Tour of UK,Ireland, Scotland

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My wife and I are planning to spend our 25th anniversary in June 2012 touring the UK, Scotland and Ireland. We would like to go with a small to medium size group of 8-25 people if possible and have a little "free" time to explore on our own. we plan on spending from 20 -30 days and are interested in getting recommendations for tour companies,guides etc. We usually plan our own European trips but would like to take a break and leave the arrangements to someone else for a change. Please include as much specific information as possible in your responses. Thanks, Lee and Vicki

We took a tour of Ireland with CIE Tours several years ago. It's an Irish company and we felt they did a very good job. I'm quite sure they go to Scotland as well.

I used the Ireland Specialist that advertises in ITN (O'Scanlon or something like this) and he arranged a quasi-independent self-drive with B&B vouchers that was wonderful. Check out his ad in the next ITN.

From July 10-24, 2011 I was on a 15-day tour of Ireland with the ITN advertiser that TravelCenturian refers to, Journey Through Ireland Ltd. owned by Conn O'Scannlain at The specific tour I took was CBTE #1, which was the All Ireland tour. Mr. O'Scannlain is the first to admit in his advertising that "We are not the least expensive tour product, but WE ARE THE BEST!" He also says in his advertising that "Our TOURS are COMPREHENSIVE, as well as an excellent value....and a very PERSONALIZED style of touring". After looking at half a dozen other different tours of Ireland, I chose Journey Through Ireland because it appeared to be the most comprehensive out of all the ones that I compared. I also chose it because the group size is limited to no more than 12 people (and we had only 5).

I can say after taking the tour that although I was basically happy with it, I do think it was seriously overpriced in comparison to other companies that offer tours of Ireland. I think that only people where money is no object or who take only one major trip per year could actually consider it an "excellent value". The 2-week tour of Ireland cost more than my 3-week MIR tour to the Five Stans c. 2007, which was much further away and considerably more exotic. The only other company that I was considering for Ireland was Odysseys Unlimited's 13-day Enchanting Ireland tour, which was much less expensive, but against my better judgment I ultimately chose Journey Through Ireland because their itinerary was slightly more appealing. In other words, I paid considerably more for a slightly more appealing tour, even though I realized from the get-go that I was not making the more cost-efficient choice.

Although it turned out that I was indeed very happy with the Journey Through Ireland itinerary, what I specifically didn't like about my tour is that two of our hotels (in Waterford and in Galway) were not centrally located. Mercifully next year Journey Through Ireland tours will not be staying in Waterford, so that will solve the hotel issue there. Apparently the clientele who take the tour are happy with the deluxe Glenlo Abbey Hotel, which is 4 miles from the center of Galway, because not only does it have a golf course on the premises (and an entire free day to make use of it), but they consider it a unique experience to have a fine dinner in an authentic old train dining car on the hotel's grounds. Perhaps I'm jaded, but that didn't do anything for me; I was far more enchanted with an elegant dinner I had in an old train dining car in Melbourne, Australia -- one that actually moves around the perimeter of the city in an hour's time. The one at the Glenlo Abbey was totally stationary. And Lord knows I don't play golf, so that hotel was totally wasted on me. And as a New York City gal, I prefer hotels that are located center city so that I can get out and walk around town on my own.

Other than the choice of several of the hotels, the only other flaw with this year's Journey through Ireland tour itinerary is unfortunately it did not go to the Ring of Kerry, which is a scenic and important part of the itinerary of every other tour of Ireland that I know of. Luckily I spent an additional week in Ireland (and Scotland) on my own after the tour was over and during that time took a one-day rail tour from Dublin to the Ring of Kerry with RailTours Ireland at (which offers additional 1 to 6 day rail tours of Ireland you can take from Dublin). Next year Journey Through Ireland is changing their All Ireland tour to include part (but not all) of the Ring of Kerry.

Journey through Ireland specializes in Ireland only. They do not go to Scotland. If you want to go to both countries, I would recommend that you take Odysseys Unlimited's 13-day Enchanting Ireland tour back-to-back with their 12-day Scotland: Highlands and Islands tour, assuming that you can find departure dates that are compatible with each other. You will probably be able to do both of those tours together for the same cost or only sightly more than Journey Through Ireland's 15-day All Ireland tour. Although Odysseys Unlimited has a larger group size than Journey Through Ireland, they limit it from 12-24 guests. Odysseys' website is at

Others in this forum have recommended CIE Tours, which offers 15 and 16 day tours combining Ireland and Scotland. However, IMHO a tour that combines both countries in two weeks doesn't do justice to the attractions of either; methinks you need a minimum of two weeks in each. I don't know the maximum group size of CIE tours, other than to say that most of the CIE tours that I ran into in Ireland were using a big bus (although admittedly I saw an occasional CIE tour van also). If you book a CIE tour, you would need to question them beforehand about the average group size for any given tour.

I do not know of any companies that combine England, Ireland, and Scotland in the same tour. Check to see if such "generic" companies as Trafalgar and Globus do so, but if they do undoubtedly you will run into the large size tour group that you are trying to avoid and they may do London, Edinburgh, and Dublin, but nothing more. In any event, to see England comprehensively from north to south deserves a month of its own, with at least one week devoted exclusively to London. Better to take a separate trip at another time rather than to "spread yourself too thin" and see pathetically little of each of the 3 countries you are interested in.