Although I’ve been to London on the EF Tour of European Capital Cities, and Scotland was never really on my bucket list, I signed up for this tour because I couldn’t stand the idea of NOT going to Europe in the spring. It’s become a habit and one I knew I would miss, so I enrolled in the spring 2019 EF Tour of Edinburgh & London. My priority was, and is, to travel to new places and learn new things. And on my first day in Edinburgh, I encountered this sign, which in fact, was a sign…
The EF tour of Edinburgh & London is an 8-day tour, starting in Scotland’s ancient and beautiful Edinburgh, still going after 900 years, and ending in the historic London. In historical terms, Edinburgh and London go way back. Think Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth in the 1500s and beyond. In order to prepare for the trip, popcorn and wine in hand, I watched the newly released movie Mary Queen of Scots, which turned out to be a great synopsis of the relationship between the two queens and their respective castles, which, by the way, are both included in this tour.
What follows is my review of the EF Tour of Edinburgh & London, the itinerary, lodging, food, and excursions.
EF Tour of Edinburgh Review
As with all EF Tours after a full night on the airplane, you hit the ground and start touring. This helps offset any jetlag you may experience from the time difference, which in this case is five hours. We flew into Glasgow and our tour director, Chris, raised in Scotland but now living in Portugal, met us at the airport and directed us to our coach to head to Edinburgh, a trip of about one hour. On the way, he reminded us that, in Edinburgh, it’s possible to experience all four seasons on one day.
He wasn’t kidding.
As we arrived in Edinburgh it was pouring rain, the rain turned to sleet; a miserable cold and uninviting welcome. Magically, when our driver pulled to the curb to let us off, the sun came out and the temperature warmed significantly, causing us to shed our winter gear and stow our umbrellas. Rainwater poured from staircases and sidewalks, but we were free to explore for the afternoon.
After our first day in Edinburgh, we checked into our hotel, tired and ready to rest. EF Tour hotels are not five-star lodging, but in my experience, they are clean and comfortable. These tours are fast-paced and you aren’t going to spend much time in your hotel, so there’s no reason, for me, to want or need anything more than a clean and comfortable room. Since I’m typically traveling alone, I always upgrade to a single room, which is usually between $300 and $400. In my opinion, well worth it for the privacy and comfort.
The hotel almost always includes breakfast before heading out the next morning, which in Europe means fruit, yogurt, breads, and fantastic coffees. Also, baked beans and, sometimes, cold cuts, cheeses and Nutella. Lots of Nutella.
The University of St. Andrews | EF Tours Optional Tour Excursion
A newcomer to Scotland and someone who, despite having a father who was an avid golfer, I was not at all informed about this incredible destination. I signed up in blind faith, as I’ve not been disappointed yet by any of the EF Tour excursions, and I will be forever grateful I did. The University of St. Andrews campus and golf course, on which Mary Queen of Scots played golf, was astonishingly beautiful and wildly exceeded my expectations. It is the oldest of the four ancient universities of Scotland, founded between 1410 and 1413, and also, fun fact, the one in which Prince William met Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.
We had the entire day to explore, which included a guided walking tour of the campus and time on our own for lunch and the golf course and British Golf Museum.
Our Itinerary at the University of St. Andrews Included:
- Coach Transportation
- Guided Walking Tour
- Free time for lunch and to explore
- Photo stop at Scotland’s famous Three Bridges
Day Tour of Edinburgh
Our next day was spent exploring Edinburgh. We started with a guided bus tour, which included photo stops at Holyrood Castle, the official residence of the British Monarch when in Scotland. From there the tour proceeded up the Royal Mile, passing by Scotland’s new Parliament building, and culminated at Edinburgh Castle, which was our drop off point for a tour of the castle before setting out on our own to explore.
Edinburgh Castle, set high on a rock above the city, began as an iron age fortress and evolved to become the home of kings and queens for many centuries. Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI in the castle, who later became king at 13 months old to unite the crowns of Scotland and England in 1603. It is the most besieged place in all of Britain.
Inside the castle, you can view the crown jewels, the oldest in Britain, the room where the king was born, and the iconic Stone of Destiny, as well as tour the grounds.
From there we had the rest of the day to explore on our own. We chose a Scotch tasting (when in Rome), some shopping, lunch on the Royal Mile and then a visit to Victoria’s Street, the most photographed street in all of Scotland.
Our last evening in Edinburgh included a group dinner, which is typical of EF Tours. We had the biggest lamb shanks I’ve ever seen in my life. From there it was time to retire to our hotel and leave for London the next morning on the train.
Our EF Tour Itinerary in Edinburgh Included:
- Guided bus tour of Edinburgh
- Entry tickets and self-guided tour of Edinburgh Castle
- Time to explore on our own
- Transportation to dinner
- Group dinner in Edinburgh
Edinburgh, Scotland Tour Review
Lodging: Good! Our hotel was clean, comfortable and included the typical European breakfast. I can’t say they were particularly friendly, but that’s often the case when large groups arrive.
Food: Ok. As is with most British foods, it’s largely bland with little to no seasoning other than salt. Our lamb shank dinner was better than some of the EF Tour group dinners I’ve experienced.
Excursions and Itinerary: Great! The excursion to the University of St. Andrews was a highlight of the trip. In Edinburgh, we had enough time to explore the castle, the Royal Mile and the rest of the city on our own. Our bus tour guide was hilarious and extremely knowledgable about the history as well as the present tensions going on in light of Brexit and Scotland’s recent elections.
Pace: Fast, but you cover a lot of ground.
London, England Tour Review
The next morning we gathered our luggage and said goodbye to Edinburgh and headed to the rail station to board our train to London. The high-speed rail system in Europe is amazing. Boarding the train was fast and efficient and our entire trip took 4 1/2 hours. In comparison, time by motor vehicle is 7 1/2 hours.
Rail stations are beautiful and equipped with lovely coffee shops and food options. Behold my train-station turmeric and coconut latte and smoked salmon and hard-boiled egg sandwich.
When we arrived in London it was pouring rain. We made our way to our tour guide, and, umbrellas in hand, headed to the iconic Tower of London. As many of us had already been to the Tower on a previous tour, we opted for a quick run through the crown jewels and then left to cross the Tower Bridge. The photos you are about to see were taken in the driving rain, umbrellas flailing and wind raging.
We consoled ourselves by tucking into a wonderfully warm pub for a drink before joining the group again for dinner that evening.
The next morning we awoke to some fresh Brexit controversy over breakfast and headed out for a guided bus tour of London.
Our guided bus and walking tour included a stop at Buckingham Palace to see the famous changing of the guard. The Queen was in residence while we were there, evidenced by her flag flying atop the palace.
From there a small group of us decided to head to Westminster Abbey, so we stopped for lunch across the road and then headed in.
Note: Photos are prohibited inside the Abbey.
There is not enough room here to describe the history of this site. The number of world-renowned historical figures (over 3,000), both ancient and present-day, buried here is beyond imagination. Here are a few examples:
- Stephen Hawking
- Oliver Cromwell
- Charles Darwin
- Mary Queen of Scots
- Geoffrey Chaucer
- Elizabeth I of England
- Sir Isaac Newton
- Alfred Tennyson
- Winston Churchill
- Laurence Olivier
- George Frederick Handel
For a complete list of graves in Westminster Abbey visit the official website of Westminster Abbey.
A small group wanted to head to Abbey Road, and I agreed to be the unofficial photographer.
From there we headed to the beautiful Harrods department store and on to Piccadilly Circus for dinner and some tourist shopping.
Our final morning in London was on our own, so a group of us chose to head to the top of The Shard for photos and champaign. Despite the rainy weather, we were not disappointed with the views.
After a quick lunch, our small group once again joined our tour director and the rest of the group for an excursion to Windsor Castle, home of the British Royal Family.
EF Tour Excursion | Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world. Founded in the 11th century, it has been the home of 39 monarchs and to this day, the Queen spends most of her private time at the castle. The Queen was once again in residence during our visit.
We were pretty sure by this point she was following us.
Our guided tour included St. George’s Chapel, site of the recent royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan and spiritual home of the Order of the Garter, the senior order of British Chivalry since 1348, and a tour of the state apartments. We had plenty of time to explore the gardens and grounds as well.
After our tour of the castle, we headed back into London for our final night together, which included a dinner in a hip and trendy London restaurant and a Jack the Ripper tour. Interestingly enough, a few days after our return scientists reported that they solved the mystery of the identity of the Jack the Ripper, a killer believed to have killed at least five women in London in 1888. I wonder how that will affect the popularity of the tour?
Our EF Tour Itinerary of London included:
- Hotel accommodations
- Breakfast and Dinner
- Excursion to Windsor Castle
- Guided bus tour of London
- Jack the Ripper Tour
- Free time on our own
EF Tour of London Ameninities Review:
Lodging: Good! Our hotel was centrally located and again, clean and comfortable
Food: Ok. Our group dinner was in a hip and trendy restaurant, but everyone thought it was way too loud in there. On the final night of a trip, the group usually wants to talk and reminisce. We were unable to even attempt to converse.
Excursions and Itinerary: Great! We had plenty of time to explore on our own, and the trip to Windsor Castle was a highlight of the week.
Pace: Medium. Since we have a lot of free time you can go at your own pace.
If you go with EF Tours Edinburgh & London
This trip packs in a lot in 8 days. You’re on a train, a bus and a plane, but it’s worth it. I recommended studying the relationship between Edinburgh and London throughout history before you, as you’ll get a lot more out of the castle visits and the overall royal environment.
As with all Europe trips, be prepared to do a lot of walking. The tour covers a ton of ground. By the time I got to the Jack the Ripper tour on the last night, I was dead. You’ll need good shoes to keep up, preferably more than one pair. I get along well with a pair of boots with good support and a pair of walking shoes with extra support added. Also, bring a raincoat and/or an umbrella and be prepared to use them. It’s the UK.
Bring your camera. These castles and vistas are astonishingly beautiful and the side trip to the University of St. Andrews is postcard-worthy. The entire trip, but especially Scotland, was beyond my expectations and I would go again if given the opportunity.
Cheerio the nou and see you on the next trip!