WHAT WE DID:
- Traveled for 44 days around the U.K. and Ireland.
- Stayed in rooms (self-contained unit) booked through AirBnB.
- Rented a car in Ireland for 12 days (following a 2-day stay in Dublin), then a second car in the U.K. for three weeks (22 days).
- Our basic itinerary:
- London, England (5 nights)
- Transit – train from London to Holyhead, Wales; ferry from Holyhead to Dublin, Ireland
- Dublin (2 nights)
- Cork (1 night)
- Sneem (3 nights)
- Miltown (1 night)
- Headford (1 night)
- Killybegs (2 nights)
- Coleraine, Northern Ireland (2 nights)
- Belfast, Northern Ireland (1 night)
- Dublin (1 night)
- Transit – ferry from Dublin to Holyhead; train from Holyhead to London
- London (1 night)
- Chepstow, Wales (2 nights)
- Manchester, England (2 nights)
- Lake District National Park (4 nights)
- Edinburgh, Scotland (3 nights)
- Isle of Skye (5 nights)
- Loch Lomond National Park (3 nights)
- Peak District National Park (2 nights)
- London (2 nights)
WHAT WE LIKED:
- The London Underground. Although a bit more expensive than metros in other European cities we visited, it’s a super convenient way to get around the city (and a necessity, really, as London’s freakin’ huge… and driving here sucks). It was also much cheaper to stay several kilometers outside London City and just take the Tube back and forth.
- I know I covered this in a previous post, but just to reiterate, the British Museum is phenomenal. In addition to offering free admission (although a £5 donation is suggested, and is a really reasonable request), the exhibits are really quite spectacular. After we visited, I went online to reread about some of the objects we saw, and quickly learned that their website is equally impressive. Not only are all of the artifacts meticulously cataloged, but they offer a ton of learning resources for teachers and families – clearly, encouraging education and fostering independent thinking are important to the curators. Educational activities for use during visits are organized by age group, and are offered for preschool ages all the way through high school. Some learning tools can even be used from home if you can’t visit in person. Additionally, a program is offered where you can put down a (refundable) deposit for a free backpack (limited numbers, though) filled with learning resources (by age group) for a day at the museum. I think all of it is just fabulous – what an amazing experience to offer your community and visitors.
- We got to have dinner with our friend Becky in Manchester! Though it rained the one day we were in town, we were super excited to meet up with her. We met her earlier on in our trip, in April, when we all volunteered together at Elephant Nature Park in northern Thailand. One of the things we love most about traveling is meeting new friends, and it’s just as much fun when you can reconnect down the road.
- Aurora Watch UK has a nice website (run by the University of Lancaster) for monitoring Northern Lights activity and forecasts. A colored graph provides an hourly display of the current geomagnetic activity, with colors corresponding to the probability of viewing the aurora in various locations across the U.K. Aurora Watch UK even offers an app for smart phones that will send an alert when significant activity is detected (you better be ready to run your ass outside, though, ‘cause when activity’s detected, it’s not always long-lived).
- Our Ireland and Scotland AirBnB stays were quite similar to the experience we had in Australia. All of the hosts were incredibly welcoming, and wanted to meet you, hear about your plans, and offer any advice they could. Additionally, the accommodations themselves were awesome! So many adorable, rustic cottages with little peat stoves, wood fireplaces, and snuggly comforters… we just loved it, and would definitely recommend using AirBnB throughout both countries.
WHAT WE’D CHANGE:
- If we weren’t so concerned with pinching pennies, we probably would have done a single car rental for the U.K. and Ireland combined, or at least done a one-way rental for the England/Scotland portion (rather than a return to London). The train ride from Holyhead (Wales) to London was just over three hours in one direction, and we took the train round-trip to/from the ferry terminal. Other than picking up the car, there was really no reason to return to London, as we’d already spent a week in the city. We hired the car there, though, as it was significantly less expensive to rent from and return to the same location (Gatwick, in our case). If we’d rented in Holyhead, Wales, we could have just stayed and spent some time on the coast, rather than wasting time returning to London just to get the car.
WHAT WE LEARNED:
- Only 12 casts (including the artist’s original bronze) of any Rodin sculpture can be made and still be considered an ‘original work of art,’ per French intellectual property code. Anything beyond this is considered to be a reproduction or after-cast, and is legally required to be labeled as such. We learned this after visiting the Victoria Tower Gardens, near the Parliament in London, and looking at Rodin’s famous The Burghers of Calais This was apparently the third cast (1908) of the twelve current ‘originals.’ I’m not well-versed in art history or regulations concerning authenticity, so I thought it was interesting to find out what, at least regarding Rodin’s bronze editions, is considered to be ‘original.’ Perhaps naively, I would have thought any sculpture cast after the artist’s first edition would be considered a reproduction.
- As discussed previously in great detail, Dublin’s ferry terminal doesn’t have a ton of infrastructure or amenities. Make sure you’ve got some damn Euros if you’re arriving from the U.K. because there is NO ATM. Also, the public #53 bus runs fairly infrequently, so don’t be shocked if you do have to sit and wait a bit.
- Check the ferry website for cancellations a couple of hours before your departure, if possible. They do cancel ferries without much warning, and don’t send any sort of notification (email, text, etc.) to passengers like airlines do when there’s an itinerary change. We, of course, learned this the hard way (as if our first ferry trauma wasn’t enough). We were scheduled to depart on an 8:45 a.m. ‘fast ferry,’ but apparently the seas were rough enough that they cancelled all of the fast ferries for the day without notice (the slow ferries, however, were still running). While they advise you to arrive only 30 minutes prior to departure for the ferry, we luckily showed up just over an hour early, anticipating from our previous experience that there could well be a snag. We arrived to the representative telling us, “ahh, your ferry’s been cancelled, but if you run, you can hop on the 8:05 that’s departing in just a few minutes.” Cue immediate sprint for the gangway. I’m guessing there were some unhappy people who showed up at 8:15, only to learn that they couldn’t board the next slow ferry until 2 p.m. (not only having to wait for a boat, but grab a very late train to London).
- If you are visiting the Cliffs of Moher, don’t bother with the visitor’s center and associated parking lot. Parking in the lot costs 6 € per person for the “visitor experience.” Our AirBnB host told us that aside from the steep cost, the area turns into a veritable hell hole in the summer with all the coach buses and tourists. Passing along his recommendation, we’d suggest driving to, and parking in, Doolin. From there, you can walk ‘The Burren Way’ trail up along the cliffs (when we were there it was all but deserted in addition to being quite lovely). The walk is roughly 4 miles one-way, but even at 8 miles round-trip, it’s a super easy walk (only uphill for a short distance up the cliffs, and there are some stairs built into the trail). Lovely views, a bit more serenity, money saving… what more could you ask for? Thanks, Patrick.
- If you have the time available, we enjoyed the scenery at the Slieve League Cliffs more than the Cliffs of Moher (though both are very nice). The cliffs at Slieve League are nearly three times taller than the Cliffs of Moher, and see far fewer annual tourists as well (~185,000, compared to one million annually at the Cliffs of Moher), making it something to consider if you’re looking for a quieter experience.
- Escalated parking violations in Ireland can result in an “ethical clamp.” Just like in the U.S., a clamp is placed over your car tire, but in Ireland, 20% of the fee is donated to local, registered charities. We thought this was just a fabulous idea!
- When crossing borders from the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland (the latter is part of the U.K.), the units change without warning from metric (kilometers) to British (miles), and vice versa when you return to Ireland from Northern Ireland. None of the speed limit signs in either country have units posted – just a “30” or “50.” Our speedometer was in kph as we rented in Dublin, so we had to do a rough conversion in our heads to mph in Northern Ireland. Kind of funny, and a good workout for your left brain, but you may either end up with a speeding ticket or a long train of pissed off drivers behind you, so pay attention.
- Giant’s Causeway has a visitor’s center and parking setup quite similar to that in the Cliffs of Moher. If you park in the lot that is heavily advertised (and at first glance appears to be the only option), it costs £9 per person (that buys you parking and access to the small visitor’s center). The causeway land, however, is considered public property and is free to visit. Thus, you have two cheaper options instead of parking at the center: (1) park at the adjacent rail station. When trains are running, parking is £6 per car per day (1/3 the cost of the visitor’s center for two people); or (2) park in the town Bushmills and follow the rail tracks to the causeway (only about a 2 mile walk on flat ground). We ended up parking for free near the rail station (no trains appeared to be running and their actual lot was closed; we assumed it was because it was off-season, but aren’t entirely sure).
WEIGHTS & MEASURES:
AVERAGE PETROL COST:
|Country||Cost per liter
|Cost per liter
|England||1.16 £ (GBP)||$1.43|
|Ireland||1.30 € (Euro)||$1.38|
|Northern Ireland||1.14 £||$1.43|
AVERAGE EXCHANGE RATE:
|Country||$1 USD equivalent|
|Northern Ireland||0.80 £|