Britain is renowned for its love of culture, and with so many cities to choose from it can be hard to select the ideal places to visit on a cultural tour. Here are just a few examples of places that are a must-see on any tour of the British Isles.
London is home to a plethora of different museums and galleries, many of them with free admission, and all packed with art, history and curiosities. For art lovers, the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square is a great place to start a cultural tour. Founded in 1824, it’s home to around 2,300 paintings that date back as far as the mid-13th century. Tate Britain – originally an overflow of the British art that couldn’t be housed in the National Gallery is the main of the four Tate galleries, which are considered among the most important in British art. Tate Britain covers British art from 1500 onwards and the Tate Modern houses important modern and contemporary art from around the world, by artists such as Cézanne, Picasso, Dalí, Warhol and Bourgeois.
Technically, York was once the capital of England; in 866 when the Vikings conquered northern England they declared it the capital of their new kingdom. These days, it’s a beautiful city to admire and enjoy, with many opportunities to soak up the best in British history, art and culture. The magnificent York Minster demands a visit, and for art lovers there’s the York Art Gallery which houses works of art dating back over 600 years, and the more modern York Barbican for events and entertainment. Museum aficionados will love the Castle Museum with its recreated Victorian street and impressive social history collections.
Heading north, Scotland’s Edinburgh Castle is a world famous icon which was recently voted top UK Heritage Attraction in the British Travel Awards. The castle, like all good castles, has a complicated history, with St Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest part, dating back to the 12th century. The Great Hall was built for James IV around 1512; the Half Moon Battery by the Regent Morton came to be in the 16th century. Home to the Scottish Crown Jewels, the Stone of Destiny, and the National War Museum of Scotland, there’s a lot to discover in this grand castle.
From the eastern coast of Scotland to the west, Glasgow was named City of Architecture and Design in 1999 and has strived to live up to that reputation ever since. Glasgow Cathedral is just one example of the architecture the city is famous for – consecrated in 1197, it has never been without a roof and it has been a place of worship for more than 800 years. The cathedral is also home to one of the most impressive post-war collections of stained glass windows in Britain. Glasgow’s architecture is an exhibition in itself; impressive Victorian structures abound in the city centre, many of which were designed by legendary architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
Ireland is a country steeped in culture, literature and art, as well as Guinness. First stop on any cultural tour of the country would have to be the beautiful Trinity College, opposite the former Irish Houses of Parliament. Not only is it attractive, but the 400-year old college is up there with the best in the world and is ranked 61st in the world’s top 100 universities. The college was founded in 1592 and modelled on the collegiate universities of Oxford and of Cambridge, and you can see the similarities in design.
Also in Dublin is the legendary St. Patrick’s Cathedral, next to the well where Saint Patrick is said to have baptised converts on his visit to Dublin, plus Dublin’s number one visitor attraction the Guinness Storehouse. The seven storey building, which relates the history of Ireland’s most famous export, is also famous for housing the world’s largest pint glass, which actually holds 14.3 million pints, and rises up through the centre of the museum.
Wales may be the smallest country in the British Isles, but it still packs a cultural punch. The country’s biggest visitor attraction is the Wales Millennium Centre which opened in 2004 and is already making a reputation for itself within the worlds of arts and culture. The centre hosts music, opera, dance, comedy shows and musicals and has eight arts organisations in residence including the national orchestra.
There are many more highlights to discover on a tour of the British Isles, so start planning your trip for this summer!
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Written by Kat Kraetzer, a travel blogger and nurse living in Cambridge, UK.