Discover what's 'great' about Great Britain as you kickstart your lengthy love affair with Britain and Ireland in London. The multicultural capital, with all its colour, history and culture, waves you on towards the lush green counties north as you wind your way to Stratford-upon Avon. There's time to explore the town where England's favourite bard was born and laid to rest. You could delve into his life during a visit to Shakespeare's Birthplace and Visitor Centre before continuing your journey to York. Wander through its medieval streets to the city's geographic and spiritual heart, the York Minster. Then walk along The Shambles, a street so old it was mentioned in the Domesday Book. Continue to your hotel in Bradford.
All that lies between you and bonnie Scotland is Hadrian's Wall. Unlike the barbarians it sought to keep out, you'll have free reign not only to view it, but to cross it bound for the 12th-century ruins of Jedburgh Abbey. See how this symbol of power and authority over 'The Debatable Lands' still impresses today before heading to the Royal Burgh of Airth. This evening, an Optional Experience could see you visit the ancient village of Torphichen where Knights Hospitaller once settled.
Poets, writers, kings and queens have all found it impossible to resist Edinburgh's allure. From its medieval Old Town to the elegant Georgian façades across the Leith, you'll soon discover why it captured the hearts of so many famous people throughout the ages. Your Local Specialist reveals all the colourful tales of 'Auld Reekie' as your sightseeing tour rolls past the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle, perched atop Castle Rock. Explore the city your way during your free afternoon or consider joining one of two special Optional Experiences, boarding the Royal Yacht Britannia for a brush with royalty or exploring what lies behind the impenetrable walls of Edinburgh Castle. Don your tartan if you please this evening. Tonight, you're in for a memorable Optional Experience featuring the skirl of traditional bagpipes.
A scenic drive through the ancient kingdom of Fife this morning reveals a time when these lush green hills were under the feudal rule of a Pictish king. Your first stop however is in the seaside town of St. Andrews, most noteworthy for its 15th-century university and inspiring the origins of golf. Put aside your dream of a hole-in-one and head to Pitlochry next, your gateway to the Highlands. You could choose to explore this salmon fishing centre on your own or walk in the footsteps of queens during an optional visit to Blair Castle, home to Europe's last remaining private army. Later, an exhilarating optional encounter with a shepherd and his sheep could be on the cards. But it's the enthusiastic border collies on this Highland farm that are the stars of the show on this Optional Experience.
Straight out of a scene in 'Outlander', the Scottish Highlands has a mystical air about it which you'll come to discover as you explore its rugged beauty, evocative history and enchanting Highland ways. On your visit to Loch Ness this morning, keep a keen eye out for 'Nessie' before arriving in Inverness, the capital of the Highlands. Today's poignant highlight is a visit to Culloden, where Bonnie Prince Charlie's brave clansmen fought to keep their traditions alive but were crushed by the Redcoats who subsequently banned everything Scottish. Return to your hotel in the Highlands for dinner.
With its head in the clouds, Ben Nevis offers a majestic backdrop to today's scenic drive to Fort William, the self-proclaimed 'Outdoor Capital of the UK'. Views of Scotland's highest peak accompany the drive to Loch Linnhe. Continue to Glencoe where the tragic 17th-century massacre of the MacDonalds turned the wild beauty of this valley into a 'Glen of Weeping'. Travel along the banks and braes of Loch Lomond, where an optional cruise experience could take you to Rob Roy's cave, before arriving in gritty Glasgow later today. Your orientation tour of the city will include views of Glasgow Cathedral and George Square where many of Scotland's famous sons are immortalised in stone. An evening of good food and characteristic Glaswegian fun lies ahead if you choose an Optional Experience night out on the toon.
Elope to Gretna Green, as many young couples once did to tie the knot over its marriage anvil. While the practice of handfasting was outlawed less than a century ago, this Scottish town remains a haven for romance and runaway lovers. Continue south through tiny northern villages and vast pastures fringed by ancient stone walls to the Lake District. Today's highlight is a stop at Lake Windermere where an Optional Experience brings this 'loveliest spot that man hath found' to life. Board an optional cruise on a boat and take a step back in time aboard an old-world steam train before arriving at your hotel later.
See the legacy of Roman rule during this morning's visit to the ancient walled city of Chester. You'll view its defensive 1st-century walls and the characteristic black and white half-timbered buildings, famously known as 'The Rows' before heading to the west coast. Cross St. George's Channel to Ireland and its youthful capital, Dublin. You'll arrive just in time for an Optional Experience at a local restaurant-pub that will deliver the craic for which Ireland is so renowned.
Embrace your playful side on this morning's sightseeing tour through Ireland's whimsical capital with a Local Specialist. View St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin Castle and Trinity College, where the 9th-century Book of Kells, and Ireland's greatest cultural treasure, is housed. This afternoon, explore Dublin your way or join an optional visit to one of the most important monastic sights in Europe. Your Local Specialist will bring the ancient stories of Glendalough to life and show you around the beautiful landscapes of the garden of Ireland. This evening, an optional dinner and cabaret evening will have your toes tapping and taste buds craving another round of Irish coffee.
Cross the 'Emerald Isle', passing lush green counties as you wind your way north to Bundoran. There's no better way to admire the scenery than joining an optional cruise along the Shannon River. Later, view the ruins of the 12th-century Boyle Abbey before arriving in Drumcliff, where acclaimed poet and playwright, W.B. Yeats was laid to rest. See the self-penned epitaph on his simple headstone urging the horseman to 'pass by'. Later, continue to Donegal, the gateway to the Wild Atlantic Way.
Begin your day with views of the 15th-century Donegal Castle, formerly the home of the O'Donnells, one of the most powerful and ancient Gaelic families in Ireland. Leaving civilisation behind for the day, your scenic drive through County Donegal will deliver a multitude of dramatic landscapes. Golden beaches, rugged cliffs and uninhabited islands dot your route so keep your camera at the ready to capture these perfect gifts of Mother Nature. Nothing says sophistication quite like fine porcelain and this afternoon's visit to Belleek Pottery, across the border in Northern Ireland, reveals over a century of craftsmanship and art, the results of which can still be seen on dining tables the world over.
Galway's ancient reputation as a 'place of foreigners' is long gone, but much of its captivating heritage remains as you'll see first-hand during a stroll around Eyre Square. View Galway Cathedral, then leave the city behind for the plunging Cliffs of Moher. Take a deep breath and let the fresh sea air fill your lungs as you peer over the edge of the emerald-topped cliffs to the crashing waves of the Atlantic below. With a squint you may just be able to see the distant Aran Islands, but without much effort you'll spot the curious and colourful beaked puffins which are eager residents of the area. You'll visit the interactive Cliffs Exhibition before heading to your hotel in Shannon.
See the Ireland you've only encountered in pictures and on the big screen until now. Your scenic drive around the Dingle Peninsula reveals a land of stone monuments, wild beaches and verdant pastures. See tiny Gaelic settlements, colourful fishing villages and landscapes that 'catch the heart off guard', in the words of Irish poet, Seamus Heaney. Later arrive in Tralee in County Kerry, where the Rose of Tralee International Festival attracts 'lovely and fair' Irishwomen from around the world to compete for the crown of 'Rose'. A fitting way to end the day would be to join an Optional Experience featuring toe-tapping Irish music and dance.
Kiss the Blarney Stone and acquire the 'gift of the gab' on your visit to Blarney Castle this morning. Show off your silver tongue throughout your scenic drive through Cork to Waterford, Ireland's oldest city. From the ancient Vikings to the Normans, they all made their mark on Waterford, but it is the city's glittering crystal mastery spanning the years since 1783 that have made it world famous. Visit the Waterford Crystal Showroom (when open) to see its artistry before an optional evening of history at a local pub with a Local Specialist and a pint or two of the 'Black Stuff'.
Board your return ferry to the United Kingdom this morning, arriving in Wales later where its tiny capital Cardiff waits to be explored. Your orientation tour will take you past its Millennium Centre, the National Assembly and the historic Castle at its heart. Join an optional tour of Cardiff Castle followed by an optional evening of Welsh music, culture and humour.
As your epic exploration of five countries comes to an end, there's time to fit in some last-minute sightseeing before returning to London. Cross the Severn Estuary into England and venture to Bath, with its elegant Georgian architecture and the Roman Baths which have given this ancient spa town its name. Visit Windsor and view the world's oldest and largest inhabited castle before shopping for Royal souvenirs. The Queen's favourite weekend home is a sight to behold before you continue to London where your journey comes to an end.