Continuing our top 10 series, we take a look at some of the most memorable and quintessential British experiences that you should indulge in.
1. Walk along Hadrian’s Wall
Built by Roman Emperor Hadrian from AD122, this iconic wall was erected to defend his empire against the ‘barbarians’ of northern Britain. Now a World Heritage Site, the 73-mile wall stretches from Bowness-on-Solway on the Cumbrian coast to Wallsend near Newcastle upon Tyne, snaking through some of Britain’s most unspoilt and beautiful countryside. A firm favourite with walkers, any section offers spectacular vistas, but if you’re feeling up to it it’s well worth attempting to follow the whole length of the wall via the Hadrian’s Wall Path National Trail over a number of days.
The wall is punctuated not only by hills, valleys, rivers and great expanses of rugged green plains, but also by museums such as the one at Vindolanda, a Roman fort and one of the world’s most important archaeological sites.
2. Take a tour of one of the Queen’s homes at Windsor Castle
The splendour of Windsor Castle must be seen to be believed. An official residence of Her Majesty The Queen, it is also the world’s oldest inhabited castle, dating back almost 1,000 years. Not only can you tour the beautifully furnished State Apartments, containing all sorts of treasures from the Royal Collection, but you can also visit St George’s Chapel, a fully functioning centre of worship and the final resting place of 10 monarchs – including Henry VIII. One of the top attractions is Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, an extraordinary miniature triumph that cannot fail to delight.
3. Enjoy a day at the seaside in Blackpool
Holidaymakers have flocked to Blackpool, one of Britain’s most famous seaside towns, since 1879, when the magical spectacle of its lights illuminating the resort were first described as ‘artificial sunshine’. With three million visitors each year, Blackpool continues to be enduringly popular – an old-fashioned holiday experience featuring sandcastles, ice cream and fairground rides. The Illuminations consist of lasers, neon, fibre optics and three-dimensional lit-up scenes. This year, the Lancashire pleasure resort will be illuminated from 30 August to 10 November, so that the town will be filled with light long after the nights start to draw in and summer is over.
4. Relax in the thermal spring at Bath
Britain’s only natural thermal spa – Thermae Bath Spa – is a truly unique and special place. It was the Romans who discovered Bath’s thermal properties and so it’s exciting to be able to indulge in the same way as they would have thousands of years ago. The lovely thing about the spa is that history blends with its contemporary features, giving visitors the promise of the old, with the freshness of the new – the best of both worlds.
Visitors can choose to go to the Cross Bath, which is a small pool in a Georgian listed building on the site of the sacred Cross Spring site, or opt for the open-air roof-top pool in the New Royal Bath, which has panoramic views of this incredibly pretty city. Both offer wonderfully relaxing experiences.
5. Ride on the West Highlands railway
Often voted the top rail journey in the world, this famous railway line hugs the west coast of Scotland – showcasing the glorious countryside that lies between Glasgow and Fort William, and beyond. The journey takes in Britain’s highest and hardest-to-reach train station, Corrour, and travels through breathtaking and varied scenery, skirting lochs and crossing the spectacular 21-arch viaduct at Glenfinnan, featured in the Harry Potter films. From May to October you can do part of the route on board the Jacobite Steam Train, which only adds to the magic.
6. Take a trip on the London Eye
Whether you visit at night, when the city is illuminated by sparkling lights, or in the daytime, when you can see as far as Windsor Castle in clear conditions, the London Eye is an attraction like no other. Each rotation takes 30 minutes, meaning that visitors can really absorb their surroundings – from the Shard to Westminster Palace. Private capsules are available for special occasions.
7. See the sailing at Cowes Week
The largest sailing regatta of its kind in the world, Cowes Week on the Isle of Wight is a highlight of the British summer season, for competitors and 100,000 spectators alike. Founded in 1826, Cowes Week has grown into an extraordinarily glamorous and exciting sporting event, featuring 40 races a day for around 1,000 boats. Cowes is also the perfect destination for first-time sailors, boasting specialist sailing schools all over the harbour.
8. Rediscover Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon
Shakespeare’s birthplace is steeped in the bard’s fascinating history, and is also one of the prettiest places to visit in the UK. Stratford-upon-Avon is home to Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathaway’s immaculate thatched Tudor farmhouse and gardens where you can experience the surroundings in which he courted his sweetheart. You can also visit his mother Mary Arden’s childhood home and see exactly how a farm and kitchen worked in the 1570s.
9. Indulge in a traditional afternoon tea
There is nothing more quintessentially British than afternoon tea. The popularity of taking tea in the afternoon was introduced in the mid-19th century, when it was usual to have tea rather than lunch to bridge the long gap between breakfast and dinner. Bettys in Harrogate and York, and The Ritz in London do classic spreads, offering sandwiches, scones, clotted cream and mouth-watering cakes.
10. Enjoy the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall
The Proms is a British musical institution: an eight-week season of daily orchestral music over the summer months that runs throughout the country, but most famously at the Royal Albert Hall. The name is derived from the word ‘promenade’, which relates to the fact that part of the audience has always stood rather than sat. The Proms was the brainchild of Mr Robert Newman, manager of the Queen’s Hall in London in the late 19th century, who wanted to educate people about classical music. His first ‘Promenade Concert’ was held in August 1895, featuring pieces meant to engage and challenge audiences. These days, during Prom season, the Royal Albert Hall has live concerts every day, with 1,400 standing spaces available at each. This year (12 July to 7 September) the Proms makes history, with the first ever female conductor Marin Alsop taking the baton for the show’s final and most spectacular evening – The Last Night of the Proms.
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