RICK STEVES' EUROPE
What's new in Great Britain for 2020
Last updated 1/29/2020 at 4:38pm
Britain, while engulfed in Brexit politics, is constantly investing in first-class projects to share its heritage - and, in so many ways, Britain's heritage is linked to our heritage. While many travelers are understandably curious about how Brexit is affecting tourists, from my experience it isn't. The only impact I've found is that the tourism industry seems to respect visitors more than ever. (And, for those who like to talk politics, the topic is a fascinating conversation starter.) Here's a rundown on the latest for travelers going to Britain in 2020:
The city of London has been busy upgrading its offerings. At Westminster Abbey, the latest addition is the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Galleries, which took over a balcony area that had been previously closed for 700 years. It offers fine views over the nave and a small museum with objects from royal coronations, funerals, and more. A timed-entry ticket is required to see the galleries; it's a good idea to buy this in advance (www.westminster-abbey.org).
Timed-entry tickets and advance reservations are becoming increasingly popular throughout Europe due to growing crowds. Besides the abbey, it's worth considering advance tickets, especially in peak season, for these London sights: Churchill War Rooms, Houses of Parliament, St. Paul's Cathedral, Tower of London, and the London Eye.
Several London sights have temporarily closed for renovations. The Orangery at Kensington Palace is undergoing a multi-year restoration; during this time, its famous tea service will be hosted at the equally elegant Kensington Palace Pavilion. The Courtauld Gallery, which exhibits medieval to Post-Impressionist paintings, will remain closed until 2021. The Museum of the Home (formerly known as the Geffrye Museum), which covers the history of making, keeping, and being at home over the past 400 years, will reopen this summer.
Improving transportation continues to be a focus in London. Travelers connecting London to Amsterdam can now do so by Eurostar train in four hours (three direct trains per day). However, travelers going in the other direction - Amsterdam to London - must change trains in Brussels for passport control (plans to eliminate this stopover have been delayed). Also, construction of the Elizabeth Line (a new train line also called Crossrail), promises to relieve congestion on some of London's main subway routes, while providing a faster public-transit option to Heathrow Airport, though its opening has been pushed back to 2021.
Elsewhere in England, several big sights are undergoing changes. At Canterbury Cathedral - the mother church of the worldwide Anglican Communion - a new welcome center complex is set to open this spring.
Cornwall's dramatic Tintagel Castle, where King Arthur was supposedly born, now requires timed-entry tickets, which are best booked ahead at busy times. The castle also has a new steel footbridge that spans the chasm between the two parts of the castle (once joined by a natural land bridge that collapsed several centuries ago).
In England's idyllic Lake District, poet William Wordsworth's home - Dove Cottage - is currently closed for restoration. It will reopen as Wordsworth Grasmere this spring, marking his 250th birthday, with updated museum exhibits.
Scotland is also busy spiffing up its sights. The Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh is currently undergoing a major renovation. A new main entrance recently opened, and construction on a bigger and better gallery space for its core collection of Scottish art is in the works.
Scotland's second city of Glasgow is working on improvements to its city center. For instance, Sauchiehall Street, a shopping street that cuts through the heart of the city, and a few surrounding streets have been revamped with wider sidewalks, more trees and seating, and improved bike lanes to make them more cycle- and pedestrian-friendly. To help cut back on traffic, parking and bus routes are being reduced on some streets.
Sauchiehall Street is also home to the historic Willow Tea Rooms, designed by architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh and opened in 1903. Closed for several years of restoration, it has now reopened as the Mackintosh at the Willow and represents a replica of Mackintosh's original Art Nouveau tearoom. Visitors can eat or have tea at the Mackintosh, or pay to browse the exhibit about the history of this place.
An interesting aspect to Brexit is that many in Scotland seem determined to stay in the European Union (Scotland voted to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum). As the UK leaves the EU, the issue of Scotland leaving Britain may be reignited. It's a good idea to read up on all of this before traveling to Scotland so you'll be able to keep up with potential pub mates.
In Britain, as anywhere in your travelers, if you equip yourself with good information and then use it, you'll get more out of your vacation time and money. That's especially true in 2020.