Hallowed halls and boisterous bars, Scotch-Irish brogues and the aristocratic lilt of Shakespearean England, the United Kingdom is filled with the sights and sounds that remind you of a different, nobler past. Whether you’ve been searching for medieval castles or modern luxury, the whispers of the past or the songs of the present, search no more: it’s all right here.
London - Arrival in London, the center of the Commonwealth
Your tour of the British Isles begins with your arrival in London, the capital of the UK and a true city of kings. A driver will greet you upon arrival, there to load your equipage and take you to a beautiful and elegant heritage hotel. Reflecting the architecture, style and class of the peak of the British Empire, this Victorian beauty offers a stunning façade, a timeless and princely lobby, and guest rooms justifiably renowned for their spaciousness and comfort. The Grosvenor puts you in the middle of London, just south of the iconic Royal Albert Hall and idyllic Hyde Park, and north of the River Thames and the fashionably chic neighborhood of Chelsea. An incredible period staircase dominates the reception area, the classic bar offers tea-time treats and something stronger for later in the day, and the ambiance will make you want to hold court as a member of the enviable aristocracy of England.
Touring the Heart of the Empire
Paris is known for romance, Madrid for its culture and Berlin for its charm, but nowhere exudes the aura of power quite like mighty London. Today is dedicated to a tour of this magnificent and unforgettable city, starting and concluding at Victoria Station, an imposing structure that encapsulates perfectly London’s heyday. We start toward the Thames until reaching the Palace of Westminster, the Gothic masterpiece that serves as the meeting place for the two Houses of the British Parliament, and home to the world’s most famous bell, Big Ben, in the world’s most recognizable clock tower. Check out the statues of the famous men of Parliament, including Oliver Cromwell and Winston Churchill, which line the palace walls opposite the Thames. You’ll then visit the West End of London, the heart of the city’s cultural scene, featuring theatres that have seen the premiers of some of the greatest musicals ever written; Trafalgar Square, a stunning monument to the British victory over Napoleon; Downing Street, the home of the Prime Minister and other political bigwigs; and Piccadilly Circus, the boldest, brightest and most beautiful section of city this side of Times Square.
From the West End, you travel to Buckingham Palace, the official London residence of the British Royal Family and one of the most stunning palaces in Europe. With any luck, you’ll see the ceremonial Changing of the Guards, but on the off-chance the ceremony is cancelled, your tour will take you to visit Horse Guards Parade, where British soldiers Troop the Colours and where beach volleyball was played for the London Olympics.
Recharge with a hearty lunch – and maybe an ale or two – at a traditional London pub before trekking to magnificent Saint Paul’s, the magnum opus of Sir Christopher Wren and the second largest church building in the entire United Kingdom. For more than three centuries, the spires and dome of this seat of the Bishop of London have dominated London’s skyline, and the cathedral has been the host of royal weddings and funerals, Jubilee celebrations and survivors of the Blitz. A stairway leads you to the top of the dome, from which you can survey the city in breathtaking fashion; keep an eye out for Shakespeare’s Globe, the London Eye, the Tower Bridge and the Tate Modern just across the Thames.
Next you travel to one of the oldest – and arguably most significant – buildings in Great Britain, the ancient and terrifying Tower of London. Built by the Norman William the Conqueror, the first king of modern England, this fortress has stood for nearly a millennium as the embodiment of the perseverance of the British Crown. Learn about the honorable and lamentable history of the Tower from a member of the Yeomen Warders, the popular Beefeaters, and try to get a member of the notoriously tight-lipped Coldstream Guards to crack a smile.
Then venture into the center to ogle at the regal and stunning Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom, featuring some of the largest and most beautiful precious stones in the entire world. Here you can see the coronation crowns of Queens Victoria and Elizabeth II and Kings Edward and George I, the supposedly cursed Koh-I-Noor from the reaches of India and the Cullinan diamond, the largest gem-quality diamond ever unearthed. At the end of the tour, you will have the option of continuing on a cruise upon the River Thames that will take you to Westminster Pier, or of returning with your guide to Victoria Station.
London - An Eye in the Sky, Poet’s Corner and Shakespeare’s Domain
Your second day in London promises more breathtaking sights and a view into the constantly evolving history of this memorable metropolis. With so much to see, you’ll appreciate our recommendations for these can’t-miss locales.
We will have you booked for a ride on the London Eye, the largest Ferris wheel in Europe and an attraction experienced by more than three and a half million people every year. Get a birds-eye view of the Millennium Bridge and Parliament, track the Thames and scout for the less prominent peaks of the London skyline; however you choose to spend your ride, you’ll be sure to never forget. Try to arrive an hour early, as seats fill up fast.
You’ll also want to explore Westminster Abbey, home to the remains of some of the most famous names in world history. St. Edward the Confessor is buried here, as is Edward I, known as Longshanks and the Hammer of the Scots; here too are Elizabeth I and her sister, “Bloody” Mary, buried one on top of the other. The Abbey is not merely a resting place for monarchs and their consorts, however: Sir Isaac Newton has a monument here, as does Charles Darwin, and in Poet’s Corner are interred some of the greatest names in English letters – Dickens, Chaucer, Hardy, Kipling, Tennyson, Browning, Blake and Spenser, to name a very few. And, of course, the Abbey is also home to the chair of King Edward, the throne that has anointed sovereignty upon the rulers of Great Britain for more than 700 years.
If the Elizabethan era is your cup of tea, you’ll also want to venture to Shakespeare’s Globe, a reconstruction of the Bard’s own playhouse that was burned to the ground in the seventeenth century. A tour of the theatre includes a look at drama and comedy in Shakespeare’s day, an in-depth exploration of the man who became the greatest playwright the world has ever seen, and even a signature performance from some of the finest actors in London.
More recent history can be discovered at the unparalleled British Museum, one of the best on the planet. Established in 1753, and expanded at a right rivaled only by the growth of the Empire itself, the British Museum houses some eight million objects from all over the world. Marvel in the cuneiform collection that includes the Epic of Gilgamesh, the world’s first epic poem; beautiful works of art from Greece, Italy, and beyond; and the finest assortment of Egyptian objects known, highlighted by the Rosetta Stone, the most famous translator of all time.
London - The Seat of Kings, the Center of the Countryside, and the World’s Most Famous Observatory
Today will take you farther afield to the beautiful English countryside and to three of Great Britain’s greatest national treasures. You’ll begin your journey at Windsor Castle, the home of the British monarchy for more than 900 years and the longest-occupied palace in Europe. Overlooking the River Thames and serving as an example to all of the force of the Norman conquerors, the Castle boasts some of the finest examples of Gothic architecture and Georgian high style on Earth. You’ll be led through the superlative State Apartments, still used for royal audiences and state functions and encompassing the finest of Classical, Gothic and Rococo stylings.
Tour the immaculate grounds in and around the castle, and discover the rugged yet delicate beauty of St. George’s Chapel, a fifteenth-century Gothic masterpiece that now serves as the chapel for the Order of the Garter, the highest order of English chivalry and the pinnacle of the UK’s honour system. Interred within its walls are some of the greatest rulers in English history, including King Henry VIII, his wife Jane Seymour, and George III, the intended recipient of the American colonies’ Declaration of Independence.
From Windsor you head southwest to the plains of Salisbury and the ancient marvel of Stonehenge. Shrouded in mystery and prominent in legend, the site of Stonehenge is much more than its most famous constituent (a ring of standing stones) and much older than Jesus or Socrates: carbon dating suggests the site was completed no later than 2200 BCE, which means the structure was probably two thousand years old at the time of Homer. Theories of the construction of Stonehenge range from aliens, to anachronistic engineering techniques and tools, to Merlin himself, and it has become a destination of pilgrimage for neo-pagans and free folk everywhere, particularly during the more important solar and lunar events. Regardless of the particulars, it remains one of the most enchanting and enthralling tracts in Great Britain, as it has been for millennia upon millennia.
Your final destination on your countryside pilgrimage is Bath, a Roman travel spot, a Georgian spa town and the center of the action in Chaucer’s immortal Canterbury Tales. The town has been situated around its famous hot springs since the early part of the first century, and its varied architecture reflects the city’s long and tortuous history. You’ll find the remains of a great Roman temple next to the inexhaustible thermal springs, as well as the complete Abbey Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, commonly known as Bath Abbey and noted for its unique and spectacular fan vaulting, an external relief of angles climbing Jacob’s Ladder, and beautiful stained glass windows. Cross the Pulteney Bridge, the Rialto of England, and marvel at the Royal Crescent, one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in the United Kingdom. And of course no visit to Bath would be complete without a quick dip in its famous hot springs!
Edinburgh - Into the North
Today you leave the capital of England en route to Edinburgh, the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Scotland and one of Great Britain’s best-kept secrets. A short and scenic train ride will take you through the sublime English countryside and into the rugged lowlands of Scotland the Brave, directly to the capital city’s train yard. From here, a quick cab ride takes you to your home for the next four magical days. A cozy and elegant lobby is the perfect place for breakfast or tea-time, the piano lounge sports a beautiful marble bar and is stocked with the finest whiskeys, and the guest rooms are comfortable, luxurious, and completely above the hustle and bustle of the city center. Thrown in the hotel’s proximity to prominent Edinburgh landmarks like the Scottish Parliament and Holyrood Park, and the hotel is sure to be the perfect domicile during your Scottish adventure
Edinburgh - Exploring Edinburgh
Intimate and ancient, Edinburgh is full of the spirits of the past and the glories of yesterday, and the Royal Edinburgh Ticket is the best way to explore everything this beautiful city has to offer. This incredible item not only gives access to unlimited travel to the city’s sight-seeing tours, but also provides admission to three of the most spectacular sights in Scotland: Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, and the Royal Yachyt Britannia.
Situated atop Castle Rock and dominating the city skyline, Edinburgh Castle was the house of the Kings and Queens of Scotland and is now the most popular paid tourist attraction in Scotland. Wonderfully maintained and restored, the castle can be toured with the assistance of excellent guides, who will regale you with stories of the darker parts of Scotland’s history and its struggle with its mighty southern neighbor. Be sure to check out the Royal Palace in the heart of the Castle structure, the Queen Anne Building, and the Scottish National War Memorial, commemorating the Scottish dead in World War I, World War II, and more recent conflicts.
On the other end of the Royal Mile, you’ll find the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official residence of the Queen in Scotland. The palace features the Queen’s Gallery which houses works from the Royal Collection and which is arguably the finest in Scotland; the apartments of Mary, Queen of Scots, which are still used for state and royal functions; and the ruins of Holyrood Abbey, a structure nearly one thousand years old and the inspiration for the rest of the complex. And if you’re lucky (or perhaps not), you just might glimpse the ghost of Agnes Sampson, a woman accused of witchcraft who is said to roam the halls.
On the harbor of Leith, you can tour the former Royal Yacht of Queen Elizabeth II and see what it was like to rule the seas as only the British Monarch could. You can catch a glimpse of the racing yacht Bloodhound moored beside her, one of the most successful ocean-racing yachts ever, take in the three beautiful masts and the flawless lines from stem to stern, and imagine life in a post-nuclear world: the vessel was intended to hold the Queen of the Northwest coast of Scotland in the event of nuclear war.
While on your way to each of these incredible destinations, be sure to make time to shop for some of Edinburgh’s noted handcrafts and food. Wool and tweed garments are of especially high quality, and there are many stores along the Royal Mile that carry more than a thousand family tartans in any manner of presentation, from scarves and bowties to wedding-quality kilts. Whiskeys are of course available everywhere, and the shortbread and fudge are as justifiably famous as they are ubiquitous.
Edinburgh - Highlands and Lakes, Monsters and Legends
Today features a twelve-hour tour through the incomparable Scottish Highlands into the lake country, and will take you past some of the most famous castles, monuments, and wildlife in the British Isles. Your journey starts a mere 15 miles west of Edinburgh at historic Linlithgow Palace, the birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots and one of the principal residences of the Scottish Crown in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Though the castle has been burned out and is partially destroyed, efforts have been made to possibly restore the roof to the castle in the near future, restoring it to its former days of glory. From here you venture towards Stirling Castle and through a region thick with reminders of the valiant Wars of Scottish Independence: you’ll see the statue of Robert the Bruce on the castle esplanade, Tom Church’s Freedom statue, and the towering National Wallace Monument, marker to the great Scottish patriot and the inspiration for the movie Braveheart. At the monument your guide will give you a more accurate – but no less thrilling – account of the deeds of William Wallace, and you’ll be able to see Wallace’s gigantic claymore and the Hall of Heroes, a gallery of busts of prominent Scots.
You’ll next pass by Doune Castle, a site made just as famous in recent popular culture as by its historical significance: the castle served as the backdrop for five of the most memorable scenes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail and was the set of the 1952 film Ivanhoe starring Robert and Elizabeth Taylor. From here you stop for coffee, tea and shortbread in the Trossachs, the home of Red Robert MacGregor, better known to the world as Rob Roy. You’ll meet the one and only Hamish, their “Hairy Cow,” and follow him through the Highlands to Loch Tulla before crossing the weathered wilderness of Rannoch Moor to the bluffs of Glen Coe, the site of one of the more dismal moments in Scottish history, where feuding lords massacred most of the MacDonald Clan in 1692. Fans of HBO might be interested to know that the Glen Coe massacre was the inspiration for the infamous “Red Wedding” in the fantasy series Game of Thrones.
You’ll stop to replenish at a hotel near Fort William, then travel on past a breathtaking view of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Great Britain and one of the most beautiful places in Scotland. Check out the renowned Commando Memorial and cast your eyes over the rough beauty of Lochaber before heading down the Caledonian Canal and arriving at Fort Augustus on the shores of the mystifying Loch Ness.
By boat (from Easter to December) or on the shore, you’ll try to spot Nessie, the world’s most famous sea-monster and the ultimate dream for cryptozoologists everywhere. The black waters might hide much below the surface, but the beautiful hills surrounding the lake will be sure to make up for Nellie’s likely absence. While you may come for a monster sighting, you’ll almost certainly leave with the impression that this – the deepest and largest loch in the United Kingdom – is a treasure with or without its most famous “resident.”
The voyage back to Edinburgh winds through Glen Spean and runs adjacent to Loch Laggan, the set of the BBC series Monarch of the Glen. You’ll also pass Dalwhinnie, the site of Scotland’s highest distillery, and travel through the Grampian Mountains in the direction of Blair Castle before a stop in Pitlochry, where you can have a light dinner or a romantic walk through this quaint village. Coming into Edinburgh, you’ll cross over the Forth Road Bridge in sight of the striking Forth Rail Bridge, one of the most remarkable engineering achievements of the Victorian Age and a crowning landmark of Scotland.
Edinburgh - Scotch Castles, Scotch Coasts, and Scotch Whiskey
A relaxing day starts late this morning and features a fantastic tour on the back roads of Lothian, taking you past half a dozen castles, a delicious meal in North Berwick and an intoxicating tour of the Glenkinchie Distillery.
You’ll pass first by Craigmillar Castle – a mere three miles from Edinburgh city center and one of the best-preserved medieval-era castles in the whole of Scotland – before continuing on to Borthwick Castle, the refuge place for Mary, Queen of Scots during her flight from pretenders to the throne in the sixteenth century. A venture into Midlothian takes you to the spectacular Crichton Castle before visiting the imposing and elegant Hailes Castle, perched mightily above the River Tyne and home to some of the oldest stonework in the country. Then it’s off to the weathered Scottish coast and the charming North Berwick, a village by the sea where you can enjoy a delicious lunch and magnificent views of the Firth of Forth and the gannet colony on the Bass Rock.
Your final castle is Tantallon Castle, built in the fourteenth century to deter the English marauders that roamed the countryside of the former Kingdom of Fife. This remarkable fortress is imposingly positioned atop a cliff overlooking the Firth of Forth, and is the last curtain wall castle built in Scotland. Your ultimate destination is the picturesque Glenkinchie Distillery in the gentle Lowlands of East Lothian, which has been producing some of the finest malted whiskey in Scotland for more than 150 years.
Tour the distillery with a friendly and knowledgeable guide, visit the museum where the finer arts of distillation are explored, and savor a measure of the whiskey that was named the Best Lowland Single Malt at the 2013 World Whiskey Awards. Your return to Edinburgh takes you through Arthur’s Seat, Holyrood Park, and the mesmerizing city center before disembarking at Scotland’s new Parliament building, one of the most interesting government structures in Europe.
Dublin - From the Land of Lochs to the Emerald Isle
Today sees you leaving bonnie Scotland and travelling west to one of the world’s most beautiful and endearing countries: the Republic of Ireland. A train takes you from the capital to the port city of Troon, where you can experience the same trip thousands of Irish immigrants made, but in reverse: ferry across the Irish Sea to Larne before heading through Belfast and the rest of Northern Ireland to the indescribable city of poets and patriots, Dublin.
Your home away from home in this one-of-a-kind location is a Dublin institution and one of the finest on the island. Located just to the north of the Liffey on historic O’Connell Street, the hotel will dazzle you with its elegant accommodations, ideal location and personable staff. The main lobby opens to a beautiful lounge where you can take tea, break your fast on a traditional Irish meal, or simply engage in what the locals might call “enhanced conversation.” You’ll be unable to miss the giant spire commemorating the former site of Nelson’s Pillar, but keep a lookout for the General Post Office, which features a statue of the Gaelic folk hero Cuchulainn as well as bullet holes from the Easter Uprising in 1919, and the statues of the newer heroes of Ireland, like James Larkin and Charles Stewart Parnell.
A Tour of Dublin, a True World City
Today is dedicated to discovering one of the most enchanting cities on Earth and all of its many treasures. You will be provided with tickets for Dublin’s wonderful tour bus system, which allows you to hop on and hop off at a number of the most popular attractions throughout the city. Pick it up just south of your hotel near the O’Connell Street Bridge and ride it south of the river to the gates of Trinity College and the start of Grafton Street, the center of Dublin fashion. Check out the statue of the unofficial mascot of Dublin, Molly Malone (known lovingly to the locals as “The Tart with the Cart”) or the incredible shopping at Brown-Thomas, an upscale department store in the heart of the city.
The tour, arranged by one of Zicasso's Ireland tour companies, will continue on to Dublin Castle, the seat of British power in the city for more than a millenia and the centerpiece of the conflict for Irish nationhood; near the castle is the remarkable Chester Beatty Library, housing one of the finest collections of Asian and Islamic art in the world as well as some of the most significant written works in history (search out the Christianity Room to find the oldest piece of the Gospel of Luke known to exist).
Further highlights include Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, the National Cathedral of the island and a bulwark of Irish Catholicism and the storehouse for Guinness, the world’s most famous stout. While the beer is no longer made at St. James’ Gate, the tour of the storehouse will explain the process of making Guinness, the components that give it such a unique flavor and body, and an idea of the changes the company has undergone in its nearly three centuries of existence. It all ends with a perfectly poured pint with a 360-degree view of Dublin and its environs, including the sweeping Wicklow Mountains and the green land that have given Ireland its most enduring nickname.
Other popular destinations include Trinity College and the magnificent Book of Kells, St Stephen’s Green and the luxurious Claremont Hotel, and the many public houses that make Dublin famous: The Bank on the Green on Dame Street, Davey Byrnes on Duke Street and The Stag’s Head and Oliver St. John Gogarty’s in Temple Bar are four of the best.
Cork - Starting South
Today starts early – 7 a.m. – with an Intercity train to the acknowledged capital of southern Ireland, the county and city of Cork. A hearty breakfast served in the train will give you the energy you need to climb the keep at Blarney Castle and kiss its famous Stone: Irish myth claims that touching the stone to one’s lips is sure to give the kisser the gift of gab, an endowment of particular importance in the Republic.
Return to the city of Cork for a traditional pub lunch, but be sure to ask for Murphy’s if you prefer stout, as requesting a Guinness is sure to bring playful scorn from the other pub dwellers. From here, board a train to the quaint and colorful city of Killarney and to a relaxing bed and breakfast with en suite facilities. Enjoy an evening out with the Irish, and maybe learn the words to one of your favorite pub songs.
Cork - The Ring of Kerry and Southwest Ireland
Today features a winding and awe-inspiring drive through County Kerry, the heart of southern Ireland and a place to make your heart sing. Tackle the Iveragh Peninsula to gorgeous Dingle Bay, while taking in some of the best scenery that Ireland has to offer.
You’ll trek through Killarney National Park, home to Ross Castle, Lough Leane, and a panoramic viewpoint known as the Ladies View. Spot Derrynane House, the birthplace and former home of Ireland’s Emancipator, Daniel O’Connell, or the older and more striking Muckross Abbey, one of the oldest buildings of its kind in Ireland. And of course you’ll never forget the singular Lakes of Killarney and the Irish coast, replete with flora, fauna and human artifacts that you just might hear calling you to return before you’ve even left. Upon your return to Dublin, you’ll be met by a driver ready to take you to Dublin Airport to end your unforgettable journey through the British Isles.
- Visit London, the capital of the United Kingdom and the seat of British power
- Tour the one and only Palace of Westminster, the unbelievable cathedral of St. Paul’s, stately and elegant Buckingham Palace and the storied Tower of London
- See the remains of some of the greatest Britons ever at Westminster Abbey, step into the world of Shakespeare at the Globe and get a unique view of London high atop the London Eye
- Marvel at Windsor Castle and the ancient monuments at Stonehenge, and relax in a natural hot spring at the Georgian spa town of Bath
- Discover historic Edinburgh and the former seats of Scottish power, Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse
- Experience the Scottish Highlands, take in some of the most famous castles on Earth and see if you can spot the notorious Loch Ness Monster
- Indulge your adult inclinations at the famous Glenkichie Distillery in the Scottish Lowlands
- Lose yourself in Dublin, the home of James Joyce and Michael Collins and, of course, Arthur Guinness
- Head south to the breathtaking scenery in County Cork and County Kerry, and see if your tongue is loosened by the magical Blarney Stone
The islands of Great Britain and Ireland are perhaps the two most important islands in world history: from the profusion of British power to the proliferation of Irish wit, these two tiny landforms have played as large as role as any in shaping the modern world. This two-week excursion will show you the diversity of three incredible nations – England, Scotland, and Ireland – as well as the bonds of community that make them some of the most popular tourist destinations on the planet.
Your luxury UK vacation begins in London, where you’ll be awed by the varied edifices of this remarkable capital, like the towering Gothic Houses of Parliament and the soaring spires and dome of Saint Paul’s Cathedral. Then head north for the fabled lochs and highlands of Scotland, where you’ll take in the local history, local culture, and local drink of choice. Finally, soak in the beauty and splendor of the Republic of Ireland, from the Pale to Blarney Castle and all of the verdant points in between.
You’ve seen the pomp and grandeur of the Coldstream Guards and the Royal Family; you’ve heard the mournful pipes and tasted the smoky sweetness of Scotland; and you’ve felt the poetic longing of Ireland begging for you to come home. There are stories here, stories that have been sung in noble halls and public houses that have been told over teas and whiskeys, that have echoed the puissance and lyricism of these incredible Isles. Why not come write a story of your own?
$4,195 per person (excluding international flights)
Your Zicasso trip is fully customizable, and this sample itinerary is a starting place for your travel plans. Actual costs are dynamic, and your selection of accommodations and activities, your season of travel, and other such variables will bring this budget guideline up or down. Throughout your planning experience with your Zicasso specialist, your itinerary is designed around your budget. You can book your trip when you are satisfied with every detail. Planning your trip with a Zicasso travel specialist is a free service.
- In-country transportation
- Some or all activities and tours
- Expert trip planning
- 24x7 support during your trip
Your final trip cost will vary based on your selected accommodations, activities, meals, and other trip elements that you opt to include.
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