The British Isles offer a great deal of variety in a very small geographical area. The options are virtually unlimited and you can pick and choose according to your interests. You’ll want to hit at least one big city like Dublin or London with their famous landmarks and shopping opportunities.
But don’t neglect the unspoiled and spectacular natural landscapes of the west of Ireland and the highlands of Scotland. England, Scotland and the six counties of Northern Ireland are all part of the United Kingdom. The remaining 26 Irish counties make up the Republic of Ireland.
Think about what you would like to get out of your holiday, bearing in mind the length of time you plan to stay. Do you want to see all the famous sights, or would you prefer to relax and enjoy a slower pace? Make a list of things you’d like to see or experience to help you plan your trip.
Travelling in the UK
Think about how you plan to travel around once you arrive. Trains and buses run between most major cities, but can be expensive depending on the route and when you plan to travel. Check out railway timetables in advance for England and Scotland using the Trainline website. Consider using a coach if money is a factor in your vacation planning: National Express runs services between cities across England and Scotland and is often cheaper than railways.
In Ireland, the rail network is more limited, but you can check times in advance for the Republic of Ireland on the Irish Rail website, while Bus Eireann is the national bus operator. In Northern Ireland, Translink operates both bus and train services and offers a journey planner tool on its website to help you plan ahead.
Research flights to find the most convenient arrival destination. If you’re more interested in seeing Ireland, several carriers run trans-Atlantic flights arriving in Dublin, Shannon and Belfast.
If you plan to spend more time in England and Scotland, you could consider arriving at one of the London airports — many international carriers fly to London Heathrow. For the trip from the airport to your hotel consider using a chauffeur service. While folks not living in the United Kingdom might view a chauffeur as something exotic and perhaps a relic of the past, people from the UK (and people who visit often) know better! For not much more than the cost of a standard taxi a person gets to ride in absolute comfort and privacy, with the side-benefit of getting a feel for the lifestyle of the old English upperclass. Chauffeur services provide airport transfers for all the major airports in the UK, including London Heathrow, London Gatwick, Manchester, Leeds Bradford, Birmingham, Bristol International, and more. An airport transfer service will take you to or from the airport to just about any city, including Birmingham, Gloucester, Manchester, Taunton as well as many, many others.
Think about when you’d like to visit. By American standards, the British winter is not cold, but it can feel damp, and you can expect dull skies and rain most days. Weather is usually better in the summer, with unexpectedly long days, particularly in the north of Scotland, but this is the peak time for tourists, so you can expect longer queues at visitor attractions.
Book ahead for any popular attractions to make the most of your time on vacation. Buckingham Palace in London, for example, is only open a few months each year so is very busy. Jump the queue by booking your tickets online in advance.
Get a feel for British and Irish culture by doing some of the things the British and Irish like to do. Soccer is a national pastime in both the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic — experience the atmosphere at a game to see why! Top English clubs like Arsenal and Manchester United are among the best in Europe, while Scottish and Irish clubs are usually much smaller, and as a result it’s often much easier to get hold of tickets for their games.
Where to Visit in the UK
The number of interesting, historical, modern, old places to visit in the United Kingdom are seemingly unlimited. If you visit the UK once, you’ll almost certainly consider returning again — and again. It’s simply impossible to cover even a small fraction of the places of interest in one trip. With that said, here are several of the “don’t want to miss” destinations.
Difficult to avoid on these lists, but always worthwhile, London can offer the visitor a range of different options. Trips can cover major landmarks like the Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square and St Paul’s Cathedral, and can also visit the world class British Museum or the National History Museum. With excellent shopping and opportunities to enjoy London’s many scenic parks, you won’t be short of options. The always reliable Rick Steves at ricksteves.com lists many of the must-see stops in London.
The Scottish Highlands
Another quiet location, the Scottish Highlands are recommended if you want to see some of Britain’s best castles and mountain ranges, with notable examples including Cairngorm. Loch Ness is also recommended.
A seaside town on the South Coast, Brighton is a short journey from London. Offering extensive shopping options and museums that celebrate the town’s maritime past, travelchannel.com points out that Brighton is also distinguished by the Royal Pavilion, and a wide range of restaurants and bars.
The Lake District
A National Park that includes a number of lakes, fells and mountains, the Lake District is strongly associated with the romance of Wordsworth’s poetry, and a long history of walking and hiking. Particularly recommended is the village of Grasmere.
The Isle of Wight
Located just off the South Coast of England, the Isle of Wight is a quick boat ride from the mainland. Ideal for family holidays, the island’s thatched houses and parks align with Osborne House, the summer home of Queen Victoria in the 19th century. Other attractions include fairgrounds, zoos, and the imposing Carisbrooke Castle.
Ideal for visiting some of the UK’s most out-of-the-way places, Cornwall includes Land’s End, the Western most point of England. Moreover, visitors can take in Penzance and the artistic community of St Ives, as well as the Eden Project, one of the most well maintained environmental centers in the world.