Useful Notes / British Tourist Attractions
Britain is a very popular destination with tourists. Here are the main tourist attractions, and some of the less famous ones.
The Obvious Ones
You've probably heard of these.
Theme Parks, Zoos, etc.
- The Palace of Westminster- aka The Houses of Parliament. Situated in Westminster on the Thames, with the south end of Whitehall to the north, it is the epicentre of the British Political System. A royal/government complex has sat on the site since at least the reign of Edward the Confessor, although most of what you see was built in the 19th century after a fire destroyed much of it in 1834; the oldest part of the Palace is Westminster Hall, built for William II in 1097. To get a tour of this place, you either have to go during the recess or get a tour via an MP's office. The place has literally thousands of metres of corridors. The most famous part of this and one that's part of British culture (the New Year is shown by it on TV) is the Clock Tower, home to the Westminster Chimes and Big Ben; which is the name of the hour bell, not the whole tower. Big Ben has a distinctive "twang", thanks to cracks in the bell, caused by it being struck by a hammer that was above the recommended weight. As such, it now sounds a slightly flat E note.
- The tower has featured in a lot of media, such as one film version of The Thirty-Nine Steps and the Doctor Who episode "Aliens of London" (where it gets a spacecraft slice through it-the clip of the model used, however, is obviously reversed).
- Westminster Abbey, where kings and queens are crowned just to the west of the Palace (and thanks to the proximity and similarity of names, people tend to think that they're in the same building). It contains the tombs of numerous great Britons, including Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens and Lord Byron.
- Since this is a Royal Palace, it's illegal for commoners to die inside - if they did, they would be entitled to a state funeral, or so it is said. In the event someone does break this law, their death is reported as taking place at the nearby St. Thomas' Hospital.
- The Tower of London- Actually a castle (the "tower" is just the keep) dating to the reign of William the Conqueror, situated to the just to the east of the City of London in the Borough of Tower Hamlets (which derives its name from the Tower). Home of the Crown Jewels (which is a good target for a heist plot- someone did try to steal them in real life), former prison (including the whole "Princes in the Tower" thing) and onetime royal zoo.
- A cool little piece of folk lore states that if the ravens of the Tower of London ever leave, the Tower will crumble and the kingdom will fall.
- The ravens' wings are clipped so they physically can't fly very far. Which is kind of cheating.
- This is actually derived from an earlier myth about one Bran the Blessed's head being buried there to protect the island from invasion; 'Bran' means 'Raven'.Which becomes the name "Brian". So BrianTheBlessed could have been a larger-than-life ancestor...
- Just to definitively prove the Ravens are accurate harbingers of doooom for England: during the Second World War most of the Tower's ravens perished through shock during bombing raids, leaving a sole survivor named 'Grip'.
- In British drama Sherlock, among others, the theft of the Crown Jewels is a major plot point.
- Stonehenge- You cannot walk all the way up to the stones though as people kept vandalising them. However, If you drive by them on the A303 you get a magnificent view, especially at dawn or dusk. You can't walk right up to them, but there is a walking path which skirts the perimeter and at one point comes up to within 40 feet (11 metres) of one of the outer trilithons. The path ends alongside the famous "Heel Stone".
- The British Museum - the most famous museum in the world.
- Trafalgar Square
- Containing Admiral Nelson's column and statue (which looks at a road lined with streetlamps topped by models of his ships), St. Martins church, borders the theatre district, has a famously empty plinth for a statue, the National Gallery, and several thousand pigeons. Site of several scenes in movies, e.g., An American Werewolf in London. The north side is now pedestrianized so visitors don't have to take their lives in their hands crossing the street between the square proper and the Gallery.
- Picadilly Circus: Site of an aluminium statue normally called Eros or the Angel of Christian Charity (but is actually Anteros, the god of requited love and Eros' brother), restaurants, theatres, the Japan Centre, many streets meet. Appears in An American Werewolf in London (the porno cinema is no longer open, unfortunately, thanks to the internet.)
- Alton Towers — with eight roller coasters, it's considered the top UK theme park. Its theme tune, used in many advertising campaigns and in the park (including a version done by "cavemen") is Edvard Grieg's "In The Hall of the Mountain King".
- Thorpe Park in Surrey has, as of 2015, seven roller coasters with another in development. The park is notable for having the world's first and so far only roller coaster based around a horror movie series, that being SAW: The Ride. Another ride, The SWARM, is famous for being the only backward winged coaster in the world, as well as the only winged coaster located in the United Kingdom.
- Chessington World of Adventures has four roller coasters. Started off as a zoo before branching out.
- Alton Towers, Thorpe Park and Chessington are the "Big Three" of British amusement parks, all opening in the late 70s and early 80s. In the mid 90s they were joined by:
- Lego Land Windsor, second Lego Land Park opened (first outside of Denmark), is still a great family theme park which has been modernised with more roller coasters, more water rides, and the first Lego Hotel. You can also see Windsor Castle from The Beginning.
- The Pleasure Beach, Blackpool is considered to be Britain's top amusement park — despite being far more compact than any of the others, it has more and better coasters, including the Grand National (Europe's only Möbius-loop coaster, and said to be one of only three remaining) and the Big One (when it opened in 1994, it was for a while the world's tallest). It also has the Roller Coaster — there were of course gravity rides before this one, but this was the first ever to be given that exact name. Some even rate PBB the world number 1, ahead of Cedar Point in Ohio (though CP has one more coaster than PBB).
- Edinburgh Castle.
- London Zoo. Excellent aviary; the penguin pool is a good example of 1930's design.
- Windsor Castle. The home of the Royal Family outside London.
- Some other castles, too, but a lot got destroyed by the Parliamentarians during the English Civil War, to stop the Royalists from using them.
- Try Warwick castle, Bodiam castle, Rochester castle (very similar to the Tower of London, only without a thousand years of additions).
- Bodelwyddan and Conwy Castle in Wales are far better preserved than the majority of English ones. The majority of castles in famous places (including Edinburgh) and less famous (Bamburgh — great place, do visit) look more like they were built as lordly residences than as defensive hardpoints.
- Try Norwich, actually. One of Britains most complete Norman Castles. Big, ugly defensive block, that sits on the highest (artificial) point in the city and GLARES at you.
- As well as its cathedral Durham also has a nice Norman castle which has the distinction having been continuously occupied for 900 years. However, since people live in it—it's home to University College, Durham (i.e. it's a dormitory-cum-class building)—the guided tour can't actually show you that much of it, but it is just opposite the cathedral so you can do both in one day.
- Then there are the three castles restored by the Marquis of Bute in south wales, Cardiff Castle (an incredibly ostentatiously done up castle used as a home by the then richest family in the world), Castell Coch (a more or less totally rebuilt and re-imagined based on a Norman fort) and Caerphilly Castle (the second largest medieval fortification in the world, with a real live water moat).
- Skipton Castle isn't bad- a Norman castle that, like Durham, has been lived in continuously since it was built in 1090. It made it through the English Civil War relatively undamaged (despite staying Royalist until 1645), and was very well restored, although not to the point it could once again mount cannon on the rooftops. Speaking of cannon- two of the cannon in the current collection were never properly spiked, and basically only need their barrels cleaned out to be serviceable again.
- Lets not forget Stirling Castle, Edinburgh's less famous brother.Probably one of the most improtant buildings in Scottish history and with decent views, you can see all the way to the Highlands on a sunny day.
- Stately Homes, many and various, many boast a haunted room or some-such.
- Blenheim Palace is probably the biggest and the best, while Ightam Mote in Kent is one of the most interesting and most intimate.
- Highclere Castle in Hampshire (designed by Sir Charles Barry like the Houses of Parliament, and it shows), previously noted as being a bit poorly maintained, has gotten a lot of tourism and therefore improvements lately as the result of Downton Abbey (Highclere is used for exterior shots of the titular house).
- Cathedrals. Lots of cathedrals. English cathedrals are unlike any in Europe, having developed a distinct architectural style during the height of cathedral-building in the Middle Ages. It's commonly thought that possession of a Cathedral is required for official "city" status in the UK. This isn't actually true — city status is granted by royal charter — but the majority of places with cathedrals are cities, even when they'd otherwise be fairly insignificant small towns such as St. David's in Wales.
- A newspaper article once pointed out that the UK has somewhat more cities than it has Anglican cathedrals. On the other hand, three London boroughs — London (more usually known as "City"), Westminster and Southwark — have Anglican cathedrals, but only the first two are cities.
- Blackburn famously has a Cathedral which was only heightened to that status from Church when Blackburn gained its own diocese from Manchester. Blackburn has never been a city, though many believe it should. One of the likely reasons it hasn't been named a city yet is because of Darwen's dependency upon it, being the head of the county borough, now unitary authority, of Blackburn with Darwen (Darwen got lumped in later on).
- Quick picture tour:
- Durham Cathedral◊ is probably the most magnificently situated, and its chunky Norman architecture has been used as parts of Hogwarts.
- Gloucester◊ — the cloisters have also been used as parts of Hogwarts; they are also the earliest example of fan vaulting, although Hereford has a fine example of proto-fan vaulting which they claim to be the earliest. The cathedral has a mix of styles all the way from Norman through to Victorian (but still Gothic), due to roof fires, an aisle collapsing, and extensions. The east and west windows are particularly impressive, were removed during WWII, stored in pieces, then lovingly reconstructed after the war.
- Ripon◊ is positively intimidating (that huge, dark echoing space) and in an otherwise nondescript market town
- Coventry◊ is the most modern (built to replace one destroyed in World War II◊). A popular urban legend (perpetuated by an episode of Babylon 5) states that British intelligence were apparently warned of the Coventry raid, but Churchill elected not to evacuate the city as doing so would have given away the fact that the German codes had been cracked. In fact, they were aware a big raid was coming but not of the target. The Cathedral is now the only attractive part of the city centre.
- York Minster◊ is the largest medieval cathedral north of the Alps, and is often thought of as the queen of English Cathedrals. This is a subject of much friendly debate. The coronation scenes in Elizabeth were shot there.
- Salisbury◊ has the tallest spire.
- Wells◊ has an imposing frontage. Hot Fuzz was filmed in Wells, incidentally.
- Ely◊ has◊ a unique wooden octagonal central tower, and is situated in a flat, watery expanse called the Fens, on top of the only hill for miles. It can be seen on the cover of Pink Floyd's album The Division Bell, between the two metal heads. Its Lady Chapel has been used as a filming location for many period films, including the court scenes from Elizabeth
- Canterbury◊ is the home of the Church of England - the Archbishop of Canterbury is the world leader of Anglicans.
- Rochester◊, Kent has a cathedral. Rochester has the oldest foundations of any Cathedral in Britain, although the actual structure of many are older. Nearby Maidstone has the largest church that isn't a cathedral in Britain.
- The Liverpool Anglican cathedral◊ is the biggest cathedral in the UK and the fifth-largest in the world. It's rather newer than most of the examples on this list - it was only finished in 1978. Notably, Liverpool actually has two cathedrals - the other one is called the Metropolitan Cathedral◊, and is Catholic. Its modernist concrete design resembles an inverted kitchen funnel, or a teepee - hence the nickname "Paddy's Wigwam".
- The Anglican Cathedral was deigned by a Catholicnote , and the Catholic Cathedral by an Anglican. The two cathedrals face each other along Hope Street.
- Worcester Cathedral◊ is the burial place of King John, and the linked view is pretty much the standard picture used to represent Worcester.
- Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker, Essex: One has to admire a place that has a sign saying "Secret Nuclear Bunker. ← Car Park. 160 yards". First it was part of the British radar network, then a civil defence bunker.
- The place is hired out for filming, having been used in Bugs and possibly The Murder Game, among others.
- Similarly, Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker in Cheshire has road signs leading to it dotted all over the county
- Madame Tussauds, a wax figure museum in London. Very popular if a little creepy. Now owned by Merlin Entertainments who also operate the London Eye, Alton Towers and various other attractions.
- Famous South Kensington Museums. That includes Natural History Musuem, Science Museum (incorporating the Geological museum next door) and Victoria and Albert Musuem across the street.
- Not forgetting the Imperial War Museum. London's is free, though the other four dotted around the UK may not be. Many Londom museums are free, in fact. Manchester and Duxford house two other sites. One of the IWM's other sites is the HMS Belfast
- Historical note: the Imperial War Museum building was originally the Royal Bethlehem Mental Hospital, before this relocated to Kent. This hospital is the origin of the word "bedlam".
- The Science Museum in London, and its regional offshoots, the National Railway Museum in York and the National Media Museum in nearby Bradford.
- Preserved steam railways abound, and have been used for filming all sorts of things. The Hogwarts Express sequences in the Harry Potter movies were filmed on a combination of the West Highland Railway in Scotland and the North York Moors Railway in Yorkshire; The Railway Children was the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway (Yorkshire again), as were the railway scenes in the film of The Wall, and the Nene Valley Railway in Cambridgeshire is unique in having many foreign locomotives and has appeared in at least two James Bond films standing in for Eastern Europe/Russia.
- In Sussex: the Bluebell Railway (opened when steam locomotives were still operating on Britain's main line, and with the second largest collection of steam locomotives in the UK).
- In Somerset: the West Somerset Railway.
- Aircraft collections / musems: Hendon (Colindale on the London Underground) has the RAF museum, full of aircraft from the first to last. Duxford, Cambridgeshire has an impressive museum including the US Air Forces in Britain collection, and also many 'live' historical aircraft, and also re-builds them. Yeovilton, Somerset, has the Royal Navy-themed collection, and is an active military airfield. The Shuttleworth Collection specialises in World War 1-era and earlier aircraft. RAF Museum Cosford contains many unique British research aircraft from the 1950s and 60s.
- The Tate galleries in London (Tate Modern and Tate Britain). Tate Britain shows mostly historic art (along with some more contemporary stuff), while Tate Modern has, well, modern art. Both of them have some really good pieces of art, including a really good permanent exhibition of the works of J.M.W. Turner at the Tate Britain, but as a word of warning, do not go to the Tate Modern if you're not prepared for some truly bizarre and disturbing stuff.
- The Royal Armouries aren't bad. It focuses solely on infantry arms and armour (so don't expect tanks - go to the IWM for that). Sites in Leeds, London and Portsmouth.
- But if you really like tanks you must go to Bovington Tank Museum near Bournemouth in Dorset. It has one of the largest and best preserved collections of tanks in the world. Including the only working Tiger Tank left in the world.
- Near London Bridge Station, Southwark Cathedral, Borough Market and the Globe Theatre is a small, easily overlooked museum — the Clink Prison Museum in Clink Street. Yes, this is where the term "clink" came from; it isn't onomatopoea as usually supposed.
- The National Museums and Galleries of Wales, a collection of free to enter museums all over Wales. Mostly about Welsh industries St Fagans is quite interesting, as it is a more building museum, as in it collects old buildings.
- Liverpool has two major art galleries, the Walker Art Gallery and the Tate Liverpool - as you might expect, the latter concentrates on more modern works. The owners of the Walker also own the Lady Lever Art Gallery in the picturesque Port Sunlight Village, some miles outside Liverpool but easily accessible.
- One Canada Square, better known as Canary Wharf (which, strictly speaking, refers to the surrounding area). The tallest habitable building in the UK (235 m). Filled with all sorts of companies, doesn't have viewing deck so you can't really go there per se but it is pretty iconic. It's shown up in Doctor Who where it was "Torchwood Tower" and Torchwood refers to it as "Torchwood One". Was the site of the Dalek/Cyberman/Human battle (known in the universe as "The Battle of Canary Wharf"). Also appears in the film Johnny English.
- 30 St Mary Axe, more commonly known as The Gherkin is a cylindrical shape that bulges in the middle and has a dome at the top, kinda looks like a Gherkin if you squint and you often see 180-metre-tall glass Gherkins. There is a restaurant on the 38th floor.
- It also has been noted to look like a gigantic phallus.
- The Shard of Glass is London's newest and tallest tower. Located next to London Bridge station. Completed in 2012, it is a tapering glass spire almost 1,000 feet tall. There is an observation gallery, which has been criticised for its high prices.
- The Lloyds Building, home of the venerable insurance syndicate Lloyds of London, is inside out - a masterpiece of Modernist architecture, though not to everyone's taste. The interior is also impressive, but public access is limited for security reasons.
- St. Paul's Cathedral, where you can walk almost to the top (no elevators, and the climb includes some slightly claustrophobic staircases and corridors). Great for a panoramic view of London, although a tad windy. Also features the Whispering Gallery: Place your face on its wall and whisper (don't speak).
- The Oop North town of Stockport is famed among railway buffs for having the largest and longest brick-built viaduct in Europe, possibly the world. Nearly a mile long, it spans the River Mersey and presents a strong case for Stockport being a railway viaduct with a town attached as an afterthought. note
- Wookey Hole Caves. A bunch of caves, constantly at 11 degrees Celsius (52 degrees Fahrenheit). You can mature Cheddar cheese in there.
- Other caves in Cheddar Gorge are less 'touristy', which isn't saying much. And cheaper. And better value for your money.
- Best known for their use in the Doctor Who story "Revenge of the Cybermen".
- A slate quarry in Wales has been used in several recent Dctor Whos, as well as in 'Dragonslayer', and 'The Keep'.
- The White Cliffs of Dover. What you see on the ferry from Calais.
- The Seven Sisters. A row of seven (surprise!) chalk cliffs on the south coast. Taller, whiter and prettier than at Dover. In fact when people mention the Cliffs of Dover most people think of the Seven Sisters Instead
- Loch Ness. And, y'know, the rest of the Highlands.
- The Yorkshire Dales
- The North York Moors
- The upland bit of Wales; not huge as mountains go, but good-looking. Very good-looking, in fact. Has more lakes than the Lake District even if one does not indulge in linguistic pedantry.
- The Lake District◊ - looks sort of like a bit of Scotland on the English side of the border, includes Tarn Hows, allegedly the most photographed view in Europe. Only has one lake; the rest are all "water"s or "mere"s.
- English Countryside, which as Austin Powers points out, looks nothing like Southern California. Some bits are just green and muddy, but try the Cotswolds, the Chiltern hills, the Downs in Kent (inspiration for the Chalk of Discworld) and so-on; can be truly beautiful.
- The Giant's Causeway - an area of regular hexagonal basalt columns running down into the sea that formed in an ancient volcanic eruption. A World Heritage Site and the only unique natural feature of Northern Ireland. Has a corresponding site in Fingal's Cave.
- The stretch of the River Wye between its mouth at Chepstow and the town of Monmouth has been described as "the most beautiful valley in England" (even though it's half in Wales).
- The Jurassic Coast, of Devon/Dorset, is a UNESCO World Heritage site - with fantastic walks and views, some lovely towns and architecture, and a huge amount of fossils (they quite literally lie around on every beach) and prehistoric geographic features, it's well worth a visit.
- The Pennines, and the views from the top, are absolutely brilliant if you don't mind the wind, near-vertical sections you can scramble, and sheep poo. You also need to approach sideways, so the drive is a little longer if you're going North or South (which you will be, because of the road structure). The only road which goes over the Pennines is a little, shall we say, dangerous if you're not familiar with the roads Oop North. Sheep also have right of way, so you have to wait for them to move out of the road. All this plus the fact that Britain's food waste recycling plant is on this road caused people only to use it when absolutely necessary - farmers, the people driving the honking food trucks, and those who go to school on the other side. Great market borough on the Yorkshire side, though, and right into Bronte (and sheep) country.
- Stone Circles and megaliths, Stonehenge, obviously, but there are others. (Avebury, close to Stonehenge, is particularly notable - the village is inside the circle.)
- If you go to see Stonehenge then keep an eye out for Hay Henge, it has to be the right time of year, but it's basically a replica of Stonehenge made by a local farmer - with a tad too much time on his hands!
- The village of Avebury was used as the setting for the 1970's children's drama Children of the Stones. The stone circle features prominently in the opening titles
- Earthworks: old hill-forts, burial mounds, tumuli etc. Good setting for Cosmic Horror Stories. The largest one easily seen is Maiden Castle, usually covered in sheep.
- Chalk figures: many actually only a century old or less, some truly ancient, especially the Uffington Horse◊, the Long Man of Wilmington◊ and the Cerne Abbas Giant◊. Be prepared for sniggers and giggles if you take children to see the last one.
- Glastonbury. Memorable for the festival (which is actually a few miles away, closer to Pilton village), but also a ruined abbey, sacred springs, reputed as the Isle of Avalon and (one of the many) burial sites of King Arthur. Its name means the Isle of Glass.
- Mother Shipton's Cave: The oldest paying attraction in England, the cave was associated with the prophetess Mother Shipton, and contains a mysterious 'petrifying well' that turns objects suspended under it to stone. There's a little museum of stone items made in the well by visitors over the attraction's long history.
- Cadbury World: A museum dedicated the history of chocolate, attached to an actual working chocolate factory; visitors can join a guided tour of the production area and are sometimes offered free samples of a newly-developed product before it goes on the market. Better Than It Sounds.
- The Angel of the North◊; a gigantic iron statue in Gateshead. The comedian Linda Smith once remarked that the Angel of the North is definitely northern because it stands outside all day in the freezing cold not wearing a coat. Visitors can walk right up to it.
- The London Eye. A giant ferris wheel in London (duh) and the tallest one in Europe at 134 metres. It offers excellent views of St. Paul's Cathedral and the Houses of Parliament. Thanks to its location on the Thames, it is now part of any stereotypical establishing shot of London, and has from time to time been used as a symbol for London.