This summer, my husband and I went on an AMAZING trip to Ireland and Scotland. I actually planned the whole trip using AI – check out my post on using an AI tool to plan your travel. But that wasn’t what made it so great. It was just a really nice trip for both of us – probably our best ever.
Our previous year’s trip – a Cruise to Barcelona and the Mediterranean was kind of a disaster from start to finish! We had major flight difficulties, food poisoning, and passport issues in 3 different countries. Plus, we HATED the cruise line!
So, this trip was an absolute breeze. The flights were smooth as can be, the passport issues were all cleared up, and even though we were using public transit every step of the way, everything went like clockwork.
OK, not 100% perfect – we did manage to get ripped off by a taxi driver within our first half hour of setting foot in Ireland, but that was a good lesson learned about being a little smarter about making good choices! We ended up paying $68 Euros for a 5 mile taxi ride (sad face).
Our trip was a bit hectic. We aren’t relaxed travelers – we are BUSY travelers with a capital B. This was our first trip to anywhere in the UK and only our second visit to Europe, so I wanted to see EVERYTHING.
You never know if you’re ever going to see a place again, so I always drive myself crazy filling up every day of a vacation trying to see ALL THE THINGS. Then I need a vacation to rest up from the vacation!
We hit 5 cities in 8 days – Dublin, Belfast, Glasgow, Falkirk, and Edinburgh. Plus 2 travel days for a full 10-day trip, and I would’ve LOVED to stay for at least another week.
Dublin was absolutely MAGICAL. We hit the ground at 7:00 AM after a red-eye flight, but I was grinning from ear to ear about actually being IN Ireland after planning this trip for so long. We stayed at a sweet little hotel in the Temple Bar area not far from Trinity College and the famous Ha’penny Bridge over the River Liffey.
We are big fans of the hop on, hop off buses and used them in several cities. They’re brilliant to get a good idea of where things are in a strange city, and get a feel for what things you want to see, plus affordable transportation. It’s like $36-$40 bucks for the entire day or maybe for both days? It’s blur because we were so tired and jetlagged.
First stop was the Jameson Whiskey Distillery. We’d been warned off the Guinness Storehouse by some friends. They said it was literally a STOREHOUSE and not all that interesting, but the Jameson tour was FABULOUS!
Our second day was Trinity College, the Book of Kells and the Long Room – a famous library that’s been on the site of the college since the 1600’s. It’s ahhhh-mazing. Very Harry Potter-like. We liked the Book of Kells – so interesting, BUT the Long Room was just somehow MAGICAL. Even my hard-boiled husband who is not much into history was just about speechless at the beauty of it.
Even though most of the books had been removed for preservation, just the amount of history in this place takes your breath away!
We also hit Dublin Castle and St Patrick’s Cathedral, but none of them stirred us as much as this nearly-empty historic library.
Public transit is not much of a “thing” in Salt Lake City, so we were really proud of ourselves for figuring out how to use the buses, the light rail system, and then the fabulous UK train system to get to the next city, which was Belfast.
Even though we were a little jet lagged, I spent the entire train trip just watching the lovely Irish countryside while my husband napped. It was so cool because a lot of the houses backed right up to the track.
So you could see how the well-to-do folks lived, the working class folks, and even some pretty grubby homes. And in between were pretty green meadows with sheep, cows, chickens, and all sorts of farms, and the occasional stone churches or other buildings.
Belfast was quite different from Dublin. More big-city, more industrial, more raw since we were now in Northern Ireland. We knew more than most about the conflicts between the Catholics and Protestants because we’ve been part of a US/N. Ireland peace project for about 20 years, so we’ve hosted two Irish boys in our home, and met several generations of teens from the area near Belfast.
In fact, one of our “boys” was living nearby and was able to meet us for dinner. He’s in his mid-20’s now and doing amazing! He’s working as an architect and thinking of getting married. He’s a handsome lad, and just as nice as we remembered him!
We did the famous Black Taxi Tour of the Peace Wall murals, but sadly we hit our timing wrong and missed a portion of the tour. We were so sad because our guide was fascinating. His older sister had been killed during the early days of the “troubles”. 13 year old Catholic girl shot in the head by the British soldiers and there was no trial or any consequences. Lots of things like that happened and there is still a lot of conflict and discrimination going on in the area, although not as much open violence.
The big highlight of our time in Belfast was our visit to the Titanic Museum, If you know your history, you’ll know that the Titanic was built in Belfast by local people, and many of them were lost when the ship sunk. We spent probably 4 hours walking around all four floors of the museum and just drinking in all the details of this amazing piece of engineering and the tragedy that ensued.
After the Titanic tour, we were completely worn out, and had to be up at 5 am to catch the early Ferry to Scotland. So we did a simple dinner and an early night. The weather was pretty interesting.
Even though it was July, it had apparently rained super hard the week before, and I was terrified I was going to be freezing. So I brought thermals and jackets, and raincoats. Turns out, it was a bit cool and drizzled a bit nearly every day, but all we really needed was a hoody and an umbrella which we had forgotten to bring! Not too difficult to find one in the shops though.
The ferry was a fun surprise. We’d never been on one, so we had NO idea what to expect. I thought it would be just hard plastic seats with a glassed in area like an airport, or just benches on a deck, but it was delightful! It had snackbars, a little movie area with comfy chairs, and even a gift shop.
After a 2 hour bus ride, we made it to Glasgow. I won’t write a lot about Glasgow, I wasn’t really thrilled with it. It was very industrial, fairly modern with a lot of high-end shops we recognized. It’s more of a hub to visit all the cool places in the Scottish Highlands, like Loch Ness, and other places.
We did the hop on/hop off bus and poked around a bit, but there wasn’t anything that really wowed us. So I was glad we only planned one day for Glasgow.
This stop was specifically for my husband, but we both really ended up loving it. It’s a small Scottish town with a couple of unique features – the Falkirk Wheel and the Kelpies sculpture.
The wheel is difficult to describe, but it’s a bit of genius engineering to take ships from a low canal to another canal like 100 feet higher. Because of the cool engineering, it only takes as much energy as it takes to run a dishwasher to take a 90 ton ship and many tons of water 100 feet in the air. Here’s little video about how it works.
The Kelpies had an interesting story. It’s a 100 foot hollow metal statue of 2 horses rising up out of the Scottish countryside. However, the day we wanted to visit two climate activists decided to (illegally) climb the sculpture and put out a banner about climate change. So they had to shut the whole area down to investigate if they’d done any damage and arrest them.
We didn’t mind. I thought it was a brave thing to do and I am pretty upset about climate change, so good for them!
The food was the BEST in Falkirk at the little B&B we stayed at. But for the most part, the food was amazing with a few exceptions. The sodas tasted weird. They did give us ice, but it was pretty flat and just tasted off. My husband complained about the bacon – it was kind of thin and sort of like Canadian bacon.
But all is forgiven because – MEAT PIES. I am SO MAD that you can’t get anything like them here in the US! I’m not a big foodie, but if you take any kind of meat and gravy and tuck it into a delicious flaky pastry, that is one of my favorite foods, and I got it everywhere I could find one!
Everyone asks did we try haggis – I did, but just a bite. It was kind of tasteless and weird texture. I also tried a bite of Marmite, blood pudding, and mushy peas – nope!
Edinburgh – the last and best
Our last stop was Edinburgh – again via another lovely train ride. I was surprised to see that there are over 200 trains per day between Glasgow and Edinburgh. I can’t imagine such a robust transit system.
Edinburgh is a crowded and bustling city, and it seems like there is a museum or piece of intriguing history on practically every streetcorner and crammed in behind every shop – in little alleyways called a close.
Our accommodations were interesting. It’s one of the more expensive cities and difficult to find a room with the right set up – apparently Europe is all about double beds and we are definitely queen-sized people, so we usually needed to find somewhere with twin beds (rare!).
So, we opted to save a few bucks and do college dorm rooms instead. Edinburgh has a number of colleges and universities, so in the summer, they rent out the rooms to tourists. It’s cheap and looked a bit more spacious than a hotel room. But the beds – 3/4 the size of double beds (like a toddler bed almost!), so we had to get two dorm rooms next to each other.
It was OK, except I didn’t realize it didn’t come equipped with a TV. Mister Man was not amused at all about that. And we were a ways away from the restaurants. So we tried Uber Eats for the very first time, and tried to watch Netflix on our phones…. Also the walls were very THIN, so we were very glad they put the families with noisy kids in other wings. But we survived.
The highlights of Edinburgh was Edinburgh Castle – I think they said it dates back to the 12th Century and it’s perched atop a HUGE cliff. I’m very glad we went because it was a great piece of Scottish history and they were gearing up for their annual celebration – called a Tattoo.
Our last stop was the Royal Yacht Britannia. I had seen it on an episode of The Crown and was really excited to see it. It didn’t disappoint, although it was rather oddly moored behind a Mall at the far end of town. But it was gorgeous and crammed full of mementoes, and special photos and furnishings from the Royal Family. You could tell that they’d had lots of special family time on board.
We got to have tea in the Queen’s former dining room. It was a lovely glassed in room where you could get a great view of the ship and the water. Tony had carrot cake and I had a delicious lemon cake with Earl Grey tea, although I had to have the waiter show me how to use a tea strainer properly. It was very elegant and beautiful.
By then, our feet were about walked right off, so we caught the last bus back to our dorm room and collapsed. I so wish we’d had at least a few more days in Edinburgh. There were so many interesting museums and pubs we passed on the bus, and I would’ve liked to tour Holyrood Palace that was right across from our dorm.
What a neat vacation! I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to top this one.