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Thanksgiving Traditions in the US

Thanksgiving is one of the busiest times for travel in the US as families get together to celebrate this special holiday. Every year, Thanksgiving Day takes place on the fourth Thursday in November (which is not always the last Thursday) and it’s followed by Black Friday. The holiday is rooted in an event in US history that took place 400 years ago.

Let’s look at some of the traditions, past, and present, that are part of Thanksgiving in the US and see what you should expect.

Thanksgiving celebratory dinner
Thanksgiving Dinner

What’s Thanksgiving Day all about?

Thanksgiving is widely celebrated in the US. The first-ever Thanksgiving took place in Plymouth, Massachusetts and is now modeled on a harvest feast shared by the early Pilgrim settlers and the Native American Wampanoag people in 1621. The colonists were following their familiar harvest tradition, giving thanks for the fruits of their labors which had been harvested and stored to see them through the harsh winter months.

The original Thanksgiving started with “fowling” by the colonists. They may not have found many wild turkeys but would have roasted geese and duck. The Wampanoag people probably contributed their more familiar fare of venison, fish, eels, and shellfish. Together, they would also have enjoyed their seasonal produce from the harvest such as corn, pumpkins, potatoes, and beans.


The original Thanksgiving had special meaning as the settlers may well have starved without the help of the Native Americans. However, the event did not become a national holiday until 1863. This was when President Abraham Lincoln issued a special proclamation making Thanksgiving an official annual celebration.


Thanksgiving is a time when family members often travel great distances to be together over this special holiday. In past years, around 50-55 million people travel by air or long road trip to spend Thanksgiving with their loved ones. Students return home and generations of families come together, perhaps even more so for Thanksgiving than at Christmas.

Thanksgiving dinner with candles on the table
Thanksgiving Dinner

What to eat at a Traditional Thanksgiving Meal

The Thanksgiving meal is prepared during the morning and then served around 3pm. Families gather around the dining table and enjoy the turkey feast together. Some restaurants may offer a Thanksgiving menu or pre-ordered take-out. However, generally, staff are given the day off to celebrate their own Thanksgiving at home with family and close friends.

A typical Thanksgiving meal shared by families across the US includes a turkey and all the trimmings. These include bread stuffing, corn, cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes with gravy.

Turkey dinner with all of the trimmings

Other traditional side dishes include Green Bean Casserole. The cut beans are mixed with tinned mushroom soup and seasoning and cooked in the oven. Just before serving, the casserole is covered with French Fried Onions and then returned to the oven to brown and crisp.

Equally popular is Sweet Potato Casserole. The sweet potatoes are cooked and mashed with orange juice, cinnamon, and brown sugar. They are spread into a casserole dish, covered with marshmallows, and heated in the oven until the marshmallows are puffy and golden brown.

Pumpkin Pie

Families tuck into plates heaped with food as part of the turkey dinner. However, you have to leave room for the traditional Thanksgiving dessert – Pumpkin Pie! This delicious treat has a deep pastry shell filled with cooked (often canned) pumpkin, mixed until smooth with sweetened condensed milk, eggs, and spices. It is baked until firm and served with whipped cream. Delicious!

Thanksgiving pumpkin pie
Thanksgiving pumpkin pie

Other pies may also be served as optional desserts, favorites include pecan pie and apple pie, served with cream or ice cream.

Enjoy some American Football

American Football (not soccer) is the game in the USA. Some of the most important NFL matches are played on Thanksgiving Day. Most families sink down in front of the TV after dinner and watch the league rivals compete on what has become one of the biggest days on the football calendar. It creates plenty of friendly rivalries when families have divided loyalties over which team they support!

American Footballer holding a ball
American Football

Attend Macy’s Parade

Many US cities host Thanksgiving Parades, with floats, costumes, and marching bands. The biggest and most famous Thanksgiving Carnival is the Macy’s Parade in New York City. It starts at Central Park West and ends in Macy’s Herald Square.

Thousands of people line the 2.5-mile long route and watch the 3-hour cavalcade that runs from 9am to noon. Giant helium balloon figures of famous cartoon characters add to the noisy carnival atmosphere.

Pardon the Turkey

Turkey in the wild
Turkey in the wild

Another tradition started by President Lincoln is the custom of pardoning the turkey. Each year the US President officially “pardons” a turkey and the lucky bird is sent off to live on a farm rather than heading for the dinner table.

This unusual tradition began in 1863 when President Lincoln’s son, Tad, felt sorry for the turkey. He asked his father to spare the turkey’s life.

This tradition was formalized when George H.W.Bush was President. More recently, when President Trump was in office, he officially pardoned two turkeys, named Peas and Carrots. Other turkeys have had equally tasty names including “Drumstick” the 2017 turkey, and “Tater”, the 2016 bird.

Food Drives

Thanksgiving is a time when many people pause and consider those less fortunate than themselves. Food drives collect and distribute food to the elderly, the homeless, and the needy. Churches host Thanksgiving dinners and invite those who would normally be alone to join the wider spiritual family for the Thanksgiving holiday dinner. It’s a time to give thanks and enjoy each other’s company.

Black Friday

After the relaxation, feasting, and family gatherings on Thanksgiving Day, the following day is one of the biggest shopping days of the year. Traditionally there are plenty of bargains to be had in huge Black Friday sales, from electronics to clothing.

Although it is not an official holiday, most Americans take Friday off work to extend Thanksgiving into a long weekend. Whether shopping online or at local stores and malls, Black Friday is traditionally seen as a good day to start Christmas shopping.

Wherever you are on Thanksgiving Day, we hope you enjoy some of these interesting traditions.

The Best Fall Activities for Couples on a UK Vacation

Fall is a great time to take an extra vacation before winter sets in, and where better than the UK? With its plethora of pretty villages from the Cotswolds to Cornwall, ancient castles to explore (or stay in!), and stunning natural parks for hiking, it’s a glorious place to visit. At the end of the day, relax together over a hearty home-cooked meal in a historic inn, warmed by a blazing fire.

Edinburgh and the Scottish Lowlands

Combining historic city attractions with rural activities, Edinburgh makes a great base for a romantic fall break. Travel first-class from London by train and enjoy the passing scenery together. There are plenty of indoor attractions to enjoy in this historic royal city. Tour the majestic Edinburgh Castle and dine in style at the Amber Restaurant and Whisky Bar just outside the castle gates. The dark-wood ceiling and half-moon cellar windows provide a cozy ambiance. Enjoy window-shopping for woolly Aran sweaters and tartan kilts along Royal Mile or do some serious Christmas shopping in the high-class department stores along Princes Street. Beyond the city,  take a tour of the Royal Yacht Britannia, now moored in Leith, for the ultimate luxury treat.

Try a Whisky Tasting

Whisky in Scotland

Still north of the border, take a private tour of some of Scotland’s premier whisky distilleries. Snuggle close and enjoy the dramatic scenery of the Scottish Highlands while your driver navigates the narrow lanes. Choose your own itinerary, or sit back and let Whisky Wheels put together a bespoke trip. Knowledgeable local chauffeurs will point out the main highlights and you’ll be hosted in style at each distillery. A wee dram of whisky will certainly warm your heart and keep out the cold! Learn to distinguish the different ages and blends and take home a case of quality Scotch. No need to worry about drinking and driving on this tour! Just so you know, Irish whiskey is spelled with an “e” while Scotch Whisky is spelled without!

Fancy your own Whisky tasting tour? Check out our itinerary here: Scotland Castles, Loch Ness, and Whisky Trails.

Greenwich, London

Greenwich, London

You may have visited London many times, but why not focus on one particularly historic area – Greenwich? There are plenty of indoor museums and attractions and the quaint cobbled streets are lined with nautically themed shops, friendly pubs, and cozy cafes. Visit the grand National Maritime Museum and learn about the early explorers and navigators that set sail from this very quay. As well as galleries of naval exhibits, there’s a fine art collection within the Maritime Museum. Admire J.M.W.Turner’s largest painting featuring the Battle of Trafalgar, see the coat Admiral Nelson was wearing when he was fatally wounded in battle, and view the world through a Seafarer’s Lens. Visit the Queens’ House nearby and learn about the Ball Drop on top of the Royal Observatory. You can even stand astride the Prime Meridian Line (Longitude zero) and home of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Finish your amazing stay in Greenwich by stepping aboard the Cutty Sark Clipper Ship with its tall masts, 32 sails and 11 miles of rigging! Of course, Greenwich is just a short ferry or taxi ride from London’s gourmet dining scene and West End Theaters for romantic evenings together.

Hot Springs in Roman Bath!

Bath, UK

The elegant spa city of Bath is 120 miles west of London. It’s a gorgeous place to visit, especially in fall when the summer crowds have departed. Hot springs delivered healing waters to the town’s Roman Baths over 2000 years ago, so it’s the perfect place for couples to indulge in a little spa pampering. History lovers will want to take a guided tour of the Roman Baths and Pump House, but the best place to bathe in these health-giving waters is at the modern Thermae Bath Spa just around the corner. As well as two warming thermal pools there’s a rooftop pool with stunning sunset views. While staying in Bath, don’t miss the UNESCO listed Royal Crescent with its Georgian architecture and mellow Bath stone.

Cumbria’s Lake District

Lake District National Park

Just south of the border with Scotland, the Lake District National Park has dramatic fall scenery. Deep lakes reflect dramatic fells (hills) covered in rusted bracken and purple heather. This is hiking country at its best! Tuck some Kendal Mint Cake in your pocket for energy later – it’s what the locals do! Explore winding country lanes or travel back in time aboard the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Steam Railway to Windermere. Stop for a hearty lunch in a lakeside pub and listen to local gossip at the timeless bar. Book a cruise on Coniston Water aboard the National Trust’s Gondola, a restored steam-powered yacht (sailings until October 31st). Visit Arnside Country Market on Fridays and pick up homebaked cakes, artisan bread, savories, preserves, jams, and crafts. When it comes to food, you’re guaranteed to dine well on local seafood and tasty Herdwick lamb at one of the renowned restaurants in Ambleside. You can’t go wrong with a romantic meal at the Michelin star Old Stamp House Restaurant.

Wildlife in Wales

Snowdonia National Park

If you enjoy outdoor adventures as a couple, Wales offers many hidden delights. Although it’s a tiny independent country, it has three national parks, each with its own natural beauty. Explore the dramatic peaks of Snowdonia or stay close to the coast and walks stretches of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. This traffic-free route traces the coastline along the clifftop or down at sea level. You’re very likely to see gray seals and their pups that are born between September and December. Further out to sea you might spot basking sharks, blue whales, and pods of Risso dolphins. The Brecon Beacons National Park is another paradise for hiking, biking, bird watching, and stargazing with your loved ones. The area is known for its magnificent waterfalls such as the 90-foot Henryd Falls which is at its best in fall. For those who love Italian architecture, a day at the village of Portmeirion delivers Gothic towers, baroque facades, and Italianate mansions surrounded by Mediterranean plantings. It’s the perfect place to propose, or just celebrate being in love.

Happy fall!

Spooky Places in Europe to Set the Scene for Halloween!

It’s officially spooky season 🎃

As fall sets in, Halloween provides some fun events to liven up the dark evenings in late October. We’ve got some fantastic castles, historic houses, and uninhabited mansions that make a great tour experience by day….but would you sleep well in those dark and draughty chambers after dark?

From powerful Barons and headless women to prisoners and even animals, we feature some of Europe’s spookiest sightings to get you in the mood for Halloween….

Top 7 Fall Walking Routes in Europe

Fall is the perfect season for engaging in a trip with more physical activity. Days are bright but without the steamy energy-sapping heat of summer. As the shadows lengthen, fall color can be spectacular. Europe has so much to offer, from river valleys and famous wine routes to alpine meadows, dark lakes, and lofty mountains. Now’s the time to polish your hiking boots, pack your camera and join nature in a final fling outdoors before winter sets in.

Let’s take a look at the walking routes we’ve chosen…

Most Unique Things to Do All Over the World

World travelers have many different reasons for making a trip – usually to broaden the mind, experience new cultures and sights, or encounter wildlife where it rightfully belongs. For those who really want to go off-the-beaten-path, we offer some of the most unique things to do in the world. Why not include them in one of our bespoke tours?

Fun Ideas for Family Travel in Europe’s Capitals

Europe has some of the world’s most legendary, exciting, and historic capital cities. Just like families, they are a blend of generations. Why not plan a legendary family trip to Europe, perhaps to mark a milestone birthday or anniversary?

Here are some of the great cities in western Europe with some suggestions for more off-the-beaten-path places to include in your itinerary. 


Family travel to Central Europe

Fun things to do in Europe whether you’re 9 or 99! 


Vacations are special times for family togetherness and planning a trip for two or more generations can be fun. There are many benefits to family travel, so get together and start exploring – it will be a bonding experience for everyone, from grandparents to teenage grandkids! Create the perfect family trip recipe, with culture, fun times, and adventure. You’ll be sure to enjoy your multi-generational vacation which will be a very special experience that you’ll talk about for years to come. 


Best street food in Europe: Deliciously local

Travel is all about new and different experiences, and nothing does it better than food. One of the best places in the world to find tasty local street food is Europe. It’s a great way to sample seasonal food and local delicacies, often unique to that region or town.

Join us on a smorgasbord of delights as we tour 10 hidden corners of well-known cities to add flavor and spice to your amazing European trip.

Midsummer Madness Scandinavia Style

Nowhere on earth celebrates Midsummer Day quite like Scandinavia. Held over three days, it’s the biggest national holiday outside Christmas. Bright clear skies and long hours of daylight make it the perfect time for this outdoor cultural celebration.

Monaco: An Aristocrats’ playground

This week we should be hearing the roar of the engines and the excitement building up to one of the last existing Formula 1 street circuits in the world – Monaco Grand Prix. Instead, the streets are silent and racing enthusiasts have to wait until May 20, 2021, for the next race day.

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