Pete and I just returned from a 9 day glorious trip to Edinburgh and London to celebrate our 30th anniversary. While we have traveled to London numerous times, we’ve never been to Scotland and thought we would get a taste of it this time. This part of Europe is always fantastic but I have to say, December is simply magical due the the holiday spirit! The Christmas decor is next level and truly so festive. I’m sharing our exact itinerary and travel tips for our winter trip.
Today, I’m going to format this post a little differently. I’m going to give you the travel details first and then break it out day by day. There wasn’t a magic formula we used to plot out our itinerary; it was truly based on availability and highlights we wanted to hit. As far as restaurants and hot spots, I always ask my friends for recommendations before making those reservations. Thank you to Lisa C. and Jennifer D. for all of their great tips. For this trip, we used Sara Parent at Elli Travel. I typically book all of my own travel but this itinerary involved lots of reservations and I had her take care of these. I will say that once you get your final itinerary, double check everything and make sure all of your confirmations are clearly listed. We had a little snafu on our trip with one of our reservations and worked it out ourselves (a heavy tip to the concierge will do the trick). Also know that your travel agent is not in the country of your travel and will be several hours off of your time if you need them.
As far as hotels go, I look for old world charm, excellent location and luxury properties that include a full breakfast as well as hotels that have great bar and restaurants. The reason I want a full breakfast included is that its one less meal to worry about and oftentimes, we would skip lunch due to our busy itinerary. Our choices tend to be 5 star hotels.
I will also add that we traveled with British Airways for this trip and I wouldn’t select them again. Simply put, they have a lack of customer service. Additionally, the BA Airbus business seat configuration is odd and the seats are horribly uncomfortable. While we are grateful that we traveled safely, we much prefer the American Airlines 777 Flagship business class service which we took on our trip to Germany in May. I assumed all business class seats and service were the same. Lesson learned!
Below I am detailing out our day by day itinerary. If you have any questions, please leave a comment and I will get back to you. You can get more of a feel for our trip in my Instagram Story highlights. Check out UK TRIP and UK TRIP – 2. We literally take you along with us as we travel. Also, my most asked question was how I traveled with so many clothes and three coats. We check our bags and I wear one coat on the plane and pack two. Travel Trip: Carry on one bag with pajamas, toiletries and a couple of days of outfits in case your checked luggage gets lost, especially if you have a connecting flight. We did and this tip saved us as one our checked bags never made it to Scotland. Thankfully, we were reunited with it in London.
I hope you enjoy this travel post. Let me know what you think. xoxo – Tanya
P.S. If you want to see what we looked like on our wedding day, click HERE. Cheers to 30 years!
photo: Pete Foster
Day by Day Travel Itinerary For Edinburgh and London
We took a BA flight from Dallas to London Heathrow. This is an overnight flight that departs Dallas at 6:55 PM making it ideal to sleep on a plane. Our flight left late as the incoming flight was delayed in London due to snowfall. Even if you have an amazing itinerary, be prepared to implement plan B… (see day 1)
Landed at London Heathrow the next day. Since our flight out of Dallas left late, we missed our BA connecting flight to Edinburgh. I will add that London Heathrow airport was a shitshow due to the snow and hundreds of people were trying to rebook their flights. Because we were business class we got a little VIP treatment and were able to get rebooked on an evening flight fairly quickly. This made for a long (6 hour) layover at Heathrow airport which we spent in the BA lounge. I also took full advantage of the amazing luxury boutiques at London Heathrow airport and snagged the Dior bag I have had my eyes on for quite some time. The strong US dollar against the weaker British pound made this an advantageous purchase. Merry Christmas to me!
We arrived at Edinburgh airport in the evening and took a cab to The Balmoral Hotel. We were upgraded to a suite and I’ve never been happier to have a hot bath and fall into bed! Due to the travel delays and missed connection, we missed this day in Edinburgh as well as our dinner reservations. Unfortunately, we were shorted a day in Scotland. We highly recommend The Balmoral Hotel. It has old world charm and you couldn’t ask for a better location. Walking distance to everything! The staff are so helpful, happy and accommodating.
We had a private guide give us a 4 hour walking tour of Edinburgh. This is such a great way to get to know a city, walk off your jetlag and learn important facts about your destination. I always suggest doing this on your first day in a new city. Our guide met us in the lobby of our hotel. Jim Shedden was an expert and a native of Edinburgh, which our travel agent booked through Celebrated Experiences. We learned so much from Jim and his vast historical knowledge. We find that these expert guides typically have a Masters or phD degree in history. He took us to the Royal Bank of Scotland and explained the Scottish banking system. Did you know that the bank (no the mint) prints their own money? Jim gave us so much good advice that we changed our dinner reservations and booked a lovely reservation at The Dome. It was decked out for Christmas and we have the most amazing meal!
Included in our tour: This engaging walking tour with an expert guide will introduce you to the highlights of Old Town as you explore the Royal Mile. This iconic road is actually a series of successive streets connecting Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Kings official residence in Scotland. During your walk, you will see many landmarks that are associated with the city’s royal heritage. The top section of the Royal Mile is known as Castlehill, and you will first pay a visit to Edinburgh Castle. While here, you can learn so much about Scotland’s history from one of the UK’s most extraordinary castles. You will also see the ‘Honours of Scotland’, the Scottish Crown Jewels, and enjoy stunning views of the city. You will then continue strolling downhill, walking the length of the Mile. Another major stop will be St. Giles’ Cathedral, where John Knox was minister. He was the founder of the Presbyterian Church. As you walk, you will see diverse architecture and learn stories about the history and people who have defined this city. Other intriguing stops include Deacon Brodies Tavern (tied to the origin story of Jekyll & Hyde), and you will learn the story of Bobby, Edinburgh’s most famous dog. At the end of the Royal Mile, and opposite the incredibly unique Scottish Parliament building, your tour will conclude outside The Palace of Holyroodhouse.
Since one of our bags didn’t make it (it contained Pete’s clothes) and BA was most unhelpful in locating it, we decided to go shopping. Edinburgh has a fantastic mall – St. James Quarter. We also shopped for Scottish cashmere at the locations our guide mentioned. He suggested Hawico (in the Grassmarket) and Johnstons of Elgin. We loved getting inside information from him!
We also did a self guided tour which includes excellent audio and video components of the Palace at Holyroodhouse. We highly recommend doing this tour! The rooms are magnificent and the audio portion includes dialogue from the current royal family. This is a functioning palace and the royal family still uses it for official engagements. It’s the King’s official residence in Scotland and holds so much Scottish royal history. The state apartments are divine! You will see the chambers of Mary, Queen of Scots, the Throne Room and don’t miss the Great Gallery where you will see 95 portraits of kings and one queen, starting with Fergus I. Did you know that Bonnie Prince Charlie lived her for 6 weeks in 1745?
Later that afternoon we went to the Scottish National Gallery and viewed the most amazing collection of art. This gallery is not to be missed and is free to the public. Highly recommend!
Dinner suggestions for Edinburgh are Angels and Bagpipes, Brasserie Prince and Cafe Royal. We’ve never had better Scottish salmon or Scottish oysters!
This is the day we left Edinburgh and headed to London. Instead of taking a flight, I wanted to ride a train and see the lovely countryside. I’m so glad we made this decision. We purchased first class seats online for the London North East Railway and it was such an easy trip. NOTE: There was an organized strike occurring for the railway during our visit and we were getting notifications about it. We simply asked the concierge at The Balmoral Hotel to double check our departure and keep us informed. Our train did in fact cancel on the morning of our trip so the concierge suggested we take the 10 AM train. It’s no big deal and the railway system honored our original tickets. The Balmoral Hotel is next to the Edinburgh Waverley train station and the concierge took us directly to our train and helped load our luggage. Now that is service! This train makes several stops during the 4 hour journey before you arrive at London Victoria Station. We grabbed a cab and headed to our London Hotel – Rubens at the Palace.
We checked in and got ourselves organized for our London stay. One thing that is different about being in the UK in December is that it gets completely dark at 4:30 PM. Perhaps this makes the Christmas lights and decor so much more spectacular. Live Christmas trees, garland, mistletoe and decor inside and out – EVERYWHERE! And the holiday lights! They are strung across streets and adorn most major department stores like Harrods. While we’ve been to London numerous times, we’ve never been in December. We spent the afternoon walking around our hotel neighborhood, which is conveniently located next to Buckingham Palace.
We had dinner that night at Hakkasan Mayfair and highly recommend it. Be sure to get the Peking Duck.
Pete and I were invited to enjoy facials with Omorovicza at Harrods late Sunday morning, which was perfect as we had planned to shop and dine there anyway. I’ve worked with the luxury skincare brand for several years and hope to visit them in Budapest, Hungary some day. The facials were so relaxing and just what our skin needed. Harrods and Selfridges are a must as far as shopping goes. We had a great time looking at the amazing window displays too. While we were at Harrods, we had lunch at Gordon Ramsay Burger. Yum!
We planned to pop into Westminster Abbey but after our day of shopping, we need a little break. We’ve been to the beautiful church before so I do recommend it. We did a lot of walking that day and just enjoyed the London sites.
Dinner that night was definitely one of our favorite meals. Gymkhana has some of the best Indian food we have tasted. In fact, we look forward to Indian food every time we visit London. It’s a Michelin Star restaurant and well worth it! Gymkhana is inspired by the elite clubs of India where members of high society socialise, eat, drink, and play sport.
We hired a private guide to pick us up at our hotel and drive us to Stonehenge and Windsor Castle. This tour was a full day (8 hours) and so worth it. Since our trip was near the date of Winter Solstice, we wanted to see Stonehenge at sunrise to witness the sun shining through the center stones. But the weather didn’t cooperate as it was overcast, cold and rainy. It was still a beautiful site and the visitors center along with our amazing guide, Neil Parker booked through Celebrated Experiences (via our travel agent) explained everything. Neil was so knowledgeable and we chatted a lot during the car rides between locations. Windsor Castle is charming as well as the town itself. Both sites are well worth the visit!
Included in the tour: The prehistoric standing stone circle of Stonehenge is one of the most famous sites in the world, simply because we know very little about it. It is one of many Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in England, and was believed to have been built sometime between 2200 BC and 3000 BC. In 2008, new findings of cremated remains found around the circle leads many to believe it was originally built as a burial ground. Much legend and folklore surround the mystery of Stonehenge as there is no historical record from the time period in which it was built. However, science continues to restore and study this fascinating site to lend some truth to the theories.
Windsor Castle is the world’s largest inhabited castle. The construction of Windsor Castle dates back to the time of William the Conqueror and has been continuously occupied since the 11th century. It is one of the three official residences of the Sovereign and as such is in working use. In 1992 it suffered significant fire damage, but all areas have since been fully repaired and restored. During a tour of the Castle guests will get to see St. George’s Chapel, a masterpiece of English Gothic architecture and one of the most impressive of all the castle buildings. St. George’s Chapel has a long tradition of hosting Royal Weddings, most recently the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. The State Apartments can also be toured which were extensively restored by Jeffry Wyatville, with ceiling paintings by Verrio, and wood carvings by Grinling Gibbons. There is also a notable collection of pictures, furniture, weapons, tapestries, porcelain, and a magnificent Louis XVI bed
We got home rather late and grabbed a quick dinner at our hotel restaurant. Fish and Chips is something we always have while in England. I think it’s the malted vinegar that makes it so good!
That evening, we enjoyed A Christmas Carol at the Old Vic Theater. This is a small London theater in the round and the performance was so special! The London theater scene is so vibrant and there are endless productions to choose from. Needless to say, we were wiped out after that day.
We booked a private guide to the Victoria and Albert Museum through Context Travel and our guide, Sue, met us at the front of the museum at 10 AM. We find that if there is a museum we have never been to, we do better with a private guide navigating us around. We did the same thing on our 25th Anniversary trip to Paris, France and it’s always well worth it. Sue had a blue badge (name tag) and one of my followers spotted that watching my Instagram Stories. Apparently, this is the highest level guide. I’m not surprised, Sue was a wealth of knowledge and we learned so much!
Included in the tour: The Victoria and Albert Museum possesses one of the world’s greatest collections of decorative art and design in the world, with a collection running the gamut from preparatory materials for the Sistine Chapel to exquisite Islamic art, like the Ardabil Carpet. The Victoria and Albert Museum Tour, led by our local historian Sue, explores not only the history of the V&A, delving into its origins in the 1851 Great Exhibition, but provided a comprehensive look at a few of the most important galleries in this expansive museum.
After receiving a brief overview of the museum’s history outside the building, the tour continued inside the museum with a visit to the famous Raphael Cartoons (1515-16), which were created by Raphael as preparatory drawings for tapestries intended to hang in the Sistine Chapel, but which today are considered works of art in their own right. Raphael’s drawings depict scenes from the lives of St. Peter and St. Paul; we analyzed each in some depth with a discussion of the history of the cartoons, the Renaissance ideals in art, and the relationship between painting and tapestry weaving. We continued by discussing the history of art and sculpture in the sculpture galleries with works by the Baroque sculptor Bernini, the neoclassical artist Canova, and the late-nineteenth century sculptor Rodin before moving on to the Cast Courts, which contain casts of artworks and objects from around Europe. The collection includes casts of Michelangelo’s sixteenth-century ‘David’, of the first century Trajan’s Column, and of the spectacular sixteenth century tomb of St. Sebaldus. Here, we discussed the Victorian interest in collecting casts. The room of casts is huge and everything is done to scale, hence the enormously tall ceilings.
From the Cast Court, we moved to the British Galleries, which chart the changes in British art and design from the Tudor monarchs in the 1500s to Queen Victoria in 1901, in order to consider in greater depth how different styles arose over the centuries and how the social, cultural, and historical contexts influenced these changes. We focused on a diverse array of objects such as the sixteenth-century ‘Great Bed of Ware’, the writing box belonging to Henry VIII, the eighteenth-century Rococo music room from Norfolk House, and the Arts and Crafts style as represented by William Morris in the late nineteenth century. This was my favorite part of the tour.
We then compared this emphasis on style and design in Western European production with a visit to the Islamic Gallery, where we focused on the sixteenth-century ‘Ardabil carpet’ in relation to the function and design of the art object in the Islamic world as well as the tension that developed between art production and science. Here, we also explored the effects of trade and cultural exchange on design.
Once we finished the Victoria and Albert Museum, we said goodby to Sue and jumped in a black taxi to head to our high tea reservation. We find the black taxis to be such reliable transportation system. To our surprise, most of the taxis are now electric vehicles. Did you know that it takes 4-5 years to become a taxi driver in London? Yep, they also have a wealth of knowledge about the city. Ask them anything!
Our high tea reservations were at Jean-Georges at the Connaught Hotel and honestly, I was so excited about this. Is there anything better than an afternoon of champaign, tea, tea sandwiches, scones and clotted cream? I think not! This Instagram Reel captures it perfectly. Delicious! The staff were so lovely and helped us celebrate our 30th Anniversary in style.
That evening, we enjoyed dinner at the London hotspot Sexy Fish. Be ready for a hip environment, club music and fancy decor. The food is great but the atmosphere is even better! The later you go, the more hip you will be.
We started off the day by walking to the Churchill War Rooms. WOW, this is an absolute must! Walk the top-secret corridors of Churchill War Rooms and glimpse what life would have been like during the tense days and nights of the Second World War. If you have seen the movie Darkest Hour, you will know the Map Room and bunker that we toured. Churchill and his advisors operated underground to avoid the bombings of the German forces. It’s preserved and now a museum. Both museums that we visited this day had audio and video self guided tours and they were excellent.
After a brief tea break, we moved on and toured The Tower of London. This is where you will see the Crown Jewels (which will be used again at the coronation of King Charles III on May 6). There are lots of buildings at the Tower of London and so many things to see. The memorial to Anne Boleyn is there and marks the spot where she was executed. Did you know that she asked for the mercy of a sword for her beheading and was granted her wish? Traditionally they used an axe and many beheadings took numerous strikes. You hoped for a skilled executioner but most executions were botched. Notably, one execution took 11 strikes. YIKES!
We refreshed at the hotel and then headed to dinner at GBR – Great British Restaurant at Dukes Hotel. I booked this restaurant because Dukes Bar is at Dukes Hotel and came highly recommended from friends. This is where you go for the martini experience. Be forewarned, its hard to get into the bar and they take care of hotel guests first. It’s small and quaint but definitely worth the wait.
We had our final full English Breakfast (I don’t understand having beans in the morning) and did a final stroll before heading out to the airport. Also, I find it funny that what we know as bacon, they refer to as ‘streaky bacon’. And is there anything better than snapping a pic in a London red phone booth? Were you even in London if you don’t get the pic?