GTW explores the museums, attractions and parks that will inspire your group’s travel plans over the autumn and winter months
All-weather attractions with lots to explore both inside and outside take the stress out of group travel organising. One such venue is the Beaulieu National Motor Museum (www.beaulieu.co.uk); an award-winning attraction set in the heart of Hampshire’s New Forest. With over 250 vehicles on display, the museum tells the story of motoring on our roads and racetracks.
Fans of TV’s Top Gear can see exclusive behind-the-scenes footage featuring the stars of the show in the World of Top Gear, before experiencing the Victorian splendour of Palace House. If the weather allows, you’re free to stroll through the grounds and gardens and explore the tranquil ruins of Beaulieu Abbey, which houses an exhibition telling the story of the monks who once lived and worked there. Ride the monorail for sweeping views of the park, and then uncover the covert role played by Beaulieu during World War Two in the museum’s Secret Army Exhibition.
Transport of a different kind is celebrated at The National Tramway Museum, based in Crich in Derbyshire (www.tramway.co.uk). Housing a period village complete with its own pub, cafe, old-style sweetshop and, of course, tram depots, the museum’s collection runs through the village setting, taking groups back to the mid-1900s.
Groups can hop aboard a tram and enjoy a journey out into the countryside and back aboard the museum’s varied fleet. All the trams at Crich have been rescued from Britain’s city streets and restored to their former glory. Visit the website for information to help you plan your group’s itinerary (special rates are available for groups of 10 or more). Make a weekend of it with a trip to the nearby Heights of Abraham (www.heightsofabraham.com), and well-loved Tudor country house Haddon Hall (www.haddonhall.co.uk).
Groups of 15 people or more will be able to take advantage of special rates at two festive weekends leading up to the Christmas period at Blists Hill Victorian Town in Shropshire. On December 5-6 and 12-13, 2015, groups can witness a host of traditional Christmas celebrations from the 1800s.
There’s festive music and entertainment from just £7.50 per person, as guests experience the atmospheric streets and cottages of the recreated Victorian town.
A Christmas lunch and admission package with festive entertainment thrown in – called Songs and Laughter and Seasonal Fayre - is also on offer to groups of 40 or more visiting Blists Hill Victorian Town from Monday to Friday during December. For just £25 per person, groups can sit down to three delicious courses in the Forest Glen Refreshment Pavilion, which will be decked with greenery and Victorian style decorations.
After lunch, two of the museum’s resident performers will entertain visitors with seasonal songs and monologues in an exclusive traditional Victorian Music Hall performance.
The Songs and Laughter and Seasonal Fayre package must be pre-booked. There is free coach parking at the site and group leaders and coach drivers are admitted free. Coach drivers will also be given a free refreshment voucher. To arrange a visit contact the Group Visits Officer, Richard Aldred, on 01952 435900 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Details can also be found on www.ironbridge.org.uk
The central site of the United Kingdom’s Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS), Bletchley Park was pivotal in the breakdown of the secret communications of the Axis Powers – most importantly the German Engima and Lorenz Ciphers – during the Second World War. The attraction in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, now attracts thousands of visitors every year, as groups discover more about the important work that was undertaken here 70 years ago, which helped to shorten the war by at least two years. For full details of the facilities for groups, visit www.bletchleypark.org.uk.
Underground work of a different kind can be explored at Smugglers Adventure in East Sussex. Consisting of a series of underground tunnels that trace the steps of the region’s smugglers in years gone by, find out more at www.smugglersadventure.co.uk. Combine Smugglers Adventure with a visit to nearby Hastings Castle, the first Norman motte-and-bailey castle to be built in the region.
Until the end of September 2015, groups can enjoy a day out with a regal twist as Buckingham Palace throws open its gilt-edged doors to its impressive-looking State Rooms.
Designed and built as the Palace’s public rooms, today the State Rooms are used extensively by The Queen and members of the Royal Family to receive and entertain their guests on state, ceremonial and official occasions. According to www.royalcollection.org.uk, the 19 State Rooms reflect the taste of King George IV, who commissioned the architect John Nash to transform what had previously been known as Buckingham House into a grand palace.
Many of the pieces of furniture, sparkling chandeliers, candelabra and other works of art in these rooms were bought or made for Carlton House; George IV's London home when he was Prince of Wales.
Today the State Rooms are furnished with some of the greatest treasures from the Royal Collection, including paintings by Van Dyck and Canaletto, sculpture by Canova, exquisite pieces of Sèvres porcelain and some of the finest English and French furniture in the world. Visit the website to plan your group trip (tickets must be booked in advance). Make it a right royal weekend by extending your group’s itinerary to include a visit to The Royal Mews, The Queen’s Gallery and Clarence House.
For a day out that’s less regal and more rural, head to the West Sussex-based Weald and Downland Open Air Museum (www.wealddown.co.uk).
The museum’s mix of traditional buildings tell the stories of the men, women and children who lived and worked in the region over a 600-year period. Groups can explore the 40-acre site and visit its huge collection of rural exhibit buildings, many of which have been furnished to recreate the authentic domestic interiors of the time.
The museum also offers visitors a regular programme of domestic and craft demonstrations, including cooking in the Tudor kitchen, milling flour in the working watermill and blacksmithing in the Victorian smithy. Depending on your group’s plans, you could take a walk in the woods, visit the café kiosk or enjoy a picnic in the grounds. The Weald and Downland Open Air Museum also runs an extensive programme of adult-education courses in traditional rural trades and crafts, historic domestic life and building conservation. Visit the website to find out more.
Popular open-air gallery York Sculpture Park (www.ysp.co.uk) features work by British and international artists, including Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. The gallery occupies the grounds of Bretton Hall near Wakefield and straddles the border of West and South Yorkshire. Admission is free, though parking charges apply. Visit the website to plan your group trip.
Hugely popular with groups all year round, Warner Bros Studio Tour London brings the Harry Potter films to life. Visitors can go behind the scenes on a studio tour with special attractions dotted throughout the year, including October’s Dark Arts exhibition. Revealing the filmmaking secrets behind some of the darker aspects of the film franchise, Warner Bros Studio Tour London takes the Halloween theme to a new dimension (www.wbstudiotour.co.uk).
Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! London (www.ripleyslondon.com) celebrates the bizarre. With more than 700 unusual artefacts spanning six floors, the museum features amazing art, strange sculptures, the world’s quirkiest people and extremely odd wildlife – including an albino alligator and two-headed calf.
To celebrate the 150th anniversary of Alice in Wonderland, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! London has opened a pop-up gallery dedicated to the iconic story penned by Lewis Carroll. The gallery is inspired by Alice’s adventures and features a mad hatter table, a giant perfume bottle and an Ames Room, which gives the illusion that you are either a giant or very small – similar to Alice in the film.
Alice in Wonderland at Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! London will remain open throughout August 2015. Groups visiting Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! London can save up to 37% off the usual ticket price – head to the website for details.
Experience 1,000 years of Sussex history with a group visit to Lewes Castle and Museum (www.sussexpast.co.uk/properties-to-discover/lewes-castle).
Energetic groups can climb to the top of this Norman castle to enjoy unbeaten views across the local countryside, whilst imagining they’re fighting off invaders. The castle’s adjoining Barbican House is home to the Museum of Sussex Archaeology and houses local collections from the Stone Age to medieval times, while a mini-cinema tells the story of Lewes from prehistoric to Victorian times. Combined group admission with the nearby Anne of Cleves House Museum is available. Here, you can explore how the Tudors and Elizabethans lived, worked and relaxed at home, and discover the part played by this beautiful medieval house in the story of one of England’s most famous kings, Henry VIII. See the website for full details.