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St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland: Traditions of the Emerald Isle11 days from $2,179 (USD)
Ireland’s green landscapes, welcoming cities and rich culture await.
The United Kingdom is alive with a mosaic blend of culture and tradition that is at once indescribable and irresistible, and is largely thanks to the changes from past political unrest that have molded and reshaped the UK time and time again through the years. This is an old and mighty state, and one that is quite wealthy as well. From the Celts to the Romans and then the Anglo-Saxons and Picts, the UK’s history was carved out of thousands of years of conquest.
Classifying the modern United Kingdom can seem confusing for first-time visitors. The collective name refers to the constituent nations of England, Scotland, and Wales (the majority of which make up the isle of Great Britain), as well as Northern Ireland. Today’s UK carries the flavor of all that it has seen in the past, a rich, mysterious, and knowing air. Diversity is the name of the game. Visitors could easily spend weeks in just London, rarely venturing out and still doing something different each day, or take advantage of the plentiful transportation between nations and really marvel at the unique charms of each.
Weather in the UK is notoriously variable, and has been described as having the ability to zip through all four seasons in a day! Visitors should plan for heat, cold, rain, and sun—and possibly a combination thereof—regardless of when they visit. A local one-liner holds that there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes. Regardless of climate conditions, know that the locals will be weathering the weather with their typical patience, good humor, and appreciation for order. The joke goes that Brits absolutely love a good queue, and this is somewhat true: whether you are waiting for a train, admission to a museum or landmark, a show, or checkout at the market, a neat line forms as if by magic, with no muttering or complaints. By extension, they also tend to be congenial hosts, and quite friendly to international visitors. Even if the weather doesn’t cooperate, you are bound to leave the United Kingdom with a warm heart. Cheers!
Top United Kingdom Attractions
London is one of those cities that is almost impossible to condense into a pocket-sized blurb, a place that has been called “a world in one city.” Discovering London will take you from the massive Eye to Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London, from St. Paul’s—home of both Charles & Di’s and Will & Kate’s royal weddings!—to the pubs. Divided into thirty-two boroughs, London is in fact huge, but able to be efficiently traveled by bike, taxi, bus (try one of the famous double-deckers), or the country’s handy “tube,” or underground train. London boasts one of the most comprehensive public transportation systems in the world, all but guaranteeing that you will get where you need to go. One thing's for sure: London will never leave you bored. The playwright Samuel Johnson famously said that, “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford." Whether you catch Wimbledon fever in early summer or take in some West End theater, visit Trafalgar Square or shop Oxford Street, there is always going to be a new adventure waiting for you here!
The wilder, greener counterpart to London’s urbane sophistication, southern England is a land of idyllic countryside views like those you’ve seen in movies. Here you will find Bath, home to England’s only hot springs and site of the historical Roman baths. A massive tourist industry is reflected in a large amount of cozy bed-and-breakfast accommodations. Next, visit Stonehenge. This prehistoric monument is a triumph of Bronze Age ingenuity and a hotbed of folklore, myth, and legend. Visitors are not allowed to touch the stones during most parts of the year, but tours are plentiful and still allow for amazing photographs. The Cotswolds of Gloucestershire have been designated an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty for their rolling hills and green farmlands. The quaint, picturesque vibe exemplifies visitors’ expectations for this part of the country. Oxford, home of the oldest university in the English-speaking world, is also located in southern England. The city center contains many shops, restaurants, and historic architecture.
Edinburgh has been called “the Athens of the North,” and its reputation for brains and creativity is well-deserved! It was the first city designated by UNESCO as a center of literature. Edinburgh is also home to the eponymous Fringe, the world’s biggest arts festival. Film, theater, dance, and all sorts of performance art come to life each year for three weeks in August, flooding the city with triple its normal population. One of the city’s most iconic sights is Edinburgh Castle. In days of old, homes were built on the area in front of the castle. Today, that area is referred to as the Lawnmarket, and the streets leading down from the old town are collectively called the Royal Mile. Another annual celebration of note is the Military Tattoo, popularly depicted in images worldwide by bagpipers in kilts situated before the castle walls. Hogmanay is more important than Christmas ‘round these parts, and the Scottish new year festivities also draw lots of visitors. No matter what time of year you visit Edinburgh, you can expect vibrant nightlife, grand architecture, and a healthy appreciation for arts and sport.
Bonny Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland, which is of course not to be confused with the Republic of Ireland to the south. The Northern Irish are British citizens as per their passports, but don’t call them Brits! This part of the Irish Islands remains loyal to the Crown, but also guard their identity fiercely. You will fall as much in love with this land when you visit Belfast. The city is very walkable, and many sights are best visited on foot. There are plenty of indoor attractions to keep you busy as well: from catching a film at the Odyssey Arena to taking in the expansive and gorgeous galleries at Ulster Museum, the rich culture will take you in and immerse you in years of history and beauty. The mighty Titanic was built here, and today you can still tour the shipyard where it was constructed. After your daily touring, be sure to hit one of many local pubs for some delicious grub and a pint with the locals!
The Celtic culture thrives in Wales. West of England and just two hours from London, Wales is greener, quieter, and so noticeably less-populated that it is quite distinct as its own country. Craggy landscapes, ancient castles, and coastal scenery are all hallmarks of Wales’ natural beauty. Major visitor attractions consist of largely outdoor pursuits. The hilly terrain allows for some world-class golfing, with better links in the north and parklands in the south. Mount Snowdon is the highest peak in Wales, and home to great hiking and climbing trails. You might also be surprised at the quality of the scuba diving here! The water is quite cold and the weather doesn’t always cooperate, but intrepid divers are rewarded by the sight of whales, dolphins, seals, and a variety of coral formations and coral fish. Taking a steam engine ride on one of the country’s heritage railroads is more of a pleasure trip than a way to get around, but well worth the experience. Lamb is a popular dish, and puts in an appearance on many Welsh menus. The overall food quality is quite high, and an emphasis on organic, locally-grown ingredients prevails. Interestingly, a spike in Italian immigration has led to some of the best ice cream in the UK being found in Wales!
Scotland’s largest city is known far and wide as a hub for art and culture. High-energy, vibrant, and steeped in history and tradition, there is no better way to soak up the Scottish experience! Everything quintessentially Scots can be found here, from bagpipes to whisky tastings to ceilidh dancing—even a bite of haggis, for the gastronomically daring. The city has a thoroughly modern side as well, however, and it is this part of Glasgow that brings us the Gallery of Modern Art and a score of other museums, the Royal Concert Hall, three football stadiums, three universities, and a shopping experience second only to London in terms of upscale quality and variety. Part of a Glasgow visit is picking up the local “patter,” or dialect. Glaswegians have a colorful phrase for just about everything, it seems ... and until one becomes familiar, it can feel like a whole new language.
|Primary Airports: London Heathrow Airport (LHR), London Gatwick Airport (LGW), Edinburgh Airport (EDI), Glasgow International Airport (GLA)|
|Government: Constitutional Monarchy and Parliamentary Democracy|
|Currency: Pound sterling (GBP)|
|Population: 62,042,000 (2010 est.)|
|Language: English, Welsh, Scots, Scottish Gaelic, Ulster-Scots, Irish Gaelic|
|Electricity: 230V/50Hz (United Kingdom plug)|
|Time Zone: UTC +1 (UTC)|
United Kingdom Travel Reviews
My Summer Trip to London
I had always dreamed of visiting London, and I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to visit friends in the United Kingdom during my summer break recently. My friends said that one of the best ways of visiting London is to catch one of the many trains that regularly run into the center of the city. From there, it would be possible to use the London Underground system (‘The Tube’ as the locals affectionately call it) to travel to pretty much any part of the city. While the thought of this may seem daunting to many people, I found the Tube to be very good value for money, safe to use, and extremely punctual. So long as you have a vague idea of which part of the city you want to visit, it's very simple to negotiate.
This provided me with the perfect way to visit many of the fantastic attractions that London has to offer. For shopaholics, Oxford Street and the world-famous Harrods store are must-visit locations. A quick study of my London Underground map showed me that The Tower of London was nearby. This is another brilliant place to visit if you have an interest in history and British royalty. From here, I took a quick visit to Tower Bridge, before getting on the Tube again and visiting Westminster and the Houses of Parliament. I finished the day with a visit to Buckingham Palace. I thought it was amazing to visit so many incredible places in such a short space of time. My favorite thing about London is that you can spend as much or as little time there as you like and still leave with a feeling that you've been immersed in British history and culture.
October In London
A few years ago, a friend and I had the opportunity to spend 10 days in London, in October. We were lucky in that the weather was very nice for October that year. And what a great time we had. London is full of history but also lively with young energy. We started with a double decker bus tour to get an overview of the city, and then proceeded to see specific sights. The Tower of London was definitely formidable but the glittering royal jewels were worth seeing. We also visited Trafalgar Square, went shopping at Piccadilly Circus, saw the changing of the guard at Windsor Castle, and took pictures with famous people at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. While we were there, we also did some day trips to Stonehenge, Warwick Castle, the city of Bath, and Stratford-upon-Avon. We took in some shows in the evening, and ate lots of fish and chips. We visited several of the city's parks and especially enjoyed the kids sailing their little boats on the ponds. We stayed in two different bed and breakfasts while in the city. A full British breakfast will definitely make you full and ready for your day of exploring. We also enjoyed getting to meet and chat with other travelers at the breakfasts, which we considered a perk over staying at a hotel. London turned out to be a wonderful vacation and we came home with lots of great memories.
Winter Break in the United Kingdom
This year, for my kids' winter break from school, the whole family headed the United Kingdom for a great vacation. We started and ended in London, which was a terrific city to take the kids. We spent time at the Tate Modern, viewing contemporary art, and at the Portrait Gallery, seeing British history through portraits of royals and celebrities. We also toured the War Rooms, which allowed us to get an up close and personal look at WWII history through the eyes of the Brits. We enjoyed tea time at the classic Browns Hotel, and my kids loved the scones, clotted cream, lemon curd, and tea sandwiches. After a few days in London we got a rental car and drove through the beautiful British countryside to Stonehenge, which was an awesome, once in a lifetime sight to see despite being fairly touristy. We also toured the beautiful campus of Oxford, just an hour from Stonehenge by car. We closed out our trip in London once more before heading back to the U.S. We spent the last two days there seeing some theater on the West End, eating some fantastic Indian food at a famous curry house in an immigrant neighborhood, and doing some shopping at Harrods, where we picked up some souvenirs and enjoyed the quirky food hall on the bottom floor. Overall, we had a terrific trip to United Kingdom, and though we loved every aspect of the country, we all decided that our time in London was the best part of our UK travels.
London Was a Vacation Experience to Remember!
I traveled to the United Kingdom in the summer of 2013, and my girlfriend and I spent all of our time in London. The splendor of Buckingham Palace has to be seen to be believed, and my girlfriend and I splurged for a fine dining experience at Le Gavroche. For anyone that loves French cuisine, this restaurant is quite simply a must-try.
For entertainment and live shows, it is hard for me to be impressed as a New York native that is used to fantastic shows and performances on Broadway. However, not only was the West End production of Phantom of the Opera fantastic in its own right, the vocals actually surpassed the Broadway performance that still ranks as one of my favorite shows.
Additionally, we saw several more of the "must see" tourist destinations, including Big Ben, St. Paul's Cathedral and The Tower Bridge. For sheer amusement, visit Madame Tussauds to take pictures with your famous fake celebrities and historical figures that are lovingly recreated in astonishing detail. My girlfriend's favorite London attraction was the famous Hyde Park. The 350 acre park is always teeming with people thanks to its wide range of attractions. Whether you want to visit the famous free speech forum at Speakers' Corner, visit famous museums or go boating and swimming, you will be surrounded by beauty at the inimitable Hyde Park. All in all, we loved our time in London, but we would love to return to the United Kingdom to explore more of such a beautiful country.
Weekend in Norfolk, United Kingdom
When staying in United Kingdom not too long ago, I came across a charming town of Norfolk. It is best known for its rural qualities as it is situated away from any large towns. This county is mostly recognized for its wetlands of the Norfolk Broads with other little towns of King’s Lynn and Norwich. I rented a boat end explored the Broads myself. Although quaint and cozy, the nightlife and entertainment industry are booming. Norfolk also has to offer a long stretch of coastline and great beaches going as far as destinations of Cromer and Yearmouth. I spent the entire day at Banham Zoo with great collection of wildlife including big cats. Great Yearmouth Sea Life Center provides more animal attractions complete with conger eels and tropical sharks. The coastal region offers lots of natural beauty, especially for bird lovers as there are segregated parts of protected bird reserves. The Mulberry instantly became my favorite restaurant with is array of seafood dishes, crispy breads and my favorite smoked salmon. I lodged at Heacham Manor Hotel. I heard about its superb location and service, and I made the reservations ahead of time. I highly recommend it as the hotel is truly one of its kind and booked solid most of the time. On arrival, you receive sparkling wine and biscuits to welcome you. The rooms are spacious and the linens are clean and fresh. Most of the rooms face the seaside over the golf course.
The grounds are well kept and you can take an evening stroll before dinner and watch the sunset.
Touring small towns in the UK
The family and I went on a trip to the United Kingdom to get acquainted with my brother-in-law's homeland. We visited several small towns, but our favorites were Bampton and Port Isaac. Bampton lies in England's Costwolds region and it is one of the oldest villages in the country. There, we visited a few sites that are used in filming the hit TV series "Downton Abbey." For some good food we stopped at The Morris Clown pub, which offered an excellent assortment of ales to be enjoyed by a roaring fire. Another choice location for good food is the Bampton Café, which serves scrumptious sandwiches, coffee, or a full English breakfast all day long.
Picturesque Port Isaac is located in Cornwall and it is a fully functional fishing village. One of the must sees there are the traditional Cornish white washed cottages. These pretty homes can be viewed by walking about on the narrow and winding streets known as the Squeezy Belly Alley. The beautiful harbor is another spot to visit with its gorgeous view of the open sea. At low tide, you can walk out almost to the harbor wall and collect seashells as a memento of this memorable village. Port Isaac is the site of another popular British TV series known as "Doc Martin" and all the filming spots are accessible for sightseeing. A good eating place in Port Isaac is The Mote, a pub tucked right into the lap of the harbor that serves a delicious hand-picked crab sandwich and a yummy dessert called the Honeycomb.
Happy Birthday at Buckingham Palace’s Mews
A friend, who was working in Wales at the time, invited my family to spend two weeks in the United Kingdom. After landing in London, we took the train to Edinburgh, Scotland, a delightful city with a thriving history, interesting geological formations, rolling hills, Crags, castles, modern architecture, excellent dining, traditional shopping, festivals, sports, and of course bag pipe players. Be sure to climb Arthur's Seat, but be prepared for a tough workout and have appropriate hiking gear and water. A second train ride took us to Cardiff, Wales, home of the red dragon. We were enthralled by the beauty of this quaint yet commercial and educational hub. Lucky for us, we were there for the Halloween festivities at Cardiff Castle, an ancient Roman edifice complete with a clock tower and long, dark, spooky hallways in the basement. The guided tour and themed activities were well worth it. Our final destination, London, England, was everything we had envisioned and happened to coincide with my birthday. This world famous city is deserving of its reputation for pomp and circumstance and its devotion to fashion, education, the arts, and cosmopolitan elegance. There is almost too much to see, but after a walk along the River Thames, a visit to the London Eye, and the Tower of London, we took the tour of the Royal Mews on the grounds of Buckingham Palace. The magnificent state carriages, coaches, and many of the horses are on display and still in use by the Royal family.
Travel Through Time in York
As someone who has visited the United Kingdom many times, I have been able to experience what many natives consider the real England, in other words, the cities and towns outside of London. York is of those must-see destinations that I have visited on my own and with family members. Full of history that dates back to the Roman occupation, York is a diverse city that appeals to many people because of its festivals, cultural events and its shopping. Here, visitors will find unique shops in the city center along with dedicated shopping districts.
History is the main attraction, beginning with the stately York Minster Cathedral. From its magnificent stained glass windows to its imposing architecture, the Minster is a treat for the eyes. It's also a treat for the ears too if you're lucky enough to be inside the church when one of its choirs is practicing. To get a true flavor for the town, take a free walking tour with a local guide. You'll see Roman ruins, walk on top of the city walls for a spectacular view and learn about the colorful past of The Shambles, the site of 25 butcher shops in medieval times. Don't forget to take a ghost tour led by a guide in Victorian dress in the evening to learn about the specters that populate this northern city.
York is also easy and inexpensive to reach via several national rail lines. Visitors will also find quaint lodging at numerous bed and breakfast establishments.
A Solo Woman's Guide to Wales
The long weekend I spent in Wales was my best experience as a solo traveler. I flew into Cardiff directly, skipping the hassle of London. I took a taxi into the city center, and received the best instruction for navigating the winding, mountain roads from my driver. After enjoying the majesty of Cardiff castle and the city, I rented a car to drive across the Black Mountains. The views were incredible; it was like filming a car commercial. I stopped at Aberystwyth on the west coast of Wales. Few places offer the mountains and the sea all at once, along with a 13th century castle. By chance I stumbled into the Treehouse restaurant filled with local, organic produce on the menu. From there I drove to Machynlleth, and discovered Welsh cakes at the local bakery. After exploring the historic capital of Wales, I drove into the north and Snowdonia National Park. While I didn't make it as far as Snowdonia Mountain, I did enjoy the town of Dolgellau with the view of Cadair Idris in the background. I had a private viewing of the museum and tapestry at the travel center - an experience I never could have had in English museums. My solo drive back to Cardiff was so comfortable as a woman. I felt both completely safe and wildly adventurous, as if the breathtaking views were my own private treasure.
London, Windsor Castle and Hampton Court
This was my wife’s first trip to Europe, and I had a great time showing her around a city that I know well. London boasts a dizzying array of historic buildings, and we found the best way to take it all in was one of the hop-on hop-off sightseeing buses. These buses run on a regular schedule, and tourists can simply get off when they arrive at a place that they want to explore. My wife was mesmerized by the Tower of London, and her jaw dropped when she saw the Crown Jewels. Buckingham Palace was another memorable day out, but the throne was less impressive than I expected it to be. We then headed to Knightsbridge for some shopping. The food hall at Harrods was amazing, and afternoon tea at the Ritz made me feel like I had gone back in time to the Gilded Age. While my wife still talks enthusiastically about our dinner at Le Pont de la Tour, I enjoyed our takeout Indian food and fish and chips more. We took the train to Windsor to see the famous castle that the royal family is named after, and the amount of priceless art on display was remarkable. Windsor is a picturesque town, but we were surprised by the amount of American fast-food restaurants we found there. Our last day out was a trip to Hampton Court Palace. We took a boat to the palace, but I would recommend taking a train as our trip was slow and uneventful. Hampton Court is an amazing place, and the Tudor kitchens and tennis courts were the highlight of our day.