Manchester International Festival 2019

Manchester will be filled with world premieres, exclusive art performances, theatre, music and film for the Manchester International Festival in July. Performance spaces across the city will welcome a diverse range of renowned artists including Yoko Ono, David Lynch, Ivo van Hoe, Abida Parveen, Janelle Monáe, Maxine Peake, Idris Elba and Skepta.

Events will be held in various venues around Manchester from 4 – 21 July, with Albert Square set to become ‘Festival Square’ for the duration. Acting as a hub for the festival, there will be free live music, DJs, food and drink. Festival Square is also inviting foodies to enjoy a Michelin-star quality four course ‘Lazy Lunch’ in their intimate Glass House. Tickets cost £50 for a two-and-a-half-hour sitting.

Bells for Peace

Both a world premiere and the artist’s first commissioned work for the city of Manchester, the festival’s opening night will see Yoko Ono’s Bells for Peace. Meeting in the Cathedral Gardens, audiences will experience a sea of singing and bell ringing to amplify a message of peace. Many bells will be handmade locally, but attendees of this free event are also encouraged to bring their own bells and become part of the performance.

David Lynch

For the duration of the festival, iconic director, David Lynch will be taking over HOME, a venue known for championing multi-cultural and independent arts. Featuring the UK’s first major exhibition of Lynch’s paintings, drawings and sculptures, My Head Is Disconnected will be complemented by evenings of curated music and film viewings. Other highlights include a showing of the The Elephant Man, and a discussion on transcendental meditation. While the art exhibition is free admission, other events are ticketed and prices vary.

Inspired music evenings

One of the David Lynch-inspired evenings of music includes a performance arranged especially for the festival. Two exceptional musicians will join long-term Lynch musical associate Chrysta Bell on-stage at HOME’s Theatre 1 on 14 July. Cellist Oliver Coates, who has worked with Radiohead and Karl Lagerfeld, will be joined by unique Japanese vocalist Hatis Noit for a one-off musical experience. Tickets cost £16, but are discounted for Manchester residents on lower wage.

The Fountainhead

Acclaimed theatre director of the recent sold-out West End show All About Eve, Ivo van Hove, premiers his adaptation of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead to the UK at MIF19. Taking to the stage of The Lowry Theatre, this controversial story of unrelenting individualism and capitalism will be presented in Dutch, with English surtitles. With performances from 10 – 13 July, tickets start from just £18.

Abida Parveen with Nahid Saddiqui

Internationally renowned spiritual singer, Abida Parveen, dubbed as ‘the Queen of Sufi music’, will join with legendary classical South Asian dancer, Nahid Siddiqui, for an exclusive and one-off performance. Echoing the sentiment of Yoko Ono’s opening artwork, a message of peace, love and harmony will be projected from the performers. Coming to the stage on July 5, tickets start at £18.

The Nico Project

Celebrating the strength of a genre-defining female artist in a male-dominated industry, Maxine Peake channels the enigmatic yet troubled Nico, in The Nico Project. Known for her contribution to 1960s counterculture and debut with The Velvet Underground, Nico’s music helped shape generations to come. Catch this production from 10-21 July at The Stoller Hall, tickets costing £35.

Pop-up brewery tours

A pop-up brewery, unconventionally inspired by the cholera epidemic of the 1800s when thousands survived due to their consumption of beer over water, comes to Manchester from 5 - 21 July. Underneath Victoria Station, audiences can explore the temporary brewery, designed by the Tokyo the art collective Chim?Pom, for a one hour tour and are able try to specially brewed beer, with tickets costing £10.

Manchester is city full of musical connections, interesting venues, culture and hidden gems, and this summer’s MIF19 makes the pull for audiences to plan a culture-focused trip to England all the stronger.

 

Where to drink in Manchester

Housed in a Grade II listed building, Cottonopolis Food & Liquor is a Japanese inspired bar and restaurant, nestled in Manchester’s trendy Northern Quarter. Serving innovative cocktails with Japanese inspired names such as ‘The frog in the well knows nothing of the sea’ and ‘Drunken life, dreamy death’, this stylish establishment will complement a day of international culture at MIF19.

With original 1920s glassware, dim lighting and entirely vintage décor, The Fitzgerald is a speak-easy style bar, offering delicious cocktails to an eclectic soundtrack. Just 15-minutes’ walk from Festival Square, it’s a spot known for playing disco, funk and soul and for holding weekly jazz nights every Thursday.

Salut Wines hails itself as a ‘no-nonsense’ approach to wine drinking. Offering a helping hand when it comes to picking precisely the right glass, each wine can be served in a 50ml ‘tasting’ size. Offering an impressive 42 wines to enjoy by the glass, many of which are hard to come by elsewhere, Salut go to every length to ensure every one tastes as good as it should.

 

Where to eat in Manchester

A modern and memorable take on Chinese cuisine, Tattu, in Manchester’s Spinningfields area is a great spot for an international meal. Presenting an exciting menu of steamed, fried and baked dishes, the main focal point of the restaurant is a four-metre high cherry blossom tree that sits in the middle of the restaurant floor.

Accommodating no more than 30-guests, Where The Light Gets In, in Stockport, offers an intimate and unique dining experience, set in an former coffee warehouse. Although a little out from the centre of Manchester, this creative, completely ‘sans-menu’ restaurant offers a brand-new way to dine. Customers are not given a choice, but rather receive the dishes deemed to be the best use of that day’s produce, with all root vegetables coming directly from their own farm.

Known for its signature six and nine-course tasting menus, The French at the Midland Hotel is less than a five-minute walk from the festival hub. Recently refurbished and now with Adam Reid, winner of the BBC’s Great British Menu competition, as Head Chef, The French serves high-quality British cuisine in the heart of Manchester.

 

Where to stay in Manchester

In the heart of the city’s Gay Village lies the four-star Velvet Hotel, an independent, extravagantly decorated place to stay in Manchester. Offering king rooms and luxe penthouse suites, its central location makes it a great base for enjoying MIF19.

Housed in a converted 19th century textile factory, ABode Manchester is a boutique hotel offering rooms and suites, each graded in their trademark categories. Starting with ‘comfortable’, their rooms go to ‘enviable’, and culminate at ‘fabulous’. Handily located in the centre of the city, this hotel also boasts its own restaurant and swanky bar.

Just a few minutes’ walk from the MIF hub, King Street Townhouse is a ‘baby grand hotel’, offering a range of stylish rooms. From snug and cosy, to spacious suites with roll-top baths and views of Manchester cathedral, this Italian renaissance building has a lot to offer. An infinity spa pool, cellar cinema room, mezzanine lounge and alfresco terrace all combine to create a great experience for a stay in Manchester.

VisitBritain highlights importance of gardens to tourism at RHS Chelsea Flower Show

RHS Chelsea Flower Show

VisitBritain is this year supporting the RHS Bridgewater Feature Garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, hosting an event to shine the spotlight on the role that gardens play in driving both domestic and inbound tourism.

It comes as latest statistics show that more Brits are visiting gardens as part of a day trip out in England, last year taking 7.4 million more such trips than in 2017, up 16% and making gardens more popular than visiting a stately home, historic house or palace. 

Longer-term, visits to gardens as part of a day trip in England have increased 14% on average each year during the last five years from 2014 to 2018. 

VisitBritain Chief Executive Sally Balcombe said:

“Britain’s stunning gardens are a proven tourism draw which have inspired visitors for generations, admired at home and across the world for their beauty and variety and enjoyed by domestic and overseas tourists in growing numbers. With the summer season upon us and Britain’s gardens in bloom, it is the perfect time to be highlighting their importance to tourism at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show as part of our 50th anniversary celebrations.”

Garden attractions in England have also seen higher growth than other types of attractions according to VisitEngland’s latest Annual Attractions Survey. Garden attractions saw a 3% annual increase in domestic and inbound visitors, above the average for all attraction types of 2%. 

When looking at inbound tourism, almost a third of all visits annually to the UK include a trip to a garden or park with those visitors spending a total of £8.9 billion during their stay. The US, France and Germany make up the top three inbound markets respectively for the number of visits to gardens and parks made during trips to the UK. 

Gardens have been a cornerstone of the tourism agency’s promotional activity for decades, from the ‘Britain in Bloom’ competition which it ran for many years to VisitEngland’s year-long themed campaigns promoting English gardens to drive domestic tourism. More recently its focus has been supporting tourism product development for example the ‘Gourmet Garden Trails of England’ which packages up accommodation, and food and drink around English garden attractions.

VisitBritain is hosting an evening reception for its 50th anniversary at the RHS Bridgewater Garden during the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, putting the spotlight on regional destinations and visitor attractions. The garden is designed by Tom Stuart-Smith and is the largest at this year’s show, described as a collage of the garden being built around the new Welcome Building at RHS Bridgewater in Greater Manchester. 

Tourism overall is worth £127 billion annually to the UK economy, creating jobs and driving economic growth across its nations and regions.

ENDS 

Notes to editors: 

• For a link to an online map of some of Britain’s flower shows and content please see: https://www.visitbritain.com/gb/en/discover-some-britains-most-fantastic-flower-shows
• For content on flower shows in Britain please see: 

https://www.visitbritain.com/gb/en/media/story-ideas/discover-some-britains-most-fantastic-flower-shows
• The British Tourist Authority (VisitBritain/VisitEngland) marks its 50th anniversary this year, 2019. It was established following The Development of Tourism Act 1969.
• Latest statistics show that in 2018 there 54.4 million domestic day trips in England which included a visit to a garden compared to 47 million in 2017, an increase of 16%.
• The third of inbound tourism visits accounted for (32%) of visits to the UK based on 2016 International Passenger Survey statistics from ONS.
• The latest VisitEngland Annual Attractions Survey is for 2017 (and published in August 2018): See link here: https://www.visitbritain.org/sites/default/files/vb-corporate/Documents-Library/documents/England-documents/vva_2017_trends_in_england.pdf 

• For more information on the RHS Bridgewater Garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show see:
https://www.rhs.org.uk/gardens/bridgewater

48 Hours in Birmingham

Time to check in

As befits a city of its size, Birmingham has a multitude of hotels, ranging from budget chains to luxury properties and everything in between. The seven-storey, 131-bedroom Pentahotel is one of the city’s coolest properties – its bar, restaurant and lounge being a particular draw thanks to its funky décor – and is only a ten-minute walk from the train station, and just five from the city’s must-visit Bullring Shopping Centre. For boutique-style accommodation set within Victorian architecture, The Edgbaston – located in the Edgbaston neighbourhood of Birmingham, the famous home of cricket – has just expanded to offer 20 contemporary, individually styled bedrooms. You’ll find four-star luxury at the Genting Hotel, situated right at the heart of leisure and entertainment complex Resorts World Birmingham and, come early 2019, The Grand, a luxury, 180-room hotel with a restaurant and bar, a spa and a rooftop infinity pool, is due to open in one of the city’s best-known, Grade II-listed buildings.

DAY ONE

09:00 Did you know that Birmingham has more miles of canals than Venice, all of which are lined with beautifully restored industrial heritage landmarks or striking contemporary buildings? Embarking on a canal boat tour is one of the best ways to explore the city’s heritage. There are several routes to choose from, ranging from tours of the more modern developments of Birmingham to the city’s pretty suburbs and out further into the countryside.

11:00 Discover adventure in the heart of a city as you test your mental and physical abilities at Birmingham’s recently opened Bear Grylls Adventure, the TV presenter’s eponymous activities venue. Choose from thrilling climbing challenges, tackle extreme high-ropes courses, experience unadulterated joy as you free fall at indoor skydiving, or take a deep breath as you submerge for the underwater challenges. The adrenaline rush will set you up for the day ahead!

13:00 How about a botanical-inspired cocktail – think poppy and pomegranate martini or a sage and rhubarb spritz – created from greenhouse herbs grown on-site to accompany a hearty lunch in a charming venue? The Botanist evokes a secret garden atmosphere, its décor embellished with various knick-knacks and ornaments. The restaurant serves up BBQ, deli and rotisserie-based dishes such as its Famous Hanging Kebabs, ranging from Tandoori cod and king prawn to lamb kofta with harissa jam.

15:00 One of Britain’s most famous confectionary brands, Cadbury, was born and bred in Birmingham. Discover its story – as well as feast on as much chocolate as you can eat – at Cadbury World, 20 minutes from the city centre. You’ll find out how chocolate is made, explore the 4D Chocolate Adventure zone and the 4D cinema experiences and watch the chocolatiers at work. And don’t forget to stock up on treats at the world’s largest Cadbury shop on-site!

17:00 Make your way over to the Custard Factory, the city’s creative quarter, and enjoy a round of crazy golf against a backdrop of graffiti art and cool music at Ghetto Golf. After you’ve hit 18 holes sip a cocktail or two at its stylish bar.

19:00 Head back into the city centre for a meal at one of Birmingham’s newest dining experiences, Pint Shop. Located in a listed building dating back to 1860 in Birmingham’s former financial quarter, Bennett’s Hill, the restaurant focuses on a menu of seasonal British produce and local and national beers.

DAY TWO

09:00 Gain a genuine insight into what life was like in the Black Country (just west of Birmingham) as the region grew into one of the world’s first industrial landscapes at the Black Country Living Museum. This fascinating open-air museum is packed with original period shops, houses and villages, with costumed characters to relate stories of what it was like to live and work in the region in the mid-19th century. Plans are also under way to create a new town centre telling the story of the Black Country from the 1940s to the 1960s.

11:00 In addition to its well-documented industrial heritage, Birmingham is renowned for its jewellery and metalworking heritage. Head to the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter in the Jewellery Quarter to discover more – the museum is a perfect time capsule, built around a preserved jewellery workshop. Take a guided tour, explore the galleries and watch live jewellery-making demonstrations before exploring the Jewellery Quarter itself which, as well as the ideal place to search for a new bracelet or earrings, boasts a thriving arts scene.

13:00 Stop for a quick bite to eat at the Jewellery Quarter-based Rose Villa Tavern. Described as a ‘vintage Victorian mecca’ it’s a highly decorative venue (think antler chandeliers and artistic tiles), creating a lovely atmosphere in which to enjoy classic diner-style food, craft beers and maybe a sample of one of the 100 vodkas it stocks.

15:00 Birmingham has long been a magnet for TV and film producers; one of the biggest hits recently filmed here is Peaky Blinders, a show set in the city during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Discover Birmingham’s darker past on a Peaky Blinders-inspired walking tour. There are several tour companies offering such tours, as well as a host of other walking routes. BrumTours, for example, also runs a BrumPubs tour, a Birth of Birmingham tour and a Thousand Trades tour, as an homage to the city’s rich trading and manufacturing past.

17:00 Head to the neighbourhood of Digbeth, a cool, creative hub where street and graffiti artists have changed the outlook of the area’s classic red brick walls. Order a drink in one of the newest bars in the area, The Ruin, which also recently unveiled a mural-style map featuring 12 independent and unique neighbours, together called ‘The Digbeth Dozen’. Created by Birmingham graffiti artist Title (Andy Mills) it features venues such as the street-food focused Digbeth Dining Club, where you can stop by for a bite to eat on Fridays and Saturdays.

19:00 Birmingham is one of England’s cultural hubs, and an evening can be spent enjoying a production at one of its theatres. Check out the Birmingham Repertory Theatre for classic and contemporary theatre, the New Alexandra Theatre for its mix of musicals, comedy, drama and concerts, or the Midlands Arts Centre (MAC), which boasts four performance auditoria presenting a wide range of contemporary work across a variety of genres.

Getting there: Birmingham has its own international airport and can also be reached by train from both London and Manchester in 90 minutes.

Back with a bang! Where to celebrate Bonfire Night in Britain

If you’re travelling in Britain on or around 5 November, you’ll have the chance to experience something uniquely British – Guy Fawkes Night, also known as Bonfire Night, where fireworks light up the skies and huge bonfires are lit. It’s a tradition stretching back centuries, celebrating the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 when Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Many British towns and cities host their own events; here’s where you can expect to find some of the most spectacular fireworks displays in 2018.

Alexandra Palace Fireworks Festival, London

There’ll be guaranteed ‘oohs’ and ‘aaahs’ at one of the biggest and most impressive fireworks displays in the UK, held at north London’s Alexandra Palace (affectionately known as Ally Pally) between 2 – 3 November. There’ll also be plenty more to enjoy than the fireworks and the bonfire; ice-skating sessions at its rink – plus a special Ice Disco for after the main fireworks’ display – a laser show prior to the fireworks, a huge German Bier Keller taking over Ally Pally’s Great Hall, live music, circus performances of high-wire walking, plus tasty treats at the Street Food and Craft Beer village. All of this with the added bonus of incredible panoramic views over the London skyline.

Battle Bonfire and Fireworks Display, East Sussex, south England

Said to be the town where Guy Fawkes sourced his gunpowder, Battle in East Sussex (around two hours from London) understandably puts on a fabulous free, non-ticketed event. Hosted by the Battle Bonfire Boyes, the day (3 November in 2018) begins with the ringing of the church bells and a children’s procession, that leads to a competition for the best fancy dress and the best Guy (the effigy created to put on the bonfire). By 6pm the Guy is taken up the High Street to kickstart another procession that ends at the bonfire and a fabulous fireworks display commences.

Fireworks at the Fort, Segedunum Roman Fort, Wallsend, north-east England

The night sky over north-east England’s River Tyne will be lit up with multi-coloured fireworks on 2 November when the event kicks off at Segedunum, a major site on Hadrian’s Wall. The beauty of celebrating Bonfire Night at this location is the chance to explore the museum exhibits at the Fort first, the most excavated fort along World Heritage Site Hadrian’s Wall. It has a fantastic interactive museum (free entry after 4pm on the day), plus a full-scale reconstruction of a bath house and a section of the Wall. Catch fabulous views of Hadrian’s Wall from its 35-metre high viewing tower, which, for the first time this year, will be the offering exclusive, limited number, VIP seats for the fireworks display.

Sparks in the Park, Cardiff, south Wales

This annual event is attended by around 20,000 people making it one of Wales’ biggest and best firework displays. At Cardiff’s Bute Park on 3 November, a huge bonfire will be lit, with an earlier fireworks’ show taking place for young children before the main event later in the evening. There’s plenty to occupy visitors before then, with food stalls, fairground attractions and live entertainment.

Chatsworth House, Derbyshire, central England

This fireworks’ extravaganza takes place in its gardens of one of England’s most beautiful stately homes over the course of two nights, on 2 and 3 November. The lighting of the bonfire kicks off proceedings, followed by a children’s fireworks display and culminates with the grand finale fireworks display. Wrap up warm and explore the grounds for live music, circus performances, dancing and feasts of hog roasts and mulled cider. This year guests can also buy tickets to a two-course dinner in Chatsworth’s Cavendish restaurant before entry to the bonfire and fireworks event.

Lewes Bonfire Night, East Sussex, south-east England

Probably one of the quirkiest celebrations of Bonfire Night, the 5 November will see the return of this remarkable festival in the tranquil town of Lewes on England’s south coast. Six separate Lewes Bonfire Societies, including visiting bonfire societies from all over Sussex, celebrate Guy Fawkes Night across various parts of the town, each with their own fireworks, traditions and up to 30 processions, which then all come together through the streets of Lewes. It’s quite the spectacle.

The Tar Barrels of Ottery St Mary, Devon, south England

You can’t get a better example of the charm of English eccentricity than this…the Tar Barrel tradition, which is centuries older and began after the Gunpowder Plot. The event started with the townspeople of Devon town Ottery St Mary rolling burning barrels down the streets on 5 November, which then progressed to the current tradition of people carrying full-sized, lit tar barrels through the streets instead! This year the event takes place on 4 November (as 5 November falls on a Sunday) and this pyrotechnic wonder is accompanied by a fireworks’ display and bonfire.

Tartantastic Fireworks Extravaganza Show, Edinburgh, Scotland

Charity Scottish Love in Action is hosting three Tartantastic Fireworks Extravaganza Shows, huge family-friendly fundraising events, the first on 2 November, the next two on 4 November. Not only are visitors treated to a large-scale fireworks display, there will also be traditional Scottish music from pipe bands as well as a performance by the Fire Circus theatre and enough food stalls to satisfy all hungry stomachs. This year there are a limited number of VIP tickets available, which includes access to the VIP lounge and refreshments.

 

Ten of the best ghostly tours and haunted houses in Britain

Get ready to be spooked this Halloween with these spine-chilling experiences and haunted houses.

 

5 chilling experiences

 

For The Love Of Horror – Manchester, north-west England

Your nerves will be stretched to their very limit as you explore a new creepy experience from Monopoly Events, who will transfer the Bowlers Exhibition Centre in Manchester into a chilling immersive attraction that will make you quake in your boots! Dare you enter the Nightmare Zone, where you’ll be greeted by horror movies’ most frightening characters, before you attempt to battle your way through a zombie outbreak? Meet those real-life creatures that always crop up in horror films, the tarantulas and cockroaches to snakes, before you heroically move on to a ‘mad monster after party’ and experiencing all the other horror attractions. Prove to friends and family you survived it all with a snap in the interactive ‘exorcist’ photo booth.

 

Wicked Nights at Blackgang Chine – Isle of Wight, south England

Walk through a ‘land of twisted imagination’ at amusement park Blackgang Chine’s new horror event, Wicked Nights at the Cursed Mill. Pluck up all your courage as you approach hair-raising live action experiences and scream like you’ve never screamed before on the Cliffhanger roller-caster. Still feeling brave? Hop on board the sinister ghost train before keeping your wits about you as you compete in games and activities at the Freaky Fair.

 

Muncaster Castle – Cumbria, north-west England

Muncaster Castle celebrates the spookiest time of the year in a truly ghostly fashion, as befits a castle known to be one of the most haunted in Britain. Don your finest Halloween fancy dress before making your way bravely through the dark and eerie Meadowvole Maze, be prepared to jump out of your skin as you listen to scary tales of fear and terror, and who knows what you might find lurking in the Ghostly Grotto! In between being spooked you’ll be entertained by the Muncaster Monster Cabaret – a mix of conjurors, fire-eating and aerial acts. 

 

Journey to the Underworld – London, England

Are you brave enough to embark on a Journey to the Underworld? This is a journey where you’ll discover the ‘Greatest Love Story Never Told’ at Pedley Street Station in Shoreditch, east London, as Funicular Productions brings a new enigmatic theatre experience to life. Get ready to encounter a thrilling combination that takes you through a story of fantasy, danger, fear, hope and love, as well as feast on a ‘last meal in paradise’ before your journey to the underworld. It’s here you’ll try to outsmart ‘the seductive Gatekeeper, the hunched Harbinger, and the damnable Dark One’.

 

Ghoulies Haunted House – Liverpool, north-west England

After bringing a live-action scare attraction and horror-themed bar to the residents of, and visitors to, Liverpool on a year-round basis it’s unsurprising that Ghoulies Haunted House is upping the scare factor come Halloween. This year, a character that may be innocuously called Kavity the Clown will be roaming the Haunted House, but you can guarantee it will be as scary as clowns get…and with a lot of laughs thrown in. If you enjoy this, come back any time of year to experience the venue’s horror-themed cocktails and events such as Scaryoke Karaoke, the Brain Dead Quiz and Boogeyman Bingo.

 

5 of Britain’s most haunted houses

 

Chillingham Castle, Chillingham, Northumberland, north-east England

Chilling by name and chilling by nature, this 13th-century castle in Northumberland was the scene of bloody battles and eerie intrigue for centuries. Its rooms and gardens are lovely places to explore but to properly experience one of the most haunted castles in Britain, head into its Torture Chamber and join an evening Ghost Tour for a more unnerving encounter.

The Ancient Ram Inn, Gloucestershire, west England

For nearly 900 years the Ancient Ram Inn has stood in the Gloucestershire village of Wotton-under-Edge and brings with it stories of a gruesome and bloodthirsty history. Not only that, there have been numerous reports of supernatural events taking place here, making it a frontrunner for spookiest house in Britain. If that doesn’t petrify you, stay overnight here – although whether you’ll get a good night’s sleep is another matter…

Newton House, Dinefwr, Pembrokeshire, west Wales

The gorgeous Dinefwr Estate is a beautiful 18th-century park landscaped by Capability Brown, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t tales of ghosts and ghouls roaming the grounds. Newton House, in the centre of the park, has a ghostly visitor each night in the form of Lady Elinor Cavendish. The tale goes that she was betrothed to a man she didn’t love and, when she ran away from him and escaped back to Dinefwr to her family, her suitor strangled her. Visitors should listen out for muffled voices and watch out paranormal activity from the servants’ basement…

St Briavel’s Castle, Gloucestershire, west England

Looked after by English Heritage, this castle is now a youth hostel and if you enjoy the thought of hearing all the creepy tales about this 800-year-old castle, this is the place for you. Maybe you’ll sense the spine-chilling atmosphere as you explore the castle and feel the hairs stand up on the back of your neck as you read pleading notes carved into the walls by prisoners held here centuries ago.

Glamis Castle, Scotland

Known as one of the most haunted castles in Scotland, Glamis Castle – 20 minutes’ drive from Dundee and, incidentally, the childhood home of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother – is said to be home to many spirits…which makes sense when you learn it’s been standing since 1372 and was said to have inspired Shakespeare’s Macbeth. There’s many a spooky tale of historic dark deeds to be heard, especially around Halloween on one of its ghostly tours…

 

48 hours in… Bristol

It’s already well-known for its Banksy street art connection and vibrant arts, culture and music scene — but there’s even more to Bristol than meets the eye.

Not only is Bristol a buzzing university city, but it’s also home of some of Britain’s quirkiest tourist attractions. It’s little wonder that in 2017 it topped a Sunday Times poll for ‘Best Place To Live’ in the UK.

Walks along the harbour or through The Downs, a public park overlooking Avon Gorge, are the perfect way to relax in between the excitement of a hedonistic 48-hour trip to this lively city, home to an eclectic art scene and the ever-present basslines of its famous music venues.

 

TIME TO CHECK IN:

Stay among the hipsters and check into the Hotel du Vin at The Sugar House, a collection of restored historic sugar warehouses. Right in the city centre, it’s the perfect base from which to enjoy the best of classic Bristolian cool.

 

DAY ONE:

 

10:00 EXPLORE EUROPE’S MOST BIKE-FRIENDLY DESTINATION

Join a tour or even hire a tandem to explore the city. If you prefer to do it yourself, you can download a cycling map from Better By Bike.

 

13:00 EAT IN A SECRET GARDEN

Fill your rumbling tum with rustic fare at local favourite The Ethicurean where you can indulge in an ethically conscious feast of seasonal produce in its whimsical walled garden setting. It is half an hour by taxi from Bristol city centre (and only six minutes from the airport); note that it’s closed on Mondays.

The mouthwatering dishes include modern British creations such as beef neck with purple sprouting broccoli to classic desserts like sticky toffee pudding. Diners can choose from an a-la-carte lunch menu or enjoy the ‘Full Feast Dinner’ served Tuesday to Saturday evenings (£28-£46 per person).

 

15:00 HEAD TO THE HARBOURSIDE

Wander down to Bristol’s historic harbour and learn why the SS Great Britain, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, was called ‘the greatest experiment since the Creation.’ The steamship, one of the longest and most powerful of its time, was designed to transport passengers across the Atlantic from Bristol to New York.

Get to know the vessel’s history at the Dockyard Museum. Step aboard the lovingly restored ship, adorned with flags as if ready for departure, and imagine what transatlantic travel would have felt like in Victorian Britain. The ship is contained inside a glass ‘sea’ to repel humidity and ensure minimal corrosion. In fact, the air inside the ‘dry dock’ that surrounds the ship is as dry as the desert!

 

19:00 DINING ON THE WATER

Grab a table at the Glass Boat Brasserie. This floating restaurant, constructed from a barge, makes for an unusual dining experience and serves up classic French cuisine.

 

21:00 SECRET SPEAKEASY

Get the party started and seek out one of Bristol’s ‘secret’ prohibition bars. Opposite the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, in the city centre, you’ll find Hyde & Co, Bristol’s original speakeasy. Grab yourself a pew at the bar and sip on Sucker Punch, a tropical mix of the bar’s own Hyde Scotch, with coconut, salted pineapple, lime and creole bitters.

 

DAY TWO:

 

10:00 UNESCO CITY OF FILM

See why Bristol was named UNESCO City of Film and check out some of the city’s famous locations. From university rom-com Starter for Ten, to period drama The Duchess starring Keira Knightley, Bristol is a seriously starry city. 
 

13:00 DINE IN A SHIPPING CONTAINER

Enjoy lunch at Cargo, at Wapping Wharf, a collection of restaurants set in old shipping containers. Other spots include the delicious taco bar Cargo Cantina or opt for the ultimate comfort food at Lovett Pies.

 

15:00 EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP

No Bristolian adventure would be complete without a pilgrimage to places where the notoriously anonymous street artist, and Bristolian, Banksy made his name in the early 1990s.

See some of his iconic works, such as ‘Paint-Pot Angel’ at the entrance to the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. You’ll come across many others on a self-guided Banksy walking tour or can download the Banksy Bristol Trail app for more.

Although he’s never sold a piece, his work attracts fans from around the globe, which was the subject of Banksy’s own Oscar-nominated film Exit Through the Gift Shop, about a street art-obsessed French immigrant living in LA.

 

17:00 BOUTIQUE BUYS

Grab some last-minute buys and head back to shoppers’ haven Clifton, a picture-perfect Victorian suburb of Bristol. The area is packed with independent shops, and you’ll have the perfect opportunity to get that Instagram shot of Clifton Suspension Bridge too.

 

HOW TO GET THERE:

By air: Bristol Airport is approximately 30 minutes by express bus to Bristol Temple Meads station.

By rail: Bristol Temple Meads is under two hours from London Paddington.

By road: Bristol is 2.5 hours from London via the M4.

48 Hours in…Chester and Cheshire

With an enchanting mix of historic market towns, quaint village squares and picturesque landscapes, not to mention an impressive collection of stately homes and formal gardens, there are few places more quintessentially English than Cheshire. At the heart of the county is the compact Roman city of Chester; bewitching in its beauty and quietly making a name for itself as one of the UK’s most enriching short break destinations.

 

GET YOUR BEARINGS

One of several counties in the north of England, Cheshire is within easy distance of a number of key cities, locations and tourism hubs, including Liverpool, Manchester, The Peak District, Staffordshire and North Wales. Due to Manchester Airport’s southern location within Greater Manchester, it is possible to travel into northern parts of Cheshire within minutes of leaving the airport, whilst a journey from the airport to Chester takes around 45 minutes by car.

 

TIME TO CHECK IN

If you’re setting up base camp in Chester, there are few hotels as impressive as The Chester Grosvenor. Overlooking the famous Eastgate Clock, The Grosvenor has been welcoming guests for over 150 years and was recently bestowed the title of ‘World’s Best Classic Hotel’ at the Boutique Hotel Awards. Similarly impressive but with a much more idiosyncratic style is the achingly-cool Oddfellows Chester, an Instagrammers dream hotel, and if you’re arriving on a late flight (or have an early departure) from Manchester Airport its sister property, Oddfellows On The Park, is equally charming. Of course, with so much beautiful countryside, Cheshire itself isn’t short of country-piles-turned-hotels and standout options include Peckforton Castle, The Mere, Mottram Hall and brand new opening in Knutsford, The Courthouse.

 

 

DAY ONE

 

10:00 – FIND YOUR FEET

Founded by the Romans in AD79, Chester has a long and fascinating history. Take a brisk morning stroll to discover the most complete City Walls in Britain; Eastgate Clock, said to be the most photographed clock in England after Big Ben; the River Dee; the largest Roman Amphitheatre; the oldest racecourse in Britain; and the city’s stunning Cathedral. There are plenty of great walking tours available, but for a tour with a difference, book a Chester Running Tour and whizz around the sites on 5k or 10k routes. Just make sure that you backtrack to Chester Cross for midday to see the Town Crier’s daily proclamation.

 

12:30 – HAVE A STICKY LUNCH

Take a five-minute taxi ride or 30 minute walk to Hoole where you’ll find a quaint high street and a small restaurant with big ambitions. Sticky Walnut is the acclaimed neighbourhood restaurant from local restauranteur Gary Usher offering delicious British cuisine and a great value three-course lunch. It’s one of several restaurants across the north west that serial crowdfunder Usher has opened, drawing diners into small towns and suburbs such as Heswall in Merseyside where people flock to Burnt Truffle, Didsbury in Greater Manchester where he opened Hispi in 2016, and Prescott in Merseyside where Pinion is coming soon. There’s also Wreckfish in Liverpool and Kala, due to open in Manchester in 2019.

 

14:00 – A HIT OF HERITAGE

Take your pick for an afternoon of unique heritage attractions and experiences. Chester Castle reopened to the public last year and features the 12th-century Agricola Tower, the first stone gateway to Chester Castle, which had been founded by William the Conqueror in 1070 in the south west part of the city. Open during the summer months, you can soak up views across the city from the tower and then head over to the Grosvenor Museum or St. Michaels Church on Bridge Street, where plans are well underway for a brand new heritage attraction – watch this space! Heading out of town, The Lion Salt Works Museum is a restored historic open-pan salt making site where you can find out about the curious impact of salt on mid-Cheshire’s people, economy and landscape. Or for something completely different, try theAmazing Women by Rail trail which invites visitors to explore the fascinating and often hidden histories of women who lived and worked in areas along the Mid Cheshire and Calder Valley railway lines; from writers, artists and sportswomen to campaigners, suffragettes and politicians.

 

18:00 – ENJOY INDEPENDENT EATS

Chester’s bar and restaurant scene is booming at the moment, with independents at the heart of the scene. Book an early dinner at The Chef’s Table and let the small but passionate team look after you or Porta, a low-key, high-demand Spanish joint run by brothers Ben & Joe Wright. Alternatively, make the a pilgrimage to Stockport to sample culinary storytelling via a blind-tasting menu put together by one of the UK’s most exciting young chefs, Sam Buckley at Where the Light Gets In. You’ll need to book well in advance for the latter, however, given the perfect 10 score from Guardian reviewer Marina O’Loughlin last year.

 

19:30 – STORYTIME

Opened in May 2017, and then formally opened in June 2018 by The Queen and The Duchess of Sussex, Storyhouse is a sprawling multi-arts centre incorporating a library, theatre and cinema. It’s one of the country’s most successful cultural buildings, welcoming one million customers in its first year and is the perfect place to while away your first night in Chester. During the summer months look out for moonlight cinema screenings and open air theatre events in Grosvenor Park run by the Storyhouse team.

 

 

 

DAY TWO

 

10:30 – HAVE A MONKEY OF A TIME

Your second day needs to be all about exploring the tourism attractions of wider Cheshire and no visit to county is complete without a visit to Chester Zoo. The UK’s most popular zoo with over 21,000 animals and 500 species, it’s been the subject of several high profile TV series’ including the BBC drama Our Zoo, which chronicled the inspiring story of founder George Mottershead and his family in the 1930s. Major recent developments at the zoo include ‘Islands’, which showcases the tropical environments of six South East Asian microclimates with immersive and interactive experiences throughout, plus a newly-expanded nature reserve, located on the zoo’s doorstep which is free to enter. A must-see event during winter isThe Lanterns, a light festival which turns the zoo into a magical festival wonderland featuring colourful, over-sized animal illuminations.

OR

10:30 – GET YOUR GEEK ON

For over 50 years, the giant Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank has been a familiar feature of the Cheshire landscape and an internationally-renowned landmark in the world of astronomy. It’s now firmly establishing itself as a tourism destination too after the UK government nominated it for UNESCO World Heritage status earlier this year. There’s the telescope itself but also several pavilions exploring in great detail our understanding of space, stars and planets so far. Taking afternoon tea at the onsite café with the telescope and rolling hills of Cheshire as a backdrop is surely one of the most unique and unusual experiences you can have in the country. And if you want to see Jodrell Bank at its best, visit during the annual Blue Dot which offers a boutique festival combining music, art and science.

OR

10:30 – EXPLORE A COUNTRY ESTATE

Tatton Park is perhaps the best known of Cheshire’s country estates and is indeed one of the most loved historical sites in the UK. It houses a neo-classical mansion, acres of landscape gardens, a huge deer park and a Tudor Old Hall. The park is alsor home to a rare breed farm, which has recently been reworked as the ‘Field to Fork’ story, explaining in honest terms where food comes from by bringing to life Cheshire’s farming history with costumed actors. Not one for vegetarians or vegans perhaps, but an essential education piece for children, it’s also possible to get hands-on with workshops and agricultural skills classes such as cheese-making and bee-keeping.

 

16:00 – BRAIN FREEZE!

Whichever activity you choose, a crucial stop on your way back to Chester has to be The Ice Cream Farm at Tattenhall. Primarily an adventure park for kids, it also features what is considered to be ‘World’s Largest Purpose Built Ice Cream Parlour’ housing all manner of award-winning ice cream flavours. It’s probably no surprise that The Ice Cream Farm made it into the top 20 visitor attractions in Britain in 2017. However, if ice cream’s not your thing, back in Chester make a beeline for The Cheese Shop which stocks over 200 varieties including the iconic Cheshire cheese. We also recommend stocking up on Pant Glas Bach Preserves’ award-winning marmalade and other local treats at Hawarden Estate Farm Shop.

 

19:00 – SECRET STOP OFF

It’s a relatively little-known fact that much of the hit show Peaky Blinders was actually shot on location in Cheshire, including in particular, Arley Hall which stands in as anti-hero Thomas Shelby’s country home. Mark this connection with a visit to hidden speakeasy Prohibition where you can enjoy cocktails and jazz music, then head off to Simon Radley at the Chester Grosvenor for an exquisite dinner that Mr Shelby would certainly approve. Remarkably, the restaurant has held a Michelin start since 1990 and also has four AA Rosettes and an AA Notable Wine List Award.

Accommodation Update - September 2018

Photo credits to Cove Cottage, Cary Arms & Spa

From elegant rooms in the heart of London, to cosy and charming cottages located on the Devon coast, discover new places to stay across the UK. Here we take a look at which accommodation sites are planning to open their doors within the upcoming months, and beyond.

 

RECENTLY OPENED

 

LONDON

 

The Chilworth, Paddington

Opened July 2018

Conveniently located just few minutes away from Paddington station with all its city, regional and international connections, The Chilworth is set in a beautifully refurbished Georgian townhouse and provides an oasis of calm on one of the capital’s characteristic tree lined streets, a short stroll from Hyde Park. With an elegant yet informal atmosphere, the décor blends classical period features with sharp, contemporary design. In the restaurant, the carefully considered menus include elements of health and wellbeing, reflecting a philosophy of nurturing the soul as well as the body. There is also a stylish bar for relaxing with pre or post-dinner drinks, including a range of signature cocktails.

 

The Townhouse Residences at Athenaeum, Mayfair

Opened July 2018

Located on a light-dappled residential side-street, a turn from the Athenaeum’s main entrance and royal Green Park, this elegant mansion was once owned by MP and arts patron Henry Hope. This brand new 14-bedroom accommodation provides a private London base for guests, but with all the benefits and services of a five star hotel. Designed by Martin Hulbert, the creative visionary behind Britain’s most beautiful bolt-holes, the Athenaeum Townhouse Residences demonstrates English eccentricity and charm, and is ideal for exploring the capital’s key landmarks.

 

The Boathouse, Paddington

Opened August 2018

The Boathouse London is a new boutique hotel and event space on an industrial-style barge moored in Floating Pocket Park, Paddington. Launched in partnership with interior design brand MADE.COM and decked out in contemporary Scandi-style décor, it’s available as a one-bedroom hotel or as a unique venue for events such as product launches, yoga brunches and supper clubs. Hotel guests will be greeted by a complimentary Daylesford hamper, given use of two bikes and a rowing boat, and offered bespoke on-board experiences, such as yoga sessions.

 

ENGLAND

 

The Apple Rooms at Houghton Lodge & Gardens, Stockbridge, Hampshire

Opened June 2018

The Apple Rooms is a new luxury self-catering accommodation within the grounds/gardens of historic Houghton Lodge & Gardens. The house is a beautiful 18th century ‘Cottage orné’ on the River Test. The six restored rooms, all named after apple varieties grown in the walled garden, were previously the cowsheds and now beautifully decorated with antique and contemporary furniture and fittings, luxury king or super king size beds, contemporary bathrooms, mini kitchens and outside lawn areas for outdoor eating or barbecues.

 

Loft Apartments at Easton Walled Gardens, Grantham, Lincolnshire

Opened June 2018

Overlooking the beautiful Victorian Stable Courtyard, these three loft apartments are brand new for 2018 at Easton Walled Gardens, Lincolnshire’s very own ‘lost gardens’. The Hay Loft, converted and sensibly designed with a mix of original features and contemporary style, is the largest of the three lofts, with a super-king sized bed and a luxurious bathroom with both a bath and a walk-in shower. The large room is complete with a vaulted ceiling and original trusses on show. There are also two Coach House lofts, each available separately or they can be combined as a whole, giving flexibility to guests travelling with extended family, or with friends.

 

Easton Walled Gardens is part of Hidden England, a consortium of heritage sites all within an hour’s drive of one another with picturesque towns, villages and rolling countryside in between.

 

Chesters Stables, Humshaugh, Northumberland

Opened mid July 2018

Brand new for 2018, Chesters Stables offer eight self-catering Stable Suites in a beautiful Grade II listed building, situated within the grounds of Walwick Hall Country Estate in a village of Humshaugh in Northumberland. Set in 100 acres of beautiful countryside, along Hadrian’s Wall, this Northumbrian gem is a ‘world away from the norm’. Ranging in size, each of the fully refurbished Stable Suites offers a fully-fitted kitchen with dining area, underfloor heating, living areas with toe-warming wood burning stoves, sumptuous sofas, king-sized bedrooms and plenty of room to relax in a luxurious home away from home.

 

The Beverley Arms, Beverley, East Yorkshire

Re-opened July 2018

A fabulous boutique hotel re-opened at the end of July following a two year restoration project. The Beverley Arms was once Beverley’s flagship coaching inn, welcoming guests since the 17th Century. The new-look hotel now boasts 38 bedrooms, a 68-seat restaurant bathed in natural light, plus two private dining/meeting rooms, a modern bar and an outdoor courtyard. Wildlife is also being accommodated at the hotel, with ecological features including bat boxes, swift boxes and a sparrow terrace.

 

New Cottages at Cary Arms & Spa, Devon

Opened July 2018

Sitting majestically in the beautiful Babbacombe Bay on the South Devon coast, the award-winning and dog-friendly Cary Arms & Spa combines all the charm, personality and values of an English “Inn on the Beach” with the beautiful interiors, first class facilities and private gardens and terraces - including the newly opened Bay Cottage and Cove Cottage.

 

Cove Cottage sleeps up to six adults in a luxury master king room with balcony, a second king bed and a twin. All have sea views and contemporary ensuite bathrooms. There is a spacious and stylish drawing room with a large welcoming open fire, a stunning fully fitted kitchen with dining area, leading onto a large private terrace and garden.

 

Bay Cottage is similar in style and character and features one master king and one twin - both ensuite and both with exceptional views - sleeping four adults. There is a beautiful fully fitted kitchen with dining area opening onto the terrace and garden, complemented by an adjoining sitting area as well as a separate drawing room.

 

WALES

 

Caer Rhun Hall, Conwy

Opened August 2018

Nestled in the heart of the Conwy Valley, only a five-minute drive from Surf Snowdonia Adventure Park and a 15-minute drive from the medieval Conwy Castle, the hotel is surrounded by magnificent countryside, with uninterrupted views of the mountains of North Wales and bordering Snowdonia National Park. Every public room has unique features with craftsmanship of an earlier era - including the Tudor panelled hall, elegant Garden Room, Drawing Room and Library. The Library is soon to be renamed the Apothecary and will act as the resident guests’ ‘honesty’ bar. Caer Rhun Hall is ideally located for those looking for walking and cycling adventures.

 

OPENING SOON

 

ENGLAND

 

St Michael’s, Falmouth, Cornwall – look out for the press release

Re-opening autumn 2018

This stylish hotel in Falmouth set in subtropical gardens with sea views and a short walk from the town centre is nearing the completion of a £10 million expansion and re-furbishment, which includes a new luxury spa, health club and beach house with an additional 32 bedrooms. Located in a perfect spot to enjoy beach life on Cornwall’s South East coast and explore Falmouth, where you can find art galleries, shops and great restaurants.

 

SCOTLAND
 

The Fife Arms, Braemar

Opening late November, 2018

The Fife Arms in Braemar is being restored and returned to its former splendour as a first class hotel. Situated in the heart of the Scottish Highlands, this historic hotel, will be reimaged as a globally acclaimed cultural destination, offering luxury accommodation across 46 bedrooms. The refurbished hotel will include a restaurant with a wood fired grill, two bars, a fire room, library and cinema.

 

NORTHERN IRELAND
 

The Waring Hotel, Belfast

Opening winter 2018

Signature Living, the UK hotel brand launched in 2008, aims to transform the former 1960s War Memorial building into “the ultimate party destination in Belfast” with 64 vibrant bedrooms, including ‘signature suites’ and ‘party rooms’, as well as swimming pools, private bars and other luxurious amenities.

 

LONG LEAD

 

LONDON

 

The Hoxton, Shepherd’s Bush

2020

Hoxton, the design-led accessible brand, has been expanding its international network of hotels with a new opening in Shepherd’s Bush. The new property will join sister hotels already open in London (Shoreditch and Holborn). Subject to planning permission, the 214-bedroom hotel will be developed on the west side of Shepherd’s Bush Green on a site occupied by a 1950’s office building. It will include a restaurant, bar and an events space offering a cultural events programme.

 

Raffles Hotels & Resort, Westminster

2020

One of London’s most significant historic buildings, the Old War Office - once the office of Winston Churchill and sections of the British secret service - is being transformed into a 125-room luxury hotel by Raffles Hotels & Resorts. It will be the company’s first property in Britain, and rooms will include 50 suites and 88 private residences.

 

ENGLAND

 

Eden Project, Cornwall

Eden Project has improved the design of their new hotel, located near St Austell in Cornwall. Eye-catching in its look, the Eden Project hotel has been designed to blend into the countryside and have high standards of accessibility, energy-efficiency and sustainability. The 109-bedroom hotel will include new features including a meadow and orchard that will be planted around the hotel.

Neighbourhoods to discover – South-West London

You may have seen all the fabulous sights and experiences central London has to offer, so why not push a little further south west to find a whole spectrum of neighbourhoods in the capital, each with their own unique vibe? It’s among those that you might find that jewel of a café, a much-talked-about pub, a boutique where you’ll find something unique, and acres of green space to relax in.

 

Wimbledon

Why should I go? Sure, you already know this neighbourhood to be the home of tennis – and visiting during the Championships is always a pleasure, for its lively atmosphere, the chance to spot tennis stars walking around, and to catch a match on the Big Screen on the Piazza, even if you don’t have a ticket to the Championships themselves. Plus, you can visit the fascinating Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum to soak up knowledge of the game any time of the year. Yet this south-west London neighbourhood is more than just tennis.

What can I do there? If you’re looking for a spot of stylish retail therapy, head up to Wimbledon Village and hit boutiques such as Whistles, LK Bennett, Joseph and Reiss. Rejuvenate with a meal at one of the great restaurants, which offer a wide range of cuisines all on one high street. Splash out at The Ivy Café for high-end British fare and classic French cooking with a modern twist at The White Onion, plus the Village is peppered with cute cafés for coffee and indulgent patisserie. The Village is also the place to come if you fancy a morning of horse-riding – it’s on the edge of Wimbledon Common, which is also a beautiful place to come for walks, and where you can explore the stunning Buddhapadipa Temple. There are lovely pubs on the Common too, such as the Fox and Grapes, Crooked Billet and Hand in Hand to enjoy a pint at after.

Head down into Wimbledon town centre if you want a livelier vibe; there are plenty of restaurants and pubs to choose from; delicious sourdough pizza at Franco Manca, tasty steaks at Roxie, brilliant burgers at The Loft (also a cool roof terrace bar), while you can enjoy live music with your meal at The Old Frizzle – which also does a great Sunday lunch. And catch West End musicals, top shows and comedians or book onto a backstage tour at the New Wimbledon Theatre, one of the biggest theatres outside central London.

How do I get there? Wimbledon is the last stop on the Wimbledon branch of the District Line, 20 minutes from Earl’s Court. There are also frequent train services into London Waterloo, which takes 20 minutes.

Where can I stay? In Wimbledon Village, choose from the Dog & Fox, a lovely pub that doubles up as a cute boutique hotel. For accommodation with both sumptuous interiors and exteriors, head up to Hotel du Vin Cannizaro House on the Common. There’s also an affordable hotel down in the town centre – the Antoinette.

 

Putney

Why should I go there? For its lively town centre, with a range of independent coffee shops, restaurants and shops, plus gorgeous green spaces such Putney Heath. And for the riverside lifestyle thanks to its Thames-side location, popular with sports fans all year round but particularly when the world-famous Oxford versus Cambridge University Boat Race starts off here every April.

What can I do there? Head to the riverside for watersports activities – there are several rowing clubs located in the area, as well as stand-up paddleboarding – a great way to explore the Thames. The river is, of course, a lovely setting for the many pubs that line the banks of the Thames here such as The Boathouse right on the waterfront, the Duke’s Head, which is by the starting point for the Boat Race, and the Star and Garter, which has its very own Gin Club and walk-in cheese room where you can create your own personalised cheese board! Putney is also home to live music venues – The Half Moon has been launching new bands to audiences for decades – and neighbourhood theatres such as the Putney Arts Theatre.

You won’t go hungry in Putney – the high street and riverside are packed with a range of international restaurants that reflect the cosmopolitan vibe of the area. Bistro Vadouvan marries classic French flavours with Middle Eastern and Asian spices, Isola del Sole brings Sardinian cuisine to restaurant-goers while Yum Sa offers Thai cuisine along with an art gallery and wellness – it has its own meditation room.

How do I get there? Putney has two tube stations on the District Line – Putney Bridge and East Putney, both around 15 minutes from Earl’s Court. London Waterloo is 20 minutes by train from Putney station, or you can take the River Bus from Putney Pier to other points along the Thames.

Where can I stay? Just five minutes from East Putney tube station is the Lodge Hotel – a luxury boutique property with hip design throughout. There are plenty of other comfortable, value options too such as Premier Inn.

 

Barnes

Why should I go there? On the surface Barnes is a well-heeled, attractive neighbourhood by the River Thames, a tranquil village with a duck pond that makes you think you’re out in the English countryside rather than 20 minutes from central London. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find it’s also an area with a rock star heritage and its own film festival.

What can I do there? First, enjoy its tempting restaurants and fine pubs both in the centre and along the river. Head to river-side Rick Stein Barnes for creative seafood dishes from the award-winning chef; Italian specialities at Riva; bohemian décor and brasserie classics at Annie’s; live music performances at The Bull’s Head and riverside sunsets at The White Hart. Then discover Barnes’ cultural offer. In September the Barnes Film Festival showcases emerging young talent, as well as film events, workshops, screenings and discussions with leading figures in the film industry; its patrons include award-winning actor and director Stanley Tucci and writer/producer of Dr Who and Sherlock fame Steven Moffat. Visit the OSO Arts Centre for thought-provoking plays and the Barnes Fringe Festival. Catching a film at the Olympic Studios means you’re on the site of one of London’s most famous music studios, The Olympic Sound Studios, where artists from Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix to Oasis and The Arctic Monkeys recorded tracks. Barnes is also where the T-Rex singer Marc Bolan died in a car crash – the exact spot of the accident, on Queen's Ride, is marked by Bolan's Rock Shrine, where fans can still come to pay their respects.

Music icons aside, Barnes is also home to a special area of conservation – the London Wetlands Centre – a perfect spot for a bracing walk and wildlife spotting.

How do I get there? Barnes is 20 minutes by train to London Waterloo, or a ten-minute bus journey to Hammersmith Underground station on the Piccadilly line.

Where can I stay? You’re close to Hammersmith and its affordable range of hotels, but if you’re looking for something a little cosier, try one of the area’s bed and breakfasts.

Kew

Why should I go there? For one of London’s unmissable, award-winning, world-famous attractions; the dazzling Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. More than 300 acres are dedicated to growing the world’s largest and most varied collection of living plants and, in May 2018, the spectacular Temperate House opened, the world’s largest Victorian glasshouse (first opened in 1863 and now gloriously restored), which houses some of the world’s rarest and most threatened plants – also look out for aerial performers flying through the building and giant puppets telling stories of plants. Come the winter months, the Gardens become an enchanted, illuminated wonderland. Wander among the treetops on the Rhizotron and Xstrata Treetop Walkway for a fantastic view of the trees and gardens and don’t forget to visit the incredible sight that is the 18th-century, eight-sided pagoda; it’s just undergone a two-year restoration programme by Historic Royal Palaces.

What can I do there? It’s in Kew that you can explore the smallest of the royal palaces. Kew Palace was an intimate royal family retreat for King George III and his family, a four-storey, 17th-century red brick house. Explore the impressive royal kitchens that have been preserved as they would have been more than 200 years ago.

Kew also boasts some excellent pubs and restaurants. Right next to Kew Gardens is The Botanist Kew, a popular neighbourhood pub that’s great for a refreshing drink after exploring the gardens, or to enjoy one of its huge Sunday roasts. For fine-dining options, look no further than The Glasshouse, which is owned by the team behind top London restaurants Chez Bruce and La Trompette. While it’s a true award-winner, it still maintains a cosy neighbourhood restaurant feel.

How do I get there? Kew is on the Richmond branch of the District Line, around 15 minutes travel from Earl’s Court. Or take the train from London Waterloo to Kew Bridge station; the journey takes half an hour.

Where can I stay? Also a lovely place to stop for a drink, the Coach and Horses is a pub offering 31 boutique-style rooms.

 

Richmond

Why should I go there? Don’t miss Richmond Park. One of the Royal Parks, sometimes it’s hard to believe that this huge open space – 2,500 hectares to be precise – with deer herds and grasslands, is so close to one of the busiest cities in the world. The park is perfect for picnics, off-road cycling, walks, horse-riding, running and spotting the herds of deer that roam freely. There’s also rare species of wildlife, flora and fauna here; in fact, Richmond Park is a European Special Area of Conservation.

What can I do there? The park is a major draw, but so is the affluent town of Richmond itself. The shopping is good, a mix of both high-street and boutique stores. You can spend the evening watching transferred West End productions, comedy, ballet and much more at the beautiful Victorian Richmond Theatre or enjoy a meal in one of its many first-class restaurants. Modern British cuisine is served at the Ivy Café Richmond in elegant surroundings, while The Petersham Restaurant at the Petersham Hotel boasts amazing panoramic, floor-to-ceiling views of the Thames and the nearby Petersham Meadows. Richmond’s location on the River Thames means there’s also a whole host of great riverside pubs; explore the nooks and crannies of the White Cross pub, whose beer garden opens up onto the waterfront. If you’re travelling in a cooler month, the Beer Cellar & Restaurant is a great option; drink and dine in the cosy areas of this basement venue underneath two Georgian buildings.

Richmond is also home to the grand 17th-century Ham House, which is recognised on the world stage for its mesmerising collection of art and furniture…and it’s also said to be one of the most haunted houses in Britain. Sports fans will be equally at home in Richmond. It’s home to the World of Rugby Museum, housing more than 38,000 objects from the sport in permanent galleries, as well as hosting a programme of special exhibitions.

How do I get there? Richmond is just under 20 minutes from Earl’s Court on the Richmond branch of the District Line. Alternatively, a train takes between 15 and 30 minutes from Richmond station to London Waterloo.

Where can I stay? Richmond has some classically elegant hotels. The Bingham is a Georgian townhouse transformed into a boutique hotel overlooking the Thames; the refined Richmond Hill Hotel is just metres away from Richmond Park; and the boutique bedrooms at The Orange Tree close to Richmond station are beautifully designed.

 

48 hours in… Bath

A whimsical mix of cobblestone streets, historical sites and romantic architectural styles, Bath is a British city famed for its history and natural hot springs. It’s also the only destination in the UK where the entire city is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site

 

Time to check in:

The Gainsborough Bath Spa is a stunning five-star luxury hotel with a unique twist. Built in a Regency architectural style, it centres around its own naturally-heated pools with direct access from several rooms — meaning you can run your bath with the mineral-rich thermal waters.

 

Day one:

 

09:00 Hit the spa

Any weekend in Bath must start with a visit to the Thermae Bath Spa. Arrive early to beat the crowds and make your way to the open-air rooftop pool, where you can bathe in mineral-rich waters heated to 33.5-degrees Celsius, all the while enjoying panoramic views of Bath. 

 

11.30 Try the healing waters

Once you've dried off, it's a short walk to the Roman Baths, one of the city’s best-known historic attractions. You can no longer bathe in these waters, as they haven't been treated, but you can tour the site and learn about its fascinating history. Visit the Pump Rooms afterwards for a bite to eat, and to sample treated mineral-rich spa water, which is thought to have healing properties. 

 

14:00 Get crafty

After lunch, try some glass-blowing at Bath Aqua Glass where you can watch a demonstration from the experts before trying to blow your very own glass bauble.

 

16:00 Fashion through the ages

Style your way through the Fashion Museum and its collection of historic clothing, including replica Georgian and Victorian outfits that visitors can try on. On the first Saturday of each month, the museum also runs a sketching class (free with museum entrance — sketchbooks and pencils included).

 

20:00 IN FOR A LAUGH

Book a space on the Bizarre Bath Comedy Walk. This popular hour-and-a-half walking tour departs each evening at 8pm and offers a lighthearted, alternative look at the heritage city. Prepare for stunts, jokes, and lots of laughs. 

 

Day two:

 

10.00 City tour

After breakfast, jump on a 'hop-on, hop-off' City Sightseeing bus for a relaxing tour of the city's must-see attractions, including Bath Abbey, the Abbey Cemetery, and the architectural splendour of Bath’s Royal Crescent

 

12.30 Bath baked delights

You'll have worked up an appetite, so stop for lunch at Sally Lunn's famed ‘eating house’, one of the oldest buildings in the city and home to the famous Bath Bun. It’s named after a French girl called Sally (real name, Solange) who worked in the bakery kitchen in the 1660s and created a soft, fluffy brioche-style bread that locals fell in love with. Today, the 'Sally Lunn Bun' — still made from the original recipe — can be enjoyed with a selection of sweet or savoury toppings.

 

14.30 Tea and talks

Pop into the Jane Austen Centre and learn all about Bath's most famous former resident. Enjoy the talks, displays and activities centred on the author’s celebrated works, then stop for a cup of tea at the Regency Tea Room, where staff serve you in period costume. 

 

17:00 Bridging the gap

Wander along Pulteney Bridge, considered one of the most beautiful bridges in the world and one of just a handful with shops built into the design — there are worse places to browse for gifts than among these specialist shops and boutiques. 

 

Head home, happy, refreshed and relaxed. 

 

How to get here:

Bath is in the county of Somerset, south west England. The city is approximately a two-and-a-half hour drive west of London, or one-and-a-half hours by train from London Paddington. The nearest airport is Bristol, which has direct links to 25 European countries; shuttle buses run from the airport to the centre of Bath.