The British Isles are a diverse land mixing centuries of history and culture with spirited metropolitan cities and quaint countryside towns. Whatever your interests may be, there’s much to explore across the pond. But with so many options available, it’s easy to find yourself stuck in an enormous crowd staring at the back of a tourist’s head rather than seeing the changing of the guards. Fortunately for you, there is a way to pick just the right footpath, to get the same private access to Stonehenge as former President Obama and to be at the right place at the right time. Just follow this easy cheat sheet. With it, you can take to the streets in London or meander through charming countryside and villages where time seems to stand still. Cue the wanderlust!
Surprise, surprise—London makes the list! Of course, visiting the British Isles without exploring this magnificent city steeped in history would be missing a great deal of the British Isles. With a local expert Blue Badge Guide, keep your focus on Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, and the many impressive war monuments and museums. Your guide will help you weave the past into the fabric of the city while blending with the modern architecture in this metropolitan gem. The city’s tremendous diversity (did you know there are over one million British Indians in London?) lends it an inimitable character where delicious food abounds the streets and creativity exists on every street corner. So how to find the well-connected friend a.k.a. Blue Badge Guide? Classic Journeys has relationships with the best ones so that you can focus all your attention on enjoying your visit.
Stonehenge's ring of prehistoric standing stones is iconic, a quintessential symbol of Britain and its rich history. This UNESCO World Heritage site, located in the Salisbury Plain, dates as far back as 5,000 years and carries a powerful ceremonial and ritual significance for people across the globe. Each massive stone weighs about 25 tons and reaches heights of 13 feet, making it a masterpiece of engineering. This wonder of the world, and the mystery and rich history that surrounds it, is a must-see as you explore the United Kingdom. The problem you’ll encounter is that about 1.5 million people visit Stonehenge every year, meaning that you will have a lot more than the standing stones standing around you. The cure is to visit when the site is closed to the public. No, we don’t mean to jump the fence and skirt the ample security. Instead, Classic Journeys has special permission from English Heritage to bring its guests into Stonehenge when no one else is present. Meaning you’ll be just like the president, if only for a day.
Britain boasts yet another impressive UNESCO World Heritage site in one of England’s great country houses: Blenheim Palace. The impressive palace has been a filming location for many movies but has a storied history of its own. Located just outside of Oxford, the massive property is open to the public but is considered the private property of the 12th Duke of Marlborough. The palace is known for being the ancestral home of Winston Churchill, was used as a hospital for wounded soldiers during the First World War and has housed various dukes and duchesses throughout history. You can arrive by car and simply wander Blenheim on your own, listening for the old halls to share their stories of the palace. Or, join Classic Journeys to walk through the scenic countryside from the nearby village of Bladon—where Winston Churchill was buried—to Blenheim Palace. With this route, you also have the fun of strolling the sweeping lawns and formal gardens.
The stunning Cotswolds region is not only known as the birthplace of Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, and George Elliot, but also wows for its sweeping sheep-filled meadows, grand family homes, and honey-colored villages that represent the England of fantasies. Think cozy, flower-strewn cottages and vast swathes of picturesque rolling green countryside. So many of them, in fact, that your head will spin with color, fragrance and options. So how to make sense of it? Opt for a guided walk through Bath that includes afternoon tea served with shortbread and scones, and revel in the location that inspired some of the world's best literature. The magic of these places is how little they have changed over the centuries, and so how easy it is to imagine yourself in the literary works you treasure and the land that inspired them.
The southwest corner of England is known for its inviting turquoise water, sandy beaches, chalky limestone cliffs and fine coastal trails with terrific views punctuated by lighthouses and villages tucked into tiny coves. Visit Tintagel Castle, which is frequently cited as the birthplace of King Arthur himself. History and legends of the pirates and smugglers of Land's End exist around every corner. Cozy seaside villages, friendly and quirky locals and the occasional cream tea with scones, jam, and clotted cream will leave you feeling at home in this captivating part of the British Isles. Follow a Blue Badge Guide on walks along cliffs lined with coastal paths, explore seaside hamlets with picturesque harbors, and cross causeways to an island castle in this exquisite county of England.
The Irish town of Killarney is nestled on the beautiful Lough Leane lakeshore in a valley ringed by mountains in southwest Ireland. The scenic valleys, fabled Killarney Lakes and Old Kenmare Road are not to be missed. But what is fact and what is fable? For that, you’ll want to pair up with an expert local as you stroll through the wild, heath-covered hillsides of Killarney National Park and look out for its magnificent herds of native red deer and unique plant life. Enjoy beautiful castles and too many shades of green to count as you learn of Killarney's famous herds of mountain sheep that have been carefully bred for over 150 years. (Because you’re in the know, you’ll also be welcomed to a sheep farm to watch its prized dogs maneuver the sheep all around the countryside.)
Ring of Kerry, Ireland
The Ring of Kerry is a famed scenic loop in southwest Ireland's County Kerry. Rugged islands, dramatic beaches, and cinematic mountain passes will amaze you as you roam through the Irish countryside. But how to make Ireland more than just one big green postcard in your mind? The secret is in getting to know the local people. So find a guide who can introduce you to the chocolatier who will become your own personal Willy Wonka, the local who shares his secrets for how to cut turf (totally useless, but very fun) and the master distiller who is taking on the global brands one drop at a time.
There you go. Seven travel hacks that will have you exploring the British Isles like a former president, staying far from the maddening crowds, and getting the trip of a lifetime. For more details on how, take a look at tours offered by Classic Journeys.