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Extensive travel and tourism guide for Britain

2003 – A big year in Britain

From the opening of John Lennon’s home to an exhibition marking 400 years since Queen Elizabeth I; plus festivals and sporting tournaments galore. 2003 is an event-packed year in Britain, as our month by month round-up of highlights proves.

In February, ancient meets modern when Britain’s most advanced spa is unveiled in the World Heritage City of Bath, 116 miles west of London. The Romans were among the first to take advantage of the natural hot springs – and you can still explore the Roman Baths – but the new Thermae Bath Spa is a stylish building designed by Nicholas Grimshaw, topped with a roof-top open-air pool fed with hot spring water.

In March, London stages a major exhibition on the glamorous and artistic Art Deco style of the early to mid 20th century. “Art Deco 1910-1939” at the Victoria & Albert Museum in South Kensington features everything from delicate jewellery to the complete 1930 foyer of the city’s Strand Palace Hotel: other exhibits come from as far as India and China.

There are two new festivals: London celebrates the works of classical composer Handel and his contemporaries (Mar. 23 – May 4) while Glasgow, Scotland stages its first international comedy event, with more than 50 performances (Mar. 20 – Apr. 5).

England’s second city, Birmingham, will welcome 500 top athletes from 140 countries to the IAAF World Indoor Athletics Championships (Mar. 14-16). For fans of British history, the 400th anniversary of the Union of the English and Scottish crowns will be marked with a year of pageantry, parades and re-enactments in the border town of Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mar. 24 – May 2004).

April is the month for the world’s most exciting steeplechase, the Grand National at Aintree racecourse, Liverpool, North-West England (Apr. 3-5). Music fans have excitement in store: the National Trust plans to open John Lennon’s childhood home to the public for the first time in the spring (date not finalised). Mendips, in suburban Liverpool, is where Lennon lived with his aunt Mimi and “Please Please Me” and other hits were composed. It is one of several Beatles sights to see in the country’s pop capital.

May sees another top sporting event, the Football Association Cup Final, held in the Millennium Stadium in the Welsh capital Cardiff (May 17). Two anniversary events start this month: 400 years after the death of Queen Elizabeth I, an exhibition about her life and times is held at the site of her birthplace, now the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich in London (May 1 – Sept. 14). It is part of a year of special events at historic houses and palaces. In Cornwall, the centenary of the birth of Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975) – among Britain’s most renowned sculptors – is marked with an exhibition at Tate St. Ives, her home town (May 24 – Oct. 12).

Also this month: visitors can start walking the new Hadrian’s Wall National Trail along the northernmost frontier of the Roman Empire; or enjoy the ‘water of life’ at the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival in the Scottish Highlands (May 2-5).

During June, one of the world’s greatest museums, the British Museum in London, is celebrating its 250th anniversary. The highlight is a week of events starting on June 7, the day it was founded in 1753. Admission is free! Art lovers will be flocking to Glasgow, Scotland where the death centenary of American-born artist James Whistler (1834-1903) is marked with exhibitions at the Hunterian Art Gallery and other city venues (June 21 – Oct. 4).

There is also the event of the English ‘season’ – horse racing at Royal Ascot (June 17-20), attended by Her Majesty the Queen.

By July the summer season is in full swing, as are the world’s best golfers: the Open Championship is at Royal St. George’s Golf Club, Sandwich in Kent (Jul. 17-20). In Wales, there are seven magical days of competitive music, song and dance from around the world, at the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod (Jul. 7-13). In Scotland there are cabers being tossed and bagpipes wailing at Highland games, such as those at Inveraray (Jul. 15).

August is the month for some real spectaculars. In the Scottish capital there are the massed military bands and highland dancers of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo (Aug 1-23) – set against the backdrop of the city’s great castle. In Cardiff, Wales there is the Big Weekend Festival (Aug. 1-3), a free extravaganza of funfair, dance party and musical performances, while London has its Notting Hill Carnival (Aug. 24-25 – first day is the children’s event), Europe’s largest arts festival and the carnival second only to Rio’s.

During September, work on transforming London’s Trafalgar Square into a world-class pedestrian piazza will be complete. A grand staircase will link it directly to the National Gallery and there will be regular open-air entertainment beside the fountains. Throughout England, about 2,000 historic or unusual buildings rarely open to tourists will admit the public free of charge during Heritage Open Days (Sept. 12-15). Everything from grand government headquarters to cemetery catacombs throw open their doors.

In Edinburgh (Sept. 4) is the first session at Scotland’s first purpose-built parliament building – under construction for several years at Holyrood – and marked with a range of celebrations in the capital.

October sees a festival in Wales as the annual Dylan Thomas Celebration in Swansea (Oct. 27 – Nov. 9) marks the 50th anniversary of the great poet and playwright’s death with films, plays, readings and lectures. Swansea was his birthplace, but other Welsh towns also plan events.

November is the month for the International Guitar Festival of Great Britain (Nov. 14-23). Performances range from jazz to blues, classical to rock, African to folk -- Wirral in North-West England goes wild for a week -- and it’s only a short ferry ride to Liverpool.

By December the preparations for Christmas are in evidence, with festive markets, colourful illuminations, pantomimes and performances of “The Nutcracker” ballet just a few of the attractions that make this season so magical.