10 Incredible Days in the UK | England + Scotland
England and Scotland. This trip has been at the very top of my list for as long as I can remember and it was every bit as magical as I hoped it would be. With its incredible history, architecture, museums, and culture, there’s really something for everyone in the UK. It should definitely be on your bucket list!
Good To Know:
- November is generally an off-season month for tourists in the UK. That's a great time to go if you want to avoid the crowds! The weather is also perfectly chilly and rainy.
- Make sure to pack comfy shoes, lots of layers, and a good raincoat! You'll be doing a LOT of walking and you'll definitely want to make sure you're comfortable.
- If you have less than a week for your trip, I would visit one country at a time. There is SO much to do in each one and you don't want to feel rushed!
- Eating at a restaurant across the pond is not the same as in America! Plan to spend a few hours enjoying yourself. If that’s not something you want to do, consider ordering food to take away or go to the grocery store and cook for yourself!
Day 1: London
Stay: Sonder - Chelsea Green
Explore: Chelsea, Natural History Museum
We flew out of Dallas at 3:30pm on Thursday and landed in London at 6:30am on Friday. The flight itself was actually really easy, but no matter which way you slice it, flights this long are tough to recover from. Make sure you drink lots of water and try to go to bed at your regular time on your first night in order to bounce back to normal as quickly as possible! Get your bearings, recover from your flight, and get stoked to spend a week and a half in one of the most magical places in the world.
Day 2: London
Explore: Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, Piccadilly Circus
Exploring day! For our second day in London, we decided to do a lot of the classic sight-seeing. We took the tube and walked around Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, and took a nice, long walk through Hyde Park. For us, these were all sort of “walk-by and admire it” types of sights and it was great to just take in the vibrancy of the city. While on our walk, we actually ended up accidentally going way further into the park than we meant to because it was such a beautiful day and we were so excited to be there! We also managed to walk around Piccadilly Circus and go to The National Gallery. The Gallery is a must-see, even if you don't consider yourself a big art person. Piccadilly Circus is so lively and reminded us of New York City (lots of hustle and bustle).
Day 3: London
Explore: Tower of London, Tower Bridge
Another early start to get to some of the London sights before the crowds. We went to the Tower of London and spent a good 2 and a half hours doing the self-guided audio tour and seeing the Crown Jewels. Typically, there's a really long line to see the Jewels, but we got lucky and were able to walk right in. If you're not visiting during the off season, be sure to plan to spend extra time if you really want to see them! It was surreal walking through a place with so much history (some of it extremely dark). The oldest section of the Tower of London was built in 1078 and is the site where some pretty famous executions (including a few of Henry VIII’s wives) were carried out.
After we took our time exploring here, we walked across the Tower Bridge (commonly confused with the London Bridge), wandered around a bit, and found a few of the hidden gems the city has to offer before we lost the light. Something we didn't think about - the sun sets REALLY early here in the winter! We planned to have time to sight-see until about 6:00, but it was nearly dark by 5:00 every day. Make sure you take that into consideration when planning out your days!
Day 4: Harry Potter Studio Tour
HARRY POTTER STUDIO DAY. So many happy tears were shed and there will be an entire post dedicated to the magic of this experience. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, this is absolutely a must-do. Be sure to book your tickets before your trip (we booked 6 months out) and plan your day around going to the studio. It’s about an hour-long drive from London and we spent nearly 5 hours in the actual studio. You get to see all of the sets, costumes, wigs, creatures, props, set dressings, learn all sorts of fun facts, and *obviously* you can buy a souvenir mug of Butterbeer. We just happened to be there during the first week of the Hogwarts in the Snow experience, so the sets had a dusting of movie-magic snow and the Great Hall was decorated as if the Yule Ball would start any minute. Toward the end of the tour, you turn the corner into a room that displays the actual model of Hogwarts they used to shoot those beautiful exterior shots and I audibly gasped. I really can't overstate how happy this day made me and I can't wait to do it again. Just make sure you know what you're getting - the studio tour isn't like going to Universal's Harry Potter World! There aren't any rides. This is the actual studio where the movies were filmed!
Day 5: London + The Cotswolds
Stay: Cowley Manor
Our last morning in London was spent doing some shopping in Soho and revisiting a few of our favorite spots before we picked up our rental car and started the 2 hour drive to the Cotswolds for the second leg of our trip. Every one of these little villages is amazing and unique, but we had to make it to Cheltenham to stay at the most fantastic hotel. Cowley Manor is a dreamy hotel/spa where Lewis Carroll was said to have written part of Alice and Wonderland! While sipping afternoon tea and looking over the meticulously kept gardens on the grounds, it's not hard to imagine. We got on the road later than we planned and took our time driving, so it was almost dark by the time we arrived. We checked in, ate an incredible dinner in the restaurant, and went to the spa to use the sauna and take a dip in the heated pool. We could have spent days here just exploring the property and going to the spa!
Day 6: The Cotswolds
Explore: Cowley Manor, Burford, Bibury
Get up and at ‘em early for breakfast at Cowley and a walk through the grounds in the colorful Wellies (provided by the Manor) before heading out to explore some of the near-by villages. You can’t go wrong with the ones you choose to go to, but we went to Burford, Bibury, and explored Arlington Row. It felt like we walked right into a fairy-tale. We had lunch at the cutest bakery and just wandered the streets admiring the quaint cottages and shops. You can get to about 3 villages in a day if you map them out ahead of time!
Day 7: The Cotswolds + Edinburgh
Explore: Castle Combe, travel to Edinburgh
We enjoyed one last breakfast at Cowley Manor before rushing off to see the iconic Castle Combe Cotswold. We got lucky again as it was off-season and we were able to take all the dreamy pictures we wanted without having to worry about a crowd! I HIGHLY recommend that if there are places you absolutely want to go, you map them out before your trip and see how long it takes to get from one place to another / what flow makes the most sense (especially if you’re trying to catch a flight). We chose to fly from Bristol to Edinburgh to save time, but you can easily take a train if you want to take it a bit slower! It's an hour and a half flight and about a 7 hour train ride.
Day 8: Edinburgh
Explore: Royal Mile, Real Mary King's Close, Camera Obscura, Princes Street Gardens
Oh, Edinburgh. Have you ever traveled somewhere and immediately felt right at home? That’s how Scotland felt for me (I’m getting emotional just thinking about it). There's something about the cobblestone roads and gothic architecture that feel so unbelievably cozy and welcoming. The history of the city is palpable and I could hardly take it all in. We could have spent a full week here just getting our bearings with all Edinburgh has to offer. We stayed at an AirBnb near the Royal Mile to have easy access to everything we wanted to see. Our first day here was rainy and chilly (the most perfect Scottish weather, in my opinion). We were grateful that we each had a raincoat, umbrella, and lots of layers! We started our day at a place I'd wanted to go for over a year, The Milkman Coffee Shop. After chatting with the barista about our options for such a rainy day, we toured the Real Mary King’s Close, went to Camera Obscura (SO FUN), walked through Princes Street Gardens to see the Scott Memorial, and wandered the Royal Mile. It’s easy to see why Edinburgh was the inspiration for most of the locations in Harry Potter (especially Diagon Alley). It really does feel absolutely magical and there are subtle nods to the Wizarding World scattered around the city.
Day 9: Glencoe (The Highlands)
Explore: Midhope Castle, Falkland
Another road trip day! We rented another car and headed out toward the Highlands. This is a drive where you should plan to take a few detours to find ancient castles and gorgeous scenery. We drove about three and half hours into the Highlands to get to our AirBnb and were able to see so many beautiful spots we never would have found if we were just zooming from place to place. We checked into our tiny house nestled by a lake in the mountains and walked to the nearest place we could find for dinner. While we waited for our meal, we chatted with a really sweet couple who gave us great recommendations for the next day!
Day 10: The Highlands
Explore: Glenfinnan, Glencoe, The Three Sisters, Grassmarket (Edinburgh)
On our last full day, we took our time getting back to Edinburgh. We took one more detour to hike around the Glenfinnan Viaduct (Harry Potter fans - this is where the Hogwarts Express travels). We had a few spots in mind that we wanted to find, but we ending up pulling off to the side of the road so many times to take in the views! At the recommendation of our friends from dinner, we stopped at the Kingshouse Hotel for a cup of coffee before the trek back to the city. For our last meal in Scotland, we went to the city's oldest pub, the White Hart Inn. This is the most quintessential pub you could dream of. There was a duo with a guitar and a fiddle playing pub tunes by the fire while we enjoyed a pint and some delicious haggis. I felt like we were in a movie. It warmed my little heart and I can’t imagine a better way to close out the most perfect trip.