While compiling my list of 10 different things to do in London recently, I confessed my general disinterest in visiting the seat of the Commonwealth of which my own nation is a member, but that isn’t to say that I have no interest in visiting the land affectionately known in Australia as ‘the Old Dart’ or its neighbors: Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. And let’s not forget the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland either. It alone is reason enough to plan a holiday to Ireland.
Freshly back from a week of deserts, bazaars, camels, and middle eastern cuisine in China’s Xinjiang province (more on that soon), I thought I’d change things up by compiling my dream list of different experiences to be had in the British Isles. With a growing number of options for self-catering holidays in the UK, it’s becoming a more affordable option to spend time in the UK.
So here are 10 different things to do in the UK. Enjoy!
#10 – Soak in the Coast
Britain may not be well known for its beautiful beaches, but it would be a gross oversight to discount its coastline just because the weather isn’t suitable for sunbathing and surfing.
Boasting stretches such as the Jurassic Coast, the Lizard Peninsula, and the world renowned White Cliffs of Dover. And let’s not forget the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, either.
While the tradition might be to soak in England’s history and the rolling green hills of its interior, don’t overlook the stunning vistas and breath-taking scenery to be found all along the coasts of the Isles.
#9 – Explore the Eden Project
I stumbled across this one while researching and I was immediately intrigued. Boasting ‘the world’s largest rainforest in captivity’, the Eden Project in Cornwall is something I never imagined I’d find on the shores of fair Britain.
Like something out of science fiction, the Eden Project’s domes (or biomes) house a number of different climates. There are waterfalls, sculptures, streams, and plenty of information about sustainability and nature for the inquisitively minded. Whether you love nature, science, or simply want to put your camera through its paces – I daresay a visit to the Eden Project should fit the bill.
#8 – Test Drive a Tank
It’s becoming a ‘must do’ activity in South-East Asia to fire an automatic rifle or throw a grenade, so why not step things up by getting behind the wheel of a retired tank and reeking a little havoc? It’s not just tanks, either. You can fire antique muskets, lob a few shells from a mortar, or participate in other military themed challenges guaranteed to bring out the big kid in any man worth his salt.
While you do pay for the privilege (the Full Monty package goes for around 250 pounds), it’s certainly a little beyond the normal visits to Big Ben and the Tower of London. You can learn more about it by visiting Tanks Alot’s website.
#7 – Witness the World’s Largest Football Game
It’s not a secret that the Poms are obsessed with their football (or soccer, if you’re American) – but the people of Ashbourne take it to a whole other level with their massive, two-day game every Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday. With an entire town’s worth of participants, a three mile long field, and the kind of mind-boggling rules that only the British could understand, the Royal Shrovetide game is a must see if you want to experience British life as it was (and still is) outside of the cosmopolitan cities.
With the game taking place over two days every year, you’ll need to time your trip right to make it happen – but witnessing this bizarre spectacle should make your UK trip stand out, that’s for sure.
#6 – Embrace Your Wild Side at Nae Limits
The highlands of Scotland have long been associated with being just a little wild, and Nae Limits takes that to its natural conclusion by giving adrenaline junkies and thrill-seekers an action packed playground to explore. William Wallace himself might have balked at the laundry list of adventure sports on offer. To name a few:
- White Water Rafting
- Canyon Tubing
- ‘Sphereing’ (similar to zorbing)
For the mild at heart, there are more tame options such as 4WD safaris, pony riding, and clay pigeon shooting.
After having fallen in love with Queenstown’s adventure culture, a place like Nae Limits sounds like the perfect way for me to break up visits to museums and cultural icons. You’ve got to let loose sometimes.
#5 – Explore London with Urban Freeflow
Casino Royale might have brought the ‘sport’ of parkour (or free-running, although they are slightly different things) to the public eye – but very few people realise just how accessible the sport can be. Urban Freeflow offers classes three days a week for as little as ten pounds per person.
While not all of us are equipped for vaulting over low walls or tic-taccing our way up to a balcony, the lessons offer a great chance to experience something new while also taking in London’s built up urban environment. Urban Freeflow classes are just another way to take in traditionally sedate environments in a much more heart-pounding way. Me gusta!
#4 – Attend the Highland Games
Maybe it’s because I hail from Australia’s self professed Celtic capital (Glen Innes), but I’ve always had an abiding fascination with the unusual sports and the fantastic warrior culture of the Scots. It seems a natural decision for me, then, to include the world renowned highland games on my UK itinerary.
With bag pipes blaring, traditional dance, and manly pursuits such as caber tossing and the always fun tug-of-war competition, a highland games experience is part festival and part Olympics. There’s no shortage of options (highland games are run by shires and counties across the UK), so it’s just a matter of timing your visit right and choosing which festival looks like the best fit for your family.
And whatever you do, man up and try some haggis.
#3 – Participate in a Murder Mystery
Images of the fog-shrouded moors and mysterious English manors have long been staples of murder mystery fiction, so it stands to reason that there’s big appeal in the opportunity to participate in a live action murder mystery of your own.
A little research leads me to believe that one of Joy Swift’s Murder Weekends is the way to go, and while 270 pounds might seem cheap – this does include an entire weekend of fun, mystery, food, and board in an authentic British country manor. You’re not just there to play the part in a mystery, either. The weekend also involves games, dinner parties, and a themed party – not to mention the opportunity to meet your fellow cast members as you work to solve the mystery.
With new plots cycled in regularly and a number of venues across the country, a weekend of indulgent role-play might just be what a former theater major like myself needs.
#2 – Experience the UK’s haunted past
I’m a sucker for the macabre (as if the previous entry on this list didn’t give that away) and there are few places with the grisly history of the United Kingdom. While the lion’;s share can certainly be found in the storied streets of London, sites like Haunted Places in the UK lists off a shopping list of manors, castles, houses, hotels, and locations where the spirit world has (allegedly) bled into our own.
If you’re not up to exploring on your own, Haunted Happenings offers a calendar of paid tours all across the UK that should get hairs raised on the back of necks and skin crawling. Whether you’re a skeptic or a true believer, the opportunity to overnight in a spooky spot should be a tempter.
#1 – Drink it all in!
I do love a good drink and the British are no slouches when it comes to brewing a good beer or distilling a fine spirit. Whether you’re sampling the stouts, lagers, and IPAs with a good old fashioned London pub crawl; savouring a Guinness in one of the brand’s Irish breweries, or enjoying a good Scotch whisky – there is no shortage of opportunities to imbibe while on the isles.
The mad-men at Beer Travelers took the pub crawl to extremes by integrating a little rambling in a mammoth five day bender, but there are more organised (and less time consuming) options for those without the testicular fortitude for a working week piss-up. The London Pub Crawl Company offers a selection of tours, guided or otherwise, that should suit the hardcore and the casual alike.
The Scottish Whisky Experience gives fans of the fine spirit a chance to explore a distillery and taste a variety of whiskys, and tours of the Guinness Storehouse are a must if you’re a fan of the Irish drop.
There really is no shortage of opportunities to drink in the UK. Pub culture is alive and well in the Old Dart and a fan of the grain should be able to find or organise a suitable crawl or tour without much trouble. I’m thirsty just thinking about it…
This list is the result of a few days of intensive Googling as I research a trip I might never take, so I’d love to hear from those of you who have actually hit the UK already and found a few less conventional ways to experience it all.
What would you recommend to a UK visitor looking to add a little something beyond the typical stops?