5 British buildings that will blow your mind

Wednesday 08 April 2015
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So many British buildings are completely mindblowing, both inside and out. Here are some of our favourites:

1. A dining hall decorated with the largest painting in Europe

Painted Hall, Greenwich, London Known as ‘the finest dining hall in Europe’, the Painted Hall in the Old Royal Naval College is bedecked from floor to ceiling with an elaborate visual narrative. Classical figures symbolising the triumph of peace over tyranny perch among British monarchs and depictions of naval power.

Painted Hall in Greenwich, London The Painted Hall in Greenwich, London - part of the Old Royal Naval College (Photo by Maciek Lulko under Creative Commons License 2.0)

 

The painted walls took Sir James Thornhill 19 years to complete, and when he finally finished, the building was far too grand for its original purpose as a dining hall for naval veterans. It became an attraction open only to respected visitors, for a small fee, and the veterans provided tours. Today, entry to the Painted Hall is free. Definitely pop in and have a look when you're next down in Greenwich.

Painted Hall, Greenwich, London, part of the Old Royal Naval College The Painted Hall in Greenwich, London - part of the Old Royal Naval College (Photo by Maciek Lulko under Creative Commons License 2.0)

 

2. A medieval marvel of carpentry

Houses of Parliament – Westminster Hall The oldest building on the Parliamentary estate, Westminster Hall has played a part in British life since it was built in the 11th century by William the Conqueror’s son. When you step inside, look up - its incredible double-hammerbeam roof is a real marvel, and one of the most ingenious inventions of medieval carpentry.

Westminster Hall roof Westminster Hall's double-hammerbeam roof, the first known example of this incredible feat of carpentry. (Photo by Fr Lawrence Lew under Creative Commons license 2.0)

 

Westminster Hall - double hammerbeam roof Carven angels on Westminster Hall's double-hammerbeam roof. (Photo by Fr Lawrence Lew under Creative Commons license 2.0)

 

That with the hall’s stupendous size (1,547 square metres) and the sheer number of key historic events that have taken place here — the trial of Charles I, the deposition of Richard II, and the coronation banquet of Henry VIII to name but a few — make it a very important building.

Try walking in without saying wow. Go on. You'll need to book a tour first, which you can do on Parliament's website.

3. A library straight out of Harry Potter

John Rylands Library Imagine a cathedral filled with books. That’s basically what the John Rylands Library is like. Then try stepping out of Manchester’s busy city centre into that studious hush, the great Victorian neo-gothic grandeur soaring upwards around you to fan-vaulted ceilings. It’s a very rewarding feeling.

John Rylands Library (photo by Michael D Beckwith under Creative Commons license John Rylands Library (photo by Michael D Beckwith under Creative Commons license 2.0)

 

Here you’ll find some of the rarest and most beautiful books in Britain: the oldest existing piece of the New Testament; the first edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales; first editions of Dickens' novels still in their original wrappers and a first edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Overall, an extremely impressive place well worth exploring. Entry to John Rylands Library is free - if you're interested in the exhibitions they have coming up, you'll find more information on the John Rylands Library website.

4. A hotel that looks like a fairytale castle

St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel The greatest challenge with the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel is deciding whether it’s more amazing from the outside or the inside.

St Pancras Renaissance External 800 Definite candidate for Hogwarts, if they had a central London wing.

 

Outside, George Gilbert Scott’s masterpiece looks a little like a castle in a fairytale, or, if you’ll excuse the cliché, a set from Harry Potter (unsurprising then, that the building did make a cameo appearance in one of the films, along with many other London Harry Potter locations). With pointed spires soaring up alongside its great clocktower and crenelated walls bedecked with gargoyles – it gives a touch of magic wonderfully incongruous with the more functional buildings that surround it.

Grand Staircase_2nd & 3rd floors 2 800 St Pancras Renaissance Hotel. Is Narnia through one of these doors? Probably.

 

But inside, it’s an explosion of colour and pattern that wouldn’t seem out of place in an Elizabethan palace. Ceilings painted with sky and stars, finely patterned carpets, grand staircases, lavish bar areas. Amazing. Don't forget the way to your room, there's a good chance you'll end up in Narnia. Book a stay at St Pancras Renaissance Hotel.

5. A Victorian gothic fantasy castle

Cardiff Castle Despite being built in the 11th century, Cardiff Castle’s interiors are not the pragmatic medieval fortress interiors you’d expect. This is because during the Victorian times, architect and Medieval revivalist William Burges was given the freedom to explore his fascination with gothic and romantic styles by his patron, the 3rd Marquess of Bute. Cardiff Castle today is almost a portfolio of Burges' creative abilties, and as a result you’ll find some of the most opulent and diverse rooms you’re ever likely to see.

Cardiff castle - creative commons - wikimedia commons 800 Panorama of the Arab Room Ceiling in the Cardiff Castle Apartments. (Photo by Gregg M Erickson under Creative Commons license 3.0)

 

By far the most impressive is the Arab Room: a spectacular Moorish-style fantasy, and a feat of design held to be among Burges' finest achievements. Sadly, he died before it was completed, but he's honoured with a Latin inscription inside. Find out more and book tours of Cardiff Castle. For more great ideas,  follow us on Twitter @visitbritain

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