I was recently asked for my recommendations for a two to three week trip to the UK, starting in London, and using a rental car as the transportation method. Further interests included castles, haunted things, and long walks on the beach (ok, I made the last one up).
This sounded like the sort of challenge I could get my teeth into. I have, after all, spent a great deal of time living in the UK. Putting together my favourite bits to travel around in itinerary form should be no problem at all.
Then, after accepting this challenge, I was struck by a moment of doubt. Sure, I’ve lived in the UK. But what do I know of the things a foreigner would find interesting about this little island? When you live in the UK, you spent most of your time forming an escape plan, not planning how to see it.
And then I remembered that I’m only half English, and that I spend most of my life wandering around goggle eyed at the world around me wherever I am, and figured I could probably handle this mission. Read on, and see if you agree.
My perfect two week UK itinerary
Days 1 & 2 - London
The UK’s capital is one of my favourite cities in the world. It’s been hanging around for over 2000 years on the banks of the Thames, and there is just an incredible wealth of things to see, from historical sights, to amazing museums, to crazy street markets.
It’s a wonderfully walk-able capital, and you can easily take in the major central sights in a day or so, leaving you the second day to explore museums, art galleries, or go a little further afield and take in some of the other sights, from crumbling cemeteries to massive parks. And if all else fails, you will never be short on an incredible pub to while away some time before heading on.
Days 3 & 4 – Oxford & the Cotswolds
One of the stipulations of the original question was the wish to avoid feeling too much like a tourist. Unfortunately, this is nearly impossible in Oxford, as nearly everyone there is either a tourist or a student. I lived in and around Oxford for a number of years, and generally felt like a tourist most of that time too.
Part of the reason for that is that this tiny city is absolutely jam packed with incredible buildings, largely in the form of the Oxford Colleges. These are seriously wealthy establishments, who clearly had no problem flaunting that wealth in an architectural fashion back in the day.
This means that yes, it is full of people wandering around, mouths agape, at quite how pretty the whole thing is. Yes, it’s jam packed with tourists. But for good reason! So strap that camera on and snap away. Then go for a punt on the river, and enjoy some Pimms or a cream tea.
From Oxford you are also well located to take in the incredibly picturesque Cotswolds area – all quaint villages and rolling countryside. The England that everyone imagines England to be like, with country pubs, village greens and cricket ovals. Lovely stuff.
Days 5 & 6 – Peak District and Manchester
From Oxford I’m going to suggest heading “up north”, towards the Peak District national park. Think rolling hills, quaint villages, and beautiful walks. There are also some fabulous country houses to visit, not to mention that on the way from Oxford you can stop off at Warwick Castle – one of the UK’s best preserved castles.
Part of the request I was posed asked about the yarn industry in the UK – and Manchester is certainly no stranger to the fibre industry – in the 19th century she earned the nickname Cottonopolis. Plenty here for the yarn enthusiast in you.
Of course, if fibre isn’t your thing there are plenty of other reasons to visit Manchester, including excellent retail therapy and a variety of architectural highlights. Not to mention the music scene!
Day 7 – York
Not that far from Manchester (England is so quaintly explorable!), the city of York is another of my favourite UK cities. From the incredible Gothic York Minster (a climb to the top is highly recommended) to the winding, tumbled down alleyways of the shambles, to the Viking history - this is a city that just cries out for exploration.
It’s also an awesome place if you’re into ghost stories. There are a whole number of ghost walks that take in the spooky past of York, so if you want an evening of entertainment and intrigue, likely accompanied with a number of fine drinking establishments, an evening ghost walk is a great bit of fun. I’m not a great believer in this sort of thing usually, but I took a tour and thoroughly enjoyed it!
Days 8 & 9 - Edinburgh via Northumberland
From York we’re going to wave farewell to England, and head up to Scotland’s capital city. On the way though, you’ll be passing through some of England’s least travelled, yet stunningly beautiful, landscapes.
I am of course talking about Northumbria. From miles of deserted beach, to crumbling castles, to the Roman equivalent of the great wall of China, Northumbria really has a lot to offer someone looking for a slightly off the beaten track England experience. The rolling landscapes are breath-taking and you’ll find yourself alone much of the time. Worth taking a bit of time to explore, in my opinion.
Then of course, it’s up to Edinburgh, where you’ll not be short of amazing things to look at. From Edinburgh castle, to Arthurs Seat, from fine whiskeys, to Princes Street, there really is enough here for a number of days of entertainment. And if you visit during the Fringe festival.. well.. plan on being entertained for a good many weeks!
Days 10 to 13 - An Irish adventure!
Because the UK is an easily explorable place with decent roads and relatively short distances to drive, it is totally possible to include Ireland in a trip like this if you’re up for it. Alternatively, you could take in the west coast of the UK, including Glasgow, the Lake District, and Liverpool, as well as popping into Wales for the stunning Snowdonia national park. The choice is yours!
If it is Ireland you want though, it’s a short ferry ride from Scotland (Cairnryan to be precise, 2-3 hours drive from Edinburgh) across to Belfast, from where you can spend a few days exploring the Emerald Isle.
I’ve only really explored Dublin and her surroundings, but I certainly saw enough to know that this is a wonderful country for exploring. There’s the Guinness, of course, as a main highlight, but also oodles of Gaelic history and culture to get excited about.
There are also of course the Irish people, well known for their love of a good time! Personally, I’d head on down the coast from Belfast, through Dublin and down to the port of Rosslare, where after three exciting days in Ireland another ferry service will whisk you across to the last of the four countries to make up the UK.. Wales!
Day 14 - South Wales & Cardiff
In Wales you will arrive either at Fishguard or Pembroke – both excellent places to explore the Pembrokeshire Coast national park. Here you will find beautiful beaches, rugged cliffs, and fabulous opportunities for walking.
You’re also not too far a drive from Cardiff, the Welsh capital. Four capitals in a fortnight – not bad going! Here you’ll find castles, sporting venues and more Welsh based culture than you can shake a stick at. Plus, arrive at the right time of year and you’ll find the Great British Cheese festival in full swing. What’s not to be excited about?
Day 15 Bristol & Bath
From Cardiff you’ll cross the enormous Severn estuary over the impress Severn road bridge and be back in the UK, or Bristol to be precise. Here you’ll find all sorts of interesting items of historical interest, largely running on a nautical theme.
For over a thousand years Bristol has been an important English port. From early explorers and traders, to the dark years of the African slave vessels, to filling Australia with immigrants, it is hard to understate the role that Bristol has played in Britain’s sea faring history. There is, after all, a reason for the expression “ship-shape and Bristol fashion” having a place in the English language.
I can highly recommend taking a trip round the SS Great Britain when you’re in Bristol. Built in 1843, and designed by the engineering genius who was Isambard Kingdom Brunel – the man who almost single-handedly revolutionised both engineering and public transport in the UK.
The SS Great Britain is notable as being the first steamer to cross the Atlantic – setting a record pace for the time of 14 days. An amazing bit of history.
From Bristol it’s on to the Roman spa city of Bath, a world heritage site. Like Oxford, this is a difficult place to be anything other than a tourist, but it is so worth it all the same!
Day 16 – back to London, via Stonehenge!
Our last day of our just over two week whistle stop tour of the UK takes us back to London. No trip to the UK though would really be complete without taking in perhaps our most famous monument – the circle of rocks known as Stonehenge.
Yes – it has a motorway going past it. And yes, you can’t really get up close and personal with the rocks. (They’re just rocks. It’s not hard to imagine touching them). And yes… you’re not going to be having a deeply personal experience.. what with this being one of the UK’s most famous monuments.
But there is something about the place that makes all these complaints just fade away. A circle of rocks, built by a people who had nothing but their hands and some bits of wood to help them out, in the middle of the Wiltshire countryside, hundreds of miles from an actual quarry, is just mind blowing.
Add in the pagan ritualism, the relationship between the rocks and the sun, and the sheer mystery of the place, and you have somewhere that is capable of really capturing the imagination. Worth your time to visit. Plus, while you’re there you can pop into Salisbury and enjoy the cathedral, which boasts the highest cathedral spire of any church in the UK.
And then.. back to London, where this tour finishes!
…and a map of the route for perusal:
View Larger Map
If you're looking for guidebooks or other resources to help plan your trip to the UK, then Amazon do a good line in UK Travel Guides, and there is naturally a Lonely Planet and a Rough Guide to the UK available.
If you prefer your information of the free, crowd sourced variety, then I have found the wikitravel site to be a great help for planning my various trips around the world.
So those were my thoughts for taking in a slightly longer than two week trip in the UK. I’ve obviously missed out a great number of places, as no two week trip can possibly hope to see everything, but I’d like to think I covered a great many highlights of this truly fascinating country.
Whilst you are there, don’t forget to sample some classic English dishes – as summed up in my post on Essential English Food. In the meantime.. if you’ve got any thoughts on this post, do hit up the comments below!
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