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Insiders Guide to Festivals in the United Kingdom

If you’re heading to the U.K., check out the lineup of festivals around the British Isles. The country offers numerous festivals for every interest and age. Check out a few of these festivals that often fly beneath the tourist radar.

Soul Circus

The Cotswolds, U.K.

This yoga and wellness festival int he U.K. will leave you feeling healthier and more relaxed than when you arrived. Experienced yoga and wellness instructors offer 20 classes a day in three different “experience tents.” The atmosphere is somewhere in between a DJ yoga rave and a mindful meditation. Spa tents revive both body and spirit. Music plays all day and far into the night by buskers and bands and a DJ late night party in the woods.
Organic food and drinks from home-grown sustainable sources put the “w” in wellness, and guests can attend workshops on healthy cooking. Inspirational talks from life coaches are on the agenda as well as soaking in hot tubs. Many people put up tents or tipis for total immersion. After such a rejuvenating weekend, even traffic can feel tranquil.

Robin Hood Festival

Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire

Taking places during the first week of August, this annual festival has grown into a pop-up 13th Century village with a square half-mile of woods full of stalls and attractions. Armor-clad knights hold frequent energetic jousts. Vicious fights erupt between Robin Hood and the Sheriff’s men. Children join impromptu, theatrical re-enactments of the Robin Hood story dressed as the mythical hero or Maid Marian in garlands of flowers. Archery lessons, pony rides, and discovery trails are the most popular attractions.
Jugglers, buffoons, and minstrels mingle with the crowds. There are exhibitions of falconry and alchemy. Magicians, storytellers, puppeteers, and musicians weave the wonder of a bygone time in and around the shade of The Major Oak, an 800-year-old tree. This festival celebrates Merrie Olde England without the Medieval scourges of plague and serfdom for a lighthearted immersion into a fanciful storied time.

Hampton Court Palace Festival

London, U.K. 

Big name acts perform at the annual summer music festival on the grounds of Henry VIII’s magnificent Tudor palace and world famous, extensive gardens. The intimate, open-air auditorium seats 3,000. Pre-concert festival picnics are elegant four-course seasonal meals including a cheese course and wine that attendees can enjoy at their leisure on the palace grounds.
You can reserve a gazebo and enjoy the luxury of a lake view and dedicated waitstaff. The exclusive and unforgettable VIP package includes dining in royal splendor inside the castle. Private dining apartments can be arranged. The VIP experience ends with champagne at a post-concert castle gathering that allows an inside look at King Henry’s public and private spaces.

Latitude

Henham Park– Southwold, Suffix

Four days of music, art, theater, and unexpected experiences define this family-friendly festival. Each year in mid-July, people ditch the city to rent tents (some luxury) or pods and enjoy a multi-day get-away in the woods. Special areas and activities are set aside for kids and teens. Sheep are dyed funky colors, and surprising sights abound.
SOLAS is the hearth of Latitude for relaxation, yoga, and eclectic art immersed in a pine forest and serenaded by emerging U.K. and Irish talent from troubadours, ambient electro, folk music, and dark pop. Ambient soundscapes accompany slow-motion visuals. Spa treatments and workshops are set up to enhance wellness and wisdom.
This U.K. festival offers a large variety of entertainment in music arenas, film, theater, and dance arenas, a comedy arena, and more venues scattered around the park. Established talent join emerging performers for an eclectic variety of acts.
You can enjoy a game of croquet or sip Prosecco in a forest bar, swim in the lake and listen to live music all day. Late night dancing in the woods is an ethereal experience. You never know what’s around the corner in The Faraway Forest, but expect theatre performances, interactive art, and a visually stunning walk through a world of woodland imagination.
More than 80 of the U.K.’s finest street food vendors bring a world of tastes to the festival including modern Greek cuisine, wood-fired pizza, Himalayan soul food, Indonesian charcoal barbecue, and Portuguese prego along with the more traditional burgers and wings.
This festival offers maximum fun with minimal festival distress. You won’t get lost, wonder what to do with the kids, or have to leave any night but the last.

Twelfth Night

Bankside–London, Epiphany

This raucous Twelfth Night Celebration aspires to be biblical but has many pagan, pre-Christian elements. At London’s Bankside near the Globe Theater, the Holly Man, covered in fresh holly, glides along the Thames in a small decorated boat before joining crowds for toasts with mulled wine. Festivities incorporate a re-enactment of the story of St. George and the Dragon. Some revelers are costumed. Two audience members who find a bean in their Twelfth Night cake are crowned King Bean and Queen Pea. Revelers march on to the George Inn on Borough High Street for more dancing, mulled wine, the Kissing Wishing Tree, and storytelling. This coaching inn is one of London’s oldest pubs and can hold a large crowd. The George is famous for being the only galleried coaching inn still standing in London.

The Padstow ‘Obby ‘Oss

Padstow, Cornwall

Reputed to be the oldest dance festival in the U.K., the Padstow ‘Obby ‘Oss (Hobby Horse) sees thousands of people converge upon this small Cornish town, many with hobby horses of all types. The festival, celebrated each May Day, celebrates Celtic horse-worship, a pagan fertility parade. The festival was even used as a warning to would-be invaders of the portside fishing village.
Townsfolk decorate the village in greenery and erect a Maypole. Dance troupes parade down the streets, each led by an ‘Oss, a dancer costumed as a horse. “Oss’s” capture young women and conceal them in black capes, thought to be a pagan fertility rite. Another ‘Oss represents peace, and they duke it out. Traditional music is heard all day. Costumed troupes cavort around town before retiring to their stables — two local pubs — to be joined by townsfolk and visitors for a festive night. Revelers return to the town center to dance around the maypole at midnight.
The U.K. offers a multitude of music festivals all summer, but other seasons are festive as well. Be sure to check out the festivals happening during Christmas and Easter!

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Top 8 Summer Music Festivals in the World

A music festival is a timeless way to see new places, spend time with your favorite people, and hear some great live music. A good festival, of course, is more than the sum of its parts. It’s a chaotic meshing of sounds, socializing, food, unique fashion statements, creative art forms, and merchandise. Ever since Woodstock, music festivals have become a rite of passage for young people and, increasingly, people of all ages. Best of all, there are amazing festivals in all corners of the globe. Let’s look at some of the top summer music festivals in the world.

1. Lollapalooza

Grant Park, Chicago, USA

Right in the heart of downtown, Chicago, Lollapalooza is an amazing festival that’s been running since 1991. It features eight stages and more than 170 bands, covering a wide range of styles. A festival in an urban setting can either be a perk or a drawback, depending on your point of view. On the one hand, you don’t have to drive into the wilderness and set up your campsite. You have all the city amenities within walking distance. Chicago is famous for its great food (especially pizza), bars, museums, and impressive skyline. On the other hand, escaping civilization is one of the features that draws you to festivals, you have plenty of other choices.
In addition to music, Lollapalooza has a mini-festival for kids, an art market, and plenty of merch. You can buy 4-day tickets for the entire festival or single-day tickets. There are also hotel packages. Children under 10 with an adult are admitted free (up to two kids per adult).

2. FYF Fest

Los Angeles, CA, USA

This annual 3-day festival is held at Exposition Park in Los Angeles. FYF Fest has been popular on the West Coast since 2004 and is known for its edgy atmosphere and diverse selection of music, including pop, rock, rap, electronic, hip-hop, and indie. It’s a good festival choice for those with eclectic tastes.

3. Tomorrowland

Boom, Belgium

Tomorrowland is a two-weekend festival that combines electronic music and the arts with a vision for a more peaceful and environmentally sustainable future. This festival began in 2005 and attracts an enthusiastic audience from all over the world. In some ways reminiscent of Burning Man in the U.S., Tomorrowland is full of futuristic visions, art installations, and its own “city,” DreamVille.
There are several options for accommodations, from As with most festivals, there are many tiers for ticket prices, depending on when you buy tickets, what you want to experience, and how long you stay. There are quite a few creative options, at various prices for lodging, including simple tents, tiny home-like structures to luxury “mansions.”

4. Hideout

Zrce Beach, Croatia

Hideout is a good choice if you want to get an early start to celebrating the summer. Set in a remote and pristine location on the Adriatic Sea with a view of mountains, this festival is famous for its boat rides, beach parties, and a wide selection of electronic music. As the name suggests, Hideout is a place where you can escape the everyday rut and experience an idyllic world for a few days.
This is also a great festival for adventurous travelers who enjoy water sports such as jet skiing, boating, and quad biking. Festival goers have a chance to island hop and explore beautiful Plitvice Lakes National Park.

5. Electric Zoo

 New York City, USA

Electric Zoo is an end-of-summer Labor Day festival held at Randall’s Island Park, a 480-acre urban park on the border of Brooklyn, Queens, and The Bronx. Established in 2009, Electric Zoo has been held all over the world. The original location, however, is New York. The 2018 theme is The 6th Boro, which reveals the ambitious attempt to make the festival a permanent part of the New York City (which has five official boroughs or counties) cultural scene.
Their past lineup included DJ Snake, Above & Beyond, Galantis, and Sasha & John Digweed. Check the website for early bird tickets.

6. Wireless Festival

London, UK

If you want to visit London this summer, you may want to schedule your trip to coincide with this festival, held at Finsbury Park. Now in its 13th year, Wireless has become one of the most popular music festivals in the UK. Since Wireless is an urban festival, you have to find your own accommodations. London, however, is an easy city to navigate. If you don’t want to spring for a costly hotel, there are plenty of hostels and reasonable Airbnb options.

7. Arise

 Loveland, Colorado, USA

The Arise Music Festival, approaching its 6th year, is a diverse event held at Sunset Ranch, a 350-acre organic farm in a scenic valley. In addition to music, Arise gives participants the chance to explore a variety of classes, workshops, and art installations. Many attendees are active in political and environmental causes. One of the requirements is that you “leave no trace” –i.e. clean up and leave the grounds as you found them.
Tickets for the 3-day festival include camping. Car camping is another option. There are also camping upgrades available if you want additional amenities.

8. Montreux Jazz Festival

Montreux, Switzerland

The Montreux Jazz Festival, founded in 1967, is one of the most glamorous and popular jazz festivals in the world. The program typically includes rock, soul, and blues musicians as well as jazz greats. On the scenic shores of Lake Geneva, the setting is perfect for relaxation and boat rides as well as great music, parties, and socializing.
Montreux has a variety of venues to enjoy music and special events, such as the Auditorium Stravinski, known for its outstanding acoustics and the Montreux Jazz Club, where you can enjoy intimate performances by contemporary artists. Visit the website to find out program details. Past participants have included B.B. King, David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Radiohead, and scores of other household names as well as new performers.
You can buy an all-music pass or attend one of the festival’s many free events such as jam sessions, concerts, and film screenings.

Music Festivals Make the Summer More Fun

A music festival can be the highlight of summer vacation. If it’s close to home, it can make for an awesome road trip. The above are some of the most exciting summer festivals in the world. Some festivals don’t announce their lineups until fairly late in the season. However, keep in mind that tickets often sell out fast. So, if you want to attend one of these festivals, it’s best to buy your tickets early!
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Why Castle Lovers Must Visit North Wales

Do you love castles? If so, you should consider North Wales as a destination. Why is that? Because of the Iron Ring, perhaps the most ambitious castle building project in history. Built to subdue the Welsh, the second phase of the Iron Ring was built right before cannons were invented essentially rendering Medieval castles obsolete.
As such, the four castles of the second batch, all built by the same architect (James of St. George d’Esperanche) represent the castle builder’s art at its best, culminating in the sadly unfinished Beaumaris.
On top of that, the four castles–and a bunch of lesser forts –are close enough together that you can devote a week to castle-spotting. Also part of the project was the town walls of Caernarfon and Conwy. Here are the four castles of the Iron Ring that you cannot miss!

Conwy

Conwy (or Conway) is both the castle and the medieval town built next to it. Conwy was a planned, colonial settlement, designed to bring English people and culture into the heart of wild North Wales. Conwy was the most expensive of the four late phase castles and sits on a narrow rocky outcrop. The castle is in excellent condition, with most of the stonework intact, though, the wooden parts have long since gone. The limitations of the outcrop cause the castle to be long and thin, and it lacks concentric walls. The rock made for enough extra defense. The castle’s purpose was to protect a natural harbor, hence it’s location at the shore, tucked into a valley.
While in Conwy you can walk the town walls, contemporary with the castle. Check out the suspension bridge by the castle, of much more recent vintage but built with crenelated towers so it would blend in. Hikers can climb up to the older Deganwy Castle, which Edward I allegedly took one look at and decided not to use. Although Deganwy is in ruins, it gives visitors a great view of the area.
The nearby Victorian-era resort of Llandudno is also worth a visit—and makes a great base of operations, with boutique hotels and quirky bed and breakfasts as well as classic hotels.
Pro tip: Avoid driving into Conwy itself. There is very little parking, and the roads are extremely narrow.

Caernarfon

Caernarfon castle with its grandiose exterior seems to have been built to impress and intimidate the locals. The harbor side of the castle has two lines of colored stone which serve no purpose other than decoration. The towers? Polygonal, rather than round. Many consider Caernarfon to be the most spectacular of the castles.
Unlike at Conwy, Edward I did not move the site of the castle —there had been a fortress on the site since Roman times.
Caernarfon is also the castle where Edward famously gave the Welsh a “prince who spoke no English” –his infant son. This is the origin of the title of Prince of Wales and Caernarfon is still, technically, the “seat” of the prince. The castle is occasionally used for ceremonial purposes, including the Queen’s Balcony (where Prince William was presented, although the tradition was not followed for his oldest son), and is still used for the investiture of a new Prince of Wales.

While in Caernarfon:

Caernarfon is close to Snowdonia, where it is possible to go hiking and horseback riding and “pony trekking” which is a grand tradition in this part of the world. Steam trains occasionally run along the main line through North Wales, and the station is a great place to observe. You can also take a boat tour. Or, if you are not done with fortresses, go to Segontium Roman Fort to check out the ruins there.

Beaumaris

Even in its unfinished state Beaumaris, the last of the Iron Ring to be built is quite something to see. Built on a completely flat site, the architect was able to demonstrate just how you build a castle when there’s nothing in the way (or to help you). In fact, Beaumaris is pretty much in the dictionary next to “Late Medieval castle.” It’s considered technically perfect.
It was never finished because Edward I ran out of money…and by the time there was more money available, the age of the great Medieval castles was over. The walls should have been quite a bit taller, giving the castle a bit of a squat look. But it’s still spectacular in its own way.

While near Beaumaris:

The Isle of Anglesey is quite different, geographically, from North Wales. It is flatter and is known for its beautiful beaches – if you want a day on the beach, pick any of them and you will do great. You can also check out a number of stone age tombs (don’t worry, none of them are known to be haunted). The last refuge of the druids, Anglesey shows signs of hundreds of years of continuous human occupation.

Harlech

On the southern side of Snowdonia, Harlech Castle is a bit further away from the others. It has concentric walls and was put together faster, and cheaper, than any other castle. If you’ve heard the rugby song “Men of Harlech”– this is that Harlech and the siege during the War of the Roses proves that it was built to take a beating. The castle used to be right on the sea, but the sea has receded, leaving it and its supply routes high and dry. A new visitor center and bridge have greatly improved accessibility.

While in Harlech:

Royal St. David’s golf club is close to Harlech if you want to work on your handicap. Other than that, this part of North Wales is a place for trains. The Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways are well worth a visit, but there are others, including some of the famous “Little Trains” of Wales– former mining trains that run scaled-down trains on narrow gauge tracks. The Ffestiniog itself is the oldest rail country still operating and is also narrow gauge.

General Tips

Bring rain gear. The weather in North Wales is unpredictable and can be quite wet even in July and August. July and August are peak times, but early September (right after the kids go back to school) can be a great time to visit. Still, you can expect to be rained on, and the castle ruins are open to the elements.
The castles are somewhat disabled accessible, but obviously climbing the towers requires that your knees be in decent condition. Access is via steep spiral staircases. However, even those in wheelchairs can access the courtyard areas. Be aware that Caernarfon has no disabled restrooms. (Also, foreign travelers to the UK should know that many disabled toilets require a special key to access, which has to be requested in advance).
Only Harlech Castle has a cafe, but picnicking is allowed at the other sites.
It is recommended to devote a full day to each of the four castles, as there is a lot to explore. If you get done, check out the other visitor tips provided.
If you want to see the work of one of the best castle architects and appreciate welsh strongholds at their finest, you should tour the Iron Ring.

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How to Eat Well in the United Kingdom

Feast Through the United Kingdom

The fact is that it’s quite possible to eat well in the United Kingdom. You just need to know where to go and what to look for. Here are some suggestions:

Go Indian

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Beef Tiki Masala

It’s been said that you can get better Indian food in London than you can in Delhi. Of course, you’re most likely to hear that from Indian restaurants in London. The truth is, though, that Britain imported a lot of people from the Indian subcontinent in the 1950s – and a disproportionate number of them started restaurants. As long as you can handle spice, you can find good to great Indian food almost anywhere, including small towns in North Wales and the Midlands. Mediocre Indian restaurants just don’t survive very long. Just remember – Vindaloo is not for the faint-hearted. Try Maharaja, near Kensington Park.

Pasties, No, Not That Kind

In the US, the word “pasty” often means something associated with strip clubs. In the UK, it always means a fold over pie. Pasties became popular during the mining era (hence “Cornish” pasties, because of the amount of mining there). A “Cornish” pasty is specifically a pasty filled with beef, potato, swede, and onion. As they have Protected Geographical Indication, they can only be called that if made in Cornwall. Stores outside Cornwall get around it by calling them “traditional” pasties, and everyone knows what they mean. You can also get pasties full of chicken and bacon, ham and cheese, you name it. Pasties are often still good cold and make a tasty picnic lunch. Get your pasties at a traditional pastry shop. The Proper Pasty Company sells some of the best in a variety of locations, or ask a local where to go.

Chinatown

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Chinatown London

If you’re in London, then London’s Chinatown, while quite a bit smaller than New York’s or San Francisco’s is worth a visit (especially if you’re taking in a show in the West End, as they’re right next to each other). It’s more like San Francisco both in feel and in the kind of food than New York. British Chinese food, dominated by Hong Kong cuisine, is not quite the same as American Chinese. Don’t expect to be able to get General Tso’s, but do expect to get excellent sweet and sour. Seafood lovers will be particularly satisfied. But look for an established joint such as Joy King Lau, serving Cantonese food on three stories.

Fish and Chips

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Fish and Chips

It’s a British staple to the point of being a stereotype, but good fish and chips (hard, although no longer quite impossible, to find in the United States) is something every visitor should try at least once. Fish and chips is fast food, and best eaten out of paper on the street. Sadly, it’s no longer legal to wrap it in newspaper, although some chip shops will put a sheet of newsprint around it outside the food safe paper just for old times sake. Yes, vinegar is a condiment here. You can get fish and chips in restaurants, but if you happen to be in Haxby, York, you can visit this year’s National Fish & Chip Award winner, Miller’s Fish and Chips. Yes, that is how seriously British people take fish and chips!

Pie Day

If you’re in Britain on 3.14, or even on any other date, you can seldom go wrong with savory pies. The most common are steak and kidney, steak and ale or chicken and mushroom, but cold pork pie is a picnic favorite and many pubs now sell pies with some very interesting fillings such as smoked cheddar, coronation chicken, leek and cheese, etc. Cottage pie, in which the upper crust is replaced with mashed potato, is another pub favorite (note that it is only shepherd’s pie is made with lamb). The best pies are often found at specialized pie houses such as Battersea Pie Station in London, but almost any pub will sell you a decent pie. “Fast food” pies are a good alternative at chip shops if you have somebody who utterly hates fish.

Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding

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Yorkshire Pudding

British people use the word “pudding” in three different senses that sometimes have to be worked out from context. “Black” pudding is blood sausage. “Pudding” on its own often means any kind of dessert. “Yorkshire pudding” is a kind of dumpling that is traditionally served as a side with roast beef and filled with gravy. A variant is the “giant Yorkshire pudding” where the entire entree is put inside the pudding. This is another good thing to order in a classic English pub, if you can find it – not as many places have it on the menu anymore, and it is often only on Sundays, but I was recently able to find beef inside a Yorkshire pudding at The Parsonage near Wigan – so look for a Hungry Horse pub.

Treacle Pud

For dessert? Go for “treacle pud.” It’s sponge cake made with light molasses and served with a thin custard (trust us on the custard, it’s better than it sounds). It’s on the heavy side, so make sure you save room. Equally delicious is “toffee pud” or the disturbingly-named “spotted dick.” The spots are raisins and “dick” in this context is slang for “dough.” For the very best, you’ll need to go to a place called Upton upon Severn, where you’ll find The Pudding Shop’s cafe – but be careful, they sell them to go.

Cheese

To finish up, it’s worth talking a bit about cheese. It can seem that every single little town in England has its own cheese. If you want to try actual cheddar, not the stuff generically called cheddar, look for West Country Farmhouse Cheddar and get the extra sharp. But it’s also worth trying a few more. Stilton, which comes in white or blue, is worth sneaking a bit of. Cheshire and Wensleydale are delicious crumbling white cheeses which are hard to get in the United States. If you really want to be adventurous, try Stinking Bishop. Which lives up to its name.
So, a few things to try to help you realize that Britain isn’t the hideous “food desert” a lot of people claim. Just a few caveats, though:

  • In a “restaurant,” things work the same as they do in restaurants everywhere. If you are eating in a pub, however, then you are expected to seat yourself. You should then send somebody to the bar to order drinks and food (two people if it’s a large party, as they’ll be bringing the drinks back). Make a note of the number on your table so the waiter knows where to bring the food.
  • Britain is an optional-tipping society. Tipping is not required, but it is appreciated. 10-15% is customary in restaurants, but it is completely acceptable to stiff the waiter if service is poor. Larger groups may be charged an automatic tip. Generally, you don’t tip in pubs and some bartenders will actually take it as an insult.
  • Marmite is every bit as vile as you have heard. Other foods that can be acquired tastes include rollmops (pickled herrings) and, of course, haggis.

Enjoy your trip…and appreciate the fact that you really can get food that is not completely bland and over-cooked.
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