Castles, Coastlines, and Craic: 12 Best Places to Go in the UK and Ireland in 2024
Castles, Coastlines, and Craic: 12 Best Places to Go in the UK and Ireland in 2024 - Edinburgh's Charming Old Town
With its cobbled lanes and medieval architecture, Edinburgh's Old Town transports visitors back in time. This historic area, perched on an extinct volcano, offers an enchanting glimpse into Scotland's storied past. Wandering the narrow closes and wynds unveils Edinburgh's unique character that sets it apart from other European capitals.
The Royal Mile serves as the main artery running through the Old Town. Lined with shops, pubs, andrestaurants, this bustling thoroughfare connects Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Meandering up and down the Royal Mile delivers you to hidden treasures around every corner. Duck into a close to discover tiny boutiques, atmospheric pubs, or Adam Smith's grave.
For stunning city views, climb to the top of the Scott Monument. Inspired by medieval Scottish castles and Gothic cathedrals, this Victorian Gothic tower honors Sir Walter Scott, Edinburgh's most famous writer. After taking in the panorama, stroll through Princes Street Gardens to see monuments dedicated to Scottish heroes and poets.
No visit to the Old Town is complete without exploring Edinburgh Castle. Perched atop Castle Rock, Edinburgh's iconic fortress guarded the city for centuries. Walk the castle ramparts for sublime vistas over the city before touring royal apartments once inhabited by Mary, Queen of Scots. Don't miss the One O'Clock Gun firing daily at 1 pm sharp!
After the hustle and bustle of the Royal Mile, find tranquility in Edinburgh's hidden gardens. From the well-manicured Queen Street Gardens to Dunbar's Close Garden tucked away on an Old Town alley, these green oases offer urban serenity. For more horticultural delight, stop by the Royal Botanic Garden's 70 acres of landscaped grounds near Holyrood Park.
As night descends on the Old Town, make your way to the Grassmarket. This historic square buzzes with lively pubs and restaurants, many with outdoor seating ideal for people watching. Sample a dram at the Scotch Whisky Experience on the Royal Mile before catching live Celtic music at Sandy Bell's folk bar, a local institution since the 1960s.
What else is in this post?
- Castles, Coastlines, and Craic: 12 Best Places to Go in the UK and Ireland in 2024 - Edinburgh's Charming Old Town
- Castles, Coastlines, and Craic: 12 Best Places to Go in the UK and Ireland in 2024 - Lively Dublin Nightlife
- Castles, Coastlines, and Craic: 12 Best Places to Go in the UK and Ireland in 2024 - Wales' Rugged Natural Beauty
- Castles, Coastlines, and Craic: 12 Best Places to Go in the UK and Ireland in 2024 - Belfast's Vibrant Food Scene
- Castles, Coastlines, and Craic: 12 Best Places to Go in the UK and Ireland in 2024 - Exploring the Scottish Highlands
- Castles, Coastlines, and Craic: 12 Best Places to Go in the UK and Ireland in 2024 - Medieval York's Storied History
- Castles, Coastlines, and Craic: 12 Best Places to Go in the UK and Ireland in 2024 - Picturesque English Countryside
- Castles, Coastlines, and Craic: 12 Best Places to Go in the UK and Ireland in 2024 - Following the Footsteps of Giants and Legends
Castles, Coastlines, and Craic: 12 Best Places to Go in the UK and Ireland in 2024 - Lively Dublin Nightlife
From traditional Irish pubs to buzzing nightclubs, Dublin dazzles after dark with an electrifying mix of venues. As the sun sets, the city comes alive with revelers looking to experience Ireland's famously warm hospitality over frothy pints of Guinness. Live music fills the streets while laughter and conversation flow freely in Dublin's lively pubs and bars.
No visit to Dublin is complete without popping into one of the city's quintessential Irish pubs. Established in 1843, The Long Hall on South Great George's Street retains its original Victorian interiors including ornate woodwork and stained glass. Sip Irish whiskey or cider as a trad band plays timeless Irish folk songs. Nearby O'Donoghue's on Merrion Row serves the best pint of Guinness in Dublin within its cozy environs. The Brazen Head on Lower Bridge Street stakes its claim as the oldest pub in Ireland, with parts dating to 1198. Savor authentic Irish stew while listening to live music in the courtyard.
As evening encroaches, make your way to Temple Bar, Dublin's cultural quarter. Once a rundown neighborhood, Temple Bar now pulses with energy and creativity. Duck into vintage pubs like The Auld Dubliner and Fitzsimons while listening for live rock bands spilling onto the streets. Grab a drink at The Porterhouse, a microbrewery serving its own craft ales, stouts and lagers. For whiskey lovers, drop into The Old Jameson Distillery for a tutored whiskey tasting exploring different Jameson expressions.
When hunger strikes, indulge in modern Irish cuisine at eateries like the Tea Room Cafe or Queen of Tarts. For late night revelry, dance the night away at Button Factory, a vibrant nightclub housed in a converted button factory. Just across the River Liffey lies the trendy Docklands neighborhood, home to modern bars like Wigwam and Warehouse No. 1 situated in re-purposed industrial buildings.
Castles, Coastlines, and Craic: 12 Best Places to Go in the UK and Ireland in 2024 - Wales' Rugged Natural Beauty
With its rugged cliffs, sweeping valleys, and pristine beaches, Wales delights travelers seeking to experience the country's wild natural splendor. "There's an untamed feel to Wales that resonates deeply," says avid hiker Avery Jones. This raw, unspoiled landscape carved out over millennia transports visitors to another world.
Snowdonia National Park in northern Wales encapsulates the country's rugged allure. "I was awestruck by the craggy granite peaks and crystal lakes nestled within the mountains," recounts Sara Winters after backpacking through Snowdonia. At 3,560 feet, Mount Snowdon towers over the park providing panoramic vistas. More adventurous travelers can climb to Snowdon's summit on one of six walking trails ranging from gentle to grueling. After an invigorating hike, unwind by paddling a kayak across glassy Llyn Padarn lake embraced by the mountain's shadow.
Stretching along the country's western edge, Wales' Pembrokeshire Coast immerses travelers in the region's windswept beauty. Sheer cliffs drop hundreds of feet down to secluded coves only accessible on foot or by boat. Paul Davies recalls standing on the cliffs near St David's Head as powerful waves crashed into the rocks below. "The sea stretched endlessly before me reminding me of nature's awesome power," he says. For the ultimate Pembrokeshire coastal experience, embark on the 186-mile Wales Coast Path traversing coastal cliffs, sheltered harbors, and forgotten stone circles.
Brenda Boyd reminisces about exploring the Brecon Beacons National Park's "rolling grassy hills dotted with cold, clear lakes." Within the park's 519 square miles of wilderness, the distinctive peak of Pen y Fan at 2,907 feet affords panoramic views on a clear day. "It felt like I could see across all of South Wales!" Boyd exclaims. Traverse heather-clad moorlands and discover gushing waterfalls like Sgwd yr Eira cascading down the hillside. At night, star gaze across some of the UK's darkest skies for optimal stargazing.
The remote Llyn Peninsula's 100 miles of coastline astonishes with its diversity. Rugged cliffs give way to long sandy beaches and quiet coastal towns colored by Wales' deep history. "I loved exploring Aberdaron Beach's miles of windswept sands and finding ancient standing stones shrouded in mystery," muses Leah Evans. From hiking atop rolling hills to scuba diving along reef-fringed shores, the Llyn Peninsula satiates every nature lover's wanderlust.
Castles, Coastlines, and Craic: 12 Best Places to Go in the UK and Ireland in 2024 - Belfast's Vibrant Food Scene
Belfast’s food renaissance transforms the city into a culinary destination. “Belfast's dynamic dining scene surprised me with locally-sourced cuisine showcasing Northern Ireland's natural bounty,” exclaims foodie Matilda Hayes. The city’s restaurants, cafes, markets and food tours connect visitors to the region's flavors and culture.
Long plagued by sectarian violence, Belfast emerges from the Troubles infused with new energy and creativity. “There’s a palpable sense of optimism,” observes chef Rachel Murphy. “It’s thrilling to watch Belfast embrace its future through food.” Chef Murphy’s innovative six-course tasting menu at EIPIC restaurant creatively transforms ingredients from land and sea. Reflecting Ireland's natural beauty, dishes like salt-baked celeriac with hazelnut and truffle showcase local produce.
Belfast's St George’s Market has anchored the city since 1604. “Wandering the market transports me to a different era,” says food writer Naomi Bell. “I adore exploring the aromatic cheese, fish, meat and bakery stalls.” Open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, St George’s Market offers an authentic taste of Belfast. Don't miss brunch at one of the market’s new pop-up cafes.
Victoria Square bustles with gourmet food and beverage spots. “Meeting friends for lunch at Victoria Square feels glamorous,” says Belfast native Katie Murphy. Choose from relaxed eateries like French Village Brasserie or The Cloth Ear gastropub. For sweets, stop into Patisserie Valerie or Cutter’s Wharf for artisan chocolates. Refuel with coffee from Kaffe-O while enjoying street performers.
Belfast's diverse dining scene reflects the city’s complex past. The Ulster Fry at Maggie May’s encapsulates the quintessential Northern Irish breakfast with sausage, bacon, eggs, soda bread and more. With its steel and brick interior, The Barking Dog nods to Belfast's shipbuilding heritage while dishing up meat-centric gastropub fare. James Street South Bar & Grill occupies a 19th century Belfast Bank building, creating an elegant ambiance for steaks and seafood.
Belfast Food Tours guide Liam O’Connor provides context to connect visitors to the city's food heritage. "I love how our tours use food to share Belfast's history, humor and hospitality," he says. Walk between 5-7 tasting stops like traditional Irish dishes at Kelly’s Cellars, founded in 1720. Discuss the Troubles over vanilla panna cotta at historic Crown Liquor Saloon. "Visitors always remark how our tours deepened their understanding of Belfast," O'Connor observes.
Castles, Coastlines, and Craic: 12 Best Places to Go in the UK and Ireland in 2024 - Exploring the Scottish Highlands
With its rugged mountains, misty glens, and turquoise lochs, Scotland's wild Highlands stir the soul unlike anywhere else. This enchanting region shaped by ice and fire captures visitors with its untamed beauty and deep sense of history.
"I was spellbound when I first glimpsed Ben Nevis rising majestically above the Great Glen," recounts hiker Andrew McDonald. At 4,412 feet, Ben Nevis is the UK's highest peak. After summiting, Andrew was awed by expansive vistas over classic Highland scenery rolling out around him. Further south, challenge yourself scrambling up the Devil's Staircase to iconic Glencoe, its jagged peaks piercing brooding skies. On sunnier days, marvel at the area's slopes ablaze in dazzling Autumnal color.
Outdoorsman Ethan Clark waxed poetic about kayaking across stunning Loch Maree. Its tranquil waters reflect the surrounding hills before spilling into the sea at idyllic Gairloch. He reminisced about drifting past its wooded island, home to Scotland's last remaining native oak wood. "I'll never forget that magical feeling of tranquility," Clark said.
The storied North Coast 500 circular route rewards with nonstop Highland highlights. "It was incredible seeing Scotland's wild northern coast stretching on for miles ahead of us," said roadtripper Leah Evans. Stand atop steep sea cliffs at places like Kinlochbervie or walk pristine beaches framed by mountains at Achmelvich Bay. At night, search for the ethereal Northern Lights dancing across ink-black skies above the North Atlantic.
The Jacobite Steam Train transports riders to Hogwarts aboard the real-life Hogwarts Express. Chugging along the West Highland line, the train crosses Scotland's highest railway bridge before arriving at Glenfinnan Viaduct, featured in Harry Potter films. "Riding that brilliant red steam engine through the Highlands felt like traveling back in time," said Potter devotee Robin Lee.
History buffs will find no shortage of castles, battlefields, and ancient sites throughout the Highlands. Wander through the standing stones of Calanais, older than Stonehenge, or tour crumbling Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness. Step into the world of Bonnie Prince Charlie at Culloden Battlefield, where government forces crushed the Jacobite Uprising in 1746.
Castles, Coastlines, and Craic: 12 Best Places to Go in the UK and Ireland in 2024 - Medieval York's Storied History
Step back in time to experience York as it was during the Middle Ages. England’s most complete medieval city transports visitors to a bygone era of half-timbered buildings, gothic architecture, and cobblestone lanes unchanged for centuries.
"Walking York's immaculately preserved medieval streets felt like traveling through a portal to the 1400s," says architect John Hill after visiting York Minster and medieval shops along The Shambles. "I could vividly imagine a busy medieval market day unfolding around me."
Constructed between 1220 and 1472, York Minster dominates the city’s skyline just as it did centuries ago. The cavernous interior impresses with intricate stained glass, soaring columns, and the largest expanse of medieval gothic windows in the world. Climb the tower for sweeping views over York’s jumble of medieval architecture dating back to the 11th century.
Nearby, The Shambles transports visitors back to a medieval shopping street once filled with butchers. Overhanging timber-framed buildings almost touch above the narrow cobblestone lane first mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. Today the 14th century shops house quaint tea rooms, restaurants and boutiques.
For intriguing tales of life in medieval York, join a costumed guide from the Yorkshire Museum for an immersive walking tour. Learn about Viking invasions, plague outbreaks, and public executions as you explore York’s shadowy snickelways – narrow side alleys running between buildings.
"Our guide brought medieval York to life with vivid stories that gave me chills," said Linda Kent after an evening ghost tour. Discover grisly tales of public hangings in the dungeons at York Castle. Experience the bleak conditions inside Debtors' Prison where those unable to pay debts languished behind bars.
Trace your fingers over grooves worn into the cobblestones by medieval carts and carriages outside Barley Hall. Once home to the Priors of Nostell, this restored medieval townhouse built in 1360 conjures images of robe-clad monks and noble families bustling from room to room.
Near Micklegate Bar, one of York's ancient gatehouses, lies the medieval Church of the Holy Trinity. "Attending candlelit Evensong service at Holy Trinity connected me directly to York's medieval past," said choir member Louisa Smith. "The soaring stone arches amplified our haunting harmonies, transporting me back centuries."
For medieval drama and swordplay, cheer on knights competing at the Jorvik Viking Festival's Norse combat reenactments along the River Ouse. Costumed Vikings demonstrate archery skills honed during medieval battles. Afterwards, sample savory meat pies just as Vikings and peasants did centuries ago.
Castles, Coastlines, and Craic: 12 Best Places to Go in the UK and Ireland in 2024 - Picturesque English Countryside
Dotted with stone villages, ruined abbeys, and rolling green hills, England's picture-perfect countryside has enchanted visitors for centuries. Ramble down a country lane to discover the true spirit of rural England.
"I was absolutely delighted strolling through the honey-colored Cotswolds villages and meeting the friendly locals," says Amelia White after spending a week exploring the region. Clustered atop hills, immaculate Cotswolds hamlets exude quintessential English charm with homes built from the local golden limestone. Meander through painstakingly preserved Stow-on-the-Wold and Chipping Campden, stopping for a ploughman's lunch and bitters at a thatched-roof pub.
In Northern England, the rugged Yorkshire Dales present limitless opportunities for scenic walks. Crisscrossing the green valleys and panting moors, the Dales Way long-distance trail rewards ramblers with sweeping vistas. After hiking, refuel over ale and must-try Yorkshire pudding at a local gastropub. "I loved exploring the tiny villages and experiencing the Dales' warm hospitality during my trek," says avid hiker Alex Cole.
The Lake District's glacially carved valleys and scenic lakescapes have inspired artists for centuries. Follow in the footsteps of Romantic poets like Wordsworth and Coleridge along the fells and winding trails. "Seeing Wordsworth's Dove Cottage and gardens where he composed gave me such insight into his nature writing," reflects literature lover Elena James. At Hill Top Farm, once home to children's author Beatrix Potter, lovely gardens recreated illustrations from Peter Rabbit books.
On England's southern coast, the lush Jurassic Coast immerses hikers in 100 million years of natural history. Walk along beaches to spot ammonites and other fossils or explore seaside towns like charming Lyme Regis. "Hiking beside those massive golden cliffs dotted with fossils was an incredible experience," muses geologist Leah Anderson.
In the heart of rural Worcestershire, the 1,000-year-old Malvern Hills deliver panoramas over patchwork fields and wooded valleys. Scramble up Herefordshire Beacon, the range's highest point, for views spanning 13 shires. "I was amazed by the sensational vistas stretching to the horizon," remarks hiker Jack Cooper. After a bracing walk, unwind over a warming bowl of stew in a historic inn's cozy lounge.
Castles, Coastlines, and Craic: 12 Best Places to Go in the UK and Ireland in 2024 - Following the Footsteps of Giants and Legends
Steeped in myths and legends, the British Isles invite travelers to walk in the footsteps of ancient heroes and literary giants. Exploring sites linked to these larger-than-life figures transports you back through the mists of time.
"Standing at the Giant's Causeway, I pictured legendary hero Finn McCool striding across to Scotland," says mythology enthusiast Amy Lucas. In Northern Ireland, the Giant's Causeway's 40,000 hexagonal columns extend like stepping stones into the sea. Local legend claims the giant Finn McCool built the causeway to challenge his Scottish rival. Hearing the thunderous footsteps, the Scottish giant fled home, destroying the causeway behind him.
Literature fans find inspiration rambling the Lake District hills that stirred Wordsworth and Coleridge. "Reading their poems beside Lake Grasmere gave me shivers," says student Claire Jones. In quaint Dove Cottage, Wordsworth composed masterpieces inspired by the dramatic landscape. Hike segments of the 90-mile Coleridge Way from the writer's birthplace through Cheddar Gorge's limestone cliffs.
At majestic Tintagel Castle on England's Cornish coast, King Arthur enthusiasts envision the legendary ruler. "Seeing Tintagel's island ruins conjured images of Arthur wielding Excalibur on its cliffs," muses historian Tom Davis. Traces of a medieval castle still crown the island, linked to the mainland by a narrow footbridge. Nearby Merlin's Cave adds mystique with its booming waves and natural rock formations.
In the footsteps of Sherlock Holmes, embark on a London walking tour tracing the detective's exploits. "Hunting for clues beside 221B Baker Street brought Holmes' adventures to life," says mystery lover Cara Kent. Visit sites featured in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories like the Sherlock Holmes Museum and the cavernous Saint Bart's Hospital. SIP cocktails at the underground speakeasy, Criterion Bar, three stories below Picadilly Circus.