Many Americans proudly wave their heritage flags from the United Kingdom and Ireland. It’s no wonder...not only are the cultures interesting and the people fascinating, but these diverse countrysides are beautiful and their cities eclectic.
If you haven’t been to the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) or the island of Ireland in the past, add them to your short list of places to visit. If you have been, there’s little doubt you’d love to return to see and experience even more. So, what makes these countries so alluring? Ease of travel from the US, rich heritage, lively inhabitants and stunning landscapes are just a few examples that come to mind!
Many travelers to England go in large part to spend time in London. And, for good reason. The city is home to world renown sights such as St. Paul’s Cathedral, London Eye, Tower of London, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and so much more. The River Thames flows through the city providing a beautiful backdrop to some of the most picturesque city scapes. And of course, a day-trip out of the city to experience Windsor Castle will not disappoint!
What travelers new to England might not realize is the country’s beautiful landscapes and historic cities once you leave London. Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester and Liverpool offer much to do and see. (If you’re a soccer fan, take in a Manchester United game at Old Trafford, one of the league’s most notable stadiums.)
It’s hard to talk about the history of England without mentioning a visit to Stonehenge. For centuries, historians and archaeologists have puzzled over the many mysteries of Stonehenge, the prehistoric monument that took Neolithic builders an estimated 1,500 years to erect. Located in southern England, it is comprised of roughly 100 massive upright stones placed in a circular layout. While many modern scholars now agree that Stonehenge was once a burial ground, they have yet to determine what other purposes it served and how a civilization without modern technology—or even the wheel—produced the mighty monument.
And, if you like walking the countryside, consider time in the Cotswolds. The Cotswolds covers a huge area – almost 800 square miles – and runs through five counties (Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire and Worcestershire). One of the delights of visiting the Cotswolds is exploring the different areas, each with its own identity, yet all with those defining Cotswold features: golden stone and rolling hills, the ‘wolds.’ Explore quintessentially English villages of honey-coloured stone; take in splendid, lively market towns; visit some of the country’s greatest palaces, castles and country houses; marvel at the natural world in acclaimed reserves and at some of the most famous arboretas in Britain; walk through breath-taking landscapes along historic trails; or make a splash in our lake-land area with its own inland beach.
• A Day at Downton Abbey - Travel back in time with an exclusive, after-hours visit to Highclere Castle, one of England’s most beautiful Victorian castles and the filming location of the popular television series Downton Abbey.
• Changing of the Guards - Go backstage to areas not accessible to the public with the Curator of the Guards Museum, then view the ceremony of the guards from within the parade ground itself, not peering through a fence with other tourists.
• Murder Mystery Train - Step aboard the famous Belmond British Pullman train with a clue sheet and sleuthing skills to interview suspects to ascertain who is the most likely murderer. Great for families looking to entertain while taking in the gorgeous rolling landscapes.
While the actual island of Ireland (located off the western coast of the United Kingdom) is quite small in size, it packs an extra-large “to do” list when it comes to sights, activities and culture. Although its history stems from turmoil (it’s hard to be such a great land that everyone fights over!), today this country may very well have some of the happiest and friendliest people on Earth.
Most visitors start their journey to Ireland in Dublin. The country’s capital city.
Between the notable grounds and buildings of Trinity College, the imposing St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the quaint cobblestone streets found throughout the city, walking around Dublin is sure to keep you entertained. And if that doesn’t do it, visit one of the nearly 670 local pubs and enjoy a pint of Guinness (we’re sure they can spare on of the nearly 10 million pints produced daily).
Dublin is a must visit, but travelers to Ireland yearn for the countryside. County
Kerry, County Galway, the Causeway Coast and other regions are easily accessible by car. Historic castles, monuments and cemeteries across the country tell tales of battles fought over time as the Ireland of today emerged.
• Helicopter Golf Tours - For the true golfer visiting Ireland, play 18 holes at Ballybunion in the morning and following that up with 18 holes at Royal County Down in the afternoon. Plus, enjoy a bit of Ireland’s beautiful landscape from above in between!
• Period Costume Dinner - Visit a lavish Regency mansion in Ireland and choose from a stunning collection of period costumes and accessories. Try on pieces from the exquisite collection and be ready for a splendid evening with a fine banquet and entertainment to make the most of the occasion.
• Galway Local Musical - Revel in a traditional Irish experience at a charming local pub where travelers can learn to play the Irish drum dodhran and pull their own pint of Guinness followed by an Irish dance.
What Dublin is to Ireland, Edinburgh is to Scotland. This compact capital city is a common place to start a journey through Scotland. The iconic Edinburgh Castle is one of the city’s most photographed landmarks and sits atop an extinct volcano. The city is the “greenest” in all of the UK with more trees per capita than any other (not to mention 112 parks). Hike to Arthur’s Seat, scale the Scott Monument, visit the Royal Botanical Gardens and soak up some of the “new” Edinburgh, too.
Also, like Ireland, people can’t wait to get into the vast countryside of Scotland. With a mix of rugged mountainous landscapes, towering sea cliffs and expansive flatlands, the country offers a feast for the eyes and senses.
The Northern Highlands is a must-see area of the country. A day or two soaking up the beautiful sights of Inverness, Loch Ness (be sure to get out on a boat on Loch Ness if you can), Invermoriston Village/Falls with a short river walk and explore Fort Augustus Highland Village (Caledonian Canal with views of the full length of Loch Ness).
The Isle of Skye is another popular place to visit in the country. It’s famous for its scenery and landscapes that will take your breath away. The Isle of Skye is 50 miles long and the largest of the Inner Hebrides. It has a rich history covering many topics, such as dinosaur fossils, Clan Warfare, Highland Clearances and the infamous ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ and the Jacobite Rebellion. Both Clan MacDonald and Clan MacLeod have their Clan Castles on the Island. Skye is a world-class destination for walkers and climbers. The Cuillin Range and The Trotternish Ridge offer challenging climbs and interesting scrambles. The Cuillin Range offers 12 Munros - peaks above 3,000 feet.
If time allows, taking a journey on the Jacobite Steam Train is a unique experience and is iconic in Scotland. Described as the greatest railway journey in the world, this 84-mile round trip takes you past a list of impressive extremes.
If you’re a fan of the Outlander series, take a tour of some of the famous locations including Falkland, Doune Castle, Deanston Distillery, Blackness Castle and Midhope Castle.
Check out this video of Beautiful Scotland to get an aerial glimpse into this amazing country.
• Falconry of Kings - Explore falconry, the most ancient and aristocratic sport of kings. Instructors from the internationally renowned British School of Falconry will teach the basic skills and techniques of this fascinating sport.
•Whisky Tasting Under the Stars - Enjoy a special whisky tasting experience in the Blue Bar. Watch the stars come out in al fresco setting and learn how to ‘nose’ and taste Scottish whisky under the expert guidance to go through the art, skill and magic of whisky blending.
•Bagpipe Making Workshop - Whether you consider the sound to be beautiful music, or something to be endured, this fascinating tour is hosted by the owner of a historic and noted bagpipe piper in Edinburgh’s Old Town and will showcase how the pipes are made – and perhaps more crucially how they are played!
If you’re interested in learning more about these destinations and how we can customize an itinerary perfect for you, please email KrisN@PiqueTravel.com or LizM@PiqueTravel.com. In fact, Liz is about to set off on a 2-week adventure to Scotland to visit her Scottish roots!