Great Britain is an amazing destination year-round thanks to its scenic countryside, fairytale-like castles, rich historical sites, world-class museums and trendsetting pop culture. Even better, favorable exchange rates and great travel deals make 2020 an ideal time to visit. If you’ve ever dreamed of visiting England, Wales or Scotland, this is the year! Here are some tips for planning an unforgettable vacation.
How to Travel in Great Britain
Relatively small in size (roughly half the size of California) the island of Great Britain is comprised of England, Wales and Scotland. If you would like to rent a car, the highways and freeways (or “A roads” and “motorways”, as the Brits say) are extensive but you will need to be comfortable driving on the left-hand side of the road. There are trains throughout the country, too. But while the London Underground is easy and efficient, the national rail system can be tricky to navigate in some areas. If you’d like to see more than just London, one of the most comfortable and convenient ways to get around Great Britain is via a guided bus (or “coach”). There are a wide variety of coach tours that visit sights around the country and range from single-day trips to multi-day holiday packages. You can even see England, Scotland and Wales all in one seven-day tour.
Start Your Trip in London
With two international airports—Heathrow and Gatwick—just outside London, the capital city is a great place to kick off your visit. Experience a day tour that includes St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London and the Crown Jewels and then dine on tea and scones at Harrod’s department store. From the House of Parliament and Westminster Abbey to world-renowned museums to watching the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, there is no shortage of amazing attractions. Get a unique perspective of this magnificent city from the London Eye observation wheel and take a scenic cruise along the Thames river. Or, discover London lit up at night from a champagne and dinner cruise.
Day Trips from London
Many must-see attractions are located within just a short distance of London. Windsor Castle, the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world, is one of the most popular. There are a variety of tours that combine Windsor Castle with other major attractions in a single day trip. Take a tour that gets you up close to the mysterious and ancient Stonehenge. Dating back thousands of years, this amazing feat of engineering is the most important prehistoric site in England. Head to Oxford and take a stroll through its beautiful namesake university which has been a prestigious seat of learning since 1249. Just a 20-minute bus ride up the road sits Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill and one of Britain’s most postcard-worthy sights. Or, experience a picnic lunch in the picturesque Cotswolds. This rolling green countryside has been formally designated an “Area of Outstanding Beauty” and is home to the charming Georgian town of Bath, famous for its 2,000 year old Roman baths and decadent high tea in the Grand Pump Room.
Specialty UK Tours: Harry Potter, Downton Abbey & Rock ‘n’ Roll
With its rich literary tradition and legendary music scene, the United Kingdom offers ample opportunities to indulge your fandom. Harry Potter fans will love the London Warner Brothers Studio Tour where you can learn about the making of the movies. Combine it with a tour of the University of Oxford, to see some of the famous sites that inspired Hogwarts. Or, take a walking tour of famous Harry Potter locations in London including Platform 9 ¾. (For the true Harry Potter fanatic, there is even a two-day journey through Great Britain on the Jacobite Steam Train, otherwise known as the Hogwarts Express.) Music lovers will relish a week-long tour of England’s most famous rock ‘n’ roll sites from London to Liverpool to Manchester. While Downton Abbey fans will delight in a day trip from London to Highclere Castle and Bampton Village where much of the series was filmed.
Day Trips from Manchester
Fast emerging as a trendy destination, this fun and vibrant city is a great launching point for a variety of day trips. Discover beautiful Chatsworth House, a rolling estate famous for its art galleries, elegant water features and amazing gardens. The surrounding area of Derbyshire offers breathtaking walks full of grassy meadows, deer and charming villages. Be sure to stop for a treat in nearby Bakewell, home of the famous Bakewell tart (as many Great British Bake Off fans will know). For a truly historical British town, head to York, the former capital of England in Viking times. Visit the Jorvik Viking Centre, where the remains of 1,000-year-old houses are revealed beneath your feet along with local objects and artifacts from the Viking era. While in York, be sure to see the York Minster, one of the finest medieval cathedrals in Europe, and the Shambles, an Instagram-worthy street from the fourteenth century.
Tours of Scotland
Located 467 miles (751 kilometers) north of London, Scotland is an enchanting destination full of rugged beaches, scenic castles, beautiful lakes and fascinating culture. Enjoy a three-day tour of Scotland from London by rail. From King’s Cross Station, embark on a scenic four-and-a-half hour train ride to Edinburgh. Visit the Royal Mile, which links the Palace of Holyrood House with the ancient Edinburgh Castle (and sits on top of an extinct volcano!). See the impressive St. Giles Cathedral, old Parliament Square and the Castle Esplanade. From Edinburgh, it’s just a short trip to the breathtaking Scottish Highlands, home to the towering peaks of Glen Coe and the medieval Urquhart Castle, overlooking the shores of Loch Ness. For more rugged beauty, try a three-day tour of the Outer Hebrides, an island chain on Scotland’s west coast. Discover the white sands and turquoise water of Luskentyre Beach and stay in the charming, historic Gearannan Blackhouse seaside village.
Tours of Wales
Sitting on the western coast of Great Britain, Wales is a small country brimming with big beauty: hilltop castles, snow-peaked mountains, coastal
towns and rolling green hills dotted with sheep. It’s also home to Snowdonia National Park which features over 100 lakes and 90 peaks, including Mount Snowden, as well as a scenic railway. Take a three-day tour of this beautiful region departing from Manchester. See the picture perfect harbor town of Conwy and the beautiful Conwy Castle perched by the sea. Discover the stone houses and arched bridges of Beddgelert. Visit the historic town of Chester and see medieval churches, fascinating museums, beautiful parks, riverside promenades and the ornate Eastgate Clock. If you only have a day to spare on your vacation to Great Britain, try a day trip to Cardiff from London. As the capital of Wales, Cardiff offers historic Roman sites, a famous castle and Cardiff Bay, a vibrant seaside area with trendy restaurants, bars and cafes.
And everything in between…
Whether you prefer bustling cities, seaside towns, country villages or sprawling nature, there are experiences for every type of traveler in Great Britain. From the beautiful southern coast of England to the Isle of Wight to the Lake District, there are many more tours to discover than can be covered in one article. For more trip ideas, click here.