From the heights of Big Ben to the jewels of the Tower of London, we’re famous for our icons, and we treasure them all – but did you know there’s another side of Britain just waiting to be discovered? One of unconventional ideas, new perspectives and irrepressible energy – where even the best-loved sights and experiences are given new, innovative twists.
In a year where Britain celebrates royalty for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, champions creativity with Unboxed, and welcomes top athletes for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, these events can be accompanied by an array of enticing experiences. From hidden supper clubs and sky-high music venues, to fresh festivals of comedy, food and art – here’s where to discover Britain’s extraordinary spirit, and see our dynamic cities in a new light.
1. Cruise London’s sights in a hot tub
No trip to London is complete without a Thames River cruise, but why book a boat when you can sail in a floating hot tub? Whatever the weather, the water inside Skuna’s unique vessels is heated to a balmy 38ºC (100ºF): so grab your friends and your snazziest swimwear for a bonkers (yet brilliant) private voyage through Canary Wharf. Skuna’s BBQ boats are hot property in summer too, featuring sizzling grills and plush sunloungers. Travelling in style just went to a whole new level.
2. Hop on board a secret supper club
The Underground is a true London icon, a beloved part of our capital – but did you know it’s also home to a foodie supperclub? Serving a Latin American-inspired menu, chefs Bea and Nick have transformed a 1967 Tube carriage into a vibrant dining destination, complete with original seats, vintage posters and fine silverware. It’s stationed at Walthamstow Pumphouse Museum – and with space for just 35 guests, booking your seat at this table is recommended.
3. Sample tea with Captain Hook
Take snacking to new heights, as Aqua Shard’s Peter Pan Afternoon Tea gives a new perspective on London’s skyline – complete with a playful menu of Neverland-inspired sweet treats and savouries. And while you might not quite learn to fly like J.M Barrie’s renowned creation, you can soar to the 31st floor of the Shard to tuck into jelly crocodiles, Tinker Bell cookies and Fairy Dust cocktails: a potent potion of mint, apple and absinthe, with a sprinkling of gold dust too.
4. Party like it’s the 1940s
Things are always more fun when they’re forbidden – that’s the spirit of Cahoots, Soho’s speakeasy-style bar, whose ‘bootleg’ cocktails and swinging live music capture the illicit black marketeering of post-war London. It’s tucked away in an old train station (once a bomb shelter during the Blitz), and every detail is pure 1940s: from the sneaky hip flasks and tin mugs that drinks are served in, to its rationed snacks and sultry jazz. Just what’s needed to dance the night away.
5. Summit the Spurs’ stadium
Whether you’re a football fan or not, the Dare Skywalk at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium delivers enough thrilling moments to rival any antics on pitch – whisking participants up to its glass-bottomed bridge, almost 50 metres above the stands. With the wind in your hair and North London at your feet, you’ll walk around the famous Golden Cockerel statue and gaze out over the stadium and beyond, enjoying views as far as St Paul’s Cathedral. And are you brave enough to step over The Edge? Tackle it face-first or abseil-style: either way, this freefall descent is an adrenaline-fuelled finale.
6. Cycle through a tale of London’s gin past
Prefer your sightseeing with ice and a slice? Tally Ho’s London Gin Safari is an immersive cycle tour through Southwark, escorted by a ‘Victorian gin parlour’ on wheels which serves a tipple at every stop – all enjoyed in moderation, of course. Gin has a reputation for being London’s favourite drink, and its history is intertwined with the capital’s own, as your witty guide will reveal as you pedal past the area’s markets, street art and Dickensian architecture.
7. Have a ball in London
Dive deep into a pit of a million balls at London’s playground, Ballie Ballerson – made exclusively for big kids. Bright lights and a dance floor set the backdrop for a night of totally ball-some fun, but it’s the Full Moon party that provides the real glow – with live performers, UV paint and even a limbo competition. Or party it up at this Shoreditch bar with a fizz and pizza Bottomless Brunch, accompanied by hit tunes to keep you dancing.
8. Eat your way around Manchester
Scrumptious food, with a side-order of tasty history: that’s the ethos behind Manchester’s Scranchester tours. From the finest gelato in ‘Little Italy’, to flavours of Latin America, Asia and Britain, each four-hour trip includes eight different dishes in little-known eateries, explored on foot with an expert guide. You’ll hear how Manchester’s heritage has shaped its cuisine, and visit some of its secret spots – a fast-track to the heart of this diverse, dynamic city.
9. Stay in exclusive VIP style
Festooned with silk flowers, super-luxe furnishings and state-of-the-art gadgetry, Manchester’s Vatten Hus will definitely steal the spotlight of your Instagram photoshoot. But this ritzy residence isn’t a hotel: it’s a luxury wide-beam canal boat which sleeps six, moored in Castlefield Locks, just a few minutes’ walk from some of the top nightlife and restaurants. It’s a swanky base for an action-packed city break.
10. Catch a comedy legend
Edinburgh Fringe Festival celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, but it’s still as fresh and innovative as ever. From debut theatre and dance shows, to new comedy, music and spoken word, the line-up features talented newcomers and famous faces alike, hailing from all over the globe. The festivities will run for three weeks from 5-29 August, taking over the city’s bars, theatres and streets: a big birthday bash for a beloved icon.
11. Create your very own gin
Gin lovers, assemble! Not only does Cardiff Distillery host tours and tastings of its small-batch nectar, but its Gin School puts you in charge of the distilling process – with the chance to create your own bespoke blend. You’ll learn all about the botanicals and how to combine them, before distilling your selection, and finally bottling and labelling the result. They’ll even record your recipe, so you can re-order it time and again.
12. Get a new view from Brighton’s top spot
The incredible views atop Brighton’s British Airways i360 are no secret, stretching from the Isle of Wight to the Seven Sisters chalk cliffs and out over the South Downs. But what many don’t realise, is that its 138 metre-high observation pod also hosts live music, events and workshops galore. Whether yoga classes and exclusive dining experiences, or performances by top local singers, bands and DJs, there’s always a fresh perspective on this South Coast icon – so keep your eye on its busy events calendar.
13. Join a ‘secret session’ in Liverpool
Is it a roof garden? A swish cocktail bar? A cosy teahouse serving everything from cakes to roast dinner? Oh Me Oh My is all of those things, and much more – a self-described ‘secret space’ overlooking the city’s iconic Liver Building. Luckily for us, the secret is out: you’ll find it on the top floor of Africa House, an atmospheric friendly spectacular setting for live music, sunset drinks and intimate suppers.
14. Mix up magical concoctions
Open the doors to a magical world of mixology and spellbinding concoctions at The Alchemist. Witness cocktails come alive with flaming fires, smoking potion pots and bubbling beverages crafted by in-house sorcerers. Or conjure up your own sorcery with a cocktail masterclass, shaking up several of The Alchemist’s favourite mixes. Whether you like your drinks shaken or stirred, grab your spell book and uncover wizardry across the breadth of Britain in Liverpool, London Cardiff, Edinburgh and more!
15. Leave your mark on Bristol
While it’s famous for Banksy’s stylings, Bristol’s graffiti scene runs far deeper than just one (very talented) guy – as Graft’s hands-on workshops reveal. Learn about street art’s evolution from rebellious subculture to global phenomenon, while spray-painting, stencilling and designing your own unique ‘tag’. No prior experience is necessary: led by professional artists, this primer on all-things graffiti includes a stencil canvas and name board to take home. Bristol’s festival of street art, Upfest, returns in May 2022, complete with live painting, music and workshops too.
16. Make a splash in Bristol
Put your balancing skills to the test with SUP Bristol. Float by the world’s first great ocean liner, Brunel’s SS Great Britain, and paddle past the city’s sights on a Harbourside Adventure. If you’re planning a visit to Bristol’s International Balloon Fiesta, find your zen at the city’s marina with a SUP yoga morning session. Start the day differently by practising your moves atop a paddleboard, taking in the fresh air before the hot air balloon extravaganza gets underway.