Finally, Harry & Meghan’s big weekend is upon us! Do you plan on watching the festivities tomorrow? Not sure I’ll get up early for it but you can be certain I’ll check it out on replay.
While the royal wedding and the arrival of Prince Louis have dominated headlines this year, interest in UK travel has surged. For those unaccustomed to foreign travel, it’s a perfect starting point. There is no language barrier and culture shock is minimal. However, there are enough differences and quirks to make it feel like a “foreign” experience. So rich in history, the UK is also a wonderful place for repeat travelers.
The Itinerary: The UK for First Time Visitors
As mentioned in this post, I prefer not to backtrack when traveling. As a result, this itinerary has us flying into London and departing from Edinburgh. The reverse scheme would work just as well.
This route lets a first time visitor experience a nice mix of big cities (London, Edinburgh), small villages (Chipping Campden, Conwy) and those in between (Bath, York). All with distinct cultural feels.
- London, England
- Either rent a car and drive to Bath, stopping at Stonehenge along the way OR take a day tour (by bus) and pack your luggage with you. They have undercarriage bag storage on the buses and you can find tours which visit Stonehenge (or another site you desire to see) and end up in Bath. Simply don’t take the return portion to London. This can be a good option if you are hesitant to drive in Central London.
- Bath, England
- If you don’t have a car yet, pick one up here on the day you depart Bath. Tips:
- Make a quick stop at nearby Castle Combe for a photo op – one of the most charming towns in existence!
- Consider another stop at Blenheim, not far off the path on your drive up and a lovely spot for lunch.
- If you don’t have a car yet, pick one up here on the day you depart Bath. Tips:
- Chipping Campden, Cotswolds, England
- Conwy, Wales
- York, England
- Consider dropping your car off when you arrive in York. Enjoy touring this lovely city and when you are ready to move on to Edinburgh, take the train. If you are history buff and need to see Hadrian’s Wall it would probably be easier to keep the car. It is also visit-able from the Lake District.
- Edinburgh, Scotland
Variations to Consider
- The Lake District – If you are more into nature and less into cities, you may want to replace either York or Edinburgh with a stop in the Lake District.
- The Scottish Highlands – You may want to extend your trip beyond Edinburgh to visit this rugged region. Maybe consider trimming Bath, the Cotswolds or Conwy from the plan to accommodate this region instead.
Stay somewhere central! London is huge and sprawling. Being in a location central to the sights that interest you most will save tons of valuable sightseeing time. Check into AirBNB’s, etc. if you need a budget friendly but central option.
Unless you are planning on moving here, you will need to do quite a bit of picking and choosing for what you most want to see while in London. If you decide to take one of the easy day trips suggested below, it will likely eat up the bulk of a full day in London.
- Westminster Abbey
- 10 Downing Street
- Trafalgar Square
- The National Portrait Gallery
- Cabinet War Rooms – Have never seen this but hear it is GREAT! Definitely on my next visit list!
- Buckingham Palace/Changing of the Guard – If you are going to see a guard changing somewhere, this is probably the one to see. And if crowds aren’t your thing, you may fare better at the horse guard changing down the way.
- The London Eye – Only on a clear day, otherwise pointless.
- The Victoria & Albert Museum – My personal favorite for the costume gallery.
- Hyde Park/Speaker’s Corner – Always fun to see who is out.
- Harrods – Shop like a Royal! My favorites are the food hall and the children’s department filled with extravagant toys.
- St. Paul’s Cathedral – Best photos are from across the Millennium Bridge.
Easy day trips from London:
- Windsor Castle – Walk the same grounds that Harry & Megan will be tomorrow! 40 minutes by train from Paddington Station.
- Hampton Court Palace – 30 minutes by train from Waterloo Station.
- Kew Gardens – Lovely for the gardeners.
- Greenwich – Great for Maritime history buffs.
- Stonehenge – If you aren’t putting Bath in your itinerary but want to see Stonehenge, do it as a day trip from London. While many guides consider it a tourist trap, I quite liked seeing Stonehenge in person. For fewer crowds consider the stone circle in nearby Avebury.
It’s easy to channel your inner Jane Austen while spending time in Bath! Spend a day sightseeing in town and enjoying the Thermae Bath Spa. For music lovers that can’t make it to Glastonbury, many fabulous up and coming bands play in Bath as well.
- The Roman Baths – #1 sight and extremely worthwhile. History and stunning photo options all rolled into one.
- The Royal Crescent – Lovey semi-circular array of Georgian style terrace houses. If you’ve seen a photo of Bath, it likely showed either the Roman Baths or this other famous site.
- Tea at the Pump Room – So posh and you won’t need another meal all day.
- The Old Green Tree Pub – Tiny , cozy and fun.
- Sally Lunn House – On everyone’s radar but we had a great meal here!
Easy day trips from Bath:
- Glastonbury – A must stop for festival fanatics. The next full festival is in 2019 but there are numerous artists performing over the summer months this year.
- South Wales/Cardiff
The Cotswolds are certainly an area where you just want relax and explore at leisure! Make your way around the circular route that takes you through the most charming towns of this region: Chipping Campden, Snowshill, Guiting Power, Bourton-on-the-Water, the Slaughters, and Stow-on-the-Wold.
For dining, check out the Eight Bells Pub in Chipping Campden. If you can plan a trip so that you will be there on Friday, June 1st, the Cotswold Games will be on! We were lucky enough to coordinate this on our last visit and it made for a super-memorable time with events such as “shin-kicking” and a dramatic, torch lit parade back into town.
Easy day trips from the Cotswolds:
- Oxford – The famous university town and former home to authors CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien.
- Blenheim Palace – My top pick for a castle in the area.
- Warwick Castle – Less sophisticated than Blenheim but more fun for kids.
- Stratford Upon Avon – Another sight that often gets panned as a pure tourist trap. I’ve always avoided it but if you are a true Shakespeare buff, you may have an interest.
While I didn’t expect to be especially enamored with north Wales, I absolutely fell in love with Conwy. A tiny and lovely seaside village with an abandoned castle that will have you snapping photos for hours. We stayed at the Castlebank Hotel which was the subject of a UK reality show called Risking It All. We watched the show online prior to our visit and had a fun time meeting the proprietors in real life!
It’s easy to do a circular trip from Conwy that encompasses Caernarfon, Portmeirion and Snowdonia in one day.
- Conwy Castle & town
- Caernarfon Castle – More intact than Conwy and investiture site of the Prince of Wales.
- Portmeirion – Welsh tourist town designed in the style of an Italian village.
- A drive through Snowdonia National Park.
York is a lovely, moderate sized town. If you found London overwhelming, you’ll probably adore York. There are enough attractions and things to do as well as great shopping and dining options. And while there is some hustle and bustle, it’s less than what you’ll find in London.
- York Minster
- The York Castle Museum
- The Royal Oak Pub – One of my all time favorite English pubs. Please check them out!
Aye, we’ve made it Scotland! If you are a fellow points traveler and have some Hilton Honors points in your account, consider a stay at the Caledonian. It’s an excellent location at the base of Edinburgh Castle with stunning views of the same.
Furthermore, lots of great shopping and dining in Edinburgh. I particularly loved the bright plaid accessories at Ness (believe they are now online only, no storefronts). Scottish people are super-friendly and you’re sure to spot several groups out for stag nights or hen parties!
- Edinburgh Castle – Majestically situated, packed with history and consequently, the “must-see” sight of Edinburgh.
- The Royal Mile
- The Royal Yacht Britannia – Explore life on the former floating royal residence of Queen Elizabeth II. Shortly outside the main historic center and reachable by cab or bus.
- Arthur’s Seat Hike – The famous main peak of Holyrood Park. Great on a nice day and if you’ve been taking in too many chips while on holiday!
Lastly, for more specific questions, feel free to comment below or contact me via my contact page. I’m always happy to help if I can. Until next time, cheers!
Note: This post may contain affiliate links. For full disclosure policy, click here.