The Tower of London
Fans of the Showtime series, “The Tudors” know The Tower of London quite well. After all, it’s where that naughty Anne Boleyn lost her head at the command of that womanizing husband of hers. But history aficionados and London lovers alike know that the real thing has so much more to offer than a television show set.
London, England‘s Tower of London is one of the city’s finest attractions. But the name is a bit misleading – the Tower is a lot more than just a tower (or where Henry the VIII opted to rid himself of extraneous wives). It’s a medieval palace, dungeon and several museums rolled up into one.
Give yourself a full day to explore the Tower. The so-called “White Tower” (looks a little gray to me, but never mind) is an iconic piece of London history – Shakespeare gave it a mention in a play or two and it houses some cool artifacts like King Henry’s armor and a lot of fantastic medieval weaponry. But it’s far from the only thing to see on site. One of my favorite exhibits is the Crown Jewels – these incredible pieces of jewelry (more like art) are still in use by the British monarchy today. Walk along the Tower Green (which commemorates all who died at the Tower) and explore the various prisoner exhibitions to satisfy your morbid curiosity. And, of course, take time to explore the Medieval Palace, too. Even with a repeat visit, you are likely to find something new and interesting to capture your attention.
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Old trains at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum
Have you ever wanted to step back into simpler times? It’s easier than you think at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum (UFTM) in Northern Ireland.
UFTM houses several incredible collections – the current incarnation of UFTM is the merging of what was known as the Belfast Transport Museum and the Ulster Folk Museum. Despite a common moniker, the two are still somewhat separate – but very much worth a visit.
Your first stop should be the “Folk” village. This outdoor museum has over 50 authentic and incredible exhibits including Ballycultra town and rural farm buildings that will show you exactly what working turn-of-the-century agricultural life was like in Northern Ireland. These fully restored folk galleries will even let you try your hand at common tasks and activities – where else could you experience firsthand the crafts, trades, costumes and traditions of the early 20th century? It’s as close as you’ll get to a time machine!
The other half of the museum takes you inside to see the history of Transport, Northern Ireland style. See everything from early bicycle prototypes to photographs of the Titanic (originally built in nearby Belfast – but as the locals like to say, the ship was just fine when she left port, thank you very much) – you’ll find all manner of exhibits concerning land, sea and air travel. But the real highlight for kids here will be the train cars. They are free to climb and explore the cars at whim. They’ll think they’ve died and gone to the Isle of Sodor.
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The Diageo Collection at Edinburgh's Scotch Whisky Experience
“I love scotch. Scotchy, scotch, scotch. Here it goes down, down into my belly…”
-Ron Burgundy, “Anchorman”
Fact: In Scotland, whisky doesn’t have an ‘e.’ It’s those Irish upstarts who added the letter to an already perfectly spelled word. You can learn this and all kinds of other great stuff about Scotland’s most famous beverage by taking a tour at the Scotch Whiskey Experience in Edinburgh, Scotland, located right on the historic Royal Mile.
The tour begins with a barrel ride. Literally. Learn all about the history of Scotch whisky, as well as how it’s made, as you roll through a replica distillery. It’s the perfect overview to whisky – and you’ll soon need it. After the ride is finished, you’ll go up to the tasting room. There, a whisky expert will tell you about the different varieties of Scotch whisky and how to suss out all of the complex aromas and flavors in each sip. He or she will also answer any questions you may have, too.
The tour ends in a special glass display room. The world’s largest collection of never-been-opened Scotch Whisky bottles, amassed by Brazilian businessman Claive Vidiz, is now on display for every whisky lover to see. And trust me, even if you don’t know Scotch whisky from, well, er, Irish whiskey, the Diageo Scotch Whisky collection is impressive. There are over 3,000 bottles of unopened booze there – that takes some kind of restraint. And many of the bottles are very unique and quite gorgeous to look at.
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The North Aisle in Jerpoint Abbey, County Kilkenny, Ireland Photo by Jody Halsted
Just outside of Thomastown is Jerpoint Abbey. You really can’t miss it as N9- a major roadway- curves closely around its walls.
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