Add these 25 unforgettable, only-in-Britain experiences to your bucket list, from wall-to-wall LMAO moments at the Edinburgh Fringe to dunking a strawberry into a dollop of cream at Wimbledon.
1. Become a whisky master
You can sample Scotland’s national drink at distilleries from the Highlands to the Islands of the country, but at Glengoyne you can go a step further and blend your own single malt. Like the most fun chemistry lesson ever, the Malt Master Tour sees you nose, swirl, blend – and taste – a variety of single casks, before making your own 200ml bottle of the good stuff to take home.
Photo © Glengoyne
2. Stride over Abbey Road
Hit the vintage markets at Spitalfields and Notting Hill to find the perfect flared suit before heading to the pedestrian crossing made famous by The Beatles for the cover of their album, Abbey Road. The locals are used to having to wait longer than usual to drive across, while Fab Four fans create their very own John-George-Paul-and-Ringo moment.
3. Party in a weird and wonderful village
Not many people think ‘I’d love to create an Italianate village in my country, 1,000 miles away from actual Italy’, and even fewer pull it off. Clough Williams-Ellis did – Portmeirion in north Wales is the result: trippy, paintbox-bright houses tumble down to a beautiful stretch of sea. This is the setting for one of Britain’s best new fests, Festival Number 6, a carnival of music, circus and wild partying over three days in September.
4. Laugh your a** off for a month
Edinburgh is in its element over August, when the world’s largest arts festival, The Fringe, takes over the entire city. With more than 3,500 shows, performers ranging from big-name comedians to small-scale theatre companies will set up shop anywhere, with past performances in massive marquees, ancient churches, estate agent offices, canal barges, public toilets and, once, someone’s flat.
5. Smell The Queen’s roses
Buckingham Palace, The Queen’s London residence, opens its door to visitors every summer – tour the opulent State Rooms, where Her Majesty welcomes visiting dignitaries, and pick up interior design tips in the Throne Room, where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge had their formal wedding photos taken. Best of all are the glorious gardens – admire the wisteria-clad summer house and Palace tennis court, and smell the beautifully-fragrant roses.
6. Drive Bond’s favourite car…
The Aston Martin DB5 was 007’s car of choice when he had to whisk his boss, M, from London to Scotland in Skyfall and the car has featured in 50 years of Bond films since Goldfinger in 1964. Get behind the (beautifully-stitched leather) wheel of a Vanquish, V12 Vantage S and DB11 at Milbrook Proving Ground, where you can take the speedometer over 100mph along the ‘mile straight’.
Photo © Bond in Motion, London Film Museum
7. …and drink his favourite cocktail
Ian Fleming, author of the Bond books, used to spend a lot of time drinking writing at Dukes Bar in London’s swish Mayfair, which is said to have inspired the immortal lines ‘shaken, not stirred’. It’s still the best place in town for a vodka martini, made by expert mixologists and served with discreet ceremony by white-suited waiters.
Photo © Col Pics/Everett/REX
8. Wake up here…
Deep in a forest, in the middle of Wales, your very own home in the treetops awaits. There’s no electricity, so it’s lanterns and candles in the evening, a wood-burning stove heats a spring-water shower and a fully equipped kitchen means you can cook up a lofty banquet before sleeping at squirrel-height. Visit in spring and wake to a carpet of bluebells outside.
Photo © Living-Room Treehouse Experience
9. …or here
It’s known as the Theatre of Dreams and now you can wake up right outside Old Trafford after a night at Hotel Football, where you can also have a kick about on the amazing rooftop terrace and dine at the footy-themed Café Football, before heading over for a match or behind-the-scenes stadium tour.
Photo © Hotel Football
10. And go to sleep here
Warning: once you get the keys to Knoydart House, you won’t want to give them back. This achingly-cool designer home – which two people can hire –is perched above rugged Loch Nevis, with one of the best hot tub views on the planet. It’s the ultimate romantic hideaway, with little chance of seeing another person around for miles.
Photo © Knoydart House
11. Trampoline in a disused slate mine
Like Clough Williams-Ellis’ ‘why not?’ approach to building Portmeirion, it’s fair to assume there was a bit of ‘why not?’ involved when someone pitched the idea of an underground adventure playground in a disused slate mine in Wales, in a cavern the size of a cathedral. And so, Bounce Below was born. Fling yourself with glee onto giant trampolines and down industrial slides and feel like a kid again.
12. Bathe in thermal waters
The Romans first tapped into the thermal waters of Bath (hence the name) 2,000 years ago. The naturally warm waters continue to feed all four baths at Thermae Bath Spa. The rooftop pool is the jewel in the crown; from here, you can sink into the bubbling jets while admiring views over Bath and the surrounding countryside – go in the evening for a soak under the stars.
13. Expand your mind
About 80,000 objects are on display at any one time at The British Museum – which is just 1% of its collection. This includes the Rosetta Stone, statues from the Parthenon in Ancient Greece, several mummified cats from ancient Egypt and more; its collection spans over 2,000,000 years of human history. Take the ‘Around the World in 90 Minutes’ tour on weekends, and leave with your brain decidedly enriched.
14. Expand your waistline
…at the first pub to win two Michelin stars, The Hand and Flowers. Chef Tom Kerridge’s pride and joy looks like any other quaint countryside pub and feels like one too, with none of the pretensions and fussiness of a fancy-pants restaurant – it just happens to serve up the most delicious pub grub you can imagine. Try the Essex lamb ‘bun’, for perfection wrapped in pastry.
Photo © The Hand and Flowers
15. Hit the toon
Known as the ‘toon’ by locals, Newcastle is one of Britain’s most fun party cities, but it’s not all about Geordie Shore. Hop from SIX cocktail bar at the top of the hip BALTIC gallery to Pleased To Meet You in the centre of town for a speciality gin and tonic, dine on delicious Japanese, Indian or modern British cuisine, then catch a live gig or head to a club to dance the night away.
Photo © SIX
16. Dominate Wales’ wackiest watersport
Coasteering was pioneered in Pembrokeshire, on the west coast of Wales and involves ‘making your way around the coastline by any means possible’. This might involve cliff-jumping, scrambling, swimming and caving – most likely a combination of all the above. It’s incredibly addictive and provides an alternative view of the gorgeous Welsh coastline.
17. See Shakespeare as Shakespeare saw it
Shakespeare’s Globe is a faithful recreation of the Globe Theatre – which burnt down in 1613 – built just a stone’s throw away from where the original was on London’s South Bank, where Shakespeare watched and directed his plays performed ‘in the round’. For five quid you can be a ‘yardling’ and see the show standing up from just beneath the stage, as most of the Elizabethan audience would have, pondering whether ‘to be or not to be’ really is the question.
18. Get suited and booted
Could this be the highest concentration of men’s tailors in the world? It seems likely – Savile Row is synonymous with menswear and the street positively oozes class. Head into Gieves and Hawkes, Henry Poole or Kathryn Sargent – the first woman to set up shop on Savile Row – and get measured up for a bespoke suit that’ll last a lifetime.
19. Push a boat with a stick
That’s essentially what punting is, but it’s actually harder to master than it sounds! Punting along the River Cam in Cambridge is a marvellous way to spend an afternoon, passing grand university colleges, mooring at pubs for refreshments, ducking under willow trees and colliding with other punts – and sometimes ending up in the river.
20. Eat strawberries, drink Pimms, watch tennis
Was there ever a formula for a day out more pleasurable? The Championships at Wimbledon are one of Britain’s best-loved summer events. Even if you don’t get a ticket to centre court, there’s a magic atmosphere on ‘Murray Mount’, a large hill close to the action where giant television screens broadcast the action and the Pimms is free-flowing.
21. Find the fairies
It’s easy to believe in something other-worldly at the Fairy Pools, a series of crystal-clear blue pools fed by seemingly colour-changing waterfalls. They’re located on one of Scotland’s most enchanting islands, Skye. The walk from Glen Brittle is gentle, but if you’re the adventurous type you can always jump in for a bracing wild swim once you reach the pools.
22. Sit with Alan Turing
Alan Turing, the subject of the 2015 movie The Imitation Game, cracked the Nazis’ Enigma Code, shortening the Second World War and saving many lives – but he was arrested and imprisoned for his sexuality which was, at the time, a crime. A campaign which resulted in a posthumous pardon for Turing in 2013 began in Manchester, where you can sit beside a statue of the mathematician in Sackville Park, a stone’s throw from Canal Street, now the city’s fabulous epicentre of gay nightlife.
Photo © Weinstein Company/Courtesy Eve/REX
23. See where King Arthur came from
It’s said that the legendary warrior King Arthur was conceived at Tintagel, a site long associated with myth and mystery, where artists go to paint and writers set their most romantic stories. Head to the rugged promontory and explore the ruins of the 13th century castle, taking in dramatic Atlantic views and looking for Merlin’s Cave nearby.
Photo © Matthew Jessop
24. Squeeze in tea, cake, scones and sandwiches… between lunch and dinner
The ultimate British experience can be summed up in two words: Afternoon Tea. The tradition of fitting in a little – well, actually really quite massive – snack between lunch and dinner was spearheaded by the Duchess of Bedford in 1840, who liked tea, bread and butter and cake to be brought to her daily at 4 o clock. Today you can get a ‘fashionista tea’, a Mad Hatter’s tea, a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Tea – or the classic, with scones, jam and cucumber sandwiches piled high.
25. Pronounce this
Head to the Anglesey village of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, which boasts the longest place name in Europe and the second longest in the world. It means ‘Saint Mary's Church in the hollow of the white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio of the red cave’ – find a local and learn your first Welsh word.