An Englishman, an Irishman, and a Scotsman walk into a bar, and they’ll end up bumping into you if you play your cards right. England, Ireland, and Scotland are three of the most beautiful and action-packed places on earth, and their close proximity to one another makes them perfect for inclusion on your vacation or holiday.
But, unless you’re from the area, or have visited these countries several times, it can be difficult to make heads and tails of what you should do, where you should go, and how you should get there. Today, we’re going to take a closer look at everything you need to know to learn how to plan a trip to England, Ireland, and Scotland.
First Things First: Get Your Passport
In order to travel from your home country to these beautiful countries, you’re going to need a valid passport. Each country has its own requirements for issuing passports. Since most of our readers are in the United States, we’ll focus on the process of obtaining a passport in the U.S.
The USPS provides detailed instructions for obtaining your passport. The process is simple, but there are several steps involved, and they must all be completed properly in order for you to obtain your passport.
The first thing you’ll want to do is begin gathering the documentation you need to acquire a passport. You’ll need to have your passport application form, proof of identity, and proof of citizenship. Answer a few short questions on the U.S. passport website, and they’ll direct you to the appropriate application.
Once all your documentation is in order, you’ll want to complete your application. But don’t sign it. You’ll sign your application in-person, in front of a witness. Bring your documentation and application to your local post office during their regular passport hours of operation, and complete your application on site.
The fee for processing your application is $35, and there is an additional fee of $15 if the post office provides you with your passport photo. You’ll also need to enclose the appropriate fee for your passport when your application is submitted.
In 6-8 weeks, your new passport will arrive to you, and you’ll be ready to travel. You can also have your application expedited for a $60 fee, which will speed the process up significantly, and provide you with your passport within 2-3 weeks. If that’s still not fast enough, you can contact the DOS passport agency, and they may be able to provide you with additional options.
Timing Your Trip
There’s plenty to do year-round in this beautiful region of western Europe. But, the area isn’t known for having the greatest weather, so you may want to give consideration to the time of year you travel, as it will profoundly affect what kind of outdoor activities are appropriate.
Winter is the harshest season in the area, with average temperatures hovering around the freezing mark throughout England, Ireland, and Scotland. The spring is typically a beautiful time of year in the U.S., but in western Europe, spring is usually quite cold and dreary still. At best, temperatures reach around 50-degrees Fahrenheit, with temperatures much colder at night.
Beyond the temperature, the region is known for lots of rain and wind, which makes it unpleasant to be outside. Given the poor weather, most tourists flock to the area in the summer when the weather is considerably nicer. The summers in the region are milder than what you’d expect in the United States, with high temperatures in the low to middle 70s.
Whereas autumn in America is considered to be the beginning of winter, it’s far more temperate in western Europe. The fall months are among the most pleasant, with temperatures in the high 50s and low 60s during the fall season. This time of year is the sweet spot for traveling, as you’ll be able to enjoy favorable weather while also missing out on most of the rush of tourist season.
Of course, the weather is far from the only reason to travel to the area, and many tourists plan trips during the holiday season in spite of the harsh weather. The region is filled with cheer, holiday markets, and plenty of decorations. So, if you’re a fan of the Christmas season, you may prefer to brave the weather in favor of enjoying the holiday spirit.
You can enjoy a beautiful trip that’s packed with fun at any time of year, but the poor weather of the winter and spring can put a damper on your outdoor plans. Since so much of the rich history and beautiful sights require you to be outdoors, you may find a trip in the summer or fall to be best.
How to Get There
Getting into the area is quite easy, depending on where you’re traveling from. If you live in western Europe, traveling by train or car may be the easiest way to enter the area. But, for Americans and those outside of Europe, air travel is usually your best bet.
There is no shortage of international airports for you to fly into in all three countries. Flight prices can fluctuate greatly depending on which airport your traveling into and when. Many travelers will start their trip in the country that offers the best air travel prices because it’s an easy way to cut costs on your trip.
Most tourists fly into Heathrow, Gatwick, or Manchester airports if flying into England, Edinburgh, or Glasgow when flying into Scotland, and Dublin or Cork when flying into Ireland. Of course, there are many other international airports in each country that may make sense for your trip, depending on what you have planned.
If you’re used to traveling domestically, you may want to budget some extra time when you arrive at the airport to ensure that you’re able to get through security with time to spare before your departure. International travel is understandably a bit more demanding, security wise, so you should expect a longer than usual check-in process.
How to Get Around
Most people make the mistake of assuming that everything is accessible by rail when you’re in Europe. While this isn’t necessarily incorrect, train service doesn’t run in many of the more rural areas you’re probably interested in visiting. Plus, traveling by rail can become prohibitively expensive, and put a major damper on your trip budget.
Of course, if you’re able to afford it, and it doesn’t present any logistical issues with your trip, you certainly can travel via train for much of your trip. But, most tourists tend to travel by other means for at least part of their trip. Here’s everything you’ll need to know about getting around town in each country.
Getting Around England
If you’re used to traveling in American cities, which are usually very compact and offer everything you could possibly need within walking distance, some cities in Europe, especially London, are quite different.
London is so large, in fact, that it can take hours to travel from one end of the city to the other. As you’d imagine, it’s much easier to enjoy everything London has to offer if you have some help in the transportation department. Thankfully, London’s transit system is expansive, affordable, and shuttles run all day.
Similar to New York City, London offers mass transit in the form of buses and subways, although Londoners refer to their subway system as “the tube.” Both forms of transportation are affordable, and you can purchase unlimited rides within the London transit system for £5 a day, with discounts for weekly and monthly passes.
Without a day pass, individual one-way rides on the tube can cost as much as £6, since the system is zone-based, and traveling long distances will cost more money. It’s clear that purchasing a day pass is your most economical option.
London’s bus system is expansive, and several buses run 24-hours a day. A single fare will set you back £1.50. If you’ve taken three paid rides in a 24-hour period, your remaining rides for the day are free.
Before hopping on a bus or riding the tube, you’ll need to make sure your finances are in order. The system is entirely cashless, but there are still several convenient ways to pay for your fare.
The Oystercard and Travelcard are the preferred methods of transacting within the English transit system, but you can also pay with a contactless payment. Chances are, you already have a contactless debit or credit card in your wallet, making it a viable option for many travelers.
Cities outside of London are accessible via train and coach bus, with coach buses offering the most economical method of travel. From London, a coach bus to practically any other city in England will set you back about £10 or less. You can also travel practically anywhere else in Europe via coach bus for a low price.
As we mentioned earlier, many of the attractions you’ll want to see aren’t within walking distance, and since mass transit requires you to plan your excursions on the schedule of the train or bus, many people choose to rent a car instead.
Getting Around Ireland
Ireland is one of the most naturally beautiful countries in Europe, and you’ll want to enjoy as much of the Irish countryside as possible on your trip. Fortunately, there are a few good ways to go about seeing the Emerald Isle.
Compared to other European countries, Ireland’s rail system isn’t as developed. Much of Ireland is sparsely populated, and there isn’t much in the way of tourism or industry. So, with fewer people traveling to and from these areas, the rail system is nowhere near as developed as other areas of Europe.
Of course, there is still rail service in Ireland, and it represents the most scenic way to travel. The Dublin-Rosslare line, in particular, offers breathtaking views of the Irish countryside. But, trains don’t run as often as they do in other areas, and trains don’t necessarily stop in certain areas multiple times per day, so it’s tough to plan an Ireland trip around the train.
Train tickets can be booked in advance, or at the train station. Booking online also affords you the opportunity to select your seat, which is a luxury you won’t have if you book your ticket at the station.
If you’re purchasing your ticket directly from the station, you’ll want to arrive at least a half hour before your scheduled departure to ensure you’ll be able to secure a seat. Since train service is limited, the trains are usually packed, and if you don’t arrive early enough, you may find yourself standing during a potentially long trip.
If rail service in Ireland doesn’t sound so enticing, there are some other options for travel that are more convenient, and presumably better suited to your needs.
Bus service in Ireland is much more prolific than trains, so most tourists find that traveling the country by bus is their best option as far as public transit goes. Plus, bus lines are significantly more affordable than traveling by rail.
Many bus lines offer direct service from airports to the city of your choice. Larger Irish cities offer multiple bus departures each day. But, more rural areas may only have one bus per day, and especially small towns may only see a bus once or twice a week. So, advanced planning is critical if you plan on traveling through Ireland by bus. The Ireland Journey Planner is indispensable for planning a trip by bus.
If you’d prefer not to rely on public transportation, you can rent a car for your Ireland trip. While car rentals can be expensive, they’re often the best option for tourists as they provide a level of freedom that bus or train travel doesn’t afford.
Every airport and major city in Ireland has several different options for car rental, and all of the brands your familiar with are represented at each rental center. Of course, you’ll need to adjust to driving on the “wrong” side of the road, but you’ll be able to get anywhere in Ireland whenever you’d like to go there.
Keep in mind that international insurance can be prohibitively expensive. But, you should be able to forgo the expensive coverage the rental center requires, and instead use your domestic car insurance. You’ll need to bring a letter from your insurer stating that you’re covered, and the amount of coverage you have.
Getting Around Scotland
Scotland offers a variety of travel methods that are ideal for tourists. Getting around the country is slightly easier than getting around Ireland, because Scotland railways operate more frequently, and in more areas.
Tourists typically travel the country by a combination of trains and buses, but car rentals are also available. Similarly to Ireland or England, you’ll want to have a statement from your car insurer so you’re able to forgo the expensive coverage you’d otherwise need to carry on your rental vehicle.
Traveline Scotland offers a useful tool that allows you to map out your travel arrangements throughout the country easily.
What to See During Your Trip
Between England, Ireland, and Scotland, the number of incredible destinations is practically endless. Regardless of whether you’re taking a leisurely trip, or if you’re packing as much fun into a week or two as you can, you’ll want to be sure to hit up these spots.
What to See in England
Here are some of the most iconic destinations you’ll want to see during your trip to England.
The House of Parliament
The best part about visiting the House of Parliament is you can cross two iconic destinations off your list with a single visit! Not only is the House of Parliament breathtaking in its own right, but it’s also home to the legendary Big Ben.
We tend to refer to the entirety of the clocktower as Big Ben, but actually, Big Ben is simply the bell inside the clock, which rings off on the hour every hour. The tower itself is the Elizabeth Tower. However you prefer to call it, you’ll want to see this gorgeous clocktower in person.
The Roman Baths
The beautifully preserved Roman baths are aptly located in the city of Bath, which is about two and a half hours southwest of London. The baths are fed by a thermal spring, which keeps the water warm and inviting at all times. Unfortunately, the water quality isn’t quite what it used to be, and swimming is prohibited.
One of the most iconic wonders of the natural world, Stonehenge is a site that must be seen to be believed, and many travelers make it the centerpiece of their trip to England.
The monument is constructed from massive stone pillars, each weighing around 25 tons. Carbon dating puts the various pieces of Stonehenge at 2,200-3,100 years old. How the ancient people of England managed to cart these massive stones around is any guess. But, maybe you’ll have a theory of your own after you see them in person.
The near-1,000-year-old Warwick Castle is chock full of rich history, and it’s one of the most impressive structures in all of England. While the castle is quite impressive in its own right, the museum staff does an incredible job of bringing history to life with interactive exhibits, tours, and so much more.
Plus, it’s located in London proper, closeby to other must-see attractions like Abbey Road and the Regents Canal.
No trip to London is complete without a tour of The Queen’s royal home. Through the summer and part of fall, the Royal Family opens its doors for public tours of the grounds, staterooms, and more.
If you’re in London in the summer, you must take in all the iconic sights at Buckingham Palace and take in a first-hand look at British Monarchy.
What to See in Ireland
Here are some of the most iconic destinations you’ll want to see during your trip to Ireland.
Grab a Pint at St. James Gate
Arguably the most iconic brewery in the world, Saint James Gate is where beer magic happens. More specifically, it’s where Guinness, Ireland’s most iconic beer is made.
Beyond the beer itself, there are an incredible seven floors of interactive beer-themed exhibits. Enjoy a perfectly poured Guinness while taking in the sights on the 7th floor, which offers panoramic views of Dublin.
The Blarney Stone
Impart yourself with the luck o’ the Irish by kissing this iconic stone, located at the Blarney Castle just outside Cork.
The castle itself is one of the most historic castles in all of Ireland. While much of the castle lay in ruins, several rooms and battlements are still accessible for tours. Atop the castle lies the Stone of Eloquence, better known as the Blarney Stone. Tourists flock from the world over for the opportunity to lay their lips on this lucky rock and get a bit of that patented Irish luck.
Tour the Wild Atlantic Way
Opened only five years ago, the Wild Atlantic Way is an impressive 2,500km coastal road that offers plenty of incredible views, over 1,000 tourist attractions, and tons of opportunity for fun and activities.
Merely driving the Wild Atlantic Way is a fun trip in itself, as the trip is complete with winding roads, hairpin turns, and breathtaking views as far as the eye can see. Fans of Star Wars are sure to find the look of things familiar since several scenes in the series were filmed in the area.
The Cliffs of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher are perhaps Ireland’s most notorious tourist destination. Occasionally, you come across a place where the hype is well deserved, and the Cliffs of Moher are a fine example of this.
The drive to the cliffs is long, winding, and full of breathtaking scenery that’s matched only by the cliffs themselves. The cliffs are open year-round, with the exception of Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the day after Christmas. Keep in mind that the weather up there can be unpredictable, and rain and high winds are common.
See the Town of Cobh
Formerly known as Queenstown, Cobh is one of the most quirky and colorful places in Ireland. This small town is home to Ireland’s only dedicated cruise terminal, so it’s experienced a boom as a tourist town.
The tiny town is very quaint and features some of the most interesting and colorful homes in Ireland, especially along the “Deck of Cards” row of homes that’s visible from the beautiful Cobh Cathedral, which can be seen from practically anywhere in the town.
What to See in Scotland
Here are some of the most iconic destinations you’ll want to see during your trip to Scotland.
One of the most iconic castles in the world, this enormous castle, has been a fixture in the Edinburgh skyline for over 800 years. The historic castle offers regular tours designed to immerse you in the history of the castle and the city of Edinburgh. Tremendous bronze statues of Willliam Wallace and Robert the Bruce seem to watch over the castle.
Outside the castle, you’ll be able to enjoy the Royal Mile, which leads the way to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, another one of Edinburgh’s most historic monuments. Along the Royal Mile, you’ll find plenty of shops and historic buildings to enjoy.
Just northwest of the city of Glasgow lies Loch Lomond, known as the Queen of the Scottish Lakes. This expansive lake is home to some of Scotland’s finest fishing, so it’s long been a popular destination for anglers. Take a day trip by boat to truly soak in all this idyllic lake has to offer; it’s one of the most picturesque spots in the entire country.
While not as picturesque as the iconic Loch Lomond, Loch Ness is arguably the world’s most famous body of water. The ruins of Urquhart Castle are visible in the distance, and the best way to view them is by taking a cruise around the lake. While you soak up the scenery, your tour guide will ensure you’ve had your fill of Nessy lore.
Isle of Skye
One of the world’s most beautiful islands, the Isle of Skye is home to lush green valleys, beautiful lochs, and picturesque waterfalls. The island is also home to a diverse range of wildlife, including more than 200 species of birds, otters, seals, and primeval oak forest.
From here, you can visit the other islands that make up the Inner Hebrides, including Iona, which is home to the graves of many Scottish kings, including Macbeth.
The Scottish Highlands
Arguably the most iconic sight in all of Scotland, the Highlands is one of the most gorgeous and expansive landscapes in the world. The area is teeming with history, flora, and fauna are gorgeous, and there’s plenty of opportunities to hike, fish, bike ride, kayak, and so much more.
From the rich history of England to the castles of Ireland and the gorgeous landscapes of Scotland, planning a trip through this region of western Europe is one of the most rewarding trips you can possibly take. With the help of the tips and tricks on our list, you’ll be well on your way to enjoying the trip of a lifetime.