The British Isles are made up of five countries, each with their own distinct culture. One thing they all have in common is the balance of bustling cities and rural beauty—not to mention the historic castles to match.
With lore and legends dating back centuries, history is everywhere you look. From one of the oldest reigning monarchies in the world to the well-celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in honor of the saint himself, the British Isles are not to be missed.
Here’s some inspiration and a peek at the cultural, architectural and imbibing adventures in store on a Royal Caribbean cruise:
Did you know that St. Patrick wasn’t actually from Ireland but is said to have been born in Roman Britain? Wherever he hails from, Dublin is known around the world for its St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. You can raise a pint yourself anytime of the year by touring the famous St. James’ Gate brewery where Arthur Guinness founded the iconic stout in 1759.
Delve into Irish history at Dublin Castle, which dates back to the 13th century and is filled with illuminated medieval manuscripts. Then, get a breath of fresh air on a short trip to the Powerscourt Estate, originally a 13th-century castle famous for its extensive, top-rated gardens.
You can also head to Cork, located in the south, to visit the legendary Blarney Castle and kiss the Blarney Stone, which is said to bestow “the gift of gab.” Or, make your way to the towering Gothic spires of St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral and warm up with an Irish coffee.
Ever since the partitioning of Ireland in 1921, this region north of the Republic of Ireland has been a separate entity and a part of the United Kingdom. In the capital city of Belfast you can learn all about this country’s past, present and future, which includes building the Titanic.
Outside of the city, witness the other-worldly beauty of Giant’s Causeway, an impressive site of some 40,000 interlocking ballast columns, created by a volcanic fissure eruption long ago. Legend has it, an Irish giant built this structure to cross the North Channel and fight a Scottish giant. Who won? Depends who you ask!
With ancient castles and royal palaces, the Scottish capital of Edinburgh will transport you back in time. Your first stop should be to visit Edinburgh Castle, which sits atop the towering Castle Rock near the city’s Old Town, to see the Scottish crown jewels. At Stirling Castle—perched high on an extinct volcano—you can trace historic battles from the Scottish Wars of Independence, made famous in “Braveheart.”
Beyond castles, get a taste of Scottish culture with a bagpipes and whiskey tour or sip a scotch at the famous Glenmorangie Distillery that opened in 1843. Then head for the legendary Loch Ness at Inverness, the body of water said to house the mythical creature, beside the Urquhart Castle ruins.
The port of Holyhead, Wales offers its own breathtaking landscapes, like the jaw-dropping Snowdonia. This region was designated the first national park in Wales and houses the country’s highest mountain, Snowdon, towering over numerous waterfalls and lakes.
Northeast of the park, visitors can traverse stone bridges to catch a glimpse of charming cottages and the renowned Swallow Falls at the village of Betws-y-Coed. Speaking of stone bridges, you can also catch the much larger Menai Suspension Bridge. This architectural marvel from 1826 was the first to connect the island of Anglesey with mainland Wales.
The famous white cliffs in Dover, England greet approaching ships, appearing almost as icebergs reaching 350 feet above the water, with Dover Castle (home to one of the best preserved Roman lighthouses in Europe) sitting atop them. You can tour this extensive fortress that dates back to medieval times and was built atop Roman ruins, including the eerie defense tunnels.
Another world-renowned structure, Canterbury Cathedral in nearby Kent was the center of Christianity in early medieval England. It boasts ornate pillars, gorgeous stained-glass windows and UNESCO World Heritage status. If you have a full day in Dover, visit the lavish Leeds Castle situated on islands in the middle of a lake.
Last but not least is the Channel Island of Guernsey to the south of England. This destination is a Crown Dependency (meaning it’s not a part of the United Kingdom, but the Queen is still the head of state) that offers travelers up-close experiences with nature. It’s most famous for its cows, which produce some of the creamiest, golden-colored milk. You can get a taste for yourself at Meadow Court Farm, where you’ll tour hundreds of green acres on which these herds graze and get a sample of their famous cheeses.
You can also head to the smallest of the four main Channel Islands, the nearby and car-free Sark. To get around, you can bike along the narrow cliffs with water on either side of you.
Royal Caribbean makes it easy to experience the United Kingdom in its entirety, so head here to plan your cruise vacation to this incredible part of the world.