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Scotland vs Ireland

Ok, so we just finished this years trip (California!) and I am always thinking about the next one. Trying to decide between doing France by car (we've already hit some spots over the last few trips) or doing England and ?. I am weighing the pros and cons between Scotland and Ireland. Trip most likely our usual mid-Sept to 1st week Oct. Hubby thinks we could do England/Ireland/Scotland in 3 weeks (I can usually make it 23 days, so minus 1st and last day = 21). I beg to differ. We will NOT be renting a car, so I know that limits where we can go (even tho hubby drove in France, Cali and New York, he just can't do wrong side driving...yet, I still have time to change his mind). We like historical stuff, scenery, castles, cities, villages (which Ire and Scot both have in abundance, of course). Not interested in anything to do with alcohol (no distilleries). I would imagine say 10 nights for England (we've been to London 3 times, so no need to spend a lot of time there) and 10 nights (or less?) for our other country. So if you had to choose between Ireland or Scotland for 10 nights, which would you do? Using public transport only (which I'm sure is a major issue). I have all Rick's videos (which I will rewatch, natch), and have the back door guide as well, just wondering opinions as I am just formulating a rough sketch. Pros? Cons? Thanks for any suggestions!

Posted by
3899 posts

Thanks Keith - Ireland it is! I was chatting with hubby and he wouldn't totally be against maybe possibly renting a car in the rural areas. The breakdown given is nice, I'll def look into some of those places - we have been to Bath, but only had a full day, of which half was spent going to Stonehenge and I really want to go back for a couple days. My sister lives in Portsmouth, so apparently I can't go over without seeing her either (roll eyes...teehee)...but we really hit most of the highlights in London over our 3 stays there - last time we were kinda hard pressed to find something to do for a half day...but would certainly go back for a few nights. He did mention before he'd like to see Wales as well. Of course, after visiting California, hubby says...I don't know if I want to go somewhere where the climate is the same as ours...he likes the warm...lol...so it may be a return to the South of France next year! But I'd like to see somewhere we haven't been yet...

Posted by
1829 posts

I would choose Scotland for the simple reason that we have been there before, and I would buy a Rough Guide Scotland to do my planning. We have always used public transportation although others have rented an automobile.

Posted by
2081 posts

Nicole, Ive only been to Dublin, Edinburgh, London, Leeds (this year) and Southampton many many years ago. YOu know what you like and dont, so i would go from there. the UK has a great rail system to get your places and then if those dont work there buses and the last cars and horses. I drove from LHR to Southhampton when i was there for work. It was my fist time driving "on the rights side" as my former boss would say (hes from the UK). it took some time, but you had to be a driver, not passenger and i was lucky enough to get an automatic. You could always do some driving out in the coutnryside and smaller towns too. You could aways try to start in the Northern UK/Scottland (or Belfast) and work your way down south and maybe fly out of London. i dont know whats all around there, but others will. my co worker from Scotland told me about an island that has 4 former kings buried on it. There the Giants Causway that i think is cool. happy trails.

Posted by
3419 posts

If you don't want to drive (and I agree that with that), then Scotland makes good sense. We LOVE using the trains (and occasional bus) in the UK. We've done more than 40 trips that way. Ireland just doesn't have quite as good a rail network. England and Scotland are EASY to get around by bus and train (with just a few exceptions like covering the Cotswold area or parts of the Highlands in depth). You could even include parts of Wales if desired. With 21 on-the-ground days you could do something like this London- 3-7+ nights with lots of day trips by train possible (Bath, Stratford-upon-Avon, Winchester, Dover, Canterbury, Windsor, Oxford and/or Cambridge, Brighton, ...) train to York- 2 or more nights train to Edinburgh- 2-3 nights train to Aviemore- 2-3 nights (you say not interested in distilleries and this is in the heart of the Speyside whisky area, but lots of other things to do here, too) train to Inverness- 3-7 nights with 1 or more day trips possible (including Orkney if desired- plus Isle of Skye, Elliean Donnan castle, and many more) train to Glasgow- 2 nights
then if desired you could train down the coast of Wales- stopping somewhere in the Snowdonia area (we loved Betws-y-Coed) and maybe finish up in Cardiff for 2 nights If you aren't interested in Wales, you could do the Lake District, or North Umbria, or maybe explore more of England's coastal areas.

Posted by
5563 posts

If you don't want to rent a car then hands down it's Scotland. You can definitely get around better by train in Scotland. If you are willing to rent a car, then you need to look at both countries and decide which you like better. You're from Nova Scotia, maybe it's time to get away from the Scots. :) Alright, the entire helpline can now pick themselves off the floor, as they know that I always recommend Scotland. :) What's attracting you to the countries? I can tell you what attracts me to Scotland: The scenery, the people, the history, the music, the whisky, the walking, the castles, the seafood. And, my friends and relatives. What would attract me to Ireland would be visiting more family and seeing a mew place. I only visited Dublin and County Wicklow when I visited years ago. Pam

Posted by
714 posts

I'd like to put in a word for the west of Scotland. Take the train to Glasgow (or fly into Glasgow - check Airtransat website for flights into Glasgow) and drive up the west coast and visit some of the islands - Arran, Islay,Skye - easy with a car and their ferry system and historic sites like Kilmartin (a series of neolithic monuments - stone circles, ciarns, standing stones), Glen Coe, Oban, Isle of Mull and Iona Abby. There are castles, lovely small towns, scenery. Thanks to a warm current along the west coast the weather can be quite mild. If you don't want to drive, there is good train and bus services. A friend of mine has just returned from a visit to the Orkneys where she visited a whole series of archaeological sites dating from 6,000 years ago. Maeshowe, Stones of Stenness, Ness of Brodgar etc. Large sites of neolith villages, temples etc. The also visited Scarpa Flow where the British North Atlantic Fleet sailed from during both world wars. Driving in Scotland away from the cities is not a huge issue as the roads are aften narrow (one car width) with parking places and also not a lot of traffic.

Posted by
9363 posts

I have been to Ireland four times, and just visited Scotland for the first time in August. I agree that Scotland would be much easier to get around in by train - I was really impressed with the train system. In Ireland, you would be limited to bus travel in what I consider to be the most picturesque part of the country, the west. I don't want to get in the middle of your family dispute, but I think you actually could do all three countries in three weeks. Our first trip to Ireland was only a week (of course, that's why I have been back so many times - to see more).

Posted by
31303 posts

Nicole, Here's a few thoughts on your questions..... > Scotland - I agree with the others that it's probably an easier choice for public transportation. If you base in Edinburgh, there are a few firms that provide one day or multi-day tours to the highlands, Loch Ness, historic battlefields, etc. (they're listed in the Guidebook or online). It's also an easy trip by rail between Edinburgh and Glasgow. You could perhaps spend four days in Edinburgh touring the Castle, Holyrood Palace, Royal Yacht Brittania, etc. and the remainder in other places. Another option - take the RS 10 day Scotland tour and then you won't have to be concerned with transportation at all. > Ireland - not as easy to get around via public transport, but that depends to some extent on where you want to visit. Outside of the major centres, transportation often involves a combination of rail and bus. Without knowing where you want to go in Ireland, it's difficult to offer more specific information. Another option - increase your time a bit and take the RS 14 day Ireland tour. Again, no worries about transportation and you'll cover a large area. Regarding car rentals, driving on the "correct side of the road" isn't too difficult (IMHO) but it does present some challenges at times (narrow roads, roundabouts, shifting with left hand if you get a manual transmission, high fuel and parking costs, etc.). Especially in Ireland, lack of signage may be an issue (I saw some road signs that had black spray paint over the English words, courtesy of the Gaelic speakers). Therefore a GPS along with a good Map would be prudent if you decide to drive. Good luck with your decision and happy travels!

Posted by
2081 posts

The reason I don't think we should try to do all 3 countries in 3 weeks is because I feel we are always packing too much into our trips now (what I wouldn't have given for another day in San Fran, LA and San Diego). We did a marathon trip including 6 countries in 23 days in 2010 because hubby wanted to see everything. ( And he totally forgot we visited Munich, it was that rushed). So I'm ready to take things a little easier on trips. I am loving the suggestions and will def look into these spots (I love planning!). Honestly, when I was a wee mite a few years ago (ahem), Scotland was on the top of my visit list (maybe because of living in Nova Scotia) but it was supplanted by Italy (thanks Rick Steves tv shows!). So if hubby decides he doesn't want to do the south of France again (which I loved) I think for ease of getting around, it'll be Scotland. (Not that I'll totally discount Ireland) its great you had the opportunity to do and try the marathon trip and did figure out what you could handle. Now, youve learned something and want to take an slower trip which is good. You know the +/- and so you can do what you want on this trip. I would still look/google/ask here whats to do/see and plan your trip accordingly. theres no reason you can plan in "down time" or plan your trip to be easier. I do it, but i list what i want to see and estimate how much time i will need and whittle it down from there. happy trails.

Posted by
3899 posts

The reason I don't think we should try to do all 3 countries in 3 weeks is because I feel we are always packing too much into our trips now (what I wouldn't have given for another day in San Fran, LA and San Diego). We did a marathon trip including 6 countries in 23 days in 2010 because hubby wanted to see everything. (And he totally forgot we visited Munich, it was that rushed). So I'm ready to take things a little easier on trips. I am loving the suggestions and will def look into these spots (I love planning!). Honestly, when I was a wee mite a few years ago (ahem), Scotland was on the top of my visit list (maybe because of living in Nova Scotia) but it was supplanted by Italy (thanks Rick Steves tv shows!). So if hubby decides he doesn't want to do the south of France again (which I loved) I think for ease of getting around, it'll be Scotland. (Not that I'll totally discount Ireland)

Posted by
6065 posts

Nicole I tried to do England/Scotland/Ireland in three weeks by train, several years ago. Was not worth it. You see more of trains and train stations than spending quality time in any of your stops. When I did stop, I was too tired to stay for less than two nights anywhere. I saw less than half the places I had planned to see. However I think it would be worse, having to deal with a car. Distances are deceiving. I would choose Scotland by train. Ireland worth a separate trip by car.

Posted by
98 posts

I would vote for Scotland. Unless you have Irish ancestors I think the major Scottish cities and the variety of spectacular countryside make it something of a no brainer to chose Scotland.
An additional reason if you are in Scotland around 18th September the Scots are voting to decide whether to stay in the UK. At present the odds are that they won't leave but I expect the atmosphere will be very interesting and you never know you might see history in the making.

Posted by
135 posts

Reading all this, I am wondering what time of year is best to go to Ireland or Scotland due to cold weather and rain? We usually travel when you do, mid-Sept to Oct. but we are in Fla. and aren't used to cold, wet weather and I don't want to come home sick from vacation.

Posted by
3899 posts

I was just checking out Lonely Planet and it says the best times are May, June and Sept (which is what I figured). Another site says June is the optimum month - long days, good weather, warm temps...I'd love to travel in late May early June, but we always traditionally go in mid-Sept, so if we decided to go mid-May, then we have less time to save money up...lol. We almost always have such great weather when we go, I hate to jinx it (a half day rain in our 19 days in Cali, only maybe 1 or 2 days or rain for any of our Europe trips of 19-23 days, and it always seemed to happen in Venice!). The worst...in 2011, Washington, DC - 3 days of rain (we hit the tail end of a hurricane) and even umbrellas weren't helping much - rained so hard, walking from a subway stop across an intersection to one of the Smithsonians, our bottom half was soaked, was about a 90 second trip. Even some thunder storms thrown in while at the Zoo...at least it cleared up when we hit NYC.

Posted by
2081 posts

Debbie, The weather is an unknown wherever you go. IF you look at the back of Rick Steves books, he will list the days hi/low/"average days of rain" for the month. Ive been using that for my 2 trips. ive only been on 2 longs trips so far - march 2012 and Sept 2013. for scottland, it was cold in the PM with that breeze off the atlantic. It reminded me of PDX in the winter. But during the day it was either cloudy and i had sunny days. My co woker who is from Glasgow told me DONT expect any sun so when it didnt rain and it was sunny i had to rub it in and show some pics. It did rain (light drizzle for us oregonians) in Loch Ness tho,but that was expected. Dublin was nice weather all around. no rain, somewhat overcast mornings but that was about it. happy trails.

Posted by
11270 posts

I have never been to Ireland, and in Scotland I've only been to Edinburgh (3 nights) and Glasgow (1 night). So I have no specific information about your title question. But I do have a very specific tip on your itinerary planning. If you have already seen London, you do not need to see it on this trip at all. Either fly into London and take a train or bus elsewhere, or (probably better) fly into and out of other airports. Manchester and Glasgow (and possibly others) get service from North America, and with a plane change (in London or Amsterdam, for instance), you can go to any of the UK airports. So, if you want to focus on Scotland, you could start in Aberdeen or Inverness and work south. Or start in Birmingham and work north. But you don't have to start or end in London, unless you want to.

Posted by
3899 posts

We usually just fly in and out of London because it's one of the few that has a direct flight from Halifax...I think it's kinda dumb to fly to Toronto and then fly back over where we just came from...lol, feels like wasting time, but I know we're wasting the same time by flying to London and waiting for a connection there!. But I know if I want to fly into a diff airport, that's the way to do it...I always use airmiles, so that limits my airline choices some (not that in Canada we have a huge amount to choose from anyway)...