Admittedly, I am biased, but I have to say that my clients are the BEST! Poor Lori was exhausted and sick after she came back from her European honeymoon, but she took the time to send me an amazingly detailed trip report, with all sorts of tips and information for other couples who might be visiting Scotland and Ireland in the future. I love her selflessness (and her honesty!) and I am excited to share her insights with you:
Again, the trip was wonderful! I included some notes below – let me know if you have any questions/anything I missed! Thank you again for EVERYTHING! You’re the best and we’re so grateful.
Overall, I LOVED Edinburgh and it was by far our favorite part of the trip. I think next time if we go back we would want to spend more time traveling around Scotland. It was just beautiful and we loved all of the historical stuff. The Balmoral was a beautiful hotel (as you said it would be 🙂 ) and the included breakfast in the morning was really fantastic. The first day we slept in a little bit and they even brought it to our room for us with no extra charge. When we first got in, it was too early to check-in, so we had coffee on the balcony there to wake up and it was maybe the best cup of coffee and shortbread I’ve ever had. The only things I would maybe say was the room was a bit small (but fine) and I was a little disappointed I found the concierge our first day rude to me after I watched them spend like 25 minutes help a family plan what to do, give them maps, restaurant names, etc. He just gave me a map and told me to try the bus tour — I’ll give him I looked a bit ragged since we were just off the plane so who knows. They were very nice in holding our baggage, etc.
Our first day we went to Edinburgh Castle, which I thought was great. I would give people the tip to book tickets and print them in advance, because I did that and thought it saved us a lot of time in standing on a long line. We walked up and down the Royal Mile and around all the parks, etc. which was great. Unfortunately, the Queen was in residence so we weren’t able to go into the palace but oh well! The other thing I would prep people for maybe is to make sure to have the right shoes if they want to do the Arthur’s Seat thing – we walked through that park and probably about half way up, but I wasn’t in the right shoes once I got to a part that looked like steeps stairs straight up 🙂 I asked someone how long it would take and they said “no more than an hour” — but maybe I’m just too out of shape, even though I go to the gym, but that didn’t look like a leisurely walk the way they made it sound! haha. I would have needed sneakers/looser clothing and it was getting late so we didn’t go all the way up (we went far enough to see lovely scenery though, so it was great). I just found it funny they made it sound like a leisurely stroll when it definitely was a little bit more than that. Another place we stumbled upon, that I didn’t see listed in books I had, was Calton Hill – which also had some nice views and was a nice place to walk around for a bit.
In terms of the tours, the second one we did (to Stirling Castle, etc.) was the best of the whole trip – the tour guide was awesome (funny, engaging, etc.) and it was a small group because half of the group cancelled last minute. We really liked all the stops and I would definitely recommend it. The first tour in Scotland was nice too (Highland Lochs, Glens and Whiskey), although our group had some rude people in it that took away from it a bit (you can’t plan for those things though!) It was a little slower-paced but nice sites to see and we enjoyed the whiskey tour a lot. The only thing I would say is they again should have given a shoe warning! She said we were stopping for a leisurely forest walk (she added an extra stop not on the description) and although I did it fine, we were climbing up jagged rock steps for a solid 10 minutes and I felt like I was going to fall. Some of the older women on the tour looked like they struggled with it a bit, so I was a little surprised she would just add a stop and not give a heads up, “hey this one may be a little more of a strenuous hike than the last walk if you don’t feel dressed appropriately”, etc. Maybe just me though – no one else complained or seemed overly concerned so maybe I just need to get into the gym more haha.
To get out of the rain, we also popped into the National Gallery which had some great paintings and was free, so I would recommend that to others. We did the Edinburgh city bus tour the first day only because we were exhausted and it was raining so figured it was a place to sit and get a lay of the land while we were still waiting for our room and we stumbled into the Scottish Whiskey Experience, which was incredibly touristy and cheesy but I actually liked it 🙂 A friend had told me not to waste my money but i enjoyed the whiskey tasting!
If people want some recommendations for restaurants, etc., here are some I had a good meal/would go back to:
Most nights we stopped for one last drink at the Whiskey Bar in the hotel and I enjoyed it there :)—
In terms of travel, the train was great – I thought it worked out way better than flying because it was right next door, we didn’t have to worry about checking our bags and it was a nice ride, comfortable seats, they brought food, etc. Definitely would recommend that route! All of our transfers and things worked out great, with the exception of a little bit of a hiccup when we first got in that was mostly my fault because i didn’t realize we somehow landed really early and I got anxious when I didn’t see the driver — after waiting a while we walked around to the other arrivals waiting area to see if he was there. We then tried calling and then went back and he was finally there but seemed a little annoyed we kept him waiting — again, completely my fault for not just staying put. He was super nice though and even gave me a hug goodbye, lol – they were so nice in Scotland!
In Ireland, we enjoyed it but found we didn’t really like the very large group tours as much. I found our drivers to be very unfriendly. We got there in plenty of time in the mornings, but they were incredibly disorganized and pretty much just loaded people on buses randomly and made people wait off to the side – to the point a few people got on the wrong tour our first day and the driver was not nice to them about it at all. In any case, I really enjoyed Kylemore Abbey and Gardens, and the views were incredible! Seeing those roads, regardless of whether we liked the big buses or not, I definitely don’t think we could have navigated it or driven ourselves, so it was definitely the way to go. It may have just been a little too much organized full-day tours but I think we knew that and had decided it was the best way to do it going in, so no regrets there; might just want to spread them out a little more next time.
Our Galway hotel (Radisson Blu Hotel and Spa) was nice and they even brought us a tray of chocolates to congratulate us! I would say though it was one of those hotels that looks a little nicer than I think it actually is – the elevators had a lot of problems, as did the sink and toilet in our bathroom. Overall it was good though. We were a bit tired by that point, so we ended up eating twice in the hotel and it was good.
Some other places some friends had recommended that I would too:
Shopping – the Treasure Chest
Food that we went to- McSwiggans Pub: http://www.mcswiggans.com/
Other recommendations we were given, but didn’t get to, in case it’s helpful:
Park House Hotel (next to our hotel) http://www.parkhousehotel.ie/restaurant.html
McDonagh’s Fish and Chips http://www.mcdonaghs.net/
Bars: The Quays, The King’s Head Tavern
We were happy to head to Dromoland Castle at the end – where we did almost nothing all day and it was lovely. They greeted us with a congratulations and upgraded our room and everyone we walked past congratulated us. It was so lovely. It was raining but we walked around the grounds a little bit, sat on couches and drank wine, went to the spa (WHICH WAS AWESOME – THE best facial I’ve ever had and I thought i had some good ones), had a fancy dinner (which I would recommend because it was delicious but probably a little fancier than we’re typically used to/our style) and then just drank more wine on couches and went to bed relatively early 🙂 Beautiful place to stay and awesome recommendation. I’m glad we splurged and had that day there – it was a nice way to rest up and relax after so many tours!