Among the reasons to visit Great Britain and Ireland this year: A new wing at the Tate Modern, a new tower in Brighton, and a Dublin anniversary.
Britain and Ireland are hard at work making the most of their heritage and sharing it with a special flair. Here are a few updates to keep in mind for 2016:
London seems intent on building itself out of any economic recession in its ever-changing landscape of sights. Be sure to have locals point out the many distinct skyscrapers decorating the skyline; Londoners have given them clever descriptive nicknames, such as the Gherkin, the Cheese Grater and the Walkie-Talkie. New buildings generally come with a dramatic viewpoint 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. It has been opening gradually in advance of its official debut in June. 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 there are closures too: The wine-tasting experience Vinopolis has poured its last glass. At the British Library, the Magna Carta may be off display.
Technology is also changing how you visit Britain. You can now avoid ticket lines at Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral by booking in advance via their websites. Stonehenge visitors are required to book a timed-entry ticket online.
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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.
In Bath, the Building of Bath Collection is now called 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, the delightful Keith Harding’s World of Mechanical Music in Northleach is now called the Mechanical Music Museum (after Harding’s death and subsequent scandalous revelations in the media about him).
Nearby, in Stratford-upon-Avon, the town is marking the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. The Royal Shakespeare Company’s Swan Theatre has opened after a total renovation. New Place and Nash’s House, showcasing what’s left of one of the houses in which Shakespeare lived, is set to open this spring.
In the South Lake District, the Beatrix Potter Gallery in Hawkshead will host a special exhibit opening in February 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 copy of the Magna Carta from 1216 and items from the Norman/medieval period (when the monks of Durham busily copied manuscripts), the Reformation, and the 17th century.
Over in Wales, at Caernarfon Castle, the 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.
In Ireland, Dublin 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 — the rebel’s 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 (though it may be called the 14 Henrietta Street Townhouse Museum instead). And at the Book of Kells exhibit in the Trinity Old Library, purchasing an online ticket in advance 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.
In Belfast, 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. In Derry, the Museum of Free Derry is closed for renovations but should reopen in May with multimedia exhibits.
And for foodies filling their tanks to enjoy all this sightseeing fun, Britain and Ireland continue to reshape their culinary images and astound travelers with new restaurants and gastropubs serving delicious food.
Edmonds-based Rick Steves (www.ricksteves.com) writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. His column runs weekly at seattletimes.com/travel. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org