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First Trip to UK/Ireland

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My wife and I (mid 50's) are looking to go to the UK and/or Ireland for the first time. We have traveled extensively in the US and some in Asia when I was in the military 25 years ago, but never to Europe.

We are looking for suggestions about where to go and what to see. To help, let me give you some background information. We are limited in travel dates as I am a college professor and my wife is a school teacher. Our only available dates would be from late December (about 20th) to mid January, or early July (around the 5th) to mid August. I would expect that during those periods we would have 10 to 14 days available.

The one thing we both agree on is Liverpool and the Beatles as we have both been huge fans all of our lives. In addition, I am a Liverpool FC fan and would love to see a match at Anfield if we are there during the winter, or maybe a preseason match in early August. If I could finagle two matches in different stadiums it would be awesome.

My wife would love to see Ireland and Scotland. She is enamored with the lush countrysides of Ireland and or Scotland and England and she would also like to see Castles as well. If we go to Ireland my wife would like to at the very minimum see the Ring of Kerry and Blarney/Cork/Waterford.

I usually need to be restrained in my travel planning as I always feel I need to see everything. So much so that I can ruin a trip by trying to cram 30 hours of sightseeing into a 24 hour day (obviously a little exaggeration, but not much). We like the security of a guided tour so we don't miss the good stuff, but are concerned that if we took one we would just be herded from place to place.

In addition to the other sights listed above, we would like to visit a great English tea room (have heard about the Pump Room in Bath) and would like to experience the rural areas of England. While we eventually would like to see the sights of London, I think we may need to save that and perhaps either Ireland and/or Scotland for a later trip.

Any ideas?

Thanks in advance.

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