Every time I am looking to travel somewhere, my favorite way to widdle down ‘the must sees’ is to look at recommended top 10 experiences. As I prepare for my next assignment, and after living in the commonwealth for 2 years, below are my recommended top 10:
10. Start with the obvious – Hit London, Edinburgh & Dublin (Belfast as well but I cannot comment as I never made it there.)
You will have your favourite out of the 3; it is difficult for me to pick between London or Edinburgh, but Dublin is definitely not on my list of top 10 cities of the world. Go for the Guinness Factory and then get out of the city. Ireland is so much more than Dublin.
Just a few need to knows about each city:
London: London Walks are a must
If you have the opportunity, go during Christmas. The city resembles NYC with its lights and displays, but even better, it has a German style Christmas market along the Thames that just makes you smile.
If not the winter, then the summer – hit Shakespeare original theatre. Reconstructed (as the original burned down several times) in its original liking, the theatre still performs Shakespeare’s famous plays, but only during the summer months as there is not enough sunlight in the winter.
Edinburgh: Say this with me ‘edin-bra’ dont pronounce the ‘G’; you will embarrass me as an American.
Some recommended tourist sites: Whiskey experience (for those new to the spirit), St. Mary’s close, Edinburgh castle, Cannons Gait (pub on the royal mile) on an evening – not sure if this is a common occurrence but my sister and I happened to walk in there 1 evening and find a trio of bagpipes guitar & singing – wonderful experience
*See #9 then make sure you come back to this city during non-festival time. It is a totally different experience
Some recommended walking tours:
(similar, but different to St. Marys close)
(for all you Harry Potter fans – can also grab a coffee in the Elephant cafe where JK Rowling wrote some of the novels)
Dublin: Look at what I said above. Grab a pint and then leave.
9. Save your visit to Edinburgh for festival time: August
The Fringe and the military tattoo – 2 of the most famous events on the island. The Fringe festival is the largest comedy festival in the world and brings millions of visitors to this normally not-so-crowded city
If not August, then for New Years for the Scottish celebration of Hogmanay – one of the best places in the world to go for New Years.
8. Can’t Forget about Wales!
Wales is best known for its beautiful countryside. Bordering Yorkshire national parks, Snowdonia national park is Wales most famous. Spend your time in Wales in this region and try out camping or ‘glamping’ – you will not forget the experience of staying in a tree house in the middle of the Welsh countryside!
There is also one of the longest zip lines in the world. Outdoors is the way to go in this country:
Note on Cardiff: We did Cardiff for New Years 2013. It is a surprisingly modern city…with nothing remarkable to report. Hit the country in Wales and check your life box on the longest zipline in Europe.
7. The Irish countryside.
The one thing you must do when you are in Ireland is go to a country pub. Forever my favorite memory of Ireland is sitting in the small town of Doolin (famous for the Cliffs of Moor) and hearing the local townsmen play.
See below post for more details:
6. The Seaside
Scarbough, Plymouth, Dover
‘Going to the beach’ has a completely different meaning in the UK than in the rest of the world. It is far too cold to ‘layout’, swim (although the locals do) or do most of the ‘normal’ beach activities. That being said, the seaside, has some of the most glorious cliffs and quant, English towns that make the lack of beach weather worth it. By far my favorite in all these locations are the famous white cliffs of dover:
For all locations visit:
5. The Yorkshire Dales
I might have a slight bias on this having lived in the region for 2 years; regardless, the Dales hold some of the most beautiful, green rolling hills I have ever seen.
The best way to experience this region is to hike it. They have a series of well marked footpaths through country villages and farm land. It is difficult to narrow down where to go in the Dales, but I recommend the below itinerary:
Stay in Harrogate, Ripon or Knaresbourgh (Harrogate being the biggest/fanciest)
Walk to/around fountains abbey
…and then head back to harrogate to grab a pint & hit the turkish baths
The Lake District is another area not to miss, but definitely another overnight stay required. Get a house on Lake Windermere and experience the peacefulness of the area
With so many walks and hikes in the region, don’t limit yourself if you have time; out of all the sites with hiking info, where2walk has a detailed map of nearly all walks in the region. Take a look a peruse your next outdoor adventure
4. Go to the races
I realise there are horse races around the world – including Preakness which is a 45 min drive from where I grew up – however, the races in England are different.
I am not sure if it is the accent, or the fact that they are frequented by more 20-somethings than any other age group, but the culture of horse racing is huge in the UK.
There are several key ones: Ascot (around end of July in Southern England), Grand National (April in Liverpool) and the Cheltenham Festival – the largest competition between Irish and British horses occurring around St. Patrick’s Day every year.
But you don’t have to take part in the huge events to get a taste of the action. Local towns (my favourite was York) have their own local races that give you just as much action for half the price.
Whatever you choose, make sure to get your hat on, a suit (kilts also OK for the Scots) and prepare for some English style betting and drinking!
3. The pub
This one is an easy one to knock out – but something that deserves being high on the list.
Pubs and the UK go together like the Queen and England – you can’t have one without the other. The integral part of the pub in ones daily life and social staple is unlike anything I have ever witnessed in other cultures. Sure there is a local watering hole, etc. but nothing so consistent across the country.
Go thing is – because it is so consistent, you can pick nearly any pub and be successful. But a few tips:
1 – Go for the oldest looking one with no gambling machines
2 – Observe the clientele; this will indicate whether you want to enter the pub….
3 – Go to one in a small town and go solo. Strike up a conversation with a local who has been frequenting the pub for years
2. Go to Stonehenge during the Solstice or Equainox
4 times a year Stonehenge turns from a high trafficked tourist spot to Pagan holy site – or in Vive terms, hippy site.
Why go when the hippies are out? Other than being awesome! It is one of the few times a year when you are able to walk up to the site and actually touch the rocks.
In fact, you can have full up worshipping sessions with the rocks, mirrored in some of the same traditions as when the stones where to put together. While I am not a Pagan myself, it is quite a magical (and crazy) feeling to be among the stones with people that are, and believe in there healing abilities.
More details on the Winter Solstice experience:
Facts on visiting:
1. Northern Scotland: 2 words, Whisky Trail
The highlands – (this deserves an audible sigh) – northern Scotland, it conjures up images of men in kilts, bagpipes and snow capped mountain tops. Amongst this wondrous landscape is a land of old celtic legends (lochness), small towns, thick accents – and – whisky.
There are many distilleries in this region, however this trail narrows your selection to the Speyside region touring both large and small distilleries.
Even for those non-whiskey fans, seeing the country based on a windy, distilled road is seeing Scotland first hand. Despite all the amazing things you’ll see in London and Edinburgh – this takes the cake.
More info on northern Scotland: