The UK has sights that are recognised the world over, but how about trying these alternatives, that are cheaper – or even free?
London: Panoramic views over the city
Been to The London Eye? Now head to The Monument. This towering column commemorates the spot in the City of London where the infamous Great Fire of London started in 1666. You can climb the 311 steps to the viewing platform at the top where you get a startling panorama over London. Fun fact The column is 61 metres (202 feet) high – the exact distance between it and the site in Pudding Lane where the Great Fire began. It is also the tallest freestanding stone column in the world. How much? Adults £3, or pay just £1 if you also visit Tower Bridge with a combined ticket; it’s also included in the London Pass. Website: The Monument
Wiltshire: Mysterious stone circles
Stonehenge. It’s the iconic site of the UK, those mysterious big stones arranged in a circle in the Wiltshire countryside. But head 16 miles down the road and you reach Avebury, the largest stone circle in Europe. Constructed some 6,000 years ago, you can wander freely among the stones and even stop for a pint with a perfect view over the site in the Red Lion Pub. Fun fact Superstitious 18th-century villagers attacked some of the stones, believing the circle to have been a place of pagan sacrifice. How much? Free entry. Website: Avebury stone circle is managed by both the National Trust and English Heritage
Northern England: Stunning cathedrals
Cathedrals are one of the UK’s great gems with magnificent architecture that has stood the test of time. York Minster is one of the country’s finest with its spectacular medieval stained glass windows. A little further up north, Durham Cathedral is a supreme example of Norman architecture. With its enormous stone pillars, rose window, soaring vaulted ceiling and atmospheric cloisters, it’s mind-blowing to think this was built nearly 1,000 years ago. Its location is picture-perfect too – perched on top of a hill along with Durham Castle, it’s no wonder they’re a joint World Heritage Site. Fun fact The ancient architecture of Durham Cathedral provided an ideal filming location for the Harry Potter movies. The cloisters became the Hogwarts quadrangle where Harry sets Hedwig the owl flying, and the chapterhouse was the venue for Professor McGonagall’s classroom. How much? Free entry. (Donation suggested as it costs £12 a minute to upkeep the cathedral). Website: Durham Cathedral
Britain gardens well. And the high-tech biomes of the Eden Project in Cornwall show our horticultural skills are forward-thinking, too. But did you know that one of its creators, Tim Smit, had an earlier project? Just a few miles down the road are The Lost Gardens of Heligan – a magical Victorian garden that Smit triumphantly resurrected. Here you can explore jungle-like trails, valleys, woods, lakes and wildflower meadows. Fun fact The restoration work was inspired after the discovery of a motto etched into the walls of a crumbling room in the gardens that read, “Don’t come here to sleep or slumber” with the names of those who worked there signed under the date – August 1914. How much? Adults £11; concessions £10; children (5-16) £6; children under 5 free. Website: The Lost Gardens of Heligan
Wales: Castles aplenty
Ancient castles are abundant in Wales, and Cardiff Castle is a favourite destination. Not far outside of the city is Castell Coch. Once a ruined 13th-century fortress, like Cardiff Castle it was rebuilt and transformed into a fantasy ideal. Complete with pointy-roofed turrets, a portcullis and drawbridge plus an over-the-top interior, you can get lost in a medieval dream here. Fun fact The eccentric architect William Burges was given free rein by the 3rd Marquess of Bute to create a country retreat matching the lavishness of his main residence, Cardiff Castle. How much? Adults £4.50; concessions and children under 16 £3.40. Website: Castell Coch All prices correct in Jan 2014.