From the iconic to the unexpected, get those “pinch me” moments and discover simply the best way to travel.
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You might think you know the United Kingdom.
The language is English, though granted, it can be hard to understand some regional accents; London’s Buckingham Palace is home to the Queen and one of the most famous dishes is fish and chips. So far, so British. This is also the land that has produced some of the world’s best poets and playwrights – think Wordsworth and Shakespeare - and is famous for books and films like Harry Potter. And amid some of the world’s most recognised UNESCO sites, is a landscape knee deep in ancient history, legends and myths.
So without more ado, here are 15 things to see and do, some you may not have heard of, other names you will recognise, but one thing they have in common is that they are all worth experiencing.
Why visit The Shambles? It is Europe’s oldest, best preserved shopping street in the historic city of York.
Need to know: The Shambles, a jumble of timber-framed houses with over-hanging upper floors, is mentioned in the Domesday Book, the land survey from 1086 commissioned by William the Conqueror to assess how much land he owned in England. Although no original shop-fronts have survived from medieval times, some properties still have exterior wooden shelves, reminders of when cuts of meat were served from open windows.
Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park
Flickr/John Mcsporran (CCby2.0)
Why venture to The Trossachs National Park? A region of ravishing, theatrical beauty and meeting place of the Highlands and the Lowlands.
Need to know: Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park lie on the Highland Boundary Fault, a massive geological feature which marks a change in Scotland’s culture and landscape. Loch Lomond’s deep waters and surrounding mountains and glens is where the kingdoms of three ancient Celtic peoples – Scots, Picts and Britons - once converged. Real life characters, cattle rustler Rob Roy MacGregor and the Reverend Robert Kirk said to have been entrapped by fairies, are part of the area’s tradition of folklore and legend.
Visit Loch Lomond on Trafalgar's Best of Britain itinerary.
Durham Cathedral and Castle
Flickr/Christian Kothe (CCbyND2.0)
Why tour Durham Cathedral and Castle? It's the best existing example of Norman architecture, UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Need to know: Durham Cathedral, with its Romanesque architecture, and the 11th century Durham Castle, built by William the Conqueror, loom proud above the city on a wooded peninsula. The Cathedral’s medieval cloister and Chapter House featured in the first two Harry Potter films while the Castle is now home to students of University College, part of Durham University.
Flickr/Mario Sánchez Prada (CCbySA2.0)
Why tour Cardiff Castle? In the heart of the Welsh capital, this castle is a mix of styles: a Roman fort with Norman Keep, Victorian gothic revival buildings, and medieval defensive walls.
Need to know: Cardiff Castle with its opulent interior and fairy tale towers conceals 2,000 years of history and is reputed to have a busy ghost thought to be the 2nd Marquess of Bute, who died in the 19th century. View the apartments and parts of the castle that were used while filming Dr Who. Then, climb up to the pretty clock tower and revel in panoramic views from the top of the Norman Keep.
Visit Cardiff Castle on Trafalgar's Britain and Ireland Highlights itinerary.
Rolf G. Wackenberg
Why visit Londonderry? Heritage site of national and international significance and designated UK City of Culture.
Need to know: Under English King James I, the wealthy guilds of London built up Derry, hence the addition of ‘London’ to its name. Surrounded with defensive walls, Londonderry, or Derry as it’s known to the locals, is the only completely walled city in the British Isles.
Take a guided walking tour of the walls which stand six metres thick and six metres high in parts and which form a walkway around the inner city.
Flickr/Steve Slater (CCby2.0)
Why venture to Cheddar Gorge? One of the UK’s most spectacular natural locations where visitors are whisked back 500 million years.
Need to know: Cheddar Gorge is famous for discoveries revealing Britain's pre-historic past. Touring the Museum of Prehistory allows visitors a look at our forefathers’ skills of fire-lighting and tool making, with examples of weapons and equipment used millions of years ago.
Experience the magic of Cheddar Cave’s natural underground wonders and Gough’s Cave, recognised as one of the world’s most beautiful stalactite caverns. Audio guides tell the story of its Ice Age creation, Stone Age occupation and Victorian exploration.
Bath, Somerset, England
Flickr/Alun Salt (CCbySA2.0)
Why visit Bath's Roman Baths? This genteel, ever-so-English city’s attractions include the Roman Baths, one of northern Europe’s finest historical sites.
Need to know: The city of Bath claims more listed buildings than almost anywhere else in Britain. Particularly famous is the half-moon of Georgian houses named the Royal Crescent and the city’s ancient Roman bathhouse. This building near the medieval abbey is one of the world’s best-preserved Roman spas. The city’s unique thermal springs rise beneath the site and the baths still flow with natural hot water.
Visit Bath's Roman Baths on Trafalgar's Best of Britain itinerary.
Flickr/John Mcsporran (CCby2.0)
Why tour Edinburgh Castle? It is Scotland’s premier visitor attraction and a powerful national symbol.
Need to know: Perched on an extinct volcano at the top of the Royal Mile, this instantly recognisable fortress is home to the Scottish Crown Jewels. They are displayed beside the magnificent Stone of Destiny, the coronation seat of Scottish kings.
While here, see Mighty Mons Meg, a 15th-century siege cannon. Many visitors time their visit to see – and hear – the One O’Clock Gun fired daily from the battlements. (Mind your ear drums though.)
Antrim, Northern Ireland
Photo by Hugo Kemmel
Why tour Giant's Causeway? This mass of 40,000 tightly packed basalt columns is Ireland’s only World Heritage Site.
Need to know: This dramatic formation is the result of a volcanic eruption 60 million years ago - or was it? The ancients believed that this was giants’ work, in particular, that of Finn McCool. McCool was commander of the king of Ireland's armies who, according to legend, built the causeway to link Ireland with Scotland.
Walk past amphitheatres of stone columns and weird and wonderful formations with whimsical names; the ‘Honeycomb’, the ‘Organ’ and ‘Giant’s Harp’.
Palace of Holyroodhouse
Why visit the Palace of Holyroodhouse? Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 11’s official Scottish residence.
Need to know: The Palace stands at the end of Edinburgh's Royal Mile against the spectacular backdrop of craggy Arthur's Seat, the tallest of Edinburgh's seven hills. The Palace is fat with history so take a guided tour and relive the years when plotting, murder and all manner of goings on took place. One of its most famous residents was Mary, Queen of Scots. This was the setting for some of her reign’s most dramatic episodes.
Visit Palace of Holyroodhouse on Trafalgar's Best of Scotland itinerary.
The Lost Gardens of Heligan
Flickr/Stuart Richards (CCbyND2.0)
Why tiptoe through The Lost Gardens of Heligan? A beautiful garden deep in the Cornish countryside hosting a palette of plants brought back from far flung lands by intrepid Victorian plant hunters.
Need to know: See giant rhubarb, banana plantations and avenues of palms. Lose yourself in tunnels of towering bamboo and feast your eyes upon a flourishing plant collection. The area called The Jungle creates a microclimate at least five degrees warmer than the rest of Heligan’s gardens. The Burmese Rope Bridge stretches 100 feet above ancient tree ferns and across the jungle floor, adding a sense of adventure to this tropical paradise.
Co Down, Northern Ireland
© Northern Ireland Tourist Board
Why visit Newcastle? This seaside town is called the Gateway to the Mournes because it is home to Northern Ireland's highest mountain range, the most massive of which is Slieve Donard.
Need to know: This designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is tops with hill walkers, nature lovers, and those who just want to soak up the majestic beauty of the landscape. The area is home to the mountains of Mourne themselves, which as the song tells us, sweep down to the sea. The mountains were said to have inspired CS Lewis when he penned the ‘Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe’ with much of Narnia based on this mysterious mountain range.
Photo by JJ Jordan
Why tour Windsor Castle? Begun in 1070 by William the Conqueror, Windsor Castle is still the royal weekend retreat nearly a thousand years later.
Need to know: Windsor is an immense castle, all castellated ramparts and bastions. Visitors can stroll around Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 11’s lavish state apartments - when she is not in residence of course - and admire works of art by Leonardo da Vinci, Van Dyck, Holbein and Rembrandt. Some travellers have been known to bump into the Queen in the castle’s sprawling parkland so who knows, you may be one of the lucky ones!
Why travel to Lake District? At a whopping 2292 square kilometres, this is England’s largest national park.
Need to know: Where better to stride across hills, mess about in a boat, cycle the trails or simply relax and soak up the views? There is an incredible variety of camera-ready scenery here, from rugged hillsides and woodlands rich in Atlantic mosses, ferns and lichen to glassy lakes and fells where ravens and birds of prey are a relatively common sight.
Visit Lake District on Trafalgar's Amazing Britain itinerary.
Why see Rosslyn Chapel? One of the world's most intriguing places, probably built by Templars in exile.
Need to know: Rosslyn or Roslin Chapel dating back over 500 years is the setting for the conclusion of The Da Vinci Code and featured in the 2006 film. The Chapel is a replica of Solomon's Temple adorned with mysterious carvings. The Apprentice Pillar takes pride of place in the tiny chapel and holds mythical secrets. Rosslyn’s mix of themes and symbols, both religious and pagan play a vital role in helping finally piece together the mysteries of The Da Vinci Code.
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