United Kingdom & Ireland
While there’s often the temptation to head off in search of the world’s more exotic destinations, the splendour of what lies right on our own doorstep is often overlooked. Indeed, the United Kingdom and Ireland offer staggering variety, showcased in centuries of history and an often jaw-dropping natural world.
Whether you’re a city slicker or after a slice of idyllic country life, you’ll find it on these ancient shores. There are extraordinary cities – London, Edinburgh and Dublin for a start – where sprawling parks, grand palaces and centuries-old castles sit side-by-side with the most striking of 21st-century architecture. The museums, galleries and theatres rival any of those in New York, Paris or Sydney, and the food scene, often unfairly maligned, has in recent times grown to become one of the most respected in the world. And, away from those city greats, countless chocolate-box villages and historic market towns dot the verdant countryside, offering oodles of character, thatched-roof charm and plenty of excellent pubs to boot.
But, it’s perhaps the UK’s natural world that really shines. Around Britain, more than 7,000 miles of coastline serve up everything from plunging crags to remote islands and glorious sandy bays – wild and windswept in winter, dazzling and idyllic in summer. And, across the Irish Sea, the theme continues with Galway’s soaring cliffs and County Antrim’s iconic Giant’s Causeway – a UNESCO World Heritage site. Head inland and things are just as impressive, whether you’re hiking among the Lake District’s falls and fells, ambling in the cutesy Cotswolds or taking in the sheer drama of the Scottish Highlands.
While there are a hundred different ways to explore the UK and Ireland, our recommended journeys centre on both countries’ rail networks, and in particular their luxury trains. And, there can be no finer or more restful way to travel these compact island nations. Imagine gazing out of the window as you rattle past views of Ben Nevis, later calling into a medieval castle to be treated to a sumptuous afternoon tea. Or, touring Cork’s stately homes in the company of an expert historian before taking an evocative horse-drawn carriage ride to a 15th-century castle. We can even arrange exclusive whisky-tasting sessions at the famous Jameson Distillery. Our itineraries aboard the Belmond Grand Hibernian and Belmond Royal Scotsman offer all of these experience and more, as well as luxury stays in two of Edinburgh’s and Dublin’s finest hotels. Then there are our collection of shorter routes, day hops aboard the iconic Belmond British Pullman. You might experience the spa-delights of Bath, accompanied by English sparkling wine and a sumptuous four-course dinner, or head for historic Canterbury for a guided walking tour in the company of a top guide. It’s all enjoyed alongside Bellini cocktails, brunch and a classic afternoon tea.
Of course, the weather in the UK & Ireland is anything but predictable. But, if you’re planning a rail trip around these shores, the best times to go are between April and September. In spring and summer, the landscapes are at their verdant best, the endless green punctuated by flowering meadows, while in spring especially, waterfalls are swelled by the snow melt in the highlands and the inevitable winter rains. That said, autumn is a dazzling time to explore, when the bright greens turn to vivid ambers and golds.
The Belmond Royal Scotsman: Western Scenic Wonders
5 days from £4,380 pp
Sweep over the Scottish Highlands, enjoying full-board fine dining and all-inclusive bar-car drinks as you stop to explore castles and remote islands.
Venice Simplon-Orient-Express: Venice & London in Luxury
4 days from £3,705 pp incl. flights
This version of the classic the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express's northbound route pairs the world's most iconic rail experience with luxury stays in both Venice and London.