There are thousands of historical attractions around the UK, catering to every interest from the military to football, film to beer.
For those who want to experience Britain’s rich cultural heritage without the queues and throngs of visitors, George Knowles introduces 25 unsung gems for a day trip.
1. Beamish Living Museum, County Durham
Preserving life as it was in 1913, Beamish Living Museum recreates a typical British town in the first decades of the 20th century, and is particularly relevant this year, with the centenary celebrations of WWI which commence in June.
Beamish Museum, Beamish, County Durham, DH9 0RG, (0191 3704000, www.beamish.org.uk)
2. Ham House, London
Set on the banks of the Thames, Ham House provides a rare opportunity to experience a quiet and tranquil National Trust property in central London. But be warned: it is rumoured to be haunted. Watch out for the Duchess of Lauderdale, roaming the corridors with her dog.
Ham Street, Ham, Richmond, London, TW10 7RS, (020 8940 1950, www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ham-house)
3. The Battle of Hastings Abbey and Battle-Site, East Sussex
Head to the south coast to take in a vital part of British History, and relive the events of 1066 in the atmospheric abbey ruins and picturesque gardens.
High Street, Battle, East Sussex, TN33 0AD, (01424 775705, www.english-heritage.org.uk/1066)
4. Big Pit National Coal Museum, Wales
Telling the story of coal mining in Wales, Big Pit’s highlights include a guided tour 300 feet underground, through a coal mine, with complementary hard hat and miners lamp. Not one for the claustrophobe. It’s been 30 years since the beginning of the miner’s strike, and this place is lasting reminder of a lost industry.
Blaenafon, Torfaen, NP4 9XP, (029 20573650, www.museumwales.ac.uk/bigpit/)
5. The Bank of England Museum, London
Banks may not be the most popular of institutions at the moment, but the Bank of England Museum offers a wide array of interesting exhibitions for young and old. You can even handle a 13kg gold bar, but attempting to steal it is not advised.
Threadneedle Street, London, EC2R 8AH, (020 7601 5545, www.bankofengland.co.uk/museum)
6. Leeds Castle, Kent
Two hundred and fifty miles from its Yorkshire namesake, Leeds Castle offers acres of idyllic parkland, formal gardens, and the opportunity to experience one of England’s best preserved forts; home to six of England’s medieval queens, and holiday house of Henry VIII and his first wife.
Leeds Castle, Maidstone, Kent, ME17 1PL, (01622 765400, www.leeds-castle.com)
7. Crathes Castle, Aberdeenshire
Turrets, towers, rolling countryside, ancient yew gardens, and sprawling woodland all combine to create a relaxing atmosphere at this 16th century Scottish landmark. Enjoy spectacular views of Royal Deeside, a lavish interior, and superb painted ceilings.
Crathes Castle, Banchory, Aberdeen and Grampian, AB31 5QJ, (08444 932166, www.nts.org.uk)
8. Bletchley Park, Milton Keynes
With some areas of the home of the WWII code-breakers currently being restored, come June visitors will be able to walk in the footsteps of men such as Alan Turing, and explore the stories behind the people responsible for helping to dramatically shorten the length of the war.
Bletchley Park, Milton Keynes, MK3 6EB, (01908 640404, www.bletchleypark.org.uk)
9. The Galleries of Justice, Nottingham
A ‘warts and all’ journey through the history of crime in Nottingham, with displays including ‘Cabinets of Crime’, and of course a look back at the famous legend of Robin Hood. Green tights not included.
The Lace Market, Nottingham, NG1 1HN, (0115 952 0555, www.galleriesofjustice.org.uk)
10. Culloden Visitor Centre, Inverness
The visitor centre offers an excellent interactive insight into the last hand-to-hand conflict fought on British soil. A fantastic opportunity to explore the battle that dramatically changed the course of history for the Scottish Highlands.
Battlefield Visitor Centre, Culloden Moor, Inverness, Highland, IV2 5EU, (0844 493 2159, www.nts.org.uk/culloden)
11. Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire
Built in the style of a French Château for Baron de Rothschild, expect nothing less than opulent interiors, perfectly cultivated gardens, excellent food, and of course, plenty of wine. For events throughout the year, and Christmas celebrations with no expense spared, look no further.
Waddesdon Manor, Waddesdon, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, HP18 0HJ, (01296 653 203, www.waddesdon.org.uk)
12. The Cinema Museum, London
Dedicated to keeping alive the spirit of cinema before the emergence of the multiplex, this museum presents a fascinating collection of artefacts and memorabilia as well as running regular events for the silver screen enthusiast.
The Cinema Museum, 2 Dugard Way, London, SE11 4TH, (020 7840 2200, www.cinemamuseum.org.uk)
13. Tintagel Castle, Cornwall
Rumoured to be the birthplace of King Arthur, this 13th century castle is set in the charming village of Tintagel, and boasts incredible views along the Cornish coastline.
Castle Road, Tintagel, Cornwall, PL34 0EH, (01840 770328, www.tintagelcastle.co.uk)
14. Surgeons Hall Museum, Edinburgh
This fascinating museum offers a gruesome set of exhibitions looking back at over 2,000 years worth of surgical history and pathology, including a collection of the letters and objects of Joseph Bell, the man who inspired Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories of Sherlock Holmes.
Surgeons Hall Museum, Nicolson Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9DW, (0131 527 1600, www.museum.rcsed.ac.uk)
15. Castle Coole, Northern Ireland
A stunning 18th century mansion. Explore the hidden world of the servant’s quarters and tunnels, and learn about those who lived and worked below ground in the stately palace.
Castlecoole Road, Enniskillen, BT74 6JY, (028 6632 2690, www.nationaltrust.org.uk/castle-coole)
16. Portmeirion, North Wales
Best known for the location of legendary 1960’s TV series, The Prisoner, Portmeirion is a beautiful closed village situated in North Wales, and offers a range of events, festivals, and concerts. “I am not a number, I am a free man…”
Minffordd, Penrhyndeudraeth, Gwynedd, LL48 6ER, (01766 770000, www.portmeirion-village.com)
17. The International Slavery Museum, Liverpool
Opened in 2007, the museum has proved a popular attraction ever since, and provides a comprehensive understanding of both historical and contemporary slavery, situated in Liverpool’s historical Albert Dock.
International Slavery Museum, Albert Dock, Liverpool, L3 4AX, (0151 4784499, www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk)
18. The Cabinet War Rooms, London
Hidden between St. James Park and Whitehall, the Cabinet War Rooms are a vast maze of underground passages that served as Churchill’s bunker during WWII. Discover where some of the most important decisions of the War were made.
Churchill War Rooms, Clive Steps, King Charles Street, London, SW1A 2AQ, (www.iwm.org.uk)
19. Castle Howard, North Yorkshire
An impressive stately home, with stunning grounds and a perfectly kept rose garden, Castle Howard has been rebuilt since a large fire tore through the building in 1940. See where Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited was filmed, and discover the history of the family during WWII.
Castle Howard, York, YO60 7DA, (01653 648333, www.castlehoward.co.uk)
20. The Royal Standard of England, Beaconsfield
Learn about British history the best way possible – with a beer. The Royal Standard can trace its history as a pub back over 900 years, although others establishments do vie for the title of Britain’s oldest public house. Perhaps the only way to decide is to visit them all?
The Royal Standard. Forty Green, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, HP9 1XS, (01494 673382, www.rsoe.co.uk)
21. The National Football Museum, Manchester
Home to the world’s largest collection of footballing memorabilia, the museum caters for a range of interests and levels of knowledge, and the films and artwork ensure that even those not enamoured by the beautiful game will enjoy themselves.
Ubris Building, Cathedral Gardens, Manchester, M4 3BG, (0161 605 8200, nationalfootballmuseum.com)
22. The Scottish Crannog Centre, Perthshire
Enjoy the majesty of Scotland’s beautiful countryside through the ancient loch-dwelling structures know as Crannogs – roundhouses, built into the water on stilts. Part of Scotland’s rich Bronze Age heritage.
Kenmore, Loch Tay, Aberfeldy, Perthshire, PH15 2HY, (01887 830583, www.crannog.co.uk)
23. The Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford
With a tremendous collection of anthropology and archaeology, the Pitt Rivers museum will fascinate for hours. Particular mention should go to a current, harrowing exhibition entitled “Surviving Tsunami”, a collection of photographs from the aftermath of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.
Pitt Rivers Museum, South Park Road, Oxford, OX1 3PP, (01865 270927, www.prm.ox.ac.uk)
24. The American Museum in Britain, Bath
The only collection of Americana outside the USA, the museum shows the diverse and complex nature of American history, from early settlers to the 20th century, and also hosts plenty of regular events and music concerts.
The American Museum, Claverton Manor, Bath, BA2 7BD, (01225 460503, www.americanmuseum.org)
25. Settle to Carlisle Railway, North West England
‘Settle’ back and relax on one of England’s most scenic railway lines, as it snakes its way through 72 miles of stunning Yorkshire and Humber countryside. First opened to passengers in 1876, the line is a surviving remnant of Britain’s great steam heritage.
Carlisle Railway Station, Court Square, Carlisle, Cumbria, CA1 1QZ, (www.settle-carlisle.co.uk)