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WHY VISIT THE UNITED KINGDOM
The United Kingdom is at once close to the rest of Europe yet strangely apart.
Whether you choose it for cultural tourism or prefer nature holidays you will be seduced by its attractions as long as you are not going for a tan!
London is almost obligatory as a stopping point: a modern city with a dynamic vibrancy, it regroups over 50 nationalities and this diversity is simply fascinating. Add numerous monuments and the various museums such as the British Museum especially suited for Art Lovers or the Natural History Museum for history enthusiasts, its famous shops and the no less famous Hyde Park, the lungs of the City, and you have but a glimpse of the numerous attractions of this unique city that is definitely worth a few days stay.
However, the United Kingdom possesses magnificent, preserved natural areas and the opportunity to enjoy outdoor activities in places such as the Peak District, in the centre of England, with its scattered and charming villages that will provide excellent stopping places when hiking or horse riding along the ancient paths. The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park is another such place worth exploring with its cliffs inhabited by Puffins and delightful creeks to discover.
Finally, enthusiasts of golf, which in England is considered more as popular than an elitist sport, will find dozens of fantastic courses in Wales, all in gorgeous settings.
The best period to visit the United Kingdom is from June to September.
The United Kingdom benefits from an Oceanic climate: Gentle and fairly humid with few severe contrasts and little marked seasons.
The ocean winds bring more rain to the west and the Gulf Stream promotes cool winter temperatures.
Summer is generally warm but not hot and pullovers and rain garments should be kept handy all year round.
The best time to visit is generally at the end of spring with a good amount of sunshine, especially on the eastern coast, which will provide you with the opportunity to enjoy the incomparable charm of the flowering plants.
Following a list of typical festival and celebrations of England
London Parade (Jan 1; wwww.londonparade .co.uk). Floats, marching bands, clowns, cheerleaders and classic cars wend their way through the centre of London.
Chinese New Year (on or near Feb 3, 2011; Jan 23, 2012; Feb 10, 2013; wwww.londonchinatown.org). Processions, fireworks and festivities in the country’s two main Chinatowns in London and Manchester.
Shrove Tuesday (aka Mardi Gras/“Fat Tuesday”; March 8, 2011; Feb 21, 2012; Feb 12, 2013). The last day before Lent, also known as “Pancake Day”: it’s traditional to eat pancakes and, famously in Olney, Buckinghamshire (wwww.visitolney.com), to race with them. Ashbourne in Derbyshire (wwww.ashbourne-town.com) hosts the world’s oldest, largest, longest, maddest game of “Shrovetide Football”.
British & World Marbles Championship (Good Friday; www.britishmarbles.org.uk). Held at Tinsley Green in Sussex.
Bacup Nutters Dance (Easter Saturday; www.coconutters.co.uk). Blacked-up clog dancers mark the town boundaries of Bacup in Lancashire.
Hare Pie Scramble and Bottle-Kicking (Easter Monday). Chaotic village bottle-kicking contest at Hallaton, Leicestershire.
World Coal-Carrying Championship (Easter Monday; www.gawthorpe.ndo.co.uk). Competitors lug 50kg of coal through Gawthorpe village in West Yorkshire.
St George’s Day (April 23; www.stgeorgesholiday.com). Also, by happy chance, the birthday of William Shakespeare – and the Queen’s birthday falls two days earlier, on April 21. Traditional St George’s Day events include Morris dancing at Stoke Bruerne in Northamptonshire, Yate in Gloucestershire and elsewhere, as well as full-blown street festivals in Birmingham, Leicester, Manchester and London, where the Globe Theatre (www.shakespeares-globe.org) hosts a day of Shakespeare events. Also reckon on parades, folk dancing and celebrations at Stratford-upon-Avon (www.shakespearesbirthday.org.uk).
Padstow Obby Oss (May 1; www.padstow.com). Processions, music and dancing in Padstow, Cornwall; the name is dialect for “hobby horse”.
Helston Furry Dance (May 8). A courtly procession and dance through the Cornish town by men in top hats and women in formal dresses.
Glyndebourne Opera Festival (mid-May to end Aug; www.glyndebourne.com). One of England’s classiest arts events, in East Sussex.
Cheese Rolling (last Mon in May; www.cheese-rolling.co.uk). The mass pursuit of a cheese wheel down Cooper’s Hill in Gloucestershire – one of the weirdest knees-ups in England.
Chelsea Flower Show (late May; www.rhs.org.uk). An essential event for England’s green-fingered legions, at Chelsea in London.
Hay Festival (late May; www.hayfestival.com). The nation’s bookish types descend on Hay, on the Welsh border, for this literary shindig.
Bath Music Festival (end May to early June; www.bathmusicfest.org.uk). Arts jamboree, with a concurrent fringe festival.
Aldeburgh Festival (June; www.aldeburgh.co.uk). Suffolk jamboree of classical music, established by Benjamin Britten.
Beating Retreat (early June; www.guardsbeatingretreat.com) A colourful ceremony of pageantry and military music on Horse Guards Parade in London.
Strawberry Fair (1st Sat; www.strawberry-fair.org.uk). A free festival of music, arts and crafts in Cambridge.
Trooping the Colour (2nd Sat; www.royal.gov.uk). Massed bands, equestrian pageantry, gun salutes and fly-pasts on Horse Guards Parade, London.
World Worm-Charming Championships (last Sat; www.wormcharming.com). Worm-charming and other zany pastimes, at Willaston, Cheshire.
Pride London (early July; www.pridelondon.org). The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rally followed by a parade and music events. In 2012 London hosts WorldPride.
Rushbearing Festival (1st Sat; www.amblesideonline.co.uk). Symbolic procession of crosses and garlands at Ambleside in the Lake District, dating back centuries.
Hobby Horse Festival (1st week; www.hobbyhorsefestival.co.uk). Quirky shindig in Banbury, Oxfordshire, with costumed parades, folk dancing and lots of hobby horses.
York Early Music Festival (mid-July; www.ncem.co.uk). The country’s premier festival of medieval and Renaissance music.
Great Yorkshire Show (2nd week; www.greatyorkshireshow.com). England’s largest region celebrates its heritage, culture and cuisine at Harrogate, North Yorkshire.
The Proms (mid-July to mid-Sept; www.bbc.co.uk/proms). Top-flight international classical music festival in London, with very cheap standing tickets.
Swan Upping (3rd week; www.royal.gov.uk). Ceremonial counting of the swan population on the upper stretches of the River Thames, dating back to the twelfth century. At Windsor, all the oarsmen stand to attention in their boats and salute the Queen.
Cambridge Folk Festival (last week; www.cambridgefolkfestival.co.uk). The biggest event of its kind in England, with lots more than just folk music.
Whitstable Oyster Festival (late July; www.whitstableoysterfestival.com). A congenial mixing of oysters, Champagne, Guinness, parades and music.
Brighton Pride (1st week; www.brightonpride.org). A week of events celebrating lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender culture, culminating in a huge carnival parade.
Cowes Week (1st week; www.cowesweek.co.uk). Sailing extravaganza in the Isle of Wight, with partying and star-studded entertainment.
Sidmouth Folk Week (1st week; www.sidmouthfolkweek.co.uk). Folk and roots performers in this Devon town, plus theatre and dance.
Whitby Folk Week (last week; www.whitbyfolk.co.uk). Traditional folk music, morris and sword dancing, storytelling and more.
Grasmere Sports and Show (last Sun; www.grasmeresportsandshow.co.uk). Wrestling, fell-running, ferret-racing and other curious Lake District pastimes.
Notting Hill Carnival (last Sun & Mon; www.thenottinghillcarnival.com). Vivacious Caribbean-style costumed celebration in the streets of west London, also including everything from Punjabi drummers to Brazilian salsa, plus music, food and floats.
Leeds West Indian Carnival (last Mon; www.leedscarnival.co.uk). England’s oldest carnival, featuring processions, dancing and barbecues.
Blackpool Illuminations (early Sept to early Nov; www.blackpool-illuminations.net). Five miles of extravagantly kitsch light displays on the Blackpool seafront.
Abbots Bromley Horn Dance (early Sept; www.abbotsbromley.com). Vaguely pagan mass dance in mock-medieval costume – one of the most famous of England’s ancient customs, at Abbots Bromley, Staffordshire.
St Ives September Festival (mid-Sept; www.stivesseptemberfestival.co.uk). Eclectic Cornish festival of art, poetry, literature, jazz, folk, rock and world music.
Heritage Open Days (mid-Sept; www.heritageopendays.org.uk). A once-a-year opportunity to peek inside hundreds of buildings that don’t normally open their doors to the public. For London-specific events see “Open House London” (www.open-city.org.uk).
World Conker Championship (2nd Sun; www.worldconkerchampionships.com). Thousands flock to Ashton, Northamptonshire, to watch modern-day gladiators fight for glory armed only with a conker and twelve inches of string.
State Opening of Parliament (late Oct; www.royal.gov.uk). The Queen arrives at Westminster in a fancy coach with much pageantry to give a speech and officially open Parliament. Also takes place whenever a new government is sworn in after an election.
Halloween (Oct 31). All Hallows’ Eve – and Samhain, last day of the Celtic calendar. Now swamped by commercialized US-style costumes and trick-or-treating, although druidic ceremonies survive at a few sites (the Rollright Stones, for example; www.rollrightstones.co.uk).
London to Brighton Veteran Car Run (1st Sun; www.lbvcr.com). Ancient machines cough and splutter their way 57 miles down the A23.
Bonfire Night (Nov 5). Fireworks and bonfires held in communities all around the country to commemorate the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 – most notably at York (www.yorkmaze.com), Ottery St Mary in Devon (www.otterytarbarrels.co.uk), and Lewes in East Sussex (www.bonco.org.uk).
Lord Mayor’s Show (2nd Sat; www.lordmayorsshow.org). Held annually in the City of London since 1215, and featuring a daytime cavalcade and night-time fireworks to mark the inauguration of the new Lord Mayor.
New Year’s Eve (Dec 31). The biggest celebration takes place in London (www.london.gov.uk/newyearseve), with a fireworks display over the Thames and thousands of inebriates in Trafalgar Square, but there are huge parties in city centres nationwide. In Allendale village, Northumberland, locals turn up with trays of burning tar on their heads to parade around a large communal bonfire.
Following a list of typical festival and celebrations of Scotland
Hogmanay and Ne’er Day. (Dec 31 and Jan 1) Traditionally more important to the Scots than Christmas, the occasion is known for the custom of “first-footing”. More popular these days are huge and highly organized street parties, most notably in Edinburgh (edinburghshogmanay.org), but also in Aberdeen, Glasgow and other centres.
Stonehaven fireball ceremony. (Jan 1) Locals swing fireballs on long sticks to welcome New Year and ward off evil spirits. Also Kirkwall Boys’ and Men’s Ba’ Games, Orkney: mass, drunken football game through the streets of the town, with the castle and the harbour the respective goals. As a grand finale, the players jump into the harbour.
Burning of the Clavie, (Jan 11) Burghead, Moray hogmanay.net/events/burghhead. A burning tar barrel is carried through the town and then rolled down Doorie Hill. Charred fragments of the Clavie offer protection against the evil eye.
Celtic Connections. (Mid- to late Jan) Glasgow celticconnections.com. A major celebration of Celtic and folk music held in venues across the city.
Up-Helly-Aa, (Last Tuesday in January) Lerwick, Shetland visitshetland.com. Norse fire festival culminating in the burning of a specially built Viking longship. Visitors will need an invite from one of the locals, or you can buy a ticket for the Town Hall celebrations.
Burns Night. (Jan 25) Scots worldwide get stuck into haggis, whisky and vowel-grinding poetry to commemorate Scotland’s greatest poet, Robert Burns.
Scottish Curling Championship (February) royalcaledoniancurlingclub.org, held in a different (indoor) venue each year.
Six Nations Rugby tournament (February-March), between Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland, France and Italy rbs6nations.com. Scotland’s home games are played at Murrayfield stadium in Edinburgh.
Whuppity Scourie, (March 1) Lanark. Local children race around the church beating each other with home-made paper weapons in a representation (it’s thought) of the chasing away of winter or the warding off of evil spirits.
Scottish Grand National, (April) Ayr ayr-racecourse.co.uk. Not quite as testing as the English equivalent steeplechase, but an important event in the Scottish racing calendar. Also Rugby Sevens (seven-a-side tournaments; melrose7s.com) in the Borders and the entertaining and inclusive Edinburgh Science Festival sciencefestival.co.uk.
Tartan Day. (April 6 ) Over-hyped celebration of ancestry by North Americans of Scottish descent on the anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320. Ignored by most Scots in Scotland, other than journalists.
Spirit of Speyside Scotch Whisky Festival (Early May) (spiritofspeyside.com). Four-day binge with pipe bands, gigs and dancing as well as distillery crawls. Shetland Folk Festival (shetlandfolkfestival.com). One of the liveliest and most entertaining of Scotland’s round of folk festivals.
Scottish FA Cup Final. (May) Scotland’s premier football event played in Glasgow.
Atholl Highlanders Parade (Late May) at Blair Castle, Perthshire blair-castle.co.uk. The annual parade and inspection of Britain’s last private army by their colonel-in-chief, the Duke of Atholl, on the eve of their Highland Games. Also Burns an’ a’ That (burnsfestival.com), a modern celebration of poet Robert Burns, including gigs by contemporary pop acts.
Riding of the Marches (June–Aug) in border towns such as Hawick, Selkirk, Jedburgh, Langholm and Lauder. The Ridings originated to check the boundaries of common land owned by the town and also to commemorate warfare between the Scots and the English.
Beginning of the Highland Gamesseason (June) across the Highlands, northeast and Argyll. St Magnus Festival, Orkney, is a classical and folk music, drama, dance and literature festival celebrating the islands stmagnusfestival.com. The Edinburgh International Film Festival (edfilmfest.org.uk) runs from mid-June for 10 days.
Royal Highland Agricultural Show, (Late June) at Ingliston near Edinburgh royalhighlandshow.org. Old wooden boats and fishing craft gather for the Traditional Boat Festival at Portsoy on the Moray Firth coast (scottishtraditionalboatfestival.co.uk). Glasgow International Jazz Festival (jazzfest.co.uk).
T in the Park (Early July) (tinthepark.com). Scotland’s biggest outdoor music event, held at Balado near Kinross with a star-studded line-up of contemporary bands.
Scottish Open Golf Championship. Held each year in July at Loch Lomond golf course, just before the British Open tournament, which is played in Scotland at least every alternate year.
The Wickerman Festival (Late July) of alternative music is held near Kirkcudbright (thewickermanfestival.co.uk).
Edinburgh Festival (August) edinburghfestivals.com. One of the world’s great arts jamborees. The Edinburgh Military Tattoo (edinburgh-tattoo.co.uk) features floodlit massed pipe bands and drums on the castle esplanade. There’s also the World Pipe Band Championship at Glasgow (seeglasgow.com/piping), and plenty more Highland Games.
Shinty’s Camanachd Cup Final (Early Sept) shinty.com. The climax of the season for Scotland’s own stick-and-ball game, normally held in one of the main Highland towns. Also various food festivals and events under the banner of Scottish Food Fortnight (scottishfoodfortnight.co.uk).
Doors Open Day (Late Sept) (doorsopendays.org.uk). The one weekend a year when many public and private buildings are open to the public; actual dates vary. Also another Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival (spiritofspeyside.com), and the Scottish Book Town Festival in Wigtown (wigtown-booktown.co.uk).
Tiree Wave Classic (October) (tireewaveclassic.com). Annual event attracting windsurfers from around the world to the breezy Hebridean island.
The National Mod (the-mod.co.uk). Held over nine days at a different venue each year, the Mod is a competitive festival and features all aspects of Gaelic performing arts.
St Andrew’s Day. (Nov. 30) Celebrating Scotland’s patron saint. The town of St Andrews hosts a week of events leading up to it (standrewsweek.co.uk).
Following a list of typical festival and celebrations of Wales
Mari Lwyd (Jan 1 www.folkwales.org.uk/mari.html) At Llangynwyd, near Maesteg, the most authentic survivor of the ancient Welsh custom of parading a horse’s skull through the village streets.
Six Nations rugby championship (Feb–March) Last won by Wales with a tremendous Grand Slam in 2008.
St David’s Day (March 1) Wales’ national day, with hwyrnos (late nights) and celebrations nationwide.
Wonderwool Wales (Mid-April; wonderwoolwales.co.uk) Two-day showcase at Builth Wells, Powys, of Welsh wool and wool products, from raw materials to designer fashion, with plenty of sheep. Held concurrently with the Mid-Wales Mouthful Food Festival, with over 60 stalls.
Hay Festival (Late May to early June) One of the most feted literary festivals in the world.
St Davids Cathedral Festival (End of May to the first week in June; stdavidscathedral.org.uk) Superb setting for classical concerts and recitals over ten days.
Urdd National Eisteddfod (End of May to the first week in June; urdd.org) Vast and enjoyable youth eisteddfod – one of the largest youth festivals in Europe – alternating between the north (Caernarfon in 2012) and south Wales (Pembrokeshire in 2013).
Cardiff Singer of the World competition (Mid-June; bbc.co.uk/cardiffsinger) Huge, a televised week-long festival of music and song held in odd-numbered years, with a star-studded list of international competitors.
Criccieth Festival (Mid-June; cricciethfestival.co.uk) Music, theatre and art around the Llŷn town. Escape Into the Park (early to mid-June; escapefestival.com). Fifty top dance and urban artists perform for up to 20,000 fans on one day in Swansea’s Singleton Park. The biggest such event in Wales.
Great Welsh Beer & Cider Festival (Mid-June; gwbcf.org.uk) Three days to sample from almost two hundred brews (many of them Welsh) in the Cardiff International Arena.
Gregynog Festival (Last half of June; gwylgregynogfestival.org) Classical music festival in the superb country-house surroundings of Gregynog Hall near Newtown, Powys.
Gŵyl Ifan (Mid-June; gwylifan.org) A weekend of folk-dancing workshops, displays and processions in various locations in and around Cardiff.
Man Versus Horse Marathon (Mid-June; green-events.co.uk) A 22-mile race at Llanwrtyd Wells, Powys, between runners and horses with both equine and human winners in its time.
Tredegar House Folk Festival (Early June; tredegarhousefestival.org.uk) A weekend of international dance, music and song at this grand seventeenth-century mansion.
Beyond the Border (Early July; beyondtheborder.com) Three-day international storytelling festival at St Donat’s Castle, Vale of Glamorgan, in a fairy-tale castle setting, held every even-numbered year.
Cardiff Festival (July & Aug; cardiff-festival.com) Broad-brush festival throughout July and August encompassing theatre, the Cardiff Food and Drink Festival, the LGBT Mardi Gras, and lots more.
Cardigan Bay Seafood Festival Early July; aberaeron.info/seafood) At Aberaeron, Dyfed, some of Wales’ best chefs whip up delicious morsels.
Fancy Dress Night (First Friday in July; llanidloes.org.uk) Llanidloes, Powys. Pubs open late, streets are cordoned off and virtually the whole town dresses up.
Gower Festival (Last half of July; gowerfestival.org) Two weeks of mostly classical music in churches around the Gower.
Llangollen International Eisteddfod (First or second week in July; international-eisteddfod.co.uk) Over twelve thousand participants from all over the world, including choirs, dancers, folk singers, groups and instrumentalists. See The Llangollen International Eisteddfod.
Really Wild Food & Countryside Festival (late July; reallywildfestival.co.uk) St Davids comes alive for a weekend of rural traditions, music, storytelling and great food.
Royal Welsh Show (Late July; rwas.co.uk) Europe’s largest agricultural show and sales fair at Builth Wells; an absolute Welsh institution and a top day out. You can watch the ultra-serious judging of prize farm animals, competitive sheep-shearing or wood chopping, displays of falconry and craftsmanship, or simply feast on farm-fresh produce. Hundreds of stallholders sell everything from artisan products to agricultural equipment (see Royal Welsh Showground).
Snowdon Race (Late July; snowdonrace.co.uk) A one-day race from Llanberis up Snowdon, attracting masochists from across the world, the best runners recording times of only a little over an hour for the combined ascent and descent.
The Big Cheese (Late July; caerphilly.gov.uk/bigcheese) Massive town festival and funfair in Caerphilly, with a Big Cheese Race, tasting and more.
Wakestock (Mid-July; wakestock.co.uk) Big, bold three-day wakeboarding and music festival in north Wales, attracting up to ten thousand bleached-haired punters for cutting-edge headline acts, top DJs and spectacular wakeboarding.
Brecon Jazz Festival (Mid-Aug; breconjazz.co.uk) Widely regarded as one of the best jazz festivals in Britain; run over three days.
Croissant Neuf Summer Party (Mid-Aug; partyneuf.co.uk). Small, friendly and green weekend festival near Usk that’s always fun and especially good for families.
Green Man Festival (Late Aug) Wonderful mid-sized, a three-day music festival.
Gŵyl Machynlleth (Last week in Aug; tourism.powys.gov.uk) Wide-ranging arts festival, with a solid programme of chamber music at its core.
Llandrindod Wells Victorian Festival (Late Aug; victorianfestival.co.uk) A week of family fun, street entertainment and Victorian costumes rounded off with a fireworks display.
Royal National Eisteddfod (First week in Aug; eisteddfod.org.uk) The centrepiece of Welsh culture (originally meaning “a meeting of bards”), this is very much a Welsh festival (largely conducted in Cymraeg) and is Wales’ biggest single annual event. The vast maes (field) hosts art, craft, literature, rock music, Welsh-language lessons, theatre and major music and poetry competitions. It alternates between south (Vale of Glamorgan in 2012) and North Wales (Denbigh in 2013), is lots of fun and is worth seeing if only for the overblown pageantry.
World Bog Snorkelling Championships (Aug Bank Holiday Sun; green-events.co.uk) Muddy swim-off along a 60yd long bog course at Llanwrtyd Wells, Powys.
Abergavenny Food Festival (Mid-Sept; abergavennyfoodfestival.com) This weekend chow-down is Wales’ premier gastronomic event with a smorgasbord of fresh food showcased by celebrity chefs.
Cardiff Mardi Gras (First Sat in Sept; cardiffmardigras.co.uk) Cardiff’s lesbian and gay festival takes over Coopers Field with live music, market stalls and bars.
Tenby Arts Festival (Late Sept; tenbyartsfest.co.uk) Well-established week-long arts romp in Tenby, with a lively fringe too.
Swansea Festival of Music and the Arts (Oct; swanseafestival.org) Three weeks of concerts, jazz, drama, opera, ballet and art events throughout the city.
Sŵn (Mid- to late Oct; swnfest.com) This four-day showcase of the best in new music in Wales takes place at venues around Cardiff.
Bonfire Night and Lantern Parade (Early Nov) Superb procession in Machynlleth, culminating in fireworks and performance.
Dylan Thomas Festival (Early Nov; dylanthomas.com) In Swansea: talks, performances, exhibitions, readings and music with a DT theme.
New Year’s Eve celebrations (Dec 31) New Quay in Dyfed is the place to party on New Year’s Eve.
Real Ale Wobble (Mid-Nov; green-events.co.uk) Non-competitive mountain biking and real-ale drinking over 15, 25 or 35 miles at Llanwrtyd Wells, Powys.
HOW TO REACH AND TRAVEL THROUGH THE UNITED KINGDOM
the best-known traditional dish is fish and chips – a plate-sized fillet of cod or haddock, battered and deep-fried until crispy, served with freshly fried chips (thick-cut French fries) and doused in malt vinegar and salt. For drink off course a pint of beer or, for breakfast a cup of tee.