What’s New in Great Britain and Ireland for 2016
The British Isles seem to have a special knack for making the most of their heritage and sharing it with the world in an engaging way. This year as ever, those behind the scenes are working to keep your sightseeing options invigorating and fresh. And foodies eager to fill up will continue to find ever more new restaurants and gastropubs, as Britain and Ireland reshape their culinary reputations with gusto.
London seems intent on building itself out of any economic recession — ask a local to point out one of the many distinct skyscrapers decorating the skyline, and you'll find that Londoners have given them clever descriptive nicknames ("the Gherkin," "the Cheese Grater," and "the Walkie-Talkie," to name a few). Most new buildings come with a viewing deck that's open to the public. The One New Change shopping center, just east of St. Paul's Cathedral, has a public park-like space on the roof terrace, with great views of the church. And the towering London Hilton on Park Lane skyscraper has an unforgettable viewpoint lounge on the 28th floor.
London's Tate Modern art museum is expanding with a new wing that will double the exhibition space when it officially opens in June (parts of it are open before then). At the Orbit, London's Eiffel-Tower-like landmark built for the 2012 Olympics, workers are constructing the world's longest, tallest tunnel slide — slated to open this spring. But visitors should expect some closures, too: The wine-tasting experience Vinopolis has poured its last glass, and at the British Library, the Magna Carta, which celebrated its 800th birthday last year, may be off display for parts of 2016.
Advance booking remains a good move for Britain's most popular sights. And you can now avoid ticket lines at Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's Cathedral by booking online; Stonehenge visitors are now required to book a timed-entry ticket before arriving.
In Brighton — a beach resort town directly south of London — the i360 Tower, set to open this summer, will lift tourists 450 feet in a doughnut-shaped elevator for a bird's-eye view of the city.
Farther to the west, in Bath, the Building of Bath Collection has been renamed the Museum of Bath Architecture. The Roman Baths have added a display of the Beau Street Hoard — more than 17,500 Roman coins that were discovered near the baths.
In the Cotswolds, Northleach's delightful Keith Harding's World of Mechanical Music — following Harding's death and subsequent scandalous revelations in the media about him — is now called the Mechanical Music Museum.
Nearby, Stratford-upon-Avon is marking the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death with some major refurbishments: The Royal Shakespeare Company's Swan Theatre has opened after a total renovation. And New Place & Nash's House, a sight showcasing what's left of one of the houses Shakespeare lived in, is set to reopen this summer.
Up in the Lake District, the Beatrix Potter Gallery in Hawkshead is hosting a special exhibit called "Realism and Romance" to mark the 150th anniversary of Potter's birth.
Restoration work continues in the ancient city of York. Its Theatre Royal recently reopened after completing a $6 million renovation. Work continues on the Great East Window in the York Minster: The massive, tennis-court-sized window filling the east end of the beloved church may finally be unveiled in 2017.
At Durham Cathedral — England's greatest Norman church — the new "Open Treasure" exhibit will display a number of treasures, including a 1216 copy of the Magna Carta and items from the Norman/medieval period (when the monks of Durham busily copied manuscripts), the Reformation, and the 17th century.
Over in Wales, Caernarfon Castle's Eagle Tower now houses the "Princes of Wales" exhibit — featuring a chessboard of Welsh and English princes as life-size chess pieces — and a skimpy exhibit on the life of Eleanor of Castile, wife of King Edward I.
Meanwhile, in Ireland: The Republic is preparing for the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Uprising — so this year expect higher lodging prices, longer lines, and more traffic snarls. Among events planned, the General Post Office in Dublin — the rebels' headquarters — will host a "GPO: Witness History" exhibition, and the National Library and Kilmainham Gaol will host temporary exhibits. (For a good prep, be sure to watch the documentary, "1916 The Irish Rebellion," which debuts on American Public Television in March.)
Also in Dublin, look for a new Museum of Tenement Life to open sometime in 2016 (possibly soon to be renamed the 14 Henrietta Street Townhouse Museum). And at the Book of Kells exhibit in the Trinity Old Library, purchasing a ticket online now allows you to skip the line at the entrance. In another sign of changing times, ferries no longer run from Dun Laoghaire (near Dublin) to the UK.
Up in Northern Ireland, a new Discovery Tour, part of the Titanic Belfast museum, explains the striking design and architecture of the new building and the adjacent slipways where the ship was built. And the Museum of Free Derry, currently closed for renovations, should reopen in May with new multimedia exhibits.
London's ever-changing skyline juxtaposes sleek skyscrapers with venerable structures. (photo: Dominic Arizona Bonuccelli)
The Discovery Tour at the Titanic Belfast museum gives insight not only into 20th-century ship's story, but also into the 21st-century building's striking architecture. (photo: Pat O'Connor)