Britain’s most legendary attractions capture our imagination for a reason — whether we’re talking about the mysterious façade of Edinburgh Castle or the telltale chimes of Big Ben. While the city’s icons are universally appealing, the countryside is equally heavy on left-field experiences.
From festivals bound to change the way you experience historical landmarks to cultural encounters that will shift your perspective, here are seven out-of-the-box ways to enjoy Britain’s most iconic attractions.
Glamp under a prehistoric monument at the Stonehenge Summer Solstice Festival
There are few landmarks that conjure the scale of British history like the shadowy silhouette of Stonehenge. While a visit to this prehistoric landmark, erected 5,000 years ago by Neolithic Britons, should be high on your agenda, it’s often associated with whirlwind day trips or cheesy package tours. Luckily, the Stonehenge Solstice Festival, which takes place on Salisbury Plain during the summer solstice, is a welcome antidote. The four-day festival combines food, art and music — including international acts that go on to play Glastonbury. You can also hire glamping pods as you immerse yourself in festival fever. What could be better than soaking up ancient magic in modern style?
Make a date with history’s most famous boy wizard
Britain is a Harry Potter obsessive’s dream. Sure, a visit to the Warner Bros Studio in London — where you can wander through the Great Hall, explore the Forbidden Forest and admire the Hogwarts Express — should be the first port of call for anyone who counts the beloved J. K Rowling series among their formative reading experiences. But don’t forget to visit Alnwick Castle, the 10th century Northumberland castle that’s the backdrop for Potter’s very first game of Quidditch, where you can take broomstick flying lessons.
Hardcore fans should also make a pilgrimage to Elephant House, the Edinburgh restaurant and café where Rowling worked on early drafts of the book that would change her life — and transport readers to another realm.
Spend the night at Warwick Castle
Britain has no shortage of extraordinary architecture — from Gothic cathedrals to 10th Century fortresses that make you feel like you’re an extra in The Knight’s Tale. There’s nothing quite like spending the night if you want to imagine how history really played out.
Warwick Castle, a 1000-year-old structure on the banks of the River Avon offers a range of accommodation including medieval-style lodging and suites in the tower itself. If you’re lucky enough to check in, you’ll be treated to a tour of the dungeon — as well as complimentary champagne on arrival to take the edge off.
Catch London’s new generation of music talent in a repurposed car park
London is one of the world’s most thrilling melting pots and its cultural pulse rarely stays still. Over the last few years, Brixton — the South London neighbourhood with deep roots in Caribbean culture has been a magnet for artists, musicians and makers from different backgrounds.
Pop Brixton, a community project that’s turned a disused parking lot into a canvas for creative businesses — via a series of shipping containers — is the perfect example. Visit in the evenings for performances from local DJs, spinning genres like dancehall, hip-hop and reggae, and follow up with a serve of jerk chicken or Venezuelan arepas, courtesy of local street food vendors, preferably eaten alfresco.
Lose yourself in a 4,500-year-old forest
Wales is known for its postcard-perfect landscape — from the rolling hillside, lush with greenery to the craggy mountains of Snowdonia and Brecon Beacons that lure hikers each year. The country is also home to more ethereal natural attractions that rarely make the guidebooks — despite the stories they tell about Welsh myths and legends.
The Forest of Borth is a case in point. The forest, discovered after a storm in Borth, a coastal village in mid-Wales, contains stumps of oak, ash and birch that date back to 1,500 BC (more than 4,500 years ago). Archaeologists now associate it with Cantre’r Gwaelodis, a lost city that’s considered Wales’ own version of Atlantis. It’s extraordinary.
Get up close and personal with an art star at Spike Island
Tate Modern, National Gallery, the British Museum — Britain’s best-known galleries are synonymous with London, a global centre for contemporary art. But increasingly, the southwestern city of Bristol — low on rent, high on creative output — is emerging as a worthy rival, thanks to a wave of artist-run initiatives and independent spaces.
The highlight? Spike Island, a contemporary art and design centre on the Bristol waterfront. The space regularly hosts exhibitions starring emerging artists and designers (their alumni includes at least one Turner Prize winner) as well as open studios, workshops and classes. Its on-site café — featuring an organic, seasonal menu and a selection of art and design books — is a must-visit.
In 2018, watch out for Bristol’s new public arts trail, which will feature giant scuptures of cult favourite characters Wallace, Gromit and Feathers McGraw.
See Britain’s icons in a different light on your next trip to the UK. Find out more here.