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Things to Do in South East England

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Canterbury Cathedral
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28 Tours and Activities

As one of the most important pilgrimage sites of medieval Europe, Canterbury’s iconic cathedral is worthy of its UNESCO World Heritage status and remains an important center of Christian worship. Originally founded in 597 by St Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, Canterbury Cathedral is the oldest church in England still in use and largely regarded as the birthplace of English Christianity. The present day cathedral owes much of its structure to a series of 11th and 12th century reconstructions, with highlights including the 235-foot-high Bell Harry Tower and over 1,200 square meters of early medieval stained glass windows.

The cathedral also hosts the poignant shrine of St Thomas Becket, the one-time Archbishop of Canterbury who was murdered in the cathedral in 1170 at the hands of King Henry II's knights. Immortalized in Geoffrey Chaucer’s 14th-century book, The Canterbury Tales, which tells the story of a group of pilgrims traveling to visit the shrine.

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Brighton Dome
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Encompassing three different venues – the Concert Hall, Corn Exchange and Pavilion Theatre – under one roof, the Brighton Dome is Brighton’s number 1 destination for the arts. Housed in an elegant Grade I-listed building at the center of the Royal Pavilion Estate, the stylish venue is linked via underground tunnels to the Royal Pavilion and Brighton Museum, and boasts a fascinating history, once serving as a Royal stables and WWI hospital.

The award-winning venues host hundreds of shows, concerts and workshops each year, with events including music, theatre, dance, comedy, visual arts and film. The top ticket is the legendary Brighton Festival, renowned as one of England’s leading multi-arts festivals and held over three weeks each May. As well as the trio of venues, the Dome is also home to the Brighton Dome Café-bar and Studio Theatre Bar, both of which are open to the public.

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Leeds Castle
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Constantly undergoing alterations and upkeep in its 900 year history, its condition is amongst the best condition Europe’s medieval era landmarks. The castle is currently riddled with lovely accumulated décor such as tapestries, ceramics and paintings. Surrounded by Kent County's gorgeous landscape, the castle grounds contain an aviary, grotto, and golf course. Not to mention that it also makes its facilities open year-round for larger-scale events. And if that isn't enough, visit the castle's hedge maze, which uses over 2,400 yew trees. As a little incentive to complete the tricky maze, the only viable entrance to the grotto is located at its end.
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Highclere Castle
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Highclere Castle is best known as the filming location of the popular British TV drama Downton Abbey and home to the fictional Crawley family. In reality, the estate is owned by George Herbert, the eighth Earl of Carnarvon, and his wife Lady Carnarvon. The castle has been in the Carnarvon family for centuries, but it was remodeled from a simple mansion to its current grandeur between 1839 and 1842 by Sir Charles Barry, an architect known for his contributions to a Renaissance-revival movement.

Located in the rolling green hills of Hampshire, the estate covers over 5,000 acres of mostly parkland. It includes forests, lakes and decorative gardens planted with a wide array of plants ranging from climbing roses, lavender and geraniums to fruit trees and meticulously sculpted hedges. In the center of it all sits the great Victorian castle with its pinnacles and towers jutting into the air.

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Bodleian Library
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The main research library of the University of Oxford and one of the oldest of its kind in Europe, the Bodleian Library is also one of the UK’s five "copyright libraries," famously housing a copy of every book printed in Great Britain—a collection that spans more than 11 million works. Founded by Sir Thomas Bodley in 1602, the Bodleian Library, or "the Bod" as it’s known to students, is actually a complex of libraries and reading rooms located in the heart of Oxford, including the domed Radcliffe Camera, the vaulted Divinity Room, the Duke Humphrey's Library and the Old and New Bodleian Libraries.

With its towering shelves of prized books and manuscripts, exploring the Bodleian libraries is a rare treat for book lovers, with everything from early manuscripts, biblical texts and ancient maps to rare literary editions, Oriental manuscripts and a large collection of original J.R.R Tolkien works.

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Radcliffe Camera
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With its striking neoclassical dome looming over the neighboring Bodleian Library, the Radcliffe Camera (or Radcliffe Room in Latin) is one of Oxford’s most iconic sights and one of the most photographed of all the university buildings. Funded by Royal physician John Radcliffe and designed by architect James Gibbs, the "Rad Cam" was completed in 1749 and was originally used as the university’s principal science library.

Today the Radcliffe Camera is part of the Bodleian Library complex and houses two reading rooms and an underground library, where about 600,000 English and history books are available for browsing. The interior of building is closed to the public except with guided tours, but the dramatic circular façade still draws crowds of daily visitors with its three tiers of Headington and Burford stone elaborately decorated and encircled with Corinthian columns.

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More Things to Do in South East England

Christ Church College

Christ Church College

58 Tours and Activities

The largest and arguably most renowned of Oxford’s many colleges, the hallowed halls and exquisite cathedral of Christ Church College have a long and illustrious history. Founded by Cardinal Thomas Woolsey in 1524, the grandiose complex includes architectural highlights like Sir Christopher Wren’s Great Tom bell tower and the Great Hall, where King Charles I held court during the English Civil War. Despite being just one of 38 colleges, for many visitors to Oxford, Christ Church is synonymous with Oxford University. Today, the legendary buildings see almost as many tourists as they do students. Christ Church’s esteemed alumni include philosopher John Locke, Albert Einstein, architects John Ruskin and Sir Christopher Wren and former Prime Minister William Gladstone. But its academic resume isn’t the only string to its bow. The prestigious college has also made its mark in popular culture, starring as the now-iconic Great Hall of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies.

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Bridge of Sighs

Bridge of Sighs

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Hertford Bridge, more commonly known as the Bridge of Sighs, is a skyway bridge linking two parts of Hertford College over New College Land in Oxford, England. The Old Quadrangle, which houses the college's administrative offices, is to the south, and the New Quadrangle, which is mostly student accommodation, is to the north. It was completed in 1914 and is often referred to as the Bridge of Sighs because it supposedly looks like the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, Italy. However, many say it more closely resembles Venice's Rialto Bridge. It is one of the area's top tourist sights due to its unique look and design.

There was a famous legend about the bridge from decades ago that said a survey was taken of the health of the students of the University of Oxford. The results of the survey indicated that Hertford College students were the heaviest, resulting in the college closing the bridge in order to force the students to take the stairs and get more exercise.

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Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Palace

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Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, is one of the largest country houses in England and known as the birthplace of Winston Churchill. The Palace has been in the Churchill family since it was constructed as a gift from the English nation to John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough, in 1704 for a significant military triumph against the French at the Battle of Blenheim.

The house was completed in the short-lived English-Baroque style, and its reception rooms, devoid of any unnecessary comfort, reflect the palace’s present role as a national monument rather than a family home. The imposing main hall leads to a frescoed saloon, which looks out over the Column of Victory in the adjacent castle park, with the surrounding trees symbolizing Marlborough’s soldiers. The saloon is highly decorated, complete with a bust of the vanquished Louis XIV at its back.

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Port of Dover

Port of Dover

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Dover is famous for its white cliffs and when approaching England by ship they are a lovely, iconic greeting to the United Kingdom. While a busy ferry port connecting England with France, Dover is a relatively quiet cruise ship port, used for embarkation and disembarkation.

Once a chic seaside resort, Dover has never really recovered from being bombed during World War II and these days most people choose to stay further along the lovely south-east coast in the pretty Georgian town of Brighton or in medieval Rye or in Canterbury with its famous cathedral, or to head up to London which is a couple of hours travel north.

Within Dover the main attraction is the castle built by Henry II in the 12th century, one of the oldest in England. In 1539, Henry VIII built nearby moated Walmer Castle, also worth a visit.

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Sheldonian Theatre

Sheldonian Theatre

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Built by master architect Sir Christopher Wren, whose later works included the iconic St Paul’s Cathedral in London, the Sheldonian Theatre stands out among Oxford’s many landmarks with its grand semi-circular design reminiscent of a classical Roman theater. The Grade I-listed building has been one of Oxford’s principal venues since it opened its doors in 1668, and it even hosted the first performance of Handel’s third oratorio Athalia. Today, the theater is primarily used as the ceremonial hall of the University of Oxford.

If you’re not lucky enough to attend a lecture, concert or graduation ceremony in the Sheldonian’s 950-seat auditorium, you can still admire the opulent interiors and magnificent hand-painted ceiling when the theater is not in use. Also open to visitors is the rooftop cupola, renowned for its impressive panoramic views of the city.

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British Airways i360

British Airways i360

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All Souls College

All Souls College

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One of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford is All Souls College, though the official name is the Warden and the College of the Souls of All Faithful People Deceased in the University of Oxford. It is primarily a graduate research institution with no undergraduate students. The college's library collection is housed in the Codrington Library building, an impressive building that was completed in 1751 and has been in used ever since. Today the library contains about 185,000 items, of which about one third were published before 1800. A four story gate tower and two story ranges on either side of the entrance on High Street are mostly the same as they were originally built in the 1440s. Battlements were added in the 16th century, and the windows are from the Victorian period. Once you pass through the gate house, you will see a medieval building where the Warden once lived and now provides individual rooms for Fellows.

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Trinity College

Trinity College

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Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

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As the oldest base in the British Royal Navy (established in 1495) and once the largest industrial site in the world, the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is part of Her Majesty’s Naval Base and acts as headquarters to two-thirds of the Royal Navy's surface fleet. It therefore played a significant in not only Britain’s military history (having taken part in the war against the Spanish Armada, the Battle of Trafalgar during the Napoleonic Wars and both World Wars) but also overall history; this is precisely why a large part of it became the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard and was transformed into museums.

There are eight different attractions open to the public: Mary Rose Museum (a Tudor carrack and Henry VIII’s flagship), HMS Victory (from which Admiral Nelson commanded the victory at Trafalgar), HMS Warrior, HMS Alliance, National Museum Royal Navy, Explosion! Museum, Royal Marines Museum, Action Stations as well as harbor tours.

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Bicester Village

Bicester Village

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Bicester Village is a luxury outlet shopping center just outside of London – the perfect destination for anyone looking to shop until they drop! Located midway between London and Birmingham, Bicester Village is hope to more than 30 luxury retailers, as well as cafes and restaurants such as Farmshop and the Villandry Grand Café. Shoppers can enjoy discounts up to 60% off retail price on brands such as MaxMara, Hugo Boss, DKNY and more. While shops do not accept foreign currency, a currency exchange is available that changes more than 40 currencies. The mall also features a children’s play area, free wi-fi, valet parking, worldwide courier service and a hands free shopping service.

Just a 15-minute walk from Bicester Village is the town of Bicester, where visitors can check out St. Edburg’s Church, the Market Square and the pedestrianized Sheep Street.

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Port of Southampton

Port of Southampton

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Not surprisingly, Southampton is on the south coast of England, 75 miles or 120 km south-west of London, close to the Isle of Wight and the New Forest National Park. It used to be famous as the gateway to the British Empire and America across the North Atlantic. These days it is the largest of three cruise ports servicing London with four terminals strung along a busy dock. These are Mayflower, City, Queen Elizabeth II and Ocean. There is also a ferry terminal to the Isle of Wight. Southampton is one of the largest commercial ports in Europe and is closely associated with the Cunard line, their passenger ships being the only ones to have Southampton on their sterns as their home port. Some of the largest cruise liners in the world – operated by Cunard, P&O and Royal Caribbean – come into Southampton. Apart from shipping, Southampton is known for having the longest stretch of medieval wall still existing in the UK.
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Dover Castle

Dover Castle

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An imposing fortress looming above the famous White Cliffs of Dover, Dover Castle is not only one of England’s largest and oldest medieval castles, but one of its most strategically important, standing guard over the narrowest point of the English Channel and the first line of defense against mainland Europe.

Although built by William the Conqueror in 1066, Dover Castle actually has a much longer legacy, preceded by an Anglo-Saxon fort and a Roman lighthouse, and seeing battle several times throughout its reign. Visitors can climb the 12th-century Great Tower, walk the battlements, view the ruins of the ancient Roman lighthouse, and even explore the warren of secret wartime tunnels that burrow beneath the castle. There’s also the Princess of Wales' Royal Regiment Museum and a series of exhibitions, where you’ll discover life in the royal court of King Henry II, learn about how the castle was used as a hospital during WWII and relive the horrors of the Siege of 1216.

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Jane Austen Centre

Jane Austen Centre

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Oxford Castle & Prison

Oxford Castle & Prison

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With its lone tower and man-made grassy mound, the once mighty Oxford Castle is now a shadow of its former self. But the striking landmark still offers a fascinating insight into the city’s grim and gory history. Originally built by William the Conqueror in 1071, the Norman Castle was later converted into a prison and execution tower, linked to the county court by an underground passageway and remaining in use until as late as 1996 (although the last public execution was held in 1863).

Today, the castle ruins stand at the heart of the Oxford Castle Quarter, an atmospheric hub of cafes, bars and restaurants, and is open to the public through via Oxford Castle Unlocked tours, typically led by a guide in period costume. As well as climbing the 101 steps to the top of the Saxon St. George’s Tower and taking in the views from the mound, visitors can brave a peek into the allegedly haunted crypt and explore the preserved prison wings.

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