12 historical places to visit on the August bank holiday weekend
Monday is our last bank holiday until Christmas, so make the long weekend count by spending the day at one of the thousands of historical sites dotted across Britain. Here, we've rounded up 12 of the best castles, palaces and landscapes you can visit over the bank holiday weekend…
Originally a wooden motte and bailey, Warwick Castle was constructed in 1068 under instruction from William the Conqueror, two years after he invaded England. It was home to all the Earls of Warwick until it was purchased by the Tussaud Group in 1978.
Today visitors can explore the castle’s dungeon, view the Warwick Trebuchet – the largest working siege machine in the world – and step into the ‘frozen in time’ living quarters of the Countess of Warwick, who in 1898 hosted a weekend party attended by the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII.
Don’t miss: the mound. One of the oldest parts of Warwick Castle, it formed the most important part of the Norman castle’s defence system. Today it is the ideal vantage point – from the top of the mound you can see as far as Stratford-upon-Avon.
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The product of a volcanic eruption 60 million years ago, the Giant's Causeway is Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The 40,000 world-famous basalt columns have attracted visitors for centuries. Steeped in myth and legend, some say the causeway was “carved from the coast by the mighty giant Finn McCool, who left behind an ancient home full of folklore”, says Discover Northern Ireland.
Don't miss: Clues of Finn McCool's existence, including The Giant’s Boot and Wishing Chair.
Tower of London
The beheading of Anne Boleyn in 1536, the disappearance and presumed murder of the princes in 1483, and the torture of Guy Fawkes in 1605, all took place at the Tower of London.
Steeped in more than 900 years of history, the Tower is one of Britain’s most popular historic attractions – more than two million people a year are believed to visit it.
Don’t miss: the Wall Walk. Explore the massive defensive inner wall that has protected the Tower for centuries. On the North Wall Walk, you can learn about the exotic animals that were for 600 years kept at the Tower of London, and visit the Bowyer Tower to explore the story of the Duke of Wellington.
One of the wonders of the world and the best-known prehistoric monument in Europe, Stonehenge is the ideal place to visit on August bank holiday. It began as a simple earthwork enclosure and was built in several stages, with the unique lintelled stone circle being erected in the late Neolithic period (around 2500 BC).
Don’t miss: the visitor centre. Highlights include an exhibition of prehistoric objects and the reconstructed face of a 5,500-year-old Neolithic man, as well as a 360-degree virtual experience that allows you to ‘stand in the stones’.
Roman Baths and pump room
Established in around AD 43, the Roman Baths are one of the most popular historic attractions in the south west of England. Used as a sanctuary of rest and relaxation, and to wash away infirmities in the healing waters, from AD 70 the baths attracted increasing numbers of visitors from across Britain and Europe.
Regular royal visits in the 16th and 17th centuries increased the attraction of the baths: Princess, later Queen Anne visited Bath four times from 1688–1703 to take the waters.
Don’t miss: the Sacred Spring, the Temple and the Great Bath.
It has been captured by the likes of Edward I and Oliver Cromwell, lived in by Mary Queen of Scots, and used as a military base and a jail for prisoners of war.
Today, there’s no shortage of things to do at Edinburgh Castle: you can stand on a six-gun battery built in the 1730s, explore the vaults under the Great Hall where prisoners of war and pirates were held in the 18th and 19th centuries, and look for the names of the pets of British army officers and regimental mascots who have been buried there since the 1840s.
Don’t miss: the firing of a 105mm field gun at 1pm. A gun has been fired at the castle since 1861 as a time signal to shipping in the Firth of Forth – though if you're visiting on a Sunday, note that gun is fired at 1pm every day except Sundays, Christmas Day or Good Friday.
A royal hunting forest after the Norman invasion of 1066, Sherwood Forest was popular with many Norman kings, particularly King John and Edward I. In the 1200s, popularly thought to be the time of Robin Hood, Sherwood covered about 100,000 acres, says Nottinghamshire County Council.
Don’t miss: the Major Oak – a huge oak tree thought to be around 800 years old. According to local folklore, its hollow trunk was used as a hideout by Robin Hood’s men. But, as the council points out, “if Robin was – as legend suggests – active in the 12th or 13th century, this tree could only have been a sapling then. So it must have been another, much older oak that hid the outlaw.”
Built in the early 18th century to celebrate the victory over the French in the War of the Spanish Succession, Blenheim Palace is one of Britain’s most spectacular royal residences.
It is the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, and is today home to the 11th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough. The palace was originally a gift to the 1st Duke of Marlborough – the military commander who led the Allied forces in the battle of Blenheim on 13 August 1704.
Don’t miss: Winston Churchill’s paintings. Born at the palace on 30 November 1874, the former prime minister later proposed to Miss Clementine Hozier in its gardens in 1908. He chose to be buried beside his parents in the cemetery of St Martin’s Church in Bladon – the tower of which can be seen from the Blenheim Palace state rooms.
Battle Abbey and battlefield
The 1066 battle of Hastings was arguably the most famous battle ever fought on English soil. There, Duke William of Normandy defeated King Harold of England, marking the end of Anglo-Saxon England.
Don’t miss: the opportunity to stand on the very spot where King Harold is said to have died.
St Fagans National History Museum
One of Europe's leading open-air museums and Wales's most popular heritage attraction, St Fagans National History Museum stands in the grounds of St Fagans Castle and gardens, a late 16th-century manor house donated to the people of Wales by the Earl of Plymouth.
Through traditional crafts and activities, visitors can see how generations of people in Wales have lived, worked and spent their leisure time.
Don't miss: The more than 40 original buildings from various historical periods in Wales – homes, farmhouses, chapels and mills – that have been re-erected, allowing visitors to quite literally step back in time.
There are more than 20 places to visit on Hadrian’s Wall, which stretches 73 miles across the north of England. The coast-to-coast wall was built by the Romans at the command of Emperor Hadrian to control and protect their newly won territory.
Today the landscape can be explored on foot or on cycle – the World Heritage Site boasts a wealth of Roman forts, and countless milecastles and turrets.
Don’t miss: Corbridge Roman town. Unlike the majority of sites on Hadrian's Wall, which were heavily guarded fortresses, Corbridge was “a supply base and bustling town where the Romans and civilians would pick up food and provisions”, English Heritage explains.
“Today, you can still walk through the town's streets and experience a true time-capsule of Roman life. You can see a valuable hoard of objects found during excavations, including Roman armour and trinkets, which provide a fascinating insight into the life of a soldier”.
Set in the heart of the Peak District in Derbyshire, Chatsworth House was originally a manor, purchased in 1549 by Bess of Hardwick and her husband Sir William Cavendish, who prospered during the 16th century as one of Henry VIII's commissioners for the dissolution of the monasteries. In later years, at various times between 1569 and 1584, Mary, Queen of Scots was a prisoner at Chatsworth.
Don’t miss: The house has more than 30 rooms to explore, and holds one of Europe's most significant art collections. The Devonshire Collection includes Old Masters (original prints made by artists who worked in Europe before about 1800) and artefacts from ancient Egypt. This August, the house is hosting a country fair, featuring grand ring displays in the air and on land.
Emma Mason is the Digital Editor at HistoryExtra.com
This article was first published in August 2016 and has been updated