The travel experts at VisitEngland tell us the must-sees and dos of 2013.
Birds-eye views of London
Book your place on The View from the Shard (opening 1 February) and see London from 800 feet – that’s almost twice the height of any other London viewpoint. Crowning the nip of the Shard (piercing the heavens at 1,016 feet it’s the tallest skyscraper in Europe), on a clear day the 360˚ view extends more than 40 miles out to the south coast and Windsor Castle.
If you can’t get enough of that view, you’re in luck. March sees the launch of Shangri-La at The Shard a luxury hotel nestled across floors 34 to 52 of Renzo Piano’s already-iconic tower. Check into one of the sumptuous hotel rooms to experience the sights and shimmering lights of London from high up in the sky.
Jane Austen mania
Pride and Prejudice was published 200 years ago on 28 January so follow the author’s footsteps around some of England’s most idyllic spots. Your first stop should be Hampshire and the Jane Austen House Museum. Hampshire was both Austen’s birth and her death place – she’s buried inside the glorious Winchester Cathedral – and you can explore a dedicated trail which maps out key stages of Austen’s life in the county. Further west, the UNESCO City of Bath where Austen lived and drew inspiration for Persuasion and Northanger Abbey, is another Austen hotspot. Check out the Jane Austen Centre and go on one of the special Austen-themed tours. Derbyshire is home to the divine Chatsworth House, reputedly Austen’s inspiration for Mr Darcy’s Pemberley, and many other stately homes such as Haddon Hall and Kedleston Hall, which have made cameos in many a costume drama.
Olympic-inspired activity breaks
One of the legacies of the Olympics looks set to be a surge of interest in activity holidays as we set out to (attempt to) replicate the highs of last year’s epic sporting events. You can set sail in Weymouth, home to the best sailing waters in Northern Europe and the London 2012 sailing events, or hurl yourself down the rapids at the Lee Valley White Water Centre.
Newly built for the Olympic canoe slalom competition, the Hertfordshire centre reopens again in April with Olympic-standard wild rapids, drops, holes, eddies and boils to give everyone an Olympic-pedigree soaking! If you prefer to stay on dry ground, whizz around the Isle of Wight on two wheels. Over half of the island is designated an ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’, and with its varied terrain, blissful coastal views and nearly 30 miles of Heritage Coast to explore, it’ll come as no surprise to hear Lonely Planet voted it one of the top 10 cycling destinations in the world. Just make sure you go slower than Wiggo so you can soak up the scenery.
2013 marks 125 years since the murky streets of East London were at the mercy of Jack the Ripper, the unidentified serial killer whose legend is a constant source of morbid fascination. Visitors with a brave disposition can try a Jack the Ripper Walking Tour of Spitalfields and Petticoat Lane, followed by a spine-tingling journey at one of London’s scariest attractions.
The London Dungeon is relocating to the vast underground vaults of County Hall on the South Bank in March and promises to be bigger, bolder and even more blood-curdling.
If life is a stage then England is one big film set. 2013 sees Norwich in the spotlight with the release of Alan Partridge: The Movie, where Steve Coogan resurrects his much-loved eccentric character and Norwich’s most famous son. Elsewhere both Norfolk and Somerset star in Jack the Giant Slayer, a brand new interpretation of Jack and the Beanstalk featuring Ewan McGregor. 2013 is also the year to get under the skin of Downton Abbey.
Fans will be in their Edwardian element on a new Downton Abbey Tour & Experience, which lets you nose around Highclere Castle (a.k.a. Downton Abbey) in Hampshire and other iconic locations over an entire weekend. Pull on the pearls and cravats and take a step back in time to experience life as an Edwardian aristocrat and hear fascinating anecdotes about the cast, filming and production along the way.