Naturally, there are the highlights to consider on a visit to the United Kingdom such as London, Edinburgh, Stratford-upon-Avon, Cambridge, Canterbury, the Cotswolds, Lake District, and so on. However, should you have already covered the principal highlights or want to include some different places or sites, then here are a number of suggestions to include on your following UK holidays.
This selection is certainly a mere fragment of different and unusual places in the UK. It may not be large in size in comparison with other European countries, but the UK certainly adequately competes in other ways.
Let’s start with London. One can spend a lot of time just getting to know the city on a London vacation, but perhaps some of the following might whet your appetite for something different on travel to Britain.
Highgate Cemetery has been compared to the three outstanding cemeteries found in Paris, where one can visit the graves of famous people. In Highgate Cemetery, there are 53,000 graves but when you enter it, you are given a plan which enables you to locate any grave you would like to visit. Just to name a handful of celebrities, Karl Marx, George Eliot (19th Century novelist), Douglas Adams (author of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), Sir Ralph Richardson (actor), and Anthony Shaffer (playwright) are all buried here. There are also 300 war graves, mostly from World War 1. Just strolling around this peaceful cemetery is a pleasant experience.
Hampton Court Palace
Hampton Court Palace is a royal palace in the south-west suburbs of London. Along with St James’s Palace, it is one of only two surviving palaces out of the many owned by King Henry VIII. The last British monarch to reside here was George II. Some of the highlights are Henry VIII’s Great Hall – the walls of which are hung with his splendid tapestries; the Hampton Court Maze, which covers a third of an acre and is UK’s oldest surviving hedge maze (it is known for confusing and fascinating visitors with its many twists and turns); the gardens which cover 60 acres; the adjacent park which cover 750 acres; and the Cumberland Art Gallery which includes works from the Royal Collection (Rembrandt, Van Dyke, Holbein, and Gainsborough among others).
Kensington Roof Gardens
For garden lovers, the Kensington Roof Gardens are spectacular and open to the public to visit free of charge. These gardens, which are on the 6th floor of a building in Kensington High Street are based on the Generalife Gardens at the Alhambra in Granada, Spain and actually do have a distinct Moorish flavour. The gardens are made up of colourful English plants and flowers plus some Mediterranean trees, which give the Spanish feel.
For sports fans, how about a visit to the home of one of Britain’s top soccer teams. The Arsenal Football Stadium (or more commonly known when football is not being played, Emirates Stadium) is open for exploring behind the scenes, which include the director’s box and changing rooms, with narrated commentaries plus the museum which features two video theatres and twenty major displays based on Arsenal’s history from its formation in 1886 to the present day. Or if tennis is your sport, head to Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Grounds and Museum. You can visit the Centre Court, the press interviewing room, and the area usually reserved for players only. The museum contains an extensive collection of tennis memorabilia and interactive displays. There is a 3D cinema where you can watch The Walk of Champions, a short film about the people who work at Wimbledon and the behind-the-scenes preparation that goes into hosting the Championships, plus highlights of important finals.
Regent’s Canal Walk
The Regent’s Canal Walk has been described as one of London’s best-kept secrets. The walk can start in Paddington at the Paddington Basin. After about 5 minutes of walking, you arrive at Little Venice. The first thing to notice is that the houses are larger and more beautiful to look at. Little Venice is also a starting point for boat tours on the canal. Moving on, you arrive eventually at Primrose Hill and Camden while passing by colourful and sometimes eccentric boats moored on a permanent basis at the side of the canal. The canal passes by Regents Park, the London Canal Museum, and the London Zoo before arriving at Camden Town. This walk can also be done by boat which takes about 45-55 minutes.
Not Far From London…
Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire
Bletchley Park is where, during the Second World War, a team of code breakers and their machines operated in secret and successfully changed the course of the war. Now, it is open to the public and has been developed into a fascinating attraction. It has a very authentic feel, almost as if the code breakers had just left, leaving all their equipment behind them. The various huts on display once had 12,000 workers involved in the project. You get to see the first programmable computer and many other interesting aspects of the process. Bletchley was the basis for the film, The Imitation Game, which starred Benedict Cumberbatch.
St. Albans, Hertfordshire
St. Albans is a very pleasant small town which would probably be described as “typically English.” It is said that the Hot Cross Bun originated here when a 14th Century monk developed a recipe for it in order to feed the poor on Good Friday. The Cathedral dominates the city’s skyline from every angle and dates back to the 11th century. It is best known for the shrine of St Alban, Britain’s first Christian Saint, which continues to attract pilgrims. St. Albans was once occupied by the Romans 2000 years ago. It was known as the Roman town of Verulamium and today, offers a number of archaeological sites. The Verulamium Museum displays authentic objects which include some superb mosaics, and the Roman rooms give the opportunity to experience the life and times of a major Roman city including video presentations. There is a well-preserved Roman Theatre which is the only visible one of its kind in the UK. Close by are the foundations of a Roman town house, a secret shrine, and a row of Roman shops. Other attractions include the 15th Century Clock Tower and a lively market in the town centre on Wednesdays and Saturdays, the largest in the south-east of England.
Founded in 1934, Glyndebourne is a very English institution which holds a series of Opera performances of the highest quality each year. It is essentially a 600-year-old English country house in which operas were performed but now, they are held on a stage outdoors. Each afternoon, a talk is given by an operatic expert. What is special is that it attracts an enthusiastic audience from all over the world, many of whom picnic on the grounds. Fast trains run from London to close by the venue. If attending, it is a good idea to purchase tickets in advance.
Beaulieu, New Forest, Hampshire
The Palace House in Beaulieu has been the ancestral home of the Montagu family since 1538 and offers several good reasons to visit. For fans of Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs, there are talks from costumed guides on the way of life depicted in these TV shows. The house is adorned with family treasures, portraits, and memorabilia. The gardens are beautiful and include the informal Wilderness Garden and the Victorian Kitchen Garden which still supplies the house with seasonal vegetables, fruits, and flowers. The Secret Army Exhibition tells the story of wartime Beaulieu and the training school established for the Special Operations Executive (SOE) during World War II for agents sent to work with the Resistance in occupied Europe. The Abbey Domus houses a fascinating exhibition about medieval monastic life. Then there is the world-famous National Motor Museum which contains a priceless collection of over 250 exceptional vehicles from every motoring era as well as Formula One and rally cars and motoring oddities such as a giant orange on wheels.
Cheddar Gorge, Somerset
Cheddar Gorge is a limestone gorge in the Mendip Hills and is where Britain’s oldest complete human skeleton, Cheddar Man, estimated to be over 9,000 years old, was found. Cheddar Caves contain stalactites and stalagmites and have names such as Gough’s Old Cave, Great Oone’s Hole, Saye’s Hole, Soldier’s Hole, and Sun Hole. They are the best example in the United Kingdom of limestone formations. The caves are also home to colonies of Greater and Lesser Horseshoe bats.
If you have been to Stonehenge and want to visit another similar site, try Avebury. It is a Neolithic site containing three stone circles near the village of Avebury, and contains the largest stone circle in Europe. The site, although not perfectly circular, measures over 1000 metres/1090 yards in circumference. It is both a tourist attraction and a place of religious importance to contemporary pagans. Its original purpose is unknown, although archaeologists believe that it was most likely used for some form of ritual or ceremony as was Stonehenge.
If you are looking for somewhere totally off the beaten track on upcoming UK holidays, try a visit to the Scilly Isles, reached by a less than 3-hour ferry ride from Penzance in Cornwall or by small plane from various airports in south-west England with connections from major UK airports. They lie 45 kilometres/28 miles off Land’s End in Cornwall. There are five inhabited islands, each with its own individual character. They offer ancient history and archaeological sites, panoramic sea views, and rugged coastlines. The main island is St. Mary’s, which has some excellent art galleries and craft shops as well as good restaurants and cafes. You can walk, hike and cycle, take boat trips, and observe extraordinary wildlife. One of the major attractions is the Tresco Abbey Garden, considered to be the UK’s most outstanding horticultural experience. It is home to 20,000 exotic species of flora. Another attraction is King Charles’ Castle, dating back to the 16th century.