We’re Australian and while we sometimes miss the sun and prawns at this time of the year, there’s a certain magic to Christmas in England.
We found extra sparkle in a special light tunnel – the Norwich Tunnel of Light, an easy day trip from London.
*Update: the Norwich Tunnel of Light is back in 2018 – make your way there to have a look, and let us know in the comments below what you think of it.
Christmas in England and a magical light tunnel
This unique Tunnel of Light Norwich installation is a one-of-a-kind in Europe and intended to simulate the Northern Lights (or aurora borealis).
The trip from Liverpool Street is about two hours to Norwich, and it’s well worth it for a few reasons:
The city has a really nice vibe and boasts clean streets, pretty views, a cathedral and cool pubs (important here in England!).
There are lovely markets in the city, undercover so it doesn’t matter if it’s raining. At the markets you’ll find sweet hand-made goods and delicious fresh food to get stuck into after a hard day’s worth of shopping. At Christmastime there are festive markets open too.
We discovered a fab little shop called Cupcakes & Bubbles – yep, champagne and sweet treats. Amazing.
Plenty of cute dogs in the area too, and it was lovely to see a group of people in the town centre raising awareness for Action for Greyhounds, an organisation that campaigns for these lovely dogs who can sometimes be mistreated when their owners are finished racing them.
If you visit Norwich, don’t miss a lovely waterside dining and entertainment precinct (just around the corner from the train station), Riverside Norwich.
Then of course there is their very special light tunnel, the Norwich Tunnel of Light, right in the city centre.
Light tunnel: magic in Norwich
For more on the area and the Tunnel of Light, take a look at the city’s official tourism site, Visit Norwich. We bought train tickets in advance on Trainline which meant for two of us it cost around £35 return trip on Greater Anglia trains.
There’s plenty of amazing festive experiences on offer at this time of year. You can travel within the UK, or might we suggest further afield to Amsterdam or Paris?
Let us know in the comment what your favourite thing to do in the holiday season is.
Broadstairs is part of the Thanet District in Kent, which includes two other major settlements, Margate and Ramsgate, that are both served by trains coming in and out of London.
It’s possible to walk or hike along the coast (being mindful of tide times), to enjoy the seven bays of Broadstairs.
If you take a look at a map, you’ll see that from the beach at Broadstairs you can wander left and you’ll come across Stone Bay, Joss Gap, Kingsgate Bay and Botany Bay before eventually coming into Margate.
To the right, you’ll discover Viking Bay, Louisa Bay and Dumpton Gap.
Actually, further along the coast in this direction you would come to Dover, which means directly across the water is France!
The Viking Coastal Path is a route you can walk along in either direction.
There are plenty of signposts showing where you are and also explaining the history of the bays, including smuggling, wartime and shipwreck stories.
Botany Bay, UK
We were destined for Botany Bay this particular weekend.
It took our fancy because it’s of the same name as somewhere very significant in our Australia’s own history; plus the spectacular chalky cliffs were something we wanted to view for ourselves.
Next time we visit, we will head to Ramsgate because the visitor information guide said there are really nice bars and facilities along the waterfront… my interest is piqued.
The scenery here is very ‘white cliffs of Dover’ style; dramatic and quintessentially English.
The beaches are real, so you can get sand between your toes, happy dogs can run, bark and play; and the air is crisp and fresh. Just what we all need to clear the mind and free the spirit.
Because we only had a few hours scheduled for our day trip to Kent, we didn’t end up walking from Broadstairs to Botany Bay.
Under normal circumstances this would take an hour, but we didn’t have the time to spare so jumped in a cab.
We want to give a shout-out to Broadstairs Taxis because the drivers who helped us were really friendly and informative.
Also, they sent a text to our phone to let us know how far away they were – all round good service. And, between one destination to another it was only £5.
Picture perfect days out in Kent
Botany Bay and neighbouring Kingsgate offer picturesque views on beautiful days out in Kent, like the one above.
I spotted a wedding shoot taking place on a cliff-top and a music video being shot beneath; a lone wind-surfer enjoying time on the waves and the beaches were pretty and rugged, winding around the coast.
We were rugged up but the visit here was a chance to satisfy a creative longing to video and photograph this country we’ve come to love so much.
Of course, it came time to eat, and we had our sights set on the Botany Bay Hotel, which offers pub-like dining in fine surrounds opposite the ocean at Botany Bay.
The place is really dog friendly (yay!) and quite well priced.
If you’re there as we were for lunch, you can’t book, but evening you can reserve a table.
You can stay in the hotel too, which is perfectly positioned for anyone who wants to spend more time playing, hiking, writing, photographing or simply being mindful by the sea.
After a big meal (and maybe a beer), you can walk off any indulgence by heading around the Viking Trail just ten minutes to Kingsgate Bay.
You’ll pass a golf range and spot the extremely grand Kingsgate Castle on the cliff overlooking the ocean (pictured above).
It’s now filled with apartments inside but looks really cool from the outside, and views include the sea doorway and white cliffs as pictured above.
If you’re thirsty after this coastal expedition (wandering along the top of the cliffs or walking down to the sea front below), you can pop into Captain Digby Tavern, another cliff-top pub.
Out and about on a day trip in Kent
Life certainly is better at the beach, and our day trip to Kent included breathing in the fresh ocean air, patting plenty of puppies, enjoying a pub lunch with a view and feasting on the scenery this coastline offers.
We can’t wait to get back this way, and would highly recommend the easy trip if you want to experience the English seaside.
Bath is the epitome of Georgian elegance and is a wonderful place to visit at any time of the year. It’s a pleasurable day trip from London (take Great Western Rail from Paddington); or stay a night or two and truly indulge in all the romantic things to do in Bath!
Personally, I love Bath because it’s easy to get around but has all the perks of a city like shopping, coffee, plenty to see and do. Bath is rich in history – the buildings tell many lifetimes worth of tales, dating back to the Romans right through to Jane Austen, and even the birth of Royal Mail. And, aside from anything else, the city is strikingly beautiful.
It’s one for the romantics, for sure – a very special place, like York (which you also must visit). Here are seven of our sweetest ideas for you to explore…
7 romantic things to do in Bath, England
Bath Abbey Tower Tour
Bath Abbey is the divine structure that makes for a perfect meeting spot in the town centre. It is an utterly surprising find as you’re wandering the old streets, and you’ll have your phone in hand snapping pictures before you even realise what you’re doing!
Indulge in some people watching in the square, and when you’ve gathered your breath, climb to the top for a bird’s eye view of the area.
If this idea takes your fancy, you can book exclusive personalised tours which take place out of hours. Watch the sun set over this uniquely lovely place, away from the tourist crowds. More at bathabbey.org/towertours.
Stroll along the Gravel Walk
This is fine for all, but Austen fans will especially rejoice because it is the setting of Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth’s proposal in Persuasion.
Continue your wander through to Royal Victoria Park for a picnic, and wind up your exploration in the lovely woodland of the Botanical Gardens.
Be mindful after dark though, for although it might seem pretty at dusk it is said that a number of Bath’s former residents often also wander here. Particularly notable is a white haired man who will appear before you on the Gravel Walk, only to vanish back into the night. Spooky, although perhaps a romantic pursuit for the ghost-hunters (like me) among you…
Take to nature – canal ride, row boat or horse drawn carriage ride
As you step off the train into the city of Bath, you’ll spot signs for visitor information centres. Drop in and enquire about one of the unique opportunities to interact with nature.
Back in town, we suggest skipping the cab line and instead take a horse drawn carriage ride around the city, just like in Austen’s romantic age. Be enchanted as you pass by grand spaces like the Royal Crescent, Royal Victoria Park and The Circus. Courtyard Carriages will make it happen.
Stay overnight in a romantic hotel!
Bath is brimming with excellent accommodation options for all budgets. If you’re willing to splash out for a special occasion and take full advantage of this city’s status as a centre for romance, this one looks nice – the Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa. It’s centrally located with sublime views of the city! We’ve not stayed here, but sure would like to. Seems so very Austen-esque.
Another decadent property I spotted on our travels was Bath Spa Hotel, a five star stay overlooking the breathtaking Bath landscape.
Jane Austen festival in September
Yes, yes and yes!
Indulge in regal splendour – performances, balls, workshops, promenades, fairs, lunches, breakfasts (and the odd Mr Darcy sprinkled around town for good measure)…
There are even short tours of the surrounding area on offer so you can get your entire literary and adventure fix with the least amount of effort. If you’re a fan of the author, don’t miss visiting in September. More at janeaustenfestivalbath.co.uk.
Note: there’s a plethora of Austen experiences open all year round too if you can’t make it in spring.
Thermae Bath Spa
Bath is of course famed for its ancient baths and healing waters, and now thanks to Thermae, we can all take a dip.
After you’ve explored the interesting old ruins, step it up to contemporary times in an utterly indulgent and romantic manner. Thermae now boasts a sensational rooftop pool with sweeping city views. There’s plenty of other treatments you can enjoy too – the best of modern pleasures and old world lush blended into a sublime chance to unwind and feel the love.
Country walks and quaint villages
When we visited Bath recently, we actually took the Hop on Hop off bus tour, which features two routes through Bath. One travels around the city and explains the local history, and the other highlights the outskirts upon the hilltops overlooking the city’s skyline. This is an excellent way to get your bearings in the city. Helpful too, because Bath is very hilly so it’s easy to get tired making your way around. An option like this makes it simpler to identify the places you might like to go back to, and the skyline journey in particular showcases some lovely walks.
Suggested places to visit include the ‘prettiest village in England’, Castle Combe (accessible from Bath), Kennet and Avon canals which are some of the loveliest waterways working their way through England. The tour guide also pointed out walks you can try nearby to stops on the tour’s itinerary such as around Middle Hill Lodge.
Words can’t describe how lovely it is here, although many writers have attempted to do so throughout history. Why not visit and see for yourself? You may find the Visit Bath website useful, and book your train tickets in advance for the best deal, Trainline.
If you’ve found this helpful or have a tip to add, please let us know in the comments.
Don’t write this lovely little seaside area off, it’s absolutely worth your time. What to do in Hastings? History, creative experiences, shopping and yummy food await.
What to do in Hastings: history
Take a trip through time with us to Hastings, in Sussex, England.
October 14, 1066 − a most famous date that changed the course of English history. The English army, led by King Harold, was deployed on Senlac hill, where the town of Battle and its beautiful abbey presently stand. William (“The Conqueror”), positioned his army strategically, and although it’s understood to have been a close battle, at the end of a very long and bloody day in time, William won the war, bringing Norman rule to England. —click here to read the story
Creative things to do in Hastings
When we think of creative escapes within easy proximity to London, usually somewhere like Brighton or Whitstable come to mind. But, recently we decided to venture further down the coast for the first time, to historic Hastings.
If you want to know what to do in Hastings, stop and chat to the locals. They’ll give you tips on all the ways to experience living history and where to get the creative juices flowing. From castles to caves and ghost tours, this quirky, poignant and pretty seaside stop-over is ideal is brimming with options.
A photographer’s dream
Gardens, ocean and cliff-top landscapes abound, making it simple to find what to do in Hastings that is perfect for you. It’s the colourful maritime heritage that makes this place excellent for discovering unique shots, whether you’re an amateur or pro photographer. Hastings and nearby Rye and Winchelsea belonged to the Cinque Ports Confederation and this heritage is still evident in their fishing trade and medieval experiences.
Take a free walking tour of the Stade (organised by the Hastings Fishermen’s Museum) or through Hastings’ quaint Old Town (also free, organised by Old Hastings Preservation Society), get your bearings, then explore and image-capture til it’s time for bed. On a sunny day, the light here is divine at sunrise and sunset.
More of what to do in Hastings? Get amongst the antiques shopping! Interestingly, there’s plenty of delightful vintage shopping here, but not so much that it’s overwhelming (like in some other larger cities).
If you’re seeking one-off trinkets and pieces to make your home stand out, wander the boutique stores of Hastings’ Old Town and be ready to snap up a delicious deal. Wander off to Courthouse Street too, and you’ll discover a treasure trove of surprises that’s been a local secret here for over 30 years − known as Courthouse Mews − ask for Dee or Beverley. The sale space is vast once you move through the front of this vintage shopper and collector’s dream!
Wine and dine
There’s a number of lovely wineries in the area, including award-winning Sedlescombe Organic and Carr Taylor that offer tasting experiences among other events throughout the year.
Or head to Hastings for a unique day, week or month cooking experience with renowned chef and restaurateur, Paul Webbe. Where better to refine your seafood culinary skills than in the town that boasts Europe’s largest beach-launched fishing fleet? Drop the team a line and ask about the Hastings fish and seafood school. bon appétit!
Man’s best friend
We very much loved how dog-friendly Hastings turned out to be, and will return for this reason. Why leave your best mate at home when you can bring them along with you for extra joy and companionship. And, if you’re craving a fix of uplifting dog energy, this place works well too, because there’s plenty on hand who are happy for an extra pat on the head (or bum scratch as the case may be).
Write it out
Wander the alleys, chat in the pubs, meditate on the beach − be inspired, and write or blog til your heart’s content. Hastings is big enough to not get bored, but small enough that you can really relax and take it all in.
From Far from the Madding Crowd in Dorset to Frankenstein in Manchester, England staged one big, beautiful movie set in 2015, and crowds flocked to see where their favourites were shot.
VisitEngland’s Chief Executive, James Berresford said: “Our research shows that 40 per cent of tourists want to visit locations they’ve seen on the big and small screen [like Downton Abbey], so we know there is a huge appetite for ‘set-jetting’.”
VisitEngland teamed up with Creative England to select some of the biggest films to grace our screens in 2015, revealing to film buffs exactly where the action was shot…
INTO THE WOODS
The film adaptation of the eponymous Broadway musical Into the Woods features an all-star cast including Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick and Johnny Depp. Showing off a number of quintessentially English locations, the soon-to-be Disney hit was shot at Dover Castle in Kent, Waverley Abbey and Virginia Water in Surrey, the Ashridge Estate in Hertfordshire, Hambleden Village and Hambleden Barn in Buckinghamshire. The film follows the classic tales of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Rapunzel-all tied together by an original story involving a baker and his wife, their wish to begin a family and their interaction with the witch who has put a curse on them.
This live-action feature is inspired by the classic fairytale Cinderella and brings to life the timeless images from Disney’s 1950 animated masterpiece. English locations including the grand bridge at Blenheim Palace, Black Park in Iver Heath and the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich all help to set the scene for this childhood favourite. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, the film stars Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden and Helena Bonham-Carter.
A LITTLE CHAOS
Starring Kate Winslet, Stanley Tucci and Alan Rickman. The story centres on a female landscape-gardener who is awarded the esteemed assignment to construct the grand gardens at Versailles, a gilt-edged position which thrusts her to the very centre of the court of King Louis XIV. But the 18th century French palace and grand houses were actually shot in England at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, the Ashridge Estate in Hertfordshire and Cliveden House in Berkshire. Some of the cast stayed at the Grade I listed, luxury hotel and grand stately home, Cliveden House, during filming. With a garden central to the story, the production also needed some versatile outdoor space and found most of what they were looking for in Black Park, a country park next door to Pinewood Studios, which covers over 500 acres of woodland, heathland and grassland.
FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD
A new adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel, the film stars Carey Mulligan and Michael Sheen, with screen play by David Nicholls. Filmed predominantly in and around Hardy Country in Dorset; Mapperton House, Durdle Door, Lulworth Cove, Sherborne, Eype, Purse Caundle, West Bay, Beaminster and National Trust property Cogden Beach all play a part. Few authors have such strong associations with their local area as Thomas Hardy, and today you can explore two of the writer’s houses – his childhood home and Max Gate, the property Hardy designed himself and moved into with Emma after his marriage.National Trust property, Claydon House in Buckinghamshire, also features in the film, doubling up as Boldwood.
Based on Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel of the same name, the latest adaptation features an all-star cast. Daniel Radcliffe will star as hunchback Igor, whilst James McAvoy will portray Victor von Frankenstein. Filming locations included Manchester Town Hall, Chatham Historic Dockyard, the Old Royal Naval College, including King Charles Court, and the bank of the river Thames in Greenwich.
Have you ever set-jetted? Drop us a line in the comments to let us know where you’ve visited and what was filmed there. We’re keen to find this one being filmed in Scotland!…
More things to do in England
We’ve had a helpful piece shared with us via your-rv-lifestyle.com on 100 things to do in England – worth a browse if you’re heading over this way!
Images copyright to individual film distribution companies.
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