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Dubbed a "mad riddle" by one of Britain's eminent modern-day philosophers – OK, the plain-speaking Cockney actor Danny Dyer (who plays pub landlord Mick Carter in TV soap EastEnders) – Brexit is almost upon us. Britain will, barring any last-minute U-turns, bid adieu to the European Union on March 29 and no-one – ardent Leaver or die-hard Remainer – knows how it's all going to pan out.
What is for sure is that despite all the uncertainly – and the damage many believe Brexit has done to Britain's reputation – tourists are still flocking there. In part boosted by favourable exchange rates sparked by the weakened pound, there was a record 39.2 million global inbound visits in the year after the 2016 referendum, including more than 1 million from Australia, according to tourism body Visit Britain.
Chris Fundell, director of marketing, Globus Family of Brands (globusfamily.com.au) says they have not seen any negative effects on Australians booking tours to Britain. "In fact our tours to the UK are performing very well, up almost 50 per cent. Our series of Undiscovered Britain tours has helped raise the profile of touring in Britain whilst travelling off-the-beaten-track," he says.
The global visitor trend is set to continue, with large numbers from overseas expected for the first major post-Brexit international event – the 2019 Cricket World Cup. Held in 10 cities across England and Wales from May 30 to July 14, it will be followed in the northern summer – August 1 to September 16 – by the Ashes. While England is favourite to win both competitions, the Baggy Greens are the defending World Cup champions and Ashes holders. If you're keen to catch some of the action, tickets and resales are still available for some matches – though the biggies, such as the Lord's Ashes Test and India v Pakistan have long been sold out. Australia women's national cricket team are also on tour in Britain, playing a series of internationals – one Test, three One-Dayers and three T20s – throughout July for the Women's Ashes. They'll play in Leicester, Canterbury, Taunton, Chelmsford, Hove and Bristol. Away from the cricket, and the carnival atmosphere the games are likely to generate, you can soak up the myriad charms in and around the host cities, which extend well beyond the usual suspects – yes, you London. The guide we've compiled below can be used any time – and not just if you're coming for the cricket. One more thing: don't forget Scotland. Although it's not staging any matches, it's always a pleasure to head north of the border, and the Scots won't be shy of telling you that they beat England for the first time ever in a cricket international last year. Oh, and they also voted to Remain.
THE VENUE Old Trafford Cricket Ground, not to be confused with the famous football stadium nearby. Six World Cup games and the fourth Ashes Test: September 4-8.
THE LOWDOWN The self-styled "Capital of the North" has shrugged off its post-industrial blues and reinvented itself as a buzzing metropolis that excels in live music, arts and culture, craft beers and sport.
WHAT TO DO AND SEE Both footballing giants, Manchester United and Manchester City, offer superb behind-the-scenes stadium tours and the National Football Museum, located in Manchester's medieval core, is another treat for lovers of the "beautiful game". Stroll though the Northern Quarter, a district of hip cafes, bars, pubs, jazz clubs, vinyl shops, vintage stores and enticing culinary draws such as Mackie Mayor, a trendy new food court set in a beautiful converted Victorian meat market.
THE SIDETRIP Manchester's historic rival, Liverpool, is a must-visit – especially if you like the Beatles. The Fab Four's hometown is 35 minutes away by train.
THE VENUE Bristol County Ground. Three World Cup games – including Afghanistan v Australia on June 1.
THE LOWDOWN Emerging from the shadow of Bath, its swanky, spa-studded neighbour, Bristol reigns as one of Britain's coolest cities. It's the birthplace of Banksy and bands such as Massive Attack.
WHAT TO DO AND SEE On Banksy-inspired street art tours, peruse murals from the man himself plus colourful new stuff from up-and-coming graffiti merchants. Survey Bristol's photogenic harbour setting on SUP (stand-up paddleboarding) trips, then roam SS Great Britain, a ground-breaking 19th century ship that transported thousands of Australian immigrants and the first England cricket team to tour Down Under. Its designer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, was also the mastermind behind Bristol's most-snapped sight – the gigantic Clifton Suspension Bridge.
THE SIDETRIP As well as Bath – 15 minutes away by rail (you can also pedal there via a flat 20-kilometre bike path) – there's Cheddar Gorge, a spectacular beauty spot where you can sample pungent cheeses matured in caves.
THE VENUE Sophia Gardens. Four World Cup games.
THE LOWDOWN Beyond its raucous nightlife and Brains-guzzling rugby crowds – Brains beer has been brewed in the city since 1882 – the Welsh capital charms visitors with its friendly vibes, green spaces and cultural draws.
WHAT TO DO AND SEE Amble around Bute Park, a lovely, leafy retreat between Sophia Gardens and Cardiff Castle, a medieval fortress and mansion with a fantastical neo-Gothic interior. Take a water taxi along the River Taff to Cardiff Bay, a revitalised docklands area home to cutting-edge landmarks such as the Senedd – the National Assembly for Wales – and Wales Millennium Centre, a hub of drama and ballet. For big-name concerts and rugby games, check the listings at Cardiff's Principality Stadium.
THE SIDETRIP Hiking, canyoning and potholing are among the activities in the Brecon Beacons, a mountainous national park just over an hour's drive from Cardiff.
THE VENUE Edgbaston Cricket Ground. Five World Cup games and the first Ashes Test: August 1-5.
THE LOWDOWN England's "Second City", Birmingham is another former industrial powerhouse enjoying a new lease of life. Nestled at the heart of the national canal network, "Brum" – as it's nicknamed – claims to have more canals than Venice.
WHAT TO DO AND SEE Savour these Victorian waterways on leisurely canal-boat cruises and pit stop in quaint waterfront pubs. Potter around eclectic inner-city districts such as the Jewellery Quarter and Digbeth, where you can also do a Peaky Blinders tour – and hear tales about the gangsters that inspired this TV drama set in 1920s Brum. Delicious, cosmopolitan cuisine abounds in Birmingham, from fiery curries in the Balti Triangle area to fine-dining at Michelin-starred eateries such as Purnell's and Adams.
THE SIDETRIP Take the Shakespeare Express steam train to Stratford-upon-Avon, birthplace of The Bard. See vintagetrains.co.uk
THE VENUE Trent Bridge. Five World Cup games – including Australia's matches against West Indies and Bangladesh.
THE LOWDOWN Nottingham is synonymous with Robin Hood – and the folk legend's influence permeates this university city, from outlaw-inspired sculptures to street names such as Maid Marian Way. You'll also find intriguing museums and independent shops – including the flagship of Nottingham-born fashion designer Paul Smith.
WHAT TO DO AND SEE The Sheriff's old lair, Nottingham Castle, is shut for renovations until 2020, but dug into the cliff below it is Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, a characterful boozer touted as "the oldest inn in England". Sup a pint in one of the pub's caverns – part of a network of 800-plus caves that run beneath the city. Hear quirky stories of crime and punishment in the cells of the National Justice Museum, set inside an old courthouse and jail in Lace Market, a pleasant district peppered with cafes and restaurants.
THE SIDETRIP Sherwood Forest, Robin Hood's old stomping ground, is an hour's drive away, and offers oak woodland hikes, bike rides and luxury lodges.
THE VENUE Hampshire Bowl. Five World Cup games.
THE LOWDOWN Southampton is Britain's busiest cruise port. Don't expect many picture-postcard streets – the city was smashed by Luftwaffe bombing – but there's some enthralling war and maritime history, including tales of Titanic, which set sail from here in 1912.
WHAT TO DO AND SEE Titanic's demise, and its effect on Southampton, is explored at SeaCity Museum, an interactive attraction unveiled on the centenary of the ship's maiden voyage. Hear more Titanic facts, myths and legends on guided walking tours and also learn about the ANZAC troops that sailed from Southampton for the D-Day Normandy landings. Visit the Solent Sky, a museum that pays homage to aviation icons such as the Spitfire, a World War II plane designed and built in Southampton.
THE SIDETRIP Fancy a jaunt to the Mediterranean or Norwegian fiords? Southampton is the ideal place to embark on a cruise. Alternatively, take a ferry to the Isle of Wight or visit Stonehenge, Britain's most famous prehistoric monument, an hour's drive away.
THE VENUE Riverside Ground. Three World Cup games.
THE LOWDOWN With a population under 25,000, this County Durham market town – once the ancient Roman fort of Concangis – is by far the smallest World Cup host. You can also base yourself in Newcastle or the cathedral city of Durham – both of which are 10 minutes from Chester-le-Street by rail.
WHAT TO DO AND SEE Helping to make Chester-le-Street one of the world's most picturesque cricket venues is Lumley Castle, which crowns a hill above the ground. This 14th century castle has been revived as a boutique hotel and is a popular spot for dinner, murder mystery nights and (apparently) ghostly goings-on. Legend has it that when the Australian cricket team stayed here in 2005, Shane Watson was so spooked by the castle's lurid ghost stories he slept on the floor in Brett Lee's room.
THE SIDETRIP The open-air Beamish museum – seven kilometres outside Chester-le-Street – brings the past of England's North-East to life with period streets, shops and vintage tramways. See beamish.org.uk
THE VENUE Headingley Stadium. Four World Cup games and the third Ashes Test: August 22-26.
THE LOWDOWN Leeds is the largest city in the cricketing hotbed that is Yorkshire – or "God's Own Country" as locals call the county. Once a thriving wool centre, Leeds is possibly the best place to shop outside London, its compact, walkable city centre crammed with retail temptations.
WHAT TO DO AND SEE Away from its glossy 21st century malls and high-end chain stores, Leeds has ornate Victorian arcades that wouldn't look out of place in Paris. There's also Kirkgate Market – a huge indoor bazaar that was home to the world's first Marks & Spencer outlet in 1884. Post-shopping, enjoy a pie and pint of Yorkshire beer at Whitelock's Ale House – founded in 1715 – or inventive Michelin-feted dining at The Man Behind The Curtain by top chef Michael O'Hare.
THE SIDETRIP The bucolic delights of the Yorkshire Dales National Park are on the city's doorstep, while the medieval beauty of York is 25 minutes away by rail.
THE VENUE County Ground. Three World Cup games including Pakistan v Australia on June 12.
THE LOWDOWN Cricket legends Ian Botham, Viv Richards and Baggy Greens coach Justin Langer all whiled away summers playing cricket in Somerset's chilled-out county town, which is edged by quintessential West Country apple orchards and a patchwork of rolling green hills and cattle-strewn meadows.
WHAT TO DO AND SEE Quaffing cider is a popular past-time in the pubs that sprinkle Taunton and you can also try "Cider flights" at Sheppy's House of Cider, where the same family has been producing the fruity stuff for 200 years on the town's outskirts. Discover Taunton's absorbing history at the Museum of Somerset, housed inside the town's 12th century castle, which endured sieges during the English Civil War. Nearby, the wisteria-clad Castle Hotel is home to Castle Bow, a renowned restaurant serving modern British cuisine.
THE SIDETRIP Take the West Somerset Railway, a heritage steam train that threads past 35 kilometres of countryside and coast. See west-somerset-railway.co.uk
THE VENUES Lord's. Five World Cup games, including the final on July 14 and the second Ashes Test: August 14-18. The Kia Oval. Five World Cup matches and the fifth Ashes Test: September 12-16.
THE LOWDOWN It doesn't matter if you're visiting for the first – or umpteenth – time, this melting pot of 8 million people never ceases to amaze, whether you're nosing around lavish royal palaces or discovering the city's hippest new 'hood.
WHAT TO DO AND SEE London's awe-inspiring parks really spring to life in the summer months, brimming with picnics, festivals and concerts, wild swimming and rowing boat rides. Drama fans should get to the Open Air Theatre at Regent's Park, where A Midsummer Night's Dream, Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita will be performed in 2019. Opposite Green Park, Buckingham Palace opens to the public from July to September, when the Queen is away on holiday.
THE SIDETRIP If it's sunny, head to the south coast. An alternative to busy Brighton, Hastings has a funky new pier, charming old town and cliff-climbing funicular.
FIVE TOP CATCHES – THE BEST UK JOURNEYS
Catch this sleeper train from London Paddington and wake up in Cornwall – a picturesque slice of south-western England also known as "Poldark Country" because of the popular TV show. See gwr.com
LAKE DISTRICT CRUISE
Catch a restored Victorian vessel and savour the timeless beauty of the newly-World Heritage listed Lake District National Park. See windermere-lakecruises.co.uk
SCOTTISH ISLAND HOPPING
Catch the Calmac ferries that link the spellbinding islands off Scotland's north-west coast, including Mull, Lewis and Harris. See calmac.co.uk
SNOWDONIA MOUNTAIN RAILWAY
Catch this narrow-gauge heritage railway to the top of Mount Snowdon, Wales' highest peak, and admire the pristine array of lakes and craggy mountains of Snowdonia. See snowdonrailway.co.uk
NORTH COAST 500
Fancy a drive? Do this awe-inspiring circuit of Scotland's northern Highlands, gazing at dramatic coastline, mysterious lochs and heritage sites on a 830-kilometre loop from Inverness. See northcoast500.com
FIVE CLASSIC SHOTS: THE MOST PHOTOGENIC VIEWS IN THE UK
These dazzling chalk cliffs lord over the English Channel near Eastbourne – Britain's Sunniest Town. For the best view of the Sisters, glance back at them from above the Coastguard Cottages at Cuckmere Haven.
Snap the honey-stone cottages in Bibury – one of the postcard-perfect medieval villages of the Cotswolds, an AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) west of Oxford.
Look east from this bridge over the River Thames and you'll see St Paul's Cathedral and the 21st century skyscrapers of the City of London. Turn round and there's the London Eye and Houses of Parliament. Sunset is hard to beat.
Punt along the River Cam past The Backs, where idyllic grassy lawns hedge the majestic colleges of Cambridge University, whose alumni include Stephen Hawking, David Attenborough and Sacha Baron Cohen.
Wrap up warm, pack a flask of Scotch and scale this 1345-metre Scottish peak – Britain's highest summit – for a stunning view of lochs and peaks shrouded in other-worldly clouds.
WHAT AUSTRALIANS SHOULD KNOW ABOUT VISITING THE UK POST-BREXIT
SCOTT MCCULLOUGH, GENERAL MANAGER, TRAVEL MONEY OZ (travelmoneyoz.com)
1. ARE AUSTRALIANS MORE OR LESS INCLINED TO VISIT THE UK BECAUSE OF BREXIT?
Australians are resilient travellers, and there's no denying that Britain has always been a popular travel destination for us, particularly as a base to explore Europe. While Brexit has introduced some uncertainty, we don't expect it to deter Australians from visiting one of their favourite destinations, especially at times when the value of GBP is working in our favour.
2. HOW IS BREXIT LIKELY TO IMPACT AUSTRALIANS?
Brits head to Australian shores in droves and spend about $3.7 billion a year while here. They're extremely important to the economy, however the uncertainty around Brexit and the fluctuating value of the GBP is making it more expensive for Brits to visit Australia. Positively for Australian travellers, when the value of GBP drops, the buying power is stronger for the AUD. For example, when the Brexit result was announced, we saw GBP drop. Keen Aussie travellers snapped up GBP, taking advantage of cheaper holidays to Britain, and Travel Money Oz completely sold out of currency at the time.
3. IS THERE ANYTHING SPECIAL AUSTRALIANS PLANNING A UK TRIP SHOULD DO BEFORE BREXIT?
Keep an eye on the currency market and buy when you're ready. Travel Money Oz has some great services like our Rate Guard, which protects you from exchange rate movements, or our online rate alert which allows us to do the foreign exchange watching for you.
PATRICIA YATES, DIRECTOR OF VISITBRITAIN (VISITBRITAIN.COM)
1. WHAT IMPACT DO YOU EXPECT BREXIT TO HAVE ON TOURISM IN THE UK?
VisitBritain is forecasting 40 million inbound visits to the UK by 2020, the first time it will break through the 40 million-visit-mark. Australia in particular is an extremely important market for VisitBritain, a billion-pound market, our fourth most valuable, delivering more than 1 million visits annually. It is one of our priority GREAT markets, meaning we invest more here and we want to provide a world-class visitor experience for the Australians who visit Britain.
2. HOW DO YOU SEE BREXIT AFFECTING TRAVEL FOR AUSTRALIANS?
The introduction of ePassport gate access for Australians from summer 2019 will make it easier and faster to travel, boosting our competitive tourism offer to Australia and our welcome message. Australian perceptions of the UK as a visitor destination are positive with Australians continuing to rate the UK highly for tourism, second out of 50 nations in the 2018 Anholt Nation Brands Index.
3. WHAT NEW TRENDS CAN AUSTRALIANS EXPECT TO FIND IN POST-BREXIT BRITAIN?
VisitBritain is driving growth from Australia by showcasing that Britain is bursting with fun activities and new adventures to come and enjoy. One focus is promoting immersive and "off the beaten track" experiences for Australians in Britain's vibrant cities and stunning countryside. An example is the recently launched English National Parks Experience, promoting living landscapes, rural life and boasting 70 new visitor experiences and 80 accommodation providers across nine national parks.
SIMON CALDER, BRITISH TRAVEL JOURNALIST AND BROADCASTER (SIMONCALDER.CO.UK)
1. WHAT CAN AUSTRALIAN TRAVELLERS EXPECT TO FIND IN POST-BREXIT BRITAIN?
I am sorry to say they will discover a dismal, diminished nation which has been ravaged by a nasty flare-up of xenophobia. Australians will be welcomed by Brexiteers because (and I regret saying this as well) they are mostly white and some are really quite good at English, considering. An open, welcoming, tolerant and forward-looking country has been hijacked by people who have a yearning to return to about 1953. When, you will recall, England won the Test series 1-0. Most of the matches were wash-outs, which sums up the immediate future. But at least some people will be happy with the illusion that they have "taken back control".
2. HOW DO YOU SEE BREXIT AFFECTING TRAVEL FOR AUSTRALIANS?
Oh, it will be dirt cheap, as the pound sinks ever deeper into ignominy.
3. WHAT UK DESTINATION DO YOU THINK WOULD BE A HIT WITH AUSTRALIAN TRAVELLERS THIS SUMMER?
Northern Ireland (discovernorthernireland.com) – hugely underrated, cheap and easy to reach, Belfast and Derry are compelling and contrasting cities. Dreadful cricket, mind.
GRAHAM TURNER, FLIGHT CENTRE TRAVEL GROUP CEO, (FLIGHTCENTRE.COM.AU)
1. WHAT EFFECT HAS BREXIT HAD ON AUSTRALIANS BOOKING TRIPS AND FLIGHTS TO THE UK?
To date, Brexit appears to have had a minimal impact on travel to the UK. Demand has been solid – from the time of the referendum through to now. It's actually been a great time to travel thanks to the combination of cheap airfares and the pound's depreciation. To put those cheap fares in perspective, today we're advertising return fares from Sydney to London from $1099, which is still about $300 cheaper than the "lead-in" fare that we historically had access to. As we speak, we're entering another interesting period politically in the UK so will keep an eye on developments over the next week or so
2. HOW IS BREXIT LIKELY TO IMPACT AUSTRALIANS?
It really depends on what sort of Brexit takes place. If the transition is relatively smooth, which is the obvious goal, there's probably going to be minimal impact on travellers. The government will obviously be very keen to ensure things go as smoothly as possible for travellers and for business in general. There may be an impact – either positive or negative – on spending power in-destination if the pound rises or falls steeply in value. We have seen this in the past, with travellers opportunistically stocking up on a currency when it falls.
3. IS THERE ANYTHING SPECIAL AUSTRALIANS PLANNING A TRIP TO THE UK SHOULD DO?
I think at this stage, it's a case of wait and see. Tourism is important to the economy and considerable effort will be going in to ensuring there is minimal disruption. I wouldn't be putting off a holiday just yet because of Brexit concerns.
Qantas, Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways all fly to London from Sydney and Melbourne. Emirates, Etihad and Qatar also fly into Manchester. You can fly to Birmingham with Qatar and Emirates, Cardiff with Qatar and Newcastle with Emirates.