Some recommended Branson MO Tour activities include:
- Silver Dollar City
- Branson Belle
- Titanic Museum
- Branson Scenic Railway
- Celebration City
- Track 4 Family Fun Park
- Bass Pro Shop
- Performance venues and clinic opportunities available upon request
Some recommended Seattle Tour activities include:
- Space Needle
- Pikes Place Market
- Pioneer Square
- Experience Music Project Museum
- Museum of Flight
- Seattle Great Wheel
- Oypic Sculpture Park
- Pier 54
- Pacific Science Center
- Chihuly Garden of Glass
Some recommended Quebec City Tour activities include:
- The Old Walled City
- Chateau Frontenac
- Quebec Citadel
- St. Anne Basilica
- The Old Port
- Albert Gilles Copper Museum and Workshop
- The Ice Hotel
- Plains of Abraham
- The Parliament Buildings
Some recommended Montreal Tour activities include:
- Mount Royal
- Olympic Stadium
- Notre Dame Basilica
- St. Catherine Street
- Old Montreal
- Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
Scotland and Ireland Tour
Day 1 – Depart for Dublin, Ireland
Our outbound overnight flight departs for Dublin with food service.
Day 2 – Dublin City
We arrive in Dublin and start by visiting Trinity College where the the Book of Kells is on display, and the Long Room library. Then we’ll visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the famous Christ Church. If we arrive at 1:30, it’s possible we might hear a choir concert that’s part of their lunchtime concert series. Free time in the afternoon. Dinner is provided at the hotel tonight. Hotel and dinner:
Day 3 Glendalough and Phoenix Park
This morning after breakfast we’ll visit the ancient ruins of Glendalough Abbey, a monastic settlement founded by St. Kevin, the monk that lived in a tree in the 6th century. The churches, abbeys, and the famous round towers make this one of the most venerated sites in Ireland, and they are legendary. The drive takes us an hour south of Dublin into the Wicklow Mountains. Also, we’ll visit Phoenix Park, home to the President of Ireland and the American Ambassador to Ireland. There will be little free time for shopping on Grafton Street pedestrian area to make this a full day. Dinner is on our own tonight.
Day 4 Dublin – Killarney
This morning we have an early departure for Killarney by way of Waterford for our stop there to tour the Waterford Crystal factory. This is a special stop that everyone will enjoy, and we’ll have time for lunch there and a visit to their showroom. Time permitting, we’ll also have a short stop at Blarney Castle, built in 1210 A.D. This is your chance to kiss the Blarney Stone and receive all its benefits…and shop at the Blarney Woollen Mills. Then we continue the rest of the way to Killarney.
Day 5 — Ring of Kerry
After a full Irish breakfast at the hotel, we’ll drive the Ring of Kerry, a scenic tour of constantly changing mountain and coastline scenery. The road winds between the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks, the highest mountains in Ireland, and along the Atlantic Ocean and we will enjoy stops to admire views, starting with an early stop to overlook Dingle Bay. If available, we’ll see Brendan Ferris, the Sheppard, who shows how to control sheepdogs from a distance on the mountain and answers all questions—an excellent show. Then we travel through Caherdaniel and Waterville at the western end of the peninsula and enjoy the bracing Atlantic breezes. We continue our drive through the colourful village of Sneem and the vantage point of Moll’s Gap through the National Park to Killarney and back to the hotel by mid-afternoon, with some free time for exploring and dinner on our own.
Day 6 — Killarney/Galway
After breakfast, we travel to Galway via Adare & Limerick. We’ll stop at the picturesque village of Adare and on through Limerick City to Galway City for two nights. We arrive in time to explore Galway for a short a walking tour of the city, visiting the original site of ‘The Lynching’, the Spanish Arch, the site of Columbus last prayers, and more. Then it’s free time for the rest of the afternoon. Dinner is provided tonight at the hotel. Hotel and dinner:
Day 7 – Aran Islands by ferry.
Another great breakfast at the hotel, and then we drive a bit and then check in for the Aran Island Ferry at the port of Rossaveel. The ferry crossing is about one hour across Galway Bay, arriving at Kilronan, where we’ll be met by our driver/guide Bertie Mullen. He will take us on a mini-bus tour of the island. The highlight is Dun Aengus, a promontory fort on 600-foot cliffs overlooking the Atlantic. After lunch on our own, we continue our tour. We return to Kilronan to catch the ferry at 4:00 pm, returning to Galway for a relaxing evening in town for shopping and dinner on our own in one of the many fine restaurants or pubs.
Day 8 — Galway to Glasgow and Edinburgh
We check out early today and drive to Dublin to catch our short flight to Glasgow, Scotland. We arrive at about 10:30 AM, to be met by our licensed Scottish guide and driver for the next 5 days. Leaving the airport, we’ll travel to Stirling for a visit to the Castle. The Great Hall has been rebuilt as it was built in 1503 by James the IV and Mary Queen of Scots was crowned there in 1543. The Castle remained a military barracks until 1964, housing the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. From there we’ll travel via the Falkirk Wheel–a marvellous feat of engineering designed to lift canal barges from one level to another level. We will also stop to see the Kelpies (the name given to mystical sea horses in Scotland). From there we’ll arrive in Edinburgh to check into our hotel. After dinner, we can stroll and enjoy the excellent location of the hotel. Hotel and dinner:
Day 9 — Edinburgh
We start the day with a guided city panoramic tour of Edinburgh including sights the Royal Mile, the Scottish Parliament, Holyrood Palace, Princes Street, the Old Town and the New Town, finishing with a visit to Edinburgh Castle and all it has to see. The remainder of the day and evening is free to enjoy the sites of your choice. John Knox’s house, the Museum of Scotland, St. Giles cathedral, and the many shops on the Royal Mile and Princes Street are a few choices. Another option for the afternoon is a visit to Rosslyn Chapel, featured in the film The da Vinci Code. www.rosslynechapel.com Dinner is on our own tonight.
Day 10 – Edinburg to the Highlands
We leave Edinburgh and travel towards Perth, the gateway to the Highlands. Our route takes us across the Firth of Forth running parallel to the Forth Railway Bridge, completed in 1880. The bridge has recently been awarded World Heritage site. We bypass Perth and travel up through the heart of Scotland, visiting Dunkeld with its beautiful cathedral on the banks of the River Tay and also Pitlochry, which has the smallest whisky distillery in Scotland. Then on to Blair Castle, the only white castle in Scotland and the seat of the Murray family, the Duke of Atholl. He is unique in that he is the only person in Scotland allowed to have his own private army, the Atholl Highlanders. Our route will also pass through Aviemore, Scotland’s top ski resort, before arriving Inverness. The view as you drop down to sea level is spectacular.
Day 11 – Tain and Dornoch
From Inverness we travel north to the town of Tain which holds the oldest royal charter for a town in Scotland, dating back to 1066. Tain also boasts the Glenmorangie Whisky Distillery, recently voted the best whisky in the world. There we will take the tour, taste the goods, and form our own opinion. We then continue to Dornoch for a visit to its ancient cathedral, which is small but beautiful. Time may allow us to travel a bit further north to Golspie to visit Dunrobin Castle, the home of the Duke of Sutherland. To this day the family is very unpopular due to their part in the dreadful Highland Clearances—be sure to ask our guide why… From there we return to Inverness along the northern shores of the Dornoch Firth to Bonar Bridge and then through the Struie Hills from which there is a spectacular view over the area. The rest of the day is free and we enjoy dinner on our own in Inverness tonight.
Day 12 – Loch Ness, Loch Lomond and Glasgow
Today, we travel down the shores of Loch Ness with a stop at Urquhart castle for a visit. We’ll continue down the Loch to Fort Augustus and through the Great Glen to Fort William for a brief stop. Both these towns have the name “Fort” as Government troops were barracked there in order to keep the clans in line after the ill-fated Jacobite rebellion with Bonnie Prince Charlie. Then we continue down through the spectacular pass of Glencoe and the bleak Rannoch Moor to the shores of Loch Lomond. Then we cross the River Clyde, known worldwide for ship building, and into Glasgow for our last night.
Day 13 – Home again, home again.
After a hearty breakfast we say goodbye to Scotland and travel to Glasgow airport for a flight home.
Scotland and England Tour
Depart for Glasgow, Scotland, flying through the night with meal service en route and arriving at Glasgow airport in the AM
We arrive Glasgow at in the morning to be met by your Scottish guide and your USIT tour conductor outside of customs. (Remember, once you come through customs, you cannot go back through, so make sure you bring everything off the plane and through passport control and customs with you.) We then board the coach for the brief ride to Edinburgh, the jewel of Scotland. On arrival, we’ll enjoy a brief panoramic city tour, to include a stop at Holyrood Palace for pictures and then tour the famous Edinburgh Castle (adm. incl.), the site of the annual Edinburgh Tattoo. Lunch is on our own on the Royal Mile. Just down from the castle is St. Giles Cathedral, the national cathedral of Scotland, with its unbelievable stained glass, and we’ll have the entrance included there to see the cathedral. Check in at our nearby four-star hotel will follow, and the rest of the day is free to explore this wonderful city. Dinner is provided at the hotel.
After full Scottish breakfast at the hotel, we travel out of Edinburgh towards Stirling for a visit to Stirling Castle still in use today as one of the Scottish Regiments Barracks. Optional visit to The Wallace Monument a magnificent landmark that can be seen for miles. Return to Glasgow via Loch Katrine and the beautiful area know as the Trossachs. A visit to Glengoyne distillery is also an option. Return to Edinburgh. We return to our hotel at about 6:00 Dinner is on our own tonight.
After breakfast at the hotel, we board our coach for the short drive up to St. Andrews, where we will participate in the service at the Parish Church of the Holy Trinity. After the service and lunch on our own, we all have the opportunity to enjoy a short walking tour of St. Andrews or exploring on our own, including the abbey in town. Late afternoon, we depart to return to Edinburgh. Dinner is on our own.
After our final breakfast at the Apex City Hotel, we check out and board the coach for our trip south towards England, with our final destination near the city of Chester. Along the way, we’ll visit Sweetheart Abbey in the Scottish Lowlands, and Gretna Green on the border of Scotland and England. Time permitting, we’ll make a visit to Windemere, the largest lake in the British Isles, and a beautiful little lake village. Further south, we come to rest for the night in Lleyland, just north of Chester, where dinner is provided. We are well situated for our travel south to Chester and London in the morning. Dinner and Hotel
Today we change coaches, so please check with your tour conductor about the coach to board today. After an early breakfast, we depart for the ancient city of Chester just to the south, where our Chester guides meet us at 9:30 AM for a tour of Chester. Chester was an ancient Roman fortress–(“chester” is the Latin root meaning “camp”)–and was important as the gatehead to Wales. Much of the old city within the wall has been maintained and restored, and we will have guides for small groups to take us around the top of the city walls, explaining the wonderful history of the city as we go, including the incomparable Chester Cathedral, one of the finest cathedrals in the world. We’ll also visit the 11th century Norman church and the ancient Roman ruins. We’ll have an early lunch on our own after the tour with some time for exploring—Chester’s reputation as one of the finest shopping towns in all of England comes into play. After lunch, we depart south for London, with brief stops in Oxford to tour the town briefly and in Stratford-upon-Avon to visit the birthplace of William Shakespeare.We arrive London early evening, and dinner is provided at the hotel.
After breakfast at the hotel, we will enjoy a panoramic tour of the city by coach, including Piccadilly Circus, Oxford St., Parliament, Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, and other sights. We’ll have lunch on our own in the area of Westminster Abbey, and in small groups, you can go in on your own (adm. not included). Afterwards, we’ll visit Covent Garden, one of the settings for the famous musical and movie, My Fair Lady. The rest of the afternoon is on our own for exploring, and dinner is on our own
After breakfast at the hotel, we’ll go by underground (incl.) to the Embankment Station, across from Parliament, where we’ll catch our Thames River cruise (adm. incl.) with commentary through the heart of London, which takes us right to the Tower of London (adm. incl.), where we will have lunch on our own before entering the Tower grounds. Built by William the Conqueror in 1070, the Tower was a royal residence until the time of King Henry the 8th, after which it was renowned as a feared and sinister prison. The closely guarded Crown Jewels are on display at the Tower, and you will have the opportunity to see the Royal Apartments of King Edward the First. We’ll have lunch on our own in the neighborhood of London Tower. Then we’ll cross to the other side of the Thames to visit the Bankside district of London, where Southwark Cathedral is located, situated on the south side of London Bridge, where we find Shakespeare’s Old Globe Theater (adm. incl.), a restoration of the original theater, very much as seen in “Shakespeare in Love”, a recently popular movie, and take a tour of the theater. Next we transfer back to the hotel to prepare for dinner, which is served at the Albert Pub, one of London’s most famous restaurants, named after Prince Albert, for a traditional English carvery dinner. After dinner, we take the tube directly back to the hotel.
After breakfast at the hotel, we depart at 9:30 for St. Paul’s Cathedral (adm. incl.) in the heart of London, the masterpiece of England’s great architect Sir Christopher Wren and burial place of famous Britons such as Horatio Nelson and the Duke of Wellington. Arriving at about 10:00, we have time to tour the cathedral and hear about its great history with our London guides. We then go to Covent Garden for lunch on our own. After the concert, we travel to the nearby British Museum, the oldest, and one of the largest museums in the world. Here we can see at first hand The Elgin Marbles, The Portland Vase, The Lewis Chessmen, The Sutton Hoo Treasure, to name only a few of the wondrous collections. Also there are the Egyptian Mummies and a superb exhibition of prints and drawings which changes several times a year. Other departments are Coins and Medals, Egyptian Antiquities, Ethnography, Greek and Roman Antiquities, Japanese Art, Medieval and Later Art, Oriental Antiquities, Pre-Historic and Romano-British Antiquities, Prints and Drawings, and Western Asiatic Antiquities. From there, we’ll transfer to the Theater District for dinner on our own. At 7:00 PM, we enjoy our West End show, TBD. By 10:00 PM, we are back at the hotel to pack for our early departure the next morning.
After a last hearty breakfast at the hotel, we check out and board our coach for London Heathrow Airport to arrive at least 2 hours before our flight
Full hot breakfast is served every morning in our hotels. Lunches are always on our own, dinners are provided as indicated.
Spain and Portugal Tour
Day 1 DEPARTURE to MADRID
We board our overnight flight to Madrid, with meal service en route.
Day 2 MADRID
Arrival in Madrid, and after luggage retrieval and customs, we’ll be met by our USIT tour conductor and our city guide and board the coach for our transfer to the city. Madrid is the capital of Spain, is located in the heart of the peninsula and right in the center of the Castilian plain 1800 feet above sea level, with a population of over three million. It’s a cosmopolitan city, a business center, and headquarters for the Public Administration, Government, Spanish Parliament and the home of the Spanish Royal Family. As it is too early for check-in, we’ll start with a panoramic tour of the city, ending at the famous Prado Museum (adm. Incl.) midafternoon. At 6:00 PM, we’ll leave the museum to check into our hotel, and shortly thereafter, we’ll go to dinner at a nearby restaurant (incl.)
Day 3 MADRID
After breakfast at the hotel, we’ll start our guided tour by visiting the Plaza Mayor, close by the hotel. Inaugurated in 1620, this large rectangular, stone paved plaza with its ground floor arcades underwent its last remodeling in 1853 by Juan de Villanueva. Until the last century, the Plaza Mayor was used as a marketplace on weekdays and was the scene of popular events from bullfights to public announcement of sentences during the Inquisition, religious processions, public executions and dance and theater festivals. The most striking building in the Plaza Mayor is the Casa de la Panadería (Bakery house), with its colorful fresco-adorned façade. On the opposite side of the square is the Casa de la Carnicería. This former butcher shop now houses Municipal offices. We go on to walk through the area, seeing the Palacio de Santa Cruz, Mercado de San Miguel, and the Plaza de la Villa. Lunch is on our own and time to explore in the in the area. Then we proceed to the Royal Palace, the Palacio Real for a tour. The palace is one of the most beautiful in Europe, especially its architecture and gardens. There are also excellent frescos inside the palace by Tiépolo, and paintings by Velázquez, Goya, Rubens, El Greco, Juan de Flandes and Caravaggio, among others. We’ll also see the Almudena Cathedral nearby. Dinner is on our own, with a large variety of restaurants at the nearby Plaza Mayor from which to choose. Possible concert tonight.
Day 4 MADRID/SEVILLE
After a leisurely breakfast, we transfer to Madrid Puerta De Atocha train station to take the TGV (high-speed train) to Seville’s Santa Justa Station. Seville is in the heart of Andalusia. We’ll have lunch in the area before starting our panoramic tour of Seville. First we’ll discover the architecture of 1929 in Seville when the IberoAmerican Exhibition took place in the capital of Andalusia. Next is Plaza de España, one of the country’s most spectacular. Plazas de España was the centerpiece of the 1929 Spanish-Americas Fair. It boasts fountains and mini-canals and is surrounded by a display of tile work representing all the provinces of Spain. If we need a break from the city, we’ll head into the tranquillity of the adjoining Parque de María Luisa, only a 10-minute walk east of the cathedral. On the way to the Plaza de España, we will see the city’s old tobacco factory that was the setting for Bizet’s Carmen. Today it’s a part of Seville University, and is open to the public during daylight hours. Then we coach to the Plaza de America and the Pabellon Mudejar, located by the Maria Luisa Gardens. We continue to the city center where we’ll visit the Alcazar Royal Palace, the oldest Spanish King’s residence. This was a fortress from the Muslim era (dating from AD 913), which served as a hideout of Muslim and Christian royalty for many centuries. It’s a fantastic example of the Moorish style: tiles, mosaics, ceilings, courtyards and Arabic and Renaissance gardens. We’ll see the Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza. It’s well worth a visit, since Seville’s bullring is one of the oldest (1758) and most famous in Spain. The tour will finish at the Santa Cruz Quarter, the Jewish district with narrow streets and small squares with orange trees and flowers. Then we check in at the hotel. Our evening is comprised of dinner and a Flemenco Show at 7:00 PM (incl.) at a local restaurant. We’ll depart the hotel at 6:45 PM.
Day 5 SEVILLE
First we visit Seville’s immense cathedral, one of the biggest in the world: it was built on the site of Muslim Seville’s main mosque between 1401 and 1507. One highlight of the cathedral’s lavish interior is Christopher Columbus’ supposed tomb inside the south door. The tower that adjoins the Cathedral is La Giralda. It was the mosque’s minaret and dates from the 12th century. Those who wish can climb up the tower for a panoramic view, using the same ticket as for the cathedral. Then we move on to the Golden Tower. On the banks of the River Guadalquivir stands the Torre de Oro, which today represents one of Seville’s major landmarks. It houses important documents related to the nautical history of Seville. The Moors originally built it as a way to close access to the harbour by stretching a chain across the mouth of the harbor. Lunch is on our own and the afternoon is free to explore and relax on our own. Dinner is on our own. Possible concert tonight in the cathedral.
Day 6 SEVILLE/LISBON
Today is a long day on the coach, making our way to Lisbon, but there is much to see, so we’ll leave around 9:00 AM from the hotel. We travel west on the highway, passing stretches of olive groves before rejoining the Mediterranean. We’ll stop for lunch in Quarteira along the beach before continuing north towards Lisbon. We’ll take the motorway through the southwest mountains of Portugal, passing verdant forests with unique species of trees as we wend our way north. By about 3:00 PM, we arrive in Evora, which is one of Portugal’s most delightful towns. In addition to its spacious town square with shops, restaurants, and cafes, it is an “open-air museum” with a large number of well-preserved monuments, including its cathedral, a Roman temple, and the 15th century Loios Convent with Gothic church. Evora is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Leaving Evora, we drive the last leg of our day, arriving in Lisbon around 7:00 PM to check into our 4* hotel on the main square in Lisbon. Dinner is provided at the hotel
Day 7 LISBON
After a late breakfast at the hotel, we’ll start our half-day walking tour of Lisbon from the hotel at 10:00 AM. We’ll walk through the medieval Alfama district, a village within the city, still made up of narrow streets, tiny squares, churches, and whitewashed houses, and up to St. George’s Castle, dating from the 6th century, overlooking the city (adm. Incl.). There are many churches in Lisbon, foremost among them are the cathedral, the oldest building in Lisbon, dating from 1150 AD, and we will visit the cathedral this morning. Then we’ll visit the amazing Jeronimos Monastery. This monastery, dedicated to St. Jerome, is the most impressive symbol of Portugal’s power and wealth during the Age of Discovery. King Manuel I built it in 1502 on the site of a hermitage founded by Prince Henry the Navigator, where Vasco da Gama and his crew spent their last night in Portugal in prayer before leaving for India. We’ll also go by the Belem Tower and the Discoveries Monument. After lunch on our own, we’ll drive through the coastal town of Cascais, with its beautiful beaches, and on to the lighthouse at Cabo Roca, with its pounding Atlantic surf. Return to the hotel. Shortly thereafter, we arrive at the royal town of Sintra, hidden in the lush mountain forests. The Romans made it a place of cult moon worship and named it “Cynthia” after the goddess of the moon. They were followed by the Moors who also fell in love with the lush vegetation and built a hilltop castle, a palace, and several fountains around the town. Later it became the summer residence of the Portuguese royal family and attracted a number of wealthy aristocrats who built huge mansions and villas. Dinner is on our own. Possible concert in the cathedral or the Jeronimos Monastery.
Day 8 LISBON to PORTO
This morning we board the coach early for our trip north to Porto. On the way, we’ll stop to visit to visit the Batalha Monastery (Mosteiro da Batalha), erected in commemoration of the 1385 Battle of Aljubarrota, to thank the Virgin Mary for the Portuguese victory over the Castilians. It took over a century to build, starting in 1386 and ending circa 1517, and it’s one of the most important Gothic sites in Portugal. This is one of our concert sites. We arrive Fatima around lunchtime, and we’ll have lunch on our own. We’ll tour Our Lady of Fatima Basilica, and the tombs of the visionaries. This national shrine is the site where three young peasant shepherds spied a “lady brighter than the sun,” which was, many believe, the first of six apparitions of the Virgin Mary in this region of Portugal. There is an afternoon mass in English, and we hope to participate and then sing a concert. After the concert, we board the coaches to continue to Porto, arriving for dinner.
Day 9 PORTO TO SALAMANCA
This morning, we’ll take a brief tour of Porto, including a cruise on River Douro to see the city from the water, including the city’s six bridges, before departing for Salamanca, Spain. We arrive there in the early afternoon, and after lunch on our own, we tour the city. We’ll start with the historic Plaza Major, where we’ll hear about the major historic events of Salamanca, followed by visits to the Old Cathedral and the New Cathedral. The interior architecture and decorations of the New Cathedral are rich and elegant, and we’ll see three of the chapels: the Golden Chapel, the Chapel of the Veil and the Chapel of Saint Roque.
Day 10 MADRID/ HOME
We depart the hotel for the airport to arrive at least 2 hours prior to our departure time.
Performance Tour to Portugal
Day 1 Travel to Madrid
Day 2 Madrid to Salamanca via Avilla. Hotel
At 8:25 AM, our flight arrives at Madrid’s Barajas International Airport, and after going through passport control, and colleting our luggage, we’ll be met by our guide and our USIT tour conductor, who will lead us to our coach. Shortly thereafter, we depart the airport to enjoy a panoramic tour of Madrid, including the amazing Royal Palace and the Plaza Major. Then we depart for our visit to Avila, a two-hour ride on the highway, on our way to Salamanca. Avila is famous for its medieval city walls and towers that enclose the town. We’ll see the cathedral and the convent of St. Teresa. Then we continue to Salamanca, the end of our travels for the day. We arrive early evening for check-in and dinner at our four-star hotel in the heart of Salamanca.
Day 3 Salamanca to Porto
Depart Salamanca in the morning, arrive Pinhão for a cruise down the River Douro through the vineyard region to Porto on the Atlantic Coast, arrive Porto early evening.
Day 4 Tour Porto
After breakfast at the hotel, we’ll enjoy a panoramic tour of the city, including visits to St. Francis Church, one of the famous Baroque Golden Churches. We are invited to sing a concert in this national monument at 6:00 PM. Next to St. Francis Church is the Commercial Association Palace (Palácio da Bolsa), a major neoclassical landmark, rich in artwork in the interior. Our final visit this morning is the Cathedral of Porto, an austere, fortress-like cathedral where King John 1st married the English Princess Philippa of Lancaster in the 14th century and where their son, Prince Henry the Navigator, was baptized. While the building has its origins in the 12th century, it has undergone many alterations over time. We’ll hear about why from our guide. After lunch on our own, we’ll enjoy a one-hour cruise on the Douro River to see the city from the water, including the city’s six bridges. We return to the hotel for some free time and dinner is on our own.
Day 5 Day trip to Braga and Guimarães
After breakfast, we’ll drive out to Braga. Sometimes called the “Portuguese Rome” for its many churches, Braga is an ancient town in northwest Portugal. Its history and livelihood are tied to Christianity dating to the 3rd century. The city’s 12th-century Sé (Cathedral) is still one of the most popular attractions. We’ll have lunch on our own in Braga. Then we go on to Guimarães, a city in region of Minho, and it’s one of the most historical cities in Portugal, said to be where “Portugal was born”. It was the first city of Portugal to have a famously beautiful Castle, and a Palace to visit, from the beginnings of the country. The Castle has been classified as one of the New Portuguese Seven Wonders.
Day 6 Coimbra to Tomar
After breakfast at the hotel, we’ll check out early morning (8:00 AM) and depart for Coimbra, about two hours’ drive from Porto. Together we’ll visit University Library at 10:30, and the Cathedral. Inside the library, there are three great rooms divided by decorated arches. The walls are covered by two storied shelves, in gilded or painted exotic woods and the ceilings are decorated with painting, and the library contains about 250 thousand volumes. The cathedral is one of the most important Romanesque Cathedrals in Portugal and was built by the first King of Portugal when the city was the Capitol of the country. After lunch on our own in Coimbra, we continue to Tomar, a charming and historically outstanding town on the banks of the Nabão River. It is dominated by a 12th-century Templar castle to see it’s collection of medieval weapons and armor, and the Convent of Christ (declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO). Tonight we stay in Tomar.
Day 7 Tomar to Lisbon via Evora
After breakfast at the hotel, head south to Lisbon, by way of Evora. We take the scenic route through Santarem and several small towns to arrive at lunchtime. After lunch on our own, we’ll tour Evora, which is one of Portugal’s most delightful towns. In addition to its spacious town square with shops, restaurants, and cafes, it is an “open-air museum” with a large number of well-preserved monuments, including its cathedral, a Roman temple, and the 15th century Loios Convent with Gothic church. Evora is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Late afternoon, we depart for Lisbon, an hour away.
Day 8 Lisbon, city tour
After breakfast at the hotel, we’ll start our half-day walking tour of Lisbon from the hotel at 10:00 AM. We’ll walk through the medieval Alfama district, a village within the city, still made up of narrow streets, tiny squares, churches, and whitewashed houses, and up to St. George’s Castle, dating from the 6th century, overlooking the city (adm. Incl.). Then we’ll visit the amazing Jeronimos Monastery. This monastery, dedicated to St. Jerome, is the most impressive symbol of Portugal’s power and wealth during the Age of Discovery. King Manuel I built it in 1502 on the site of a hermitage founded by Prince Henry the Navigator, where Vasco da Gama and his crew spent their last night in Portugal in prayer before leaving for India. We’ll also go by the Belem Tower and the Discoveries Monument. Lunch is on our own after the tour, with some free time to explore. We will sing a concert afterward after the 5:00 PM mass at St. Anthony’s Church.
Day 9 Obidose, Nazare and Batalha Monastery
After breakfast at the hotel, we depart to the north, and our first stop is Obidos, a delightful little walled city with its origins in Roman times. Next we continue to the Batalha Monastery (Mosteiro da Batalha), erected in commemoration of the 1385 Battle of Aljubarrota, to thank the Virgin Mary for the Portuguese victory over the Castilians. It took over a century to build, starting in 1386 and ending circa 1517, and it’s one of the most important Gothic sites in Portugal. After lunch on our own in town, we’ll sing a concert in the sanctuary. Then we continue to Nazare, where we’ll have lunch on our own before visiting the Chapel of Our Lady of Nazare.
Day 10 Cascais and Sentra via Cabo di Roca
After breakfast, we travel north to the royal town of Sintra, hidden in the lush mountain forests. The Romans made it a place of cult moon worship and named it “Cynthia” after the goddess of the moon. They were followed by the Moors who also fell in love with the lush vegetation and built a hilltop castle, a palace, and several fountains around the town. Later it became the summer residence of the Portuguese royal family and attracted a number of wealthy aristocrats who built huge mansions and villas. Here we’ll have lunch on our own. Then we continue south toward Lisbon, making a stop at the lighthouse at Cabo Roca, on a bluff high above the pounding Atlantic surf. On the way into Lisbon, we’ll drive through the upscale coastal town of Cascais, with its beautiful beaches and abundant shops. After a visit there, we continue the remaining half an hour drive along the coast into Lisbon.
Day 11 Travel home from Lisbon
Italy – Amalfi Coast Tour!
Day 1 Depart USA for Venice, Italy
We depart the USA today for our Best of Italy Tour!
Day 2 Arrival Venice
We arrive at Marco Polo International Airport, where we meet our tour guide and USIT tour conductor. A private launch will take us directly from the airport to our hotel. Dinner is provided at the hotel this evening.
Day 3 Venice
After breakfast, we walk to the Piazza St. Marco, the famous central square of Venice. Our guide will take us into both the Doges Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica. The Doges Palace, the Palazzo Ducale, was the Venetian rulers’ palace from the time of the 9th century, and this architectural masterpiece is filled with amazing artwork. St. Mark’s Basilica, with its four domes and thirteen spires, is a blend of East and West, with a 4th century Egyptian sculpture of the Tetrarchs, 13th century bronze statues, 15th century statuary, and 17th century mosaics. The history of its construction is fascinating, as you will hear on our guided tour . The famous square provides many places to eat lunch, and the shopping district is centered here as well. We also enjoy a visit to the Murano glass-blowing demonstration and showroom. The afternoon is free for you to shop and to explore the city on your own. You might want to consider a gondola ride under the Rialto Bridge and along the Grand Canal! Shop and enjoy Venice! Dinner is on our own tonight.
Day 4 Venice to Lucca via Verona
An early departure from Venice takes us by boat to our coach as we travel to Verona, where we’ll stop for an early lunch on our own with time to see Romeo and Juliet’s balcony, the cathedral, and the local market—not to mention the upscale shopping street that runs to the main square and coliseum. Then on to Lucca, where we arrive late afternoon at our four-star hotel. We can then enjoy the ambiance of Lucca in the evening. Lucca is situated on the river Serchio in a fertile plain near the Ligurian Sea, famous for its intact Renaissance-era city walls. Dinner is included at the hotel tonight. If you’re an opera lover, you might enjoy a performance at the Lucca Puccini Opera Festival.
Day 5 Lucca, Pisa, and Siena
After breakfast at the hotel, we have the morning to explore delightful Lucca, an ancient walled city off the beaten track for tourists, largly pedestrian, full of interesting shops, bakeries, restaurants, and cafes. The rectangular grid of its historical center preserves the Roman street plan, and the Piazza San Michele occupies the site of the ancient forum. Enjoy the narrow streets, small shops, and an espresso in a quiet cafe. We depart Lucca around noon for Pisa, stopping for lunch at a remote vineyard between Lucca and Pisa (incl.). Pisa was the dominant naval power in the western Mediterranean for much of the Middle Ages, and its trading links with Spain and Africa formed the basis for its wealth at the time. This is reflected in the splendid duomo (cathedral), baptistry, and campanile, which we know as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, on the Campo di Miracoli. We leave Pisa mid-afternoon for our next destination. Siena is a delightful hilltop town with a maze of narrow streets surrounding the fan-shaped Piazza del Campo, considered by many to be Italy’s loveliest piazza, the setting for bullfights, executions, and a festival centered around a bareback horse race. Shops, cafes, and restaurants line the surrounding area. The cathedral is unique, as you will see, and is considered one of Italy’s finest. Dinner is on our own in Siena tonight.
Day 6 Siena and Florence
After breakfast at the hotel, we drive the short distance to Florence and start our day’s tour by seeing the old city center. While much of Florence (Firenze) was rebuilt during the Renaissance, the eastern part of the city is still largely medieval. Rising above the center of the city, we find the richly decorated Duomo, or Cathedral, the Santa Maria del Fiore, with its famous terra cotta dome. The 4th century Baptistery is famous for its bronze doors and for the many famous Florentines, including Dante, who were baptized here. We also enjoy an in-depth exposure to some of the finest artwork in the world at the Uffizi Museum with a guided tour to include viewing The Birth of Venus by Botticelli and The Annunciation by Da Vinci. We also enjoy a visit to the Basilica of Santa Croce. Then we return to Siena for the remainder of the afternoon and evening for time on our own. Dinner on our own.
Day 7 Siena to Sorrento via Assisi
After checking out of our Siena hotel, we continue travelling South. The highlight of the day is our visit to Assisi. Assisi is best known as the birthplace of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of Italy, founder of the Franciscan order, and one of the most popular Catholic saints in history. Assisi’s focal point is the 13th-century Basilica di San Francesco, which contains the sacred relics of St. Francis and beautiful frescoes of his life. Lunch is on our own in Assisi. Then we depart for Sorrento, arriving at our hotel early in the evening. Dinner is included at the hotel.
Day 8 Sorrento and Capri
Today we have a full day excursion to the Island of Capri, including the Blue Grotto, which we reach from Sorrento by boat. Capri is an Italian island off the Sorrentine Peninsula on the south side of the Gulf of Naples, and it has been a celebrated beauty spot and resort since the time of the Roman Republic. We’ll visit the famous Blue Grotto on the way, weather permitting. In the 1950s, Capri became a popular destination for the international jet set. The central piazzetta of Capri, though preserving its modest village architecture, is lined with luxury boutiques, restaurants, and paparazzi chasing celebrities. Lunch in on our own in the town of Capri. After our return to Sorrento, we have free time for shopping and browsing, and dinner is on our own.
Day 9 Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast
After breakfast, we depart for our drive down the Amalfi Coast. The narrow and twisting Amalfi Drive in Italy is arguably the world’s most beautiful and thrilling sightseeing road. It stretches 50 kilometers (30 miles) between Sorrento and Amalfi, the village that gave the coast its name. Small villages cling precariously to steep sea cliffs with breathtaking rocky shoreline vistas. At Positano, we transfer to vans that will take us down to the village for a stroll on the beach and some shopping. We see colorful flowers and inhale the coastal air, rich with the smell of ocean spray and lemons. We continue down the coast to Amalfi for a brief visit and then return to Sorrento. Dinner is on our own in Sorrento.
Day 10 Sorrento to Rome via Pompeii
We leave Sorrento after breakfast for Rome, but shortly after leaving, we stop for a morning tour of the ancient city of Pompeii, frozen in time in 79 AD by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. When excavations were begun in 1748, this Roman city was found as it was on the day it was buried in ash and stone, including paintings, sculpture, and even graffiti. This is an extensive site of many acres—a whole city preserved in its sudden extinction under volcanic ash, and includes two amphitheaters, shops, villas, marketplace, the temple, the baths, and more. In the bakery of Modesto, carbonized loaves of bread were found. Our local Pompeii guide is there to make it come alive for us. After the tour we depart for Rome, and on arrival, we have time for lunch on our own before checking into the hotel. Then we board the coach for the short transfer to the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica, Catholicism’s most sacred shrine and home to hundreds of precious works of art. After some time on our own in the area, we return to the hotel and enjoy dinner at a nearby restaurant.
Day 11 Rome
This morning we continue our tour of Christian Rome with the ancient Appian Way and the Catacombs of St. Callisto (dating to AD 50), hollowed out of volcanic rock, where early Christians prayed and were buried. We descend into the tombs with a guide for a close look. From there, we enjoy a tour to include the famous Basilicas of St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran. The afternoon is free for exploring on your own. Dinner is on our own tonight.
Day 12 Rome
Today is a half-day sightseeing tour, beginning with the the impressive Coliseum, the most famous symbol of Rome. Commissioned in the year 72 by Emperor Vespasian, it was the site of deadly gladiatorial combats and wild animal fights, all for the entertainment of the masses. While there, we walk the Via Sacra to the Roman Forum. Next comes the Circus Maximus and the redbrick ruins of the Baths of Caracalla, which could accommodate 1600 bathers at once when completed in AD 206. We continue our tour to visit the Pantheon, the Piazza Navona with its three flamboyant fountains and luxurious cafes that are the social center of the city, and Trevi Fountain, the famous Baroque masterpiece by Nicola Salvi. Then on to Piazza Barberini at the foot of the Barberini Palace and the Triton Fountain by Bernini, Piazza della Repubblica, and the Fountain of the Nayads. Lunch is on our own, and the afternoon is at leisure. Our “Arrivederci Dinner” (incl.) is celebrated in a typical Roman restaurant, where we enjoy some of Italy’s great food and famous music. Return to the hotel.
Day 13 Departure
Depart by coach for Fiumicino – Leonardo da Vinci International Airport for our return flight home, as we say our final farewell to Italy!
Ireland – Derry
Day 1 Depart USA
We depart the USA for Dublin, with meal service en route.
Day 2 Dublin
After arrival in Dublin, we meet our driver/guides and USIT tour conductor and load our luggage for a short drive into the city. We get our first look at Ireland with a city tour, including visits to Trinity College to see the eighth century hand-crafted Bible, the Book of Kells, and then famous St Patrick’s Cathedral, the burial place of Dean Jonathan Swift. We also see the Georgian Square, St. Stephen’s Green, and the largest city park in the world, Phoenix Park, where the Pope said mass for over 1 million people. After lunch we check in to our hotel. After free time to rest, we have dinner at the hotel tonight.
Day 3 Glendalough & Christ Church Cathedral
This morning after breakfast we drive south to Wicklow County to visit Glendalough. The monastic site, here in the remote hills, is one of the most important in the country, with its 8th Century ruins and well-preserved Round Tower. We take a walking tour of the main sections of the site before taking time to explore this holy place. Returning to Dublin, we visit Christ Church Cathedral, located in the heart of Viking Dublin and one of the highlights of our visit. We visit the vaults below the main floor to see the artifacts housed there and to have refreshments in the Cathedral Cafe. The rest of the afternoon is free time for exploring the galleries and museums. Dinner is on our own tonight. A concert in Dublin can be scheduled.
Day 4 Strokestown Park & Derry City
We take a northerly route this morning as we head across the plains of County Meath, Westmeath and Roscommon to visit Strokestown Park, with its faithfully preserved 18th century mansion and National Irish Famine Museum, dedicated to the memory of the great potato famine of the 1840’s and great migration to America. After a guided tour of Strokestown House, the gardens and the unique potato famine museum, we have lunch here at the café, before heading on to Sligo. Just outside the town, at the village of Drumcliff, we visit the grave of the renowned writer WB Yeats. Next it’s off through Donegal to Derry City (Londonderry), where we check in to our hotel for two nights. Dinner is at the hotel tonight.
Day 5 Derry’s Walls
Our guide this morning is a native of the city with an uncanny knowledge of the history of the Bogside. We board our coach to see the Free Derry wall and the murals depicting the struggle for equal rights for all in this city, now a European City of Culture. We have time for refreshments and then a drive to the World Heritage Site, the Giant’s Causeway. This is basalt rock that formed while cooling into crystal-like formations. This causeway continues across the Irish Sea to nearby Scotland and is even visible from there on a clear day. We return to the hotel this evening, and tonight dinner is on our own.
Day 6 Kylemore & Galway
The counties of Donegal, Mayo and Galway will be crossed as we make our way to Kylemore Abbey for a possible concert performance at the miniature cathedral there. Built by Mitchell Henry as his Irish home, it is now run by the Benedictine order of nuns. This stunning location is miles from anywhere in the middle of the Connemara, Galway. We travel on through the scenic Inagh Valley, viewing the rugged landscape of this region, to the City of the Tribes, as Galway is known, and check into our hotel. Dinner is provided at the hotel.
Day 7 Aran Islands
This morning after a hearty breakfast, we make the short drive to the ferry port of Rossaveel, where we board the ferry for a forty-minute cruise to Inis Mór, the largest of the Aran Islands in Galway Bay. By minivan, with local guides, we travel around the island to the promontory fort of Dun Aengus, which dates from the Bronze Age, 4000 years ago. The fort stands on amazing sheer cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The minivans then transport us to the rest of the island sights and return us to the ferry village of Kilronan. In the afternoon we return to the ferry port for our cruise back to the mainland. There the coaches take us to the hotel where we are free for dinner on our own tonight.
Day 8 Limerick & Kerry
County Clare is well known for its traditional music and also for the rocky region called the Burren. This morning we travel through the county, stopping for a while at Coole Park, once the home of Lady Gregory and made famous by W.B. Yeats. Bunratty Castle, a well-preserved medieval castle, is the next stop; here we have a guided tour of the Folk Park and the medieval castle, stronghold of the Kings of Thomond, the O’Brien’s. After lunching here, we travel to Limerick. King John’s Castle (on the River Shannon, guarding the ford of the river), Thomond Park (home of Irish Rugby), and the gridded city streets are some of the sights here. Then we are on to Killarney, a drive through the best land in Ireland for dairy farming, called the Golden Vale. On arrival, we check in for two nights at our hotel. Dinner is on our own tonight.
Day 9 The Ring of Kerry
Today is a tour around the Iveragh peninsula, call the Ring of Kerry. Bogs, sheep, and ocean are all to be seen today in this full day tour, along with an entertaining demonstration of how to work sheepdogs on the mountain. Our next stop is Waterville Village, where the first messages were sent from Europe to the New World by telegraph. Lunch is at a high vantage spot overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and the next stop is in the quaint village of Sneem in the afternoon. We return to Killarney and our hotel by way of the National Park with the three famous Lakes of Killarney. Tonight is our last night in Ireland, and we celebrate with a Gala Dinner, provided at the hotel. A final concert can be arranged for this evening.
Day 10 Shannon Airport to USA
We board our motorcoaches for Shannon Airport, where we bid Slan Abhaile (farewell) to our driver and guide and check in for our return flight home. We depart with many fond memories of our time in the Emerald Isle of Ireland!