might be able to point you in a directions regarding that aspect of their heritage. I have work colleague who just went back to Bathgate Scotland this summer and thoroughly enjoyed seeing the village that her ancestors lived in. Pam

Posted by
516 posts

Gretchen, were you suggesting that they explore Edinburgh or that I take them to St. Andrews? I hadn't thought about SA, wasn't sure what was there. Pamela, my F-I-L's family name is Lawrie, understand some were in shipbuilding. He died a few years ago and I couldn't put this together before cancer took his life. Wanted to do this while his wife is in excellent health, even at 86. Her side of the family is Warwick, as in Warwick Castle in England. That's on our "day trip from London" schedule. Thank you both for your comments

Posted by
161 posts

What a lovely plan! We were in London/Scotland in May. We did 6 days in London, train to York (about 2.5 hours and pretty ride, in 2nd class and it was fine) for 2 days and then to Edinburgh for a few days. We had contacted Helen Fraser, trip highlight, www.afternoonteatours.co.uk who took us around Scotland for a few days. We then returned to London, by train, for an afternoon and another full day and flew out of London the next morning. I mention afternoon tea tours because we spent several hour at St Andrews and she spoke of how she has had other clients for whom she has made golf arrangements and taken their non-golfing companions around St Andrews (which is SO much more than golf) and had lunch or tea. And apparently it is a lot easier to find a group to add a single to than to find a time for a foursome. So, you should absolutely be able to do it. Few other observations:
York so far exceeded our expectations that we regretted only having about 38 hours there! Edinburgh was great! It is very hilly so good prior planning is key (and prob for your MIL so are cabs) Stayed at the The Fraser Suites, well priced, quiet, lovely and convenient. London,ah London. Do NOT shortchange yourselves on time. I would suggest Scotland is huge, you will not have time to see much even with Helen. Keep the bulk of your trip in London, throwing in York and Edinburgh with an added game of golf. the trains were all fine and, since we booked 90 days out when sales opened, quite reasonable. No change of train on the leg to York, for the leg to Edinburgh nor the return to London.

Posted by
516 posts

Thanks Kate Your itinerary looks interesting. In the railpass section of Rick's site it looks like the 2nd class one-way point to point tickets for L-Y-E would be about $260 each while four-day Senior Britrail passes for all three of us is around $1,100, and it's in 1st Class. Did you purchases your train tickets separately or get a railpass and if separately, how did the cost compare to Rick' numbers? When you said you booked them 90 days out were you talking about reservations? I'll contact Helen Fraser and see what she can do for all of us in St. Andrews. I seem to be having some difficulty getting a guarantee of a tee time at the Old Course. Apparently it's roll the dice and show up on the day you want to play or get with a golf tour "experience" which at this point requires at least two golfers. Thanks again for the input. Jim

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161 posts

Jim, We did not have a rail pass and we did not book first class. The total rt London to York, York to Edinburgh and Edinburgh to Kings Cross was about 72 GBP for the two of us. And we did book them as close to the day the fares opened for each leg as I remembered to do it. We spent an afternoon in St Andrew's which we enjoyed a lot. We are not golfers and so playing held no allure for us, but, as I said, Helen did mention in conversation about the clients she had previously set up and how she guided their spouses around St Andrew's during the playing time. Our plan worked out well for us with the time we had available. Kate

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5574 posts

Jim, It looks like Lawrie is a name associated with the Clan MacLaren. They have US web site at http://www.clanmaclarenna.org/. It looks like this clan was based in the Trossachs, which is a beautiful part of Scotland and not far from Glasgow and Stirling. Callander might be a town to stay in to explore that area. The Balquhidder Glen and Loch Katrine are both beautiful and wonderful places to explore. Actually, I had lunch and what looks like a wonderful hotel in the Glen. http://mhor.net/ Someday I want to stay there! I've never quite dared check out the rates. If you google Clan MacLaren you'll learn more. There are several genealogy sites on Lawrie. No matter what you do, I'm sure you will all have a good trip. Pam

Posted by
516 posts

Checked out the Clan. Looks great and will start researching it. Also checked out the hotel and looked at prices. Actually not too bad compared to similar luxury hotels in Europe. Here they are: Rates.... Peak Season: 1st April - 31st September. Weekends: Minimum two night stay •£359 per room per night – Dinner, Bed & Breakfast •£265 per room per night – Bed & Breakfast Off Peak Season: October 1st 2011 - 31st March 2012 •£329 per room per night – Dinner, Bed & Breakfast •£235 per room per night – Bed & Breakfast (April 2011 - March 2012) Rates are based on two persons sharing a room per night
Bed and breakfast stays available Monday – Thursday nights only

Posted by
143 posts

I have just returned from a wonderful 4 weeks in England and Scotland. I recommend Glasgow highly. Compared to Edinburgh, I suppose it is an acquired taste but I acquired it quickly. Just do some or all of the things Rick suggests in his Great Britain book. The train trips in Scotland are much better than I ever thought they would be, particularly Glasgow-Oban; Fort William-Mallaig; Kyle of Lochalsh-Inverness. Think about staying a while in Kyleakin on the Isle of Skye. It could be a base for a lot of great sightseeing and just plain relaxing. We stayed at the White Heather Hotel in Kyleakin, a great Bed and Breakfast recommended by Rick and one of the best we have stayed at. We got lucky and walked across the Skye Bridge during a great sunset. We took a Skyetour. Gus drives fast but safely and he is a great tour guide. http://www.skye-tours.co.uk/ I have been blogging about our trip and slowly adding photos. Go to: http://www.abundancetrektravel.blogspot.com/ and http://www.pbase.com/abundancetrek/greatbritain2011

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27 posts

My tip for Edinburgh is to start the day by getting a cab up to the Castle which is at the top of the Royal Mile; do the castle, and then spend the rest of the day working down the various sites on the Royal Mile, ending up at the bottom at the Palace of Holyroodhouse. This means a gentle day of wandering downhill, rather than up. The highland train rides in Scotland are lovely, and the museums in Glasgow are very impressive.

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516 posts

Simon, that sounds like a great idea. I'll look up the places you mentioned. Thank you.

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5574 posts

Jim, Euston Station is in London, near Bloomsbury. It's next to St. Pancreas. Google maps will show you nicely. ; ) Pam

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516 posts

John Thanks for the how to on the blog. Already started looking into writing one. Great info. Jim