Friday, 21 October 2011

top 10 places to go in the UK outside of london

since tourists almost always flock to london, i thought i'd give some suggestions about the places that i think are great to go outside of london, in case you want to venture beyond.  in no particular order, these places are:

1)  windsor - if you're going to be in london for awhile, then it is very easy to go to windsor for a day.  there is a direct train from london waterloo station straight to windsor, and you can just purchase tickets on the day.
windsor castle has extraordinarily beautiful rooms and a wealth of history, so definitely take a tour of the interior.  other highlights include the crooked tea house, a great place to have afternoon tea, and it's conveniently located just down the road from the castle.  during the summer, you can have a picnic on the long walk, where you could also ride in a horse-drawn carriage.
- the long walk:
2)  stonehenge, bath, glastonbury - i've grouped these three locations together because you can visit all three pretty much all at once.  it's really easy to book a day-tour to stonehenge, bath, and glastonbury from london.  proscenium tours usually run tours for students, and there are also many other tour buses (like premium tours and anderson tours) that run day trips to these locations from london.  a day-tour is the easiest way to experience these three locations.  the tours usually give you enough time to spend at each location, and you can see all three in only one day!  
stonehenge is about 5,000 yrs old and is only one of many stone circles in england.  bath is famous for its ancient roman baths.  you can bring your swimsuit and relax in the natural thermal spas, like the celts and romans did 2,000 yrs ago.  for jane austen fans, this was the city where she lived, influencing much of her writing.  there is a jane austen center where you can learn more about her life and times.glastonbury hosts medieval recreations in the abbot's kitchen, from costumes to cooking medieval food, which you can then taste.  this is also the place where king arthur and guinevere are said to be buried - their tombs are on the abbey grounds.  historians, however, think the abbey monks may have forged this relic in order to attract pilgrims.
3)  tintagel - cornwall is perhaps the most beautiful region of england, situated at the very western tip, with its small, picturesque coastal towns.  tintagel, on the northern coast of cornwall, is a small, remote village on the sea cliffs, and is great as a weekend getaway from the bustle of the city.  it has beautiful sea views, and is an excellent place for hiking along the ocean and exploring the waterfall and the many caves.  there are also the crumbling castle ruins on the cliffs, which are great to wander around.  in arthurian legend, this was the place where merlin used magic to disguise king uther as the duke of cornwall.  uther then visited the duchess of cornwall, igraine, in her tintagel castle, where king arthur was then conceived. 
4)  saint michael’s mount - this is one of the many tidal islands in the UK, and is located at the very tip of cornwall.  small islands during high tide and connected to the mainland at low tide, tidal islands are often remote locations and sites of medieval religious worship.  saint michael's mount is particularly peaceful and scenic, and makes for a relaxing weekend away.  incidentally, there is a similar tidal island in france with the same name, mont st. michel.
-saint michael’s mount at low tide:
5)  stratford-upon-avon – this is a beautiful, idyllic town, and is famous as the birthplace of william shakespeare.  here, you can walk through restorations of shakespeare’s childhood home and those of his relatives.  the royal shakespeare company has regular performances in the royal shakespeare theatre, which sits along the river avon.  the theater also offers tours and exhibitions, and the riverside banks are great for strolling.  =)
6)  northumberland – in the northeast corner of england, northumberland is a fantastic region to see medieval castles.  among them, alnwick castle is notable for being the site of the harry potter films.  it is the current home of the duke and duchess of northumberland, and is one of the largest inhabited castles.  it is a great, family-friendly place to visit - with games, harry potter tours, medieval recreations, and opportunities to see falconry.  it is also the site of the stunning alnwick garden, with beautiful terraced fountains, rope bridges, and the ‘bamboo labyrinth’, one of the world’s largest tree houses.  to see a classic, crumbling castle ruin by the sea, head to dunstanburgh castle for dark, moody, but majestic sea views.  northumberland is also home to the lindisfarne priory, situated on the scenic holy island, a tidal island.  there is also vindolanda, an ancient roman fort near hadrian’s wall, a great place to see ancient roman archaeological finds.
- alnwick castle:
7)  brecon beacons, wales – the brecon beacons national park is a breathtaking mountain range in the south of wales.  the best way to see the beacons is on horseback.there are several riding centres throughout the brecon beacons that offer horse-riding trips, many of which can be found on:  several centres offer rides that suit all horse-riding abilities, from beginners with no prior riding experience, to those who ride daily.
- brecon beacons:
8)  antrim coast, northern ireland – this coastline along the northeast corner of northern ireland is an area of outstanding natural beauty.  it is home to the giant’s causeway, a natural wonder consisting of a series of interlocking hexagonal basalt columns reaching into the sea.  the giant’s causeway hotel, which sits right above the causeway, is perfect for a weekend stay among the strange formations of the rocks.  the carrick-a-rede rope bridge nearby is a thin little bridge spanning across the sea cliffs, and is definitely worth a visit to walk across.  =)
9)  glasgow – as the largest city in scotland, glasgow might seem a bit dark and dreary at first glance, but it is the best place to see the famous mackintosh architecture.  charles rennie mackintosh was a scottish art nouveau architect, and much of his architecture can be seen and visited in glasgow.  most notable are the willow tea rooms and the house for an art lover.  his architectural style has a fantastical, alice-in-wonderland feeling.
- music room piano, house for an art lover:
10)  scottish highlands – the highlands of scotland are magnificent, and there is no point going to scotland without seeing the highlands.  you can easily take a day tour from edinburgh or glasgow.  the days tours will take you through the stunning mountains of the highlands, and most will go all the way up to loch ness, where you can then board a boat cruise for some monster-spotting!  a few of the many highland tours include rabbie’s trail burners, timberbush, highland experience, and scottish tours.
- scottish highlands:
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Sunday, 2 October 2011

northern ireland

so, it's been over a year since i last updated. =P shame on me. it's just, my life has been super hectic!

anyways, as for travelling, i recently made a trip to northern ireland over a weekend, which was really great. i took an overnight sleeper train into scotland, and then a ferry into belfast. this is definitely the long, scenic route, compared to flying, but it's a unique experience, and i would definitely recommend it. the caledonian sleeper train was pretty fun - very hogwarts express, if you're a harry potter fan. the booths are quite small, so it's not the thing to do if you're claustrophobic. if you're in first class, you get your own little complimentary toiletries kit, which is a nice touch. so if you're travelling alone, i would definitely suggest paying the extra £50 for your own first class private booth. you'll also get a complimentary snack for breakfast, and even a full breakfast if you order it.

the train ride through scotland had some beautiful coastal views, and the ferry was amazing. it was basically a small cruise ship, complete with movie theater, spa, cafes, and restaurants. a lot of people also brought their dogs, and some were driving, so had their cars parked below deck. once at belfast port, i had a black taxi cab pick me up directly from the port onto a taxi tour of the city.

the black cab tour is definitely a must-do if you're in belfast, mainly because it's so iconic and gives you great, personal insight into the history of the city - particularly the protestant vs. catholic issues. it's not the most cheery of tours, but it's certainly enlightening and worthwhile. for one person, it's somewhat pricey at £30, but if you're travelling with others, you can split the cost among you.

the following day, i took a day tour of the antrim coast with mccomb's bus tours. this was the highlight of the trip for me. if you're in belfast, the giant's causeway should not be missed, especially if you love coastlines, hiking, and natural wonders. although it rained, the strange hexagonal rock formations of the giant's causeway were fantastic to see and climb around on. you could easily spend a good half-day there, hiking and exploring the shoreline. the bus tour also stopped at the precarious Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, which runs across the rocks. even though it looks like a dangerous, thin, little bridge, no one has ever fallen off. nevertheless, i thought i saw a coast guard boat down below, to help you out in case you do wind up falling into the sea.


despite having a great time, i actually wouldn't recommend taking a day tour from belfast, mainly because the tour was very rushed. instead, if you want to see the giant's causeway, i would suggest booking a weekend at the giant's causeway hotel, which sits practically right on the causeway. then you can simply take your time exploring the stones and the beautiful, rocky coast.


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