Epic trip to the U.K. & Ireland

Edinburg Castle

I don’t usually write blogs about places I travel, but I decided to start because there is so much information out there through TripAdvisor PlanetWare, The Crazy Tourist and others, it’s confusing. Although most of the sites rate the attractions, reviewers can be way too kind. I want to know what is worth seeing and what is not. I’ll just give it to you straight. I’m going to share the places that I visited in my recent trip and what was worth seeing.

London, U.K. – What an amazing city. We’ve been here before and it’s always enjoyable. We happened to be here during major “Earth Day” protests and the streets were crowded. The must-see things here are: Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Westminster Abbey, St. James Park, House of Parliament, and Buckingham Palace. If you have a designer shopper with you, then Bond Street should also be added. For a place to stay, turn hotels in the Charing Cross area, as you’ll be able to walk everywhere from there. You’ll probably need 2 days to hit the major sites, but walking is a great way to get around and we’ve never felt unsafe in London.

Newcastle, U.K. – is a pretty small city and I’d classify it as more working class with only a few things to see. The must-see things here are: Newcastle Castle, St. Nicholas Cathedral, Eldon Square Shopping and Tynemouth Castle. There are also several places you can go to see Hadrian’s Wall, and after watch “The Eagle” with Channing Tatum, I was keen to see it, but not much remains and it can be skipped. What you cannot skip is Tynemouth Priory Castle. We walked to it from Newcastle, it's about 3 miles out and it's set right on the water’s edge. You’ll feel like you walking through some ruins from Game of Thrones. Of everything listed, make this your #1.

Outlander Hat
Edinburgh, Scotland- OMG, we loved this place. You’ll pronounce it “ed-in-bur-ow” and it’s amazing. The main sections of the city are easy to walk and the major attraction is the Edinburgh Castle. Do this first as it is at the top of the Royal Mile and then you can walk downhill on the Royal Mile to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. There are some cool museums and several places to taste Scotch Whiskey (must do) but I spent most of my shopping time trying to find a Scottish Hunting Hat that Dougal MacKenzie wore in the “Outlander” TV series. Amazingly, no one makes it in Scotland…wow. You can also travel to Stirling Castle from Edinburgh, but you’ll read about that in Glasgow. Love this city!

Stirling Castle
Glasgow, Scotland – After visiting Edinburgh, Glasgow is a little bit of a letdown. It’s nice, but more of a working-class city. You can see: Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow Cathedral and can day trip out to Loch Ness and look for the monster. We decided to take the train from Glasgow out to Stirling to see the Stirling Castle (fee). How many of you are “Braveheart” fans? Remember Mel Gibson as William Wallace and “freedom”? Yep, this is the castle where the final moments were filmed. Outside is a big statue of Robert the Bruce, and if you loved the film, you can’t help but hate the man who betrayed William…but the castle is amazing and worth the 1+ hour train ride. Trains in Scotland, are clean, run on time and are cheap.

Belfast, Northern Ireland – It was raining on us all day, but it sounds like it is usually that way from what were we told from the locals. Good thing we brought our waterproof backpack. We walked around the downtown area and stopped by City Hall, the Grand Opera House and St. Anne’s Cathedral. One of the top ranked attraction is the Titanic Belfast…but we didn’t want to see where a ship that sunk was built. The Parliament Building was nice but nothing really jumped out, so we decided to take the train out to the Giant’s Causeway. We wished the trains here ran like the ones in Scotland, but we did get there after 1.5 hours and then a taxi out to the site. This really is the #1 attraction in Northern Ireland. Anyway, you check-in at the center and pay a way-too-much fee and get an audio guide and you’re off on a 1-3-mile hike to see interlocking basalt columns formed on the waters edge. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great setting, but it’s a long way to go to see naturally formed geometric shaped columns. BTW, we found out afterwards, you can skip the check-in and the fee, and just walk from the parking lot out to the columns. Save money…the audio guide isn’t that great.

Dublin, Ireland – What a vibrant city. As soon as we arrived it felt different. We went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral (entry fee) Christ Church Cathedral (entry fee) and through Trinity College. You need to walk Grafton Street, it’s the main shopping area with lots of street performers. Every site I researched said you need to go to the Guinness Experience in the Guinness Factory. You can buy tickets online, but we went there and after a 45-minute wait, we paid $30 each to get in. OMG, what a rip off. You pay this much to have the opportunity to pay $10 for a beer and outrageous prices for food and souvenirs. As soon as you pay your fee you’re que'd up in a line that slowly meanders through several floors in which you are bored to death about how the beer is made. Do you get to see them making beer? No, just videos, wall posters and signs. Once you’ve escaped the tourist tour you can climb all the way to the top to the Gravity Bar. You’re supposed to have a great view of all of Dublin from here. Granted, it was Saturday when we went, but it was so crowded, you could not even get near a window to look out. Seriously, it looked like people had been camping out in there for days. Back down through multiple floors to find a place to buy a beer ($30 entry doesn’t even get you a taste) and we were out of there. Unless this is something that is on your bucket list, or you think you’re going to meet your new Celtic wife here, we’d recommend passing. The Old Jamison Distillery experience is more of the same.  Dublin is really is a great city. Walk around, eat, drink and when night comes head down to the Temple Bar Area. It’s like 6th street in Austin or the Honky-tonks in Nashville. Lots of bars, live music, dancing and shenanigans.

Weymouth, UK – Is a sleepy little town in the south of England near The Isle of Portland. It has a great little harbor area and center city area. Great to walk around, but take your time because after 1 hour you’ll run out of things to do. The Nothe Fort (fee) is pretty cool. It was one of the 80+ forts built around England to ward off a Napoleon invasion that never happened. There are some great beaches on the Jurassic Coast, but I think late September was too late as it looked like all the tourists already left. I’ll say the best thing here was the scones in the harbor. Scones, with tea, jam and butter left us with a good Weymouth taste.

We had planned to get into Wales also, but the weather just didn’t want to cooperate. After going through these major cities and a lot of the country side, via train, bus and taxi, we were amazed at how sparsely populated England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Ireland are. These places has been inhabited for thousands of year and 30 minutes outside of any of the major cities you’re in the countryside. Everything is green with abundant sheep and cows. Maybe it’s because we’re from the concrete jungle that is Southern California, but if you want to drop out, take it easy and live the stress-free life, then the English countryside is for you.

London, Edinburg and Dublin were awesome and we’ll undoubtedly visit again. For the others, once was enough. If you’d like to add places that you recommend in these areas, please add to the comments.



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