The breadth of Great Britain’s cultural offerings can leave one, well, breathless. There is so much to see and do, that it can actually become a daunting task to figure out which museum, gallery, festival, and literary site to discover. Because of that, we’ve done some of the homework for you and pinpointed a few that you’ll definitely want to tell your clients about.
AN EVENTFUL 2014
Britain offers a collection of fabulous must-do events. One of the biggest happenings this year is, of course, Homecoming Scotland, a year-long series of events that will complement the country’s two major sporting events— the Ryder Cup (September) and the multi-sport Commonwealth Games (July/August). The five themes that are incorporated into Homecoming are food, drink, active, creative and natural, and it will bring all of the country’s communities together to celebrate all things Scottish. Included in the celebrations are Highland Homecoming, a month-long celebration (September to October) of contemporary Highland culture; clan gatherings, bringing clan and family associations from around the world together in Scotland; and of course, the annual Edinburgh Military Tattoo, which is part of the Edinburgh Festival.
Not to be outdone, Dylan Thomas 100 will celebrate the 100th anniversary of this Welsh poet and writer’s birth. There will be a year-long program of events with museum exhibits and festivals all over Wales, including in Swansea, his birthplace, and in the seaside village of Laugharne, in southwest Wales. When it comes to literary giants, there’s none bigger than the “Bard of Avon,” you might know him as Shakespeare. This year, England will celebrate the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, setting off what will be a major theater affair with the Royal Shakespeare Company embarking on a complete cycle of Shakespeare’s plays over the next six years, shown at Stratford-upon-Avon, on tour and via the “Live from Stratford-upon-Avon” cinema screenings. For those who can’t get enough Shakespeare, a must is touring the bard’s birthplace, where visitors can see artifacts associated with him, as well as the house where he was born. The Royal Shakespeare Company building itself re-opened in 2010 and now boasts a world-class auditorium, a viewing tower, and theater tours.
A little more contemporary history brings us to the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. It will be commemorated across Britain with a national church service to mark the beginning of the conflict, and with the Imperial War Museums (IWM) London reopening this July with the groundbreaking new First World War Galleries. Additionally, the IWM North, in Manchester, will have a major First World War exhibition. In Oxfordshire, England, The Blenheim Palace WWI exhibit will run through April 21 and will delve into the lives of the families who called the estate their home, the people who served them, and how they were all affected by the war.
World War II is also marking an important milestone with the 70th anniversary of the D-Day Landings, in which Southsea Beach and Portsmouth Harbour were vital embarkation points; Southwick House, just north of the city, was the Headquarters of General Eisenhower during the operation.
When it comes to museums, Great Britain can’t be beat—it has three of the top five most visited museums in the world, with the British Museum holding the number one spot. Why is this museum so popular? Well, on view are the Rosetta Stone, Parthenon sculptures and Egyptian mummies. Best part? All of the museum’s regular exhibits are free.
In fact, many of Britain’s museums are free, including the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum, both in London; the V&A Museum, also in London, known as the “world’s greatest museum of art and design”; the Museum of Liverpool, which opened in 2011 in the city’s waterfront; and the National Museum Cardiff, home to the largest collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings outside Paris.
Art enthusiasts will swoon over London’s National Gallery, with Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers”; the Tate Modern, with Rothko, Pollock, and Hockney; and Tate Britain, with works by Turner. In Glasgow, there’s the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum, which has 22 themed galleries displaying 8,000 objects; and Newcastle’s Laing Art Gallery has a touring exhibit showcasing works from the Tate Collection by Turner, Constable and their contemporaries. London’s National Portrait Gallery, meanwhile, has a David Bailey exhibit running through June.
For any wanna-be writer, Britain is indeed hallowed ground. There’s Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage in the Lake District village of Grasmere, where William Wordsworth lived from 1799 to 1808; next door is the museum that pays homage to the poet with a collection of some 32,000 items. In that same vein, the Coleridge Cottage, in Nether Stowey in Somerset, was where the poet wrote “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” There’s also a museum dedicated to another great poet, Robert Burns, in Alloway, Scotland, housing the world’s most important collection of his life and works. Of course, no visit to literary England is complete without paying homage to the Bronte sisters with a visit to The Bronte Parsonage Museum in Haworth, West Yorkshire. Jane Austen’s House Museum near Alton in Hampshire is also a must on any literary tour, and we can’t forget John Keats’ House in Hampstead, where the poet lived from 1818 to 1820.
Younger literary fans will want to visit Beatrix Potter’s house in Hill Top, and they’ll definitely want to partake in the 50th anniversary celebrations of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” at the Roald Dahl Museum & Story Centre in Buckinghamshire, England.
And those clients obsessed with the British TV series “Sherlock,” will appreciate The Sherlock Holmes exhibition at the Museum of London, which is set to open in the fall and delves into Victorian London, analyzing one of the most famous fictional Londoners of the period.
Back-Roads Touring (backroadstouring.co.uk) is a small-group touring company with a maximum of 18 people per tour that offers a leisurely touring pace. It highlights the best of Britain with tours in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. On offer is a 4-day Edinburgh Tattoo and a Taste of Scotland tour in August; a 5-day Old Pubs & Great Grub tour in England with dates running May to September; and a 7-day Wonders of Wales tour with dates running May to October.
Did you know?
For the sports fan, London will welcome three games as part of the “NFL International Series” in 2014. The Jacksonville Jaguars will host the Dallas Cowboys; the Atlanta Falcons will host the Detroit Lions; and the Oakland Raiders will host the Miami Dolphins at Wembley Stadium.
Scores of films have been shot in Britain, but tell film buffs that they need to march on over to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London-The Making of Harry Potter (wbstudiotour.co.uk), which offers visitors the opportunity to step on to authentic sets, discover the magic behind the special effects, explore Dumbledore’s office and walk down Diagon Alley.
GETTING AROUND LONDON
While in London, visitors have Britain’s culture at their fingertips with the London Pass, offered by the Leisure Pass Group (leisurepassgroup.com/london-pass). The London Pass offers free entry to over 60 top attractions and includes a guidebook, a bunch of special offers at shops, and front-of-the-line privileges at select attractions.
To get around London, visitors can hop-on and hop-off The Original London Sightseeing Tour (theoriginaltour.com) with live guided commentaries, free walking tours, and a free river cruise pass, or opt for the Big Bus Tours (bigbustours.com), which takes visitors to all of London’s famous landmarks and includes a free river cruise, as well as guided walking tours.
Did you know?
The Titanic Belfast in Northern Ireland encompasses nine galleries with special effects, full-scale reconstructions, dark rides, and innovative interactive features that explore the Titanic story.
When it comes to festivals in Britain, they run the gamut from illustrious to downright quirky. Here’s a sprinkling of what’s in store for your clients:
Edinburgh International Festival (August) presents performances of classical music, opera, theater, dance and the visual arts.
John Muir Festival (April) celebrates the life and legacy of John Muir, a Scots-born naturalist and founder of America’s National Parks (along the new John Muir Trail).
Great British Cheese Festival in Cardiff Castle (September) celebrates this national obsession by showcasing the extraordinary diversity of British cheese.
The Garlic Festival in the Isle of Wight (August/September) offers up garlic-based ice cream, jelly beans, fudge and beer.
The Porthcawl Elvis Festival in Wales (September) gathers thousands upon thousands of Elvis fans, many of them dressed as The King himself, to watch Elvis-tribute acts and over 100 Elvis-related shows.
Hay Festival in Wales (May to June) pays homage to great literature by bringing together writers from around the world to debate and share stories.
London & Partners: londonandpartners.com/travel-trade
Southern Wales Tourism: visitsouthernwales.org
Visit Birmingham: visitbirmingham.com/group-travel
Visit Kent: visitkent.co.uk/trade
Visit Manchester: visitmanchester.com/travel-trade
Visit Wales: traveltrade.visitwales.com