United Kingdom

Edinburgh

In 5 words: Vibrancy and eye-catching landscape.
For your first visit you need no less than 2 full days to be able to fully appreciate the city and all of its major sights while keeping pleasantly unhurried pace.
Distances are walkable, public transportation is unlikely to be needed.
Love its dramatic topography.
Worthy attractions: Edinburgh Castle; Royal Mile.
Left for another visit: St Giles Cathedral (did not go inside); Scottish National Gallery; People’s Story at the Canongate Tolbooth; Holyrood Park; Palace of Holyroodhouse: Real Mary King’s Close; Sir Walter Scott Monument; the New Town; Greyfriars Church; Museum of Childhood.
Last visit: March 2015.
    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict
On Royal Mile

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Scotland

In 8 words: Breathtaking landscapes, lakes, beautiful castles, and yes, whisky.
For your visit anything less than 4 full days will leave plenty of unexplored; to take in all of the variety on offer, a week may be the bare minimum.
Worthy attractions: Edinburgh; Eilean Donan castle; Urquhart castle; Highlands and Speyside distilleries.
Left for another visit: Skye; Islay; Glasgow; Dundee; Aberdeen; many other distilleries and castles.
Last visit: March 2015.
    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict

 
The whisky trails and Edinburgh deserve their dedicated entries on this blog. This article highlights other places in Scotland that we visited all too briefly.

Eilean Donan castle

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Scottish whisky distilleries

Over the course of two different trips separated by six years, I have visited 14 different Highlands and Speyside whisky distilleries in Scotland. The visits ranged from very detailed to extremely brief, from formal tours to quick tastings. There are over 80 working distilleries in those two regions combined, but the ones I targeted are among the most frequently sought out by the visitors. Below are the notes on each place.
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London attractions

In 8 words: A capital of the world, fun and happening.
For your first visit you need no less than 5 days to be able to fully appreciate the city and all of its major sights while keeping pleasantly unhurried pace.
Distances are walkable in many cases, but the city is vast – you will certainly need to use public transport for traveling between “clusters” of attractions.
Don’t miss: Lingering on Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square; strolling along the Thames Path; (reputedly) taking an afternoon tea at a posh salon; immersing in theater-and-pubs scene in the West End; relaxing in Green Park or St James Park.
On the other hand: The narrow twisting streets aren’t intimate enough to invite idle perambulation, but they do make driving through the city a lengthy and confusing exercise; not that you would care if you were visiting as a tourist.
Destination appeal
Our verdict
Worthy attractions: Westminster Abbey with memorials to world-famous Brits; London Tower with its ravens and Beefeaters; St Paul’s Cathedral with Whispering Gallery under the dome and viewpoints on upper levels; National Gallery, one of the foremost painting collections in the world; British Museum, home to many treasures from around the world; Buckingham Palace (open to visitors only in summer); Victoria and Albert Museum; Natural History Museum with its famous dinosaur display; Science Museum; National Portrait Gallery; London Eye; Shakespeare’s Globe.
Left unexplored so far: Museum of London; Transport Museum; a number of churches.
Wise to skip: Madame Tussaud’s – overpriced, overcrowded and unimpressive; Kensington Palace – not worth the entry price even if you absolutely have to see Princess Diana’s former digs.
Resided: 2006-09, last visit in 2010.

The Parliament from across Thames

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High-speed trains in Europe

Travel by train is considerably more common in Europe than in the US, with multitude of routes, options and departures. Besides vast commuter networks in and around large metropolises and regular long-distance service, there are several high-speed networks that reach most if not all of the major destinations in Western Europe.

We, so far, took advantage with only a couple of those.
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Minor attractions and restaurants in southern parts of London

Southern parts of Greater London hold their own attractions. Among the major ones are Greenwich and Blackheath in Southeast, Kew Gardens and Hampton Court Palace in Southwest…

This entry discusses some minor attractions along the southern edges of the city, including several eateries. While as a tourist you are unlikely to specifically venture for a visit, it is still worth cataloguing the ones we are familiar with.

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Restaurants in London

  Over the last decade or so, London’s dining scene has become so diverse that there are literally hundreds of excellent places to eat for every taste in the world. Living within easy reach of so many great restaurants, we certainly make efforts to occasionally experience some of them. This entry provides brief reviews of the various places we visited.

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Rochester

Rochester ♥ is one of the nearest southeastern day-trip destinations from London (less than half an hour by car from Blackwall Tunnel) and is a pleasant place to explore.

Rochester Cathedral as viewed from the Castle keep

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Legoland

Legoland ♥, located near Windsor, failed to make a great impression on us, primarily because we found the rides to be underwhelming and they are quite short, especially in relation to interminable wait times (which you can get somewhat around by renting a Q-bot – see below).
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Windsor Castle

The Windsor Castle ♥♥♥, which remains the official residence of the British monarch, as well as an oft-used location for various State occasions, is grand and magnificent.

Private wing of the Windsor castle

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Sissinghurst Castle Garden

Sissinghurst Castle Garden ♥♥ is a well-known and worthwhile half-day excursion from London.

Sissinghurst Castle, Kent

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Canterbury

The medieval spiritual mecca and center of learning of England, Canterbury ♥♥ is a great destination for a day-long excursion from London.

Canterbury Cathedral

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Wales

In 6 words: Great nature, plus some imposing castles.
For your first visit you can do a highlights trip in about three days, but that will leave some areas unexplored. Active outdoors types will certainly need more.
Worthy destinations: Cardiff; Brecon Beacons National Park; Portmeirion; Caernarfon and Conwy.
Left for another visit: Coastal areas of Pembrokeshire (including St Davids) and Llyn Peninsula; Powis Castle; Llandrindod Wells.
Last visit: March 2008.
Destination appeal
Our verdict

Aberystwyth

Wales has dramatic natural wonders, from its coastline to its mountains, and enables a great deal of outdoorsy pursuits. For those more interested in man-made wonders, such as yours truly, Welsh offerings are somewhat less spectacular. Which is not to say that you can’t find interesting things to do in Wales if you are primarily interested in history and architecture, but you will enjoy it more if you mix in at least some hiking or trekking or climbing or cycling or rafting or what-have-you into your itinerary.

We did a south-to-north highlights trip in three days, selecting points of interest that could fit into such itinerary, which obviously left a number of locations and attractions unexplored. Having perused tourbooks upon our return again, I am convinced that we skipped just a few places that would be of interest to us. Your tastes will undoubtedly vary.

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Greenwich and Blackheath

Greenwich ♥♥ is a popular destination for most visitors to London, primarily because of the magnetic attraction of the Prime Meridian. Its neighbor, Blackheath Village ♥, separated from the Greenwich Park by a vast swath of open meadow, – the Heath – is also quite lively and popular, although it manages to maintain a certain quintessential English charm. Its popularity in no small way is due to the range of available eateries concentrated within a minute’s walk from the main village road intersection.
 

In Greenwich Park

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Bath, England

In 11 words: Georgian architecture, Roman baths – and Stonehenge is not too far away.
For your visit you need about a day to discover the town at a pleasantly unhurried pace; a trip to Stonehenge and/or Salisbury will require a separate day. (London-based tour companies offer a day-trip that covers Bath and Stonehenge in addition to the Windsor Castle, but as one might expect, you spend more time on the bus than doing the actual sightseeing, and that at a very brisk highlights-only pace.)
Distances are walkable in all cases.
Love its sandy-colored look.
Don’t miss: A moment of quiet relaxation in the Parade Gardens.
    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict
Worthy attractions: Roman Baths (and you can brave drinking the waters at the on-site restaurant); The Royal Crescent and the house at No.1; Parade Gardens; Pulteney Bridge.
Left for another visit: Bath Abbey [did not tour inside]; Fashion Museum.
Nearby destinations: Stonehenge; Salisbury [did not visit]; Cheddar Gorge [did not visit]; Stourhead [did not visit]; Lacock.
Last visit: September 2007.

Parade Gardens

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Kew Gardens (Royal Botanic Gardens)

It is probably true that once you’ve been to a botanic garden, you’ve been to all of them, yet Kew Gardens ♥♥ is clearly among the stand-outs in this category. Spread-out grounds are impeccably maintained and utterly spectacular, with thousands of species of trees and vegetation, and plethora of strategically placed memorial benches for unhurried relaxation. The lawns are prime real estate for picnics.
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Hever Castle

Hever Castle ♥♥, in Kent, is a superb desitination for a day-trip from London, as well as a popular place for locals to spend a lovely day at.

Hever Castle, Kent

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Leeds Castle

Located in Kent about 40 miles south-east from central London, Leeds Castle ♥♥ is a grand destination for a day trip.

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Cotswolds, England

In 4 words: The quintessential English countryside.
For your first visit, two to three full days is the reasonable duration that will allow you to visit a number of interesting locations.
Worthy destinations: Bourton-on-the-Water; Stratford-upon-Avon; Hidcote Manor Garden; Broadway and its tower (located some distance away); Snowshill Manor.
Left for another visit: Moreton-in-Marsh; Blenheim Palace; Warwick Castle.
Last visit: March 2007.
Destination appeal
Our verdict

View from Broadway tower

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Oxford

Oxford ♥♥♥ is probably less picturesque than Cambridge, but far surpasses the other in architectural grandeur.
 

An Oxford college

 
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Cambridge

Cambridge ♥♥♥ is a gem in its own right, given the architectural grandeur of several of the colleges that comprise the famous university.

The Backs and river Cam

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Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace ♥♥♥ is a fantastic place to visit, even though it does not evoke as much splendor as Versailles or Peterhof.

Hampton Court Palace

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Dover Castle

No fortress in England boasts a longer history than Dover Castle ♥.
 

View to the sea from Dover Castle

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Brighton

Brighton ♥♥ is an atmospheric seaside town 60 miles south of London. It is a tremendously popular location, reputedly overrun by tourists in summer.

Brighton view from its pier

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