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Rick Steves Great Britain
By Rick Steves
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- Trade Paperback $27.99 $34.99 CAD
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around March 7, 2023. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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- Comprehensive coverage for spending two weeks or more exploring England, Wales, and Scotland
- Rick's strategic advice on how to get the most out of your time and money, with rankings of his must-see favorites
- Top sights and hidden gems, from Stonehenge and Shakespeare's Globe Theatre to whisky distilleries and corner pubs
- How to connect with culture: Try haggis or a Scotch pie, catch a show in SoHo, or chat with locals in a cozy Welsh tavern
- Beat the crowds, skip the lines, and avoid tourist traps with Rick's candid, humorous insight
- The best places to eat, sleep, and relax with a pint
- Self-guided walking tours of charming villages, historic sites, and museums
- Detailed maps throughout, plus a handy fold-out map for exploring on-the-go
- Useful resources including a packing list, a historical overview, and recommended reading
- Over 1,000 bible-thin pages include everything worth seeing without weighing you down
- Complete, up-to-date information on London, Windsor, Cambridge, Bath, Glastonbury, Wells, Avebury, Stonehenge, Salisbury, South Wales, the Cotswolds, Stratford-upon-Avon, Ironbridge Gorge, Liverpool, the Lake District, York, Durham and Northeast England, Conwy, Caernarfon, Snowdonia National Park, Blaenau Ffestiniog, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling, St. Andrews, Oban and the Inner Hebrides, Glencoe and Fort William, Inverness, Loch Ness, and more
Welcome to Rick Steves’ Europe
Travel is intensified living—maximum thrills per minute and one of the last great sources of legal adventure. Travel is freedom. It’s recess, and we need it.
I discovered a passion for European travel as a teen and have been sharing it ever since—through my tours, public television and radio shows, and travel guidebooks. Over the years, I’ve taught thousands of travelers how to best enjoy Europe’s blockbuster sights—and experience “Back Door” discoveries that most tourists miss.
This book offers you a balanced mix of Great Britain’s biggies (such as Big Ben and Stonehenge) and more intimate locales (ancient Roman lookouts and misty Scottish isles). And it’s selective: There are dozens of hikes in the Lake District; I recommend only the best ones. My self-guided museum tours and city walks give insight into the country’s vibrant history and today’s living, breathing culture.
I advocate traveling simply and smartly. Take advantage of my money- and time-saving tips on sightseeing, transportation, and more. Try local, characteristic alternatives to expensive hotels and restaurants. In many ways, spending more money only builds a thicker wall between you and what you traveled so far to see.
We visit Great Britain to experience it—to become temporary locals. Thoughtful travel engages us with the world, as we learn to appreciate other cultures and new ways to measure quality of life.
Judging from the positive feedback I receive from readers, this book will help you enjoy a fun, affordable, and rewarding vacation—whether it’s your first trip or your tenth.
Have a brilliant holiday! Happy travels!
Britain’s Pub Hub
Great Britain’s Top Destinations
Map: PLACES COVERED IN THIS BOOK
Planning Your Trip
DESIGNING AN ITINERARY
Britain’s Best Three-Week Trip by Car
Britain’s Best Three-Week Trip by Public Transportation
Trip Costs Per Person
BEFORE YOU GO
Stick This Guidebook in Your Ear!
What’s so great about Britain? Plenty. You can watch a world-class Shakespeare play, do the Beatles blitz in Liverpool, and walk along a windswept hill in the footsteps of Wordsworth. Climb cobblestone streets as you wander Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, or take a ferry to a remote isle. Ponder a moody glen, lonesome stone circle, or ruined abbey. Try getting your tongue around a few Welsh words, relax in a bath in Bath, and enjoy evensong at Westminster Abbey. Stroll through a cute-as-can-be Cotswold town, try to spot an underwater monster in Loch Ness, and sail along the Thames past Big Ben. Great Britain has it all.
Regardless of the revolution we had 230-some years ago, many American travelers feel that they “go home” to Great Britain. This popular tourist destination retains a strange influence and power over us.
The Isle of Britain is small (about the size of Idaho)—600 miles long and 300 miles at its widest point. Its highest mountain (Scotland’s Ben Nevis) is 4,406 feet, a foothill by our standards. The population is a fifth that of the US. At its peak in the mid-1800s, Great Britain owned one-fifth of the world and accounted for over half of the planet’s industrial output. Today, though its landholdings have greatly diminished, its impact remains huge.
Great Britain is a major global player, with a rich heritage, lively present, and momentous future. Whether its impending departure from the European Union (“Brexit”) speeds up or slows down its progress, the result is sure to be interesting.
In Britain, the people are down-to-earth and the scenery is charming and iconic.
It’s easy to think that “Britain” and “England” are one and the same. But actually, three unique countries make up Great Britain: England, Wales, and Scotland. (Add Northern Ireland and it’s called the United Kingdom—but you’ll need a different guidebook.) Let’s take a quick tour through Great Britain’s three nations.
England is a cultural, linguistic touchstone for the almost one billion humans who speak English. It’s the core of the United Kingdom: home to four out of five UK citizens, the seat of government, the economic powerhouse, and the center of higher learning.
South England, which includes London, has always had more people and more money than the north. Blessed with rolling hills, wide plains, and the Thames River, this region for centuries was rich with farms and its rivers flowed with trade. Then and now, high culture flourished in London, today a thriving metropolis of eight million people.
North England tends to be hilly with poor soil, so the traditional economy was based on livestock (grazing cows and sheep). Known today for England’s most beautiful landscapes, in the 19th century it was dotted with belching smokestacks as its major cities and its heartland became centers of coal and iron mining and manufacturing. Now its working-class cities and ports (such as Liverpool) are experiencing a comeback, buoyed by tourism, vibrant arts scenes, and higher employment.
England’s economy can stand alongside many much larger nations. It boasts high-tech industries (software, chemicals, aviation), international banking, and textile manufacturing, and is a major exporter of beef. England is an urban, industrial, and post-industrial colossus, yet its farms, villages, and people are down-to-earth.
For the tourist, England offers a little of everything we associate with Britain: castles, cathedrals, and ruined abbeys; chatty locals nursing beers in village pubs; mysterious prehistoric stone circles and Roman ruins; tea, scones, and clotted cream; hikes across unspoiled, sheep-speckled hillsides; and drivers who cheerfully wave from the “wrong” side of the road. And then there’s London, a world in itself, with famous cathedrals (St. Paul’s), museums (the British Museum), and royalty (Buckingham Palace). London rivals New York as the best scene for live theater, and England entertains millions of people with its movies and music.
Bustling London offers nonstop entertainment while England’s countryside provides a tranquil retreat.
For a thousand years, England has been the cultural heart of Britain. Parliamentary democracy, science (Isaac Newton), technology (Michael Faraday), and education (Cambridge and Oxford) were nurtured here. In literature, England has few peers in any language, producing great legends (King Arthur, Beowulf, and The Lord of the Rings), poetry (by Chaucer, Wordsworth, and Byron), novels (by Dickens, Austen, and J. K. Rowling), and plays (by Shakespeare).
You can trace the evolution of England’s long, illustrious history as you travel. Prehistoric peoples built the mysterious stone circles of Stonehenge and Avebury. Then came the Romans, who built Hadrian’s Wall and the baths at Bath. Viking invaders left their mark in York, and the Normans built the Tower of London. As England Christianized, the grand cathedrals of Salisbury, Wells, and Durham arose. Next came the castles and palaces of the English monarchs (Windsor) and the Shakespeare sights from the era of Elizabeth I (Stratford-upon-Avon). Then tiny England became a maritime empire (the Cutty Sark at Greenwich) and the world’s first industrial power (Ironbridge Gorge). England’s Romantic poets were inspired by the unspoiled nature and villages of the Lake District and the Cotswolds. In the 20th century, gritty Liverpool gave the world the Beatles. Today London is on the cutting edge of 21st-century trends.
Humble, charming Wales is traditional and beautiful—it seems trapped in a time warp. At first, you’ll feel you’re still in England, but soon you’ll awaken to the crusty yet poetic vitality of this small country. Don’t ask for an “English breakfast” at your B&B—they’ll politely remind you that it’s a “Welsh breakfast,” made with Welsh ingredients.
For the tourist, Wales is a land of stout castles (Conwy, Caernarfon, and more), salty harbors, chummy community choirs, slate-roofed villages, and a landscape of mountains, moors, and lush green fields dotted with sheep. Snowdonia National Park is a hiker’s paradise, with steep but manageable mountain trails, cute-as-a-hobbit villages (Beddgelert and Betws-y-Coed), and scenery more striking than most anything in England. Fascinating slate-mine museums (such as at Blaenau Ffestiniog), handy home-base towns (Conwy and Caernarfon), and enticing offbeat attractions round out Wales’ appeal.
Wales builds its towns with native stone (Beddgelert, left) and boasts Europe’s longest town name, with 58 letters, nicknamed Llanfair PG.
Culturally, Wales is “a land of poets and singers”—or so says the national anthem. From the myths of Merlin and King Arthur to the 20th-century poetry of Dylan Thomas, Wales has a long literary tradition. In music, the country nourishes its traditional Celtic folk music (especially the harp).
You’ll enjoy hearing the locals speak Welsh with one another (before effortlessly switching to English for you). Their tongue-twisting, fun-to-listen-to language, with its mix of harsh and melodic tones, transports listeners to another time and place.
Rugged, feisty, and spirited Scotland is the home of kilts, bagpipes, golf, shortbread, haggis, and whisky—to wash down the haggis.
Scotland consists of two parts: the Lowlands (flatter, southern, and urban) and the Highlands (rugged, northern, and remote). The Lowlands star the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, with its bustling Royal Mile and stirring hilltop castle. The underrated city of Glasgow has a friendly, down-to-earth appeal and youthful vibe, while St. Andrews has world-famous golf courses and sandy beaches.
To commune with the traditional Scottish soul, head for the Highlands’ hills, lochs (lakes), castles, and whisky distilleries (where sampling is encouraged). The Highlands are bisected by the engineering marvel of the Caledonian Canal, which includes the famous Loch Ness (wave hi to Nessie). Hardy souls set sail from Oban for nearby islands.
While the Scots are known for their telltale burr and some unique words (aye, just listen for a wee blether), they’re also trying to keep alive their own Celtic tongue: Gaelic (pronounced “gallic”). Few Scots speak Gaelic in everyday life, but legislation protects it, and it’s beginning to be used on road signs. That’s just one small sign of the famously independent Scottish spirit. Since the days of William “Braveheart” Wallace, the Scots have chafed under English rule. Thanks to the recent trend of “devolution,” Scotland has become increasingly autonomous and has its own parliament.
Whether you’re going to Scotland, Wales, England, or (my choice) all three, you’ll have a grand adventure—and a great experience—in Great Britain. Cheerio!
Great Britain’s Top Destinations
There’s so much to see in Great Britain and so little time. This overview breaks Britain’s top destinations into must-see sights (to help first-time travelers plan their trip) and worth-it sights (for those with extra time or special interests). I’ve also suggested a minimum number of days to allow per destination.
These top cities give you an excellent, diverse sampler of the best of Great Britain.
▲▲▲ London (allow 3-4 days)
London has world-class museums, bustling markets, and cutting-edge architecture sharing the turf with the Tower of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral. Enjoy London’s cuisine scene, parks, grand squares, and palaces. Live theater takes center stage at night.
▲▲▲ Bath (2 days)
Bath is a genteel Georgian showcase city, built around an ancient Roman bath. Its glorious abbey, harmonious architecture, engaging walking tours, and small-town feel make it a good candidate for your first stop in Britain. Fun day trips include Glastonbury, Wells, Stonehenge, and more.
▲▲▲ York (1-2 days)
The walled medieval town has a grand Gothic cathedral (with a divine evensong) and fine museums (Viking, Victorian, and railway). Classy restaurants hide out in the atmospheric old center, with its “snickelway” passages and colorful Shambles shopping lane.
▲▲▲ Edinburgh (2 days)
The proud, endlessly entertaining Scottish capital has an imposing castle, attractions-studded Royal Mile, and excellent museums. You’ll see all the clichés (ghost tours, whisky tastings, haggis, bagpipes, and kilts) and enjoy exuberant nightlife, especially during the city’s famous festivals in August, featuring theater, music, and dance.
London’s Millennium Bridge leading to St. Paul’s, Bath’s ancient Roman Baths museum and riverside setting, and a street festival in Edinburgh in August
You can weave any of these destinations—rated ▲ or ▲▲—into your itinerary. They’re listed in the order they appear in the book. It’s easy to add some destinations based on proximity (if you’re going to the Cotswolds, Stratford-upon-Avon is next door), but some out-of-the-way places (such as Hadrian’s Wall or Inverness) can also merit the journey, depending on your time and interests.
▲▲ Windsor and Cambridge (1-2 days)
Good day trips from London include Windsor, starring the Queen’s impressive home-sweet-castle. Cambridge, one of England’s best university towns, features the stunning King’s College Chapel and Wren Library.
▲▲ Glastonbury and Wells (1 day)
Little Glastonbury has a mystical, New Age vibe, with its Holy Grail and King Arthur lore. The enjoyable town of Wells has an ingeniously fortified cathedral. Both towns are easy to visit from Bath.
▲▲ Avebury, Stonehenge, and Salisbury (1 day)
For spine-tingling stone circles, see famed Stonehenge (worth ▲▲▲ on its own) and the smaller, less touristy Avebury. Nearby is Salisbury and its striking cathedral.
▲▲ The Cotswolds (1-2 days)
These quaint villages—the cozy market town of Chipping Campden, popular Stow-on-the-Wold, and the handy transit hub of Moreton-in-Marsh—are scattered over a hilly countryside, which can be fun to explore on foot, by bike, or by car.
Cambridge’s King’s College Chapel, Changing of the Guard at Windsor, Glastonbury’s ruined abbey, and a Cotswolds pub stop
Boats moored in the Lake District
▲ Stratford-upon-Avon (half-day to 1 day)
Shakespeare’s pretty hometown, featuring residences that belonged to the bard and his loved ones, is the top venue for performances of his plays.
▲ Ironbridge Gorge (half-day to 1 day)
Boasting the planet’s first iron bridge, this unassuming village was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, with sights and museums that tell the world-changing story.
▲ Liverpool (half-day to 1 day)
The rejuvenated port city is the Beatles’ hometown, with a host of related sights (including the homes of John and Paul), museums, and pub-and-club nightlife.
▲▲ The Lake District (2 days)
This peaceful region, dotted with lakes, hills, and sheep, is known for its enjoyable hikes, joyrides, time-passed valleys, and William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter sights.
▲ Durham and Northeast England (1-2 days)
The youthful workaday town has a magnificent cathedral, plus (nearby) an open-air museum, the Roman remains of Hadrian’s Wall, Holy Island, and Bamburgh Castle.
▲▲ North Wales (1-2 days)
The scenically rugged land features castle towns (Conwy, Caernarfon, and Beaumaris), the natural beauty of Snowdonia National Park, tourable slate mines (Blaenau Ffestiniog), colorful Welsh villages (Beddgelert and Llangollen), and charming locals who speak a tongue-twisting old language.
▲▲ South Wales (1-2 days)
The revitalized Welsh capital of Cardiff, poetic Tintern Abbey, castle towns (Caerphilly and Chepstow), and an open-air museum of Welsh culture offer an easy, rewarding look at Wales from Bath or the Cotswolds.
▲▲ Glasgow (1-2 days)
The best sight of Scotland’s underrated, cultural “second city” may be its chatty, welcoming locals, with its nightlife a close second. The city is a hotbed of 20th-century architecture, thanks to native son Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
▲ Stirling and Nearby (half-day to 1 day)
Stirling, one of Scotland’s top castles (home of the Stuart kings), overlooks a historic plain, with great sights nearby—from sculptures of giant horse heads to a Ferris wheel for boats to the time-warp village of Culross.
▲▲ St. Andrews (1 day)
Famous for golf, this is the only town in Britain where tee time is more prized than tea time. St. Andrews also boasts Scotland’s top university and has a long sandy beach, both of which contribute to the town’s youthful vibe.
Caernarfon Castle in North Wales, and Cardiff in South Wales
▲▲ Oban and the Inner Hebrides (1-2 days)
The port town of Oban, with an easy-to-visit distillery, is a handy anchor for boat trips to the isles of the Inner Hebrides: rugged Mull, spiritual Iona, and remote Staffa’s puffin colony and striking basalt columns.
▲ Glencoe and Fort William (half-day to 1 day)
The village of Glencoe is near the stirring “Weeping Glen,” where government Redcoats killed the clansmen who sheltered them. Today the region offers lush Highland scenery and fine hikes, plus the transit-hub town of Fort William.
▲▲ Inverness and Loch Ness (half-day to 1 day)
The pleasant, regional capital is a launchpad for day trips to Highland sights, including Culloden Battlefield (Scotland’s Alamo) and monster-spotting at the famous Loch Ness.
Touring Glasgow’s museums, golfing at St. Andrews, and visiting the idyllic isle of Iona
Planning Your Trip
To plan your trip, you’ll need to design your itinerary—choosing where and when to go, how you’ll travel, and how many days to spend at each destination. For my best advice on sightseeing, accommodations, restaurants, and transportation, see the Practicalities chapter.
DESIGNING AN ITINERARY
As you read this book and learn your options...
Choose your top destinations.
My recommended itinerary (on the next page) gives you an idea of how much you can reasonably see in three weeks, but you can adapt it to fit your own interests and time frame.
If you enjoy big cities, you could easily spend a week in London (top-notch museums, food, street life, and entertainment); Edinburgh and Glasgow are also engaging and lively. For a slower pace of life, settle in any of Britain’s many appealing towns, such as York or Bath. If villages beckon, linger in the Cotswolds, where time has all but stopped.
Nature lovers get wonderfully lost in the Lake District, Wales, and the Scottish Highlands. Sailors depart from Oban for islands beyond.
Literary fans make a pilgrimage to Stratford-upon-Avon (Shakespeare), Bath (Austen), and the Lake District (Wordsworth and Potter). Beatles fans from here, there, and everywhere head to Liverpool.
- "The country's foremost expert in European travel for Americans."—Forbes
- "Steves is an absolute master at unlocking the hidden gems of the world's greatest cities, towns, and monuments."—USA Today
- “Every country-specific travel guidebook from the Rick Steves publishing empire can be counted upon for clear organization, specificity and timeliness."—Society of American Travel Writers
- "Pick the best accommodations and restaurants from Rick Steves…and a traveler searching for good values will seldom go wrong or be blindsided."—NBC News
- "His guidebooks are approachable, silly, and even subtly provocative in their insistence that Americans show respect for the people and places they are visiting and not the other way around."—The New Yorker
- "Travel, to Steves, is not some frivolous luxury—it is an engine for improving humankind, for connecting people and removing their prejudices, for knocking distant cultures together to make unlikely sparks of joy and insight. Given that millions of people have encountered the work of Steves over the last 40 years, on TV or online or in his guidebooks, and that they have carried those lessons to untold other millions of people, it is fair to say that his life’s work has had a real effect on the collective life of our planet."—The New York Times Magazine
- "[Rick Steves] laces his guides with short and vivid histories and a scholar's appreciation for Renaissance art yet knows the best place to start an early tapas crawl in Madrid if you have kids. His clear, hand-drawn maps are Pentagon-worthy; his hints about how to go directly to the best stuff at the Uffizi, avoid the crowds at Versailles and save money everywhere are guilt-free."—TIME Magazine
- "Steves is a walking, talking European encyclopedia who yearns to inspire Americans to venture 'beyond Orlando.'"—Forbes
- “…he’s become the unofficial guide for entire generations of North American travelers, beloved for his earnest attitude and dad jeans."—Outside Magazine
- "His books offer the equivalent of a bus tour without the bus, with boiled-down itineraries and step-by-step instructions on where to go and how to get there, but adding a dash of humor and an element of choice that his travelers find empowering."—The New York Times
- "His penchant for creating meaningful experiences for travelers to Europe is as passionate as his inclination for making ethical choices his guiding light."—Forbes
- "[Rick Steves'] neighborhood walks are always fun and informative. His museum guides, complete with commentary about historic sculpture and storied artworks are wonderful and add another dimension to sometimes stodgy, hard-to-comprehend museums."—NBC News
- On Sale
- Mar 7, 2023
- Page Count
- 1112 pages
- Rick Steves