The United Kingdom is made up of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
We’ve been to England quite a bit over the years, mostly London, occasionally Southampton, and most recently, Manchester, which was very cool. London is full of things to see and do. For us, some of the highlights include The Churchill Museum and War Rooms, the Borough Market for local foods and tasty treats, ascending to the top of The Shard, a shiny 72-story skyscraper. Strolling along the Thames to take in the view of Big Ben, the Tower Bridge and Tower of London, the London Eye and St Paul’s Cathedral is also essential.
We had planned to visit Belfast on a cruise in 2018 but our plans were foiled by Atlantic Storm Hector. We finally made it here in September 2023. Previously known as the birthplace and launching point of the Titanic, from the 1960s to the 1990s Belfast became the turbulent epicenter of The Troubles, a roiling political conflict between those who wanted an independent Ireland and those who wished to remain part of the UK. Typically the divide fell along religious lines – Catholics vs Protestants – but it wasn’t a religious war. The early 1970s were particularly violent, with as many as three bombings a day, and over the course of thirty years, more than three thousand people died. The events of Bloody Sunday in 1972 inspired U2. The car bomb was invented here, and subsequently, the bomb disposal robot.
Finally, in 1998 all parties signed the peace agreement and it has been mostly peaceful ever since. Challenges remain (Brexit, for example, really threw a wrench into everything, since the Republic of Ireland still remains in the EU, yet shares the island.)
Belfast is the home of Van Morrison, Jamie Dornan and Rory McIlroy. Liam Neeson is also from Northern Ireland. Many scenes in Game of Thrones were filmed here. We took a day tour to the fantastic Giant’s Causeway, a coastal area of about 40,000 interlocking hexagonal basalt columns that should not be missed. Northern Ireland is also the setting of Derry Girls, a British sitcom that should be binged before coming here.
We went to Scotland in December 2019. During this time, we visited beautiful Edinburgh, Inverness and Loch Ness, and Glasgow. OK, also Dewar’s Distillery in Aberfeldy! I never thought I’d be saying this, but my life wasn’t complete without haggis, neeps and tatties, and a nice cullen skink.
We haven’t made it to Wales yet but it is on our list.