Welcome to Group Trips: Staying Local
Time to enjoy a staycation
As I write this, we’re welcoming the British summer and beginning to take advantage of the easing of the lockdown restrictions that have accompanied the devastating experience of the coronavirus pandemic. For group organisers, it’s been a sad few months as both undertaking trips and planning them has been well off the agenda.
Fortunately, group travel is slowly getting back to life, and there is no better place to start than by thinking about visits to destinations and attractions within our own country - and quite locally - as in most areas there is much to enjoy and often overlooked excellent tourism and leisure opportunities almost on your doorstep.
To positively showcase some of the best local days out in the UK, we, as publishers of Group Travel Organiser magazine, have produced this special publication solely addressing domestic visit ideas.
Sadly, publication of GTO magazine itself has had to be suspended for a period but we hope it will be back soon as more group travel activities resume. In the meantime we hope you will find inspiration within this guide to local visits.
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Enjoy the exotic in your own country
"We're not flying anywhere this year"
Powis Castle and Garden
Powis Castle and Garden
Powis Castle and Garden
This medieval castle, fortress and grand country mansion near Welshpool, in Powys, Wales, has now reopened. Visitors need to book in advance.
Introduction from VisitBritain/VisitEngland Director Patricia Yates
We asked the Director of VisitBritain/VisitEngland for a message for this special feature.
It is fantastic to see tourism businesses beginning to reopen their doors as restrictions are lifted and to see our £127 billion industry on the road to rebuilding.
Millions of jobs and local economies depend on tourism right across the country. Businesses have been working extremely hard preparing to welcome visitors back safely, to save as much of the summer as possible and to extend the season into autumn and beyond.
VisitEngland’s We’re Good To Go industry standard and consumer mark is supporting people to book a break with confidence. We want visitors to be able to enjoy their holidays in the knowledge that the correct procedures are in place. More than 26,000 tourism businesses have registered for the scheme since its launch providing a ‘ring of confidence’ as the sector gets back on its feet.
Our public information campaign Know Before You Go in England is also supporting tourism businesses as they re-open and reassuring visitors as restrictions are lifted, by checking about what it is safe to do and when and sign-posting to information about destinations and available services before travelling.
We have an incredible tourism offer on our doorstep. Our countryside, coastline and seaside destinations, and our B&Bs and self-catering accommodation, are consistently rated as some of the best in the world. And we have culture, heritage and adventure in spades. Our priority is to make sure tourism rebounds to once again become one of the most successful sectors of the UK economy and we hope that people who perhaps haven’t holidayed at home before will try a domestic trip and some of us might explore somewhere new and have an extra break at home this year.
Gardens & Historic Houses
As Britain’s amazing cultural heritage begins to re-open its doors, here are some of our favourite gardens and historic houses around the country.
A Tudor treat
Hever Castle in Kent was once the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, beheaded wife of Henry VIII and mother of Elizabeth I. Its panelled rooms house fine furniture, tapestries, antiques and one of the best collections of Tudor portraits in the country. The gardens are extensive and imaginatively laid out with a lake, Italianate garden, yew maze and water maze.
A French château – in England
Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire, was built in the style of a French château in the late 1800s for Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild. The house is home to the Rothschild Collections of paintings, sculpture and decorative arts and also has beautiful gardens, a restored Victorian aviary and a programme of art exhibitions.
Trees to remember
The National Memorial Arboretum (NMA), in Staffordshire, is the UK’s year-round centre of Remembrance with 30,000 trees and a vast collection of memorials. The 150-acre site is a living, growing tribute to those who have served and continue to serve our country. Events and exhibitions usually take place throughout the year.
British bulldog’s Baroque birthplace
Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire is a masterpiece of 18th century baroque architecture and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, the house is also famed for its portraits, furniture, sculpture and tapestries, as well as impressive State Rooms, formal gardens, and pleasure gardens with a maze, butterfly house and train.
A grand home for gentry
The enormous stately home of Castle Howard, North Yorkshire, was part-designed by Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor in the early 1700s. To compliment its imposing grandeur, it sits in 1000 acres of parkland. It is well known to television and cinema viewers as the fictional “Brideshead” of Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited. Aside from the opulent interior, visitors can enjoy the many gardens, lakes, woodland and monuments.
Glasshouse wonder in Wales
The National Botanic Garden of Wales, Carmarthenshire, is a recent addition to the horticultural scene and only opened in May 2000. It is now the most visited garden in Wales with an amazing collection of over 8000 different plant varieties, spread across 560 acres of countryside, a bird of prey centre, and the world’s largest single-spanned glasshouse.
Medieval Channel fortress
There is much to see at Dover Castle, Kent - a Norman castle whose defensive significance has kept it at the forefront of British history almost to the present day. This is a medieval fortress with Government nuclear bunkers! Stand atop the iconic White Cliffs, discover the castle’s vital role in two world wars, enjoy the vividly recreated rooms of King Henry II, and explore secret WW2 tunnels.
We may have lost a lot of open-air summer events this year, but many of our country parks and gardens are planning to bring back their illuminated Christmas trails this winter. These are a few of those that have been announced so far …
Back for a third year
Surround yourself with sparkle this Christmas as Bedgebury Pinetum in Kent lights up for its third year in 2020, with new lights and a soundtrack of festive classics. The one mile long trail will take visitors through a forest saturated in ever-changing beams of colour, colour-changing water-side reflections, a light maze and the flickering flames of the fire garden.
Various dates from 20th November to 31st December.
Christmas at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is justly famous. Returning for its eighth year, the winter trail will be taking a new route, leading visitors for the first time through the beautifully illuminated Rose Garden. Old favourites and brand new light installations will sparkle and glow, making a winter outing as enjoyable as a summer one. Expect a glittering tunnel of bells, giant illuminated seed heads and majestic trees wrapped in light as well as a dazzling treetop waterfall, where beams of light interplay in a breath-taking aerial dance.
Running from 18th November to 3rd January.
The lanterns of Longleat
This famous safari park and stately home in Wiltshire usually has its Festival of Light every winter. This event sees the estate decked out with giant lantern figures on a different theme every year. This year, a new event is being planned. We await further news with interest ...
Christmas at the Palace
Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire has been working hard to retrieve some of its schedule for the remainder of the year – including its celebrated Christmas Trail! This outdoor illuminated wonderland is the perfect way to get any family or group in the Christmas spirit. Attractions promised include Heart of the Stars scattering shards of light across the lawn, a scented fire garden adorning the Water Terrace, dynamic, colour-changing neon tunnels, lakeside reflections and the softly glowing fairy-fire known as Will-o-the-Wisp. For customer safety the number of visitors entering at each time slot will be reduced so that visitors have more space.
Running from 20th November to 3rd January.
Re-opening to a different world
As UK gardens began to open again, Fiona Horan talked to two members of the team at the National Memorial Arboretum (NMA), Staffordshire. Sarah Oakden, Head of Marketing and Paul Johnson, Grounds and Landscape Manager, told her how life has been at the Arboretum since March.
How was the National Memorial Arboretum affected by the pandemic?
Sarah: Like everyone else, we had to sadly close our doors in March. As the UK’s centre of Remembrance, we welcome many visitors who are living with grief, so we usually take great pride in being there for them. Unfortunately we had to cancel many services, dedications, celebrations and cultural events, including Armed Forces Day, our Summer Proms, outdoor cinema and, most regrettably, our VE Day 75 weekend. This was replaced with tributes and stories on social media, downloadable guided walks and activity packs for both adults and children. We had huge engagement and I like to think we were inspired by the tenacity and spirit of those 75 years ago to ensure we kept their memory alive on that special anniversary.
Who looked after the Arboretum during lockdown? What was it like without the visitors?
Paul: Maintenance in our grounds continued throughout the lockdown. During this period we took the opportunity to work on projects in normally high footfall/traffic areas, including repairs to some of the roadways around the site. The team found it strange
at first, working to keep the site maintained for seemingly no one, but soon enjoyed sharing pictures and stories on social media and with the rest of our team. We were able to document changes in the behaviour of the wildlife, witness the young foxes on site, and share pictures of the plants and flora in what was for a while our own private garden.
Now that you have re-opened to the public, how is it going? What have you learned about protecting visitors?
Sarah: It’s going very well, but we have had to temporarily change the experience to prioritise safety, with special signage, hygiene screens, extra cleaning and one-way routes in and out of the Remembrance Centre. Importantly, visitors MUST book to visit as we need to control numbers to ensure social distancing. We have had fantastic feedback though, and lots of first time visitors. Being a large 150-acre outdoor site, there is plenty of room to find a place to feel at peace, reflect and enjoy nature and wildlife. The Arboretum is also a very life affirming, grounding place - so after everything that has happened it is, in some small way, even more meaningful for many people.
What are your plans for the rest of 2020 and for next year?
Sarah: We want to open up as much as we can whilst ensuring visitors and our team remain safe. We are monitoring the latest advice and have an agile approach to reacting to change. We plan to reintroduce our exhibitions programme, reopen our events building, reintroduce the land train, guided walks and daily talks, and hold events. This will take time though, so we are grateful for everyone’s patience. It would be wonderful to think we can host our usual Armistice and Remembrance Sunday services in November and welcome many visitors to our Christmas activities. For now, we are focussing on providing a world class experience every day in what is a very different world.
Theme Parks & Zoos
Stratford-upon-Avon Butterfly Farm
Stratford-upon-Avon Butterfly Farm
In England, zoos, aquariums and theme parks have been able to re-open outdoor areas since 15th June, subject to social distancing measures being in place, and their indoor areas such as cafés and exhibits since early July. With reduced capacity, this is a great time to experience some famous places without the crowds.
Visit the tropics without taking a plane, with a day out at Stratford-upon-Avon Butterfly Farm, Warwickshire – the UK’s largest tropical butterfly reserve. The little fellows have been hatching away during lockdown, and now you can enjoy the unique pleasure of discovering hundreds of the world’s most beautiful butterflies flying in an exotic environment of tropical blossom with waterfalls and fish filled pools.
Longleat, near Warminster in Wiltshire, is a famous stately home and safari park – the first safari park outside Africa. It continues in its quest to innovate and entertain to this day – with heaps of different things for visitors to do – safari, boat trips, a maze, exhibitions, house tours, and gardens. And now they have koala bears too!
The theme park has re-opened with enhanced hygiene measures. A new attraction for visitors is a celebration of the heroes of lockdown, with miniature LEGO doctors, nurses, cleaners and carers against the backdrop of a giant rainbow made completely from LEGO bricks. There’s even a miniature Captain Tom Moore, the former British Army officer and centenarian who raised so much money for the NHS.
Back with a splash
Visitors looking for aquatic escapism can head to Sea Life Centres across the UK as doors reopen to visitors at eleven locations. Teams have been working hard behind the scenes to ensure a safe return, with a number of measures now in place, including reduced capacity. The aquarium chain includes the delightful seal sanctuary at Gweek, Cornwall.
Founded by Sir Humphrey Davy
Arguably the most famous zoo in the world, ZSL London Zoo, London (together with its partner Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire) is apparently in jeopardy following three months of lockdown. Make a visit to two of our national treasures and perhaps get a glimpse of some of the new arrivals including baby otters in London and 14 fawns and a penguin chick called Wilfred at Whipsnade. And, yes, the famous scientist Humphry Davy was a co-founder in 1826.
Walk amongst parrots
Created by Jimmy Chipperfield of the circus family, West Midlands Safari Park in Worcestershire has lions a-plenty, including some new cubs this year, as well as all the other big game animals you would expect. There is also a sea lion theatre, aquarium, penguin cove and walk-through aviary of rainbow lorikeets, as well as theme park rides.
The Great Outdoors
Bournemouth Central Gardens
Bournemouth Central Gardens
Many foreign countries are out-of-bounds at the moment, and international travel seems very uncertain. Time, then, to reacquaint ourselves with the glorious countryside, coast and other outdoor attractions that our own nation offers. Here are a few ideas.
Coast with the most
Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole on the south coast are ready to welcome tourists back, promising that hotels and restaurants have taken every possible measure to ensure visitors will feel that they are in safe hands. As well as seven miles of beaches, Bournemouth boasts over 2000 acres of parks and gardens. Poole offers a stunning natural harbour and island hideaways, whilst Christchurch is steeped in history and is the gateway to the New Forest.
Swap Zoom for zoooom!
Thames Rockets claims to be London’s number one outdoor adventure. Offering speedboat sightseeing on the Thames, their high safety standards now include anti-viral hygiene measures and social distancing. Speed down the river like James Bond on an exhilarating and healthy outdoor experience.
In Dracula's Footsteps
The seaside resort of Whitby in Yorkshire has charm in spades and is perfectly placed for exploring the nearby moors and rest of this interesting coastline. Whitby is an ancient port with a fascinating history, a ruined abbey and a working harbour. Its most famous association is as the setting for Dracula’s arrival in Bram Stoker’s novel, and was once a highly fashionable spa resort, visited by artists and writers including Turner, Lewis Carroll and Charles Dickens.
A regal day out
For the first time in its history Royal Ascot took place behind closed doors this year. However, bookings have opened for next year’s event, which will no doubt be bigger and better than ever. Enjoy the arrival of the Royal Procession as the clock strikes two, the communal singing around Ascot’s Bandstand, and six world-class races each afternoon, with a total prize fund of over £8m. Early bookers can win arrival by helicopter!
Galleries and Museums
Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience. Credit: Charlotte Graham
Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience. Credit: Charlotte Graham
Many of the great and the good throughout the last couple of centuries have educated themselves and been inspired by Britain’s astounding array of museums and art galleries. Here are a few suggestions for fun and discovery …
Put yourself in the picture
Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience in York allows you to step into a Van Gogh painting thanks to cutting edge virtual projection. Discover the life of Van Gogh in a new way: his time at the convent and in Arles, the secrets from the letters he wrote to his brother and much more. Visitors participate in a unique 360 degree experience in the universe of this great artist.
Tate Britain, Tate Modern, Tate Liverpool and Tate St Ives have now re-opened their collections of artworks from across the centuries and around the world. Check the Tate website for the current exhibition schedule in all four locations, with major artists to see this year including Andy Warhol and Aubrey Beardsley.
Crucible of industry
At the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, Ironbridge Gorge Museums in Shropshire is a World Heritage Site. This series of museums of social and industrial British history includes a recreated Victorian town, china museum, museum of iron, and the famous Iron Bridge, symbolic of the start of the Industrial Revolution.
The Florence Nightingale Museum in London is celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of the world’s most famous nurse – which seems very appropriate for this year of pandemic. Find out why Florence Nightingale’s words and ideas are as relevant as ever. It’s got to be the safest place to visit in London!
Engineer a visit here
The world’s largest collection of historic British cars is housed at the British Motor Museum, Warwickshire. The museum tells the story of the birth, decline and rebirth of the motor industry and the cars it produced, as well as celebrating the skills and creativity of the people who designed and built them. It also usually has a packed programme of vintage vehicle events.
Discover the amazing stories of those who have served in the RAF at RAF Cosford in Shropshire. Housed in wartime hangars and in the National Cold War Exhibition, visitors will find a fantastic display of aircraft and exhibits. Learn about the bravery of pilots and test pilots and see the last surviving example of a Boulton Paul Defiant Mk.
Windermere Lake Cruises
Windermere Lake Cruises
After the long period of lockdown, the North of England is now beginning to re-open to visitors. Here is a snapshot of some of the attractions and tour operators ready to welcome you back.
Explore Windermere in your own boat
While Windermere Lake Cruises is most famous for its impressive fleet of large vessels and traditional launches, it’s the operator’s fleet of smaller boats which is set to help people get back out on the water for the first time since March this year.
Following the relaxation of lockdown measures, the company has made its 49-strong fleet of self-drive electric motorboats available, giving visitors and local residents the opportunity to explore the lake at their own pace – and in their own space.
Be guided through God’s own county
Tim Barber, who operates Real Yorkshire Travel and Tours, is delighted to have received his Visit Britain “We’re Good to Go” accreditation and is ready to start delivering tours again with the relevant social distancing and risk reduction measures in place. Tim prides himself on bringing Yorkshire to life for small groups through driver guided luxury tours as well as walking trips and bespoke experiences. Themes include The Bronte Experience, Captain Cook Country, Historic York and JMW Turner’s Yorkshire, and special Sign Tours for the deaf.
All creatures great and small
The World of James Herriot in Thirsk, North Yorkshire, celebrates the world’s most famous vet, whose affectionate and hilarious novels about rural life in the area in the 1930s and 40s have remained popular since they were published 50 years ago. The centre has also received the Visit Britain “Good to Go” accreditation and has now re-opened to the public.
The museum is in the house where Herriot lived and worked. Visitors can walk through his fully-restored 1940s home and surgery, see the car he drove and even experience what it was like to hide in a WW2 air raid shelter.
Strawberry Field forever
Strawberry Field in Liverpool ticks all the boxes for today’s traveller. The iconic site, immortalised by The Beatles now serves as a unique addition to Beatles heritage, with responsible tourism at its heart, through its funding of a charitable foundation for young adults.
Visitors can learn about the former children’s home and about how John Lennon came to write the famous song. The café is a place to enjoy delicious dishes and the shop stocks a wide range of authentic merchandise. The gardens, where a young John Lennon played as a child, offer a calm space for reflection.
Blue Badge are back
The Yorkshire Association of Blue Badge Guides are getting back into their “guide-stride” as lockdown is easing. Members of the public can now book and go on tours with confidence as all Association members have begun to offer safe guiding trips in the county, implementing the newly created “Covid-19 Guidance for Tour Guiding”. They are also combining this with VisitBritain/VisitEngland’s “Good to Go” recognition scheme.
Classic Posters Re-purposed
At first glance, the stylish promotional posters seen here seem to be carrying a message from times past. But on closer inspection, you’ll see that each carries one of the Government warnings given during the pandemic lockdown.
Museum makes new message from its British travel treasures
To bring a little uplift during the travel restrictions imposed for the coronavirus pandemic, the National Railway Museum reimagined a set of classic railway travel posters from their collection.
The set of 10 popular travel posters featured vintage artwork but with new messages reflecting the Government’s travel advice.
They cover scenic travel destinations such as the Norfolk Broads and the Yorkshire coast, inviting people to ‘visit when this is all over’ or to ‘visit online’ instead.
Originally intended to promote holiday destinations served by railway companies, the posters were the work of well-known artists of the day, and mainly come from the 1920s and 1930s — said by many to be a ‘golden age’ of railway poster design.
The National Railway Museum in York has a collection of 10,700 posters and other railway artwork dating from 1804 to the present day. It is reopening on Tuesday 4th August after the lockdown.
Summer nights at the drive-in
2020 looks set to be the Indian summer of the drive-in movie, as several companies have decided to revive this nostalgic ‘50s tradition. See if there are any near you …
The Drive In at Troubadour Meridian Water, near the river Lee in north London, is screening hit films such as La La Land, Dirty Dancing and The Terminator. The repertoire will also include live comedy, music and family entertainment. Hygiene and social distancing measures are in place, with vehicles spaced two metres apart. Tickets are scanned through a closed car window and snacks and drinks will be available to order through a mobile app and delivered to the car by a team of 1950s drive-in attendants.
Meanwhile, The Luna Drive-In Cinema is offering an open air cinema experience this summer at Blenheim Palace, Lulworth Castle, Tatton Park, Harewood House, Warwick Castle and Knebworth House as well as the Allianz Park stadium and The Printworks in London. The company also offers a special sound system unique in the UK, which will allow cinema goers to listen to the film without using their car stereo system and risking running down the car battery.
At the Drive In is a drive-in movie tour which will take place across 13 cities, including London, Bristol, Manchester, Cardiff, Brighton and Glasgow, running to early October. There will be six shows in each destination, with a varied programme of evening blockbusters and family favourites in the afternoon.
Edinburgh has a new monthly drive-in event for cinema fans throughout the rest of 2020. Organised by Edinburgh International Film Festival, there will be four screenings a day starting with children’s entertainment in the morning, family favourites in the afternoon, an evening blockbuster and a late-night screening of cult classics. There will also be special Halloween and Christmas screenings.
Down in Cornwall, locals and visitors can enjoy a new cliff-top drive-in cinema experience, overlooking the sea near Newquay. With space for over 200 cars and vans, The Wavelength Drive-In Cinema Series started in mid-July and is presenting a programme of cult classic movie nights through to the end of August.
1. Blenheim Palace
2. Bournemouth and Poole
3. British Motor Museum
4. Castle Howard
5. Dover Castle
6. Florence Nightingale Museum
7. Heritage Railways of the Cotswolds
8. Hever Castle
9. Ironbridge Gorge Museums
10. Legoland, Windsor
11. Little Trains of Norfolk
12. Longleat Safari Park
13. National Botanic Garden of Wales
14. National Memorial Arboretum
15. RAF Cosford
16. Real Yorkshire Travel and Tours
17. Royal Ascot
18. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
19. Sea Life Gweek
20. Stratford-upon-Avon Butterfly Farm
21. Strawberry Field
22. Tate Britain
23. Tate Liverpool
24. Tate Modern
25. Tate St Ives
26. The Settle to Carlisle Railway
27. The World of James Herriot
28. Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience
29. Waddesdon Manor
30. Wembley Stadium
31. West Midlands Safari Park
32. Windermere Lake Cruises
33. Yorkshire Association of Blue Badge Guides
34. ZSL London Zoo
35. ZSL Whipsnade Zoo
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See the website for events and race times.
Grounds open 10am-5pm, Wed-Sun. Visitors must pre-book. See the website for other facility opening times.
The Gardens and Skelf Island Adventure Playground are open daily. The House will reopen on Fridays and Saturdays from 31st July, tickets are available for Friends of Castle Howard and will go on general sale on Monday 27th July. Visitors must pre-book.
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Currently closed for group visits.
The Palace is open daily from 10.30am - 4.30pm (last entry 4.30pm). Park & Gardens are open daily from 9.30 - 6pm (or dusk if earlier). Visitors must pre-book.
Main season (30th March - 24th October) open daily 10.30am - 6pm (last entry 4.30pm). Visitors must pre-book.
National Memorial Arboretum
Visitors must pre-book. Check the website for opening times.
Legoland Windsor Resort
Opening times vary, check the website for details.
Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience
Open daily 10am - 6pm. Book tickets online.
Florence Nightingale Museum
Open daily 10.15am - 4.30pm. Book tickets online.
Wembley Stadium Tour
Tours open at 10am. October – March, last entry is at 3pm/ April – July and September, last entry is 4pm/ August last entry is 5pm. Book tickets online.
Feature designed by Clare Dann
Clare is a designer and, for the last few years, has specialised in publishing. Aside from designing for magazines, she particularly enjoys creating animations and illustrations.
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