Dig a little deeper and you’ll uncover some of Britain’s lesser known attractions ranging from eccentric fruit-shaped houses to murky underground caverns and exquisite small art galleries.
Here are top 10 attractions you didn’t know were there…
Tower of Threave Castle, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland
Standing isolated on its very own island on the River Dee is the foreboding 14th-century Threave Castle. Only accessible by rowing boat you must ring a bell to summon the boatman to take you across the water. The stronghold of the Black Douglases, it incorporates a rare artillery fortification built before 1455 when James II besieged the castle.
Westminster Cathedral, London, England
Did you know there are two magnificent cathedrals in this part of London? Westminster Abbey couldn’t get much more famous but just around the corner is the lesser known Westminster Cathedral. The extraordinary Byzantine façade of domes, towers and balconies is matched by a unique and sumptuous interior, clothed in vivid mosaics and with marbles that echo those of ancient Greece and Rome. In fact the interior is so darkly exotic it stood in for the 16th-century Spanish Court in the film Elizabeth: the Golden Age.
Sir John Soane’s Museum, London, England
The architect of the Bank of England’s London home is one of London’s most delightful small museums. As well as a visionary architect, Soane was a compulsive collector. Every inch of his handsome townhouse is crammed with art, artefacts and architectural treasures collected from around the world. Don’t miss the full cycle of Hogarth’s A Rakes Progress or the Egyptian sarcophagus in the basement. The whole building was designed to show off his collection with cleverly top lit rooms, hidden panels holding more art and mirrored walls. Go on the first Tuesday of each month to see the collection by candlelight.
78 Derngate, Charles Rennie Mackintosh House, Northampton, England
The master of British art nouveau did almost all his best work in Scotland but his last commission was to remodel this unassuming Georgian house in the English Midlands. And his only surviving domestic project outside Scotland is a gem. Despite being nearly 100 years old, the interior is boldly modern with Mackintosh’s trademark flourishes including striking geometric patterns and daring modernist designs. 78 Derngate also incorporates a gallery with regularly changing exhibitions and events.
Kettle’s Yard Gallery, Cambridge, England
If you’re ever in Cambridge and have had your fill of graceful quads, ancient colleges and grandiose libraries, walk north to Castle Street and restful Kettle’s Yard. This charming gallery has a superb collection of modern art including pieces by Ben Nicholson, Joan Miró, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. The former house of Tate Gallery curator Jim Ede is a beautifully lit space that still feels like a home – sit in the chairs, read the books and enjoy the artworks at your leisure.
Corris Mine Explorers, Machynlleth, Wales
Delve deep into Wales’ industrial past and explore the mines of Braich Goch which were closed in the 1960s. Kitted out with a miner’s cap lamp, helmet, lamp belt and safety clips you’ll discover miles of tunnel on your journey down into the darkness. See what the miners left behind from tools to cigarette packets and discover this important part of Wales’ social and economic history.
Royston Cave, Royston, Hertfordshire, England
Royston Cave in Hertfordshire is unique in Europe. Believed to date from the 14th century, it’s a man-made cavern in the shape of a beehive, with a small aperture at the top for ventilation. Its most remarkable feature is an extensive range of crude wall carvings representing the Crucifixion, the Holy Family and several saints, among them St Katherine, St Laurence and St Christopher. It lay undiscovered for centuries until a workman in the 18th century unearthed a shaft that led to the cave. Nobody really knows the cave’s origins or purpose but its eerie atmosphere and deep sense of history are well worth experiencing.
Dunmore Pineapple, Falkirk, Scotland
This stone pineapple built in 1761 as a garden summerhouse is a strong candidate for one of Scotland’s most bizarre buildings. You’ll find it in the grounds of Dunmore House, the ancestral home of the Earls of Dunmore. It’s part of walled gardens that were once used for the growing, of among other things, pineapples. Standing at around 14m high the pineapple is intricately carved and is an eccentric delight. And if you can’t get enough of this fruity fancy why not stay? The Landmark Trust rent it as accommodation.
Marble Arch Caves Geopark, Fermanagh and Cavan, Northern Ireland
Discover the rugged uplands of Fermanagh and Cavan then find out what’s underneath. The fantastic show caves deep below this Geopark with their fascinating, natural underworld of rivers, waterfalls, winding passages and lofty chambers are a must see. Take a boat along subterranean rivers to explore spectacular caverns lit to reveal their scarred walls bristling with stalagmites, stalactites and weirdly shaped deposits formed over 600 million years ago.
The Egyptian House, Penzance, Cornwall, England
You wouldn’t expect to find a slice of ancient Egypt in Cornwall but this is exactly what you’ll get if you explore the backstreets of Penzance. Sprouting with flamboyant detail this 19th-century fantasy takes the Egyptian brief and expands it to something so exuberant that historical accuracy is joyously sacrificed for something altogether more fun. You can stay in this gorgeously garish confection through the Landmark Trust.
Written and contributed by Visit Britain