Leisure & Retail
This section of our web site is designed to give you some pointers and suggestions for a variety of leisure activities, sports and shopping. We've called it "Leisure & Retail" as we know that many people enjoy retail "therapy", and we wanted to give you some useful ideas. Have fun!
Art Exhibitions & Collections
The Royal Academy of Arts is an independent fine art institution, supporting contemporary artists and promoting interest in the arts through exhibition. Situated in Piccadilly, West London, the Royal Academy has a permanent collection as well as a calendar of temporary exhibitions. The famous Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy is the world's largest open contemporary art exhibition, featuring paintings, sculpture and drawings from many of the UK's most distinguished artists.
The National Gallery is in Trafalgar Square in London and houses one of the greatest collections of European Art in the World. The collection covers a period of 650 years from 1250 to 1900. Entry to the permanent collection is free. The gallery also has temporary exhibitions of paintings on loan from other collections and charges entrance fees for these.
Tate Britain is the national gallery of British art from 1500 to the present day. It holds the greatest collection of British art in the world. Situated on the north bank of the Thames in Millbank, London, admission to Tate Britain is free.
Tate Modern is Britain's new national museum of modern art, displaying the Tate's collection of international modern art from 1900 to the present day. The gallery also has a full programme of special exhibitions and events. It is located in the Southbank area, next to the Globe Theatre, in a former power station.
Tate Liverpool is the largest gallery of modern and contemporary art outside London. It is housed in a converted warehouse which is part of the historic Albert Dock in Liverpool.
Tate St Ives opened in June 1993 and offers a unique introduction to modern art, where many works can be viewed in the surroundings which inspired them. St Ives is a beautiful coastal town in Cornwall.
The Wallace Collection is both a national museum and the finest private collection of art ever assembled by one family. It's most famous piece is The Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals. It is on show in Hertford House, Manchester Square, just behind Selfridges in Oxford Street, London.
The Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington, London is the national museum of art and design. The collection is comprised of the best examples of metalwork, textiles, furniture, and all other forms of decorative art.
The Barbican, Europe's largest multi arts and conference venue, organises a range of innovative exhibitions of 20th Century and current art and design. The Barbican offers a programme of high profile exhibitions with both paid and free admission. Situated in The City of London, more information about the Barbican can be found on their web site at:
For a comprehensive list of art museums, galleries and historic places to visit across the UK
If you are interested in viewing or purchasing art galleries.co.uk is a great place to start.
Artnet is an excellent site for researching the work of specific artist and where to buy their work. You cannot buy online from this site.
Christie’s is the website of the famous auction house which was founded in the 18th century. Although there are no online auctions you can place absentee bids for any of Christie's auctions around the world.
BigArt supports the work of British artists and offers original works that range in price from £20 to £1500, although some sculptures can be far more expensive.
Many towns in the UK have their own Arts Festivals. The British Arts Festivals Association has a calendar of events and links to festival web sites on its website.
Some of the major festivals and their web sites are listed below:-
The Edinburgh International Festival has been running for over 50 years and it features a variety of performing arts, including opera, dance, theatre, and music.
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe has also been running for over 50 years and is now the world's largest arts festival. All available performing space is utilised playing host to over 20,000 individual performances.
Cheltenham plays host to a variety of different festivals including jazz, music and literature. For events programmes and booking information go to the web site at:
International Youth Arts Festival allows young people to show off their artistic potential.
Brighton Festival is a nearly month-long annual Festival held in 30 locations in Brighton which celebrates music, theatre, dance, circus, art, film and literature.
Ballet & Opera
Probably the best known venue for ballet and opera in the UK is The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London. As one of the world's great lyric theatres it is home to three international companies, The Royal Ballet, The Royal Opera and The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. There has been a theatre on the Covent Garden site since 1728 when the Beggar's Opera was commissioned.
The Barbican in the City of London, is a multi-arts venue which offers both dance and opera.
There has been a theatre on the Sadler's Wells site since the 17th century. Throughout its history it always offered a wide variety of entertainment, until it closed in 1996. It was bulldozed, rebuilt and reopened in 1998, and is intended to be a receiving house for modern dance and lyric drama.
The Rambert Dance Company became an Associate Company of The Sadler's Wells Theatre in 2000. The Rambert Dance Company started life as The Ballet Rambert in 1926, making it the oldest dance company in Britain. It changed from just performing ballet to performing contemporary dance in 1966, encouraging emerging choreographers from the UK. It finally changed its name to reflect the diverse nature of its work in 1987. It tours nationally and internationally every year and the venues and the Company's repertoire can be found on their web site.
The London Coliseum in St Martin's Lane is home to The English National Opera and a venue for The English National Ballet.
The English National Ballet spends the majority of the year on tour throughout the UK but gives performances at the London Coliseum, and holds a large extravaganza at The Royal Albert Hall each Spring.
The first Glyndebourne Festival took place in 1934 and since then has established itself as one of the world's finest opera festivals. The current opera house was built in 1994 and is situated in the exquisite surroundings of Glyndebourne House and gardens. The festival runs from May to August each year and presents 6 productions. It is customary to picnic in the gardens of the House during the long interval in each production, although Glyndebourne also has a restaurant and carvery. Please note there is a dress code for the festival. Glyndebourne Touring Opera was launched in 1968 and starts at Glyndebourne Opera House in October each year, touring the country until December. Glyndebourne House is 54 miles south of London, 4 miles from Lewes.
Garsington Opera Festival is set in the grounds of Garsington Manor, just a few miles south of Oxford. Garsington Opera presents 3 operas during June and July, and a series of concerts are also held during the spring. Performances start in the early evening and there is a long interval where patrons may either picnic in the gardens or dine in the Great Barn.
Watching films in the UK is a popular pastime and you will find cinemas in most towns and all cities. Blockbusters get booked up quickly so we recommend that you book first. Below is a list of the bigger chains:www1.cineworld.co.uk
The British Film Institue
The British Film Institute is a national agency with responsibility for encouraging and conserving the arts of film and television. The National Film Theatre is on the South Bank of the Thames in London and is part of the BFI. It has three screens and shows over 2,000 films each year. It has exclusive screenings of the latest films and shows interviews with directors, producers and actors, talking about their work.
The British Film Institute also supports film festivals and has a listing of festivals up and down the country on its website. The website also lists regional cinemas and what's showing. For this information and also information about the Imax Theatre and the National Film Theatre.
Also part of the BFI is the Imax theatre, housing the UK's largest cinema screen. The theatre has an Imax projection system which is the most sophisticated motion picture projection system in the world. With this and the 11,600 watt digital surround sound system, the viewer feels totally immersed in the film.
The British Academy of Film and Television Arts
An independent charity that supports the film and television arts. The annual award ceremony is considered to be the UK equivalent of the Oscars.
The Royal Albert Hall in London was the concept of Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria, and first opened in 1871, 10 years after his death. The Hall was established and continues to be regulated by Royal Charter which states the purpose of the Hall as being "to be used for the advancement of science and art". It hosts ballet, opera, sporting events, classical and contemporary music concerts, and most famously The Proms.
The Proms is a leading international festival of classical music, running from July to September. The first Promenade Concerts were in 1895 in the Queen's Hall and were intended to present the widest possible range of music, performed to the highest standards, to large audiences. They are intended to reach a wider audience by adopting a less formal promenade arrangement, keeping the ticket prices low. When the Queens Hall was destroyed in World War 2, the Proms transferred to the Royal Albert Hall, where they have been ever since. Over 500 Promming (standing) places go on sale one hour before each performance. These tickets cannot be booked in advance and must be bought in person. The most famous concert is the Last Night at the Proms, which is an unashamedly patriotic event, ending with the National Anthem and everyone waving a Union Jack flag.
Another series of proms concerts are held at the UK's premier outdoor concert destination, The National Bowl. Situated in North Buckinghamshire in the town of Milton Keynes, The National Bowl is normally the home of rock concerts, and has played host to such famous names as David Bowie, Bon Jovi, The Prodigy and Robbie Williams.
Wigmore Hall is a beautiful concert hall in London's West End. It was built next door to their showrooms in 1901 by Bechstein, the German piano firm. It was intended to provide a venue both grandly impressive but intimate enough for recitals. It was sold onto Debenhams in 1916 and, with its celebrated acoustics, has become a favourite venue with international artists.
Glastonbury is the largest green field music and performing arts festival in the world. Set in 900 acres of land in the beautiful Vale of Avalon, Somerset, the site is more than one and a half miles across and has a perimeter of eight and a half miles. The festival takes place for three days at the end of June.
Another well known open air festival takes place at Reading over the August bank holiday weekend. The bands also perform at an open site in Leeds on the same weekend, travelling between the two venues.
The forestry commission also arrange a series of concerts in woodland and forest locations:
Music on a Summer Evening is a series of concerts at three venues, Kenwood Lakeside, Marble Hill House and Audley End, all looked after by English Heritage. The concerts take place in the grounds of the venues, and it is traditional to take a picnic and enjoy the concerts from the comfort of your travel rug. Seating is only available at Kenwood in the form of deckchairs. The programmes are a mixture of popular classics, opera, musicals and jazz. The evenings are finished off with a grand firework display. There can be nothing quite as spectacular as listening to The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra play the 1812 Overture, whilst the fireworks exploding in the night sky are reflected in the Lake of Kenwood House.
Many other historic homes and castles also offer concerts in the gardens. If you are interested here are a few links to get you started:
The West End of London is the heart of Britain's Theatreland. To find out what's on, read reviews and buy tickets look at What’s On Stage and UK Tickets. They will give you details of productions on country wide.
Here is a map of the West End theatres on the London Theatre Guide web site. This web site gives you news, reviews and what's on in the West End.
The Globe Theatre is a reconstruction of the original Globe Theatre that was built in 1599 only 200 yards away from its present site. The use of traditional materials and techniques were key factors in the reconstruction. Over 400 years later, the Globe Theatre offers plays by William Shakespeare and his contemporaries on the type of stage they were written for. As well as performances, you can listen to lectures, take a tour of the theatre, and visit the exhibition.
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre has become a highlight of London's theatrical calendar. There has been an open air theatre on the same site in Regents Park since 1932, but has been upgraded to its present condition over the years.
The Barbican is Europe's largest multi arts and conference venue and is situated in The City area of London. The nearest tube station is the Barbican. As well as all its other facilities, the Barbican has two theatres where it offers a comprehensive range of drama.
Stratford-Upon-Avon is the birthplace of William Shakespeare and one of the three homes of the Royal Shakespeare Company. The RSC in Stratford offers three theatres providing a whole range of drama, both classical and contemporary. The other main homes of the RSC are London and Newcastle.
The Chichester Festival Theatre is one of the UK's flagship theatres. Situated in Chichester, West Sussex, the main theatre was opened in 1962 and the smaller, more intimate Minerva theatre opened in 1989. The Theatre's year falls into two categories. During the Summer Festival Season, running from May to September, all the productions at the two theatres are original to Chichester, often transferring to London's West End. During the winter months, the Minerva Theatre continues to produce plays whilst the Festival Theatre hosts a programme of opera, dance, comedy and music concerts.
Shopping & Retail Therapy
A haven for true bargain hunters!!! Look no further than the factory outlet centres scattered around the country.
These are typically where major retailers and designers will be selling off the remainder of stock from last season and discontinued lines. However, don't think that the quality will be compromised as this is not the case.
Be prepared to rummage along the rails to find the best bargains, but these places claim to sell items at up to 60% of the original selling price, so perseverance is the name of the game. However, also be prepared to find the perfect item; but then be told it's not available in your size!
Shopping at one of these places tends to be for impulse buys rather than for a specific item, as there is no telling until you are in the stores as to exactly what they're going to have on sale. So if you're searching for the perfect outfit for a special occasion, visit here first, but leave enough time to go to another shopping centre in case you can't find what you're looking for.
Typically, the items on sale will be clothing and sports items, but a few household shops have opened outlet stores.
For a general guide to the Outlet Villages in the country see below:
The main outlet villages in the area are situated in:
Bicester Village, Bicester, OX26 6WD
McArthur Glen Swindon, Swindon Designer Outlet, Swindon, SN2 2DY
McArthur Glen, Ashford, TN24 0SD
Whiteley Shopping, Fareham, PO15 7PD
The Galleria, Comet Way, Hatfield, AL10 0XR.
London Designer Outlet, Wembley, HA9 0QL
Clarks Village, Street, BA16 0BB
Gloucester Quays, Gloucester, GL1 5SH
Gunwharf Quays, Portsmouth, PO1 3TZ
Shopping Malls & Retail Parks
Although UK shopping malls will never rival those found in the US, there are an increasing number of large, take-you-all-day-to-walk-around, malls that have sprung up across the UK.
These malls will normally incorporate restaurants, cafes and even cinemas alongside a very wide and varied range of shops. These will include department stores, clothing shops and designer stores through to smaller shops that specialise in a specific field. These have been set up to be a complete shopping experience and before embarking on a trip to these malls, ensure you have a pair of comfortable shoes and a good credit limit on your card!
Most town centres will offer a wide variety of shops, and many have smaller under-cover shopping centres (UK malls). Edge of town retail parks are more common, and below you'll find links to the most commonly found stores.
The shopping malls of note in the South East are:
Lakeside is situated just off the M25 at junction 30/31. It houses around 320 shops and is open 7 days a week. During the week, the complex remains open until 10pm.
Bluewater is home to around 250 stores and is situated about a mile from junction 2 of the M25.
Westfield is the largest in-town shopping and leisure development in Europe, and is located in West London. There are 265 shops and a 'village' dedicated solely to designer brands.
These have extensive parking facilities and are all clearly sign-posted from the motorway.
Town centre and urban shopping malls that are worth visiting include:
Brent Cross Shopping Centre, NW London
Eden Walk, Kingston
The Centre, Milton Keynes
The Oracle, Reading
West Quay, Southampton
The Mall, Luton
The Friary, Guildford
Some shops require larger spaces than those normally found in shopping arcades. Because of this, it is now common to find retail parks on the outskirts of towns which are home to bigger stores.
These stores will typically be DIY outlets, electrical retailers, pet shops and furniture or home stores. They will be built on a specific site, and normally offer free parking. You will normally find a few companies grouped together within one retail park so that you don't have to keep driving around to different parts of the town in order to find what you need.
A list of the shops that you may find in retail parks follows:
B & Q – Do-It-Yourself
Carpet Right - carpets and flooring
Currys - electrical goods
DFS - furniture retailers
Dreams - beds
Furniture Village - furniture retailers
Halfords - car and bicycle accessories
Homebase - Do-It-Yourself
IKEA - furniture
Matalan –clothing and housewares
Mothercare - maternity, baby and children's clothes and equipment
PC World - Computers and technology
Pets at Home - pet supplies
Staples – office Supplies
Toys R Us – toys and Games
Due to the type of merchandise that you are likely to purchase in these stores, they will often offer home delivery - so don't think that you'll have to carry a washing machine home on your motorbike! Some will charge for the delivery which may be based on the item or your total shopping value, others won't charge at all. Check with the individual store before purchasing.
These parks will be very busy over the weekend, but many open late into the evenings. So, if you can avoid weekend shopping, especially Bank Holiday weekends, you'll save time and your sanity!
Specialised Sports Outlets
Popular High Street Stores
In addition to these, smaller independent sports stores can be found on most high streets.
American Sports Merchandise
TA Sports provides sports merchandise for American and Canadian sports.
Skate Boarding, Roller Skating and Ice Skating
Sports support and protection
It is very common for shops in the UK to be nationwide chains and have outlets in most of the shopping centres you visit. Many of the names here are global brands that will already be familiar to you but we hope that these brief web links will be of use.
In alphabetical order:
|Store Name||Type of Store||URL|
|Body Shop||Toiletries and Cosmetics||www.thebodyshop.co.uk|
|Claire's Accessories||Fashion Jewellery & Accessories||www.claires.co.uk|
|Clinton Cards||Greeting Cards||www.clintonsretail.com|
|Dorothy Perkins||Ladies' Fashions||www.dorothyperkins.com|
|Early Learning Centre||Toy & Educational Learning Store||www.elc.co.uk|
|Evans||Plus Size Ladies' Fashions||www.evans.ltd.uk|
|HMV||Music & Entertainment Store||www.hmv.com|
|House of Fraser||Department Store||www.houseoffraser.co.uk|
|John Lewis||Department Store||www.johnlewis.com|
|Laura Ashley||Fashions & Homeware Store||www.lauraashley.com|
|Littlewoods||Clothing & Homeware Store||www.littlewoods.com|
|Marks and Spencer||Clothing & Homeware Store||www.marksandspencer.com|
|Miss Selfridge||Ladies' Fashions||www.missselfridge.com|
|Monsoon||Ladies' and childrens Fashions||uk.monsoon.co.uk|
|River Island||Clothing Store||www.riverisland.com|
|Top Man||Men's Fashions||www.topman.com|
|Top Shop||Ladies' Fashions||www.topshop.com|
|WH Smith||Stationery, Books & Gifts||www.whsmith.co.uk|
These shops can be found in most town centre shopping malls and you will find that the products found in one outlet will be found in the same shop a few miles down the road.
Some of these stores will have 'flag-ship' branches that stock all of the items that the store sells, whereas smaller branches will only stock the more popular ranges. However, if you find something that you want to buy is not currently in stock in your local store, the shop will usually be more than happy to order the item for you and get it delivered to the branch closest to you. You should not expect to pay for this service. Alternatively, most stores have websites that you may order from.
Perhaps not the most exciting form of shopping, but essential nonetheless.
There are a number of supermarket chains in the UK and they are all in fierce competition to win your custom. Typically supermarkets are located just on the outskirts of a town so that they can occupy a larger site and offer car parking facilities. However, smaller branches, which in turn carry a smaller range of items, can be found within most town centres so that you can still purchase groceries without needing a car.
Supermarkets are increasingly expanding their product base and long gone are the days when you merely shopped for your weekly groceries. You can now purchase all array of items from clothes to computers, insurance to pet products.
However, most are trying to ensure that the whole shopping experience is as pleasurable as possible with many offering cafes, crèches, banking facilities and pharmacies on site - whether they're achieving a truly pleasing grocery shop will have to be your decision.
Many supermarkets are open for 24 hours, you can check on their websites for individual store opening times. Please note that Sundays usually have reduced hours. They also now provide online shopping which, for a small fee, you can order over the internet and then arrange to be delivered within a time slot suitable to you.
The leaders in the market are:
Sainsbury's is a long-established company, originally set up in 1869 by John Saisbury; it remained a family company for many years. Small branches are called Saisnbury's Local.
Tesco is one of the largest chains in the UK and was started in 1919, they can be found in most towns across the UK. There are many smaller stores called Tesco Express or Tesco Metro, in fact most towns have at least 2 now.
Founded in 1899 by William Morrison, Morrisons has grown from a single egg and butter stall in Bradford market to become the UK’s fourth largest and rapidly growing supermarket chains since acquiring the Safeway supermarket chain.
Asda was set up in 1965 by a group of Yorkshire farmers. In 1999 it was sold to the US Wal-Mart group. It prides itself on offering good value for money weekly groceries.
Waitrose is the supermarket chain of the John Lewis Partnership. It tends to specialise in the slightly higher end of the market and stocks a lot of specialist foods.
In addition to these chains there are the following smaller chains:
The Co-Operative Food store, which is usually found in high streets rather than large out of town stores.
Budgen’s are only found in the Midlands and South East England. They have a few large stores but tend to be mainly found in the high street or as convenience stores.
Iceland specialises in frozen food but do tend to have some good deals.
Although most UK supermarkets stock ranges of organic fruit and vegetables and ethically sourced meat, poultry, fish and seafood, the following companies are online stores that specialise in these products and deliver to your door.
UK Supermarkets have a very good range of ‘free from’ foods for those with food intolerances or allergies.
Look out for ‘World Foods’ in the supermarkets, many of them now offer a good selection from many countries.
All of the larger groups of supermarkets offer a loyalty scheme of one sort or another. This will either be a card where you collect points and then trade the points for a range of goods or experiences on offer, or by giving you vouchers to use on your groceries. All of these are intended to keep you a loyal customer of that particular chain but there is nothing to stop you collecting cards and points from as many supermarkets as you like.
You will also find recycling points for glass, paper, tins etc. in car parks of the larger superstores.
All the companies listed above are ideal for purchasing your weekly or monthly groceries. However, there are also a number of stores that you will find within residential areas which are solely convenience stores for items that you may have run out of at home. These are Nisa, Spar, One-Stop and Londis. Their prices tend to be slightly higher than supermarkets, as you will be paying for the convenience of having them on your doorstep.
Many supermarkets have petrol stations on site. They sell petrol and diesel at competitive prices in comparison to some of the larger petrol suppliers.
Traditionally, the sales took place in the summer and just after Christmas, whilst this is still the case it is becoming more common to see stores offering items on 'sale' all through the year.
There are still the 'big' sales that people flock to, the biggest of which has to be at Harrods – where people will happily camp on the pavement over night to be the first allowed through the doors when the sale opens, and there is always a celebrity on hand to declare the sale 'officially open'.
The sales are a good opportunity for retailers to offer end of line or end of season stock at a discounted price, in order to make way for new items coming into the store. It is also a good time to pick up a bargain. However, be sure to check sale items to ensure that they are not faulty in any way, and that they really are on sale i.e. that they have previously been for sale at the original quoted price and not just marked as being on sale.