Delve into Britain’s incredible history, heritage and culture in interactive style with these unique one-of-a-kind experiences.
1. Best For Equestrian Fans
Catch race fever at Britain’s horsey HQ
Newmarket has a horse-racing pedigree like no other town, dating back to the reign of James I over 400 years ago, and still with royal connections today. A day at the races isn’t the only way to enjoy it. On a halfday ‘Newmarket Experience’, watch horses and their jockeys limber up for the day on the Newmarket Gallops, visit a working racing yard then, via some coffee and cake, finish up at The National Stud. Spread across 500 acres, it breeds and trains some of Britain’s finest horses. Ex champions come here for a pampered retirement too – meet celebs like Stradivarius, The Tin Man and Lord Windermere, alongside breeding mares and, if you’re lucky, some cute newborn foals.
→ Newmarket Experience tours are on Fridays, year-round and cost £65 per person (private tours also available for an extra charge); discovernewmarket.co.uk
2. Best for Chocoholics
Make your own sweet treats in the chocolate capital
Chocolate…most of us love it. Make it yourself and it tastes all the sweeter. There’s nowhere better to learn than in York, with its 300-year tradition of chocolate making. At one time, 14,000 people were employed here in huge factories, from the likes of Rowntree’s, Terry’s and Craven’s. York’s Chocolate Story can tell you more – and now it is also offering a new VIP Chocolate Masterclass to give more of a hands-on, not to mention a mouths-on experience. You will soon be tempering, moulding, filling and sealing, piping and decorating your own creations. Before you’re let loose, an expert chocolatier will first demonstrate the techniques. When you’re done, your chocolates will be beautifully packaged up for you to take home. Or you could just wolf them all yourself before you get there!
→The VIP masterclass is from 7pm to 9pm on Thursday nights and costs £79.95 per person; yorkschocolatestory.com
3. Best for Culture Vultures
See exquisite ceramics crafted at Wedgwood
World of Wedgwood, deep in the Staffordshire countryside, is home to one of Britain’s most iconic brands. It started in 1759, when Josiah Wedgwood first set up his small, independent pottery. Fast-forward to today and it is a pleasure to see his pioneering techniques still being used. Go behind the scenes on a factory tour to observe pieces being cast, glazed, decorated and gilded. Wedgwood is best known for its matte pale-blue Jasper stoneware, decorated with white motifs that depict scenes from Greek and Roman mythology. Then, check out more ceramic masterpieces – from delicate porcelain tea sets to intricately decorated vases – at the V&A Wedgwood Collection. Of course, there is optional souvenir shopping to finish, and afternoon tea served on the finest – what else? – Wedgwood china.
→ Free entry to V&A Wedgwood Collection. Factory tours are £12.50 for adults, free for under 12s. Clay-throwing sessions are from £27.50; worldofwedgwood.com
4. Best for Petrolheads
Have the drive of your life on Britain’s best racetrack
Move over Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen and the rest. There’s a new driver in town. Take the wheel at the home of the British Grand Prix – and our longest, toughest racetrack ever since it opened in 1948 – for your very own Silverstone Experience. Choose from a Formula Single Seater Experience, a Caterham Drift Experience or a Racing Car Experience – maybe you’ll go for a Ferrari or an Aston Martin Vantage. Brand new for this year (2023) is the seriously stylish McLaren racing car for the road, which has a top speed of 200 face-bending miles per hour and travels 0–60mph in 2.8 seconds. A professional instructor will train you and then it’s up to you – no speed restrictions, no points on your licence. Go for it! Treat yourself or someone special.
→ Silverstone Experience vouchers cost from £139 and include two adult tickets to the Silverstone Museum; silverstone.co.uk
5. Best for Moneymakers
Strike your own coin at The Royal Mint
Forget sticks of rock and key rings. At the UK’s oldest company, established AD886, create your own commemorative coin as an unsual souvenir. It’s less difficult than it sounds – just push a button to activate the press and your ‘blank’ will be struck three times with 105 tonnes of pressure. Designs change every few months – a current one celebrates Lord of the Rings author Tolkien. The Royal Mint originated in London but moved to its present modern site near Cardiff in the 1960s. On the Royal Mint Experience tour, take privileged steps onto the factory floor, and see displays of rare and old coins. At new exhibition ‘Crowned: The Making of a Monarch’, pose for a photo sitting in a lifesized Coronation Chair and see coins featuring every monarch from William I in 1066 to King Charles III.
→ Tours from £13.50 per adult, £10.35 per child. Coin strike costs £7.50; royalmint.com
6. Best for (Underground) Trainspotters
Explore fascinating bits of London never seen by the general public
Did you know there are huge areas of the London Underground not accessible to the public? Unless, that is, you book a London Transport Museum Hidden London tour. On the Charing Cross station tour, walk beneath Trafalgar Square to see parts of the Jubilee line closed since 1999 and used as a film and TV location for the likes of Killing Eve , Skyfall and Thor:The Dark World . The Down Street tour looks at a stationonly open from 1907 to 1932, then used as the Railway Executive Committee’s secret HQ and as a shelter for Churchill at the height of the Blitz during WWII. The newest tour is Baker Street, oldest underground station in the world, opened in 1863. See original platforms and disused lift shafts and hear how it developed from Victorian underground steam travel to today’s 10 platforms and five underground lines.
→ Tours cost from £44 (£39 concessions). Under 14s not permitted; ltmuseum.co.uk/hidden-london
7. Best for Tea Drinkers
Wander through Britain’s first tea plantation
We are famously a nation of avid tea lovers – but how about tasting a ‘proper’ British brew, from leaves grown right here? Tea bushes were first established on the 700-year-old Tregothnan estate in Cornwall in 2005. There are now 26 miles of them, thriving in a breathtakingly beautiful creekside area of the Fal River. The company’s River Garden Tour takes visitors on a fascinating wander through the plantation, stopping to pick some fresh leaf tips along the way and to learn about different varieties, and the history, of tea, plus the secrets of successful planting and harvesting. Your guide will also lead you through orchards of ancient apples and rare Kea plums. Afterwards, taste some teas and visit the shop so you can stock up on your favourite to continue the experience when you get home.
→ The River Garden Tour takes two to three hours and costs from £65; tregothnan.co.uk
8. Best for History Buffs
The true story of the Titanic
Titanic – we all know how the unsinkable ship sank, along with over 1,500 of her passengers. Find out more by going to the place where Titanic was built. Harland & Wolff’s shipyard in Belfast is home to the Titanic Experience, with interactive galleries combining immersive technology – sights, smells, sounds – with personal stories. It whisks you from shipyard to final resting place, via the build, the launch and the sinking. Most of Titanic’s treasures went down with her and remain on the seabed, but there are some on show here, including Wallace Hartley’s violin. He was the violinist and bandleader who asked fellow band members to continue playing as the ship sunk. None survived. Rather poignantly it is engraved – ‘For Wallace on the occasion of our engagement from Maria’. Oh, the stories it could tell.
→ Tickets for the Titanic Experience cost £24.95 (adult) £11 (child); titanicbelfast.com
9. Best for Fashion Fiends
Play dress-up – period-costume style
You don’t have to be a child to play at dressingup. Adventures in Costume at Grantown Museum, on the edge of the Cairngorms, is a chance for anyone to try on handmade replica costumes. Book an hour at the museum with an expert dresser who will help you negotiate everything from petticoats and panniers, corsets to crinolines. There are 23 handmade costumes (for men, women and children), loosely based on favourites from the screen and crafted in sumptuous fabrics. Popular outfits include those based on Outlander , The Young Victoria , Downton Abbey and Pride & Prejudice . Elsewhere, you can find out about the history of Grantown, whose wealth was once based on its linen production.
→ A one-hour costume experience costs £50 for two people and includes the use of a personal dresser; grantownmuseum.co.uk
10. Best for Music Lovers
Visit the neighbouring homes of two music legends
One was a baroque composer, known for his operas and oratorios, the other a 1960s rock legend. There may seem to be little connecting the two, other than the pioneering music they both created. However, they also share an address – Brook Street in Mayfair. Handel lived here 300 years ago at number 25, Hendrix in the late 1960s, next door at number 23. Handel Hendrix House is now fresh from a £3 million refurbishment. So, after checking out the bedroom where Hendrix wrote and rehearsed and hung out with friends like George Harrison, pop into Handel’s kitchen, parlour and dining room, where he sat on his piano and composed classical greats, such as ‘Messiah’ and ‘Zadok the Priest’ (performed at the coronation of King Charles III). Exhibition spaces detail the musicians’ lives and times plus there are regular talks, live music and activities – including a monthly jam with a professional guitarist in Jimi’s bedroom!
→ Tickets are £14 per adult. Under 16s free; handelhendrix.org
Text by Emma O’Reilly