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Just finished a week in London, weekend in Edinburgh, and am now in Iceland. Ask me anything!

Glad to try to answer anyone’s questions.

We’ve done this far:

  • Windsor castle
  • St Paul’s
  • Abbey Road
  • Shakespeare’s Globe
  • Imperial war museum
  • British museum
  • Harry Potter/WB studios
  • SIX on the west end
  • Caledonian Sleeper to Edinburgh
  • Real Mary Kings Close
  • Scotch Whisky experience
  • Edinburgh Castle
  • Dept of Magic potion making experience
  • Golden Circle (incl Thingvillir, Geysir, Gullfoss, and Friedheimer Tomato Restaurant)

ETA: traveling with 2 teens
ETA #2 - home from Iceland. We did Hallgrimskirka, Hellishedi power plant, South Coast (incl Skogafoss, Seljalandfoss, and Reynisfjara beach) and Blue Lagoon.

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1874 posts

Wasn't Six wonderful. I like the 90 min, no break format. There was SO much energy in that theatre.

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2852 posts

Ask me anything!

In London, where were your favorite places to walk outside?

Also in London, where did you stay and how hard or easy was it to get around?

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1853 posts

What did you think of the Caledonian sleeper? Did you sleep okay? Type of seat or sleeper car you had?

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7447 posts

Did you eat lunch near any of these? - St. Paul’s Cathedral, Imperial War Museum & the British Museum. If so, any recommendations? We would just be looking for cheaper local stuff - nothing fancy, & hopefully less crowded. We will be eating nicer meals in the smaller cities. London will be more basic, plus we have reservations for the East End Food tour our last day. Thanks!

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3034 posts

Kelly, how about the crowds in Edinburgh, especially at the tourist sites? (Elsewhere, too, if you care to comment on it.)

I've been to Abbey Road a few times. How was it?

Any place you went to that was underwhelming?

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11368 posts

Our trip to Iceland was canceled by COVID. We want to go in a circle around the country.Suggestions?

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2488 posts

What did you think about Windsor Castle and Edinburgh Castle?

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1101 posts

@Carrie
In London, where were your favorite places to walk outside?
Also in London, where did you stay and how hard or easy was it to get around?

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Southwark. LOVED it. Right by Shakespeare’s Globe and Tate Modern. Very quiet and non-touristy neighborhood. Highly recommend! We did some walking here across the Millennium Bridge and along the south bank of the Thames.

London traffic was horrible. We Ubered most places because I have some mobility issues and did not want to do all the Tube steps, but basically whatever Uber said (20 min ride!) you could double (haha 40 minutes sucker). Same was true for Edinburgh.

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1101 posts

@Rocket
What did you think of the Caledonian sleeper? Did you sleep okay? Type of seat or sleeper car you had?

You mean the Caledonian No-Sleeper? Ha!

Oh, I wanted to like it so bad. It’s a great idea in theory. In practice it is so loud. We had 3 family bunk bed rooms. They are about 4 feet wide by 6 feet deep with a tiny sink, toilet down hall. All of that was fine. My husband, 6’ and 220 lbs, had a hard time fitting in the bunk comfortably.

The issue was the noise. Having taken numerous almost silent high speed trains in Europe I don’t know why this one was so loud. Scraping against tracks and weird random squeaks/hums. Earplugs and a white noise machine did nothing to help. Even my husband, who can normally sleep thru anything, got almost no sleep. But it was an adventure!

I’ve always wanted to do a sleeper train but I have no desire to do another. ;)

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1101 posts

@Jean
Did you eat lunch near any of these? - St. Paul’s Cathedral, Imperial War Museum & the British Museum. If so, any recommendations? We would just be looking for cheaper local stuff - nothing fancy, & hopefully less crowded. We will be eating nicer meals in the smaller cities. London will be more basic, plus we have reservations for the East End Food tour our last day. Thanks!

We are at the Pizza Express across from St. Paul’s. It was good. (Not my choice, remember I’m traveling with teens, lol.) Did not eat near IWM, honestly the neighborhood around it didn’t look the best. Our favorite London meal was Dishoom in Covent Garden, fantastic Indian food and a really cool building/decor. Reservations recommended.

We ate several times from M&S Simply Food and Amazon Fresh (small grocery stores near our hotel). M&S in particular had a great selection of heat and eat meals for one.

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1101 posts

@BigMike
Kelly, how about the crowds in Edinburgh, especially at the tourist sites? (Elsewhere, too, if you care to comment on it.)
I've been to Abbey Road a few times. How was it?
Any place you went to that was underwhelming
?

Edinburgh was mobbed. To be fair, Harry Styles was in town so there was an army of teen girls in cowboy hats and feather boas everywhere. It was entertaining. Hotels were all $600/night. Luckily we used points and stayed free at the Hampton Inn (recommended).

Castle tickets sold out about a week in advance, as did Real Mary and potion-making. Scotch Whisky tix were no problem to get last minute. We had first-entry tix for the castle which I highly recommend because by the time we left it was really filling up.

Honestly none of us were huge Edinburgh fans. I had the same issue with it as with Las Ramblas in Barcelona. Throngs of people all walking up and down past overpriced tourist shops. I think we would have liked the Scottish countryside better.

Abbey Road is pretty underwhelming. I’d been there before but my son, a guitarist, wanted to see it and of course recreate the crosswalk photo. The gift shop is pretty cool though.

We’ve liked all sites thus far. I’d say the two that have been most underwhelming for me personally have been Geysir (if you’ve been to Yellowstone the thermal features are way better there) and probably unpopular opinion, the British Museum. Most ancient artifacts are the same brown color/stone/terracotta and unless you know what you’re looking at it’s hard to have context. My son did geek out over a few artifacts that he learned about this year in history, and I did enjoy seeing the Sutton Hoo and Rosetta Stone artifacts due to a linguistics interest, but it was miserably crowded and the cat mummies were off display.

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1101 posts

@Suki
Our trip to Iceland was canceled by COVID. We want to go in a circle around the country.Suggestions?

We are not doing the ring road, just the two RS-recommended day trips. Golden Circle was a 8:30-6pm affair, I expect South Coast to take longer. I see tons of people in camper vans if that’s your thing. Rental place called Happy Camper. Iceland is like no place I’ve ever seen, very different landscape. I had it in my head that it would look like Switzerland and that couldn’t be further from the truth.

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1101 posts

@roubrat
What did you think about Windsor Castle and Edinburgh Castle?

We really liked both! Windsor won’t let you take pics inside which was disappointing but it’s very impressive. Well worth it. We stayed by Heathrow the first night and did it that day to avoid a long car or train ride from London.

Edinburgh Castle is kind of a misnomer - more a military fortress feel but we really liked it. I especially geeked out over the room where King James (as in the Bible) was born and the Crown Jewels are lovely. Great views of the city from up there.

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3034 posts

Thank you, Kelly. That was informative and helpful. I can't imagine what the crowds will be like later in the summer or next year.

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2225 posts

Sounds like a nice trip! We head back to Iceland next month for our 5th visit. Can't wait!

Suki--Our 2nd visit to Iceland was delayed due to covid. We ended up doing the ring road in August 2021 when things opened up again. As mentioned, we have been a number of times so if you have questions just ask. We will be in a camper van next month for 10 days up in the Westfjords and then 3 days in Thorsmark, 3 days on Westmann Island, and then the last night near Selfoss. There is just SO much to see and do in Iceland and never enough time!

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11368 posts

We would rent a car. Thanks for all the information! I am especially interested in Seydisfjordur where the ferry from Denmark arrives.
I’m sorry the British Museum wasn’t a hit. We had to drag our grandkids out of there. It was a trip to London and Paris and they liked London the best by far.

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1101 posts

Some thoughts thus far re: Iceland. Yes, it’s as expensive as everyone says. Subway for 4 people was $50 USD. Three small bags of groceries cost about $95 USD. Museum entrance fees are high. I get that it’s an isolated country with little agricultural ability so I understand. Just wasn’t quite prepared for that level of sticker shock. (I thought Switzerland was bad, this is way worse, ha!)

Also there is quite a bit of walking from the parking lots to the sites. I don’t think RS adequately conveyed that in his book. Like on the Golden Circle it was a haul to all the sites. Just a heads up for those with limited mobility.

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7011 posts

Also there is quite a bit of walking from the parking lots to the sites. I don’t think RS adequately conveyed that in his book. Like on the Golden Circle it was a haul to all the sites. Just a heads up for those with limited mobility.

I think that's true of many places in Europe - I know I walked a half mile or more to various sites in Scotland. But I think the idea is that the car park should not interfere with the natural resources, which I'm all in favor of. :)

And I agree with you about Dishoom - I ate at the one in Edinburgh and loved it!

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294 posts

Kelly,

I'd love to know how you grouped different sites during your week in London. We will be in London the first week of October (arriving from Edinburgh after a week of driving around England/Wales) arriving on a Sunday, leaving Saturday. Trying to make a loose itinerary of the places we want to see. We have tickets to HP Studio that Wednesday.

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1101 posts

@MaryEllen
I'd love to know how you grouped different sites during your week in London. We will be in London the first week of October (arriving from Edinburgh after a week of driving around England/Wales) arriving on a Sunday, leaving Saturday. Trying to make a loose itinerary of the places we want to see. We have tickets to HP Studio that Wednesday.

I always make a google map with pins of sites I want to do and plan them geographically (ish). For this trip we had an “A” site every day and a “if we’re not too tired B site.” I’ve had mobility issues the past 9 months that prevent me from doing 14-hour days like I used to do prioritizing was important.

Day 1 -land and sleep Heathrow (we took day flight, highly recommended)
Day 2 - Windsor (close to Heathrow)
Day 3 - St. Paul’s am (our A site), Shakespeare’s Globe pm (ended up being one of my favs)
Day 4 - Imperial War Museum am, British Museum pm (the only way I could do this is I used a wheelchair at the BM and went into it with only 4 specific things I wanted to see. Even so it took 2 hours due to size and crowds)
Day 5 - Harry Potter - it pretty much sucks up a whole day - and we accidentally got on the local train from Euston that takes 45 min, not the express that takes 15 (hot tip - they still let you in if you’re late lol)
Day 6 - Abbey Road and lunch at Dishoom. Was going to do British Library but a kid didn’t feel well. Sat around Covent Garden until our 5:30 matinee show of SIX, then went to Euston for 10:30pm train.

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48 posts

Who did you do the Scotch Whisky experience with and which distilleries did you goto?

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3821 posts

"I always make a google map with pins of sites I want to do and plan them geographically..."

Kelly, excellent plan.
maryellenhowen,
We take a paper map and put a red dot on the sights we want to see. We group sights near one another for the same day.
We work London one neighborhood at a time.
That way we're not zig-zagging all over London every day.

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How long did you end up staying at the HP Studio Tour? I'm a huge fan but not sure how much time to budget, along with the self transport. Thanks!

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1101 posts

@415Sar
How long did you end up staying at the HP Studio Tour? I'm a huge fan but not sure how much time to budget, along with the self transport. Thanks!

We had 1:30 tour tickets. We got to.Euston at 12:30 because both the HP website and Apple Maps said it was a 20 minute train ride to Watford Junction and then a 15 minute shuttle bus ride. Euston was very large and confusing, lots of people milling everywhere. The huge departures sign in the middle of the station had a very large notice about departures to Watford Junction which apparently left every half hour. We missed the 12:30 and got the 1 o’clock. It ended up taking 45 minutes instead of 20 because that is the local overground route instead of the express route and it has like 20 stops. when you exit the station, it is very easy to find the shuttle bus. Go left out of the station and you will see a queue on your right of people standing and waiting. The shuttle bus does take 15 minutes as promised. They drop you off about 100 yards away from the main entrance. Lines look long, but they go very quickly to go in since everybody already has a ticket.

The beginning of the experience felt like a theme park. You go in this long queue and end up standing in a room for about 15 minutes looking at movie posters. Then that door opens and you stand in another room and watch a little film about the making of the studios. Then that door opens and you watch another 15 minute film. Then they finally let you into the experience. It seems dumb at first but then you see why they do it for crowd control. I don’t want to spoil anything for you, so I won’t tell you what you see, but just know that that initial wait is really worth it, and you will be so excited at the first attraction. After that, the tour is entirely self paced.

We spent about three hours there, including a 20 minute snack stop in the middle. My daughter and I were geeking out the entire time and thoroughly enjoyed it. Honestly, she and I could have spent an additional hour or possibly two there. My husband liked it, but he is not quite the level of fan that we are and my 13 year old son was getting in a mood and complaining that we were taking too long. So, for big fans you can easily and happily spend five hours there, not including browsing the massive gift shop. The time flies and it does not feel that long.

On the way home we bought our train ticket directly from a teller and he got us on the correct express line which did indeed only take 20 minutes. :) So the moral of that story is ask somebody at Euston where to buy the express ticket instead of just tapping through on the Watford junction turnstile.

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3353 posts

Hi Kelly, did your Tower of London ticket have a time on it? We have bought ours for October and there is no time on it, just the date. And it does say on it; This is your ticket.

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1101 posts

@diveloonie,

We didn’t visit the tower of London on this trip so I can’t help you there. I last visited it 19 years ago, so I don’t really remember any details, ha ha!

SIX is in the Vaudeville theater. It was a very nice historic theater right in Covent Garden. I was pleasantly surprised by the seat size and aisle width. I was in the very last row, last seat of the dress Circle and it was still a great view. Much cheaper than Broadway. One thing that was different was you have to buy your playbill on the west end instead of it coming with the show from the usher. They also had free water for patrons which New York would never do.

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22 posts

Hi Kelly!
We are heading to Scotland next week with three daughters (10, 13, 16). I am interested in what you and yours thought of the Scoth Whisky Experience and Real Mary King's Close. Wondering if my kids would be entertained (especially with the latter) or if we'd all think too touristy and gimmicky.
Thanks so much!
Dabney

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1101 posts

@kdabneywvm
We are heading to Scotland next week with three daughters (10, 13, 16). I am interested in what you and yours thought of the Scoth Whisky Experience and Real Mary King's Close. Wondering if my kids would be entertained (especially with the latter) or if we'd all think too touristy and gimmicky.
Thanks so much!

We did the Scotch Whiskey Experience mainly for my husband's sake and also b/c the Rick Steves Britain book says that the tour takes you on a barrel ride through the distilling process. (He called it "Malt Disney.") So my kids were super disappointed to find out when we got there that the barrel ride part was discontinued as of Nov. 2022. :( (I actually did the "guidebook update" suggestion on the RS website to let them know.) With that being said, they were still pretty entertained. There was a "scratch and sniff" card of the aromas of the various whisky regions. Lots of good kid-friendly videos and features. They loved the Irn Bru soda they got in lieu of whisky. So they weren't bored, just disappointed that there was no ride in a whisky barrel, ha! Was this tour touristy and gimmicky? Absolutely. But not necessarily in a bad way if that makes sense.

We all enjoyed the Real Mary King's Close tour. (It is also a RS-recommended tour from his book.) There's a lot of kid-interest facts on the tour (about plague, drinking urine, rats, fleas, manure disposal, arsenic...). It was an interesting snapshot of how people used to live not that long ago, honestly! If you do want to do RMKC, buy tix in advance as they sell out several days before your desired day. SWT tix I bought the day before.

To be honest with you, Edinburgh felt kind of touristy/gimmicky as a whole. I liked it and I'm glad I went, but it definitely has the "tacky overpriced souvenir shop" feel the entire length of the Royal Mile.