Best of Britain & Ireland Expo


Hever Castle

Hever Castle in Kent, England


In London, an exhibition titled Best of Britain & Ireland brought together dozens of specialists and tour operators from all over the British Isles to celebrate all the things to see and do there. Here are a few attractions and destinations to bear in mind:

Last year’s Homecoming Scotland campaign worked very well, said Linda McAllister, trade marketing manager with Visit Scotland. While the recession kept many people home, North American numbers to Scotland remained steady, and are “way up” for this year already. “Value for money is the most important message,” she said. “Events and festivals give clients a chance to really experience cultures.” Some new fam trips are in the works, McAllister said, and Scotland will begin promoting itself as a destination for adventure travel, including sea kayaking and mountain climbing.

Kent is hyping up its tourism campaign, reminding people that Canterbury has been a popular destination ever since Thomas Becket was murdered (some would say martyred) in its cathedral almost 1,000 years ago. Two somewhat more modern attractions around Kent are the neighboring properties of Hever Castle and Penshurst Place, where Henry VIII courted Anne Boleyn. Naturally, the two estates celebrate their Tudor history with tours and events (and actors in character as the infamous couple), and we are told there is a package to visit sites used in the film The Other Boleyn Girl.

For staying several days in Kent, Eastwell Manor keeps up classic appearances (the building reportedly goes back to the Norman Conquest) with such features as four-poster beds. The Eastwell Mews (private cottages converted from Victorian stables) on the same property are great for families. Cool deal for artists of all levels: The Manor is offering a package for painters that includes classes (and meals!) with Fiona Graham-Mackay.

History buffs and royal fans alike have lots of options for exploring England’s greatest castles. Historic Royal Palaces operates exclusive, private tours of such notable attractions as The Crown Jewels and the Tower of London (explore after normal touring hours); Hampton Court Palace (the rooftop and ghost tours are particularly exciting); and Kew Palace (including the attics, which are normally not accessible to the public). There’s also The Royal Collection, which is offering a new combined tour of the Queen’s Gallery and the Royal Mews; private guided tours of Clarence House (where Prince Charles and Camilla live); and the Great Kitchen at Windsor Castle, which has been in constant use for 750 years.

For enjoying Britain’s coast, Sussex by the Sea recently saw the opening of the Ocean Hotel at Bognor Regis Resort, a Butlins property with a snow cave kept freezing all year round. For warmer weather, the beach will offer a free fitness trail this summer, letting guests get some exercise while they enjoy the sea air.

In Wiltshire, one of England’s most historical areas (a little spot called Stonehenge is within its borders), visitors can stay at the five-star Lucknam Park, the new Bowood Hotel, Spa and Golf Resort, which opened just last year.

Fans of British TV will get a kick out of tours of the BBC studios—and, since the studios are always active, there’s a good chance they may see some TV personalities on the job! (Nice extra: Guests can also be part of studio audiences for the shows filmed there.)

In Devon, geology buffs can rent a car and drive along the Jurassic Coast line, where exposed rocks show off the layers of the Earth. For others, there are cycling routes, walking tours and intimate bed-and-breakfasts for a genuine escape. At The Globe Hotel, a small family-owned inn in the town of Topsham, General Manager Liz Hodges hosts unique events—like a community-wide pot-luck dinner that brought 1,500 people together for a locally sourced meal. (She hopes to repeat the dinner this year.)

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