Commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s voyage to America

This September marks 400 years since the Mayflower’s pioneering voyage from Plymouth to the ‘New World’, and events are being held across England to commemorate the journey. Visitors to Britain can experience an incredible range of festivals, exhibitions, self-guided tours and art installations, organised by Mayflower 400. These events will reveal the fascinating history and cultural impact of the journey, while celebrating the values of freedom, democracy, integration and tolerance in the modern world. So, why wait? Read on to discover more about the Mayflower celebrations or find out how to explore Britain’s rich maritime heritage, for a truly epic voyage into history.

The opening event

Commencing in November 2019, there will be a rich 12-month programme of cultural events focusing on the Native American people and the connection between the UK, Netherlands and America. Organised in conjunction with the Wampanoag Advisory Committee, this collection of events and exhibitions aims to highlight Britain’s link to the founding of the United States in a culturally sensitive way.

The commemorative programme of events will open with a set of illuminations at multiple locations including Plymouth, Rotherhithe and Dartmouth. Local and international artists will create spectacular light installations to mark the first Thanksgiving that happened between the pilgrims and the Native Americans in 1621.

When? 28 November – 1 December 2019, entry is free.

Self-guided tours

‘Mayflower Self-Guided Tours’, a free app aiming to tell the stories of the original pilgrims via trail guides, has been released as part of Mayflower 400. Allowing visitors to follow Mayflower trails, the app uses GPS to guide users along routes in British cities, towns and villages associated with the Mayflower. Free guided walks and driving tours encourage visitors to retrace the steps of the pilgrims in connected locations such as Rotherhithe in London, Southampton, Dartmouth and Plymouth. With exciting new additions such as artworks, way-markers and new installations along the trails, key spots such as Gainsborough Old Hall and the Mayflower Steps in Plymouth can be explored in an immersive and insightful way.

Mayflower 400: Legends and Legacy

The commemorative festival will also include ‘Mayflower 400: Legends and Legacy’, a major artistic programme due to show at The Box, Plymouth. This will include a series of community projects, events and art focusing on the pilgrims and Native Americans touched by the Mayflower voyage. It will bring objects from the National Museum of the American Indian, the Harvard Peabody Museum and Pilgrim Hall to Plymouth for the first time, showcasing Native American culture to a new audience in Britain.

When? Running from spring 2020 – autumn 2021

The Elizabethan House

An Elizabethan House in Plymouth is being restored as part of the Mayflower 400 commemorations, taking visitors back to the late 16th century. Experience the feel of a traditional British house from the time of the pilgrims, set out in the style of a sea captain’s home and complete with restored wooden panelling. Set to reopen in 2020, the house will feature expertly restored rooms over two floors, including a kitchen, dining room, bedrooms and a parlour.

See a complete overview of the Mayflower 400 programme in this guide.

Mayflower Heritage Tours

From 102 passengers, there are currently an estimated 30 million Americans alone whose linage can be traced back to the pilgrims and crew from this voyage, making the Mayflower 400 a new and interactive way to trace ancestry. Curious travellers can now book a range of ‘Mayflower Tours’, guiding them around historic cobbled streets and traditional pubs, as well as stopping for educational Mayflower 400 events or talks. Prices vary.

South-east England’s historical ships

For visitors wishing to experience more of Britain’s nautical history and continue on their own journey of discovery, south-east England has a number of fascinating ships to explore.

HMS Warrior, Portsmouth

Once the highlight of Queen Victoria’s fleet, the HMS Warrior was the world’s first armour-plated warship. A fantastic example of a Victorian combat vessel, the ship is now a museum where visitors can explore the decks and learn about life on the ocean. This is one of the most interactive historic ships to visit, with characters from its heyday walking the decks, alongside opportunities for visitors to learn sword fighting skills, master signal flag waving and to peek inside the captain’s cabin.

Tickets to a single attraction at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard cost £18 for adults and £13 for children and students, but there are a range of ticket types available depending on the number of attractions included.

A discount of 20% is available when buying a Full Navy Ticket online – this includes access to HMS Warrior, HMS Victory, the National Museum of the Royal Navy Portsmouth, harbour tours and more.

The Mary Rose Museum, Portsmouth

Once serving the Tudor Navy under King Henry VIII, the Mary Rose made her first voyage in 1510, and was a successful war ship for almost all of the monarch’s reign. This vessel was raised from the seabed in 1982, after underwater research uncovered the shipwreck. Visitors can see what was saved of the ship at the Mary Rose Museum, along with thousands of Tudor artefacts that were also recovered from the wreckage.

A Portsmouth Pass allows visitors 12 months to visit the Mary Rose, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, Emirates Spinnaker Tower and The D-Day story. A VIP experience can be booked online, which includes a private tour with behind-the-scenes access, a boat ride to the Mary Rose wreck site, a private audience and retelling of the Mary Rose story by a King Henry VIII impersonator, and a goody bag. This costs £75 per person. General admission to this attraction is £18 on the day for adults and £8.50 for a child. A discount of 20% is available when bought online.

HMS Victory, Portsmouth

Famous for being Lord Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, HMS Victory embarked on numerous voyages after first setting sail in 1765. Docked at Portsmouth since 1922, it is now a museum, where visitors can discover what life would have been like on board such a vessel. Walk through the Great Cabin where the Admiral would have planned his battle strategy, the lower gun deck where 460 members of the crew slept and ate, and the Poop Deck, only recently open to the public. This is the highest point of the ship, giving an additional historical perspective as well as great views of the surrounding dockyard.

This is also part of the Full Navy Ticket scheme, otherwise a ticket to two attractions costs £18, and for a single attraction, £13.

The Cutty Sark, London

Visitors can get a taste of Victorian life on the sea as they explore the decks of the Cutty Sark. There are both above and below decks, a chance to manoeuvre the ship’s wheel and to listen to the stories of people who lived and breathed the Cutty Sark in daily dramatic retellings.

Built in 1869 and restored in 2007, this impressive example of a British sailing ship is an award-winning London attraction.

Visitors can save when buying a Day Explorer ticket, which includes multiple London sites, or by purchasing online. Walk-up prices are £15 for adults and £7.50 for children.

The Best Fringe Festivals in 2019

Whether it’s a celebration of live theatre, dance, arts or comedy, fringe festivals can be found in nearly every corner of Britain. Laugh along with the nation’s finest comedians as they prepare for their major tours, take in the sounds of up-and-coming musicians and discover new takes on some of the finest theatrical works. Packed with live entertainment and clever improvisation, these are the best Fringe Festivals to enjoy in 2019.

Maidstone Fringe

Marking the diversity of new and original music in Kent and the South East of England, Maidstone Fringe returns for a 9th year in 2019. Spread across numerous venues in the town centre, including pubs, clubs and music venues, as well as in cafes and coffee shops, the majority of the musical performances are free to attend. Expect a wide array of music too, with everything from rock, indie and pop-punk to blues, acoustic, folk, dance and hip-hop on the bill for 2019.

When? 1-6 May

Brighton Fringe

England’s largest arts festival, featuring more than 4,500 performances and events, takes place across Brighton, embracing all forms of art and artistic impression. Running alongside the Brighton Festival, the Brighton Fringe includes cabaret, classical concerts, club nights, comedy, theatre shows and a host of exhibitions, as well as street performances and exciting pop-up venues. In 2019, the International Seasons programme is also set to welcome some of the best contemporary performances by artists from France, the Netherlands, Finland, Australia, Iceland, Korea and Sweden, among others, showcasing the event’s global appeal.

When? 3 May – 2 June

Bath Fringe

Incorporating 3 weekends and the weeks in between, the Bath Fringe is a celebration of all the arts, meaning there are few rules regarding what is on. Both the people of Bath and venues in the city have a big say over what is included, with a detailed events list usually published in April.

When? 24 May - 9 June

Plymouth Fringe

An annual celebration of theatre and live performance, Plymouth Fringe welcomes some of the best talent in the South West, as well as others from across Britain. With venues in the city centre and on the waterfront, expect a host of inspiring performances as the Fringe marks its 5th consecutive year.

When? 27 May – 1 June

Ludlow Fringe

Ludlow Fringe is an independent arts, community and culture festival with a focus on inclusivity. Many of its events are free to attend, while prices are capped at £15 on those that are not, to ensure that events are affordable and accessible. Be sure to check out the Annual Ludlow Fringe Art Trail too, a diverse collection of affordable art by local and national artists that is showcased in 25 different pop-up venues and galleries. Featuring paintings, sculpture, photography, textiles, print and jewellery, and much more besides, the quirky venues are all located a short distance from the town centre.

When? 15-30 June

Guildford Fringe

Now in its 7th year, the Guildford Fringe is a multi-arts festival that features comedy, poetry, theatre, music, visual arts, workshops, burlesque and an abundance of family-friendly shows. Gag House Comedy Superstars kicks-off proceedings on 28 June, featuring comedian and actor Hal Cruttenden, Paul Sinha from TV’s The Chase and Susan Murray. Around 125 events made up the 2018 Guildford Fringe, and its organisers are expecting even more for 2019.

When? 28 June – 28 July

Greater Manchester Fringe

A multi-venue arts festival packed with comedy stand up, dance, magic shows, orchestras, new writing and a wealth of other art forms, the Greater Manchester Fringe provides a stage for performers to showcase their skills. It often acts as a platform for productions too - many past shows have moved onto the region’s established theatres including the Lowry Theatre, the Royal Exchange and the Bolton Octagon, or have embarked on nationwide tours. Now in its 8th year, a full programme of events for 2019 will be released at the start of May.

When 1-31 July

The Great Yorkshire Fringe

As part of its 5th anniversary celebrations, the Great Yorkshire Fringe is set to expand across York in 2019 to feature even more cultural venues. The historic city’s well-known thoroughfare, Parliament Street, will be transformed into an exciting festival hub offering everything from comedy and cabaret to music, theatre and fun for all the family. Performances from comedian Henning Wehn and writer, broadcaster and actor Gyles Brandreth already feature on the bill for 2019, as well as Austentatious: The Improvised Jane Austen Novel, an entirely improvised performance showcasing Jane Austen’s work in a new light.

When? 18-28 July (20 July, Austentatious: The Improvised Jane Austen Novel; 21 July, Gyles Brandreth; 27 July, Henning Wehn)

Llangollen Fringe

Final details for the 2019 Llangollen Fringe are yet to be announced, but the celebration of music, dance, film and art will return to the small town of Llangollen, in North Wales, this year. With an eclectic mix of musical and artistic talents on its bill each year, the festival is town centre based, providing easy access to pubs, restaurants and car parks. Taking centre stage is the Victorian Llangollen Town Hall, which boasts its own 300-seat capacity theatre.

When? 19-28 July

Reading Fringe

Designed to support emerging artists and to provide a platform for them ahead of the world famous Edinburgh Fringe, the Reading Fringe welcomes acts to the town from all over the globe. With venues spread across the town, the theme for 2019 is ‘Into the woods – and beyond’, an exploration of what it means to be part of an ecosystem and a consideration of what the future holds for Earth.

When? 20-28 July

Ventnor Fringe

A multi-award winning arts festival on the Isle of Wight, the Ventnor Fringe includes an array of exciting venues in the eclectic hillside town. Alongside cabaret, music, theatre and art, visitors can also expect to see pop-up cinemas, basement bars and mystery tours.

When? 23-28 July

Camden Fringe

From its origins in 2006 as an alternative to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the Camden Fringe provides performers with a chance to try out new and untested material. Encompassing all forms of performing arts, the Fringe welcomes both ambitious newcomers and experienced performers as they deliver new writing, sketch comedy, poetry, improvisation and everything in between. A full programme of events is expected in spring 2019.

When? 29 July – 25 August

Edinburgh Fringe

Renowned around the globe as being a platform for creative freedom, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is the single biggest celebration of arts and culture in the world. Welcoming the finest performers to the Scottish capital, from the biggest names in show business to emerging stars, and covering all sorts of art forms, the festival features more than 50,000 performances each year. More than 300 venues provide the stages, alongside street events and market stalls, showcasing theatre, dance, comedy, cabaret, children’s shows, musicals, opera, exhibitions and speech – if it’s a form of art, it’s probably on the bill somewhere.

When? 2-26 August

Surprising spots to tie the knot

The world will be watching when Meghan Markle marries Prince Harry this spring at Windsor Castle. But while Windsor’s historic St George’s Chapel is reserved for the nuptials of a very select few, the UK has many unusual options for adventurous brides and grooms-to-be.

 

Going underground

How deep is your love? About 300 metres deep if you get married in the Wookey Hole Caves, in Somerset. These subterranean limestone caves were carved out over millennia by the River Axe. Choose from three caverns where you can tie the knot, surrounded by flickering candles and crystal-clear pools.

 

Reach for the stars

If you want your wedding day to be out of this world, marry at Flamsteed House, the historic house of the Astronomers Royal in the Royal Borough of Greenwich, London. Take your wedding photos either side of the Prime Meridian, then dance the night away under the digital stars inside the famous Peter Harrison Planetarium (where they can also arrange private wedding proposals).

 

Under the sea

Your marriage could be in deep water, in the best possible way, if you hold your ceremony at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth, Devon. Exchange your vows against a glowing blue aquatic backdrop as fish, stingrays and tiger sharks glide gracefully past.

 

Woodland wonderful

Shout your love from the treetops – literally – by marrying in the wooden wonderland of The Treehouse at The Alnwick Garden, Northumberland. Tie the knot under a canopy of lime trees, before having your photos taken on the rustic walkways and rope bridges. Continue the woodland theme in the treetop restaurant, where furniture has been crafted from chunky logs and fallen branches.

 

High society

Embrace your inner ‘Lady of the Manor’ with a Downton Abbey-inspired wedding.

Highclere Castle in Newbury, Berkshire, was the real-life setting for the award-winning period drama. Follow in Lady Edith’s footsteps by descending the same great oak staircase she walked down en route to her wedding, before exchanging your own vows in the castle’s majestic saloon.

 

Islands in the stream

Originally built in the 1860s to guard against a French naval invasion, the Solent Forts off the coast of Portsmouth in Hampshire eventually became an important line of defence during the Second World War. After laying unused for several decades, Spitbank and No Man’s Forts were transformed into luxury boutique hotels where weddings can be booked. The third – Horse Sand Fort – is a museum. Arrive by speedboat on this man-made island and enjoy endless views across The Solent and the English Channel.

 

Training day

You can make sure your marriage is going places, when you exchange vows at the historic Llangollen Railway Station in Denbighshire, North Wales. Then travel by steam train through the lush, green Dee Valley, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

 

Scandi-Chic

Create your own Sami-style celebration with PapaKåta Teepees. These spacious, traditional tents come with lots of magical add-ons, including wood-burning fires, giant mirror balls and even a handcrafted circular oak bar. Pitch your teepee at lakeside venue Aldourie Castle, near Inverness, Scotland, and you can also squeeze in some monster spotting at the world-famous Loch Ness. Based in Henley-on-Thames, York and Scotland, they can set up tents across the UK.

 

Fit for a princess

Why stop at a castle when you can get married on your own island? Belle Isle is a 17th-century castle that sits on its own private island in Lough Erne Lake among 470 acres of countryside in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. After celebrating your nuptials, you can go fishing, shooting or explore the eight islands that make up this impressive estate.