There are so many unrivalled attractions in the UK, and there’s bound to be some unexplored gems right on your doorstep. Charming villages, opulent architecture, cultural festivals, historic sites dating back to Roman times, grandiose cathedrals, scenic lakes, caverns, gardens and seaside attractions all provide fun days out, and many of them are free.
If you’re looking for inspiration here are our……
List of the top 100 things to do in the UK on a budget.
How many have you done already?
THINGS TO DO IN NORTHEAST ENGLAND
York – City Walls and Shambles
The historic city of York is a great destination with lots of free things to do. The best way to enjoy an overview of the old city is on a traffic-free stroll along the defensive City Walls, originally built by the Romans. The two-mile walk along the top of this Scheduled Ancient Monument includes 40 towers and four “bars” or gates (Bootham Bar, Monk Bar, Walmgate Bar and Micklegate Bar). There are information boards at various points.
Hop off at Bootham Bar and admire the exterior of York Minster, one of the world’s greatest cathedrals. Founded in the 7th century, the building dates back to 1220. Although there’s a steep admission charge to enter, there’s no charge for hearing the bells ringing every quarter hour and admiring the 1,700 square-foot East Window, the largest area of stained glass in the world.
- The mediaeval cobbled streets of The Shambles lined with overhanging timber-framed buildings straight from the pages of a nursery rhyme! Once a street of butchers, it is now a great place to find tea rooms and gift shops, although keen-eyed visitors will spot original meat hooks and well-worn fixtures
- York Museum Gardens with the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey Church and glorious flower beds beside the rushing River Ouse
- 11th century Clifford’s Tower on its grassy mound
Located at the estuary of the River Esk, Whitby is a charming fishing port with a wealth of attractions. Explorer Captain James Cook served his apprenticeship here in the mid-18th century before setting sail on his Voyages of Discovery. The arrival of the railway in 1839 changed this hub of shipbuilding and whaling into a popular Victorian seaside resort.
Climb 199 steps from the town to see the ruins of the 6th century, Whitby Abbey. Founded by St Hild, it attracted many pilgrims which allowed it to prosper. It was attacked by Vikings in 867AD, rebuilt during the reign of William the Conqueror and was left as a ruin during Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries as it acted as an important navigational aid for ships.
- Enjoy arguably the best fish and chips in the town at the famous Magpie Café on Pier Road. This elegant black and white building overlooks the harbour and offers superb views from the award-winning restaurant.
- The whalebone arch
- Captain Cook Memorial Museum on winding Grape Lane
Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Gardens
Set on 8000 acres of deer park near the charming town of Ripon, Fountains Abbey is a romantic ruin of a magnificent 12th century abbey and Cistercian corn mill. This remarkably intact ruin was one of the wealthiest monasteries in England before its dissolution in 1539 as per Henry VIII’s orders.
You can still stroll down the arched nave of the abbey church, marvelling at the construction. See the sturdy tower, the stonemason’s marks in the Chapter House, the Monks’ food cellar and the foundations of the domestic and industrial buildings that run down to the river.
The Abbey shares the site with Studley Royal Park, an 18th century landscaped garden. The Grade I listed Fountains Hall (Jacobean country house) and a Victorian Church designed by William Burges. The Georgian water gardens were created in 1718 and are among the best surviving of their time. They include canals, lakes, cascades, a fishing pavilion and temple follies to draw the eye.
- The arcaded abbey cloister with its black marble transported from Nidderdale over 9 miles away
- The Palladian style mini Banqueting House for entertaining
- The Octagonal Tower
The elegant spa town of Harrogate is an attractive town to visit, right on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The rich mineral waters from the chalybeate springs were a popular healthy treatment in the 17th and 18th century, leading to the town’s grand architecture and prosperity.
As well as many upmarket shops and department stores, you can visit the Spirit of Harrogate. It creates Slingsby London Dry Gin from local aquifer water flavoured with botanicals and herbs mostly from their garden. Sample it for yourself and enjoy!
Highlights of the town include:
- St Wilfrid’s Church, a Grade I listed building designed by Temple Lushington Moore
- The Royal Pump Room Museum
- Valley Gardens Park with 17 acres of diverse plantings
- Beulah Street with its small shops and cafés
- Picking up a souvenir tin of Yorkshire Tea made locally by Taylors of Harrogate
- The outstanding RHS Harlow Carr Gardens
- Legendary afternoon tea 1920s style at Bettys Tea Rooms on Parliament Street
Known as the Gateway to the Yorkshire Dales, Skipton is a pleasant market town on the River Aire. It was listed as one of the “Best Places to Live in Northern England” by the Sunday Times in 2018. The town is a hub for shopping with a buzzing high street, particularly on market day. The Town Hall often hosts craft fairs and is the home of the Craven Museum and Gallery and the local Tourist Information Centre.
Skipton was recorded in the Domesday Book and has one of the oldest mills in North Yorkshire, High Corn Mill, which dates back to 1310. Skipton Castle is even older, built in 1090 as a wooden motte-and-bailey stronghold and later strengthened with a stone keep. It is now one of the best preserved and most complete mediaeval castles in England and is worth a tour.
- Walk along the towpath of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and the peaceful Thanet Canal branch
- Ride on the scenic Settle to Carlisle Railway which passes over the 400-metre-long Ribblehead Viaduct with amazing valley and moorland views
One of the most vibrant cities south of the Scottish border, Newcastle-upon-Tyne has shaken off its post-industrial struggle and now offers a compact city centre surrounded by top cultural attractions. Visitors will appreciate the fine Georgian and Victorian architecture on Grey Street and the futuristic Millennium Bridge from the Quayside.
Make sure your visit includes:
- The BALTIC Centre for Contemporary art in a former mill
- Remnants of the stone barricade that once enclosed the city
- The 12th century Castle Keep
- Climb the spiral staircase inside Grey’s Monument, a 130-foot column created by Edward Hodges Baily of Nelson’s Column fame
One of the more unusual attractions is the Victoria Tunnel Tour. This old wagonway runs beneath the city and once transported coal from Town Moor to the River Tyne and docks. Experience a re-created wartime air raid when the tunnels offered protection. Even older history can be viewed at the Great North Museum: Hancock at Barras Bridge. It covers the construction of Hadrian’s Wall and has a life-size T-Rex dinosaur skeleton.
- Sampling the local Newcastle dish of Pan Haggarty – slices of potato, onions and cheese baked until mushy
- The landmark Angel of the North steel statue by Antony Gormley
Alnwick Castle is 33 miles north of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and is well worth a detour. Built in the 11th century this impressive border fortress has several claims to fame. It is the second largest inhabited castle in England after Windsor. You may have a sense of déjà vu as the castle was used as the film location for the Harry Potter movies and was also used by the BBC in the filming of Black Adder and Downton Abbey.
Inside this Grade 1 listed monument, discover the opulent staterooms housing an enviable art collection. Despite its remote location, Alnwick Castle attracts over 800,000 visitors each year. The gardens are also a delight to explore. Designed around a cascading fountain, they include the largest tree house in the UK which includes a café.
- The special exhibitions in the castle’s perimeter towers. The Postern Tower has frescoes and archaeological exhibits; Constable’s Tower has military displays and the Abbot’s Tower houses the Regimental Museum of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers
- The most unusual Poison Garden growing cannabis and opium poppies
Said to be Britain’s greatest Roman monument, Hadrian’s Wall was built in 122AD at the command of Emperor Hadrian, hence the name. It took a workforce of 15,000 men less than six years to complete and its survival is a testament to the advanced engineering used in the construction. Sections of this wall with its ditch, ramparts, forts and watchtowers can still be visited.
It defined the northern boundary of the mighty Roman Empire. Stretching 150 miles from South Shields to Cumbria, this cross-country defence is a mecca for history walks and is a worthy UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built with a stone base and wall, Hadrian’s Wall had mile-castles with twin turrets and a fort every five miles, some of which can still be seen. One of the best places to see the remains of a fort is at Vercovicium (Housesteads).
- Walk part of Hadrian’s Wall Path which runs for 84 miles from Wallsend to Bowness-on-Solway
- Explore the remains of bathhouses, visit galleries and marvel at the excavations at Haydon Bridge, site of a large Roman Fort, Hospital, Barracks and Museum.
The Holy Island of Lindisfarne in Northumberland is a tidal island often referred to as Holy Island. It is an important place in the history of Christianity with a Celtic monastery founded by St Aidan in the 7th century. After Viking invasions and the later Norman Conquest, a priory was established. The existing fortified castle dates back to 1550 AD. Redesigned by Lutyens, it is open for tours and has a tea room. Visitors can also explore the ruins of Lindisfarne Abbey and St Mary’s Church.
The island is an atmospheric place which can be reached by walking in the footsteps of centuries of pilgrims across the tidal causeway and mud flats at low tide. The island is about one mile offshore and covers 1,000 acres. It is surrounded by the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve, protected area for wildlife conservation. Many important species of geese and waterfowl winter in the area, making it a great destination for birdwatchers.
- Look out for grey seals that bask on the rocks around the island
- Two landmark lighthouses operated by Trinity House
- The coastal viewing platform in the former coastguard station
Built on the site of an early Celtic fort, Bamburgh Castle is an impressive complex on the Northumberland coast. This Grade I listed building has Norman foundations. It is thanks to Victorian industrialist William Armstrong that it is so well restored. It is now privately owned by the Armstrong family and is open to the public.
The stunning location offers wonderful views. Inside the castle, the many rooms are furnished in keeping with the grand building and there is a collection of artworks on display. The State Rooms are among the grandest in the castle. The laundry room houses the Armstrong Aviation Artefacts Museum with displays of weapons and artillery from both world wars.
- The breeding colonies of Arctic and common terns and puffins on nearby cliffs
- The 7th century Bamburgh Sword discovered during an archaeological dig at the castle in 1960. It disappeared, only to be found at the home of the archaeologist following his death. It is now on display at the castle
Located in Maidstone and nowhere near its Yorkshire namesake, Leeds Castle has been described as “the loveliest castle in the world”. It is certainly charming and impressive with its buff-coloured walls and crenellated towers reflecting in the broad surrounding water. The 12th century fortress replaced a 9th century wooden fortress and was popular as a royal retreat as early as 1278 when Edward I received it as a gift from a wealthy courtier. Henry VIII invested a great deal of time and money on the castle, converting it from military stronghold to palatial residence.
Much of the present Tudor-style architecture was added in the 19th century. Tours include the huge dining room, even grander banqueting hall and library. The pine panelled drawing room is the principal living room and was relocated from Thorpe Hall in 1927.
Surrounded by 500 acres of parkland and gardens with a maze, Leeds Castle is a real treasure to experience.
- Possibly the world’s only Dog Collar Museum – some are veritable works of art!
- Learning about Lady Baillie who bought the castle in 1926 for a mere £180,000
THINGS TO DO IN NORTHWEST ENGLAND
Chester City Centre
Dating back to Roman times, Chester has plenty to see and do in the heart of the city. Like York, it has retained its walls which can provide a pleasant 2-mile stroll around the old city, castle and river. You’ll want to visit the 14th century Rows, galleried walkways above street level. These house/shops were the earliest form of a shopping mall, providing shelter from the weather for crinolined ladies. Their distinctive black-and-white architecture graces Eastgate, Northgate Street, Bridge St and Watergate St. Look out for richly decorated Stanley Palace, Bishop Lloyd’s House with its intricate carvings and the 1652 God’s Providence House where the family was spared the plague.
Close by, Chester Cathedral is well worth visiting with its ornate exterior, 127-foot tower and magnificent carvings. Handel’s Messiah was first rehearsed here. The admission fee includes an audio guide. This splendid building began in 907AD as a Saxon Minster, became a Benedictine Abbey and flourished post-Reformation as a Cathedral for the Diocese.
- The ornate clock at Eastgate, erected in 1897 to mark the Diamond Jubilee (60 years) of Queen Victoria’s reign
- Attend Choral Evensong (free) and enjoy the choir music in this superb setting
- Enjoy lunch in the Bear and Billet, a four-storey half-timbered inn
Set on the shores of Lake Windermere, Bowness-on-Windermere is a popular tourist haven and beauty spot for visitors to the Lake District National Park. The delightful town has several shops, chandlers and tea rooms along with the 15th century parish church of St Martin. Once the hub of the boat-building industry, the jetty now offers ferry trips and scenic lake cruises on replica steamers.
The lake covers 14.8 km2 and is 10½ miles long. The area around Windermere rose in popularity with the arrival of the Kendal and Windermere railway in 1847 and became popular with poets, artists and writers, including Beatrix Potter.
- The circular 1.2 mile walk around the waterfront area of Bowness starting on Glebe Road. The signposted route follows the lakeshore around Cockshott Point and return via a meadow footpath
- Historic Blackwell Arts and Crafts House with its decorative features and furniture by many leading designers of the Arts and Crafts movement
Liverpool’s UNESCO-listed waterfront has a long and important maritime history. The Three Graces are the magnificent architectural gems overlooking the Pier Head on the River Mersey. Home of the Beatles and the Cavern Club, the city has many attractions, museums, shops and tours to suit every interest.
Built in 1841, the regenerated Royal Albert Dock is a complex of warehouses lining the old quay which once handled 40% of all global trade in its heyday. It buzzed with warships, submarines, landing craft and supply boats during WW2. Containerisation and silting of the river lead to its demise. Whether you want a leisurely lunch of a tasty snack, there are delis, bars, restaurants and boutique bakeries all serving up tasty food from all over the world. The Royal Albert Dock also houses the following attractions:
- Tate Liverpool – Four floors of contemporary artworks
- Beatles Story – Award-winning museum of memorabilia, instruments, photos and true stories about the Fab Four
- Merseyside Maritime Museum – see a fascinating collection of exhibits about the history of the Albert Dock, the ill-fated Titanic, RMS Lusitania and the slave trade
- The downloadable Royal Albert Dock Hidden Histories digital heritage trail, a 3-D map with full information for visitors
- Stroll down Mathew Street in the Cavern Quarter – a must for Beatles fans
“The Potteries” refers to six towns that were famous for their ceramic production from the early 17th century (Tunstall, Burslem, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, Fenton and Longton. The industry thrived due to local availability of clay, salt, lead and coal for the furnaces.
The Gladstone Pottery Museum at Longton is the best place to learn more about this industry. Built in 1787, the former China Works site includes preserved Bottle Kilns, Engine House and factory buildings in what is now the last surviving complete Victorian pottery factory in the UK. Tours include demonstrations of how bone china tableware was made. For a small additional fee, you can get hands-on by “throwing” a pot on the wheel, making a bone china flower or painting a piece of pottery to take home.
The Pottery Museum is open Tuesday to Saturdays and Bank Holidays.
- Tea in the Gladstone Café and sample the local speciality – Staffordshire oatcakes
- Visit the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery to see the world’s largest collection of Staffordshire ceramics
If you’re planning to attend Old Trafford to watch Manchester United play, what easier way to get door-to-door service than with a private bus? However, keen football fans can visit Old Trafford even on non-match days and take a Behind-the-Scenes Tour. Immerse yourself in over 100 years of club history and take a guided tour of the dressing rooms, walk the Tunnel, see the players’ dugout, press area and VIP room.
In the Manchester United F.C. Museum, fans can admire the trophies of the famous treble (Premier League, FA Cup and UEFA Champions League), see the old strips, reminisce over photos and celebrate Man United’s famous legends including David Beckham, Bobby Charlton and Alex Ferguson.
- The Manchester United Gift Shop which sells a host of memorabilia, shirts and souvenirs
- The opportunity to visit other Football Clubs around the UK and enjoy their special tours!
- Man United are listed as the biggest football team in the world
Kirkby Lonsdale is a typical Cumbria town best known for its panoramic view from the park behind St Mary’s church. Known as “Ruskin’s View”, it was painted by J.M.W. Turner and was praised by Ruskin as being “one of the loveliest views in England”. See for yourself!
The town is on a hillside above the River Lune and offers many cosy cafés, book shops, art studios and gift shops along the main street. It has no less than 163 listed buildings around the market place and town centre. These include the 17th century Abbot Hall, the Sun Inn and the King’s Arms.
St Mary’s Church and churchyard are of historic interest. Three doorways to the church and the northern arcades with decorative columns were built in the 12th century. The church has some fine stained glass and the churchyard has several listed monuments.
- A scenic walk along the River Lune to Devil’s Bridge (built in 1370) where you can usually enjoy a mug of tea and refreshments from the roadside burger van
- Sampling an award-winning meat pie from Dales Butchers on Market Street
- The old market cross with its octagonal capital and steps
Ribble Valley & Forest of Bowland
Lancashire’s Ribble Valley is a hidden gem. Although it is the largest borough in Lancashire, it is also the least populated and the most scenic. Roughly centred around Clitheroe and the Upper Ribble, it has many delightful villages in an area of undeniable charm and natural beauty. The area is also the geographic centre of the UK.
Much of the Ribble Valley is within the Forest of Bowland, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with its deep valley, peat moors and gritstone fells riddled with babbling brooks and populated only by hardy sheep. The lower slopes of the fells are dotted with stone built farms and small villages including Barley, Bolton-by-Bowland with its twin village greens, Calder Vale, Chipping with its craft centre and cheese maker, Hornby, Roughlee and Newton-in-Bowland.
If you stay overnight in the Forest of Bowland, it’s an amazing place for stargazing with its unpolluted dark skies.
- Fairy Bridge near Bashall Eaves
- A walk on the Bowland Fells, the breeding area for the protected merlin and hen harrier
- Clitheroe’s ancient Castle Keep
Macclesfield Silk History Museum
The market town of Macclesfield was once the heart of the silk industry during the Industrial Revolution At its height, the town had 120 clattering mills and over 600 weavers working at home in attic “garrets” which can still be seen around the town. Charles Roe built the first water-powered silk mill in 1744 on the River Bollin providing twisted silk yarn for the weavers in London Spitalfields. Steam power and jacquard looms speeded up the process and designers were trained in the Macclesfield School of Art, now the home of the Macclesfield Silk Museum.
The museum traces the history of silk in Macclesfield. See the old looms, pirn winders and card-cutters and see samples of the fine silk fabric produced including the famous “Macclesfield Stripe”.
Next to the museum on Park Lane is the former Paradise Mill built in 1862. Take a guided tour of the mill with a former employee and trace the process from silk cocoon to woven cloth.
- The museum gift shop selling local silk scarves, ties, pictures and books
- Admire colourful Macclesfield silk pictures, now highly collectable.
- Looking inside the 500-year-old St Michael and All Angels Parish Church
Prestbury is part of Cheshire’s “Golden Triangle” one of three exclusive villages that are sought after and expensive. This quintessential Cheshire village is a particular favourite with footballers from Manchester United, entrepreneurs and business commuters from nearby Manchester.
The name Prestbury means Priest’s Burgh” as the settlement was originally founded by priests. The main street of “The Village” is chocolate-box pretty with black-and-white Tudor buildings and an old church beside the River Bollin. The Conservation Area includes many of the weavers’ cottages built for workers in the local silk and textile industry.
- The Norman Chapel (circa 1120) in the churchyard of the 13th century St Peter’s Parish Church
- The Bridge Hotel, a famous hostelry dating back to 1626
- Horner’s, a 17th century bay-fronted house and former prison
- The Priests’ House with its leaded windows and balcony, said to be where the priest delivered his sermons when the church was closed by Puritans
- The early 19th century stocks
- The pleasant 2.3-mile riverside walk which starts near the church and runs towards Riverside Park
- Withinlee Road, reputedly the most expensive street in northern England with luxury mansions surrounded by pleasant countryside
Located on the Irish Sea coast, Southport is a popular seaside town in Merseyside. Elegant shops on Lord Street are in a Victorian building still retaining their black-and-white architecture and wrought iron decorations. Modelled on the boulevards of Paris, the street has many trees and seats for resting and people-watching.
Southport Pier said to be Britain’s first true Pleasure Pier, is the second longest in the UK after Southend Pier. Once over 1,340 m long, storms have reduced it to the present 1,100m, which is still a bracing walk! It once was used by visiting steamships bringing hordes of day-trippers to the town. It had a tramway running the length of it to transport visitors into the town.
Main attractions include:
- The Model Railway Village in Kings Gardens
- The Farmers’ Market on Chapel Street the last Thursday of the month
- Royal Birkdale Golf Club, home of the British Open Championships
- Pleasureland Funfair
- The sand dunes at Ainsdale, now a National Nature Reserve
- Visit during the annual Southport Flower Show, the largest independent flower show in the UK held in Victoria Park and started in 1924
Located on the Lancashire coast, Blackpool is famous for its extensive flat beach, Pleasure Beach attractions and annual Illuminations. It was little more than a hamlet until the arrival of the railway in the 1840s when it became a leading resort. Despite the economic urban decline, the resort still attracts millions of visitors every year.
- The flat sandy beach (the tide goes out for miles!)
- Blackpool Tower, built in 1894 and modelled on the Eiffel Tower. It stands 158 metres high and includes a café, ballroom and aquarium
- Winter Gardens, a Grade II listed entertainment complex
- Sandcastle Water Park, an indoor tropical attraction
After the Big Switch On by a celebrity, the Illuminations run from late August to early November and include a 5 mile stretch of the Promenade. The best way to see them is on foot, by tram or cruising at a snail’s pace along the route. The many lighted images use over one million bulbs.
- Visiting the top of Blackpool Tower for stunning sea and town views
- A ride on the historic trams that run along the promenade. During the Blackpool Illuminations, they are decorated with lights
If you don’t want to hike the fells, a cruise on Ullswater is a great way to appreciate the stunning scenery of the Lake District without breaking into a sweat. The historic Ullswater Steamers regularly depart from Glenridding Pier and the cruise takes about 2 ½ hours. Enjoy the heather-covered peaks reflecting in the calm waters as you sail through the beautiful Ullswater Valley. Enjoy the trip on the deck or in the cosily heated saloon. Don’t forget to bring a camera to capture the stunning views.
You can disembark for a walk at Howtown and Pooley Bridge and catch a later ferry for your return journey. Alternatively, from Howtown you can enjoy a bracing 7-mile walk back to Glenridding if you wish. Pooley Bridge has a few small shops and tea rooms in a pretty village setting.
- A sighting of Wordsworth’s famous daffodils in spring
- The rugged mountains at the south end of the lake
Beer drinkers will jump at the chance to take a behind-the-scenes tour at Robinsons Brewery in Stockport. One of the oldest remaining breweries in Britain, Robinsons remains a family business providing many pubs, taverns and restaurants in the northwest with traditional beers.
Start your Brewery visit to the Visitor Centre where you can book a tour if not already done so online. Learn the history of how beer has been brewed on this site since 1838. Learn about the brewing process as you make your way around the brewery with an entertaining and informative guide. See the ingredients and learn the secrets behind the scientific process. The tour takes about an hour and includes three samples of cask ales at the end of the tour.
- Saying “hello” to the two shire horses, Bobek and Mojo. These strong horses were originally used to pull the drey and to move heavy cinders and hops before modern power. They are now used to represent the brewery at local fairs and shows
- Enjoy refreshments in the brewery café and visit the gift shop for gifts for ale-loving family and friends
THINGS TO DO IN THE MIDLANDS
Nestled in the scenic hills of Derbyshire’s High Peak District, the one-street village of Castleton makes a delightful day out. The Castle Hotel and the Three Roofs Café rub shoulders with book shops and upscale gift shops selling jewellery and bowls made from the rare Blue John that is mined in small quantities here. It is the only place in the UK where it is known to exist. In the past, the village prospered from lead mining which enlarged the natural limestone caverns in the surrounding hills. Just a short distance from the village centre there are four caverns open for tours:
- Peak Cavern
- Blue John Cavern
- Treak Cliff Cavern
- Speedwell Cavern, which is toured by boat along the flooded passageways.
The floodlit caverns have many natural and manmade features including underwater lakes, mine shafts, stalactites, stalagmites, colourful flowstone walls and veins of Blue John.
- The hilltop Peveril Castle that gave the village its name
- The unclassified road that climbs steeply up through the dramatic Winnats Pass. It is popular for cyclists and walkers but closed to buses and coaches
Best known as the birthplace of William Shakespeare, the olde worlde town of Stratford-upon-Avon is filled with crooked half-timbered buildings and mellow stone houses. This historic market town is situated on the River Avon. There are five properties relating to “The Baird” that is open for tours:
- Shakespeare’s birthplace and Visitor Centre in Henley Street (where Shakespeare was born in 1564). The restored house is made of wattle and daub and is reached through a delightful country garden.
- Anne Hathaway’s Cottage – a romantic 16th century thatched cottage in the neighbouring village of Shottery. Shakespeare courted and married Anne in 1582.
- Hall’s Croft – home of Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna and her doctor husband. This Tudor home is by far the most impressive property
- Nash’s House – home of Elizabeth, Shakespeare’s granddaughter and her husband Thomas Nash on Chapel Street.
- Mary Arden’s House and Countryside Museum – Home of Shakespeare’s mother. Now a charming museum with demonstrations of country crafts such as wheelwrighting, a blacksmith’s forge, sheep shearing and falconry. This traditional farmhouse and outbuildings are surrounded by fields of rare breed sheep, cattle and chickens.
- The chance to attend a play by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Riverside theatre
The Ironbridge Gorge is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site as the home of the first ever cast-iron bridge. It was designed by Thomas Pritchard and built in 1779 by local ironmaster Abraham Darby III who received a gold medal from the Society of Arts for his amazing engineering feat.
Nearby there are 10 Museums that are part of the Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust. Buy a passport and explore them all at your leisure. They include:
- Blists’ Hill – a recreated 52-acre Victorian town with a school, pub, bakery, sweet shop, dressmakers, chemists and post office. You can buy old shillings and pence to spend in the shops! There’s also a working iron foundry and a mine.
- Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron – Old Furnace and the railway foundry.
- Darby Houses – see the restored 18th century Darby houses where the ironmasters lived
- Museum of the Gorge – Overview of the Gorge, museums and scale model of the bridge and tollhouse within the original Severn Warehouse
- Iron Bridge and Tollhouse – Visit the historic tollhouse and walk over the 30-metre (100-foot) single-span bridge which cost £6,000 and took two years to complete
- Coalport China Museum – one of the famous potteries where beautiful Coalport china was made
- Tar Tunnel – don a hard hat and explore the natural source of tar
- Broseley Pipeworks – see how clay tobacco pipes were made
- Enginuity Museum – a hands-on experience for engineers to discover the wonders of the Industrial Revolution
- Jackfield Tile Museum – Historic ceramic factory that still produces tiles
Situated in a rural setting near Oxford, Blenheim Palace is the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill and the only non-royal, non-episcopal palace in England. The land was given to the 1st Duke of Marlborough by Queen Anne after his remarkable victory at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704.
The treasure-filled house was designed in grand baroque style by Sir John Vanbrugh and includes carvings by Grinling Gibbons and a magnificent 60-foot-long painted ceiling by Thornhill. Still owned by the 12th Duke, the extensive estate has many different tours and attractions. Tour the State Rooms with their priceless antiques, artworks, tapestries, clocks and porcelain.
Outside, the Churchill Memorial Garden was created in 2015 to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of the “Greatest Briton”. The path meanders through a flower meadow on an informative timeline of his life.
- The “Untold Story” is a behind-the-scenes tour led by the ghost of a chambermaid who shares gossip and scandal before disappearing through walls!
- Take the guided Garden Tour of the Capability Brown-designed parkland, water terraces and formal gardens.
Family fun and thrilling rides are all part of the Alton towers attraction near the Staffordshire village of Alton. Once a leisure gardens with rides, it has developed into one of the leading theme parks in the UK with adrenaline-pumping rides, a water park, spa, mini golf and hotel. There are 10 roller coaster rides including:
- Runaway Mine Train
- Nemesis inverted roller coaster
- Oblivion with a vertical drop
- Galactica flying coaster ride reaching 47mph
- Octonauts for younger riders
- and the latest Wicker Man roller coaster train ride with many virtual effects
More attractions include Alton Towers Waterpark, a tropical lagoon with indoor and outdoor water features, 7 tropical pools, water cannons, geysers and cascades. There is a lazy river, waterslides, spa pool, paddling pool for youngsters and the “Master Blaster” high-speed watercoaster ride with sharp turns, steep descents and plenty of splashes. More traditional activities include two 9-hole Crazy Golf courses and a High Ropes activity course.
- The Congo River Rapids Ride, an authentic raft ride that runs only during the summer
- The new Dungeon, scary experience that’s a scream!
- The Rollercoaster Restaurant – dine beneath the rollercoaster – if you dare!
The ancient celebration of well dressing is one of England’s most colourful cultural traditions. Dating back to the 14th century, it is still carried out in the Peak District villages of Derbyshire, usually between mid-May and late July.
Welldressing was originally a festival giving thanks for the source of water. The custom involves decorating springs and wells with pictures made entirely from flower petals pressed into moist clay. Moss, berries, leaves, seeds, beans, small cones and other natural materials are used to create stunningly detailed scenes or religious images. Inevitably the beautiful designs only last about a week, but they draw plenty of visitors to admire the artistic handiwork.
There are many Derbyshire villages and towns that have well dressings including:
Check out the Derbyshire Tourist Information for exact dates as they change each year. You can visit several in a day as part of a scenic tour.
- Afternoon tea in the spa town of Buxton in the High Peak
- Visit the “plague village” of Eyam
- Hire bicycles at Parsley Hay and enjoy a leisurely ride along the flat Tissington Trail
The stately home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, Chatsworth has been the residence of the Cavendish family since it was built in 1549. The mansion is filled with antique furnishings, artworks (from Rembrandt to David Nash) and family treasures, making it a very individual place to visit on a guided tour. Audio guides are included in the admission and there are regular talks and activities, Highlights include the Painted Hall, State Rooms, Sketch Galleries and the Sculpture Gallery with works of art dating back over 4000 years. Explore the formal gardens with their water features, maze and sculptures amidst the flower beds. There are scenic country walks in the wider park and woodland.
The Orangery and the Stables Courtyard offer several restaurants and tearooms. They are a pleasant place to linger over homemade refreshments or a light lunch.
Families will enjoy a visit to the farmyard and adventure playground.
- Rest your feet by taking a guided Garden Buggy Tour on a golf cart (around £4)
- If you want to take home some fresh Chatsworth produce, there’s a delightful Farm Shop in the nearby village of Pilsley.
Said to be England’s prettiest town, Ross-on-Wye claims to be the birthplace of British tourism. In 1745, the local rector, Dr John Egerton, started offering boat trips down the river for friends and locals to appreciate the stunning scenery, castles and abbeys. Books extolling the “picturesque” setting and more boat tours soon put Ross-on-Wye on the map for visitors and it is still popular today.
The quaint black-and-white Tudor buildings are very photogenic and house a number of independent shops and eateries. There’s a 700-year old parish church with notable tombs and a plague cross in the churchyard. Best views of the River Wye and the Black Mountains can be enjoyed from The Prospect, a pleasant garden and viewpoint.
- A boat trip down the scenic Wye Valley
- Visit on Thursday or Saturday for the covered market in the 17th century arcade which has an Arts and Crafts Centre above
- A scenic drive through the nearby Forest of Dean
The rolling hills, water meadows and quintessential English villages of the Cotswolds make up the largest Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the UK. Stretching southwest from Stratford-upon-Avon, the 787-square-mile Cotswolds area encompasses parts of Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire, Somerset, Worcestershire and Warwickshire.
The local honey-coloured Cotswold stone features in many of the loveliest villages, towns, gardens and stately homes. Some of the most famous Cotswolds villages include:
- Bourton-on-the-Water, situated on the River Windrush, it is a delightful place to explore with a model village of the actual village, Birdland Park and Cotswolds Motor Museum.
- Burford has many antique shops and tea rooms in the 17th century buildings.
- Cricklade, first town on the River Thames and frequent winner of the “Britain in Bloom” competition
- Fairford, famous for its wooden church with 28 mediaeval stained glass windows depicting stories from the bible.
- Moreton-in-Marsh, on the Roman Fosse Way.
- Painswick, entitled “Queen of the Cotswolds” has Rococo gardens
- Winchcombe, sitting at the intersection of 7 long distance footpaths including the Cotswolds Way
- Ye Olde Stocks and Redesdale Market Hall in Moreton-in-Marsh
- Ancient yew trees flanking the north door of St Edward’s Church in Stow-on-the-Wold
- Scenic walks from Fairford beside the River Coln
The cathedral city of Lincoln is the county town of Lincolnshire which developed from an Iron Age settlement on the banks of the River Witham. The main attraction is the magnificent Lincoln Cathedral which was the tallest building in the world for over 200 years (1311 to 1548)! Construction of this Early Gothic cathedral started in 1072. It has a massive 5,000 square metre footprint making it the third largest in floor area in the UK after St Paul’s and York Minster. The spire collapsed in 1548 and was never replaced.
The Bishop of Lincoln was one of the signatories on the Magna Carta and one of the four remaining copies is now on display in Lincoln Castle. The castle was built by William the Conqueror on the site of an earlier Roman fortress and was used as a prison and its law courts are still used by the Crown Court.
Set on a hill, Lincoln has an impressive East Gate and West Gate. It sits at the intersection of the Roman Fosse Way and Ermine Street, the main Roman route from London to York.
- The Lincoln Imp – a stone carving of a cheeky imp in the ceiling of the Angel Choir
- Driving through the scenic Lincolnshire Wolds
One of England’s most popular family attractions is Cadbury World – a must for chocoholics! It won a Gold award in 2018 by Visit England. This working factory theme park includes the chance to see how your favourite chocolate bars are manufactured. There’s a 4-D Chocolate Adventure complete with motion seats that allow you to dive into a bowl of melted chocolate, ride the Crunchie roller coaster and more! After that, head to Bull Street, a recreated Victorian scene including the first Cadbury shop. Have your camera ready as you explore the set and meet Quaker entrepreneur John Cadbury.
Learn how chocolate is made from cacao beans, visit the Purple Planet and enjoy some interactive experiences you won’t forget! Watch the chocolatiers at work. Get some free samples and get the chance to make your own chocolate bar in the hands-on experience before heading to the Cadbury Café with more yummy treats.
- Shopping in the World’s Biggest Cadbury Shops
- Order your own personalised chocolate novelty as a great souvenir
- The Bourneville experience explaining how the Bourneville Village came about
Warwick Castle has survived over 1000 years of battles, sieges and conflicts and is one of the Top 10 historic houses in Britain, according to the British Tourist Board. Once the home of the Earl of Warwick, it was built as a defensive stronghold on the sandstone bluff above the River Avon. The castle was later converted to a country house by the Greville family in 1759.
- Walking along the battlements for wonderful views across the Avon Valley
- Look for Caesar’s Tower with its basement dungeon and double parapet
- The formal gardens and the water-powered mill
Bought by the Tussauds Group, it is now operated by Merlin Entertainments. It has a magnificent gatehouse entrance and many rooms filled with furnishings, artworks and treasures. Wax figures of prominent past visitors to the castle bring the rooms to life.
Visitors can walk along the walls and explore the many rooms inside the castle. See where Elizabeth I stayed during her visits. The castle includes some beautiful gardens which were originally established in the 17th century.
- Warwick’s mediaeval church and the town which is right outside the castle gates
- Discover how the massive 18m high siege engine (trebucket) worked in mediaeval times
THINGS TO DO IN WALES
Snowdonia National Park
Wales’s most mountainous region is Snowdonia, a National Park with 15 summits above 1,000 metres high including Mount Snowdon, the highest peak in the UK outside Scotland. A visit to this 823 square-mile park is sure to include spectacular scenery, 100 mountain lakes, waterfalls, woodland and craggy snow-capped peaks even in summer.
Walking, mountain biking, kayaking and climbing are all popular pursuits. If you want to enjoy the views from the top of Snowdon the easy way, the Snowdon Mountain Railway provides the perfect means to do it effortlessly.
Now considered one of the most scenic railway journeys of the world, the trip starts in Llanberis and climbs 1085 metres on a breathtaking journey almost to the summit where Hafod Eyri stands, the highest visitor centre in the UK. It includes a panoramic café and gift shop.
The steam engines take you across viaducts with views of waterfalls, steep-sided gorges, woodland and long-abandoned cottages. There are several stations for those who want to get out and walk. The return journey takes 2½ hours including a 30-minute stop at the summit.
- A photo op of the heritage Swiss steam locomotives built in 1896
- Look out for wildlife including Peregrine Falcons soaring on the thermals
Zip World Slate Caverns
One of the most thrilling ways to explore the former slate mines of North Wales is at Zip World Caverns. Near Blaenau Ffestiniog. Open from April to October, The underground caverns are a steady 10°C so dress accordingly and wear hiking boots or trainers.
Navigate through the eerily lit caverns on a series of rope walks, ledges, monkey bars, tunnels and 11 zip lines on an adrenaline adventure that takes 3-4 hours to complete.
Also underground, Bounce Below is one hour long, or you can opt to be a spectator. Jump, slide and bounce on giant nets suspended over huge caverns and gullies. Feel like you’re defying gravity in nature’s playground, a disused mine that was abandoned over 200 years ago.
If you prefer to fly in the open air enjoying the scenery flashing beneath you, the Titan offers 3 exhilarating zip lines in Europe’s largest zip line park. Allow about 90 minutes for this.
- 2 for 1 admission to Zip World Caverns on Mondays!
- Ride the historic Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railway on a 50-mile journey through the heart of Snowdonia
Cardiff Castle and Arcades
The lovely city of Cardiff is the worthy capital of Wales. Right at the heart of the city is Cardiff Castle with its Roman foundations, high walls and Norman keep. The extraordinary neo-Gothic mansion was renovated in the mid-18th century by the 3rd Marquis of Bute and is lavishly furnished and decorated inside. Murals, stained glass and ostentatious décor are complemented by the Capability Brown gardens which now house the Regimental Museum.
Fine Victorian and Edwardian architecture in the Castle Quarter makes the shopping area particularly attractive with an eclectic mix of shops, boutiques, delis and cafés. The Victorian Arcades provide a pleasant all-weather experience. Ornate ironwork, open galleries, short staircases and charming shop windows can be enjoyed from an upper and lower level. The best known are:
- Castle Arcade – one of the longest, built in 1887 on High Street
- Duke Street Arcade – opposite the castle and home to bridal shops, hairdressers and Welsh gift shops
- High Street Arcade – opened in 1886 and known for its fashion and designer stores
- Morgan Arcade – the best-preserved arcade on The Hayes with Venetian glass windows
- Royal Arcade – the oldest (1858) with some original shop fronts in the Grade II listed building
- Central Market with its fabulous clock
Once the world’s busiest coal port, Cardiff Bay docks have been reinvented to create a recreational area on the Bristol Channel. The Barrage across the rivers Taff and Ely made a 500-acre freshwater lake for boating, watersports, fishing and recreation. At the heart of the redevelopment is the contemporary Welsh Assembly building.
The Millennium Waterfront is the piece de resistance. Mermaid Quay is a new shopping complex with restaurants, bars and attractions overlooking the waterfront. Visit Wales Millennium Centre, a modern art centre. Home of the Welsh National Opera, it has an auditorium with 1900 seats. The nearby Millennium Stadium seats over 72,000 spectators beneath the retractable roof. It is one of Europe’s largest undercover venues for concerts and sports events.
Attractions include Techniquest, an interactive museum and discovery centre with a Science Theatre, Planetarium and Discovery Room.
- The tiny white Norwegian Church which was once an active place of worship and the home of the Norwegian Seamen’s Mission. Built in 1868, it now houses a small art gallery and café along with a few remaining artefacts including the pulpit, stained glass window and a model ship.
The walled seaside town of Tenby is known as “The Jewel in Pembrokeshire’s Crown”. Once an important mediaeval port, it became a popular health resort in Georgian and Victorian periods. Today, the golden sandy beaches, wide promenades and historic sites provide something for every visitor to linger over and enjoy. Parts of the original Norman Castle add a sense of permanence, including the surviving five-arched entrance. In contrast, cobbled streets are lined with former guest houses painted in sunny pastel colours. The town is a mecca for foodies with everything from pubs and fish restaurants to ice cream parlours.
St Mary’s is the largest mediaeval church in Wales and is designated a Monument of Exceptional Architectural and Historic Interest. Look at the detailed stone carvings and spot the Green Man peeking out of the foliage, fish and mermaids. There’s a 16th century tomb to Robert Recorde who invented the “equals” sign in mathematics and became Controller of the Royal Mint yet died in debtors’ prison.
- A walk along the famous Wales Coastal Path with splendid coastal views.
- The Tudor Merchant’s House, the oldest home in Tenby which you can tour and admire the period furnishings
Wales’ largest seaside resort is Llandudno, nestling on the rocky coastline of North Wales in the shadow of Great Orme. This rocky limestone peak is home to herds of wild goats and stands over 200m high. Walk up the footpath looking for rare flora and sea birds or take the easy option on the Great Orme Tramway. Llandudno Cable Car operates from the Happy Valley Gardens to the summit for those wanting the best views of the sea, Snowdonia and the Isle of Man.
The town was named after Saint Tudno. Highlights include blue-flag beaches, open-air paddling pool and the longest pier in Wales. After dark, it comes to life with a lively nightlife, theatre, ballet, orchestral concerts and plenty of great places to dine. The quieter West Shore was home to Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.
There are several boat trips from the North Shore Jetty for sightseeing and sea fishing.
- An ice cream at Fortes, now run by the Italian founder’s grandson. It has been in business for almost a century!
- Happy Valley, a former quarry with landscaped gardens and miniature golf
Anglesey is a 276-square-mile island off the North Wales coast, known in Welsh as Ynys Môn. Separated from the mainland by the Menai Straits, it is reached by the Britannia Bridge and the earlier Menai Suspension Bridge designed by Thomas Telford in 1826. Anglesey is the 7th largest island in the UK. It has many megalithic monuments and prehistoric standing stones along with Iron Age sites, Stone Age burial mounds and Roman relics.
Highlights to visit include the UNESCO-listed Beaumaris Castle, built by Edward I in 1295 and still remarkably intact with its defensive walls, gatehouse and moat. The town of Holyhead sits on the adjoining Holy Island and is best known for its Irish ferry port and gorgeous Victorian Clock Tower.
Anglesey is home to huge numbers of birds including auks, puffins, razorbills, terns and red-billed choughs and has a small colony of native red squirrels. The coastline is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – what better reason to visit than this?
- Sampling lobster bred commercially on the island
- Taking a photo of the white South Stack Lighthouse near Holyhead
Portmeirion is a little corner of Italy in the heart of North Wales. Set on a peninsula with sea and mountain views, the village was designed and built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis after a trip to Portofino. It took a lifetime to complete, started in 1925 and completed for his 90th birthday in 1975. The village centred on some existing buildings from an earlier estate which were worked into the design. These include a hotel (Castell Deudraeth) and several cottages along with the ruins of a mediaeval castle in the woods.
Now owned and managed by a charitable trust, visitors can stroll through this faux town and admire the fountains, piazzas, arcaded loggias and campanile that exude a very Mediterranean atmosphere. Not surprisingly it has been used in many films, dramas and music videos.
Day visitors must pay an admission fee to enjoy this top attraction. The village includes shops, a delightful café, restaurant and tea room, making it an idyllic day out.
- Battery Square with its fountain and baroque souvenir shops
- The flower-filled Central Piazza
Presiding grandly over the town of Caernarfon, the mediaeval fortress of Caernarfon Castle has long and interesting past. The current stone structure is still in good repair over 1000 years after it was constructed on earlier Roman foundations. It was used for the investiture of Prince Charles as the Prince of Wales in 1969 and is a World Heritage Site. Laid out with upper and lower wards, the castle included royal accommodation, although it was never completed.
- The Great Hall
- Black Tower
- Chamberlain’s Tower
- The Well Tower, the source of fresh water for castle inhabitants
- The Eagle Tower with three turrets topped by eagle statues. It houses grand lodgings.
- The curtain wall with polygonal towers
The castle houses the historic Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum. Admission to the exhibits and memorabilia are included in the castle admission
- The town walls which were constructed at the same time as the castle
- The impressive King’s Gate
Tucked away in the Conwy Valley, Bodnant Garden is now beautifully maintained by the National Trust. Covering 80 acres, the garden was lovingly created and tended by five generations of the same family before it was gifted to the National Trust in 1949. Seeds and cuttings were introduced from all over the world. The gardens now feature expansive lawns, Italianate terraces and beautiful borders along with stunning views across Snowdonia’s peaks and forests. Learn the history of the heliochronometer and how it works during your visit.
The gardens provide an endless parade of colour in all seasons. The Winter Garden is well worth exploring and the laburnum arch is a dazzling display of acid yellow flowers in late May, stretching for 180 feet. Walk the footpaths from one garden “room” to the next. Ponds, water features, a waterfall and a babbling stream running down the steeply wooded valley add an additional element to this outstanding horticultural attraction.
- Visit in spring for swathes of daffodils, magnolias and camellias
- Discover the Dell with its 200-year-old trees
- The tallest coastal redwood in the UK
Another impressive Welsh castle, this time in Conwy and built by Edward I between 1283 and 1289. Even from far away, the castle is an impressive landmark dominating the area. The old suspension bridge connecting the castle to the peninsula is still in place. Conwy Castle was built along with the defensive walls which still surround the town. It is a traditional castle, built in a rectangle around the Inner Ward with eight massive round towers and castellated turrets within the well preserved outer walls. It is said to be one of the great fortresses of mediaeval Europe still surviving today.
- The maze of interconnecting rooms and towers
- Climb to the top of any of the castle towers for far-reaching views across the town, harbour and coastline
- The walk around the town walls which provide an almost complete circuit of the old town starting from the harbour. The wall includes 21 towers and three double gateways
- Explore the town with its narrow one-way streets leading to the town square and statue of Llewellyn the Great
Brecon Beacons National Park
One of three national parks in Wales, the Brecon Beacons encompasses a range of hills in South Wales. The area is popular with walkers, ramblers, mountain bikers and horse riders and has many well-trod ridge trails. It is also used as a training ground for the elite SAS based in nearby Hereford. The highest point is Pen y Fan at 886 metres elevation, the highest point south of Cadair Idris in Snowdonia.
- The Black Mountains
- Offa’s Dyke, a long-distance footpath along the England-Wales border
- Llanthony Priory ruins in the lovely Vale of Ewyas
- Tretower Castle, a Grade I listed ruin
- Tretower Court, a mediaeval fortified manor house
- Crug Hywel, an Iron Age hill fort
- Tiny St Mary’s Chapel at Capel-y-fin
- Gateway towns to the area include Talgarth with its Brecon Beacons Visitor Centre, 13th century Pele Tower and 14th century parish church
- The Skirrid Mountain Inn said to the oldest pub in Wales with records showing it existed back in 1100AD
- Nearby Hay-on-Wye, known for its plethora of new and second-hand book shops
THINGS TO DO IN LONDON
Tower of London
The UNESCO-listed Tower of London is a fascinating complex of mediaeval buildings and towers that can provide a full day of entertainment for visitors. Set behind the original defensive walls and former moat on the banks of the River Thames, The Tower has a diverse history as a prison, royal residence, fortress, museum, menagerie, treasure house, royal mint and place of execution. Constructed by William the Conqueror in 1078, the White Tower was the largest building in Britain at that time. Guided tours are offered by the stylishly uniformed Beefeaters or tour at your own pace with an audio guide.
- The White Tower and Keep
- Traitors Gate
- St John’s Chapel, the oldest in London with beautiful stained glass windows
- Jewel House and Crown Jewels – it’s worth the wait to see the Imperial State Crown and the Royal Sceptre with its 530-carat Star of Africa diamond
- Royal Fusiliers Museum of weapons
- Tower Green and the block
- A photo op with the iconic Beefeaters
- The ravens which are ever-present at the Tower. Legend says that if the ravens leave, the kingdom will fall
The historic village and maritime HQ of Greenwich is just six miles east of Westminster yet is a world away in terms of atmosphere and lifestyle. The cobbled streets and squares are lined with shops, often selling nautically related pictures and souvenirs. Tables spill out onto the pavement from every tiny café and charming restaurant. But there’s far more to see than this!
Look out for:
- The Palladian Queens House, the finest Stuart architecture in England
- National Maritime Museum (free admission) filled with naval paintings, boats and memorabilia including Nelson’s replica ship in a bottle
- Painted Hall by James Thornhill in the Old Royal Naval College building
- Royal Observatory – look for the ball which rises up the rooftop mast daily at 12.55pm and drops to 1 pm exactly
- The Meridian Line (outside the Royal Observatory building) which marks longitude zero from which every place on earth is measured
- The baroque Royal Hospital for Seamen by Sir Christopher Wren
- The craft and antique markets that are held in Greenwich village on weekends
- The boat service which runs from Westminster Bridge. It’s a pleasant way to travel to Greenwich and see it from the water
- The Cutty Sark moored nearby
Windsor is a delightful market town with a main street lined with small shops, taverns and cafés. Entrance to Windsor Castle is through the richly carved 14th century gatehouse. The castle with its landmark round tower is said to be the Queen’s favourite residence. If the red and yellow royal standard is flying above the tower, it means she is in residence.
Built in the 11th century, the walled castle complex includes many interesting buildings in the beautifully maintained gardens.
Look out for:
- The lavishly furnished State Apartments – some are available to tour with a guide
- Guided Tower Tour – you need to climb 200 steps to enjoy the breathtaking views across Windsor Great Park to the London skyline
- St George’s Chapel – the location of several recent royal weddings. The rich interior, choir stalls and design
- Horseshoe Cloister with Tudor brick-and-timber homes for the serving clergy
- Curfew Tower and Dungeon
- The Royal Collection of Art
- Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House designed by Lutyens with electric lights, running water and monogrammed linens. It was built for the 1924-25 British Empire Exhibition to promote British workmanship and goods
- The colourful Savill Garden
- A pleasant walk in Windsor Great Park – all 5,000 acres of it! Look out for Virginia Water Lake with its grottoes and follies
Westminster is the heart of London, home to Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster, better known as the Houses of Parliament. All but two English monarchs were crowned in the Abbey and many are also buried within the inspiring Gothic edifice. It was built by Edward the Confessor and consecrated in 1065. Just 9 days later, Edward died and was buried in front of the High Altar. Little remains of the original Saxon Abbey; most of the existing flamboyant architecture dates back to the 13th century. Highlights include:
- Henry VII Chapel with its white stone fan-vaulted ceiling
- Royal Air Force Chapel with every squadron that fought in the 1940 Battle of Britain depicted in the stained glass window
- Grave of the Unknown Warrior in remembrance of those who lost their lives in World War I
- Poets Corner – burial place of Tennyson, Chaucer and monuments to Shakespeare, Keats and other literary giants
- The Coronation Chair built in 1300AD
The nearby Palace of Westminster/Houses of Parliament is not open for tours. Built in 1830, it has a Gothic exterior containing the House of Lords, the House of Commons, over 1000 rooms and 2 miles of corridors.
- On the north side of the Palace of Westminster is the landmark Elizabeth Tower. It houses a massive bell known as Big Ben (although the tower is often incorrectly referred to as Big Ben).
Hampton Court Palace
Standing in 500 acres of landscaped gardens, Hampton Court Palace sits on the banks of the River Thames in Richmond. Construction of the grand palace began in 1515 as a home for Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who later fell from favour. He was forced to hand over the palace to King Henry VIII who lived there with five of his six wives.
Welcome tours of the huge palace are offered by guides in Tudor costume. The palace includes many furnishings and valuable artworks from the Royal Collection. As well as providing an interesting royal history, the tours highlight many details and anecdotes to enhance your visit. The palace continued to be expanded with the addition of the magnificent Great Hall, the Great Watching Chamber and the enclosed Royal Tennis Court.
The grounds include lakes, a parterre, a famous maze and a conservatory protecting the largest grapevine in the world.
- The Tudor gatehouse and astronomical clock (1540AD)
- The RHS Hampton Court Flower show which is held at the palace each year in early July
London has over 90 markets and many of them capture the essence of this bustling city. London markets are a great place to sample regional foods and source international delicacies making it a trip to remember.
Southwark’s Borough Market is one of London’s oldest food markets, housed in a Victorian wrought iron building. Favoured by restaurateurs, it specialises in selling speciality produce, fresh fruit and vegetables, game, regional cheeses, fresh bread and pastries.
Portobello Market is an outdoor street market in Notting Hill. It stretches for over a mile with antique stalls at one end, international food stalls in the middle and clothing and other goods here and there. Whether you want a crown-shaped teapot or a piece of stained glass, Portobello traders will be pleased to help, but don’t forget to haggle over the price.
Once the home of London’s wholesale fruit and flower market, Covent Garden Market Hall now has around 40 stalls and shops selling high-end crafts and antiques. The surrounding cobbled square is a popular haunt for street buskers and entertainers.
- Visit London’s Christmas Market in Hyde Park during December. Stalls are laden with handmade gifts, crafts and tasty snacks and the atmosphere is very festive!
- Leadenhall Market in a charming Victorian Arcade off Gracechurch Street
Victoria and Albert Museum
One of London’s most important and diverse attractions is the V&A Museum in South Kensington. This largest museum in the world covers everything from fashion and furniture to Egyptology and Renaissance artworks. It includes the world’s largest collection of post-classical sculpture and has artefacts spanning over 5,000 years of history.
Founded in 1852, it is named after its royal founders, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The massive museum is in a decorative building which alone is worth a visit. It covers 12.5 acres of prime real estate and includes 145 galleries with over 4.5 million objects.
- Beautiful electrotype doors which are a replica of the famous bronze “Gates of Paradise” made for the Florence Duomo in 1425
- Tippoo’s Tiger – a controversial wooden sculpture that is the museum’s most popular piece
- Bridal Crown from Sweden
- The unicorn Tapestry stitched in Flanders over 500 years ago
Admission to the museum is free, but there is a charge for special collections and exhibitions.
- Refreshments in the fabulous period rooms of the Main Café, the oldest museum café in the world
- The V&A Gift Shop for exclusive gifts, posters and jewellery
You can happily spend a full day in Kew Gardens with its 300 acres of plantings, glasshouses and historic structures (four Grade I listed and 36 Grade II listed), herbarium, library and over 30,000 different kinds of plants.
- The Princess of Wales Conservatory with its 10 climate-controlled zones for orchids, ferns, cacti and bromeliads
- The massive leaves of the Victoria Amazonica waterlily in the Waterlily House
- Bonsai House
- Queen Charlotte’s Cottage
- The Sundial in front of Kew Palace
Now a World Heritage Site, the gardens were founded in 1840 and now house the largest and most diverse botanical collections in the world. They are a delight to explore, interspersed with historic buildings including Mary Tudor’s House (Mary I) and a Chinese Pagoda built in 1761. The iconic Palm House was built in 1844 and was a significant engineering feat of wrought iron and glass at that time. The Temperate House is even larger!
- The 18-metre high Treetop Walkway providing panoramic views of the gardens. It can be accessed via steps or a lift
- The Road Train Tour of the gardens with commentary from the driver
- The Orangery – now a restaurant
Tennis fans can enjoy a visit to Wimbledon All England Lawn Tennis Club at any time of year, not just during the two-week tournament in early July each year (although if you have tickets, the easiest way to get to and from the courts is by private coach). Wimbledon is the oldest and arguably the most prestigious tennis tournament in the world. Organized by the All England Lawn Tennis Club, it is the only major international tennis tournament which is still played on grass. Each year more than 500,000 people attend the two-week tournament but many more visitors come to take a behind-the-scenes tour of the club grounds. You can also visit the impressive museum which has around 20,000 fascinating tennis exhibits and treasures on display. Things to look out for are:
The trophies and medals display
- The changing fashions at Wimbledon over the decades
- The evolution of the tennis racquet
- A special exhibition dedicated to tennis at the Olympic Games
- Fine arts and pictures featuring tennis
- Traditional strawberries and cream in the Wingfield Café
- An amble around Wimbledon Village
- A picnic on Wimbledon Common
The British Museum is the largest and most comprehensive museum in the world with an amazing collection of over 8 million artefacts. It began in 1759 as a Cabinet of Curiosities in Montagu House. The museum documents the whole story of humankind, including 6000 BC mummies and steals to carved ivory Phoenician objects, temple statues, artworks and a rare cuneiform collection from Iraq circa 669BC.
Despite its name, the British Museum covers important exhibits from all over the world, many collected when the British Empire was at its zenith. Highlights include:
- Prints and Drawing Gallery
- Department of Asia
- Department of Greece and Rome
- Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas
- Coins and Medals display
The museum is now so extensive that it occupies a purpose-built museum dating back to 1895. The Museum Trustees purchased and demolished 69 houses around the original museum in order to build this extensive building with its Greek Revival façade and columned portico. It has since been extended several times.
- A look inside the magnificent Round Reading Room with its curved walls beneath the glass roof of the Great Court
- The contentious Elgin Marbles
- Anglo-Saxon treasures unearthed in 1939 at Sutton Hoo
- African Gardens outdoor space
Churchill War Rooms
Located on King Charles Street in the heart of Westminster, the Churchill War Rooms were a well-kept secret for decades. Now open to the public, these underground headquarters of the British government and military were the secure nerve centre of operations during World War II. Step back in time and see the primitive communications and cumbersome office equipment that was part of life in the 1940s. Walk through the labyrinth of rooms and corridors that sheltered Winston Churchill and his inner circle during bombing raids on the city.
- Churchill’s Bunker and his simple bed
- A 15-metre long table of world events during Churchill’s 90-year lifespan
- The map room
- Learn why the Cabinet War Rooms had specially adapted noiseless typewriters
- Many photographs were taken beneath the streets of London form 1939-45
- The opportunity to learn more about the life and achievements of this prominent British Politician in “Churchill’s Story”
- See Churchill’s paintings, the original door of No. 10 Downing Street and one of Churchill’s trademark cigars
Tate Britain is one of four Tate Art Museums in the UK which houses the UK’s national collection of British artworks. Located in Millbank, London Tate Britain is the home of British art from 1500AD to the present day. It is named after sugar magnate Henry Tate (of Tate and Lyle) who founded the early collection.
Open daily, with free admission to all the general exhibitions, it offers a diversity of artworks, drawings, photographs and sculptures in different mediums. The displays change periodically but some of the core artworks are always on display. These include:
- The J.M.W.Turner Collection in the Clore Gallery
- Sculptures by Henry Moore
- The depiction of Shakespeare’s Ophelia by Sir John Everett Millais
- Pop artist Allen Jones’ works
- S. Lowry’s characteristic northern scene and matchstick men in The Pond
- Take a break at the Tate Riverside Café housed in a former Nissen hut
- Visiting the sister Tate Modern just 2 miles away near Millennium Bridge
- Check out the latest winner of the annual Turner Prize
THINGS TO DO IN SOUTH EAST ENGLAND
Eight miles north of Salisbury on the A303 is Stonehenge, a famous yet modest prehistoric monument and ditch. The massive stones are arranged in an outer and inner horseshoe and the blue stones are of sarsen stone, found only in the Welsh Prescelli Hills.
Many questions about Stonehenge remain unanswered. It may have been of funerary significance or have a link to astronomy. Believed to have been constructed between 2000 and 3000AD, the standing stones are four metres high, seven feet in width and weigh over 25 tonnes. They are surrounded by Neolithic and Bronze Age burial mounds. Within the outer edge of the circle are 56 chalk pits known as Aubrey Holes which may have contained a timber circle or further blue stones, since removed.
- The heel stone, a rough stone northeast of the circle. It may have indicated the exact point of the sunrise at the summer solstice when observed from within the stone circle.
- Woodhenge, which stands two miles northeast of Stonehenge. It is included in the Stonehenge World Heritage Site and consists of six concentric rings surrounded by a ditch and bank. The 168 post holes are now marked by concrete posts and are thought to have held post up to seven metres high in a similar arrangement to Stonehenge. At the centre, archaeologists discovered evidence of human interment.
Salisbury Cathedral and town
Eight miles from Stonehenge, Salisbury is a historic town with a lengthy history. Originally an Iron Age hillfort, “Old Sarum” was occupied by Romans, Saxons, Vikings and Normans. The original cathedral was consecrated in 1092 but was damaged by a storm just five days later. The present-day cathedral was built two miles away in “New Sarum” in 1221 and is a masterpiece of Early English architecture. The spire is the tallest in the UK at 123 metres and the faceless clock (1386) is one of the oldest mechanical clocks in the world.
The old town is within 14th century walls and still holds a market. Look out for the Poultry Cross with its flying buttresses which once marked the poultry section of the market. Browse the shops on Butchers Row and visit Salisbury Museum in the 13th century King’s House. It includes a Stonehenge gallery with interactive displays and a 90kg meteorite.
- One of only four remaining copies of the Magna Carta is displayed in Salisbury Cathedral
- Resident peregrine falcons that nest each year on the cathedral tower
- Queen Elizabeth Gardens (free public park with floral displays in all seasons)
Nestled in the South Downs, Chichester us a delightful rural town with noteworthy Georgian architecture. The conservation area encompasses the original Roman town and many listed buildings within it. The four main streets (North St, South St, East St and West St) intersect at the landmark Chichester Cross, built around 1501 by Bishops Edward Story. This octagonal Scheduled Ancient Monument is covered in carvings, finials, clocks and inscriptions.
Surrounded by gardens, Chichester Cathedral was built in 1075 to replace an earlier cathedral. Look out for the freestanding mediaeval bell tower (campanile). The cathedral has a preserved Roman mosaic pavement, mediaeval tombs, many tapestries and stained glass windows including one by Marc Chagall.
- The cathedral’s remarkable 12th century Raising of Lazarus in stone relief
- A peaceful walk along the canal towards the open sea
- The annual Festival of Chichester which celebrates arts and music in June and July
The sedate seaside town of Bournemouth was founded as a health resort in 1810. Situated on the mouth of the River Bourne, the town centres on the Lower Pleasure Gardens. Bournemouth has mainly Victorian architecture along with the spired St Peter’s Church, a local landmark. The golden sandy beach and pulsating nightlife continue to attract over 5 million visitors each year.
Stroll along the promenade from Boscombe Pier (“Britain’s coolest pier”) to Alum Chine, a secluded ravine containing Argyll Gardens. In total, the promenade runs for 10 miles from Sandbanks to Hengistbury Head – popular for cycling outside the busy months of July and August. Visit 838-foot long Bournemouth Pier which has reinvented itself with a zip line ride from the pier to shore. It also has shops, cafés and a thrilling Rock Reef climbing attraction.
- The charming 11th century Christchurch Priory, one of the longest in the country. Highlights include 39 misericords dating back to 1250 and a “miraculous beam”
- Look out for contemporary Poole Pottery items which were originally made on Poole Quay
The self-acclaimed “London-by-the-Sea”, Brighton is a lively south coast resort famous for its piers, The Lanes shops and LGBT community. The stony beach has a promenade which runs to the 1899 Palace Pier with its amusements. The i360 Tower on the seafront is a great way to see the whole town and coast from the enclosed panoramic viewing platform.
Brighton’s main landmark is the Royal Pavilion, an extraordinary Indo-Gothic style palace, built for the Prince Regent in 1787, and later extended. Designed by John Nash, it has a central rotunda surrounded by many decorative onion domes and minarets. The interior is no less surprising with its oriental furnishings, wall paintings and richly colourful banqueting room. Now a Grade 1 listed building, Brighton Pavilion sits in magnificent restored Regency gardens. The royal stables which once accommodated 60 horses have since been converted into an Arts venue known as the Brighton Dome.
- Volk’s Electric Railway. Created in 1883, it is the oldest operating electric railway in the world and provides a scenic ride from the Palace Pier to Black Rock and Brighton Marina.
- Tea at the Grand Hotel on the seafront
Sissinghurst Castle Garden
Just 55 miles southeast of London, Sissinghurst Gardens are one of the most famous in the world. Now maintained by the National Trust, they are a must-see for keen gardeners and horticulturalists.
Developed around the Elizabethan Manor with its twin turrets, Sissinghurst Gardens were the lifetime creation of eccentric writer Vita Sackville-West and her diplomat husband, Harold Nicolson. They bought the property in the 1930s and set about creating gardens within gardens, each with their own particular theme, colour or plant family. The South Cottage Garden is particularly colourful with climbing roses and colourful plantings.
Visit the ground floor room of the castle which Vita used for writing and entertaining. Explore the Rose Garden, the breathtaking White Garden and the Herb Garden in this serene oasis. Beyond the formal gardens, there is a 450-acre estate for walking. Explore the Moat Walk, The Orchard, the Lime Walk and the Wealden countryside. The outbuildings include tea rooms and a plant shop.
- The perennial colour in the Cottage Garden in late summer/autumn
- Blossom trees in May
UNESCO-listed Canterbury is an ancient cathedral city and former place of pilgrimage in Kent. It is one of the most-visited cities in England due to its many attractions ranging from the Marlowe Theatre to St Lawrence Ground, home of Kent County Cricket Club. The Roman Museum has rare mosaic pavement in-situ and the massive Westgate is large enough to be a museum when the building was a jail. Other fascinating cultural attractions include The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge.
This pint-sized city is focused on Canterbury Cathedral, the Mother Church of Anglicism. Founded in 597AD and rebuilt in the 11th century, it has an impressive vaulted choir and stunning cloisters. It is highly decorative both inside and out with a beautiful font and choir screen. The best way to enjoy the many historic and architectural features is on a guided tour. The ruins of St Augustine’s Abbey has been partially excavated and includes a Roman Mound and the grave of St Augustine who brought Christianity to England in the late 6th century.
- Becket’s Crown at the east side of the cathedral
- Christchurch Gate with its colourful coats of arms and newly replaced statue of Christ (1990)
Famous for the battle of the same name, Hastings is a fishing settlement (no harbour), seaside resort and was one of the mediaeval Cinque Ports. Sea has eroded the sandstone cliffs, taking most of the castle with it. The beach is mainly shingle and there is a refurbished pier.
The start of the Norman Conquest began when William the Conqueror overcame Harold II, the last Anglo-Saxon King of England at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The events are famously depicted on the 70-metre-long Bayeux Tapestry. Senlac Hill is the site of the Battle of Hastings and is now an atmospheric attraction with the ruins of Battle Abbey and a Visitor Centre with a film and interactive displays
As well as the battle site, places to visit include:
- Hastings Museum and Art Gallery focusing on local history
- Hastings Fishermen’s Museum housed in the former St Nicholas Church
- Jerwood Gallery with its collection of 20th and 21st century art
- Shipwreck Museum
- St Clément’s Caves and interactive Smugglers Adventure
- A breezy walk on the double-decker promenade built by Sydney Little in the 1930s
- Explore the 13th century Abbey Ruins on the spot where Harold died
The county town of Sussex, Lewes is a delightfully historic place to visit with many unique attractions. Stroll through the streets and you will come across most of the main landmarks including the historic Crown Court building and the Anne of Cleves House. Many of the traders have their own currency, the Lewes Pound, introduced to stimulate local spending. These banknotes make an interesting souvenir.
At the top of the High Street is the mediaeval Lewes Castle and Museum with far-reaching views across the town. The well-preserved castle was built in 1069 and was gifted to the Sussex Archaeological Society by the owner, Sir Charles Thomas-Stanford, in 1922. Admission includes the “Sussex Past” exhibition along with access to the neighbouring Barbican House Museum of Sussex Archaeology, so there’s plenty for history lovers to enjoy.
In 1264, the town was the site of the Battle of Lewes, a conflict between a number of barons led by Simon de Monford and the royalist forces of Henry III. The site is marked by an urn-like monument.
- Bull House, former home of Thomas Paine, a Founding Father of the United States
- The 15th century timber-framed Wealden hall house containing interesting local history collections
- St Anne’s Church
New Forest National Park
A former royal hunting ground, the New Forest National Park is a 219 square-mile area of ancient woodlands and open heathland within a larger Site of Special Scientific Interest. Many areas still have commons rights for people to graze their ponies, cattle and sheep. Some of the forest has trees that are over 1000 years old. In contrast, the New Forest runs down to the Solent where salt marches, shingle beaches and lagoons have a long maritime history.
The New Forest is perfect for scenic drives, peaceful walks, biking, horseriding and bird watching. It is a particularly important area for wading birds during the breeding season. Walkers should keep dogs on a lead and stay on the path as many birds are ground-nesting. You may sport lapwings, curlews, oystercatchers, redshanks, plovers, snipe and woodcocks among other more common varieties of birds.
- Herds of indigenous New Forest Ponies that thrive in the woodland
- A visit to the village of Beaulieu and home of the British National Motor Museum
- The lovely New Forest villages of Brockenhurst, Lyndhurst and Burley
THINGS TO DO IN EASTERN ENGLAND
The Norfolk Broads National Park is a peaceful water-based nature haven. The series of navigable rivers and lakes were formed by flooded peat workings covering 117 square miles in Norfolk and Suffolk. Most of the 63 Broads are less than 4 metres deep.
The best way to explore this scenic area is by boat. Sightings include historic windmills and restored flat-bottomed “wherries” that once carried cargo. The banks are lined with thatched cottages, boathouses and waterfront properties, some raised on pillars or piles. Houseboats are popular with holidaymakers and ply the waters along with sailboats, motor launches, solar-powered boats and tour boats. The reed beds are an ecological nature reserve for waterfowl and migratory birds. Expect to see coots, moorhens, herons, grebes, terns, greylag geese, Canada geese, cormorants, warblers and common cranes.
- The quaint village of Wroxham, capital of the Norfolk Broads. Shop at Roys, the self-proclaimed largest village store in the world!
- Take a walk in dog-friendly Hoveton Riverside Park
- Ride the Bure Valley Steam Railway which runs between Aylsham and Wroxham
Visit the Sandringham Estate, the Queen’s country residence. Self-guided tours of this famous family home are available and docents provide information in each room. The sitting room and drawing room are surprisingly cosy and the royal family still dine by candlelight. Check out the menus in French and the table linen woven in flax produced on the estate.
The house includes furnishings, tapestries, clocks and paintings of the extended royal family along with more personal items. The gun lobby leads to a 60-foot ballroom added in 1883. When not in use for entertaining, the room is used as a home cinema by the royal family with a projector on the balcony.
The gardens are an open park dotted with discreet sentry boxes and a lake, a haven for wildlife. Sandringham Museum exhibits include the history of the estate, royal genealogy, china collections and informal photographs of the Queen on walkabout. You can also see vintage cars and carriages used by the royal family.
- The parish church of St Mary Magdalene on the estate where the royal family worship when in residence
- The jockey scales where Edward VII weighed his guests before and after their stay to show that he was a good host and had fed them well!
The ancient university city of Cambridge sits on the River Cam and is just 50 miles north of London. The world-famous university was founded in 1209 and the college buildings dominate the town. The best way to get a look at the town highlights, including the university campuses and inner courtyards is on a guided walking tour of the city.
Discover King’s College Chapel with its fan-vaulted ceiling and mediaeval stained glass. Visit the Great Gate entrance to Trinity College and learn the story behind the figure of Henry VIII wielding a chair leg! See the Great Court, depicted in the film Chariots of Fire. The Great Court Run is a 400-yard race around the court in the 43 seconds it takes for the clock to stroke 12 noon.
The city also has excellent shops, museums, botanical gardens and cafés.
- Hire a flat-bottomed punt on the gentle waters of the River Cam
- The grand entrance to the site of the Cavendish Laboratory on Free School Lane
- You can’t miss the pile of bicycles everywhere – the favoured mode of transport around the town by students
Bury St Edmunds
Turn back time as you explore the narrow streets of Bury St Edmunds around the old Buttermarket. The hub of the town is the striking Moreton Hall by Robert Adam, situated in Market Cross. The Grade II listed property now houses a private preparatory school. The ancient abbey, ruined remains of the defensive walls, and the beautiful Gothic Revival Cathedral with its cloisters are set in an extensive green park known as Abbey Gardens. Founded in the 7th century, the abbey became a place of pilgrimage to the burial site of Edmund, the last king of East Angles who was killed by the Vikings in 869AD. It led to the name St Edmundsbury which later evolved into Bury St Edmunds.
The town is famous as the home of the Greene King Brewery and Silver Spoon sugar factory. Moyse’s Hall Museum is one of the oldest buildings in East Anglia and now houses a museum of art, local history and witchcraft.
- The Nutshell on The Traverse said to be the smallest pub in England
- St Mary’s Church, the final resting place of Mary Tudor, sister of Henry VIII
The charming mediaeval village of Lavenham is remarkably well preserved. The triangular Market Square is lined with 15th century buildings, shops and cottages, all appropriately crooked and uniquely charming. Several buildings are now owned by the NT including the Guildhall, Little Hall Museum and the Priest’s House. Several restored Tudor buildings now house the National Trust Gift Shop and a lovely tea room with tables in the cottage garden when weather permits.
The Guildhall is a must-see with its attractive timber-framed architecture. Look for the carved “Dragon’s Post” on the corner of the building. Self-guided tours of this historic two-storey building include exhibits about some of the people who lived in the building when it was a jail and workhouse. Outbuildings include a primitive jail cell and a mortuary.
- The mummified cat found in the Guildhall chimney. It was probably put there to ward off spirits.
- The Grade 1 listed De Vere House, fictional birthplace of Harry Potter in the movie Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
- The impressive “wool” church of St Peter and St Paul in Lavenham
One of Cambridgeshire’s largest and most noteworthy properties is Wimpole Hall. Set is 3,000 acres of parkland and farms, the National Trust-owned estate includes a grand country house built by Sir John Cutler in 1640 on an earlier estate.
It was later the home of the Earls of Hardwicke and the Viscounts Clifton before falling into disrepair. Much of the more modern renovations were done by Captain George Bainbridge and his wife Elsie. She was the only child of Rudyard Kipling and poured her inheritance into buying, restoring and furnishing the neglected hall and gardens. They lived there from 1938, when they purchased the property, to 1976 when Elsie bequeathed it to the National Trust on her death.
The naturalised landscaping and pleasure gardens were designed by Capability Brown and later modified by Humphry Repton. Highlights of the Wimpole Estate include:
- The Yellow Drawing room with its glass cupola
- The Dutch Garden which is filled with flowering bulbs in spring
- Gardener’s Cottage and Game Larder building to the northeast of the hall
- Wimpole’s Folly, an eye-catching Grade II listed Gothic Tower built in the 18th century
- The chain of lakes in the valley
- St Andrew’s Church
- Tea in the Old Rectory, now part of this lovely estate
- Huge library by James Gibbs
Dominating the flat fens, Ely Cathedral rises above the land on what was once the Isle of Eels before the area was drained. Aptly nicknamed the “Ship of the Fens”, the knoll was once the site of a monastery founded in 673AD by St Etheldreda. The splendid cathedral and its unique setting make for a memorable day in one of England’s smallest cities (the cathedral gives it this status).
Ely itself is a charming place to find tearooms and small independent shops. Look out for the local Babylonware pottery which is highly collectable. St Mary’s Vicarage is one of the Grade II listed buildings. It is now a tourist attraction better known as Oliver Cromwell’s House as he lived there from 1638 to 1646 after inheriting it. The charming half-timbered house is furnished in the period of the mid-17th century. Standing on nearby Cherry Hill is the remains of Ely Castle, a Norman motte-and-bailey construction.
- The sunset which lights up the cathedral lantern (the octagonal tower of wood and glass at the back of the nave) with the last rays of the sun.
- The stained glass museum within the cathedral
Newmarket offers an interesting day out in Suffolk for racegoers and horse lovers. As well as the famous racecourse, Newmarket is considered the birthplace of thoroughbred horse racing and is the hub of racehorse training in Britain. Racing at Newmarket dates back to 1174 and has been patronised by royalty throughout the ages.
Head out to the heath to see future Derby winners and other race horses being exercised on the 50 miles of turf gallops. There are special traffic-free routes to the gallops so that horses can reach the area in safety. The prestigious racing stables surrounding the town have stables for approximately 3,000 racehorses which provide a host of employment for the area. The wider area has many stud farms and all-weather training grounds.
Museums to visit in Newmarket include the National Horseracing Museum and the British Sporting Art Trust in Palace House with race-themed artworks by George Stubbs and John Singer Sargenat among others.
- Sampling the unique flavour of prize-winning Newmarket sausages, produced by three local Newmarket butchers since 1880
- The statue of the Queen with her favourite horses in the heart of Newmarket
Blickling Hall and Gardens
The extensive Blickling Estate is an unforgettable red brick manor house in Jacobean style. Home of the Boleyn family (Anne Boleyn was born at Blickling and became the second wife of Henry VIII), the 4,600-acre estate includes four centuries of English history. You can just imagine the house parties that were hosted by Lord Lothian in the impressively furnished rooms prior to the outbreak of war.
See the portraits of generations of residents that enjoyed a privileged life in Blickling. You can also listen in to what the servants thought in an interesting recording. The house includes the largest National Trust library collection of over 12,500 books housed in the magnificent Long Gallery Library.
Explore the well-tended formal gardens or stroll in the parkland of the wilderness estate which includes a Temple Folly eye-catcher.
- The tranquil walled vegetable garden and greenhouse with many old-fashioned strains of flowers and produce
- The RAF Oulton Museum telling wartime stories of RAF pilots and ground crew who were stationed at Blickling during World War II
One of the most unique National Trust properties in Eastern England, Oxburgh Hall has several unique features. This old castellated country house is surrounded by a real moat, filled with swans and water lilies. The house itself is still lived in by the Bedingfeld family who built the manor in 1482 and obtained an unusual license to crenellated it. The central courtyard is guarded by two polygonal towers. The house itself is welcoming and comfortably furnished.
- The large panelled library
- A Priests Hole beneath a privy (garderobe). Apparently, several priests made their escape and due to the smelly contents, it was never discovered!
- The detailed wall hangings apparently stitched by Mary Queen of Scots
- The spacious Kings Room with its carved 4-poster bed
Climb the circular staircase in the tower for stunning views of the parterre garden, estate and countryside beyond from the open rooftop. Stroll around the gardens and enjoy the vibrant colours of the unusual double-sided herbaceous border.
- Refreshments on the village green just opposite the gates to Oxburgh Hall. The Bedingfeld Arms does a fine selection of drinks, snacks and meals
This 12th century Abbey was converted into a country house which is furnished in comfortable 1930s style. Bought by Lord Fairhaven, he filled it with travel souvenirs from his Grand Tours of Europe. He loved to attend the races and the house has many statues and memorabilia from past races. One of the most unique features at Anglesey Abbey is the library windows. Etched into the glass using a diamond-tipped pen are the signatures of many visiting royals who came to Oxburgh before or after the racing at nearby Newmarket. Signatures include Prince Charles, Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother.
The National Trust owned manor also has restored Coronation robes with their ermine trim. They were worn by the family who attended the coronations of both George VI and Queen Elizabeth II in 1937 and 1953 respectively.
Outside, the pleasure continues in the gardens which include beautiful herbaceous borders filled with summer and autumn colour. There’s also a rose garden and a dahlia collection.
- The extensive and unusual clock collection (and listen for the chimes on the hour!)
- Take a walk beside the leat to the Lode Mill which was used to grind coprolite (fossilised dinosaur dung) for fertilizer.
Bath and Pump Rooms
The elegant city of Bath is the home of Britain’s only natural hot springs, which made it popular with the Romans who built their own bathhouse around the steaming pool. Victorians also loved bathing in mineral-rich waters which are believed to have many health benefits. An audio-guided tour of the King’s Bath takes you to the source of these thermal waters and the remains of the monastic bath and Georgian Spa. See the Roman Temple of Sulis Minerva, goddess of the springs and learn how the 18th century Pump Room was the meeting place and hub of Bath’s social scene.
Bath has many other attractions to easily fill your day. Go shopping, visit the Bartlett Street Antiques Centre or tour Number 1 The Crescent. See how wealthy aristocrats lived in 18th century Bath and admire the Palladian architecture in the 500-foot-long Royal Crescent.
There are several unusual museums including the Fashion Museum, Bath at Work Museum and the Postal Museum.
- Sample a glass of spa water drawn from the fountain – for your health of course!
- Enjoy refreshments at Sally Lunn’s historic eating house in one of the oldest buildings in Bath
THINGS TO DO IN WEST ENGLAND
Situated on the River Tamar on the Devon-Cornwall border, the maritime city of Plymouth has a long and esteemed history. Famous as the city of seafarers including Walter Raleigh and Francis Drake, it was the departure point of the Mayflower, carrying pilgrims to their new life in America. All these events are celebrated on Plymouth Hoe, a green park and promenade overlooking Plymouth Sound and Drake’s Island.
- Climb Seaton’s tower, the red-and-white lighthouse that warned ships of the Eddystone Rock from 1759 to 1877. The sea views are amazing!
- Take a boat trip around the docks and see naval warships and submarines
- Walk around the Royal Citadel – an operational 17th century fortress
- Take a swim in the newly renovated Lido on the seafront
- Learn more about the Mayflower Pilgrims in the Mayflower Museum
- The adjoining yacht-filled port on the Barbican. It has narrow streets lined with old pubs, Tudor houses, shops, restaurants, pannier market and even an Elizabethan Knot Garden
- The National Marine Aquarium overlooking Sutton Harbour
- Take a tour of the 200-year-old Plymouth Gin Distillery. See how gin is made, enjoy samples and take home a bottle of this smooth spirit as a souvenir
Just east of Minehead, the North Devon village of Dunster grew up around the 11th century Dunster Castle which sits on the top of The Tor. It originally housed a Benedictine Priory and the Priory Church of St George, the tithe barn and the dovecote still remain from that era. Mentioned in the Domesday Book, the castle was home to the Luttrell family from the 14th century until 1976 when it was given to the National Trust. Over time, it was remodelled as a graceful turreted manor house with an impressive entrance through the 14th century Great Gatehouse. The estate includes a working watermill.
Dunster Village has several interesting buildings including the Nunnery and several pubs. George Luttrell built the village Yarn Market for the wool and cloth trade. The charming building is now a landmark of the village
- Travel to Dunster via the West Somerset Railway, the longest heritage railway in England. It runs for 20 miles through the Quantock Hills from Minehead to Bishops Lydeard.
- Visit before Christmas when shoppers are treated to Dunster by Candlelight and carol singers
- The National Collection of Strawberry Trees in the gardens
The lively university city of Exeter is predominated by the towering Cathedral in a pleasant green park. Built in Norman Gothic style between the 11th and 14th centuries, the exterior is covered in statues – the largest surviving collection of 14th century statues in England. The lavish interior has a striking ribbed ceiling. The Bishop’s Throne is over 700 years old and the Exeter Book of Old English Verse is even older!
The High Street has the usual array of chain stores interspersed with older buildings such as the 800-year-old Guildhall with its pillared frontage which survived the bombing in May 1942.
The Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery (RAMM) has free admission to the world-class exhibits. It’s well worth booking a guided tour with a knowledgeable docent. Galleries cover prehistoric Devon, global exploration, an Egyptian coffin and mummy and natural history collections. The beautifully ornamented Gothic Revival building also houses a café and gift shop.
- A tour of the Underground Passages that once transported water beneath the city
- Stroll along the River Exe on the broad Exeter Quayside, once a busy port
- Rougemont Gardens with the remains of the Roman walls and the former castle
One of the best-known villages on Bideford Bay, Clovelly is a postcard-pretty traffic-free village with thatched wattle-and-daub cottages and several pubs. The steep cobbled main street rises 120 metres (400 feet) in shallow steps from the harbour to the Visitor Centre. Donkeys were the main mode of transport, hauling goods up the steps on special sledges. Privately owned by the Hamlyn family since 1738, the village is a major tourist attraction and there is an admission fee.
This former fishing village is a delightful place to explore. Tea rooms and small shops offer a range of Devon produce, souvenirs and gifts. There is a field of donkeys for petting and the late Norman All Saints Church which has several interesting monuments.
Clovelly Court Gardens are well worth visiting as are the two local museums. The harbour has a lifeboat station and a small beach at low tide. It often hosts festival and events during the summer months.
- A walk along the scenic South West Coast Path which runs from the top of the village to Hartland Point with spectacular coastal views
- The guided tour providing a fascinating insight into Clovelly’s unique history
Escape the rat race and take a day trip to Lundy Island, a remote granite rock in the Bristol Channel with timeless appeal. This largely unpopulated island is known for its puffin colony and seals but it also has 42 scheduled monuments and listed buildings. Day trips depart from Bideford or Ilfracombe Pier aboard MS Oldenburg which has been making the journey each summer since 1958. The vessel has original brass features, a bar, buffet and heated saloons making the two-hour trip very comfortable and pleasant.
Lundy Island is three miles long and ½ mile wide. “Lund-ey” is Viking for “Puffin Island” and archaeological discoveries show that it has been inhabited for over 3000 years. Its isolation has made it a natural habitat for seabirds and wildlife. Today it is popular with walkers, bird watchers, divers, historians, geologists and archaeologists. The island includes the ruins of a mediaeval castle, a Georgian lighthouse and the Victorian Church of St Helen to explore.
- Spot wild Soay Sheep and Sika Deer
- Walk to the Halfway Wall
- Dine on local lamb at the Marisco Tavern or relax in the beer garden
Located near St Austell in a former china clay pit, the Eden Project is a unique Cornish attraction combining nature and conservation with science and activities. Giant biomes create different climatic conditions which house a flourishing indoor rainforest and a dry Mediterranean climate. The rainforest biome is the largest indoor jungle in the world and has over 1000 plant varieties. Walk the rope bridge over through the treetops and see how pineapples, bananas, cocoa, rubber and oil palms grow. Enjoy orchids and a typical Malaysian house. The Mediterranean biome is filled with acid-loving plants such as olives, aloes, citrons, chilli peppers and cork trees.
Stroll through the outdoor gardens and spend time in the Visitor Centre learning more about how the biomes were constructed. You can even attend a festival or summer concert in this unique setting.
- Amazing floral colour in spring from flowering tulip bulbs
- SkyWire – England’s longest zip line, part of the adrenaline-pumping Hangloose Adventures at Eden. Do a loop on the 360 Swing or jump over a cliff edge…if you dare!
Authentic home of tasty Cheddar cheese. Cheddar Gorge and Caves is a dramatic natural attraction with lots to see and do. Awe-inspiring cliffs and prehistoric caves provide an awesome setting for this delightful village. Go caving, rock climbing and walking or just stroll through the village seeing what’s on offer.
Thirty independent shops and businesses demonstrate many crafts including how sweets are made the old-fashioned way. Stock up on fudge, boiled sweets, luxury chocolates, tasty pies, jams and biscuits. If you’re feeling peckish, there are plenty of fish and chip shops and cafés serving lunch, cream teas and ice cream.
An all-inclusive Explorer Ticket gives you admission to all the attractions including Gough’s Cave. This amazing cavern is the star of the show with its rock formations, stalagmites, stalactites and natural chambers. An audio guide provides plenty of interesting facts and figures. Learn about the early cave dwellers in Cox’s Cave, a fabulous multi-media experience, and visit the Museum of Prehistory to learn about the Ice Age in this area.
- Climb Jacob’s Ladder to the Lookout Tower and three-mile Clifftop Walk. The views of the gorge are amazing!
- Sample real cheddar cheese and take some home as a tasty souvenir
Many tours start or end at Land’s End, the most westerly point of mainland England a total of 838 miles from John O’Groats in NE Scotland. The peninsula can be a breezy place, popular for rock climbing, geology, bird watching and offering dramatic sea views. Take a walk along the cliffs and visit the 17th century First and Last Inn. It has many tales to tell of smuggling and shipwrecks in the past. The nearby West Country Shopping Village includes nautical souvenirs and a studio with local artworks.
- Look for the Longships Lighthouse and the Isles of Scilly on the horizon
- Take a selfie beneath the landmark milepost marking Land’s End
- Ale lovers will want to try a pint of small-batch craft ale from the Cornish Crown Brewery at one of the local pubs in the area.
Penzance and St Michael’s Mount
Dominating Mount’s Bay is St Michael’s Mount, a rocky 57-acre island reached by boat or a man-made causeway at low tide. Now managed by the National Trust, it includes a small community around the port, tropical rock gardens, an impressive castle and 15th century chapel with a turret, used as local navigational aid. The Visitor Centre on the Quay has many plans and information boards.
Climb the cobbled footpath and keep an eye open for the Giant’s Heart stone. Self-guided tours through the rooms include mediaeval hunting scenes and family furnishings.
The island had an 8th century monastery and the current 12th century buildings have been home to the St Aubyn family since 1650. The island, a site of pilgrimage, has survived a 15th century siege and a tsunami in 1755. It is frequently used in films including Dracula and James Bond’s Never Say Never Again.
- The model of St Michael’s Mount made entirely from champagne corks!
- Visit nearby Penzance and look for the extraordinary Egyptian House and the Union Hotel and Theatre
Falmouth Maritime Museum
Standing on the Quay in Falmouth harbour, the National Maritime Museum is in an award-winning purpose-built building with several floors including an underwater viewing window. The collection includes the National Collection of Small Boats which range from coracles, punts, dinghies and fishing boats to Waterlily, a Thames steamboat (1866) and the Olympic winning boat Rita used by Ben Ainslie to achieve gold in the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympics.
The rest of the museum has a variety of galleries devoted to Cornish fishing, boat-building, wrecks and a Survival Zone with some hairy tales of life at sea. Try your hand at navigation and weather forecasting is one of the hands-on interactive exhibits and learn about tides in Falmouth. Outside, the Pontoon has an ever-changing array of boats for you to step aboard and explore. The surrounding historic town is well worth a walk around. This natural harbour stands on the estuary of the Fal with the deepest docks in Europe.
- The top floor includes a Lookout with views across Falmouth Harbour
- The waterfront café with more interesting outdoor exhibits
- The Tidal Zone which has an underwater view of the harbour and its fish
The county town of Cornwall in Truro, a genteel city that was once a stannary town for tin mining and a busy centre of trade from its port during the 18th and 19th centuries. The primary attraction is Truro Cathedral with its town spires. It is one of England’s newest cathedrals, built in 1910 on the site of a 600-year-old St Mary’s Church, although it looks like it has been at the heart of the city forever. Built in Gothic Revival style, it rises 76m above the city as a landmark.
The Georgian architecture and narrow cobbled streets accommodate a wide choice of department stores, book shops and speciality shops. There’s an indoor pannier market and many places to find lunch and refreshments.
The Royal Cornwall Museum is the county’s main museum and has interesting exhibits detailing Cornish history, archaeology, art and life. Don’t miss the Arthur Stone (Artognou Stone) which was uncovered in Tintagel and has 6th century inscriptions.
- Shops, market stalls and pavement cafes on the broad paved area of Lemon Quay
- Sample the local Saffron buns with a cuppa!
- Walk beside the river on either side for a peaceful stroll just a short distance from the city centre
Legendary home of King Arthur and his knights, the ruins of Tintagel Castle and the quaint town surrounding it are on the Atlantic Coast of Cornwall. Excavations of the 12th century castle reveal it was once a Celtic monastery, fortress and trading station dating back to the 5th and 6th centuries. Roman oil and wine jars excavated from the castle site are now part of the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro along with the Artognou Stone (Arthur’s Stone) with its 6th century markings.
Look out for:
- The Old School on Fore Street
- Parish Church of St Materiana
- Kings Arthur’s Hall, the historic HQ of the Order of the Fellowship of the Round Table with some interesting works of art and a bookshop
- The imposing castle-like Camelot Castle Hotel on the coast, built in 1896 for a railway that never materialised
- The Tintagel Old Post Office, now owned by the National Trust is a Grade I listed property. The 14th century stone building with its wavy roofline now houses a display of Victorian postal memorabilia and traditional crafts.
- The delightful cottage garden surrounding the Old Post Office. It’s always worth a photo!
- A walk along the South West Coast Path for more stunning coastal views from the castle promontory
Stretching from Exmouth in East Devon to Studland Bay in Dorset, the 96-mile Jurassic Coast is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its unique geological composition and fossils. Coastal erosion has revealed strata on cliffs that cover the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. Fossilized remains of many sea and marsh creatures can be found pressed into the rocks.
This scenic coastline has many natural sea arches, pinnacles and rock stacks including Old Harry Rocks – three chalk formations marking the easternmost point of the Jurassic Coast.
- The Isle of Purbeck a land-tied island connected by Chesil Beach which forms a causeway
- Portland Harbour, one of the largest manmade harbours in the world used by the Royal Navy until 1995
- Lulworth Cove containing a fossil forest
- The natural rock arch is known as Durdle Door, an iconic landmark of the Jurassic Coast
- Lyme Regis with many fossilized ammonites in the 71 rock strata
- Golden Cap, the highest point on the south coast. Named after the golden greensand rock, the cliff and hill rise to 191 metres (627 feet). Climb to the summit from the coastal footpath at Seatown. It takes about 40 minutes.
- The scenic circular one-mile walk in Langdon Wood
Said to be one of England’s prettiest coastal villages, Beer is close to Seaton on the edge of the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Facing Lyme Bay, it is part of the Jurassic Coast with a cove and caves that were once well used by smugglers bringing contraband ashore. However, there is no harbour and boats are winched up the pebble beach.
The picturesque cliffs including Beer Head are part of the South West Coast Path. With a population of just over 1300, the village is small and easy to explore on foot.
Look out for:
- Starr House, the oldest house in Beer built using the local Beer stone
- Bovey House, a mile inland
- St Michaels Church
- The stream running down in an open culvert
- Pecorama, a model railway, gardens and shop along with the mile-long Beer Heights Light Railway
- Guided tours of Beer Quarry Caves, a manmade cave complex formed from 2,000 years of quarrying the limestone known as Beer stone. It is particularly popular for building and repairing cathedrals and churches including Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s and Exeter Cathedral
- Fresh fish and chips eaten outdoors
Located on the North Cornwall coast, Bude is a small resort at the mouth of the River Neet with two golden sandy beaches. Nearby Summerleaze Beach has a large sea pool which is popular for swimming and paddleboarding. The beaches are pounded by waves and are popular for surfing. Bude Castle was built in 1830 for Victorian inventor Si Goldsworthy Gurney. It is now an interesting Heritage Centre with free admission and plenty of local exhibits.
Bude Canal is a popular place to walk or cycle. Built by the Bude Canal Company, it once ran as far as Launceston using inclined planes although it is now much shorter. It was built with a sea lock to provide sheltered moorings to improve the harbour.
Highlights of Bude include:
- The mediaeval Parish church of St Olaf’s in Perpendicular style
- Quay Cottage, the oldest house in the town
- The Tower of the Winds, with the points of the compass carved on the octagonal sides
- The Bude Formation, unusual rock strata on the sandstone cliffs
- Look for the figurehead of the wrecked Bencoolen, now in the town museum
Lost Gardens of Heligan
One of the most visited gardens in Cornwall, the Lost Gardens of Heligan near Mevagissey have a unique history. Part of a thriving estate in the 19th century, the gardens where filled with plants collected by the Tremayne family from all over the world. The sheltered ravine and coastal position allowed many tropical species to thrive. Post World War I, many staff did not return and the gardens lay neglected until business entrepreneur Tim Smit led an ambitious plan to restore them in the 1990s.
The gardens are now a showcase of huge rhododendrons, camellias and azaleas which are a colourful show in late spring. The Italian Gardens have a tranquil pool and summer house. Flower gardens and vegetable gardens are well tended and include restored glasshouses, melon and pineapple pits and the tool shed. The Jungle is a wild area filled with tropical bamboos and a series of pools. A raised boardwalk allows visitors to explore this remarkable wild garden. The Georgian Ride has paths for walking around the edge of the estate with distant glimpses of the sea.
- The amazing Plant Shop
- The charcoal kilns in the Lost Valley
Lynton and Lynmouth
The twin villages of Lynton and Lynmouth are on the edge of Exmoor National Park with Lynton at the top of the cliff and Lynmouth 200 metres below. The villages are connected by a Cliff Railway which provides superb sea views as it transports visitors up and down the steep cliff. Lynmouth sits on the confluence and estuary of the West Lyn and the East Lyn Rivers. The geographic location proved deadly when unprecedented rain fell on Exmoor in August 1952. It caused a torrent of flood waters that swept away much of the village including 100 homes, 28 bridges and 38 cars.
The restored village is a place of charm with narrow streets, whitewashed buildings, small shops, a pretty harbour and a beach. It has had many famous visitors including poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and artist Thomas Gainsborough who honeymooned in the village and described it as “the most delightful place for a landscape painter this country can boast”.
- The town of Lynton with its sea views and extraordinary half-timbered Town Hall. The Parish Church of St Mary has a 13th century tower
- Drive along the coast through the surreal landscape of the Valley of Rocks
Ilfracombe was a grand Victorian seaside resort and remains a thriving community known for its arts festivals and cultural entertainment. The harbour is the centre of activity for fishing boats, pleasure craft and boat trips. The MS Oldenburg regularly sails to Lundy Island from here. The harbour is surrounded by shops and restaurants rising up the steep hillside to the High Street. There is a mix of shops, studios and cafés housed in the mainly Victorian buildings.
Highlights to look out for include:
- St Nicholas Chapel on the top of Lantern Hill which is actually a lighthouse
- The Damien Hirst statue The town is home to several prominent artists and is an active arts community
The best beach in the area is the privately owned Tunnels Beach. Accessed from the South West Coast Path, visitors must walk through four tunnels which were hand-carved through the cliffs by miners. There is an admission fee to use the beach which has a tidal pool and many interesting rock pools.
- The award-winning Landmark Theatre with its unusual modern architecture
- Visit during the Victorian festival in mid-June when everyone dresses up in Victorian clothing and enjoys afternoon tea with “Queen Victoria” always in attendance!