Vacation fun in the UK doesn't have to cost a bundle. In fact, it doesn't have to cost a penny. All of Britain's national museums - not just the ones in London - are free for everyone, every day. There's free access to most of the countryside too - for recreation, birdwatching, kite flying, you name it.
These ideas and resources should steer you toward more than enough activities to fill a long vacation or loads of fine days out. Take public transportation and you won't even have to worry about the cost of petrol.
More free things to do worldwide
(Arranged in alphabetical order)A-CHE
About 101 acres of gorge and river scenery that make up one of the great Victorian wilderness walks
. The landscape includes a site of special scientific interest,protected for its rare plants, ancient woodlands and wildlife. There are miles of waymarked walks, a reconstructed Victorian summer house and the remains of a medieval tower.
This Roman Fort once housed the garrison that guarded the entrance to the Tyne. Based on excavations and finds from the site, this is an exciting reconstruction of an unusual aspect of Roman life. Arbeia means Arab in Latin. The Romans thought nothing of moving legions of their soldiers where ever they were needed in the Empire. This garrison was manned by Iraqi legionnaires. Check the museum's calendar and time your visit for a candlelight tour in December to celebrate the Roman festival of Saturnalia.
Open: April through October - Monday to Saturday 10a.m. to 5:30p.m., Sunday 1p.m. to 5p.m., November through March - Monday - Saturday to 3:30pm, closed Sunday, December 25,26 and January 1.
Courtesy of Visit Birmingham
Top arts organizations all over the Midlands city of Birmingham
devote a weekend in early September to topnotch performances, totally free. Concerts, theatre and film are scheduled at all the city's major concert venues and theatres. There are also street performances and special events in neighborhoods like Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter. The event is organized and supported by Birmingham City Council and, perhaps because of that, information about this great annual arty party tends to be hard to come by until the very last minute. But persist in checking the ArtsFest website
where details are published as they become available.
britainonview/ Wales Tourist Board Photo Library
The United Kingdom has some of the world's most beautiful beaches. That shouldn't seem so surprising. After all Britain is an island kingdom with nearly 7,800 miles of coast. Nowhere in the entire country is more than two hours from a beach.
These are not the sort of beaches where you can bask in the sun (not very often, anyway) or spend hours swimming warm seas. The water, even on UK beaches washed by the Gulf Stream is pretty chilly. But what the UK's beaches lack in tropical charm, they more than make up for in sheer drama. For walking, surfing, exploring, wildlife watching, these are some of the most beautiful and isolated free beaches in the world.
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
A real coal mine that includes a multi-media tour of a modern coal mine with a virtual miner in the Mining Galleries, exhibitions in the Pithead Baths and historic colliery buildings open to the public for the first time. The highlight is a world-famous underground tour, taking visitors 300 feet underground, to the coal face, with a real miner. Located in Blaenavon, it is part of the Blaenavon Industrial Landscape UNESCO World Heritage siteOpen:
daily, 9:30a.m. to 5 p.m., Underground Tours between 10a.m. and 3:30 p.m.
The Birmingham Museums and Gallery
Birmingham was one of the manufacturing engines of 19th century Britain. Wealthy Victorian industrialists endowed their city with art and culture. The 120 year old Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, known locally as BMag, is a reminder of their generosity. The museum's collections range from Renaissance paintings to 9,000 year old Middle Eastern treasures.
BMag is best known for its outstanding collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings. One of the largest collections of this once radical school of art in the world, the collection is now searchable online.
Open: Everyday except December 25,26 and January 1; Monday to Thursday amd Saturday 10a.m. to 5p.m., Friday from 10:30a.m., Sunday from 12:30p.m. Late opening during Artsfest.
St. Edmund, King of East Anglia, was martyred by Danish Vikings and (before St. George) was patron saint of England. His shrine, in Bury St Edmunds, was a place of pilgrimage.
Not much is left of the Abbey that housed the shrine, but enough remains to give you an idea of what an important medieval town this was. Besides the ruins of the Abbey, there are a number of interesting medieval buildings and landmarks that make a visit here well worthwhile.
Stroll in the Abbey Gardens to watch a typical English game of lawn bowls. The town's online brochure lists lots more.
Joe Cornish/Getty Images
The first time I visited England, I happened upon this ancient stone circle high up in the Lake District near Keswick. A half dozen elderly ladies had set up easels and were painting the scene. A single cow noisily ripped at the grass, occasionally licking their oil paintings, while they twittered "Shoo, Bossy." The view of snow-capped Helvellyn and High Seat was unforgettable. The circle, of 33 stones, was erected about 3,000 years ago.
Open: In delightfully English fashion, English Heritage, who manage the site, say that it is open "At any reasonable time".
Picture Courtesy of Britain on View
The best way to describe the sexiest of English national monuments, the Cerne Abbas Giant, is to let the ultra respectable National Trust do it. Here is how one of Britain's most established institutions, and the organisation that maintains the giant, describes him on its website: "A huge outline sculpted into the chalk hillside above the village of Cerne Abbas representing a naked, sexually aroused, club-wielding giant."
He might be thousands of year's old, or he might be a 17th century political cartoon carved into the chalk hillside.
He was buried in grass during WWII to prevent him from becoming a landmark for the Luftwaffe. Apparently, when he was uncovered after the war, he grew a little.
A 12th century tower, this was the gateway to Chester Castle. A chapel contains thirteenth century wall paintings that were discovered in the 1980s. Not far away, steps lead to to Chester Castle's wall walk.
Open: The wall walk is open year round at any reasonable hour. The tower is open from 10a.m. to 5p.m. April through September and to 4 p.m. October through March. Closed Christmas, Boxing Day and New Year's Day.