A Great Britain travel guide – remote castles and buzzing cities on a island that revels in its non-conformity.
Get your bearings
Perched off the coast of mainland Europe, Great Britain is a land of three nations – England, Scotland and Wales. Sandy beaches and the flat downs mark England’s south coast, running down to dramatic Cornwall. The River Thames snakes through the capital London, where cutting-edge art and fashions lie alongside Roman remains. Further north into Yorkshire, limestone walls and sheep dot the farming villages in the Dales, with steep peaks and caves in the Peak District in Derbyshire. The Lake District edges north to Scotland’s remote islands, mountains and tumbling rivers, where the buzzing Scottish capital Edinburgh is home to a medieval old city. To the west are the valleys and dramatic mountain peaks of Wales, with Celtic roots.
Bring history alive on holidays in Britain. Overlooked by Big Ben’s 13-ton bell, the ornate Houses of Parliament see democracy in action. Among Bath’s graceful Georgian terraces, the Sacred Spring still bubbles at the Roman Baths. Medieval city walls surround much of York, dominated by the soaring Gothic Minster. Step back millennia at Stonehenge’s prehistoric monument. Or, in North Wales, spot the carvings in the Chapel Tower at Edward I’s Conwy Castle. In England’s North-east, explore Roman forts and crags along the 117km-long Hadrian’s Wall. In the medieval Old Town, the Royal Mile links crag-top Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse built for king Charles II.
Outdoors and active
Scotland loves its golf – swing your club at a clifftop links course like Carnoustie or Braid’s Hill. Along England’s south coast, surfers flock to Newquay’s waves, and kitesurfers soar above Brighton beach. In Derbyshire’s Peak District, descend Blue John Cavern to discover unique minerals and spot-lit stalactites. Hikers tackle the 435km-long Pennine Way through the rolling Yorkshire Dales ending at the Scottish Borders. In North Wales, if Mount Snowdon’s peaks are too challenging, the century-old steam train makes an easier ascent. In London, spot deer while strolling through Richmond Park, and fly a kite on breezy Parliament Hill.
Best of British
Book a hotel in Britain and experience its trademark eccentricities. Immerse yourself into a quintessential English sporting experience at a tranquil village cricket match, or punting along the River Cam alongside noble Cambridge University. Pomp, pageantry and black bearskin hats mark the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. For a traditional British seaside holiday, sink into a striped deckchair on Brighton Beach, then board the roller coaster on its historic pier. Britain loves its regional dishes, like fish and chips in coastal Whitby or scones with clotted cream and jam in Devon. To end the day, order a pint of Yorkshire bitter in a wood-panelled pub, or a malt whisky in front of a log fire in Scotland.
Cultural light dazzle in London’s West End. Musicals wow the crowds in Theatreland, with contemporary dance at Sadler’s Wells and dramatic arias at Covent Garden’s Royal Opera House. If you prefer a picnic before Puccini, look out for summer opera festivals, including Glyndebourne. In Edinburgh, performing arts festivals fill the year, with the International Fringe Festival its highlight. Catch the Bard at his birthplace with a Royal Shakespeare Company performance in Stratford. Listen out for carol concerts in Britain’s churches in December.
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