British Isles Destinations

Must See Destinations in the British Isles

If you’re planning a trip to the British Isles, be sure to include theses destinations on your itinerary.  These are some of my favorite cities in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.  Click on the heading for more details and photos.

Shrewsbury, England:  A picturesque river city in Shropshire with a medieval past.

Shrewsbury School Across the River Severn

Shrewsbury School Across the River Severn

Conwy, Wales:  A beautiful little coastal town in Northern Wales with an awesome castle.

Conwy Castle on the North Coast of Wales

Conwy Castle on the North Coast of Wales

Inverness, Scotland:  A city in the Scottish Highlands near Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle.

Inverness Castle, Inverness, Scotland

Inverness Castle, Inverness, Scotland

Galway, Ireland:  This eclectic city on the west coast of Ireland is the gateway to Clifden and Connemara.

Galway Cathedral on the River Corrib

Galway Cathedral on the River Corrib

 

Blue Orb Travel ‘Best Pick’ Destinations

Add These Often Overlooked Travel Gems to Your Itinerary This Year

          Check out some of John’s favorite places by visiting these Blue Orb ‘Best Picks’ when you travel this summer.  By clicking on the link it will take you to our full article on each travel destination.

Shrewsbury, England

          A charming little town straddling the River Severn near the border with Wales.  Located in County Shropshire, England Shrewsbury is only 170 miles from London.

The River Severn, Shrewsbury, England

The River Severn, Shrewsbury, England

Konigssee, Germany

          This hidden gem of Bavaria is one point on a small tourist triangle that also includes Berchtesgaden with it’s Eagle’s Nest and Salzburg, Austria.  Just 100 miles from Munich, Konigssee is easily accessible by train and you can walk to the lake from the train station.

The Konigssee Lake in Bavaria, Germany

The Konigssee Lake in Bavaria, Germany

Nizhny Novgorod, Russia

          This shining gem just outside the Golden Ring is 260 miles from Moscow and one of the first stops on the Trans Siberian Railway.  Located at the confluence of the Volga and Oka Rivers, Nizhny Novgorod is the third largest city in Russia and is home to a fabulous Kremlin and many splendid cathedrals.

Kremlin at Nizhny Novgorod

Kremlin at Nizhny Novgorod

Luang Prabang, Laos

          Located off the beaten path in the hill country of Laos and accessible only by bus or plane, Luang Prabang is well worth the trip!  This French colonial town on the Mekong River is full of old world charm, wonderful restaurants, great shopping and inexpensive hotels.

A Western Russia Itinerary

Timing is Everything

          Just a few months before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I took a three week, independent rail and bus journey through Western Russia and Ukraine.  This fabulous trip began and ended respectively in the gateway cities of Helsinki, Finland and Kiev, Ukraine.  In between, I visited the Russian cities of St. Petersburg, Moscow, Saratov, Volgograd, Astrakhan on the Caspian Sea and Rostov on Don before heading west into Ukraine to visit the cities of Yalta and Odessa on the Black Sea and Kiev on the Dnieper River.

The Medieval Town of Porvoo, Finland

The Medieval Town of Porvoo, Finland

Three Countries, Three Seas, Three Rivers

          I learned that train travel in Russia, while safe and reliable, could be painfully slow.  At times I literally wanted to get out and push the train to make it go faster when there was no apparent reason for it to be going so slowly.  Fourteen hour bus trips were the norm.  But these protracted sojourns gave me a wonderful opportunity to meet and get to know the friendly folks in Finland, Russia and Ukraine.  Even with this fast paced trip covering a huge territory, there was still plenty of time to explore the Baltic Sea, the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea.  And I was able to check off one of my bucket list items by dipping my toes in the Volga, the Don and the Dnieper Rivers along the way.

The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg, Russia

The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg, Russia

City by City Itinerary

1)  Helsinki, Finland (3 nights)

-arrived by plane from SFO

2)  St. Petersburg, Russia (3 nights)

-arrived by train, 5 hours

3)  Moscow, Russia (3 nights)

-arrived by train, 4 hours, 45 minutes

4) Saratov, Russia (1 night)

-arrived by overnight train, 15 hours, 30 minutes

5)  Volgograd, Russia (1 night)

-arrived by train, 6 hours, 30 minutes

6)  Astrakhan, Russia (1 night)

-arrived by train, 8 hours, 30 minutes

7)  Volgograd, Russia (returned for train connection to Rostov on Don)

-arrived by overnight train, 10 hours

8)  Rostov on Don, Russia (1 night)

-arrived by bus, 8 hours

9)  Yalta, Ukraine (1 night)

-arrived by overnight bus via Simferopol, 14 hours, 20 minutes

10)  Odessa, Ukraine (transfer to train)

-arrived by overnight bus, 14 hours

11)  Kiev, Ukraine (2 nights)

-arrived by train, 8 hours, 30 minutes

Yalta on the Crimean Coast of the Black Sea in Ukraine

Yalta on the Crimean Coast of the Black Sea in Ukraine

A Whirlwind Trip!

          As you can see, this was not a trip for the faint at heart.  It required sticking to a rigorous schedule, with many long hours on trains and buses, but it enabled me to see some fabulous places that tourists may not have an opportunity to see again for quite some time.  Within months of returning from my trek through this area, Russia invaded the Crimean region of Ukraine, which it has occupied since.  Russian troops are still marshaled on the border in the Rostov region of Russia.  Within the same period of time, the train station in Volgograd, where I made several connections, was bombed by terrorists.  Yet, I would not have wanted to miss this chance to explore Russia and the Ukraine and to meet the wonderful people who reside in these two counties.  To a person, they were friendly, welcoming and interested in the American visitor traveling solo through their homeland.  Stay tuned for lots more information about traveling through Russia in future articles on your favorite travel blog, Blue Orb Travel.

Perchersk Lavra Monastery on the Dnieper River in Kiev, Ukraine

Perchersk Lavra Monastery on the Dnieper River in Kiev, Ukraine

Flooding in the United Kingdom

Flooding in the United Kingdom:  The River Severn Then and Now

THEN:  Rowing on the River Severn, Shrewsbury, England, May 2011

 

NOW:  Flooding on the River Severn, December 2013

British Isles Itinerary

A Good Starting Point for Planning Your British Isles Itinerary 

This summary of the itinerary for my recent 18 day trip through the British Isles will, hopefully, help jumpstart your own trip planning process.  I’ve just completed a detailed series of postings featuring each city I visited, including where I stayed, how I got there and what I saw at each stop along the way.  If you decide to follow this itinerary you’ll get a good overview of England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, while keeping the travel times each day to a minimum.  For me, getting there is half the fun, so I love riding the trains and buses through the countryside from one town to the next.  This is often a great way to meet people and it’s wonderful to be able to leave the driving to someone else when you’re on vacation.  If you’re traveling in a group of two or more, however, it may be more economical to rent a car, but remember, driving a car with manual transmission on the opposite side of those narrow roads is not for the faint of heart!

London, England

London, England

Customize to Fit Your Own Schedule

A word of caution…as a solo, budget traveler, I like to squeeze as much as I can into my trips, so this pace may be a bit fast for some.   If that’s the case or if you don’t have three weeks, you can use any portion of this schedule and tailor it to fit your own timetable.  One possibility, for example, would be to separate it into two trips, the first just concentrating on England, Wales and Scotland and the second just on Ireland.  Another suggestion would be to do England and Wales in one trip and Scotland and Ireland in another.  By dividing the trip in this manner you would have time to spend two nights in some of the major cities like London, Edinburgh and Dublin and at major scenic destinations like the Cliffs of Moher and the Ring of Kerry in Ireland.

Conwy, Wales

Conwy, Wales

City by City Itinerary 

As you can see from a quick look at the list below, you will be traveling to some of the most famous and interesting destinations in the world…and getting from one place to the next will take you through some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet.  Here goes!

1)  London, England

-arrived by plane from SFO

2)  Bath, England         

-by train, 1 hour 45 minutes

3)  Cardiff, Wales

-by train, 1 hour

4)  Shrewsbury, England       

-by train via Swansea, 8 hours

-scenic Heart of Wales train journey

5)  Conwy, Wales                             

-by train, 2 hours 30 minutes

6)  York, England                                     

-by train, 5 hours

7)  Edinburgh, Scotland                            

-by train, 2 hours 30 minutes

8)  Inverness, Scotland                     

-by train, 4 hours

-scenic Highlands train journey through Cairngorm Mountains

-LochNess

9)  Glasgow, Scotland                      

-by train, 4 hours

10) Belfast, Northern Ireland           

-by train and ferry, 6 hours

11) Londonderry, Northern Ireland  

-by train, 2 hours

12) Sligo, Ireland                             

-by bus, 2 hours 30 minutes

13) Galway, Ireland                         

-by bus, 2 hours 30 minutes

-Clifden and Connemara

14) Limerick, Ireland                       

-by train, 2 hours

-Cliffs of Moher

15) Tralee, Ireland                           

-by bus, 2 hours

-Dingle Town

16) Killarney, Ireland                      

-by bus, 1 hour

-Ring of Kerry

17) Cork, Ireland                             

-by bus, 1 hour 30 minutes

-Blarney Castle

18) Dublin, Ireland                          

-by bus, 4 hours 15 minutes

Loch Ness, Scotland

Loch Ness, Scotland

Summary of Expenses

Airfare: (San Francisco to London and Dublin to San Francisco) $807.00

Land Transportation: (trains and buses) $613.00

Lodging: $1,327.00 (average $74.00 per night)

Food: $144.00 (doesn’t include breakfast which came with most hotels)

Incidentals (including entrance fees): $73.00

Total Expenses: $2,964.00

Londonderry, Northern Ireland

Londonderry, Northern Ireland

Las Vegas or Europe?

Depending on what part of the country you’re coming from, a round trip plane ticket to Las Vegas can cost anywhere from $200 to $500.  For just a few hundred more you could fly to the British Isles and see something new and exciting.  Remember, either way you still have to eat and sleep, so the expenses once you get to either destination will be similar.  The choice was a no-brainer for me!  Considering all the fantastic things I saw, the wonderful people I met and the awesome accommodations I had on my nearly three week trek through England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, doing all this for less than $3,000 was a great value for this budget traveler.  Be sure to check out the other articles in this series for more details on planning your trip to the British Isles.  Tally Ho and Cherrio!

The Ring of Kerry, Ireland

The Ring of Kerry, Ireland

York, England

A Train Ride Through the Pennines to York, England

          My three day sojourn through Wales had come to an end, so on the morning of May 26, I boarded the train at the tiny Conwy station platform bound for York in Northern England.  The ticket cost $57 and the five hour ride took us through some interesting cities like Chester, Manchester and Leeds.  We then continued on through the beautiful countryside of the Pennines, a low mountain range running north-south, sometimes described as the backbone of England.  Known for its outdoor activities, wild life and national parks, this sparsely populated area of England is definitely worth a separate visit, especially since it is traversed in the north by Hadrian’s Wall.

York on the River Ouse

York on the River Ouse

Dogs, Dukes and Pudding

          I had never ventured into the Yorkshire counties (there are several) on my previous visits to England, probably because they are somewhat distant from the more ‘touristy’ areas near London.  The city of York is actually located in Northern Yorkshire County, which is the largest county in the UK.  Before my visit to York, I thought I knew the main things for which the city was known.  I knew that Yorkies or Yorkshire Terriers are popular dogs throughout the world, that Yorkshire pudding was made from a baked batter which is usually served with roast beef and gravy, and, of course I knew of the inimitable Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York and Prince Andrew, the Duke of York.  I was soon to find out that York has much more to offer than dogs, Dukes and pudding.

Old Town Walls of York, England

Old Town Walls of York, England

Two Thousand Years of History   

          Although there is archeological evidence of early settlers in the area dating back as far as 7000 BC, York was actually founded by the Romans in 71 AD.  With nearly two thousand years of recorded history behind its belt, there are reminders of its glorious past almost everywhere the curious tourist cares to explore.  Raided by Vikings, captured by William the Conqueror, and burdened by the dubious distinction as the birthplace of Guy Fawkes, York is a treasure trove for the history buff.  Surrounded by medieval walls, York is located at the confluence of the River Ouse and the River Foss.  It is just a short walk from the train station to the old town walls, beyond which lies a real treat for even the most sophisticated traveler.

Clifford's Tower, York, England

Clifford’s Tower, York Castle, England

The Blossoms York Guest House

          Just outside the town walls there are a number of Bed and Breakfast establishments located along Bootham and Clifton Streets, as well as along several other nearby avenues.  I found a nice room with private bath including breakfast for $70.00 at the Blossoms York Guest House on Clifton Street, which was about a five minute walk from town.  The place was filled with well-behaved children visiting York on a school outing and I enjoyed meeting some of the teachers and chaperones with the group.  Internet service was available and free and it was great to be able to connect with home.

The Blossoms York Guest House, York, England

The Blossoms York Guest House, York, England

Around the Town

          Setting out to explore the city by 4 PM, I soon found myself on a circuitous trek around the town at the top of the old medieval walls, descending from this lofty vantage point at intervals along the way to mingle with the crowds and explore the many sights below.  Without question, the most prominent landmark in York is York Minster.  Completed in 1472, it is one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in Northern Europe.  The gorgeous stained glass windows should not be missed and visitors will want to make every effort to get inside to take in the beauty of these remarkable works of art.  Nearby is the Treasurer’s House, also dating back to medieval times, with its classic architecture and beautifully manicured gardens.

York Minster, York, England

York Minster, York, England

World Class Museums

          There are several world class museums in York, including the Jorvik Viking Centre and the York Castle Museum.  Climbing enthusiasts can ascend the steep stairway to the top of Clifford’s Tower, the last remaining vestige of York Castle, for another view of the city below.  Visitors will also want to see the Fairfax House dating to the early 1700s and the Roman Baths, recently uncovered beneath a pub.  Fans of Harry Potter will enjoy seeing The Shambles, a network of old streets dating back to the 14th century with overhanging wood frame buildings.  Astute observers will recognize it as Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter films.  Just outside the walls along the River Ouse are the beautiful Museum Gardens with its Norman Abbey ruins.  While all of this was easily seen in a few hours on foot, as usual, I left plenty of reasons to return to York someday.  The National Railway Museum near the train station will be at the top of that list.

The Shambles, York, England

The Shambles, York, England…Keep an Eye Out for Harry Potter!

The Museum Gardens, York, England

The Museum Gardens, York, England

Norman Abbey Ruins, York, England

Norman Abbey Ruins, York, England