Whether you fly into London or one of the booming regional cities, there’s plenty to keep you entertained and refuelled, with a raft of new openings and attractions complementing all the timeless draws and sights.
After a pandemic-induced lull, England’s capital city is buzzing again, its pavements (and pubs) thronging once more with office workers, shoppers and camera-pointing tourists.
Excitement is brewing for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, with events taking place throughout 2022 to celebrate Her Majesty’s 70th year on the throne, culminating in street parties and pomp-and-ceremony-filled parades between June 2-5.
When Buckingham Palace, the monarch’s main London residence, opens its doors to visitors (from July to October), you can browse an exhibition including portraits of the Queen at her 1952 accession, and mosey through the palace’s lavishly furnished apartments and manicured gardens.
You’ll see more vivid floral displays down by the River Thames at the Tower of London (home of the Crown Jewels). The moat of this one-time royal fortress will stage Superbloom, a spectacular field of flowers that has been planted to mark the Platinum Jubilee and will become a permanent new biodiverse wildlife habitat.
If you prefer pop-music royalty, tube it to Stratford and east London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, where a purpose-built arena is staging “virtual” ABBA concerts seven times a week from May. Hologram-avatars (dubbed “ABBAtars”) of Benny, Bjorn, Anni-Frid and Agnetha will perform crowd-cheering hits – such as Dancing Queen – beside a 10-piece live band.
Handily placed near the venue are two new standouts of London’s ever-evolving hospitality scene, The Stratford, a Scandi-inspired design hotel in the neighbourhood’s highest skyscraper, and The Gantry, a stylish new Hilton hotel, with an 18th-floor sky bar and restaurant granting stunning London panoramas.
If you’d like a more central stay, and have the budget to match, book into The Londoner. Touting itself as “the world’s first super boutique hotel”, this five-star affair sits at the edge of Leicester Square in the heart of London’s theatre and entertainment district. As well as 350 swanky rooms and suites (priced from £485/$862), it has a subterranean spa and tantalising wining and dining haunts, including French and Japanese eateries and a slick modern take on a traditional London tavern.
Explore more: visitlondon.com
Britain’s second largest city – and the wider West Midlands region – is gearing up for its spell in the spotlight when it hosts the Commonwealth Games (July 28 to August 8). But Brummies will be in a festive mood long before that, thanks to the Birmingham 2022 Festival, a six-month extravaganza that will see everything from concerts and visual art to street dancing and culinary gatherings showcasing the area’s multicultural heritage, zest and creativity (March 17 to September 30).
Birmingham’s most alluring base is The Grand, a city-centre hotel that dates from 1879 and is flaunting a glamorous refurbishment (bedding down here recently was Tom Cruise, in town filming Mission: Impossible 7).
Dining-wise, you’re spoilt for choice in Brum, from “dirty” burgers and pub-grub to balti curries and Michelin-starred tasting menus.
Located near one of the many canals that weave through this former industrial metropolis is Opheem, which offers a contemporary, Michelin-starred twist on the flavour-jammed South Asian dishes that Birmingham is renowned for. Other Michelin-feted alternatives are British fine dining-specialists Adam’s and Purnell’s.
For street art and bohemian fashions, walk the new graffiti trail from Moor Street station to Digbeth, a gritty, hip neighbourhood south-east of the city centre.
Use Birmingham as a springboard to visit other Midlands attractions, including the haunting ruins of Kenilworth Castle, and Stratford-upon-Avon – birthplace of one William Shakespeare.
Explore more: visitbirmingham.com
About 90 minutes by rail from both Birmingham and London, Bristol has earned a reputation as one of Britain’s most vibrant cities. You may have seen it on the news during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, when a statue of Bristolian slave trader Edward Colston was torn down and tossed into the city’s Floating Harbour.
Enjoy a guided paddleboarding tour on these very waters, admiring the colourful clifftop houses that overlook the waterfront and passing harbourside visitor attractions like SS Great Britain – a Victorian steamship that was designed by the great Isambard Kingdom Brunel and transported thousands of emigrants to Australia.
If you’re here on August 20-21, you can explore Bristol’s colourful history as part of Storytrails, an initiative that will bring to life hidden stories from 15 UK cities and towns using augmented and virtual reality. Here in Bristol for much longer (April-October) is Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience, which uses state-of-the-art technology to project famous works by the Dutch master.
Check into the eclectic new Artist Residence, set in a Georgian townhouse and former boot factory with 23 vintage-chic rooms, a garden, cafe, restaurant and bar serving West Country microbrews and ciders. For a side trip, take the train – or pedal a 20km-long rural cycle path – to the spa city of Bath, whose splendid honey-hued architecture was the backdrop for scenes in Bridgerton, the glossy, Regency-era Netflix hit that returns for its second season on March 25.
Explore more: visitbristol.co.uk
Manchester’s appeal stretches far beyond its two famous soccer clubs. The city’s post-industrial regeneration continues apace, with gleaming towers springing up everywhere and mighty mills, warehouses and banks morphing into groovy places to eat, drink, sleep and play.
Among the most enticing new addresses are The Stock Exchange, run by ex-Manchester United star Gary Neville with a restaurant by celebrity British chef Tom Kerridge, and The Alan, a cool hotel with exposed brick, co-working spaces and seasonal small plates near the Central Library of this UNESCO City of Literature.
If the weather’s decent, consider a canal-side bike ride out to RHS Garden Bridgewater, a leafy new gem on the city’s outskirts. Spanning 62 hectares, it boasts artfully-manicured walled gardens, atmospheric woodlands and soothing water features on the old estate of Worsley New Hall (a long-demolished mansion that twice hosted Queen Victoria).
Explore more: visitmanchester.co.uk
Glasgow and Edinburgh
Nestled in Pollok Country Park, Glasgow’s largest green space, The Burrell Collection reopens on March 29 after a multi-million dollar revamp, providing sleek new galleries for one of the largest personal collections of art ever amassed. Priceless Chinese pottery, paintings by Manet and Cezanne, and medieval arms and tapestries are among the treasures that were bequeathed to the city by Glaswegian shipping merchant William Burrell.
A funky city-centre bolthole is the Voco Grand Central Hotel, housed in a striking Victorian building adjoining Glasgow’s main railway station (you might fancy a bubbles-fuelled afternoon tea at the hotel’s Champagne Central Bar).
Over in Edinburgh, meanwhile, they’re gearing up for the return of the city’s legendary summer gatherings, headlined by August’s Edinburgh International Festival, Festival Fringe and Military Tattoo, which will be back with a bang on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle for the first time since 2019.
In the next few months, Gleneagles Townhouse will open on St Andrew Square in Edinburgh’s New Town. An offshoot of the legendary Scottish estate and golfing resort, it promises to bring countryside flair to the city, with 33 elegant guestrooms, an all-day restaurant and a roof terrace affording vistas over Scotland’s beautiful capital.
Explore more: visitscotland.com