The heart of the British Empire and the United Kingdom has always been England. A tiny country in comparison to the United States or even France, it has nevertheless had a huge impact on the history of the world.
All the regions of England are easily accessible from the invigorating capital city of London, famous for its history, culture and pageantry. In the north of England, lakes, mountains, castles and craggy coastlines create scenic splendour; a little further south the medieval city of York contrasts with lively Liverpool and Manchester, once famous as powerhouses of the Victorian industrial revolution and now known for their football teams, live music scenes and exhausting nightlife.
Visitors travelling south will discover the quintessential English landscape, where a tranquil air blows through country lanes or across shimmering fens, while the gleaming spires of Oxford stand proudly above a university town that's changed little over the centuries. South of London, the 'Garden of England' stretches out with bountiful farmlands to the coast, where visitors will find charming seaside resorts and fishing villages. From the Cotswolds to the craggy coast of Cornwall, the West Country offers an idyllic pastoral experience, with honey-coloured stone houses, charming thatched cottages and narrow roads winding through lush, rolling green fields.
With its wonderful idiosyncrasies and vibrant diversity, today's England is friendly, welcoming, fascinating and fun.
England remains one of the world's most popular sightseeing destinations, drawing high numbers of repeat visitors inspired by its effortless combination of historical splendour and vibrant modernity. Some of the most famous tourist sites in the world are packed into this tiny but proud country.
The locals complain incessantly about the weather, and in truth it is rather gloomy and damp, especially from October to May. For tourists though, the imperfect weather provides the perfect excuse for retreating inside world-class museums and galleries, or enjoying the outstanding theatre. When the sun does shine, the English countryside reveals its irresistible charms with lush greenery, rolling hills and elegant castle ruins in abundance. Equally, some travellers relish the English landscapes in the snow and mist and London streets are never more beautiful than when they are bedecked with lights for the festive season.
Although there is so much to see and do, England is very compact, which makes it fairly easy to get between the sights. The entire country is laced with railway lines, which are frequently duplicated by bus routes, although for longer excursions it may be better to fly with one of the discount airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet.
Originally known as Monkchester, Newcastle only got its present name when Robert Curthose, son of the infamous William the Conqueror, built his 'New Castle' on the site of the Roman fort Pons Aeliu in 1080. Used as a point of defence, the castle was originally built of wood and timber, but was later rebuilt in stone. Today, visitors can explore the remains of the castle, as well as the Castle Keep built later on the same site by Henry II. The Castle Keep is acknowledged as one of the finest surviving examples of a Norman Keep in the country.
Praised by as 'one of the finest small art galleries in Europe', the vivid red walls of the enchanting Barber Institute of Fine Arts are adorned with some of the most celebrated art from the 13th to 20th centuries. Browsing the robust artworks, visitors are treated to the timeless talents of the old masters and modern pioneers such as Monet, Manet, Gauguin, Van Gogh and Degas. Offering a fascinating collection of paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures, history enthusiasts can also venture into a bygone age at the coin gallery, which hosts one of Europe's finest collections of Byzantine coins. The Barber Institute's Gallery Shop is a worthy stopover for some souvenirs and gallery-related literature.
Madame Tussauds is the most famous wax museum gallery in the world, with more than 400 life-sized models of stars, famous politicians, royals, comic book characters and sportsmen, as well as exhibits presenting the most infamous criminals the world has known. Inside the museum, the 'Spirit of London' ride will take you through the city's history, introducing you to those figures that have shaped the London of today, while the 'A-list Party' section will introduce you to the museum's collection of celebrities, and the 'Scream' exhibition will terrify and delight visitors in equal measure. A must-see tourist sight in London, visitors are advised to book their tickets online in advance, as the queues for tickets outside Madame Tussauds can be very long.
The Tower of London is perhaps as famous for its traditions as its imposing structure, located on the Thames River. It is guarded by a special band of Yeoman Warders, known as Beefeaters, and dotted with several large, black birds - the ravens. Legend has it that if the ravens ever leave the Tower, a great tragedy will befall England, and to this day the birds are protected by royal decree. The Tower's history dates back to the 11th century, and each new monarch has played a role in its growth and development. It also houses Britain's famous crown jewels, a spectacular display of some of the world's finest gems and workmanship. The Tower is next to Tower Bridge, another famous London landmark.
The Beatles' 1969 album Abbey Road was recorded at this unassuming studio in St John's Wood, London. While many other famous bands, including Pink Floyd, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, U2, Kate Bush, Radiohead, Oasis and Sting, all recorded tracks here, it is almost always the Beatles fans who make the pilgrimage to take their pictures walking across the famous zebra crossing on Abbey Road, which featured on the album cover. The studio building itself is a Grade II listed building, and is not open to the public. There is some fan graffiti and some Beatles-themed coffee shops and the like near the studio, but tourists shouldn't go expecting much to see and do; it is simply a famous London landmark for lovers of rock music.
Located right in the middle of London, Hyde Park is a huge patch of green and blue tranquillity in the midst of the bustling city. Covering 350 acres, it features restaurants, fountains, monuments and flower gardens, and offers a range of activities including ice skating, swimming, boating, tennis, cycling and horse riding. There are also playgrounds for children and spaces for team sports.
One of Hyde Park's most famous attractions is Speaker's Corner, where people of all opinions come to share them freely. While Speaker's Corner attracts its fair share of unconventional characters, there are usually lively debates, and famous personalities like Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and George Orwell were participants in their day.
Housed in the former Bankside Power Station, which has been transformed by Swiss Architects Herzog & de Meuron into a spectacular new modern building, the Tate Modern is Britain's greatest museum of modern art. It showcases an exhaustive collection, featuring works from 1900 to the present day, including works by Dalí, Picasso, Matisse, Rothko and Warhol, as well as temporary exhibitions by contemporary artists. There is also an exceptional roof café, which affords spectacular views over London, and an impressive gift shop. A must-see attraction for visitors to London, you will be sorely remiss to pass up a visit to the Tate Modern.
The National Gallery has an imposing and regal façade stretching across the northern side of Trafalgar Square, and houses over 2,300 paintings from every major European school of painting from the 13th to the 19th centuries. It was opened in 1938 at its present location, which was chosen for its situation between London's wealthier West End and poorer East End, as a 'gallery for all'. These days, admission to the National Gallery is still free, and its cultural programme has swelled to include weekly classical music concerts, an on-site cinema, and a variety of excellent themed gallery tours. There are also restaurants and coffee bars to choose from in the National Gallery, in case you need to refuel while perusing the magnificent art on display.
The British Museum is widely regarded as the world's greatest museum of human history and culture. Containing more than 13 million artefacts from all corners of the globe, the British Museum boasts an overwhelming collection of fascinating objects. Most prized among its collection are its famous antiquities, which include the Parthenon Frieze (or Elgin Marbles), the Rosetta Stone and the Roman Portland Vase, which dates from the 1st century AD. The iconic Great Court with its incredible glass roof covering two acres greets visitors as they enter, and stairwells lead down to the Reading Room, which has been completely restored. Visitors to London should not miss out on the British Museum, which is one of the world's great cultural troves. Budget at least half a day to get a sense of the wealth of history housed within the museum, and don't be surprised if you actually need about three full days to take it all in.
At 443ft (135m) tall, and weighing more than 250 double-decker buses, the London Eye is a truly spectacular feature of London's skyline. Offering incredible views of most of London's major attractions, and an opportunity to put the city's geography into perspective, it is a must-see attraction for first-time visitors to England's capital city. Originally designed by architects David Marks and Julia Barfield as an entry for a Millennium Landmark competition, the project took six years and the expertise of hundreds of people from five European countries to turn it into a reality. Often featured in big-budget movies, and regularly touted as one of the best things to see and experience in London, make sure you include a ride on the London Eye in your UK holiday itinerary. Wheelchair-bound visitors will be delighted to know that both the London Eye and all its on-site facilities are fully accessible.
Situated on the bank of the Thames, just 656ft (200m) from the site of Shakespeare's original Globe Theatre, this fantastic recreation will transport visitors back to the time of the very first productions of Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night. The reconstruction took a total of 10 years to complete at a cost of over £40 million, and now houses a professional theatre company responsible for regular productions of the Bard's famous plays. Adjacent to the theatre is the Globe Exhibition, presenting graphic information about the reconstruction of the theatre, and bringing to the fore the life and works of Shakespeare with interactive displays and live demonstrations. Visits to the exhibition include a tour of the theatre. Tours depart roughly every 30 minutes.
No visit to London would be complete without experiencing the pomp and ceremony of the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, but now visitors can actually get a peek inside during the annual summer opening of the State Rooms, and see some of the Queen's private art collection at the Queen's Gallery (which also hosts various art exhibitions). Originally the town house of the Dukes of Buckingham, Buckingham Palace has served as the official London home of Britain's monarchs since 1837. Look to see whether the Royal Standard (not the Union Flag) is flying, which indicates that the Queen is in residence.
Harrods, which former proprietor Mohamed Al Fayed called his 'Palace in Knightsbridge', promises one of the most extravagant and luxurious shopping experiences in the world. With 22 restaurants, and a wide range of departments and services across its seven floors, it is easy to see why this is the shopping choice of London's social elite. With its prominent position on Brompton Road, Harrods is hard to miss - especially at night, when the entire façade is illuminated by a grand total of 11,500 light bulbs. The UK's biggest store by a long way, Harrods certainly makes good on its motto Omnia Omnibus Ubique - All Things for All People, Everywhere.
Camden Market is one of the most exciting shopping experiences London has to offer. Even if you're just browsing, Camden Market is still definitely worth a visit for its huge variety of food, antiques, bric-a-brac and clothing stalls, bars, nightspots and crowds of people ranging from the beautiful to the bizarre. Although the punk scene in London has gone underground, it still seems to flourish here, and you're sure to bump into some interesting characters. Just be sure to ask permission before photographing anyone. Boat rides are also available on the canal which passes through Camden Lock - a fun way to spend some time between browsing the stalls. Although Camden attracts mostly the young and trendy, the market has become more commercial and mainstream than it once was and some real bargains can be found.
Greenwich is the home of the Greenwich (or Prime) Meridian, which splits the globe into East and West, and is responsible for setting the world clock on zero degrees longitude. Apart from this curious distinction (which has earned Greenwich UNESCO World Heritage Site status), Greenwich has a host of other attractions, including the Greenwich Market with its variety of arts, crafts, food and bric-a-brac, Sir Christopher Wren's Royal Observatory, and the National Maritime Museum. Greenwich Park is beautifully landscaped and is an ideal location for a picnic lunch. The famous tea-clipper ship, the Cutty Sark, was damaged by a fire in 2007 but has been extensively restored and is once again open to the public.
Take a trip through London's dark and gruesome history, meet Jack the Ripper and see what became of his victims, or see the chaos and destruction caused by the great fire of London. The London Dungeon brings history's most notorious killers and evildoers back to life in an experience definitely not for the faint-hearted. Beware: some of the exhibitions have a nasty way of coming alive and jumping out at the unsuspecting visitor! The tours last about 90 minutes and are very funny as well as scary. The experience can be enjoyed by both Adults and kids.
The great dome of St Paul's Cathedral has been a distinctive landmark on the London skyline for centuries. Built in 1673 by Sir Christopher Wren, after the previous St Paul's was burnt to the ground during the Great Fire of London, it is the greatest of several cathedrals dedicated to St Paul that have occupied the site for more than 1,400 years. The crypt at St Paul's is one of the largest in Europe, and it houses more than 200 tombs, including those of Admiral Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and Wren himself. The Cathedral has hosted many significant ceremonies in London's history, including the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill and the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana.
Surrounded by neon advertising and fast-food restaurants, Piccadilly Circus is London's answer to New York's Times Square and, at the junction of Piccadilly, Regent Street and Shaftesbury Avenue, it is the gateway to the West End. With its highly accessible tube station, Piccadilly Circus is a good starting point for those wanting to enjoy London's finest shopping district, being near to Jermyn Street, Saville Row, Regent Street and Bond Street. London's Theatreland is centred on nearby Shaftsbury Avenue, and Soho and China Town are also within easy walking distance. Piccadilly Circus is one of London's meeting points, an atmospheric hub conveniently providing access to a number of famous attractions and streets.
Brighton is unquestionably England's most spectacular seaside resort town. Made popular in the 18th century, when the Prince Regent (later King George IV) chose it as the site for his holiday palace (the bizarre and fantastic onion-shaped Brighton Pavilion), it is still famous for its frivolous entertainment venues and enviable nightlife. An eclectic combination of Regency and Victorian architecture gives Brighton a unique air, with winding village lanes and its flamboyant East Pier stretching out over the sea sparkling with thousands of lights from its funfair and amusement arcades.
The historic Brighton Lanes host a variety of quaint and quirky shops, with everything from antiques and jewellery to fortune-telling on offer. Wander lazily through the winding streets and relax at one of the numerous cafés while enjoying a cappuccino and a live jazz performance. By night, this quarter takes on a more ghoulish character, with the famous Ghost Walk being offered for the brave...with drinks at the haunted pub for survivors!
No other site in England presents the viewer with such grandeur and mystery, nor sparks the imagination so much as this iconic circle of stones in Wiltshire, southwest England. Writers, adventurers, historians and conquerors have all tried to answer the question, 'Who built Stonehenge?', resulting in tales and fables of Druids, Merlin and King Arthur, ancient giants roaming the countryside, and a highly evolved prehistoric race of men. Yet the question of who, or indeed what, managed to drag several 20-ton stones more than 240 miles (386km) from North Wales across steep hills to be aligned with mathematical and astronomical precision 5,000 years ago remains unanswered. Stonehenge has recently had a huge revamp and now lures tourists with a magnificent Visitor's Centre. A must-see tourist sight in England, budget a full day to see Stonehenge properly. The stone circle is located just off the A303, 20 minutes' drive from Salisbury.
The Eden Project's aim is to examine the ways in which human beings interact with their environment, with a special focus on the plant world, in order to develop new ways of sustainable development by spearheading new conservation methods. Owned by a charity called the Eden Trust, the project consists of several specially-created conservatories - the largest in the world - built into a giant crater in Cornwall. The Eden Project is more than a theme park, as it presents visitors with an opportunity to explore the plant kingdom, and to examine our dependence on it. The park also hosts concerts during the summer, with top international acts regularly featuring on the bill. The Eden Project is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the UK, outside of London, and is well worth a visit.
The city of Salisbury is dominated by the spire of its famous cathedral, the tallest in England at 404 feet (123m). Started in 1220, the cathedral was completed in 1258, and the Spire added a few years later. Built to reflect the glory of God in stone and glass, this majestic and awe-inspiring church has been a setting for many great occasions in its 775-year history. The grounds of the cathedral contain many notable houses, which are open to the public. Mompesson House is a perfectly-preserved 18th-century home, and Malmesbury House was once the sanctuary of King Charles II, fleeing the Battle of Worcester in the 17th century. Salisbury Cathedral is one of England's greatest old churches and historic pilgrimage sites and is well worth a visit for tourists.
Set against the beautiful backdrop of the Cotswold Hills, Sudeley Castle is steeped in history. With royal connections spanning a thousand years, it has played an important role in the turbulent and changing times of England's past. The castle was once home to Queen Katherine Parr (1512-48) following her marriage to Sir Thomas Seymour, and has also housed Lady Jane Grey. Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and Queen Elizabeth I all visited Sudeley Castle in its heyday. King Charles I stayed here, and his nephew Prince Rupert established his headquarters at the castle during the civil war. Following its destruction by Cromwell's troops, Sudeley lay neglected and derelict for 200 years; however, its romantic situation and ruins attracted many visitors, including King George III. In 1837 Sudeley was bought by John and William Dent, successful businessmen from Worcestershire, who began an ambitious restoration programme.
Within the castle's apartments are a range of historic possessions dating from the civil war and an important art collection, including paintings by Van Dyck, Rubens, Turner, Reynolds, Claude and Jan Steen. The romantic 14-acre grounds are worth a visit from March to September, and are the setting for outdoor Shakespeare performances, concerts, and other events in summer.
Warwick Castle's origins date back to before 1066, and although not used as a Royal residence but rather as the seat of the Earls of Warwick, its history is tied inextricably to the throne through the influence held by the castle's lords. Today, the castle is owned by the Tussaud's Group, which has refurbished most of the original grounds, and which has begun to use the castle as the setting for an annual wax pageant featuring historical figures. A new addition to the castle's programme of events and activities is the ghoulish Warwick Dungeon, which features a thrilling 'Witches of Warwick' exhibition that is guaranteed to delight young and old visitors alike. Note that children under the age of 10 might find the Castle Dungeon experience a little scary.
Alton Towers is the UK's premier theme park aimed at the thrill-seeking and young-at-heart, and can be a welcome excursion for those who have overdosed on the culture and tranquillity of the Cotswolds. Rides with names such as Nemesis, The Blade, Submission and Ripsaw are definitely not for the faint-hearted, but the park does cater for the whole family with an adventure land and farmyard for younger visitors, as well as a hugely popular Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ride. For those exhausted by the day's antics, Alton Towers operates its own hotel, and there are plenty of spots to grab a bite to eat.
The University of Cambridge is one of the oldest in the world and is made up of 31 colleges, each an independent institution with its own property and income. The oldest college, Peterhouse, was founded in 1281 by the Bishops of Ely. Both Charles Darwin and John Milton were students at Christ's College, founded by the mother of Henry VII in 1505. The largest and perhaps most famous college is Trinity College, which was founded by Henry VIII. The college's masterpiece is Christopher Wren's magnificent library, where the likes of Sir Isaac Newton, Lord Byron, Tennyson and William Thackeray studied. There are also many museums around the university, but most visitors come here to walk around the wonderful buildings, take in the history and admire the wonderful architecture.
Much of the area east of Norwich is criss-crossed with a series of navigable inland waterways, known as the Norfolk Broads. The area has become a popular holiday retreat for visitors hiring houseboats and cruisers to tour these waterways, which wind through quaint towns and offer fantastic fishing for keen anglers. There are many companies willing to rent boats to holidaymakers and a multitude of attractions and good pubs to check out on the banks, check the official Norfolk Broads website for more information. The Norfolk Broads are a glorious setting for a relaxed boating holiday in England, popular with both locals and tourists.
Holkham Hall is home to the Earl and Countess of Leicester, with the property being in the Coke family's possession since 1609. The formidable 18th-century Palladian Hall is the centre of a 25,000-acre estate on the north coast of Norfolk. Within the house are some magnificent state rooms, including the vast Marble Hall, which features a magnificent art collection (including paintings by Rubens and van Dyke). Visitors can also view the old kitchens that catered for the family and their enormous entourage. Within the old stables is the Bygones Museum, which displays fascinating exhibits from times gone by, including a history of farming. The Park surrounding the hall is popular with locals and tourists alike, as is Holkham Beach, which attracts sunbathers and swimmers on warm days.
Blickling Hall is a splendid early 17th-century house owned by the National Trust. It is one of England's great Jacobean houses and is built in red brick with a gabled façade and elegant corner turrets. Its long gallery has an outstanding plaster ceiling and houses a superb library containing 12,000 books. Throughout the house a fine collection of family portraits, including works by Gainsborough and Reynolds, as well as textiles and elegant furniture, can be admired. The ghosts of Anne Boleyn and Sir John Fastolfe (the inspiration for Shakespeare's Falstaff) are said to haunt the house and grounds. The breathtaking garden offers variety and colour throughout the seasons, with spring bulbs, magnolias, particularly dramatic displays of azaleas and rhododendrons, plus herbaceous borders and stunning autumn tints - a very pleasant place to spend an afternoon. There are miles of attractive lakeside and parkland walks, and interesting features such as the sunken garden, a dry moat, a temple and an orangery.
The Romans were the first to capitalise on the only natural hot springs in Britain, but it is believed that they were a local attraction long before the building of Rome. These ancient baths were once considered the finest in the Roman Empire, but in the middle ages fell into disrepair. It was not until a visit by the ailing Prince George in 1702 that the baths once again became a popular healing destination. Over the course of the city of Bath's redevelopment in the late 18th century, the Roman ruins were rediscovered and restored. Today, visitors can see the seven ancient baths and view the Georgian splendour of the Pump House, where the musty mineral waters can be sampled by the strong of stomach. The magnificent centrepiece is the Great Bath. Lined with lead and filled with hot spa water, it once stood in an enormous barrel-vaulted hall that rose to a height of 131ft (40m). For many Roman visitors, this may have been the largest building they had ever entered in their life.
Berkeley (pronounced 'barkly') is a perfectly preserved 840-year-old castle with a keep, dungeon and splendid staterooms with original tapestries, furniture and silver. The castle was most famously the scene of King Edward II's gruesome murder in 1327. It is believed that Edward was deposed by his French consort, Queen Isabella, and her paramour, the Earl of Mortimer. The castle also played an important role in the English Civil War (1642-1649). The oldest part of the castle was built in 1153 by Roger De Berkeley, a Norman knight, and has remained in the family ever since. The surrounding meadows, now the setting for pleasant Elizabethan-style gardens, were once flooded to make a formidable moat.
The quaint and picturesque country town of Stratford-Upon-Avon (which, as its name suggests, rests on the banks of the River Avon) is the historic birthplace of William Shakespeare. Visitors can explore Shakespeare's birthplace, Mary Arden's House (where his mother lived before marrying his father), his wife Anne Hathaway's cottage, as well as the school Shakespeare attended. Stratford-Upon-Avon is within easy access of the Cotswolds, set in the beautiful, rural Warwickshire countryside. A vintage train service, the 'Shakespeare Express', offers a fun way to access Stratford-Upon-Avon from Birmingham or Henley. Even those who are not much interested in the biographical details of the Bard will find Stratford-Upon-Avon charming.
The fascinating story of Georgian Bath is wonderfully presented by the Museum of Bath Architecture. The museum is the natural place to start any sightseeing expedition of Bath. It is housed in the Gothic-styled Countess of Huntingdon's Methodist Chapel, which was built in 1765 and renovated in 1984 by the Bath Preservation Trust. Inside, visitors are treated to a unique exhibition, with installations describing how Bath developed from a small provincial spa to the most fashionable resort in Georgian England. Using models, maps, paintings, reconstructions, live crafting demonstrations and hands-on exhibits, including a touch-screen computer, a visit to the museum is an informative and entertaining experience. Budget about two hours to take it all in.
Distinguished astronomer William Herschel used a telescope he built himself to discover the planet Uranus in 1781, thus securing his place in history as one of the greatest astronomers of all time. His observations, and the telescopes that he built, doubled the known size of the solar system in his time. The telescope through which Uranus was first spied was built in the delightful Georgian townhouse that today houses the Herschel Museum of Astronomy. Visitors to the museum can view Herschel's workshop, as well as the original kitchen and the music room in the house where William lived with his sister, Caroline, at the end of the 18th century.
Bath's comprehensive Fashion Museum brings alive the story of fashion over the last 400 years, from the late-16th century to the present day. The huge collection is fetchingly displayed on hundreds of dummies, providing a chronological journey through changing styles over the centuries. Visitors can listen to an audio tour or take part in a conducted guided tour of fashion through the ages. Apart from looking at all the fashion, there are opportunities to try on some replica garments for both kids and adults. A highly popular attraction that will appeal to visitors of all ages and from all walks of life, you should budget about two hours to do the museum justice.
Bath's best-known resident, Elizabethan novelist Jane Austen, is celebrated in this permanent exhibition which showcases her life and work. Bath was her home between 1801 and 1806, and her love and knowledge of the city is reflected in her novels Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, which are set in Georgian Bath. The Jane Austen Centre also runs an annual and extremely popular Jane Austen Festival, which holds the Guinness World Record for the largest gathering of people dressed in Regency costumes. If you are one of the many people for whom Bath immediately conjures associations with Austen and her literary world, this museum is a must.
Chief among Oxford's many academic and architectural attractions is the unique Bodleian Library, which is spread throughout several buildings across the city. The central core of this collection of buildings is set in Radcliffe Square, and includes the historic Duke Humfrey's Library, dating from the 15th century, and the Divinity School with its magnificent Gothic vaulted ceiling, which is open to the public. Only members can use the reading rooms of this library, which contain a copy of every book printed in Britain since 1610, and no books are ever loaned out. Guided tours are available to view the main buildings. The library hosts many fantastic exhibitions and events and it is worth checking what's on during your visit to Oxford.
The Ashmolean Museum houses a fascinating and extensive collection of art and archaeology covering four thousand years of history, ranging from the ancient civilisations of Egypt, Greece and Rome to the 20th century. Exhibitions include sculpture, ceramics, musical instruments and paintings, all housed in a striking old building. Founded in 1683, it is the United Kingdom's oldest public museum, and one of the oldest museums in the world. The collection is extensive and impressively varied so there is something to interest all visitors. There is a restaurant and a gift shop at the Ashmolean.
Christchurch, one of Oxford's most renowned university colleges, possesses an important collection of about 200 paintings and 2,000 drawings, mainly by the Italian masters. Works by Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael and Rubens are to be seen here, along with examples from Van Dyck, Frans Hals and Hugo van der Goes. The entire collection cannot be displayed at one time because of space constraints, but the exhibition changes every few months. There are also displays of 18th-century glass and Russian icons. Budget at least an hour to soak up the lovely sights.
The photo opportunity afforded from the top makes it completely worth climbing the 99 stairs of the Carfax Tower in the centre of Oxford's shopping district. The tower-top is the best place from which to view the 'dreaming spires' of this architecturally beautiful city. The tower is the only remnant of the 14th-century St Martin's Church, demolished in 1896 to improve the traffic flow at the junction of Cornmarket and Queen Streets. On the first floor a display depicts the history of the church, while information boards in the tower-top identify the landmarks and spires in the panoramic view. On the eastern side of the tower is a clock with two figures (known as the 'Quarter Boys') that strike the quarter hours.
The oldest botanical garden in the country, Oxford's enormous collection of more than 7,000 species of plants has been growing for four centuries. It was founded as a 'physic garden' by the Earl of Danby in 1621, but today the Oxford Botanic Garden's biodiversity is renowned for being even greater than that of a tropical rainforest. One does not, however, have to be a horticulturalist to enjoy the beautifully planted walled garden, exotic greenhouses, herbaceous borders, and rock and water gardens that make up this botanic feast - the plants are wonderfully arranged, and provide a memorable and calming aesthetic experience. An ideal site for a picnic, take the whole family along for an unforgettable day spent in immaculate natural surroundings.
In order to separate the Roman Empire in Britain from the native 'barbarians', Emperor Hadrian ordered the building of an impressive wall in the year 122. Taking approximately six years to complete, the wall stretches for roughly 80 miles (120km) from South Shields to Ravenglass, passing through present-day Newcastle. Dotted along it are several forts, temples, turrets and mile castles, and visitors can explore these fascinating 2,000-year-old remains, as well as the often stunningly beautiful surrounding countryside. Hadrian's Wall was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, and continues to delight and amaze historically-minded visitors to the north of England.
The Peak District was England's first national park. This beautiful region sits in the central and northern parts of England, largely within the picturesque county of Derbyshire. Diverse landscapes, abundant wildlife and a rich historic heritage combine with busy market towns and thriving cities such as Sheffield and Manchester. With over 22 million visitors annually, the Peak District is a major UK tourist destination, and the Peak District National Park is one of the most visited parks in the world.
The district is generally divided into three main areas, each with its own distinctive topography. White Peak in the south is characterised by its limestone landscapes with a blend of flat plateaus and gentle valleys, while the South West Peak is a mix of hay meadows and moorland. The most sparsely populated area is Dark Peak in the north, where dramatic gritstone plateaus, craggy edges and ridges contrast with deep valleys. The whole region is rife with quaint towns, majestic historic homes, old mills and museums, as well as plenty to please the outdoor enthusiast, including top-class rock climbing, caving and fly fishing. Visitors can enjoy an authentic Bakewell pudding in the eponymous village, take a leisurely hot air balloon ride for a bird's eye view, mountain bike in the Hope Valley near Charleston, or travel back in time in an impressive country manor.
It is not hard to see why the Peak District is so immensely popular, and it is well worth spending some time exploring its many treasures. An excellent choice for visitors who plan to rent their own car while on holiday in the UK.
Nicknamed the 'Theatre of Dreams', Old Trafford has since 1878 been home to Manchester United, England's premier football club. More than 200,000 visitors come each year to marvel at the home of the likes of Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney, and to share in some of the famous 'Man U magic'. Guided tours of the stadium run every 10 minutes, and the award-winning on-site museum is chock-full of fascinating trivia, memorabilia and interactive exhibits, guaranteed to delight fans and perhaps even win over a few new ones. The Red Café, in the North Stand of the stadium, is open daily and serves up delicious food for those needing replenishment, while the Megastore in the East Stand sells every conceivable type of Manchester United merchandise, from replica kits to posters and key chains.
The Tate Liverpool is home to the biggest collection of modern art in the UK outside of London, and a browse through its galleries is always an afternoon well spent. Situated in Liverpool's historic Albert Dock in a converted warehouse, the gallery has an impressive collection of 20th and 21st century works of modern art, selected from the Tate Collection, and exhibited through regularly-changing, themed displays. There are also several temporary exhibitions of contemporary art and the gallery hosts various events and educational programmes throughout the year. Some of the artists on display include JMW Turner, Kenneth Noland, Henri Matisse, Paul Gauguin and Antony Gormley. Budget at least a few hours' worth of browsing to do the collection justice.
The BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Arts is a unique and fascinating collection of ever-changing exhibits, set in an old flourmill on the south bank of the River Tyne. The biggest gallery of its kind, the Centre allows visitors to explore the innovative and unusual world of top contemporary artists, both local and international. The BALTIC Centre also plays host to various performances, activities and talks, and visitors have the opportunity to interact with the current artist-in-residence. Some of the Centre's past and present exhibitors include Sam Taylor-Wood, Wang Du, Sofia Stevi, Susan Hiller and Keith Haring. Check out the official website listed below for details on what's showing during your visit.
Award-winning Castle Howard is one of York's most striking attractions. Home to the Howard family for over 300 years, the castle took 100 years to build, outliving several architects, craftsmen and three earls, before eventually becoming the setting for the popular TV series, Brideshead Revisited. The spectacular estate comprises acres of farmland and exquisite gardens, while the interior is a treasure trove of paintings, furniture, sculptures and more. Visitors can enjoy a self-guided tour, but historical costumed guides are available to answer questions and share information about the history of the house, the Howard family and the collections. Regular guided tours are also available, and the castle frequently plays host to a range of exhibitions, lectures, events and dinners. The castle also has a gift shop, cafés and a plant centre.
For over a thousand years, York Minster has been the principal place of worship in York and its surrounding areas. The largest Gothic cathedral in Europe, this impressive building is open to the public and visitors can enjoy the peace and beauty of the interior of the church and its many stained glass windows, including the well-known Rose Window. Visitors are also able to marvel at the fascinating ancient remains held beneath the church, in the Undercroft, and to enjoy the spectacular views from the top of its 275-step tower. Audio tours are available and York Minster also has its own gift shop, as well as a restaurant and café.
Set on a 'Viking Dig' archaeological site, the Jorvik Viking Centre is a fascinating exploration of the Viking presence in York over 1,000 years ago. Between 1976 and 1981, the York Archaeological Trust excavated thousands of Viking-era objects, including wooden houses, alleyways and fence lines, all part of the ancient centre of Viking power in England, Jorvik. Shortly after, the centre opened its doors and swiftly became a popular tourist attraction in the city. With over 800 items on display, this 'living history site' presents informative exhibits, reconstructions of the excavated Viking village (including authentic smells and sounds!) and costumed 'Viking' guides, offering visitors the chance to experience what life was like in 975 AD.
A highly popular event is the annual Jorvik Viking Festival in February, when Vikings roam the streets of York once more. Enjoy weaponry displays, hands-on activities (including shield-building and excavating), re-enactments of Viking boat burials, guided walks, an evening of ancient tales and songs, and much more.
Not for the faint-hearted, the York Dungeons present a fascinating journey back in time, and visitors are guaranteed a ghoulish, grisly experience that will be hard to forget. With attractions that run the gamut from the plague-riddled streets of 14th-century York, to the Labyrinth of the Lost and its ghostly Lost Roman Legion, to adventures with the legendary highwayman Dick Turpin, to the Pit of Despair, Witch Trials, and a recreated Viking attack, visitors should brace themselves for a hair-raising tour of the more macabre aspects of York's history. Be tried and convicted in a Judgement of Sinners trial, witness hangings, and marvel at the life-like waxworks on display. The tour is not recommended for those with a nervous disposition or a weak stomach, and children must be accompanied by an adult; nevertheless, the tour is actually as funny as it is scary and is a favourite with all ages.
It may not seem like everybody's cup of tea, but the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry is a truly fascinating and varied collection of exhibits, displays and more, that will appeal to visitors of all ages. Fifteen different galleries crammed full of interesting items are housed in the key historic site of one of the world's oldest railway stations, Liverpool Road Station. Some of the permanent exhibits include the Revolution Manchester interactive technology gallery; the captivating Collections Centre with anything from antique microscopes to memorabilia; a 4D cinema; and the Air and Space Hall. The Special Exhibitions gallery plays host to several touring exhibitions annually. The museum also houses a shop, café and restaurant, as well as several picnic areas. A highly recommended outing for the entire family, budget at least half a day to take in all the sights at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry (better known as MOSI).
Situated on an arm of the Bridgewater Canal, the world-class, £42-million concert venue of Bridgewater Hall holds over 250 performances a year and is home to one of Britain's longest-running orchestras, the Hallé Orchestra. This architecturally striking building can house just under 2,500 audience members and the main auditorium is centred around a remarkable 5,500-pipe organ. The Hall plays host not only to classical music, but has also seen a range of popular music artists such as the legendary James Brown, indie artist Badly Drawn Boy and guitarist John Williams. Bridgewater Hall is also home to the award-winning Charles Hallé restaurant, as well as the Stalls Café Bar.
Home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, Chatsworth House is one of Europe's greatest private houses. It is set on the River Derwent in the Peak District National Park. The estate comprises the 16th-century house, a 1,000-acre park, a farmyard, miles of free walking trails and spectacular gardens. Dubbed the 'Palace of the Peak', the house contains a treasure trove of antiques and impressive art works, some dating back 4,000 years. Thirty of the magnificently preserved rooms are open to the public. Wardens are on hand to provide information and answer questions, while an audio guide is also available.
The manicured gardens boast a yew maze, sculptures and several impressive fountains including the Cascade, a 24-step waterfall that drops 600ft (183m) down the hill towards the house. There is a well-stocked farm shop selling locally produced and home-grown items, as well as the Farmyard Children's Shop, the Carriage House Shop, Orangery Shop and Garden Shop. There are several restaurant options to choose from, and picnicking in the grounds is encouraged. Chatsworth House has appeared in the recent film adaptation of Jane Austen's and the house plays host to several exciting events throughout the year. It is well worth allocating several hours to explore this fine historic estate and its gardens, while those on a tighter budget can enjoy the dramatic surrounds of the park for free.
For Beatles fans, The Beatles Story Experience is an absolute must. Set in the trendy and historic Albert Dock building, The Beatles Story allows visitors to trace the development of the Fab Four, from their early days playing in Hamburg to the mass hysteria of Beatlemania, the eventual break-up of the band and their ensuing solo careers. Eighteen different features, as well as the Living History audio tour with the voices of Sir Paul McCartney, Beatles producer Sir George Martin and band manager Brian Epstein, continue to delight fans and win over new ones. See George Harrison's first guitar, view the world through a collection of John Lennon's signature round lens glasses, explore the Yellow Submarine and enjoy a recreation of the stage at the Cavern Club on Mathew Street, where The Beatles played over 290 times.
As well as the Beatle Story Experience, Liverpool also boasts several other Beatles-related tours and sights that are well worth exploring, including a Magical Mystery Bus Tour of famous Beatles sights such as Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields, Paul McCartney's former home at 20 Forthlin Road, the famous Cavern Club and the Mathew Street Gallery that houses the art work of John Lennon.
The fascinating Merseyside Maritime Museum traces the history and development of the city of Liverpool as a major port. The museum houses a range of collections, from an exhibition on the tragic and brutal transatlantic slave trade (in which Liverpool played a major role), to artworks reflecting Liverpool's maritime past, artefacts from the Titanic and the Lusitania, maritime archives and more. Visitors also gain access to the quaysides opposite the museum, and to two historic vessels. A worthwhile sight, budget at least two hours to experience it properly. There is no admission fee and the whole family should enjoy the experience.
On the edge of an industrial estate and just minutes away from the Liverpool Airport, the half-timbered black and white Speke Hall is a piece of history tucked in among modern-day Liverpool. Once on the brink of ruin, this purportedly haunted 450-year-old Tudor house is now a popular Liverpool attraction, and is also the departure point for tours to the neighbouring former home of Sir Paul McCartney. Speke Hall boasts beautifully restored rooms, lovely gardens, and spectacular views of the Mersey basin and the North Wales Hills across the high bank of The Bund. Speke Hall is also a popular venue for events such as weddings and it plays host to various concerts, particularly over the summer. Guided tours by costumed guides are available, and tours of the roof space are also available on selected days. The Home Farm is about five minutes from the house and has a visitor's centre, a shop and a good restaurant.
In roughly 1140, the Abbey of St Augustine was founded by Robert Fitzhardinge. Over the years, the abbey was altered, eventually becoming the model of the 'Hall Church' style in England. When the abbey was finally dissolved in 1539, the nave was demolished and rebuilt, and became what is now the landmark Bristol Cathedral. The original Abbey Gatehouse and the Chapter House (which dates back to 1165) remain, and visitors can enjoy the beauty and peace of this ancient holy site and its garden surrounds. The Bristol Cathedral also hosts free music recitals at certain times of year. Public guided tours of the cathedral are available; check the website listed below for times and details. There is a shop and cafe on the cathedral grounds.
The Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery is an impressive collection of exhibits, objects and artworks, housed in a beautiful Edwardian Baroque building. As well as the permanent exhibits of regional, national and international artefacts, the museum hosts a range of temporary exhibitions and has a variety of different periods of artworks on display in its galleries. From natural history to the World Wildlife Gallery, decorative arts collections and archaeological displays, the Bristol City Museum and Gallery has something for everyone. The museum and gallery also plays host to various special events, workshops and children's activities throughout the year. Budget at least two or three hours to take it all in.
Celebrated, together with Durham Castle, as one of Britain's first UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Durham Cathedral is one of the finest examples of Norman architecture in England. Building began on the church in 1093, and it was largely completed after about 40 years. An icon of northeast England, the cathedral was voted as the nation's best-loved building in a nationwide BBC poll held in 2001. Renowned for its immense architecture, ancient history and deep religious roots, the cathedral is a must-see attraction for any visitor to Durham. Guided tours are conducted daily, and offer an informative and enriching way to explore the magnificent structure.
Durham's colourful local history museum is housed in a medieval church, offering some interactive, fun and interesting exhibits that detail the story of Durham, from ancient times to the present day. Situated close to the UNESCO-listed cathedral and castle, the Durham Heritage Centre contains a varied collection of artefacts. Exhibits include fascinating items like the 'Death Chair', used to carry sick boys from Durham School to the infirmary in days of yore, and a chilling recreation of a cell from the notorious Northgate Gaol. The Heritage Centre also has a brass-rubbing centre and offers an audio-visual show of the history of the town. A highly recommended attraction, budget at least two hours to take it all in.
A row of stables along the River Wear close to the historic heart of Durham has been converted into a set of creative workspaces, where local artists can be seen at work. Visitors can watch crafts like woodcarving, glasswork, painting, micro brewing, embroidery and textile arts in progress. Fowler's Yard is run by the Durham Dramatic Society and is an exciting initiative, bringing international attention to Durham's hard-at-work local artists. There is also a coffee shop, where tourists can relax and soak up the wonderful atmosphere of the area. There is no charge for entrance and even if you don't but anything watching the work in progress is interesting.
Durham's beautiful, Grade 1-listed medieval manor house, Crook Hall, dates from around the 13th century, and is a short distance from the town centre. The house and magnificent gardens are open to the public, and cream teas are served in a pretty courtyard in summer, or in front of a roaring log fire in winter. Most visitors are intrigued by the 17th-century Jacobean room in the house, allegedly haunted by the ghost of the 'White Lady', a niece of a former resident of the house. Crook Hall is one of Durham's most popular attractions and the old family house has charm and character as well as historical appeal. As the gardens are one of the chief attractions there is a discounted ticket price in winter.
Few buildings in the world can claim to have been in constant use for more than 900 years, but the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Durham Castle is one of them. It was originally built in the 11th century (opposite Durham Cathedral), to protect the bishop from 'barbaric northern tribes' in the wake of the Norman Conquest of 1066. Over the centuries the core of the ancient castle remained intact, but there have been numerous renovations and extensions. The castle's aspect today is imposing. The Great Hall is one of the largest in Britain, created by Bishop Antony Bek in the 14th century. Since 1840, when the bishop moved elsewhere, it has housed a college of Durham University. Visitors are welcome to a guided tour, lasting about 45 minutes.
The Armley Mills Industrial Museum was a working cloth mill until 1969, when the City Council turned it into an award-winning industrial museum. In fact, it was once the world's largest wool mill. Exhibits trace the history of textiles, clothing, engineering and locomotive manufacture in Yorkshire. Particularly interesting is a section devoted to the 1920s silent movie projectors, operating water wheels and the huge spinning mules that were in use in the 18th and 19th centuries. The museum has an unexpectedly lovely riverside setting and is the ideal place to learn about the industries that the city of Leeds was built on.
There is surely no more interesting day out in Leeds than a visit to the Thackray Museum, which tells the story of medical advances through the ages. A recreated Victorian street, complete with sights, sounds and smells, highlights the lives, ailments and treatment of a bygone era in vivid clarity, and visitors can also step inside the human body in an interactive gallery. The museum was the vision of Paul Thackray, a former director of a medical supplies company, and since its opening in 1997 has become one of Britain's best museums as well as one of the largest medical museums in the UK.
In the heart of the city, the Leeds Art Gallery offers a feast for art lovers, its collections covering everything from traditional prints, watercolours, paintings and sculpture to weird and wonderful contemporary works. The gallery is renowned for having the best collection of British art outside of London - a fiercely contested accolade. Adjoining the gallery is the Henry Moore Institute, with its acclaimed sculpture study centre, and a full programme of sculpture exhibitions that run all year round. There is no admission charge for the Leeds Art Gallery and the collection could easily captivate visitors for a few hours.
This fun, lively museum contains six themed galleries (covering War, Tournaments, Self-Defence, Hunting, Oriental Weaponry and the new and attractive Hall of Steel), and is filled with interactive displays, dramatic interpretations, action scenarios and some really exciting exhibits. This is more a cross between a theme park and a museum, bringing history alive in many unique ways, from watching gun-makers ply their craft to demonstrations of English traditions like falconry and horsemanship. Those interested in weaponry and military history will be thrilled by the extensive collection of the museum and the chance to witness things previously only read about.
The entertaining Abbey House Museum is contained in the gatehouse of the picturesque, ruined Kirkstall Abbey, dating from 1152. Abbey House allows visitors to walk around the streets of 1880s Leeds, while the upstairs section features galleries detailing the history of Kirkstall Abbey and the social history of the area. The museum has won awards for being family-friendly and fun for children. There is a restaurant and a gift shop at the museum. What is left of Kirkstall Abbey is set in lovely grounds by the Aire River and it would be a great pity to visit the museum without exploring the ruins. There is a small playground for children outside the museum.
Towering over the city centre of Nottingham is a magnificent 17th-century mansion, built on a sandstone outcrop (Castle Rock) on the site of the original medieval castle erected by William the Conqueror in 1067. The castle building now houses the city's finest art collection, and a small museum charting the history of the Sherwood Foresters Regiment. The art galleries include interactive displays and the artworks are presented in a vibrant, interesting way. The well-kept grounds of the castle are used for a full calendar of events, from historic pageants to an outdoor theatre season. There are also fascinating cave tours, a medieval-style children's playground and a picnic area, as well as a rather famous statue of Robin Hood himself.
A system of man-made caves carved into the sandstone beneath the city of Nottingham has been developed into a modern, award-winning attraction known as The City of Caves. Anglo-Saxons originally inhabited the caves, and their lifestyle is depicted in dramatic presentations for visitors who come to explore Nottingham's 'underworld'. Over the centuries, the caves have been put to various uses by the locals, and were saved by protestors when developers planned to build a modern shopping centre over the top of them. Now guided tours take visitors through the caves and through the ages, from the mystical 'Enchanted Well', through a working medieval tannery, to the Victorian slum of Drury Hill and a World War II bomb shelter. Please note that The City of Caves is not wheelchair accessible.
Accessed by the A614 highway, Sherwood Forest makes a great getaway close to Nottingham city. Rather reduced from the green splendour it evinced in the days of Robin Hood, Sherwood Forest is nevertheless as ecologically important and interesting as it is historically. Around 500,000 visitors a year come to enjoy Sherwood Forest Country Park, wandering the family nature trails, and admiring the huge ancient oaks and teeming insect and bird life. A big attraction is the mighty Major Oak, still flourishing in the forest after 800 years. Sherwood Forest is also the site of the popular Robin Hood Festival, held annually in summer.
A short distance from the M1 motorway near Nottingham is an ancient limestone gorge, honeycombed with caves, where archaeologists have found traces of Ice Age inhabitants who lived here up to 50,000 years ago. The Cresswell Crags are a rare site, featuring Britain's only known Ice Age-era rock art. At the east end of the gorge visitors can find out its archaeological significance at a museum and education centre, equipped with several high-tech interpretive exhibitions. The area itself can also be explored, rewarding visitors with its sweeping views and interesting rock formations; while actual tours of the caves are run on weekends and during school holidays only. Check the website for details.
Any visit to Birmingham is not complete without visiting the city's 'curry capital' and sampling its unique Balti fare. Originating from the large Kashmiri population, the Balti dish was officially discovered in 1976. The word 'balti' means 'bucket', and refers to the round-bottomed pan, similar to a wok, in which the dish is served. A mouth-watering stir-fried curry with an amalgamation of spices and fresh herbs, newcomers should forget their knives and forks and mop up the sauce with a wad of aromatic naan bread. Located in the Sparkbrook area, ten minutes from the city centre, the Balti Triangle boasts over 50 restaurants dedicated to Eastern cuisine and a smattering of shops, ranging from Asian clothes and fashion to exotic foods and Bollywood merchandise.
A Birmingham landmark, the Selfridges store at the Bull Ring Market boasts a stylish design, proving that contemporary architecture can thrive outside of trendy London. Designed by Future Systems' architects, the knobbly silver façade was inspired by Paco Rabanne's chain mail dresses. Constructed with concrete, which was then painted a glowing blue and adorned with 16,000 polished aluminum disks to create a mottled outer 'skin', the contemporary construction cost just over one million US dollars to build. Transforming Birmingham's urban fabric, the store draws thousands of visitors each week to witness its bizarre design and browse the designer goodies inside.
Boasting part of the largest collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings and drawings in the world, the breathtaking works of luminaries such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne Jones can be found at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. The spectacular Waterhall Gallery of Modern Art is littered with impressionist masterpieces and is not to be missed on any trip to Birmingham; while the same can be said of the Greek, Roman and Ancient Near East Gallery, which never ceases to please. With fine art from the 14th century onwards and an impressive collection of archaeological finds documenting 400,000 years of history, culturally-minded visitors will be entranced. The Edwardian Tea Room provides a cosy space to discuss what you saw in the 40 galleries of this remarkable museum and serves warm beverages, light snacks and scrumptious cakes. Entrance to the permanent collection is free.
A short drive from Birmingham's city centre, the Drayton Manor Theme Park offers an exhilarating alternative to shopping and sightseeing. Loaded with more than 50 rides offering high-octane thrills and a range of attractions, the park provides fun for all ages. Visitors can drop 177 feet (54m) from the world's first stand-up tower, take a watery plunge in a rescue boat down a slippery 180º platform, fly around one of the parks two swirling rollercoasters, or tackle the rapids with friends at Splash Canyon. Family fun at Drayton Manor Theme Park has not been short-circuited either, as a wide variety of child-friendly rides are provided. The Thomas Land area (based on Thomas the Tank Engine) is wildly popular among younger visitors.
As you step foot onto Brighton's Palace Pier, you are overwhelmed by the sound of repetitive arcade music and the inviting scent of popcorn or fried fish. A row of stalls selling fast-food, toys and souvenirs leads visitors towards the arcade, which is filled with an assortment of gaming machines and a couple more eateries. This opens out onto the funfair section at the end of the pier, where a number of rides - including a Ghost Train, Dodge 'Em Cars and a lovely Carousel - attract quite a crowd. A great place for both kids and the young-at-heart to spend the day, Brighton Pier is also a wonderful spot to set up one of the iconic striped deck chairs and just take in the view and soak up the atmosphere.
The Royal Pavilion was built in stages between 1787 and 1823 as a pleasure palace for British royalty and remains one of Brighton and Hove's chief tourist attractions. The interior of the Royal Pavilion is extraordinary in its combination of exotic Asian and quintessentially Brittish design. Classic furnishings belonging to Queen Elizabeth II stand beside fierce gilded dragons and imitation bamboo staircases, while the Music Room and the Great Kitchen are also truly impressive sights. The gardens are reminiscent of revolutionary 1730s landscaping, with curving paths between natural groups of trees and beautiful views afforded at every turn. Allow at least two hours to explore the palace and its noteworthy collections.
There are always plenty of child-friendly musicals and shows playing on London's West End, perfect for family holidaymakers looking to soak up some of the great atmosphere of London's Theatre District. Some West End favourites include The Lion King, Roald Dahl's and the relatively new School of Rock Taking in a theatrical performance on London's West End is one of the iconic tourist experiences that the city has to offer, for children and adults alike, and will be a spectacular amusement for the whole family.
Children will love visiting this world-renowned toy store, located in the heart of London on famous, bustling Regent Street. Hamleys is one of the world's largest toy stores, with six floors of magical, cutting-edge toys and games. The store draws over five million visitors each year and is worth a look even if you're just browsing. The Lego collection at Hamleys (located in the basement area) must be seen to be believed. There are helpful and entertaining service staff all over Hamleys eager to show off new toys and play with the kids - the only difficulty for parents is getting out without buying numerous presents.
Boasting a plethora of exciting, cute and fuzzy animals from over 750 species, the London Zoo is a must for all children and animal lovers. Kids will love the Animal Adventure area, where they can climb, touch, tunnel and splash their way through the zoo discovering animals along the way. Other great habitat areas at London Zoo include Gorilla Kingdom, Penguin Beach, Britain's only (man-made) rainforest area, and a komodo dragon enclosure. The recipient of a Gold Award from the Visit London tourism initiative, the London Zoo is a fail-safe choice for a day of family fun and excitement. Be sure to check the website before you go, as the zoo regularly plays host to a variety of interesting exhibitions, festivals and events.
Perfect for inquisitive children, the Science Museum will captivate, educate and thrill kids of all ages. Featuring dozens of state-of-the-art exhibits, the Science Museum also features a 3D IMAX Theatre. The Museum's rotating exhibitions are topical and intriguing ensuring that kids can visit many times and always learn something new and relevant to their world. Other popular attractions include the space descent VR experience with astronaut Tim Peake as your guide, the Tomorrow's World object gallery, and the interactive Wonderlab gallery.
Located in southwest London, Chessington World of Adventures is a theme park and zoo catering to children of all ages. Featuring rides, roller coasters and water slides, this theme park is best visited during the summer months. The zoo, however, is open all year round. An 'African Adventure' themed area is already proving wildly popular among kids, who'll be able to observe magnificent creatures such as lions, zebras and oryxes, as well as enjoy some traditional African mask displays and listen to some African drumming performances. Other highlights are the exciting events and shows; accommodation is also available, in the form of glamping and elaborately themed hotel rooms.
Children will love spending a fun-filled day at the Bristol Zoo and Garden, where more than 450 species of animals can be found. Most of the exhibits are undercover, making this the perfect destination for family outings come rain or shine. Featuring themed habitat areas, kids will be amazed by Gorilla Island and the Seal and Penguin Coast, where an underwater viewing area makes things a little more exciting. There is also Monkey World, a reptile house, aquariums, exotic birds and an adventure course (ZooRopia) for children of any age to let off some excess energy. The zoo also features a café, gift shop and picnic areas. There is so much to see at Bristol Zoo that a full day's visit is strongly recommended. Parents of children with special needs will be delighted to know that Bristol Zoo prides itself on its accessibility, with all areas navigable by wheelchair.
Located in the beautiful Avon Valley, just four and a half miles (7km) from central Bath, Avon Valley Adventure and Wildlife Park is the perfect day out for families with children. Kids can let loose in the adventure playground, which features a junior assault course, a riverside trail, farm animals like Shetland ponies, llamas and wallabies, a boating pond and even a miniature railway. Younger kids will love the indoor play area where they can enjoy enormous slides and ball pits. Families should pack a picnic to savour on the riverbanks, while the children, and probably even the adults, enjoy the wide open space and exciting activities.
Longleat is a bit of a strange tourist destination, catering simultaneously to two very different markets. On one hand, it is regarded as the best example of high Elizabethan architecture in Britain, and one of the most beautiful stately homes that are open to public tours. The magnificence of the house itself is matched by the splendour of its surroundings, a spectacular mix of landscaped parkland, lakes and formal gardens.
In 1949, Longleat became the first grand home in England to open its doors to the public, and a few years later opened the first safari park outside of Africa. Visitors can drive through eight enclosures, where a wide range of animals can be seen, including elephants, rhinos, giraffes, monkeys, lions and tigers.
In recent years, however, Longleat has also become one of the UK's most popular family tourist attractions, offering a wealth of child-friendly sights and amenities. Try not to lose your kids in the world's longest maze, made up of more than 16,000 English Yews. Alternatively, take the little ones for a ride on the miniature railway or to meet some of the friendly animals at Animal Adventure, before letting them run amok in the Adventure Castle. A great option for a fun, excitement-filled day out for the entire family to enjoy.
Legendary English poet William Wordsworth lived in Dove Cottage from 1799 to 1813, after which time he moved down the road to the more upmarket Rydal Mount and Gardens. The Dove Cottage residence was the site of his most creative phase and is home to the Wordsworth Museum, exhibiting many artefacts that inspired the writer. The Wordsworth Museum has been described as giving 'the most attention to the fusion of English literature and English art' of any similar establishment in Britain, and is well worth a look.
Wordsworth's final abode at Rydal Mount was a stately Victorian house with beautiful views across the valley. This house is also open to the public, and offers visitors lovely walks around the gardens and delicious scones in the tearoom.
There are some wonderful things to see and do in Grizedale Forest, located in the Lake District near the village of Hawkshead. Visitors can go hiking or ride mountain bikes along the beautiful sculpture trail, or else peruse the galleries of the Brewery Arts Centre. There are easy walking trails and longer routes for the fit. The forest is situated between the lakes of Coniston and Windermere, and offers lovely views of the lakes and mountains between the tree trunks. Grizedale Forest also has an on-site café, bike shop and gift shop for visitors to enjoy. Don't forget to pack your camera, as the area is almost unbelievably picturesque.
Hill Top is a working farm formerly owned by Beatrix Potter, the famous author of children's books such as and . The cottage, along with Miss Potter's original furnishings and artworks, has been well preserved, and the quaint garden is still kept as she had made it, with a random selection of flowers, herbs, fruit and vegetables. The 2006 film Miss Potter is a wonderful introduction to the life and work of the author, and features stunning scenes of Hill Top and the surrounding countryside. Fans of this interesting author and her quaint English world will relish a visit to the farm.
Holker Estate, the home of Lord and Lady Cavendish, is a wonderful attraction for visitors to the Lake District; in fact, it is known as one of the best-loved stately homes in Britain. The elegant Holker Hall and its gardens are open to the public, and there is a fantastic restaurant and gift shop on the premises. The lovely gardens extend into parkland and many visitors will enjoy a ramble in the countryside starting at the house. The estate also hosts the Cartmel Racecourse, a favourite among horse racing enthusiasts. An estate of rare class and elegance, Holker has recently been featured on the popular TV series Masterchef UK.
The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge has been described as 'one of the greatest art collections in the UK', and was named 'best small museum in Europe' by the Director of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Setting aside a few hours to explore the museum should be first on every art lover's list of things to do in Cambridge. The Fitzwilliam Museum houses an extensive art collection from a number of countries across Europe and the Near East. Visitors can marvel at the inspiring sculptures, drawings, prints, armour, pottery, paintings and antiquities on display, which date from the 14th century to the present day.
Kettle's Yard is an art lover's dream and one of the finest art galleries in Britain. Originally the private home of Jim Ede (former curator of the Tate), Kettle's Yard houses the impressive art collection that Ede donated to the University of Cambridge in 1966, and the house itself is charming. The gallery's permanent collection consists of mainly 20th and 21st century artists, including Henry Moore and Joan Miro. The informal art gallery space is a popular attraction in Cambridge for tourists and locals alike. Budget at least a couple of hours to do the collection justice and to spend some time soaking up the scenery. The Kettle Yard is currently going through renovations; they expect to reopen in early 2018.
Perhaps the most popular attraction in the town of Cambridge is the university itself. Steeped in tradition, Cambridge University is the second-oldest university in England, losing out only to Oxford University. The university's colleges are the main attraction on this beautiful campus. Viewing the colleges gives visitors the opportunity to stroll through Britain's architectural history. Peterhouse is the oldest college, founded in 1284; while Homerton College was approved in 2010, making it the newest addition to the Cambridge family. King's College and the Gothic-style King's College Chapel are not to be missed on this prestigious campus. The intricate chapel was built over a period of nearly a hundred years (1446 to 1531) and is home to the famous Chapel Choir, made up of college students as well as younger choristers from King's College School.
A popular Cambridge attraction for visitors wishing to learn more about the geology of the area surrounding Cambridge is the University's Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences. The museum was opened in 1904 and houses an extensive collection of fossils, rocks, minerals and crystals. Visitors can view the fossil collection of Dr John Woodward, a well-known 17th and 18th century British geologist, as well as rocks collected by Charles Darwin and other interesting artefacts that chart more than 550 million years of the planet's history. The Sedgwick Museum is fascinating even for those who are uninitiated in the Earth Sciences.
The Great St Mary's Church, as it is locally known, is central to Cambridge and its university life. It is the official university church, and according to university rules, all Cambridge undergraduates must live within a three-mile (5km) radius of the church, while university officers are required to live within 20 miles (32km). St Mary's was completed in 1205, before being destroyed by fire and rebuilt again in 1290. Cambridge University sermons are conducted here, and day visitors are invited to climb the tower and appreciate the lovely views it affords of the town's historic market square. The church hosts many events and visitors are welcome at services.
This church in the heart of the city is one of London's top tourist attractions, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and rivals Notre Dame for the accolade of most famous church in the world. Westminster Abbey draws millions of tourists each year, in addition to the locals who worship there every week. The abbey is the site of royal coronations and weddings (including Prince William's wedding to Kate Middleton in April 2011). Visitors can marvel at the Gothic architecture, enormous stained-glass windows and paintings that go back 1,000 years, and guided tours are available in several languages. A fantastic sight, Westminster Abbey is a must for visitors looking to experience the heart and soul of England's rich cultural history. Anybody is free to attend the regular religious services held in Westminster Abbey and tourists are also welcome between certain hours.
Originally built for Edward the Confessor more than 1,000 years ago, the Houses of Parliament, or Palace of Westminster, remained the principal residence of Britain's monarchs for the next 400 years. Thereafter, it became the administrative centre of the country. In 1834 the Great Fire burnt everything except Westminster Hall, and the present Gothic building was completed in the 1840s. It is perhaps most famous for the clock tower, commonly called Big Ben. Located at the north end of the Palace of Westminster in London, the gigantic clock tower has many distinctions: it is the largest four-faced clock, and third-largest freestanding clock in the world. Built in 1859, each minute hand is 14 feet (4.3m) long, and the largest bell inside weighs more than 13 tons. Although Parliament is closed to visitors during session, it is still a popular attraction for tourists because of its picturesque exterior. While Big Ben itself is not open to overseas visitors, UK residents may arrange tours with a local Member of Parliament. Be warned, though, inside the clock tower there are 334 stairs and no lift. Check the website to see what tours of parliament are available and when.
The twin spires of the iconic drawbridge known as Tower Bridge stand 213 feet (65m) above the Thames River, and form one of the most popular tourist attractions in London. Often mistakenly referred to as London Bridge (which is a bit further upstream), Tower Bridge functions as both a roadway and a major tourist sight, and provides a magnificent view of downtown London from its upper walkway. Inside is the Tower Bridge Exhibition, which showcases the Victorian engine that powers the drawbridge, as well as a series of informative displays detailing the history of Tower Bridge, which stretches back to 1886.
Originally known as the Museum of Manufacture, the Victoria and Albert Museum (or V&A Museum, as it is popularly known) in London is a veritable treasure-trove of artefacts from cultures around the world. Devoted to art and design, it houses about 2.3 million works, including paintings, photographs, sculptures, textiles, furniture, metalwork, ceramics and fashion going back 5,000 years. The V&A Museum also hosts regular family activities and workshops, and has an on-site sculpture garden. A must-see tourist attraction in London, the Victoria and Albert Museum is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon, poring over fascinating items and learning more about the world's cultural bounty.
One of the prettiest lakes in Cumbria, Windermere has gathered around it a number of bustling communities offering a lot of fun things to see and do, and has become a very popular tourist destination in the Lake District. The pretty towns that surround the lake offer a number of good restaurants, cafes, shops and pubs. The town of Windermere, which includes the merged Bowness-on-Windermere, has a steamboat museum that operates cruises on the lake; while Ambleside is home to Stock Ghyll Force, a spectacular 70 foot (21m) waterfall, and a local history repository at the Armitt Library and Museum. At the southern end of the lake is Lakeside Pier, which is home to the Aquarium of the Lakes.
Gloucester is known primarily as a ceremonial city, and as one of the larger towns in the Cotswolds region. It is home to several popular attractions, including Gloucester Cathedral, whose richly-decorated halls contributed to the set of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films; Prinknash Abbey, with its monastery, Roman mosaic, and bird park; the 18-century Docks, home to museums, shops, restaurants and pubs; and the City Museum and Art Gallery, which houses many artefacts relating to Gloucester's Roman heritage. Just outside the city of Gloucester is the picture-perfect Gloucestershire village of Painswick, and any number of beautiful walks and hikes in the surrounding countryside.
The city of Norwich, the capital of East Anglia, grew to prominence as the primary market town for the fertile surrounding region. The famous Norwich Cathedral is one of the prettiest in England and, along with the ancient Norwich Castle, dominates the city. Once a royal palace, Norwich Castle is now the centrepiece of a museum housing one of England's finest regional collections of natural history, art and archaeology.
Another great attraction in Norwich is Eaton Park, the largest of the city's historic parks. The vast areas of open parklands, shady avenues of trees and beautiful gardens make this an appealing destination for a relaxing picnic or a leisurely walk. Park facilities include tennis courts, cricket grounds, a cycle track and a skateboard park, as well as a putt-putt course, a children's play area and a miniature railway. There is also a café at the park for refreshments.
On the coast, 20 miles (32km) east of Norwich, visitors can discover Great Yarmouth Pleasure Beach, which occupies a nine-acre seafront site and encompasses over 70 rides and attractions.
Penzance is home to much more than Gilbert and Sullivan's famous pirates, though it has a long association with the arts and continues to be a centre for art and music in Cornwall. Originally a market and fishing town, Penzance has a bustling harbour area with a Victorian promenade that features an art deco open-air swimming pool. Although many of the historic buildings in Penzance have been pulled down, there are still worthwhile sights like the Egyptian House, St Mary's Church, and the Union Hotel. Morrab Gardens are a pleasant setting to spend an afternoon in good weather. Penzance is also beautifully situated in a region with bucket-loads of natural charm.
The Natural History Museum is one of England's very best tourist attractions. Located on Exhibition Road in South Kensington, the Natural History Museum truly will appeal to everyone, from excitable kids to discerning adults. Housed in a gorgeous Romanesque building, the Natural History Museum has often been described as a 'cathedral of nature', boasting fascinating collections magnificently displayed beneath vaulted ceilings. As soon as you step foot inside the museum, you are greeted by the skeleton of a blue whale looming over you. The Natural History Museum has one of the world's greatest collections of prehistoric fossils and remains, and is home to a series of animatronic dinosaurs that will spellbind kids.
The Museum is divided into four 'zones' for ease of navigation. The Blue Zone deals mainly with animals, and (along with the dinosaurs) is famous for its life-size model of a blue whale that hangs from the ceiling, and its sabre-tooth tiger skeleton. The Green Zone presents exhibitions that focus on plants, insects and ecology, including a termite mound and a cross-section of the world's largest tree, the California redwood. The Red Zone takes a look at the earth's subterranean processes: visitors can try out the earthquake simulator, be moved by the Pompeii exhibition, and ogle at an enormous collection of gemstones, minerals and rocks. Finally, the Orange Zone - built in 2008 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Darwin's Origin of the Species - is primarily a research centre, but also features several cutting-edge exhibitions that will thrill visitors, including the Attenborough Studio, where audio-visual shows are staged.
A sure-fire winner of a tourist attraction, the Natural History Museum should feature on any holidaymaker's list of things to do in London. Budget at least three or four hours to do the museum's collection justice.
The Borough Market, located on Southwark Street at the southern end of London Bridge, is one of the United Kingdom's premier food markets, and a simply wonderful place to ramble around and find some delicious treats to fuel the day's sightseeing. What distinguishes the Borough Market is its community-centred atmosphere, with most of the stallholders either being producers themselves, or possessing intimate knowledge of the goods they are selling. Visitors are encouraged to chat to the stallholders about their produce, and to find out more about the fresh fruit and vegetables, cheeses, jams, meats and artisanal breads and pastries that are so lovingly and elegantly displayed. Perfectly situated, the Borough Market makes a great pit-stop on any walking tour of south-central London's tourist attractions. The Borough Market is also a great place to shop for special souvenirs for loved ones back home.
An absolute must for history buffs, London's Imperial War Museum endeavours to give visitors an understanding of modern warfare, and an appreciation of its effects on both individuals and societies at large. The Imperial War Museum is, in fact, a 'family' of five museums, three of which are located in London. The flagship museum is found in Lambeth Road in south London, and features a unique collection of art, films, photographs, sound recordings, writings and objects that preserve the reactions and memories of Britons who have lived through wartime conditions.
The Churchill War Rooms, located in King Charles Street, form another fascinating branch of the Imperial War Museum. These bunkers housed the British heads of state during the Blitz, and today offer visitors a truly incredible trip back in time, where they can navigate the underground mazes and view charts and maps that haven't been touched since 1945.
The last of the Imperial War Museum branches in London is the HMS Belfast, a warship that is moored in the Thames. Tours of the HMS Belfast take in the gun turrets, the mess decks and the clamorous bowels of the ship, and provide an exciting and educational experience that will be appreciated by visitors of all ages. A highly recommended sight, all three London branches of the Imperial War Museum can be visited in a day.
Attracting about 500,000 visitors a year, southwest England's spectacular Cheddar Gorge makes a wonderful daytrip destination, guaranteed to delight lovers of the great outdoors. The limestone gorge, located at the southern end of the Mendip Hills, near the village of Cheddar in Somerset, has been named Britain's 'second-greatest natural wonder' (after the Dan yr Ogof caves in Wales), and plays host to a variety of attractions and activities.
For the cost of admission, visitors gain access to the exciting Cliff-Top Gorge Walk; the spellbinding Gough's Cave, full of stalactites and stalagmites; and the Museum of Prehistory, where the oldest skeleton in Britain - the 'Cheddar Man', who is believed to be about 9,000 years old - can be viewed. There's also a thrilling Crystal Quest feature, which is sure to delight the young ones, consisting of a cave filled with models of mythical and magical beings. A highly recommended tourist attraction, Cheddar Gorge makes a wonderful day excursion for visitors to southwest England.
One of Britain's most popular and most mysterious attractions, Castlerigg Stone Circle is a must-see for visitors to the Lake District. The Neolithic structure, which is comprised of 38 free-standing stones, some of which reach as high as 10 feet (3m), continues to intrigue eminent archaeologists and casual visitors alike, and its original purpose is still not exactly known. Demonstrating a remarkable geometric and astronomical precision (parts of the circle align perfectly with the sun, moon and stars), it is thought that the 5,000-year-old circle once filled a very important ceremonial or religious function. However, part of what makes Castlerigg such a wonderful sight for modern-day visitors to Cumbria, is its breathtakingly beautiful natural setting.
Located on a slight plateau, the views afforded from the Castlerigg site are simply phenomenal: 360-degree panoramas of the surrounding fells, and excellent vistas of Cumbria's highest peaks, such as Helvellyn, Skiddaw, Grasmoor and Blencathra. Castlerigg has been called 'the most visually-impressive prehistoric monument in Britain' by archaeologist John Waterhouse, and those who make the short trip from Keswick to view the site certainly will not be disappointed.
England has four distinct seasons but the weather is changeable and unpredictable. Summers are warm and winters are cold, but temperatures are milder than on the continent. England is warmer on average than the rest of the UK and gets more sun and less rain throughout the year on average, but it is still frequently damp and a bit dismal weather-wise. Temperatures do not usually drop much below 32°F (0°C) in winter, and in summer they rarely exceed 90°F (32°C).
July and August are the warmest months, although they are also the wettest, while January and February are the coldest months of the year. Rainfall is fairly evenly distributed throughout the year, but late winter/early spring (February to March) is the driest period. Most people prefer to visit England between April and October, when the days are pleasantly long and the weather is mild.
The Avenue Restaurant and Bar is a favourite with the inhabitants of St James, and produces good modern British and Mediterranean food. This minimalist restaurant is good value and is always packed, despite a sometimes patchy service. The best tables are towards the back, on the mezzanine level. Set menus are usually excellent, and competitively priced. Quality wines are available by the glass. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
Situated in the domed interior of an old banking hall, opposite the Bank of England, 1 Lombard Street has become a city institution. The brasserie is always bustling with investment bankers and offers a full á la carte menu for both lunch and dinner, featuring seasonal specialities and an extensive wine list. The restaurant situated behind the brasserie, is a better bet for discreet conversation and for enthusiasts of haute cuisine. The menu at 1776 includes favourites like Black Angus beef with a breadcrumb crust, garlic snails, and pan-fried black cod with pak choi and ponzu sauce. The formal dining environment provides a tranquil setting for appreciating Juri Ravagli's sophisticated cuisine. Open weekdays only, for breakfast, lunch and dinner and the dress code is smart casual. They run a tapas menu from 5pm at the bar.
On a quiet side street just off Knightsbridge and a minutes walk from Harrods, Montpeliano is a wonderfully old-fashioned Italian restaurant, where the food is authentic and the service excellent. The owner is always available, the staff are friendly and welcoming, and the atmosphere has a feel of casual elegance. On warm evenings it is possible to dine al fresco on the outside patio.
The bar at this small but atmospheric pub is always buzzing with locals, while the restaurant often draws visitors from farther afield. Set on a side street a few blocks from High Street Kensington the eating area is awkwardly narrow but makes a good spot for a private and romantic evening á deux, or with a small group of friends. The cheddar and spinach soufflé with wild mushroom sauce, the rib eye on the bone, and the sticky toffee pudding are delicious. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
One of London's finest eateries, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay opened in 1998 as the chef's first independently owned venture. Today it has three Michelin stars - an honour held by only four other British restaurant. With 14 tables seating 44 guests, this exclusive venue has become a must for connoisseurs of fine contemporary cuisine from around the world. Feast on pan-fried scallops from the Isle of Skye, suckling pig and Manjari chocolate delice. A vegetarian menu is also available. Open for lunch and dinner Monday to Friday, book well in advance.
A cosy atmosphere with contemporary trimmings and the smell of fresh oven-baked pizza in the air, the trendy Fire and Stone pizza joint in Covent Garden is ideal for a family outing, a casual meal with friends or a romantic dinner. This franchise pizzeria produces a large variety of pizzas, themed on the different flavours of the continents and made with only the freshest ingredients. Complement your meal with some of their quality red wines. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
A highly creative contemporary Indian restaurant, Zaika offers sensational Indian cuisine in a cool and vibrant setting. Situated in trendy Kensington, Zaika has won Best Indian Restaurant in the London Restaurant Awards and holds three AA rosettes. Try the tasting menu to get a fuller understanding of the extensive Indian flavours. The Malabar prawns and the Nihari Gosht are also favourites. With great service, plush interiors and excellent cuisine, Zaika is a fail-proof night out. Open for lunch from Tuesday to Sunday, and every evening for dinner.
The Gun is a lovely, British-styled restaurant that has gained popularity for its up-market take on classic dishes. Open for lunch and dinner (reservations essential), be sure to try the 45 day-aged Cumbrian rare breed steaks, served with béarnaise sauce, watercress and hand cut chips. This waterside pub is delightfully British
Stef's describes itself as 'your local Italian restaurant in London', and its laid-back, family-run atmosphere is a real winner for those looking for unpretentious and high-quality Italian food in England's capital. Choose from pizza, pasta or a range of 'Chef's specialities'. Booking recommended.
The historic cathedral city of Canterbury, with its narrow streets and walkways, is best explored on foot. It is the home of Christianity in England, and has been the ultimate destination for pilgrimages in England for centuries, as described in Chaucer's famous Canterbury Tales. The imposing Canterbury Cathedral is one of the most impressive and evocative in England. It was here that Thomas Becket was martyred in 1170. Visitors can explore the ruins of the original abbey of St Augustine, who brought Christianity to England more than 1,400 years ago, or visit the Canterbury Tales Pageant and meet some of Chaucer's famous characters. For an insight into the cities of medieval England, climb the original West Gate Tower, which is still intact and provides breathtaking views across the city.
Set above a lake in a picturesque valley near the town of Maidstone in Kent, with imposing battlements and a 500-hectare Tudor garden, Leeds Castle proudly describes itself as 'the loveliest castle in the world'. Once a residence of British Queens and a playground for King Henry VIII, it has been open to the public for over 35 years, revealing the majesty of a bygone age. With so much to explore, Leeds Castle requires a full day for visitors to tour the castle, get lost in the garden maze, and dine in one of the excellent restaurants or quaint tea rooms. A highly recommended day-trip for visitors to the UK.
The charming town of Windsor sits on the River Thames, 20 miles (32km) west of London, and is dominated by the magnificent Windsor Castle, the world's largest and oldest occupied castle. The castle was built by William the Conqueror almost a thousand years ago, and has been lived in by English monarchs ever since. Although Buckingham Palace is the Queen's best-known residence, Windsor is her favourite, and is where the royal family spend their weekends.
Highlights in the castle include the wonderful State Apartments and the Waterloo Chamber, built to commemorate the British victory over Napoleon at Waterloo. St George's Chapel is one of the finest examples of Perpendicular Gothic architecture in the world, and contains the tombs of numerous English sovereigns including King Henry VIII, Jane Seymour, Charles I and King George V. Many of the castle's rooms contain priceless works of art, including pieces by Rubens, Holbein, Van Dyke, Rembrandt and Lawrence, as well as fine tapestries and porcelain, sculpture and armour. The 500-acre (200-hectare) Home Park sits at the back of the castle and includes the site of Frogmore, where Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were laid to rest. Beyond is the vast expanse of Windsor Great Park, a popular place for walkers. Over the river from Windsor is Eton College, the world-famous school founded by Henry VI in 1440.
Situated on the banks of the River Thames, 14 miles (23km) southwest of London, Hampton Court is perhaps the most spectacular royal palace in England, and makes a wonderful day-trip destination from the capital. The palace was built by Cardinal Wolsey in the early 1500s, but later it became King Henry VIII's principal residence and remained the centre of royal and political life in England until 1737. Visitors can see King Henry VIII's Great Hall; King William III's State Apartments, designed by Wren and completed in 1700; and the unmissable Tudor Kitchens, which remain largely unchanged since the 16th century and were no doubt once used to cater for raucous banquets. There is also a fun and exciting 'Ghost Family Trail' tour through the palace that will delight younger visitors. However, Hampton Court is still probably most famous for its grounds and their outstanding hedge maze - called 'the most famous Maze in the history of the world, and immeasurably the one most visited' by Ernest Law - which has entertained children since it was planted in 1705.