60 minutes from…Belfast

Northern Ireland’s lively capital is renowned for its mix of art, culture and history, and you’ll find a wealth of exciting attractions to keep you busy. But beyond the limits of Belfast’s rich cultural cityscape, only an hour or less away, lie even more remarkable destinations that can enthral and excite. What’s more, eagle-eyed visitors will spot filming locations from the HBO epic Game of Thrones at nearly every turn, many of which are set to open to the public in 2019 to coincide with the airing of the show’s final season.

Birdwatch at Castle Espie

Drive eastwards from Dublin towards Strangford Lough to discover Castle Espie, an extensive wetland reserve managed by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. Found three miles to the south of Comber, County Down, it is home to an abundance of native and exotic water birds, stunning estuary views, as well as habitats for plenty of other incredible wildlife. Castle Espie is also an early wintering site for the vast majority of the world’s migrating pale-bellied Brent geese, while Kingfishers are a regular sight in the Saline Lagoon.

From Castle Espie, head south for 20 minutes to take in the picturesque Killyleagh Castle with its conical roofs and imposing battlements, which stands proudly over the village of the same name. Alternatively, head around Strangford Lough in a clockwise direction to reach the National Trust site of Mount Stewart, a splendid collection of award-winning gardens alongside a beautifully refurbished neo-classical property. The characteristic gardens have a strong exotic and Mediterranean feel, while wooded areas support plants from all over the world, ensuring there’s something to discover all year round.

Slightly further south are the ruins of Grey Abbey, a former grey stone Cistercian priory. You’ll also find the Grey Abbey House and Gardens, which hosts an annual steam rally by the County Down Traction Engine Club in addition to numerous classic car meetings.

Head north from Mount Stewart to the centre of Bangor and the North Down Museum. This insightful exhibition explores the pivotal role that Bangor Abbey had in early Christian Ireland and the impact of the Viking invasion. Full-sized versions of a Viking Longhouse and Monk’s Cell accompany a range of exhibitions on the Bronze Age, plantations and more.

Boat on Lough Neagh

Drive westwards from Belfast and bask in the tranquil atmosphere and unspoilt scenery of Lough Neagh, Northern Ireland’s largest freshwater lake. An Area of Specific Scientific Interest, its internationally recognised wetlands are a haven for wildlife and numerous viewing points can be found dotted along its 125km of pristine shoreline. Hire a boat to experience the calm waters or try out a number of more adventurous water sport activities.

Go full-steam ahead in Whitehead

Venture in a north-easterly direction for 25 minutes to uncover the Whitehead Railway Museum, on the east coast of County Antrim, which offers a fascinating insight into the world of steam travel and the history of railway in Northern Ireland. Children can dress up in Victorian costume, watch as restoration work takes place and climb on board several iconic locomotives and carriages from the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland’s collection.

Uncover the beauty of Lisburn

Immerse yourself in the historical importance of Castle Gardens, in Lisburn, by travelling just 20 minutes to the south west of Belfast. Once the home of a fortified 17th-century manor house and now a beautifully kept public park, the city is also home to the spectacular 300-year old Lisburn Cathedral. Delve further into the history of the region with a visit to the Irish Linen Centre and Lisburn Museum, which explores Ireland’s industrial heritage, tracing the history of linen through its award-winning Flax to Fabric exhibition.

Bask in the splendour of Hillsborough Castle a short distance further to the south west, an 18th- century Georgian country house that is also the Queen’s official residence in Northern Ireland. Take a guided tour of the castle and state rooms, before venturing outside to explore its ornamental grounds, woodlands and waterways.

Around an hour from Belfast to the south west is the city of Armagh. See St Patrick’s Cathedral, which stands on top of the hill from which the city derived its name. Gaze at the stars at the Armagh Astronomy Centre and Planetarium and listen to a show on the night sky, before exploring its beautiful landscaped grounds. Finish your visit to the city at Armagh County Museum. Designed like a Greek temple, the museum is home to numerous artefacts that detail the rich history of the region dating back to prehistoric times.

Discover the mesmerising Mourne Mountains

Some 50km and an hour to the south of Belfast by car, in County Down, is the immeasurable beauty of the Mourne Mountains, the country’s highest and most awe-inspiring set of peaks. Explore the summits, complete with their granite tors, via a network of criss-crossed tracks and trace the old smuggling routes from Newcastle to Hilltown, taking in views of the Mourne Wall along the way. Built to keep sheep and cattle away from the Silent Reservoir catchment, the 22-mile long wall has stood for close to 100 years.

If there is time to explore a little further from Belfast, then start with the stunning scenery and natural sights of Country Antrim to the north. The striking coastline is home to an abundance of wildlife, as well as the majestic Giant’s Causeway and the impressive Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, near Ballintoy. Other popular destinations include Bushmills Distillery – Ireland’s oldest working distillery – and nearby Dark Hedges, where Arya Stark made her escape from King’s Landing in Game of Thrones. Dunluce Castle, a cliff top ruin, also starred as The House of Greyjoy in the hit TV show.

Traditional Scottish inns

Traditional Scottish inns

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.

10 Brilliant British Winter Vacation Ideas

New York, New York (November 30th, 2018) – Traveling in December to Britain is magical. With twinkling lights, mulled wine and holiday cheer in the air everywhere you go, the very best of Britain’s Christmas markets and holiday celebrations are back this year– bigger and better than ever before.

Where can you go to find that holiday feeling this year?

We’ve put together some of Britain’s most atmospheric holiday experiences to get you in the spirit…

ENGLAND

Christmas at Kew Gardens
What: The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew is transformed into an illuminated magical, mythical place with more than a million twinkling lights, during Christmas at Kew. The festive-inspired trail takes you through the moonlit woods to see enchanting sights, from the flotilla of glowing boats on the lake to the Fire Garden. (Father Christmas and his elves make a guest appearance occasionally, as well!)
Where: Kew Gardens is located in Richmond, London – approx. 1hour by tube from Central London
When: November 22nd-January 5th

 

Iconic Lights & Sights in Central London
What: Revel in the full beauty of London’s Christmas lights snuggled up on an open bus sightseeing tour – at night, for the full effect. Take in all the iconic sights including the Tower of London, Harrods and Piccadilly, all dressed up in their Christmas best. Or, admire light displays by foot and head to Oxford Street, Regent Street and Carnaby Street for dazzling illuminations.
Where: all across London
When: November-January (varies)

 

See Diane Von Furstenberg’s Chic Christmas Tree at Claridge’s
What: Claridge’s much anticipated annual Christmas Tree was designed by fashion icon Diane von Furstenberg, whose creation “The Tree of Love” was unveiled on November 27th. The tree, which features 8,000 iridescent hand-painted silver-leafed leaves, will be on display in the lobby of London’s legendary Mayfair hotel. (A long-time guest and friend of the hotel, Diane has also designed Claridge’s Grand Piano Suite!)
Where: Claridge’s is located in London – a short walk from the Bond Street Underground station
When: November 27th (through December)

 

Christmas Lights Winter Walk of London

What: Tour the dazzling Christmas Lights of London. Walk through London with friends and family furing the 'Most Wonderful time of year'

Where: Pick-up point at The Orginal London Visitor Center, 17-19 Cockspur Street London SW1Y 5BL. Tour covers Covent Garden, Oxford Steet, Regent Street and many more of London's famous streets. Tours depart at 6pm. 

When: Tour running until December 29 (except Dec. 24 and 25)

 

Glow Wild in West Sussex
What: The Glow Wild winter lantern festival is a spellbinding trail that takes place at Wakehurst, a beautiful botanic garden and country estate in southern England. The event brings trees, ponds and forest floors to life with hundreds of glowing lanterns and torches of fire.
Where: Wakehurst Estate is located in West Sussex – approx. 1hour 15minutes from London by rail
When: November 22nd-December 16th, 4.30pm-8pm

 

Epic Illumination in Oxfordshire
What: Oxfordshire has so much rich history and culture to offer, and will be bustling with all things Christmas this winter. At Blenheim Palace (the birthplace of Winston Churchill), the Illuminated Christmas Lights Trail will be brighter than ever before with lasers, projections, and thousands of pea-lights. From the delicate and twinkling to the grand and spectacular, the Formal Gardens will light up once again for a festive journey of exploration and wonder.
Where: Blenheim Palace is located in Oxfordshire – approx. 1hour 30minutes from London by rail
When: November 23rd-January 1st (daily), 4.40pm-10pm

 

A Snowy Stroll in Staffordshire
What: This holiday season, the award-winning Trentham Gardens is providing a spectacular show. One of England’s most-visited garden attractions, the 300-acre grounds are perfect for a winter walk around the mile-long lake or through the woodlands, as well as a stroll through the estate’s festive traditional Christmas village of shops and restaurants. The annual Christmas Light Switch On brings the twinkling village to life and adds sparkle to the festive season.
Where: Trentham Estate is located in Staffordshire – approx. 1hour 20minutes from Manchester by rail
When: November 28th (Christmas Light Switch-On), 9am-4pm

 

Enjoy a German Christmas Market in England’s Heartland
What: Not only is Birmingham's Frankfurt Christmas Market the UK’s largest outdoor market, but it also claims the title as the biggest authentic German Christmas Market outside of Germany and Austria! The festival takes over the city’s Victoria Street, offering up tasty German treats like schnitzels, bratwursts, and gluhwein and a variety of stalls selling traditional Christmas gifts. There’s also live music at the bandstand to get visitors in the swing of the season’s festivities.
Where: Victoria Street is located in Birmingham – approx. 1hour 20minutes from London by rail
When: November 15th-December 23rd (daily), 10am-9pm

 

Hannukah at the Jewish Museum London
What: Visit the Jewish Museum for a Family Day (December 2nd) where families of all ages are invited to play dreidel, create clay lamps and decorate biscuits to celebrate Hanukkah, and enjoy a performance by the London Yiddish Choir. Alternatively, come together to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the historical Kindertransport with daily candle lighting, music and tours.
Where: Raymond Burton House, 129-131 Albert Street, Camden Town, London
When: December 2nd-9th

 

 

SCOTLAND

Christmas Market Magic in Edinburgh
What: Tumble into a magical winter wonderland in the center of a fairytale city. Edinburgh's Winter Festivals bring Edinburgh's Christmas and Edinburgh's Hogmanay together in a magical explosion of twinkling lights, enchanting sounds, mouth-watering flavours and lots of fun and laughter. At Edinburgh’s traditional Highland Christmas, you’ll find everything from Scottish produce and mulled wine to handcrafted Christmas gifts and goods.
Where: all across Edinburgh – approx. 3hours 30minutes from Manchester and 4hours 15minutes from London by rail
When: November 16th-January 5th (daily), 10am-10pm

 

Be Joyful & Jolly in Glasgow
What: Glasgow is a lively, bustling city, distinctive and full of character, striking architecture and fascinating museums (many of which are free!). Join the city as it celebrates the holiday season with Glasgow Loves Christmas, a series of events in the heart in the city that includes Christmas markets, the Style Mile Carnival and festive entertainment ranging from films and live music to roller discos and cabaret!
Where: all across Glasgow – approx. 45minutes from Edinburgh and 3hours 10minutes from Manchester by rail
When: November 25th-December 23rd  

 

 

WALES

A Winter Walk in Southwest Wales
What: With 870 miles of coastline and three National Parks, Wales might be even more spectacular when dusted with snow, making it the ideal destination for wintery fun. Revive your senses with a brief and beautiful mile-long lakeside walk, then get into the Christmas spirit back at Tredegar House as it’s dressed up in traditional decorations and filled with music and merriment all throughout for a truly festive experience.
Where: Tredegar House is located in Newport – approx. 1hour from Cardiff
When: November 24th-December 22nd (select dates), 11am-4pm

7 amazing reasons to visit the Lake District this winter

7 amazing reasons to visit the Lake District this winter

7 of the most Instagrammable winter walks near London

Crisp, clean air, winter sun shining, frost crunching underfoot – it’s the perfect time of year to take an invigorating walk across one of these picture-perfect routes, all within a couple of hours reach of the capital.

Thames Path National Trail

Embarking on this long-distance walking route (184 miles/294km) is an excellent way to discover the gorgeous scenery alongside the River Thames but even dipping in and out of it delivers a raft of Instagrammable sights that look beautiful bathed in winter sunshine and silvery frost. Rural tranquillity welcomes you as the Thames Path National Trail starts at the very source of the river in the Cotswolds, before meandering through several of south-east England’s rural counties and lovely villages. The trail also passes by towns and cities such as Oxford, Windsor and Henley, bringing further photo opportunities (university colleges, ‘dreaming spires’ and a castle or two to name just a few!) before heading through the charming leafy boroughs of Richmond and Kew, with the trail culminating at London’s historic Docklands. This is a perfect winter walking route as there are plenty of places to stop off to warm up en route; in fact, the trail has teamed up with the Hop Kettle Brewery to produce the Trail Ale Liquid Highway, a bespoke ale sold along the trail with a donation made to its upkeep with every one sold.

Time from central London: 2 hours to the start of the trail

Constable Country, Essex

The area of Dedham Vale and the Stour Valley has been attracting visitors keen to portray its beauty for centuries. One of Britain’s most famous painters, John Constable, depicted the stunning scenery here in several of his renowned works – it’s an area of pretty villages, picturesque meadows, ancient woodlands and a labyrinth of cute lanes. The Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Stour Valley area boasts many walking routes and, if you head to the National Trust at Flatford, you’ll see those very views, villages and hamlets that inspired Constable’s famous works, The Hay Wain and Flatford Mill, meaning you can capture the contemporary version.

Time from central London: 2 hours

Hampstead Heath Circular, north London

London and its suburbs are famous for their green spaces, so you can experience a stunning winter walk without travelling out too far from the capital’s centre. Hampstead Heath to the north of the capital is a popular place to stroll, with several trails available. If you’re on the circular route, you’ll have the chance to snap pictures of Victorian architecture dotted along Hampstead High Street, the famous Hampstead Ponds and the magnificent panoramic views across central London once you’ve climbed Parliament Hill. Heading back down from the Heath you can also take in the genteel Kenwood House, which houses important works of art, and the elegant Hampstead Grove.

Time from central London: 30 minutes

Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire

The grounds of the National Trust’s Waddesdon Manor are ideal for exploring at this time of year – the even come with their very own Winter Garden. The route around the Winter Gardens emphasises the country manor estate’s finest points, with views back to Flint House – a unique-looking building in the grounds that is used to accommodate academics and artists working with Waddesdon’s educational and artistic programme and which also won the RIBA House of the Year Award in 2015 – and highlights the remarkable bronze and black colours of the Winter Garden’s features. Take time to walk to the Aviary Glade and visit its exotic species of birds, stop for a picture with the amazing 3D plant sculptures or the awesome contemporary sculpture dotted throughout the gardens, before warming up again with a steaming mug of hot chocolate in its Stables Café.

Time from central London: 1 ¾ hours

Saxon Shore Way, Kent and East Sussex

It may well be a long-distance pathway – stretching from Gravesend in Kent, hugging the south-east England coastline and ending in Hastings, East Sussex 163 miles (262km) away, but joining any part of the Saxon Shore Way will have you reaching for your camera phone. It traverses through two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a number of Nature Reserves where you’ll spot a multitude of birds, butterflies and mammals. Must-see panoramic views to capture digitally include the route along the cliffs from Folkestone to Rye as well as the vista you’re rewarded with as you walk along the sandstone cliffs of the High Weald at Hastings.

Time from central London: 2 hours

Leith Hill, Surrey

Close to the charming market town of Dorking is Leith Hill, looked after by the National Trust – endeavour to climb this hill and you’ll be rewarded with astounding views over the county of Surrey and the Surrey Hills. Come on a clear day and you may well be able to see London to the north and the coastline to the south too. With plenty of walking trails through open heathland or woodland you’ll get to experience different terrains but the pièce de résistance of views you’ll want to capture on camera is from the top of Leith Hill Tower – this is the highest point of south-east England and you’ll discover why this part of the landscape is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Time from central London: 1.5 hours

Coombe Hill & Chequers, Chiltern Hills

Ever wondered what the British Prime Minister’s grand country residence looked like? Embark on this 8.5-mile walk through countryside landscapes looked after by the National Trust, and you can find out! The route also includes the chance to climb to the Boer War Memorial at the top of Coombe Hill in the county of Buckinghamshire and, from here, you’ll experience the spectacular views across to the Cotswold and Aylesbury Vale and even catch a glimpse of distant landmarks via the toposcope located on top of the hill. That’s before you’ve walked through stunning woodlands, the pretty village of Ellesborough and the footpath that then leads you past the driveway entrance of Chequers, the Prime Minister’s country retreat.

Time from central London: 1.5 hours

It’s High Time to Visit the Highlands and Islands: VisitScotland showcases the unmissable sights

Today Lonely Planet announces the Scottish Highlands and Islands* as one of the top regions in the world to go in 2019, leaving no reason to delay a visit. With impressive scenery, world class dining experiences and an outstanding accommodation offering it’s no wonder this exceptional corner of the globe has scooped up such an impressive accolade.

In light of Lonely Planet’s declaration of the region as a “must-see destination” for the coming year, VisitScotland offers just some of the top reasons for travel-lovers to bump the Highlands and Islands up to the top of their bucket list in 2019.

 

Fabulous fare:

Scotland’s variety and quality of distilleries to explore is unmatched and the Highlands and Islands have plenty to offer, from the chance to stay in the first legal whisky distillery on the Isle of Raasay to a visit to Harris Distillery to pick up a bottle of Isle of Harris Gin, which is only available for purchase from the island. Try out the region’s foodie experiences, including the new Mac & Wild at Falls of Shin, which offers a range of Scottish dishes and is positioned scenically close to the falls where guests can view salmon leaping in the summer months, before enjoying a taste of it in the restaurant. Alternatively, head to Alladale Wilderness Reserve for the chance to fish and forage for food, including herbs, mushrooms and plants with a ranger before having a professional chef to prepare and cook them.

 

Wonderful wildlife:

Boat trips are great way to explore the coastline and discover Scotland’s marine wildlife, Hebridean Whale Cruises operate from Gairloch, giving visitors the chance to get a close up look at Orcas, dolphins and sharks. A stop at John O’Groats while travelling along the North Coast 500 offers wildlife spotting opportunities including seals, orcas, oystercatchers, guillemots and, at certain times of year, puffins. Visitors seeking out the latest wildlife adventure may want to explore the Hebridean Whale Trail, set to launch in 2019. For those who prefer to explore on dry land Beinn Eighe nature reserve in Wester Ross, famous for its ancient pinewoods, is an ideal location for spotting wildlife; come here to see soaring golden eagles or red deer.

 

Beautiful views:

For stunning views over open sea walk the Waternish peninsula loop, a beautiful and less frequently explored part of Skye. The Highlands also offer autumn and winter visitors the opportunity to see the incredible northern lights; places with the best conditions of low light pollution include the far North West of Scotland and the Outer Hebrides. Visitors taking in the Northern Lights will be in an ideal location to enjoy a landscape so outstanding that it has been designated as a UNESCO Global Geopark at Knockan Crag National Nature Reserve.

 

Fascinating history:

Discover the site of one of the most famous and dramatic battles in Scottish history at the interactive Culloden Visitor Centre, catch one of the regular ‘living history’ re-enactments of the fray which marked the end of the 1745 Jacobite Rising. Visitors looking to combine hiking in outstanding scenery with fascinating history can head to Glencoe to learn about the tragic and infamous massacre which took place there. Glencoe’s award-winning, eco-friendly visitor centre is a brilliant place to learn about the landscape and soak up the sights.

 

Exceptional accommodation:

There is something for everyone ranging from camping at idyllic and well-equipped spots such as Talla Na Mara in Harris to luxury in a stunning setting at Inverlochy Castle, which boasts views of the surrounding mountains and furnishings gifted to the castle by the King of Norway. Discover unique places to sleep such as Blacksheep House, a contemporary renovation of a traditional Hebridean Blackhouse or The Broch at Borve Lodge Estate, believed to be the first broch** built in the UK since the Roman era. For art-lovers The Lime Tree in Fort William is unmissable, offering guests a chance to stay in a hotel which is also a working studio for artist David Wilson with an attached art gallery on site, housing a permanent collection of this Highland artist’s works.

 

Scotland on the Silver Screen:

The Highlands provide a naturally stunning setting for film-makers and visitors can see iconic locations from their favourite films, including the peak of Suilven, the 731m tall mountain in Sutherland climbed by Edie on her life-affirming journey, or the sweeping cinematic scenery of Harry Potter on board the Jacobite Steam Train, widely regarded as the real life Hogwarts Express. For Bond fans a drive through the atmospheric highland scenery and past the striking Buachallie Etive Mor on the way to Glencoe will set them on the same road as 007 (Daniel Craig) and M (Judy Dench) making their way to Bond’s childhood home in Skyfall.

 

Off the beaten track:

For those looking to Skye for their next adventure consider a trip to Raasay; a peaceful paradise for walkers and nature lovers, the island also offers a chance to visit one of the stops on the new Hebridean Whisky Trail. Or head to Sutherland and Caithness which boast unspoilt, dramatic scenery in some of the most remote parts of Scotland; these areas are the perfect place to explore while enjoying true peace and quiet on the extreme edge of Europe.

 

 

To discover more about the Highlands and Islands visit: www.visitscotland.com.

 

*Lonely Planet defines the Highlands in the book as the area above the Highland Boundary Fault - the topographical feature that divides the Lowlands and the Highlands and which goes diagonally from Helensburgh in the west to just above Stonehaven in the east coast. The ‘Islands’ in this case refers to the Outer Hebrides.

 

**A broch is a prehistoric circular stone tower found in north Scotland and adjacent islands.

 

ENDS

 

Accommodation Update - December 2018

Whether you’re looking for a boutique luxury hotel in leafy Kent or affordable accommodation in the heart of Glasgow, our round-up of the UK’s newest hotels offers something for every traveller. Discover our top picks below.

Recently refurbished

London

The Marylebone, Marylebone

Situated in the heart of central London a short walk from Bond Street, The Marylebone is a recently renovated boutique hotel boasting new facilities. These include The Cocktail Bar, which combines 4 adjoining spaces themed around the seasons, from the cosy winter lounge complete with a roaring fire to the outdoor terrace that’s perfect for summer socialising. Other additions include The Marylebone Rooms and Number Six – a series of stylish private event rooms designed in the hotel’s signature art deco style by the award-winning Michaelis Boyd studio. There is also a range of newly refurbished luxury rooms and suites to choose from.

Recently opened

Scotland

The Grandtully Hotel, Perthshire

Dedicated to delivering exceptional Scottish food and drink to its guests, the newly renovated The Grandtully Hotel by Ballintaggart offers luxurious culinary experiences in equally luxurious settings. With just eight bedrooms, this boutique property has been lovingly restored and features a careful blend of traditional features and contemporary design. Facilities include a 30-cover restaurant serving fine local produce, a bar, a private dining area and an outdoor terrace. 

Citi Hotel, Aberdeen

City Hotel in Aberdeen prides itself on offering affordable stays in the heart of the city. Based on the former site of The Royal Hotel, the property underwent a £500,000 refurbishment over 12 months and reopened at the start of November.  The self-dubbed ‘poshtel’ boasts a new reception area, newly fitted bathroom suites, refined décor and 42 bedrooms starting from just £35 per night.  

Opening soon

London

The Bedford, Balham

Opening December 2018

Beloved by musicians including Ed Sheeran, London’s famous The Bedford pub is undergoing a multi-million-pound refurbishment. Scheduled to reopen this December, the Grade II-listed building will boast five bars, a ballroom, four private rooms and a 250-capacity live music venue hosting a range of events, from comedy to burlesque. There are also 15 ensuite bedrooms to choose from, each designed around the pub’s distinctive medley of art deco and 1970s style.

The Standard, St Pancras

Opening in spring 2019

The boutique Standard Hotel chain will soon be celebrating the opening of its first international hotel in London. Scheduled to open in early 2019, the hotel will be the newest addition to the chain’s properties in New York, Miami and L.A. Located within the Camden Town Hall Annex, one of the city’s best-known examples of 1970s brutalist architecture, the hotel promises to embody the quirky culture and history of the local area while serving as a luxury base from which to explore King’s Cross and the surrounding area.

 

South-east England

Lion Lodge, Port Lympne, Kent  

Opening in spring 2019

The luxurious Lion Lodge will give guests the chance to stay in close proximity to Port Lympne’s lion pride. Set within the lions’ enclosure, the loft-style lodge features floor-to-ceiling windows in the open plan living space and master bedroom, an open fire, underfloor heating and a monsoon shower and wet room. Designed to sleep four, the master bedroom offers incredible views of the lions at rest and play, with the mezzanine level offering two additional beds accessed by spiral staircase. Guests can also enjoy the Scandinavian outdoor bath, built on a platform overlooking the sea and the 600-acre wildlife reserve.

The Albion Rooms, Margate

Opening date to be confirmed

Owned and developed by The Libertines rock band, The Albion Rooms is located on the seafront of Margate, a classic British seaside town with a strong artistic heritage. The development will comprise both a studio – scheduled to be finished in February 2019 - and bar within the five-storey Victorian building, in addition to 10 guest bedrooms individually designed by the band. The official opening date is still to be confirmed, but future guests can track the development’s progress here.

The Pig at Bridge Place, Canterbury

Opening in spring 2019

The Pig at Bridge Place is the latest hotel to be developed by the popular Pig Hotel chain. Opening its doors in spring 2019, the hotel is located in the former Bridge Place Country Club, a delightful 16th-century manor just outside Canterbury in historic Bridge village. In addition to the main building, guests can choose to stay in one of 12 bedrooms in the Coach House or 2 in the newly renovated gate lodge. Alternatively, there’s the option to choose from 7 ‘hop picker’ huts, for those looking for a more romantic getaway.

 

North-west England

Whitworth Locke, Manchester

Opening in December 2018

Due to open next month, Whitworth Locke is an 160-unit aparthotel offering a choice of one-bedroom suites or 24-sq metre studios overlooking Rochdale Canal. Designed by architects Grzywinski + Pons, this stylish residence and former cotton mill will offer the services and facilities of hotel living with the autonomy of a private apartment.

 

Hotel Indigo, Manchester

Opening in December 2018

Located in the city’s Northern Quarter opposite Victoria Station, Hotel Indigo embodies the style and originality that typifies the former industrial heart of the city - now a mecca for hipsters, musicians and the achingly cool. The hotel offers 187 bedrooms, all of which have been carefully renovated to reflect the cultural history of the area, and combines original Victorian features with modern facilities including an on-site gym, bar and restaurant.

 

London Warehouse, Manchester

Opening in spring 2019

The newly renovated London Warehouse hotel will open in spring 2019. Located in the Victorian railway warehouse formerly occupied by The Place Aparthotel, this luxurious 166-bed four-star aparthotel will offer facilities including a gym created by fitness brand BLOK. Other highlights include an all-day hangout space and a mini cinema, restaurant, bar and lounge managed by Bistrotheque restaurant.

 

Dakota Hotel, Manchester

Opening in spring 2019

Work has now begun on the £25 million pound development of Dakota Deluxe design hotel in Manchester. Scheduled to open in spring 2019, the hotel is located close to Piccadilly Station and promises to deliver the same elegant style, tasteful décor and luxurious facilities as its sister properties in Leeds and Glasgow.

 

Stock Exchange Hotel

Opening in spring 2019

Manchester’s historic Stock Exchange building is being redeveloped into a luxurious five-star boutique hotel courtesy of former Manchester United football stars Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs (GG Hospitality). Due to open in spring 2019, the Edwardian Baroque building – with its impressive central dome – is located in Norfolk Street. In addition to 40 bedrooms and suites, two luxurious presidential suites and two fine dining restaurants, the hotel will offer private dining in the wine cellars.

12 festive things to do in London at Christmas

12 festive things to do in London at Christmas

Foodie Focus on…Manchester

As one of Britain’s largest, most vibrant cities, Manchester in north-west England boasts an ever-evolving foodie scene, from its wealth of cafés, bars and restaurants to well-established food markets packed with stalls selling the best of local produce. The growth in its vegan and vegetarian cuisine offer shows no sign of slowing down, its drinks scene is booming, and its history of global trading has resulted in a wide range of international cuisine choices across the city.

Regional specialities and where to taste them

Eccles Cake – Buttery, flaky pastry encasing succulent, juicy currants – what’s not to like about these sweet treats! Said to originate in the town of Eccles, a Manchester suburb, you can pick up one of these tasty cakes throughout the city but, for a special treat, head to the source itself and order an Eccles cake with a coffee at the Malaga Drift Coffee Company in Eccles.

Manchester Tart – The Manchester Tart it reportedly a variation on the original Manchester pudding, which was first recorded by famed Victorian cookery writer Mrs Beeton. This creamy combination of raspberry jam, custard and coconut flakes encased in shortcrust pastry can be found in many bakeries across the city and its suburbs, although if you’re shopping in Arndale market stop by deli/bakery stall Hansford’s to try its version.

Lancashire Hot Pot – The history of this deliciously warming, one-pot stew of lamb and onion topped with sliced potatoes dates back to the Industrial Revolution, when long work hours meant women would take a stew or pudding to a baker’s oven and leave it there to cook while they were at work. For an authentic taste of this hearty dish, order one at Annie’s Restaurant and Tea Shop, (owned by Coronation Street actress Jennie McAlpine) which specialises in a menu of traditional local and British dishes.

Vimto – Originally sold as a health tonic when it was created in Manchester by John Noel Nichols in 1908, this fruity soft drink of raspberries, grapes and blackcurrants mixed with a blend of herbs and spices became a cordial in 1913. Now you can find it on supermarket shelves but innovative Manchester-based restaurant Grafene has created a Vimto-inspired cocktail called Vimto Gardens, a blend of Manchester’s Bramble’ Sipsmith Gin, Grafene’s Vimto purée and lemon.

 

5 must-do food and drink experiences

One for all the gin lovers; Three River’s Gin School has been designated number one of the best things to do in Manchester, according to TripAdvisor. This interactive gin experience is based in the City of Manchester Distillery, the city centre’s first distillery and home to Manchester Three Rivers Gin. The experience begins with a gin and tonic while guests learn about the distillery’s short history and the history of gin, before embarking on a distillery tour, sampling four complimentary gin-based drinks along the way and creating your own personalised bottle of gin in its mini copper pot stills to take home.

The word ‘scran’ is a popular term used in the north of England to describe food – one embraced by Scranchester Tours, a gastronomic, multi-stop tour that reveals the untold food and drink stories of the city through a series of tastings during a four-hour tour. You’ll learn how the city’s food and drink offer links to its history, discovering interesting gems such as what the diet of a Victorian mill worker would have been, and the back story to the neighbourhood of Ancoat’s Little Italy and its myriad ice-cream vendors. You’ll also taste some of the best ‘scran’ the city has to offer…come hungry!

Manchester is home to a raft of craft breweries, and one great way to experience several is by booking onto one of Manchester Brewery Tours’ experiences. Check out its Microbrewery Experience, where, for four hours, you’ll explore and learn about four of the city’s taprooms and craft beer venues, as well as the brewing process, and enjoy several tastings. Alternatively, book onto its Manchester Beer Tasting Tour or its Manchester Beer Pairings Masterclass, where local beers are matched with cheese and meats.

Explore the brilliant mix of street food, craft ales and live music that takes place at the GRUB weekly food fair, held at Fairfield Social Club in the regenerated Mayfield area of the city centre every Friday and Saturday, with every Sunday given over to all things vegan –  #PlantPoweredSundays. It’s a great place to meet the locals as there’s a real community feel at this food event. GRUB’s whole ethos is to support new traders and independent businesses from Manchester, so you’ll certainly find an authentic Mancunian foodie experience here.

Based in the well-heeled neighbourhood of Didsbury, Food Sorcery & Barista School offers cookery experiences led by expert chefs and local suppliers. Classes offer everything from world foods to steak masterclasses and cheese-making, as well as ‘fit food’ classes creating delicious meals to stay healthy. Coffee lovers should check out its coffee courses, suitable for upskilling your barista skills or learning how to make the perfect brew at home.

 

Hot restaurants you have to visit

The French – A fantastic example of British fine dining at its best, The French is located in a Grade II-listed dining room at the luxury Midland Hotel. Led by Manchester-born chef-patron Adam Reid, who has worked across many Michelin-starred restaurants, the four-, six- and nine-course menus combine seasonal produce with modern British flavours, such as Cumbrian red deer with pickled quince, girolles and bilberries, and Tunworth cheese and broccoli custard.

Where the Light Gets In – A British restaurant using foraged ingredients across its menus, Where The Light Gets In – based in Stockport half an hour outside Manchester city centre – brings storytelling to its dishes. There is no set menu available; instead, chef Sam Buckley creates a dining experience from the day's catch, harvest and slaughter, all served within the eclectic décor of a Victorian coffee warehouse.

  • The award-winning and trailblazing Allotment restaurant has moved from Stockport to a bigger site in Manchester city centre. Led by chef-owner Matthew Nutter, the Allotment’s innovative and unpretentious menu has won it plaudits such as The Times’ ‘Best Vegetarian Restaurant in the UK’. Choose from its signature menu or from either a seven- or ten-course tasting menu, which includes mouth-watering dishes such as braised celeriac with golden beetroot, rosemary, sun-blushed tomato and bechamel or Thai Squash Pie with gingerbread, tamarind toffee and salt-baked pineapple.

El Gato Negro – discover a taste of Spain in the city centre at this tapas restaurant located in a converted historic town house. The dishes are influenced by the seasons and, while they use traditional Spanish flavours, you’ll find local ingredients are used across its menu. See the creations come to life at the Chef’s Table or gaze at the stars while you dine on the top floor, which sits under a retractable roof.

Bundobust – showcasing Manchester’s strong international cuisine offer, Bundobust serves delicious Indian street food and craft beers, making this one of Manchester’s go-to places for easy, tasty cuisine. This ‘beer & Indian’ joint sits close to the Northern Quarter delivering Gujurat-inspired street food and craft beer from both local and international breweries.

Rudy’s – This little slice of Naples is found in the heart of Manchester. Rudy’s walk-in pizza restaurant makes its dough on site every day, just as they would in Naples. As well as its regular toppings, you could find a delicious innovative creation on the menu available for just that week, such as Ancoats Speciale, which served up pizza with pumpkin cream, scamoza, coppa, rocket and black pepper.  With two locations, one on Peter Street in the city centre and one in Ancoats, the pizzas are both tasty and Instagrammable.

The Refuge by Volta – nestled in the Grade II-listed Principal Hotel, this restaurant and bar serves up beautiful small plate dishes such as salt cod croquettes, Merguez sausage with spiced puy lentils and crispy egg yolk, and beetroot pakora with tamarind ketchup. Run by DJs-turned-restaurateurs Luke Cowdrey and Justin Crawford, AKA the Unabombers, there’s also the People’s Lunch on the menu, which is a changing selection of hearty specials. The food is inspired by world cuisine yet uses ingredients sourced in the north west of England. And with two DJs at the helm it’s not surprising that, come the weekend, its bar plays awesome sounds.

Mackie Mayor – A major refurbishment saw this Grade II-listed market building on the edge of the Northern Quarter become two floors of eateries housed under one huge glass roof. Up to 500 diners can be seated along the rows of long bench tables and seating, with customers choosing from Taiwanese steamed buns at Bao House to sustainable, British-caught fish cooked whole over chargrill at Fin Fish Bar. There’s also pizza, rotisserie, Italian cuisine, coffee, wines and beer.

 

A 48-hour foodie itinerary

 

Day One

 

07:30 Start with an early breakfast at Ezra & Gil, an urban coffee hangout in the Northern Quarter, housed in a former clothing showroom. Choose from a comprehensive menu that includes smashed pumpkin on toast, house-baked granola and Greek-style green omelette.

 

10:00 Time to work up an appetite again on the Northern Quarter Taster Walk led by Manchester Food Walks, where you’ll discover Manchester's history and culture with food from some of the city's best providers. One of the walks available (which could be taken over lunchtime) is a roving feast of five small plates in Northern Quarter eateries. The guide talks you through the historic district’s markets, curry cafés and cult destinations such as Afflecks Palace.

 

13:00 Still hungry? Grab a table at the Northern Quarter’s Trof to munch on burgers, sandwiches and salads and sample its extensive beer menu. Make plans to return in the evening to enjoy its dedicated bourbon bar or come back on a Sunday for its ‘Roasts & Records’ event, dining on a succulent traditional Sunday roast dinner accompanied by music played on vinyl.

14:00 The Runaway Brewery brews its ‘modern-tasting, recognisably British’ beers by hand in small batches at its microbrewery. Head there for its core range of Pale Ales, IPA, Smoked Porter and American Brown Ales – there’s always seasonal ales to try out – and book onto one of its brewery tours that take place every Saturday.

17:00 Witness a different type of Manchester creativity with cocktails at Apotheca. Opt for brilliantly named (and tasting) drinks such as Bacon and Brown Sauce Bloody Mary, Hazy Memoirs of a Geisha, or Selfie Inflicted, where ingredients such as lychee liqueur or wasabi peas might make an appearance. The décor is just as innovative as the cocktails – think antique apothecary cabinets and comfy leather sofas.

19:00 Taking residence inside an impressive, four-storey, wooden-framed building in the centre of commercial district Spinningfields, The Ivy is bringing the infamous London celebrity hotspot to Manchester when it opens in November. The café-style brasserie features an all-day dining menu, will be open seven days a week, and promises a mix of modern British and international dishes.

 

Day Two

09:00 The district of New Islington is home to Pollen Bakery, a bakery of Scandi-influenced design and counters groaning with freshly baked loaves and cakes. Start the day with one of its famous sourdough loaves (which come in forms such as five-seed, oat porridge and Pollen rye) or one of its Viennoiserie baked goods, ranging from cinnamon buns to Manchester tart cruffins and seasonal treats such as British strawberry pistachio bakewells.

10:00 Here’s your chance to experience urban foraging. Manchester-based cookery school and not-for-profit social enterprise Cracking Good Food, which promotes sustainable, seasonal cooking, offers a rolling programme of wild food forages that take place in the neighbourhoods of Didsbury, Chorlton and Sale. The foraging walks reflect the seasons with special mushroom hunts in the autumn or elderflower picking in the summer.

13:00 Opened in September 2018, Canto is a modern Portuguese restaurant imagined up by the chef patron of city hotspot El Gato Negro, Simon Shaw. Like its award-winning sibling, Canto serves up simple, modern and distinctive dishes, taking inspiration from Portugal’s culinary traditions – perfect for a lunchtime stop.

15:00 Manchester has a fascinating gin history, one which you can discover on the Gin Journey Manchester. The tour includes a distillery visit, a ‘Gin Guardian’ to relate all the stories and history, five samples of gin specially selected for the tour, five gin cocktails and a chauffeur to transport you from venue to venue.

19:30 Dine at the newly opened Peter Street Kitchen, part of a multi-million-pound renovation of the historic Radisson Blu Edwardian Hotel. This destination restaurant is all about ‘shared dining’, with a menu consisting of small plates from two different cuisines; contemporary Japanese and Mexican.

 

Food festivals in 2019

Manchester Food and Drink Festival – 2019 dates TBC but usually runs end of September to early October.

Bolton Food and Drink Festival – half an hour from Manchester, this large-scale festival runs in August.

Indy Man Beer Con – Taking place in October in the gorgeous surroundings of the Grade II-listed Victoria Baths, a short journey from the city centre, this is the place to visit for independent breweries showcasing their wares.