Best Five Tips for Experiencing Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland

Edinburgh Walking ToursIn this past first year of retirement, Grandpa and I traveled several continents and finished those Wonders of the World Lists that are safe to visit, and some not so safe.  We left out only two, which are too dangerous for even us. Having completed our “travel bucket list,” we started on experiencing those places we were told that could wait until retirement for various reasons, mostly that rigorous exploration was not necessary.

Scotland, Ireland, and Northern Ireland were a part of the latter list.  We had heard that the United Kingdom was pretty and green and could wait until we could no longer climb mountains.  The United Kingdom trip was not intended, but we scored a Gate 1 Travel flash sale for a sixteen day tour that we could not pass up.  What we discovered is that this area of the world is BEAUTIFUL.  The rolling green hills, lochs (lakes) and glens go on forever.

Aye, (as we learned to say), the moors and the heather will remain with you.  We were told to watch Outlander before we left.  We watched the initial episode.  During our time in Scotland, we learned so much history, and saw places were Outlander had been filmed, but it was not as meaningful as when we returned.  Outlander called us back to Scotland day after day, and we proceeded to binge watch an episode a day until we went through all three seasons.  Watch it on Starz and learn about Outlander on Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outlander_(TV_series) Now, we must join those who see only one episode a week, but the opening scenes of Scotland and the song about the Isle of Skye bring everything joyfully back.  We are so happy we experienced a special slice of the past.

Yes, go to the United Kingdom. Here are some tips that will make your trip most rewarding.

WEATHER AND WHEN TO GO

We learned a new word:  mizzle, a combination of mist and drizzle, which best explains the weather year round.  Why do you think the land is so emerald green?  I now understand leprechauns and rainbows.  With so much rain, there are many, many rainbows.  It gets to the point where you only take pictures of double rainbows and triple rainbows over the lochs!

We went to the United Kingdom in early October and needed a sweater all the time and a jacket to layer over the sweater some of the time, but every evening.  Everywhere, day guides and our escort commented on the lack of crowds and lack of waiting to get into castles and attractions.  They said July and August are too crowded.  October was perfect.  We got to see a little purple heather but mostly brown heather covered the Scottish highlands.

THE BEST TO SEE

We took a sixteen day tour to see all of the United Kingdom.  Along the way, we met others from our tour company, and other tour companies that cover the area.  Itineraries are similar, but without exception, those who went on shorter tours, or to only one or two of the three countries were sorry they did not do all three.

You will not see any wonders of the world in Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland, but this part of the United Kingdom is wondrous.  You will see several World Heritage Sites. You do not want to miss:

Scotland:

Historic Edinburgh City and Edinburgh Castle (Edinburgh’s Old Town and New Town and The Forth Bridge are World Heritage Sites)

St Andrews (St Andrews, Medieval Burgh and Links on World Heritage Site tentative list in 2010) , Scone Palace (fabulous and historic), and a Whisky Tasting (whisky is Scottish; whiskey with an e is Irish)

Isle of Skye (miraculous, in the Outlander song and the famous Highlands), Museum of the Isles

Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle, Eilean Donan Castle, Lochcarron, Inverness (in Outlander)

Glencoe, drive through the most beautiful Glen, cruise around Loch Lomond

Glasgow City (you will see Glasgow Cathedral which was transformed into L’Hôpital des Anges in Season 2 of Outlander) and Stirling Castle (the famous castle the Scottish and British fought over; beautifully reconstructed)

Northern Ireland:

Ferry to the “Emerald Isle,” Belfast, Titanic Experience Museum (outstanding)

Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast (World Heritage Site)

Derry (especially the Bogside District murals which story will touch your heart)

Ireland:

Galway (Ed Sheeran’s song is really about meeting a Galway girl in Dublin) and a Castle Banquet (food surprisingly good and ambiance and entertainment takes you back in time)

Cliffs of Moher (World Heritage Site), Bunratty Castle

Village of Adare, Killarney

Blarney Castle and Dublin

Newgrange (World Heritage Site) and Tara (older than Stonehenge)

Most of the comprehensive tours cover most of the above, but not Newgrange, which has opened recently.  Yes, you will see castle after castle.  I was surprised at the number of castles.  I thought I would have had enough castles but each was unique in setting and had its own character and history.

At several locations, we were told where Game of Thrones and Outlander were filmed.  Yes, there are specific week and two week themed tours to take you to all the filming locations, but we learned a lot in a general tour of the United Kingdom.  I now understand Scottish and English history and how they intersect, and can truly appreciate Outlander.  I now understand the Northern Ireland conflict and English history and how they intersect.  I now know that the Irish accent is the most difficult to understand.

I learned to love the United Kingdom and its people.

Everyone’s favorite stop was a champion sheep dog demonstration we were privileged to attend, arranged by our escort.  I now understand how and why sheep obey the sheep dog;  the sheep farmer was informative and interesting.  Yes, you are in the country side and learning about the country, the beautiful countryside and vistas.  Yes, you will see miles and miles of sheep in fields and on hills and mountainside.

Each tour company has leisure time, and we used ours for extra private walking tours of Old Edinburgh and New (only 250 years old) Edinburgh with Loyal Eyes Private Walking Tours.  We booked Newgrange World Heritage Site and Tara (older than Stonehenge) with Day Tours Unplugged.  We never made the tour as Hurricane Ophelia came to Ireland, the first hurricane in fifty years, and everything closed.  Coming from Florida, we were able to give assurances to our fellow travelers that we all would be fine.

Note: weather at Cliffs of Moher very unpredictable—extreme wind, heavy fog, and rain.  Bring warm and waterproof clothing.  Paths near cliff edges and overhangs!

HOW TO SEE THE UNITED KINGDOM

I keep mentioning a tour.  You must see the United Kingdom by road.  After considering fly and drive, castle stays, luxury tours, and other alternatives, we decided we did not want to drive 2,250 miles in sixteen days, which is what our fabulous bus driver told us we drove, for several reasons.  Driving oneself means getting comfortable with driving on a different side of the road than the United States.  Many of the roads we in the United States would consider one lane paths, passing buses and more.  It gets dark early and country roads are very dark.  With the mist and constant mizzle, as well as rain, and the terrain, driving can treacherous. The driver misses the beauty of the countryside.

We chose a tour, and this was our second Gate 1 Travel tour.  Driving was shorter than you can imagine during stops and sightseeing, and only two days had exceptionally long drives.  We were reluctant to do a motor coach tour and even more reluctant to do a budget tour, however, we had already had one fabulous experience in Cuba with Gate 1, know that you do get value for your dollar, and knew a couple who had done the United Kingdom tour.  We asked questions and Gate 1 has outstanding customer service.  Yes, we could have up to 40 on our bus; we had 37.  We were assured that the bus rules required promptness and courtesy and we found that no one wanted to be the last on the bus.  We were early going to and from every place.  Our escort was outstanding and the daily guides were also outstanding.  The hotels were four star, some Hiltons, and only one was unacceptable quality.  Because we complained at that hotel, we were upgraded to a suite.  We could pre-pay to upgrade at all the hotels, and did so, paid little to upgrade for twelve of the nights.  One of the hotels was beautiful and luxurious; all were adequate considering we were out of the hotel early and did not arrive back until dinner.  Most meals were included and were fine, not gourmet, but there were several nights where we ate in fabulous restaurants on our own.

That is the beauty of Gate 1 Travel.  You can upgrade.  The prices are so inexpensive that you can choose to pay for a hotel or a meal on your own in a location.  Would we take another tour with Gate 1 after this experience in the United Kingdom?  Yes. It was wonderful.  We were with a wonderful group of thirty seven and enjoyed their company.  There were many in our group who were on their tenth to fifteenth Gate 1 Travel tour.  We expect we will do many more.  Yes, as they advertise, you can see the world for less.  Remember to sign up for their weekly emails and if something catches your eye, scroll down and see if you have hit a flash sale promotion.  We paid $2450 per person for the land portion for sixteen days!  This cost was significantly less than the standard Gate 1 price for the United Kingdom, which standard price is what it seems all the motor coach tours charge.  It was Gate 1 that gave us a wonderful bargain.

OTHER TIPS

It is better to use Gate 1 for land packages; you can find better air fare and air schedules yourself.  However, if you are lazy or not good at your own planning, Gate 1 will do the whole package.  Consider using Norwegian Airlines round trip London and then an inexpensive air fare to Edinburgh and from Dublin back to London.  This enables you to hit Stonehenge in England, a Wonder of the World, on the way home, which we did.  Norwegian is a discount airline and has business class at affordable prices.

English is the language, so, other than sometimes in Ireland, you can understand most everyone.  Some in Scotland have a thick brogue.  Being able to understand the locals and read signs is a plus.

Plan your currency ahead of time.  Scotland and England use the British Pound. Northern Ireland uses the British Pound; try not to get pounds in Northern Ireland as they print their own kind which may not be accepted elsewhere. Ireland uses the Euro.

Uber is in Edinburgh, not London.  It is not cheaper in Dublin to use Uber, so use taxis.

Think theatre in Dublin.  Check out theatre availability on line and you can book on Ticketmaster!

How to get picked up by Uber at Edinburgh Airport: ABOUT 13-18  POUNDS (TAXI 25-31)

  1. Request when you’re ready to walk outside. And choose a ride option that suits your group size and luggage storage needs.
  2. Exit from arrivals. Head outside the main terminal. This is where all Uber driver-partners at EDI meet travelers for pickup.
  3. Wait curbside. If you can’t find your driver, contact him or her through the app.

 

RESTAURANTS

We had several nights on the tour where we could eat on our own.  Make reservations on their websites or via email before the trip or you may not get in to the following choice restaurants:

Edinburgh:

The World’s End Pub. 4 High Street, Edinburgh EH1 1TB, Scotland +44 131 556 3628

Recommended for lunch by our private guide on the Royal Mile.  Historic.  In Outlander.  Great pub food.

Forage & Chatter Scottish 1A Alva Street, Edinburgh EH2 4PH, Scotland +44 131 225 4599

Number two Tripadvisor restaurant and fabulous.

The Scran & Scallie Gastropub in Edinburgh, United Kingdom 1 Comely Bank Road, Stockbridge near Stockbridge & Dean Village New Town

Edinburgh’s leading award-winning gastropub.  Our private guide was impressed we found this outstanding restaurant on our own. The best meal on our trip.

Glasgow:

Gamba. 225a West George Street, Glasgow, G2 2ND (downstairs in old building) T: +44 (0)141 572 0899 E: great ambiance and fresh delicious fish

Number 16 16 Byres Road, Glasgow G11 5JY, Scotland

+44 141 339 2544 Small and off the beaten track with great food.

Killarney:

The Smokehouse, 8 High Street, Killarney 1, Ireland,+353 87 233 9611 We were tired of pub food when we reached Killarney and happened upon this great steakhouse and barbeque restaurant.

Dublin:

F.X. Buckley Steakhouse 2 Crow Street | Temple Bar, Dublin DO2.  Great pre theatre menu as in the theatre district.  Books way ahead for pre theatre.

Think to put the United Kingdom on your travel list.  It is more than just beautiful.  It is a wonderful vacation.

And, remember.  Travel now and enjoy whatever experiences bring you happiness while you are able.  Do not wait. You never know when you will not have health and happiness and be able to travel to other parts of the world, due to ill health, tragedy, danger, or other misfortunes.

 

Joy,

 

Mema

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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