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Day by Day Itinerary

When you visit England, Scotland, and Wales on this tour of the United Kingdom, walk in the footsteps of centurions and soldiers, kings and queens, writers and poets—in a land permeated with legend and romance. Experience the diversity of Great Britain as you travel from city to country and back again, from London and a guided tour of Scotland's capital, Edinburgh, to the Cotswolds region, a beloved area of gentle hills with stone walls criss-crossing the landscape. It's a place one should visit and savor in depth and detail, and you’ll be able to do just that on our England, Scotland & Wales Land Tour.

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    Depart from the U.S. today on your flight to London. Please refer to your individual air itinerary for exact departure and arrival times.

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    • Meals included:
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    A Grand Circle representative will meet you at the airport and help you transfer to your hotel, where you’ll meet your Program Director and your fellow travelers, including those who took our London, England pre-trip extension. The balance of the day is at leisure to relax after your overseas flight or do some exploring on your own.

    You might consider a visit to the British Museum, which houses antiquities tracing the history of human culture. Its treasures include the Rosetta Stone, the largest collection of Mesopotamian antiquities in Europe, and more than 13 million other historical objects. Or perhaps you’ll wander around Covent Garden, an outdoor marketplace since the 17th century, when it was a center for traders and merchants, and today home to some of London’s most talented street performers. In fact, Covent Garden is the only part of London where street entertainment is licensed, and performers must audition and sign up for specific time slots in order to perform there.

    In the early evening, gather with your Program Director and travel companions for a Welcome Drink and briefing. Tonight, enjoy a Welcome Dinner at your hotel.

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    On an included panoramic tour this morning, you'll get an introduction to London's major landmarks, including Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.

    After lunch on your own, you have the balance of the afternoon and evening to make your own discoveries. Perhaps you'll visit one of London's many museums, including the Victoria and Albert Museum or Tate, a family of four galleries.

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    After breakfast this morning, depart London for Oxford, whose university has educated some of the world’s most prominent scholars and statesmen.

    Upon arrival, you’ll enjoy a walking tour through the city center, passing some of the legendary colleges that have been seats of learning for many prime ministers, great writers, and various scholars, including Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Swift, and John Wesley. The University colleges dominate the center of Oxford, as you can see by the spires and the numerous stone walls bordering college buildings.

    Oxford University was established in the eleventh century, but there is evidence of structured teaching dating back as far as AD 872. Rather than orienting around a central campus, the University is a collection of more than 38 colleges and buildings spread throughout the city. Oxford is also one of the settings for the Harry Potter movies and the Inspector Morse television series.

    After lunch on your own, you'll stop at Stratford-upon-Avon, where you'll enjoy free time to discover the town of Shakespeare’s birth, youth, and retirement.

    Late this afternoon, transfer to your hotel in Cheltenham, located near the Cotswolds, a verdant landscape of rolling hills and charming country cottages. Dinner is at your hotel this evening.

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    Today’s discoveries begin at Bath, where an included tour features a visit to the Roman baths. Bath is named for the springs that well up in this city, producing about 500,000 gallons of water each day at 120 degrees Fahrenheit. The lead-lined bath, steps, column bases, and edging stones all date from Roman times. The town later became a prosperous, high-society destination. The striking and elegant architecture of the city, Roman baths, and Georgian terraces inspired the setting for Jane Austen’s novel, Persuasion. You’ll see the principal sights here and enjoy lunch on your own in the city.

    Then continue on to Stonehenge, the starkly dramatic stone monument that has engaged the world’s imagination for centuries. As one of the world’s most recognizable images of a prehistoric culture, Stonehenge creates a powerful impression. In addition to appreciating the unique design and construction, many visitors experience a feeling of uncommon mystery.

    This evening, enjoy a traditional English experience with an early dinner at a pub. Take in the local scene and sample hearty pub grub like steak pie, fish and chips, or bangers and mash, over a pint. Return to Cheltenham in the late evening.

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    After an early breakfast, you’ll travel to the the Snowdonia region of Wales. On route, you'll stop in the small town of Llangollen in Northern Wales for lunch on your own.

    The principality of Wales, together with Scotland and England, makes up Britain. Until the time of English King Edward I in the 13th century, this was an independent nation whose Celtic people fiercely defended their sovereignty. Welsh identity remains distinct today, exemplified in the language, which is actually much easier to pronounce than it looks once you learn the sounds associated with the letters.

    Our destination is the strikingly scenic and mountainous section of Wales called Snowdonia, which surrounds the region’s highest peak, Mount Snowdon. Snowdonia is part of the impressive Cambrian Mountains, which are steep-sided and rugged, presenting some of the most spectacular natural beauty in the British Isles.

    You are staying in Caernarfon, a small historic town right on the coast looking across to the Island of Anglesey. Near your hotel is the medieval castle and walls built by the English after their conquest of Wales. It was here that Prince Charles was formally inaugurated as Prince of Wales in 1969.

    This evening, enjoy an included Home-Hosted Dinner and some of the legendary Welsh hospitality.

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    Enjoy a day to discover Snowdonia on your own.

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    Or, join an optional tour that includes a steam train ride on the Ffestiniog Railway from the coast of Porthmadog into the mountains at Blaenau Ffestiniog. The Ffestiniog Railway is the oldest independent narrow-gauge railway in the world. It was built in 1832 to carry slate but has been carrying passengers since 1864. This route will take you through some of Snowdonia’s spectacular scenery. Then you’ll pay a visit to the village of Portmeirion for lunch, and finish with a visit to a Welsh slate museum.

    The remainder of the day is yours. Enjoy dinner on your own this evening.

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    Today after breakfast, you'll leave Wales for York via Chester. Upon your arrival in Chester, enjoy a short walking tour of this ancient English town with Roman roots and a well-preserved medieval center. Then you’ll have free time for lunch on our own.

    Around AD 60, the Romans expanded their empire in Britain to the banks of the Dee River, where Chester is located. The city today still displays the Roman layout, extending from the Cross, where a Roman fortress stood, to four city gates. In the Middle Ages, commerce on the Dee River, particularly with Ireland, enriched the town in the twelfth and 13th centuries. The prosperity of those times is still evident in one of Chester’s unique features: “the Rows,” a series of two-tiered shops along the ancient streets of the historic town center. Chester also holds a significant place in English cultural history as the town where, beginning in the 14th century, mystery plays (public theater depicting biblical events) were presented.

    Dinner is included tonight at your hotel.

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    After breakfast, we walk through the medieval city to the magnificent York Minster, where a local guide will highlight the history of the cathedral, the largest Gothic cathedral north of the Alps. The stained glass here is magnificent. The cathedral’s Great East Window—created by John Thornton of Coventry and completed in 1408—is the largest expanse of medieval stained glass in the world. It is 76 feet tall and comprises 1,680 square feet of glass. After our visit, you’ll set off for a walking tour of the city with your Program Director, where centuries-old city walls enclose the best-preserved medieval town center in England. York’s history stretches back into ancient Roman times, when it was called Eboracum and served as the military capital of northern Britannia. Traces of Roman garrisons built before the fifth century are sprinkled throughout the city. By the ninth century, Vikings—from what is now Denmark—had succeeded the Romans, calling the town Jorvik and leaving one legacy you’ll still see today: the suffix “-gate”—meaning “street” in the old Viking language—in many street names.

    Later, perhaps you'll use your included voucher for a traditional English "cream tea" at Betty's Tea Room—which you're free to use anytime during your stay in York—and enjoy the balance of the day to explore York at your own pace. Maybe you'll take in the Shambles—originally the meat-butchering area of the city. The cramped, ancient street now houses a variety of shops, and in some areas it is possible for upstairs residents to stretch out and shake hands across the street. Or pay a visit the National Railway Museum, one of the world’s best museums devoted to the legacy of steam engines and railway memorabilia.

    Dinner is on your own this evening.

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    Today is yours to explore at your own pace.

    Or, join us for an optional tour to Whitby and Castle Howard. After crossing the heather-clad North York Moors National Park, you'll arrive in Whitby, a key setting for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. We visit Whitby Abbey, where, on a clear day, you will have spectacular views over the city itself and the North Sea. It was from this town that the explorer James Cook first set out to sea, and during the 19th century, Whitby was renowned for creating jet jewelry that was a favorite of Queen Victoria’s.

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    On this optional tour, you'll take time in this original whaling port to savor an included Yorkshire lunch of fish and chips. Afterward, you'll head for Castle Howard, one of England’s finest stately homes, still lived in by the Howard family and where much of the filming for Brideshead Revisited was done. Although construction on this Baroque masterpiece began in 1699, it took 100 years to complete. Admire its lavish, treasure-filled rooms—including paintings by Rubens and Gainsborough—and perhaps enjoy a stroll in its famed Rose Gardens.

    Dinner is on your own this evening.

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    This morning, depart for the scenic Lake District, England’s largest national park and home to 16 major lakes. Set amidst the most mountainous region of England, it has been the inspiration for countless writers, from Wordsworth and Keats to Beatrix Potter. En route, you’ll visit a local farm for an exclusive Discovery Series event in which you’ll learn about the challenges of modern-day farming, and enjoy a light lunch.

    You'll arrive at your hotel in the late afternoon, and enjoy dinner here with your fellow travelers later this evening.

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    Today, set off along the road to Edinburgh, enjoying an included lunch along the way. During your drive, you'll pass through Gretna Green, Scotland's southernmost town that was once popular with couples desiring to elope and marry.

    By late afternoon, you'll arrive in Edinburgh and check into your hotel, then join your Program Director for a vicinity walk to acquaint yourself with the area around your lodgings. Tonight, dinner is on your own.

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    After breakfast, enjoy a panoramic guided tour of Scotland's capital, Edinburgh, long the center of Scottish culture, commerce, and education. You’ll see the unique atmosphere and architecture of Edinburgh’s Old and New towns as you pass along the Royal Mile.

    Your tour includes a visit to Edinburgh Castle, which overlooks the city from a perch atop a long-extinct volcano. A royal dwelling has been located here since the twelfth century, and the castle’s St. Margaret’s Chapel—the oldest surviving building in the city—dates to this time.

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    Tonight, enjoy dinner on your own. Your Program Director will be happy to make some recommendations.

    Or, join us for an unforgettable optional evening of Scottish entertainment at the stables of Prestonfield House, set in the heart of Edinburgh. It was built in 1688 by Sir James Dick, one of Scotland’s most prosperous merchants. Distinguished guests who visited Prestonfield House during the 18th century include Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Johnson. Today, Prestonfield House is a privately-owned hotel.

    Your Scottish evening includes a selection of typical historic Scottish tunes and melodies played on the accordion and fiddle, accompanied by a variety of singers. There will also be a demonstration of Scottish dancing, the Addressing of the Haggis (during which a Robert Burns poem is recited), and a performance on the Scottish bagpipes. Traditional songs such as “Amazing Grace” and Scotland’s unofficial anthem, “Scotland the Brave” will round off the evening. The grand finale includes the audience participating in saying good night by singing "Auld Lang Syne."

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    Enjoy a full day to make your own discoveries.

    Or, join our optional Royal Scotland tour, where you’ll follow in the footsteps of British monarchs. Begin with a visit to the Royal Yacht Britannia. Commissioned by Queen Elizabeth II in 1954, the vessel was perhaps most famously used by Prince Charles and Lady Diana for their honeymoon cruise. Next, explore Holyrood Palace. Its carefully designed additions over the centuries have made it one of the most admired buildings in the British Isles. The palace was completed in 1501 and was the site of the marriage of Mary, Queen of Scots and Lord Darnley in 1565, and of much subsequent intrigue. Less than a year later, the jealous Darnley had Mary’s private secretary murdered here in her presence.

    Your afternoon is at leisure for independent discoveries. This evening, join your travel companions and Program Director for an included Farewell Dinner.

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    Return home today, or continue your guided tour of Scotland with our optional Scottish Highlands extension.

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Traveler Reviews

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Weather & Regional

Before you travel, we encourage you to learn about the region of the world you'll discover on this trip. From weather and currency information to details on population, geography, and local history, you'll find a comprehensive introduction to your destinations below.

Visit our “What to Know” page to find information about the level of activity to expect, vaccination information resources, and visa requirements specific to this vacation.

What to Know

For more detailed information about this trip, download our Travel Handbook below. This document covers a wide range of information on specific areas of your trip, from passport, visa, and medical requirements; to the currencies of the countries you’ll visit and the types of electrical outlets you’ll encounter. This handbook is written expressly for this itinerary. For your convenience, we've highlighted our travelers' most common areas of interest on this page.

Download the Travel Handbook

What to Expect

Pacing

  • 6 locations in 14 days, including a 1 single-night stay

Physical requirements

  • Not accessible for travelers using wheelchairs or scooters
  • Travelers using walkers, crutches, or other mobility aids must travel with a companion who can assist them throughout the trip
  • You must be able to walk 3 miles unassisted and participate in 3-5 hours of physical activities each day, including stairs

Climate

  • Daytime temperatures range from 46-73°F during touring season
  • June-August are the warmest months
  • February, March, and November weather can be unpredictable and change quickly within a short period of time

Terrain

  • Travel over uneven walking surfaces, including unpaved paths, hills, stairs, and cobblestone

Transportation

  • Travel by 45-seat motorcoach

Cuisine

  • Meals will be based on the local cuisine

Travel Documents

Passport

Your passport should meet these requirements for this itinerary

  • It should be valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled return to the U.S.
  • It should have the recommended number of blank pages (refer to the handbook for details).
  • The blank pages must be labeled “Visas” at the top. Pages labeled “Amendments and Endorsements” are not acceptable.

Visas

U.S. citizens do not need a visa for this trip.

If you are not a U.S. citizen, do not travel with a U.S. passport, or will be traveling independently before/after this trip, then your entry requirements may be different. Please check with the appropriate embassy or a visa servicing company. To contact our recommended visa servicing company, PVS International, call toll-free at 1-800-556-9990.

Vaccinations Information

For a detailed and up-to-date list of vaccinations that are recommended for this trip, please visit the CDC’s “Traveler’s Health” website. You can also refer to the handbook for details.

Before Your Trip

Before you leave on your vacation, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:

Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)

What to Bring

In an effort to help you bring less, we have included checklists within the handbook, which have been compiled from suggestions by Program Directors and former travelers. The lists are only jumping-off points—they offer recommendations based on experience, but not requirements. You might also want to refer to the climate charts in the handbook or online weather forecasts before you pack. Refer to the handbook for details.

Insider Tips

Accommodations

Main Trip

  • Tower Hotel

    London, England | Rating: First Class

    The First-Class Tower Hotel is situated on the River Thames, right in the heart of London. The hotel overlooks the St. Katharine Docks, and is within walking distance to the iconic Tower Bridge and the Tower of London—a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Amenities include access to a gym, restaurant, and lounge, while in-room dining is available 24 hours a day. Each room features coffee- and tea-making facilities, a TV, complimentary toiletries, and private bath.

  • Cheltenham Park Hotel

    Cotswolds, England | Rating: First Class

    Set amid verdant, landscaped grounds in the heart of the picturesque Cotswolds area, the First-Class Cheltenham Park Hotel is located less than two miles from Cheltenham’s city center. Hotel amenities include a restaurant, bar, and health club with indoor swimming pool, sauna, and gym. Each room features a TV, telephone, wireless Internet access, trouser press, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Celtic Royal Hotel

    Snowdonia, Wales | Rating: Superior Tourist Class

    Set in an 18th-century building, the Superior Tourist-Class Celtic Royal Hotel is just a few minutes’ walk from historic Caernarfon Castle, the site where, in 1969, Charles officially became the Prince of Wales. Amenities include a fully equipped gym, indoor pool, and sauna/steam room. Your room features a telephone, TV, and private bath with shower and hair dryer.

  • Park Inn York Hotel

    York, England | Rating: First Class

    Centrally located near many of the city’s iconic landmarks—including the York Mansion House, York Dungeon, and York Minster—the First-Class Park Inn York Hotel offers a restaurant, bar, and health club. Your air-conditioned room is equipped with a TV, Internet access, coffee- and tea-making facilities, safe, and private bath.

  • North Lakes Hotel

    Lake District, England | Rating: First Class

    The First-Class North Lakes Hotel offers complimentary mineral water and a free newspaper when you stay in one of its 84 rooms. Each room features a private bath, coffee- and tea-making facilities, telephone, and satellite TV. Conveniently located on the edge of the Lake District, you’ll be surrounded by picturesque scenery.

  • Carlton Hotel

    Edinburgh, Scotland | Rating: First Class

    The First-Class Carlton Hotel is within walking distance of many of Edinburgh’s most famous historic sites, including Edinburgh Castle and Princes Street. Hotel amenities include a restaurant, bar, and health club featuring a swimming pool, sauna, and gym. Each room features a TV, wireless Internet access, and private bath with hair dryer.

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  • Tower Hotel

    London, England | Rating: First Class

    The First-Class Tower Hotel is situated on the River Thames, right in the heart of London. The hotel overlooks the St. Katharine Docks, and is within walking distance to the iconic Tower Bridge and the Tower of London—a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Amenities include access to a gym, restaurant, and lounge, while in-room dining is available 24 hours a day. Each room features coffee- and tea-making facilities, a TV, complimentary toiletries, and private bath.

  • Kingsmills Hotel

    Inverness, Scotland | Rating: First Class

    Located about a mile from the city center, this First-Class hotel was originally built in 1786 for the Provost of Inverness, who was visited by Robert Burns on September 5, 1787. Burns’s letter thanking the Provost is on display in the reception area. Amenities include a restaurant, lounge, health spa, and swimming pool. Your room includes a telephone, TV, and coffee- and tea-making facilities.

  • Grand Central Hotel

    Glasgow, Scotland

    The Moderate First-Class Grand Central Hotel is centrally located in the heart of Glasgow. Hotel amenities include a restaurant, bar and room service. Each room is equipped with a TV, wireless Internet access, coffee- and tea-making facilities, safe, and private bath.

Flight Information

Flight Options to Personalize Your Trip

You can choose to stay longer before or after your trip on your own, or combine two vacations to maximize your value.

  • Extend your vacation and lower your per day cost with our optional pre- and post-trip excursions
  • Choose our standard air routing, or work with us to select the airline and routing you prefer
  • Make your own international flight arrangements directly with the airline, applying frequent flyer miles if available
  • International airport transfers to and from your ship or hotel, including meet and greet service, are available for purchase
  • Stay overnight in a connecting city before or after your trip
  • Request to arrive a few days early to get a fresh start on your vacation
  • Choose to "break away" before or after your trip, spending additional days or weeks on your own
  • Combine your choice of Grand Circle vacations to maximize your value
  • Upgrade to business or premium class

The air options listed above will involve an additional fee of $100 per person for confirmed requests (as well as incremental airfare costs based on your specific choice).

Standard Air Routing

w/out standard air $1995
w/ standard air $2995

What Makes This Trip Unique

Exclusive Discovery Series Events

  • Home-Hosted Dinner. Share a home-cooked meal and Welsh hospitality when you visit a local family in beautiful Snowdonia.
  • York Minster history tour. A local guide shares the history of York Minster Cathedral, site of the world’s largest expanse of medieval stained glass, as you walk through on a guided tour.
  • Lake District farm visit. Travel to a working farm in the pastoral Lake District, to meet with a local farmer and learn about the challenges of modern-day farming.

Enjoy the opportunity to visit 3 UNESCO World Heritage Sites

  • Stonehenge
  • Bath
  • Old and New towns of Edinburgh

10 reasons to experience England, Scotland & Wales—in the words of our travelers

We often find that the best endorsements of our discovery-rich vacations come directly from our travelers. Here are some of the memorable experiences that they have shared with us from England, Scotland & Wales.

Reservations & Information: Call us toll-free at 1-800-221-2610

1. Scenic landscapes

“England to me is its land. It is the particular green of its hills; the countless sheep that fill me with peace as they innocently graze. It is the stack stone fences erected by hard working farmers using just their hands and the stones from their fields, and it’s the moors carpeted with endless heather. I can see why so many nations and people have fought to possess this land, this island Eden. It is truly beautiful.”A 1-time traveler from El Cajon, CA

2. Oxford, England

“It was very special to have access into one of the Colleges at Oxford University after reading about those environs over the years. Seeing students just back from exams wearing flowers and celebrating was a real treat. It seemed like every day we were stepping into a postcard or the pages of a book we had read.”A 1-time traveler from Richmond, IN

3. Program Directors

“An absolutely superb, knowledgeable Program Director, Debbie Farnham ... This was my 25th trip with Grand Circle, and Debbie ranks right up at the top. She had a story for every turn in the road ... She is articulate, caring, and so thorough, there was never a surprise. Future travelers assigned to one of her groups are in for a treat.” A 27-time traveler from Shingle Springs, CA

4. Scottish Highlands post-trip extension

“One of my chief desires in the tour was to visit the Highlands of Scotland, which I had never been to ... Such beauty! I felt a sense of being carried centuries back. It was particularly moving to visit the site of the battle of Culloden where the last hopes of freeing Scotland from English rule were extinguished.”A 10-time traveler from Ft Lauderdale, FL

5. Local people

“The Brits, Welsh and Scots were all great people. Not only were they helpful when we needed it but they were happy to share stories about their homeland. Each country had story tellers who offered so much of themselves for our benefit.”A 7-time traveler from Okatie, SC

6. Edinburgh, Scotland

“Everything in Edinburgh was interesting from the Castle to our farewell dinner, which was made special by being piped in to the dining room by a wonderful bagpiper in full Scots array!”A 10-time traveler from Tucson, AZ

7. Whitby & Castle Howard optional tour

“The bus ride to Whitby goes through the moors—even though it was raining and heather not blooming you still see how extensive and haunting the moors are. Seeing the North Sea with 30 mile-per-hour winds was exciting. Castle Howard was quite a display of richness.”A 5-time traveler from Cary, NC

8. Local history

“One of the most striking things about this part of the world is its pervasive sense of history ... We saw lots of Roman ruins, including the famous baths at Bath, walked on medieval city walls in Chester and York, and visited the ancient Hadrian's Wall, which more or less defined the long-contested boundary between England and Scotland ...”A 12-time traveler from Wheaton, MD

9. Home-Hosted Dinner

“Our Home-Hosted Dinner in Wales was a highlight of the trip, complete with menus printed in both Welsh and English. Our hosts were wonderful and so very interesting. The evening was over much too soon.”A 10-time traveler from Easton, MD

10. London, England pre-trip extension

“Our pre-trip extension in London gave us 5 days to get to know the great city. We walked miles every day, ate in pubs for lunch and dinner and were overwhelmed with the sense of 2,000 years of civilization. We took the bus to outer locations to be able to see the city. It worked great.”A 6-time traveler from Colorado Springs, CO

Photos From Our Travelers

On location in Europe

Here’s how Grand Circle travelers have captured moments of discovery, beauty, friendship, and fun on previous departures of our England, Scotland & Wales vacation. We hope these will evoke special travel memories and inspire you to submit your own favorite Grand Circle Travel trip photos.

   

Lee Graves, 8-time traveler from Rescue, California, and Deena Smith, first-time traveler from El Dorado Hills, California, are all smiles during a Shakespearean encounter in Stratford-upon-Avon.

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How to submit your photos:

Please submit individual photos in jpeg format to: GCTtravelerphotos@gct.com.

Please be sure to include the name of your OAT adventure, along with the travel dates. Tell us where you took the photo and, if you’d like, tell us why. And don’t forget to include your name and contact information.

Please note: By submitting a photo, you (i) represent and warrant that the photo is your original work created solely by yourself and does not infringe the intellectual property rights of any party; (ii) grant to Grand Circle LLC and its affiliates a worldwide, royalty-free, perpetual, transferable, irrevocable, non-exclusive and fully sublicensable right and license to use, in any and all related media whether now known or hereafter devised, in perpetuity, anywhere in the world, with the right to make any and all commercial or other uses thereof, including without limitation, reproducing, editing, modifying, adapting, publishing, displaying publicly, creating derivative works from, incorporating into other works or modifying the photo and (iii) hereby release and discharge Grand Circle LLC and its affiliates, officers and employees from and against any and all claims, liabilities, costs, damages and expenses of any kind arising out of or relating to the use by Grand Circle LLC of any photo submitted.

Edinburgh Castle: Shrouded in Secrets

The myths and mysteries of Scotland’s iconic landmark

by Catherine Groux, Grand Circle associate

Over the years, Edinburgh has spawned mysterious tales of falsely accused witches, sneaky prisoners, ancient relics, and paranormal activity.

With more than 800 years of history, Edinburgh Castle is shrouded in secrets. Centuries of royals lived within its illustrious chambers and great halls, while countless prisoners awaited their death deep in its dungeons. While today one of Scotland’s most popular tourist attractions, drawing more than a million visitors a year, at various points, the castle served as execution site, royal treasury, and even a fortress. Over the years, Edinburgh has spawned mysterious tales of spying kings, falsely accused witches, sneaky prisoners, ancient relics, and paranormal activity. Below is just a sample of the many myths and mysteries of Edinburgh Castle and the people who lived and died there:

The Stone of Destiny

Protected in Edinburgh Castle is a mysterious block of sandstone. Bearing only a Latin cross, there is little remarkable about its appearance—but throughout history, the Stone of Destiny has inspired legends, sparked great reverence, and spurred several conflicts between Scotland and England.

Beginning in the ninth century, the stone was used during the crowning of the kings who would go on to shape Scotland’s history. Some say the stone has biblical origins, claiming that Jacob used it as a pillow in Bethel when he dreamt of a ladder to heaven. Others believe it came from Scotland or Ireland. But as the stone traveled from Iona to Scone to serve Scotland’s crowned rulers, it became revered as a national relic—a symbol of Scotland’s power and independence.

It was for this reason that Edward I of England, after invading Scotland in 1296, moved the Stone of Destiny to London’s Westminster Abbey, where he put it under the Coronation Chair—sending a message to Scots that the English ruler was their ruler as well. To many Scots’ dismay, the stone remained in Westminster until Christmas morning 1950, when a group of Scottish students stole it—claiming they were taking the ancient relic back to its rightful owners in Scotland. After performing the bold heist (and breaking the stone in half in the process), the nationalists smuggled it back to Scotland, dousing it in whiskey to welcome it home.

After police questioning, however, the students eventually gave up the stone, leaving it in Arbroath Abbey. When it was found, it was moved back to London until 1996, when the British government agreed to return it to Edinburgh Castle. While this was cause for celebration for many Scots, others say the stone you see in the castle today is not the original. Some historians believe the true Stone of Destiny was hidden in the Perthshire hillside when the English invaded in the 13th century—meaning Edward I plundered a counterfeit—while others say the Scots hid the real stone after the 1950 heist, returning a fake to England.

The Lone Piper

Edinburgh Castle is reputed to be one of the most haunted places in the world, and though countless visitors claim to have seen various ghosts wandering the grounds, one of the castle’s most famous paranormal residents is the Lone Piper. Legend says that in the 19th century, a series of underground tunnels was discovered below the castle, connecting Edinburgh to the Royal Mile and Holyrood Palace. Because the tunnels were too small for adults, the authorities asked a young piper to investigate, telling him to play his bagpipes while he explored. As the boy made his way through the mysterious tunnels, the authorities tracked his movements with the sound of his pipes, until the boy stopped playing—vanishing into the dark, underground labyrinth. No one knows what happened to the boy, but visitors still report hearing the ghostly sound of pipes on the castle grounds.

The Witches’ Well

Near the entrance to the castle esplanade sits a small wall fountain called the Witches’ Well. Although the well would be easy to miss, it serves as a reminder of one of the darker times in Scottish history. Between 1479 and 1722, more than 300 suspected witches were burned at the stake near the site of the well. Among them was Janet Douglas, a.k.a. Lady Glamis, a noblewoman whose husband suddenly died while eating alone. Lady Glamis was charged with poisoning him, but when she was deemed innocent, King James V acted on his deep hatred of the Douglas family and accused her of another crime—trying to kill him with witchcraft. Although it seems clear that Lady Glamis was innocent, the king tortured her loved ones until they were willing to testify that she conspired to murder the monarch. Lady Glamis was ultimately condemned and burned at the stake on the castle’s esplanade, along with countless others who met this unfortunate fate.

The Escape Artists

Deep below the Great Hall and Queen Anne Building are stone vaults that housed countless prisoners of war, from a group of Caribbean pirates to a five-year-old drummer boy captured in the Battle of Trafalgar. Over the years, several of these prisoners tried to escape. In 1799, for example, a prisoner tried to sneak out of the castle by hiding in a dung barrel. Unfortunately, the man’s plans were dashed when a guard dumped him—and the other contents of the barrel—over the castle wall. During another famous escape in 1811, a group of 49 French prisoners managed to break through a wall and use a cloth rope to lower themselves down the south crag. Unfortunately, the Frenchmen didn’t escape scot-free. One prisoner fell to his death and four were captured almost immediately. The rest were caught within six weeks, after a successful ad in the Edinburgh Evening Courant named and described each one.

Pay Early & Save up to 10% with our Good Buy Plan

It’s simple: The earlier you reserve and pay in full by check or electronic funds transfer, the more you’ll save on any 2015 departure of England, Scotland & Wales

  • Enjoy the best value by reserving and paying in full as far in advance of your departure as possible—see below for an example of how your savings can add up
  • By paying in full early, you’ll protect your investment from fuel surcharge increases, currency increases, or other unexpected costs
  • You’ll also save up to 10% on your air add-ons, and pre- and post-trip extensions, maximizing your value even further

This example demonstrates how you can save, based on a 9/12/15 departure:

  ORIGINAL PRICE
per person
SAVE 10%
when you reserve by 9/12/14
SAVE 7%
when you reserve by 10/12/14
SAVE 5%
when you reserve by 12/12/14
Land Tour only price: $2895 $2606 $2692 $2750
Add a 4-night Scottish Highlands extension: $995 $896 $925 $945
Add international airfare out of New York: $1000 $900 $930 $950
Total price per person $4890 $4401 $4548 $4646
Total savings per couple   $978 $685 $489

Maximize your value by using the money you save for an optional trip extension

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