It would be hard to miss America’s fascination with the British Isles after we fell in love with the Crawley’s on Downton Abbey or watched the rise of Queen Elizabeth II in Netflix’s critically acclaimed hit, The Crown.
While those shows painted beautiful portraits of the English countryside and all the glamour of London, there are so many picturesque spots and fascinating experiences to be found across the pond in the British Isles. Take a look at 15 of our favorites.
1. Tour Oxford, the renowned and ancient University.
Oxford University is the oldest university in Great Britain. While the exact date of foundation is not conclusive, the school was truly established by Henry II in 1167. Famous graduates include former President Bill Clinton, author C.S. Lewis, Dr. Stephen Hawking, and many more.
2. Explore Warwickshire, the birthplace and home of William Shakespeare.
William Shakespeare was born at Stratford-upon-Avon, nestled within Warwickshire and northwest of London. He spent most of his life there, meeting his love and muse, Anne Hathaway and writing many of his acclaimed plays.
Many Shakespearian landmarks still exist, including Anne Hathaway’s enchanting cottage and New Place, where William Shakespeare spent the remaining years of his life.
3. Walk through “The Shambles” and be transported through time to 14th century England.
One of the best preserved streets of the United Kingdom, and indeed, perhaps in all of Europe, can be found in York.
Known as “The Shambles,” this street is lined with antiquated timber-framed buildings, some dating back to the 14th century. Most of the buildings were meat houses and butcher shops, which is where the term “Shambles” comes from – the medieval word “shamel” means slaughterhouse.
Time travel may only be possible in the movies or on television, but one comes pretty close to it when visiting “The Shambles.”
4. Enjoy a traditional English tea – with cakes and finger sandwiches to boot!
You can’t visit the British Isles without partaking in the longstanding tradition of Afternoon Tea.
Since the 1840s, Brits have relaxed and socialized with tea between the lunch and dinner hours. Often served with cakes, scones, and small finger-sized sandwiches, afternoon tea is a must when visiting the British Isles.
5. See all that the capital city of Scotland, Edinburgh, has to offer.
London may be the capital city on the southern end of the British Isles, but Edinburgh (pronounced Ed-in-bruh) is the capital city of the north.
While there, walk the Royal Mile and see many famous Scottish landmarks, including the mighty Edinburgh Castle, Parliament, and Holyrood, home of Mary, Queen of Scots. After seeing the many famous structures of the capital city, take time to stroll through Edinburgh’s idyllic gardens, Princes Street Gardens and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.
6. Enchant yourself with the beauty of Grasmere, or as poet William Wordsworth described it, “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found.”
After visiting the rolling hills, tranquil meadows, and glassy ponds of Grasmere, William Wordsworth composed his poem, “A Farewell,” noting that the land was “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found,” (read his poem here).
With that recognition, how could you not at least take a peek?
7. Walk the same halls that the Royals have walked over many centuries.
Castles dot the British Isles from Great Britain to Ireland, dating back many centuries.
Dublin Castle was built in the 13th century and is still a major governmental center and open for viewing.
Edinburgh Castle suffered many battles—rebuilt so many times that it contains many different architectural styles. Here are 10 facts that might surprise you about Edinburgh Castle.
8. Visit and learn to pronounce Europe’s longest-named city: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.
This Welsh town’s name contains 58 letters and is shortened to Llanfairpwll, or Llanfair PG. The name means “Saint Mary’s Church in the hollow of the white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio of the red cave”.
Want to get some practice saying it before you go? Watch a weatherman flawlessly pronounce the city’s name it its entirety.
9. Sip Ireland’s famous dark beer at the Guinness Brewery.
Based in Ireland’s capital city of Dublin, the Guinness Storehouse is located in the same place as the original brewery that opened in 1876.
Learn about the company’s history as well as the process used to brew the black ale. And, of course, enjoy sampling the product right where it is made – much better than from a can or bottle!
10. Admire the artistry and reverence of the Book of Kells.
The Book of Kells consists of the four Gospels written in Latin and accompanied by elaborate illustrations. The book dates back to around 800 AD and is famous for its beautiful and ornate design.
You can find it by visiting Trinity College in Dublin, which followed in the footsteps of Oxford and Cambridge and has been an educational institution since 1592.
11. Gaze the gorgeous great coast of Ireland at the Ring of Kerry.
Ireland’s famous green coast can best be seen at the Ring of Kerry, located at the Iveragh Peninsula. The “Ring” is a scenic, circular drive around the peninsula.
Be sure to bring your camera (or at least a smartphone!) as you’ll want to capture the incredible landscape.
12. Kiss the Blarney Stone and get the gift of eloquence.
Legend has it that if you kiss the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle you will receive the gift of elegant speech. Although the origin of the stone had been debated until recently, the power of the stone has never been questioned.
Wives, you may want to make sure your husband gets a good long kiss!
13. Survey the mysterious Stonehenge in person.
Stonehenge, located on the southern end of Great Britain, is one of man’s greatest mysteries. Who built it? What purpose did it serve? And most mysterious of all – just how was it constructed? One thing’s for certain, Stonehenge is an unmissable landmark of the British Isles.
14. Behold the splendor of Buckingham Palace, where Queen Elizabeth II resides.
Queen Elizabeth II, the longest reigning monarch in British history (she celebrated a Sapphire Jubilee this year), has been living at Buckingham Palace since 1952.
When you visit, you might even witness the Changing the Guard ceremony when one regiment takes over for another.
15. Journey through London, one of the world’s most fascinating cities.
London is a fantastic mix of age-old sites and modern innovations. Take, for instance, the London Eye, a monstrous state-of-the-art ferris wheel providing roughly 40 minutes of city views – juxtaposed to view historical Big Ben and The Houses of Parliament.
See the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London or go shopping for your own jewels at Harrods, the luxurious department store. Whatever your fancy, London is sure to please.
The British Isles aren’t just a group of islands that make up the United Kingdom. They are culture, history, one-of-a-kind views – a land that transcends time. For such a geographically small part of the world, the British Isles make their mark as a place you really must visit at least once in your lifetime.
See something that speaks to your inner Anglophile? An experience you don’t want to miss? Get in touch today and see how easy it is to picture yourself in the British Isles this year.