Cities that aren't London
You’re probably sick of hearing about Britain. The Jubilee, the Olympics and well, that’s it, but they’re pretty big topics that take up a lot of air and internet time. But actually, what you’re probably sick of hearing about is London as both these events are mainly London-centric.
Now, I love London. I could give you a list as long as your arm of things to do there (see a play at The Globe, visit St Paul’s and sing Feed the Birds whilst actually feeding some birds, go to the markets at Covent Garden) but sometimes the rest of Britain doesn’t really get a look in. London’s the political, economic and media capital of the country and there’s so much to do there that you could stay for two weeks and feel like you’d only scratched the surface. But I just thought that maybe if you’re coming over to London for the Olympics or just because you fancy a visit, then you might have a few spare days and be looking to experience the Britain that exists outside London and so I thought I’d recommend a few places you might want to visit and, as Britain’s so small compared to other countries, no city is that far away from London.
I should point out that I’m from Manchester so, if this seems a bit ‘Isn’t Manchester wonderful? Nothing ever goes wrong there – the sun is always shining, no one gets mugged and the shops always have jeans in my size’, then at least you know why.
If you’ve ever been baffled as to why the English love football (or soccer to some) so much then Manchester is the place to visit as we have the best two teams in the country – Manchester United and, as a United fan it pains me to admit this, Manchester City. Take a tour of Old Trafford and see the ground where Beckham, Ronaldo and Bobby Charlton have all played (trust me, they’re a big deal) and then head down to the newly opened National Football Museum.
If you really, really can’t be tempted by football, then Manchester also has a lot of other stuff. We’re the home of the Industrial Revolution, bands like The Smiths, Oasis and Joy Division and celebrated artist LS Lowry, so there’s a lot of culture going on. Also, Andrew Garfield appeared in productions at the Royal Exchange Theatre before he was a regular fixture on the walls of teenage girls so, whilst I’m not saying that if you come to Manchester and go to a play then you’ll definitely see the next Spider-Man, I am heavily implying it. Stratford upon Avon
The home of The Bard. Stratford’s a nice town with lots of tourists – it’s impossible to walk through the centre without hearing at least one accent you wouldn’t normally encounter. You can visit Shakespeare’s old house that he was almost certainly born in, which is exciting for any literature nerds. There’s also a recently revamped theatre that always has plays on, some of which may feature vaguely famous people. However, if you still haven’t gotten over having to do Romeo and Juliet at school then avoid Stratford at all costs as it is basically Shakespeareland.
Blackpool is for the real traveller. The person who doesn’t just want to see the cities that are like your parents’ wedding crockery that’s only used on ‘special occasions’ and are all dolled up and prettified. Blackpool is like the chipped mug that you’d be a little embarrassed to give to a guest but you refuse to throw it out because you love it so. It’s the sort of place you should visit if you’re a traveller who likes to see the real parts of the countries you visit.
Blackpool is marketed as the Las Vegas of Britain but I’ve seen The Hangover and so I know that Blackpool is Robin to Las Vegas’ Batman. It’s full of casinos, arcades and is the home of the ‘Pleasure Beach’ (a theme park) and although I’m probably not selling it very well, I’ve had many happy times at Blackpool – going there was a big treat when I was little. I should point out, though, that one afternoon I was walking along the promenade with my cousin when we passed a lady who was there for a Hen Party and was vomiting into the gutter and my cousin, a Blackpool native, said “Yep, that sums up Blackpool”. If you’re looking for a nice picturesque seaside town I’d probably pick Bristol or anywhere in Cornwall over Blackpool but if you’re looking for something a bit different and a lot of fun, Blackpool’s your place.
The only word that comes into my head when I think of Edinburgh is beautiful. Britain is lucky to have a lot of great architecture but, for some reason, Edinburgh really takes the biscuit. As well as being pretty to look at it also has the world’s largest arts festival, The Edinburgh Fringe, in August where the city is taken over by performers. The Scottish Parliament’s worth a visit for anyone interested in politics, or you could pop in to The Elephant House, one of the cafes that JK Rowling conjured up the boy wizard in. Whilst Edinburgh is stunning, it can be cold even in the summer so make sure you bring your gloves. Liverpool
As a Mancunian, I probably shouldn’t be including Liverpool in the list because we’re rivals but I thought I’d be the bigger person and I also actually really love Liverpool. Liverpool’s home of probably the biggest, best-known band in the world and is a definite stop for anyone who has ever owned something with the words ‘John, Paul, George & Ringo’ on it. There are loads of Beatles landmarks in Liverpool, there’s The Cavern Club where they first played and you can even visit 20 Forthlin Road, where Paul McCartney used to live and where he and John Lennon would write songs. There’s also the Tate art gallery and, maybe the best reason to go to Liverpool, the Scouse accent is amazing.
Oxford or Cambridge
If you only have a limited amount of time I’d definitely pick either Oxford or Cambridge rather than both of them as, in the words of the ‘As Told By Ginger’ theme tune, they are ‘different yet exactly the same’. They’re the homes of Britain’s most prestigious universities, with Oxford having more of a city vibe whilst Cambridge is like a bustling market town. The architecture of the colleges means that both the cities are beautiful – the Dining Hall at Christ Church, Oxford was used for Harry Potter and inspired Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Tip: to get into a college for free or one that says it’s closed, pretend you’re considering studying there, no matter your age, and maybe even exaggerate your accent a little bit.
Now comes the obligatory, saccharine summing up where I say that ‘these are just some of the great cities Britain has to offer and there are loads more you can go to’ but it’s true. And if you can’t make up your mind as to a destination just look up at the departures board at Euston, travel to the first place you see and you’ll find lots of things to do in a city, town or village you’d never have thought of visiting.
You can read more from Grace Cox on her blog.
(Image via Shutterstock).