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United Kingdom Attractions And Landmarks Guide
Unless you’re touring Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland separately, most tours of the UK start in London, which frequently competes with Paris as the world’s most visited city.
London is a city of fascinating and diverse neighborhoods, of splendid parks and eye-catching architecture, of the river Thames (which cuts through its heart) and little-known canals, of atmospheric inns and pubs, of world-class museums and art galleries, and, of course, of frequent displays of royalty and grandeur.
London’s Key Sights
Even those who’ve never been to London can probably identify Big Ben, the huge clock that keeps time above the Parliament building; the Tower of London, home to the British Crown Jewels; Tower Bridge, an iconic crossing over the Thames; and Buckingham Palace, one residence of the Queen. The Queen’s Guard, with their red uniforms and bearskin caps and who stand stony faced and ramrod straight, are the subjects of countless photographs.
For those who love history and culture, the enormous British Museum is a must, as is Westminster Abbey. Art lovers gravitate to the National Gallery and the Tate. And everyone wants to see Piccadilly Circus, the Times Square of London.
Chic and sometimes shabby neighborhoods like Soho draw gawkers and shoppers alike, while Hyde Park attracts both lovers of flowers and those who like to listen to the speakers who mount platforms at Speakers’ Corner and say whatever is on their minds, which is often quite a bit.
Most London tours also take in nearby attractions such as Windsor, site of Windsor Castle, where the Queen spends summers; and Winchester, site of an enormous Gothic cathedral.
Farther afield, tours of England are likely to take in Bath, named for its Roman-era baths and a huge tourist draw; the Cotswolds, where stone houses populate impossibly quaint little villages; Stonehenge, the ring of giant stones whose prehistoric origins have mystified scholars for ages; and, perhaps, Cornwall on the far southwestern coast, where rugged cliffs stand sentry against the waves of the North Atlantic.
England’s Lake Country has been celebrated in poetry by Wordsworth, while much of Yorkshire retains a rural feel. The walled medieval city of York is one of England’s jewels, where attractions include York Minster, an imposing Gothic cathedral with medieval stained glass windows. Also worth a look is Hadrian’s Wall, which marked the Romans’ farthest north advance into Britain.
Wales is King Arthur country, and those who skip it are missing some of the best scenery in the British Isles: mountains, rivers, castles, cliffside ocean views, and narrow winding roads that cry out for the expertise of native left-side-of-the-road drivers. One of the top spots for views is the tip of the Gower Peninsula, called Worm’s head, which is ideal for hiking on a misty, breezy day.
Snowdonia is a section of Wales known for its scenic Snowdon Mountain Railway, which climbs to the peak of Snowdon Mountain. You can also visit the unusual village of Portmerion, used as the setting for the old cult-favorite TV series, The Prisoner. And be sure to take a picture of the railway station marking the 58-character village of lanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, the world’s longest town name.
Scotland is known as the birthplace of golf at St. Andrews, where the Old Course is still playable with advance reservations; the nation that produces the finest whisky (Scotch); and the land where men wear plaid skirts (kilts), play bagpipes, toss cabers, and “bag” Munros, which equates to climbing any 3,000-foot-plus-high mountain in Scotland.
Edinburgh and Beyond
Most Scotland tours start in Edinburgh, home of Edinburgh Castle, the fortress that dominates the skyline. The Royal Military Tattoo, the Edinburgh International Festival and the Fringe International Festival draw thousands of visitors each August.
North of Edinburgh are Loch Ness, with its famous mythical (perhaps) monster; the Highlands; and the Whisky Trail, where you can visit a number of Scotch whisky distilleries -- another time when taking a guided tour, and leaving the driving to the fellow who didn’t imbibe, is a very useful idea. Windswept and remote Scottish islands -- the Arans, the Shetlands, and the Hebrides -- are a special treat for nature lovers.
Peace seems to have settled into Northern Ireland after decades of Protestant versus Catholic violence in the late 20th century.
The region’s top draw is the Giant’s Causeway, the stuff of myth and legend about a giant named Finn McCool building a causeway of some 40,000 basalt columns leading across the sea toward Scotland. One of Britain’s most remarkable natural attractions, the Causeway is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Leading up to it is the Causeway Coastal Route, a 120-mile scenic drive along the northern Irish coast that features cliffs, waterfalls and mountain streams.
Wherever you decide to go in the United Kingdom, Stride can help you plan by pointing you in the direction of the top tour operators and the itineraries that best suit your needs and budget. And that makes some tough decisions a whole lot easier.
151 United Kingdom Tour Reviews - Summary
MAGICAL IRELAND October 20154.0
Go To Ireland... Just Don't Use CIE September 20183.0
By the time our tour guide casually mentioned that their numbers on our particular tour were “way down” (our group had 28 the first week and only 18 the second week on a 50 person bus), I had already figured out why. CIE, as a company, is just not very good. Our group of three in Colorado, booked with some other family, a party of two, in Florida, to make sure we were on the same tour. The problem is, in spite of detailed explanation that we would be traveling separately and paying separately, CIE consistently attempted to treat us as a single party of five, both in payment and logistics. They charged our family in Florida an extra $50 to send their ‘travel bags’ to them directly. They messed up the travel vouchers for our group and even had them scheduled to be picked up at the wrong airport in England. This was clearly communicated on multiple occasions, but was still messed up by CIE.
Then there is their transport company. Before getting to the Denver airport, we received notice our flight into London would be delayed 2.5 hours. I called immediately, giving CIE a ten hour notice, and was told it would cost extra money for them to pick us up later. Apparently, they don’t do pickups afternoon. This would have been good information to have beforehand. Upon arrival, when I called the travel company at 2:00 pm local time, there was no answer so we ended up just taking a taxi and paying an extra $70 just to get to our hotel. Despite multiple requests, CIE has repeatedly refused to refund our $45 that we prepaid for our transfer, claiming a non-refundable policy. Think about this… 5 people on our trip, bringing in nearly $20,000 of revenue to this company, and rather than make it right, when the delay was no fault of our own, they choose to hold firm to their “non-refundable” policy and refuse to refund a measly $45.
I gave 3 stars rather than less because the tour itself was great. Our tour guide and itinerary were top notch. We did the 14 day Irish/British Grandeur and it was a whirlwind fourteen days. We saw a tremendous amount of sites and points of interest, but in doing so, we were exhausted by the end, despite being much younger than most of our tour companions. While there were a couple free afternoons and evenings, there wasn’t a single free morning. The mornings that we were leaving the hotel, we were to have bags out of our hotel room by 6:00 am or 7:00 am and we would be leaving between 45 mins and an hour later. Even when we stayed an additional night, our latest morning departure was 8:15 am. This is most definitely not a leisurely tour so be prepared to get good at sleeping on a bus.
The most disappointing part of it all though was the ‘bait and switch’ of the hotels. This tour was promoted as 4 and 5 star hotels, which was a complete fabrication. We stayed one night at a 5 star, two nights at a 4 star, and every single other hotel was maybe a 3 star. Maybe. Terribly uncomfortable beds, pillows, and poor service from hotel staff. For the price we paid for this trip, the hotels were a total rip-off and we expected better. The moral of the story is this; your numbers are down, CIE, because you’re not a very good company and word is spreading about your poor customer service. Go see Ireland! Just do it with a different company.
Operator CIE Tours
Everything Great but the Guide July 20183.0
With all that being said, there were two things I wasn't too fond of: the "tour guide", and the fact that no hike is included. Being surrounded by some of the most incredible hiking trails in the world, it would be great if we had the time to do even a 1 or 2-hour loop somewhere. I was itching to get out and actually experience the land, and never really got to beyond climbing the Dun Beag Broch (which was awesome).
The guide also pissed me off. Chick was a charismatic enough guy, definitely very Scottish, but he had next to nothing to offer about the place, historical landmarks, and really anything. We sat for 3 days in a van for hours with this guy, and he not only knew nothing, but happily spouted completely incorrect information. My friend and I, who were studying at the University of Edinburgh, were absolutely appalled at the outlandish "facts" he just made up about just about everything! From absurd statistics like the fact that Scotland runs on 95% wind power (in actually only like 60% is even renewable energy), pointing out castles that and landmarks in Edinburgh that literally weren't what he said they were (he called a random building the Palace of Holyrood, and said Mary Queen of Scots had three children), it was so annoying. I don't know if he was doing it to test us "tourists" and see if we actually knew the truth, or literally did not know, but when other people started asking about basic things later on, he would straight up admit that he didn't know and say he would look it up (he never did). The only thing he really did was preface the Battle of Culloden, telling us he would tell us the story the entire time, and we only actually got to the battleground at the end of the trip.
That was my main issue with Chick, but my friend was also offended by some of his jokes, one was a bit homophobic and others were sexually explicit. I think he was harmless and wasn't hateful or anything, and I wasn't personally bothered, but if you are traveling with children or sensitive to this kind of thing, it may bother you as well.
In conclusion, I was upset with the guide because I expected to learn new information on my tour. Instead, my friend and I would google all the attractions the night ahead and read up so we knew what we were looking at during the tour, and made sure we got correct information.
Lesson learned: Never travel through EF College Break Again. September 20171.0
Operator EF College Break (EF Ultimate Break)
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