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3 weesk: UK & Ireland, Car?

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Hello, fellow travelers! I need a little input on my upcoming trip. My parents and I (I'm 30, they're late 50s) are planning to visit England, Scotland, and Ireland in May. Three weeks is our max, but we're flexible. We'd fly into London, and out through Dublin. We have been to London before (10 years ago), but were rushed through the Tower on a tour, St. Paul's was covered in scaffolding, and we would enjoy seeing one of our fave cities again. On that previous trip, we spent four days in York, which we loved, and about a week in London (day-tripping to Windsor). I can't imagine not going back on the London Eye, to the National Gallery, or seeing some shows in the West End. I guesstimated 4 days in London, 7 days around England, 5 in Scotland, 3-4 in Ireland.

My biggest challenge right now is regarding transportation: I'm debating on whether or not we should rent a car. Any thoughts? Last summer, we spent four weeks in France and Italy, moving place to place via train (itinerary: Paris, Nice/French Riviera, Milan, Venice, Florence, Sorrento, Rome). We took day trips from each city, when needed. It was a fantastic trip and I planned the entire vacation without any snags. This UK trip, though, is really giving me anxiety!

I feel like some of the charm of seeing England and Scotland would be driving around. Is this true, or is it just my English Literature degree talking? My parents are leery of renting a car and all the potential disasters and hassles that could come from it. I, on the other hand, am optimistic about it, and would likely be the one actually driving. Is the paperwork that challenging? Should I stress about insurance, taxes, hidden fees, etc.? Also, what about finding gas stations and the actual drivability, meaning is it easy to get around? We'd rent the car when leaving London (probably for Bath but open to suggestions), and return before taking the ferry to Ireland (Dublin, I'm guessing, but I don't know where we'll end our Scotland leg). I've heard keeping a car in Ireland, after initially renting in the UK, can be a pain with many hidden costs. Is this true? If so, we can grab another car in Dublin, or forego a car while in Ireland entirely.

Bath, Stratford, either Cambridge or Oxford (I need to do more research because I've always said I wanted to see Oxford, but I think it's actually Cambridge that's the bigger attraction, right?), and the HP Studio Tours are on the list for England. All of these are doable through day trips from London, though. If we rented a car, I'd love to see the Cotswolds and the Lake District, and am up for any other recommendations. Again, my love of Wordsworth, Beatrix Potter, and the Bronte sisters is probably showing. Haha. We'd probably throw in a few Harry Potter sites, too, but that might be for another thread.

As far as Scotland goes, I know we'd want to see the sites in Edinburgh. Also, Balmoral, Brittanica, and Stirling Castle, are at the top. Also, Inverness and Culloden. I have read the Outlander series, so seeing some Scottish history would be really wonderful. Any recommendations for Scotland? Could day trips from Edinburgh (train traveling only) give us enough to go with for a first-timer's visit?

Ireland: Basics like Dublin, Waterford factory, Blarney Stone, etc. I haven't researched this leg too much as England itself is overwhelming me, at this point.

Wales: I'm probably pushing it time-wise, but since Wales is right there, we'd love to explore that country, too.

I really don't want to hop around so much that we can't soak in the area and experience each place. I know this isn't (hopefully) the last time I'll ever be in these cities, but we like to get in as much as possible.

My family and I are in the antiques business so we love anything tied to history. We love museums, traditional tourist highlights, castles, etc. We also love experiencing the culture through food and chatting with locals. We love getting off the beaten path. We are really not looking to do any hiking or camping.

Thank you so much for any advice, tips, and tricks. I greatly appreciate it. I apologize if this post is a bit all over the place. I'm in the early planning stages, so am still a bit disorganized. I really need to decide if renting a car is the way to go because it will eliminate so many variables. Again, thanks for anything you can give!

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