The BBC and Masterpiece Classics Tour: 10 Film Locations

From the verdant rolling hills of the English countryside to historic estates dating back centuries, follow in the footsteps of your favorite Masterpiece Classics and BBC television series like the Highclere Castle in Hampshire from Downton Abbey and the Yorkshire Dales of All Creatures Great and Small fame. Put on your London Fog trench coat, hop in a vintage Mini Cooper, and get ready for pints, tea and biscuits as you explore the same spots that inspired the legendary tales of Agatha Christie and James Herriot. Set against the romantic backdrop of the English countryside; discover the film locations of your favorite British television shows.

All Creatures Great and Small: Yorkshire Dales

Besides the cars on the roads, the Yorkshire Dales has remained largely unchanged with its rolling hills, old stone churches, and bubbling streams. Hop in a rental, put on your London Fog, and get ready to follow the same path as James Herriot from All Creatures Great and Small. First stop is Cringley House on Main Street, which served as the Skeldale House and vet headquarters in the series. Now the historic building is a Bed and Breakfast located in Askrigg, which gives James Harriott fans the chance to stay in the original house. Then, after filling up on tea and toast, or a full English breakfast, head to Holy Trinity Church, another film location and an Anglican landmark dating back to 1719. A good place to end a day of sightseeing the Yorkshire Dales is Kings Arms Hotel, known in the series as Drover’s Arms and still the same place where all the locals gather for pints and gossip.

Downton Abbey: Highclere Castle

Get ready to enter a world of opulent luxury and century old architecture of the romantic English countryside. Welcome to Highclere Castle, a Jacobethan style mansion in Hampshire and also the filming location of the popular Masterpiece Classics series Downton Abbey. Open to the public from July to September, visitors get a chance to wander into the same rooms that were filmed in the hit show, including the drawing room where Maggie Smith frequently offered pithy comments to unfortunate family members. Situated 5 miles south of Newbury, Berkshire, the castle is the country seat of the Earl of Carnarvon, and is still in the family name today. It was originally built in 1839 on the foundations of the crumbling medieval palace of the Bishops of Winchester. The classical style mansion reflects a mix of Victorian revival of English architecture that was popular at the time.

Poldark: Cornwall

The new series on Masterpiece Classics, Poldark, relives the life and ties of Cornwall haves and have nots of the 18th century. Situated on the cliffs of south west England, Cornwall is a rustic countryside filled with treasures and relics from long ago days. In fact, Charleston has a collection of vintage ships and traditional stone buildings, making it ideal for filming period pieces. Another hidden treasure featured in the series is Porthgwarra, an ancient fish cove that is now used as a beautiful swimming and snorkeling spot. Further along the coast are stone buildings of the Levant Mine that rests like an ancient medieval fortress nestled in the cliffs. Further along the coast is the Padstow area, a region of green cliffs and fields of barley, the perfect backdrop for period melodrama.

Campion: The Suffolk Coast

The Suffolk Coast has all the standards you would expect from the English countryside: Elizabethan mansions, perfectly manicured gardens, and ancient paths with brooks and old woodlands. In BBC’s retelling of Campion, the Margery Allingham mysteries, the show centers around Campion, a private small-time sleuth who hob nobs with aristocrats always up to no good, unless it was the butler. In any case, follow the same wooded trails to the quaint village of Dedham for a day out in the country. Along the way, there are plenty of places for tea and biscuits, like the Bridge Cottage, a 16th century, well-preserved thatch cottage in Flatford. From there, head to St. Mary-the-Virgin church and see up close the architecture from the 14th century. A leisurely 5-minute stroll leads to Willy Lott’s House, a 16th century mansion that is featured in Constable’s painting “The Hay Wain” (1821).

Land Girls: Arbury Hall

Standing in for the fictional Hoxley Manor in the BBC series Land Girls, Arbury Hall in Nuneaton is a rare example of early Gothic Revival and Tudor architecture. Built in 1586, the Elizabethan mansion still retains its authentic magnificence with its 300 acres of perfectly manicured lawns, ancient woodlands, and the verdant rolling hills of Warwickshire, England. The mansion has been in the Newdegate family for 400 years and in the 18th century, Sir Roger Newdegate transformed it into an opulent, luxurious palace, making it ideal for period film locations set in the English countryside. The estate has also been featured in George Eliot’s “Scenes of a Clerical Life,” a collection of short stories published in 1857. Today, the estate and gardens are open to the public on Bank Holiday weekends from April to August, the perfect time to see the flowers in full bloom.

Endeavor: Oxford, England

In the mystery series Endeavor, the latest reboot of the BBC show Inspector Morse, the ancient town of Oxford is the setting where the young inspector tracks down suspects and cracks impossible murder cases. Dating back to the 11th century, Oxford still contains original stonewalls, structures, and churches from the Medieval era, including the University of Oxford, one of the oldest colleges in the world. Also featured in the Harry Potter movies, Oxford is like an outdoor museum with tales of the ancient world on every corner. A good place to start a walking tour is the Carfax Tower, which is located in the city center at Queen and High Street. A cherished historical landmark, the tower is all that remains of the 12th century St. Martin’s Church. Visitors are also welcomed to tour the gardens and buildings of the University of Oxford, the crown jewel of Oxfordshire.

Sherlock Holmes: London

Find your inner sleuth, the English version, and head for London, the very streets where Arthur Conon Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes enthralled his contemporaries with his genius detective skills and odd manners. In the latest BBC version of the classic mystery, Sherlock Holmes, follow a trail of clues around the city. First stop is Baker Street, one of the most famous addresses in London, so popular in fact, most days it is congested with fan traffic, forcing the film crew to replace it with 87 North Gower Street. Devotees of the show might recognize Speedy’s Café beneath the apartment of Holmes and Mrs. Hudson. Just like Holmes in “A Scandal in Belgravia,” visitors can sit down and watch for clues over an evening meal. Then take a stroll to Russell Square Garden, the serene patch of green in Bloomsbury and featured in the very first episode of Sherlock.

Mr. Selfridge: London

Enter the historic streets and old buildings of England’s Edwardian era in the Masterpiece Classics period drama Mr. Selfridge. Filmed on the streets of Neaseden, the series transforms the neighborhood back to the early 20th century with vintage automobiles, top hats, and handbags. Although it has become modernized with the Chalkill housing estate built in the 1970s, many of the original buildings and cottages remain, making it a worthwhile stop on a trip to London. Keep walking and you’ll reach Wembley Park, which contains England’s main football stadium and the stages of the Wembley Arena, a major entertainment venue. If you want a taste of the English aristocracy, stop by Wrotham Park in Hertfordshire, which is featured as Lord Loxley’s mansion interiors in London.

Bleak House: Hertfordshire, United Kingdom

In southern England, you’ll find more relics from old world aristocracy, including several historic estates and gardens in Hertfordshire where the BBC Masterpiece Classics mini-series Bleak House was filmed. For a Charles Dickens period piece, the area is perfect with its expansive rolling hills and stately mansions. A good place to start is the Hatfield House, a Jacobean style mansion that has the embellishments of a typical estate in the English countryside. Visitors also have the chance to explore the surviving wing of the Tudor Palace, the very place where Elizabeth I spent her childhood. After a day of exploring, get ready to experience the life of the Dukes and Ladies at the luxurious Hertfordshire Spa, a retreat at the historic estate of Broxbourne. Relax after a spa day with top shelf Brandy, ornate chandeliers, and all the relics from the age of opulence.

Wolf Hall: Montacute, Somerset, United Kingdom

Set in a world of betrayal, revenge, and melodrama is the incredible true story of the English Monarchy and its tumultuous saga. In the Masterpiece Classics version, prepare to enter the world of the cutthroat court of Henry VIII in Wolf Hall, a retelling of the classic real-life tragedy. Filmed at Montacute House in Somerset, England, step foot on the same hollowed grounds that represent the Greenwich Palace, Henry VIII’s primary London seat and the site of Anne Boleyn’s arrest. The surrounding gardens also provide a spectacular backdrop for jousting and archery of the kings and dukes of old. After touring the grounds where the romance between Henry and Anne blossomed, stop in for a traditional English meal at the café or bring your own lunch for a picnic on the lawn. For a longer stay, visitors have the option of staying overnight at the South Lodge holiday cottage.

The World’s Most Spectacular and Unique Picnic Spots

There are few more idyllic, memorable, budget-friendly activities than enjoying an outdoor picnic. Whether you’re a couple looking for a romantic spot to nosh wine and cheese, a family looking for a day outing, or a big group planning an event or reunion, there are loads of spots that will enhance the overall features with scenery, amenities and unique features built right into the setting. And there are many who agree that food just taste better outside.

1. Irvine Regional Park, CA

Located in Orange, CA, Irvine Regional Park is a mecca for family fun that includes a picnic. In addition to numerous picnic tables and outdoor grills, there is a host of activities to partake in after you’ve finished your potato salad. There are bike trails (bike rentals available), equestrian trails, pony rides, paddleboats and fishing. There is even a train that the family can hop on for a ride across the park, as well as a zoo.

2. Huayna Picchu, Peru

Looking for a picnic perch with a view? You can’t get much better than spreading your blanket out atop Huayna Picchu in Peru, breaking your bread and taking into the vistas out and below. At an elevation of 9,000 ft., stopping atop this mountain after a reportedly grueling hike- not only gives you a chance to rest and refuel your body after the hike, but a chance to refresh your soul as well, with a stunning panorama of the 15th century ruins of Machu Piccu, including the Urubamba River Valley and the iconic city of Inca.

3. Gatineau Park, QC

Gatineau Park, located just outside of Ottawa, ON has 5 different picnic areas within their network of parks. The park is very popular with mountain bikers, hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. Charcoal BBQs are available at various locations throughout the parks, as well as lots of picnic tables. The Etienne Brule Lookout is a popular picnic spot and offers fantastic views of the Ottawa River and connects to hiking and biking trails.

4. Grand Canyon South Rim, AZ

You’ve heard of dinner and a show? How about lunch and a view? And as views go, you can’t replicate the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon National Park at the South Rim has over 300 miles of trails to wander, take in this wonder of the world. Desert View Drive, which winds along the south rim of the Canyon leads to the Desert View Watchtower. Along this road are several lookout points and picnic areas. If you’re looking to extend your stay and camp, reservations are highly recommended. There are three campgrounds at the South Rim, including tent sites that can accommodate up to 50 people and three vehicles- so if your picnic plans are for a large group or reunion- this is a good spot for you.

5. Avon Valley Adventure and Wildlife Park, Bristol UK

This fun park expands over 50 acres along the River Avon and has loads of family activities, including a petting zoo, mazes, a toddler village, and indoor and outdoor play areas. The park offers a “Riverside Experience” with miles of trails to follow along the river, providing idyllic picnic spots along the way.

6. Shannon Falls Provincial Park, B.C.

In Squamish B.C., Shannon Falls cascade down over Howe Sound, and are the third tallest falls in British Columbia. A meandering trail through the forest will get you down to the base of the falls- which is where you’ll want to head for photo ops and great views. If you feel like a longer hike, this trail hooks into the Stawamus Trail, which spreads its way out to three different summits. Shannon Falls Provincial Park is well-equipped for picnickers with a concession stand and picnic area located next to the parking lot. This area is for day-use only, making it ideal for a daytime hike and picnic to take in the views.

7. Villa Borghese Park, Rome

Villa Borghese is Rome’s answer to New York’s Central Park, with vast amounts of green space, walking trails and ponds. This park spreads out over 226 acres, and is populated with statues, museums, fountains, theatres and a zoo. There is a wide patchwork of lush, idyllic gardens in which to stop and smell the roses- literally. There are lots of grassy patches under trees to spread out your blanket and feast on your Italian picnic basket. Afterwards you can wander to one of the many man-made lakes and feed the ducks.

The 12 Most Unique Movie Theaters in the World

Forget watching Netflix at home or going to a regular movie theatre, all around the world from the United States to Norway to the UK there are some extremely unique theatres to visit. Some take credit for being hundreds of years old while others use new technology to wow moviegoers. From an elementary school turned brewpub/theatre to an outdoor cinema set up in a cemetery; here are our top 12 choices for the most unique movie theatres in the world.

12. Kennedy School, Portland, OR

This one time elementary school has been turned into a 35-room hotel, restaurant, and movie theatre, all thanks to McMenamins, a local empire of brewpubs and entertainment venues. The movie theatre located in the school’s old auditorium is a mix of comfortable sofas, armchairs, and tables for two. It can fit up to 300 guests inside where second-run feature films are shown nightly.

Mommy matinees are shown during the day from Tuesdays to Thursday s where kids and their parents can come enjoy the first show, and it won’t matter to anyone if the wee ones fuss. Admission here is a steal, at just $4 per person and just $2 a child. There is a special theatre lounge and lobby to grab a drink and bite to eat before the show, or put in your order, as servers will come to your seat throughout the movie so you don’t have to miss a minute of it. Not surprisingly there are a number of McMenamins Craft Beers on tap here!

Via Lonely Planet

11. Colosseum Kino, Oslo, Norway

It is the largest cinema in Northern Europe and the largest THX cinema in the world and is dominating in structure due to its large spherical dome. The grey and cream dome looks more like a futuristic spaceship rather than a movie theatre but it was actually built in 1921.

Throughout its 90 year history, the Colosseum Kino has managed to keep up with technological advances such as sounds systems, and ticketing systems. In 1998 the theatre closed down for a period of time in which major interior and exterior renovations were made.

Via Cinemaholic

10. The Castro Theatre, San Francisco

Built in 1922 by pioneer San Francisco theatre entrepreneurs, this is one of the last remaining movie palaces in the nation that was built in the 1920’s that is still in operation. Both outside and it is breathtakingly gorgeous with the inside being just a touch more luxurious. Expect to see foamy balconies, wall-mounted busts of heroic figures and an auditorium that seat over 1,400 guests in a fantasy setting that is both lavish and intimate.

On either side of the screen are large organ grills, a large art deco chandelier hangs from the room and two dramatic staircases lead to the mezzanine and balcony. Showing here are foreign films, classic revivals, festivals and some of the most intense audiences in town.  In recent years the sound quality has been improved, new stage lighting was installed and larger and more comfortable seats were put on the main floor.

9. Electric Cinema, London

Visitors to the Electric Cinema in London should expect luxury service in this adults aimed hideout in the chic Notting Hill Neighborhood. It is one of the oldest working cinemas in the country, opening in 1910 and has run almost continuously since that time. The interior of the theater is made up of 65 leather armchairs with footstools and side tables, three 2-seater sofas at the rear and six double beds in the front row.

To make things even better, individual cashmere blankets are provided for guests. The bar opens 10 minutes before screening time, whereas the movie starts 30 minutes after screening time. Offering wine, beer, champagne and a variety of snacks; one must get their food and drinks ahead of time. On Monday mornings babies and their caregivers are invited to Electric Scream, a screening designed especially for them.

Via YouTube

8. Raj Mandir Cinema, Jaipur, India

It is nicknamed the “Pride of Asia” and is considered the crown jewel of India’s cinemas, and certainly lives up to its reputation. The theatre was created to make guests feel as though they were royal guests of a palace, a place full of style and elegance. Walking into this theatre is an experience unlike any other, high ceilings hung with huge chandeliers, lighting that changes from white to blue and walls covered in artistic artwork.

The seating here is divided into four sections, Pearl, Ruby, Emerald, and Diamond and once you are seated you will be faced with a huge screen covered by velvet curtains. This is such an experience that every single movie showing over the past 25 years has had a full house, now that is something to brag about. There certainly doesn’t seem to be any better place to take in the colorful sights and sounds of a Bollywood film.

7. Cine de Chef, Seoul, South Korea

This cinema gives a new meaning to “dinner and a movie” with its small luxurious theatre. Couples will begin their night by dropping their car off at the valet and taking the private elevator up to Cordon Bleu café for a quick meal before the show. Think upscale cuisine with a twist. Moviegoers are than put into a private screening room that seats just a handful of patrons.

The comfortable reclining chairs were designed by the same people who design seats for the United Arab Emirates Royalty and once you sit down you may never want to get back up. Footstools, side tables, and lamps complete the picture of this awesome yet small venue. Tickets start at just $54 per person for both dinner and a movie.

Via designseoda

6. Rooftop Cinema, Melbourne, Australia

Sitting on a rooftop bar watching a movie play on a large projection screen sounds like a dream come true. In fact, it is actually reality at the Rooftop Cinema in Melbourne Australia. Open daily from 11am-1am it is easy to grab a drink before the movie starts and hang around long after the credits roll. The rooftop cinema is open from December to April and prices start at $22 per person.

The seating up here is incredibly comfortable deck chairs and blankets are available to rent for just $5 for the course of the movie. Showings include art house films, classics, and recent releases. It is fully licensed up on this roof and moviegoers often bring up their cocktails and brews from the bar below. Enjoy the sky above you, the grass beneath you and an incredible view of the Melbourne skyline.

Via Time Out

5. Cinespia at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, CA

The outdoor movie screenings here are hard to beat in terms of being unique as they are held on Fairbanks Lawn, an open grassy field inside the Hollywood Forever Cemetery; yes we did just say cemetery. Moviegoers here are responsible for bringing their own low lying chairs, blankets and pillows as well as picnics, wine and beer (note that no spirits are allowed). The Forever Cemetery is the final resting place for many, including John Huston, Peter Lorre, Bugsy Siegel and more.

The showing range from comedies to horror to old school classics and tickets generally cost $10-$15. Guests arriving at the showing will walk through the beautiful and historic cemetery before plunking down in front of the screen. There are restrooms on site to use and there are no in and out privileges. If you thought that watching a scary movie in a normal cinema was scary, wait until you watch one in a cemetery.

Via Hollywood Reporter

4. Alamo Drafthouse, Austin, TX

This quirky indie movie chain was started by a husband and wife team that had no movie qualifications, other than being devoted movie fans. Striving to create the perfect viewing experience for movie lovers there are some strict rules to follow here in order for everyone to enjoy. Some of these rules include absolutely no talking, no cell-phone usage, no unaccompanied children, no babies and no ads before the movies.

What you can expect is high quality and locally sourced food and beer that are served to your seat. This movie chain also runs some incredible events across their theatres. It once showed the Lord of the Rings Trilogy where viewers were only permitted to eat when the characters ate on screen, or how about the events when they call for every viewer to dress like a certain character. Its how movie showing should be, uninterrupted, fun and enjoyable.

Via Alamo Drafthouse Cinema

3. Secret Cinema, Unknown

Once a month moviegoers can be part of a secret audience, secret location and essentially a secret world. Secret Cinema brings together film, music, art, and theatre to create a larger than life experience in abandoned spaces. This is an entirely immersive experience where audiences must dress up as the characters or of the era of the film. They also have the chance to interact with the spectators and actors while having food and drinks, living in the world of the film before setting in to watch the film.

Tickets are not cheap for the event and start around $75 Great British Pounds per adult. Viewers must register online to receive the secret email for which film will be next on the list. Although this is not a standalone theatre, the concept and the delivery of these movies is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Via Stevenfollows.com

2. Hot Tub Cinema, UK, USA, Ibiza

One way to get people talking is to combine hot tubs and movies, because who doesn’t love both! This company started by combining great films with amazing space, lots of hot tubs and incredible people. The mantra here is that they don’t want you to watch films but instead celebrate them. This means your movie experience will be unlike any other you have had before.

Moviegoers are encouraged to dress up, sing, dance, drink and play, as well as spending plenty of time in the hot tub. With movies such as Dirty Dancing, Free Willy, Back to the Future and other classics, tickets sell out fast. Whole tubs can be rented out by buying 6 tickets for a friend or you can buy a pair of tickets and make some new friends as you share a hot tub. There are personalized tub waiters for each hot tub and you can assure this may just be the best night of your life.

Via AWOL

1. Sol Cinema, South Wales

It prides itself as the world’s smallest solar movie theatre and we have to say this may, in fact, be the most unique movie theatre in the world. The Sol Cinema is actually a mobile cinema in a caravan that is powered entirely by the sun. It can accommodate up to 8 adults comfortably and the choice is yours as to which movie is playing. Inside comfortable benches and surround sounds create the perfect viewing experience.

Guests here will get the utmost luxury treatment complete with a red carpet, usherette service and popcorn to snack on. The idea behind this solar movie theatre came when they wanted to reduce their own CO2 emissions but also show what is achievable with solar power. Creating this small cinema allows hundreds of people to be entertained on a daily basis and gives something unique and incredible to both creators and viewers.

Via Digital Spy

The 12 Most Epic Mud Runs

In the past decade more and more people are signing up willingly to crawl through mud pits, climb up rope ladders, jump over fire pits and even get electrocuted, all in the name of having fun and challenging themselves. All over the world mud runs and challenges are taking fitness to a new level and designing obstacle courses that challenge participants both physically and mentally. The twelve mud runs are incredibly fun, challenging and sometimes downright dangerous but they all have one thing in common, once you cross the finish line you are a changed person. Don’t be afraid to get down and dirty at these 12 epic mud runs.

12. Civilian Military Combine

It is one of the most intense runs on this list and although many mud runs feature military-style obstacles, this run actually invites ordinary people to join the ranks for a day. This race is a true test of endurance and fitness, designed by coaches from the CrossFit community, members of the U.S armed forces and USA Triathlon race directors.

The run starts off with “The Pit”, a 7-minute as many reps as possible workout designed to challenge you both physically and mentally. After conquering “The Pit”, a 4 + mile military inspired obstacle course awaits you, through the mud. Prepare to run, walk, jump and slide your way through this incredibly difficult obstacle course. When the mud washes off, the wounds heal and the sore muscles recover; there will only be one thought in your mind- that you conquered one of the world’s toughest mud races.

Via Pintrest

11. Merrell Down and Dirty

It prides itself on having the best mud, black in color, stick to your skin kind of mud and there is no way to avoid getting dirty during this run. Whether you are a beginner or expert, you can participate in one of these two runs, with your choice of distance, either 5km or 10km. One of the benefits for beginners here is that the races are not timed and therefore runners are a little more relaxed than other mud races.

The Down and Dirty takes place in 11 cities across the U.S and both courses feature more than 20 obstacles. Racers can expect challenges such as ladder walls, balance beams, and sandbags to carry. For those extreme mud runners, you can even go barefoot and win special prizes. Racers have to be over 13 years of age and there is plenty of post-race parties to participate in once you have claimed your finisher medal.

Via Mountain Town Magazine

10. Dirty Girl Mud Run

There are more than 40 Dirty Girl Mud Runs across the U.S and this 5km women’s only run promises lots of pink and lots of messy mud, as well as plenty of laughs. This race happens to be untimed and racers are encouraged to only tackle the challenges they are comfortable with. Groups of women come out to this event; as long as you are over 14 years old you can participate.

Obstacles include tunnels, slides, mazes, and nets. This race raises money for Bright Pink, a charity that is dedicated to the prevention and early detection of breast and ovarian cancer in women. Instead of a medal finishers of this race will receive a custom Dirty Girl jewelry charm. As a unique twist, this race reserves 300 free entries per race for cancer survivors.

9. Warrior Dash

It is the largest obstacle race series in the world and has over 50 races on four continents and since it started in 2009 has raised over ten million dollars for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. This series has seen over two million participants around the world and continues to grow each year. The course is tough, designed for those with determination as runner trek through three to four muddy miles of intense obstacles.

Up and down cargo nets, over barricades, down muddy slides, and over flaming fires are just a few examples of what you will face. In the end, the reward is a coveted Viking helmet, a finisher medals that doubles as a bottle opener and of course a stein of beer. Awards are handed out for the best beard and craziest costume. Finish the day off with an epic after party where everyone wears their helmets proudly and parties on.

8. Muddy Buddy Adventure Series

This muddy race began in 1999 and operates across nine cities in the U.S, with three different races to choose from. What makes this race unique is that you must stick together with your buddy at ALL times, in fact, one obstacle requires you to literally hug your partner as you tackle it. The course ranges from three miles to four and a half and offers up eight to ten military like challenges including rope climbs and slides.

The Muddy Buddy Bike and Run is another challenging race in which teams of two people and one mountain bike cover six to seven miles and five obstacles. The third course is perhaps the cutest of them all when little mud runners as young as four years old can participate in four obstacles during a short race. Proceeds from the race benefit the Prostate Cancer Foundation and you can count on being covered head to toe in mud when you cross this finish line.

Via Endurance Sports Florida

7. The Death Race

The name alone should scare most people off from even reading about the death race, never mind participating in it. Created by two Ultra athletes, the Death Race was developed as a way for athletes to test themselves for physically and mentally. Each Death Race is its own brutal challenge, with no two races being alike and can last up to 70 hours. Participants are not told when it starts when it ends, or what it entails, did we mention there is no support along the way either.

Chopping wood, running barefoot, swimming through mud, deep water diving, crawling through caves and many more obstacles await racers at this insane event. The challenges are meant to break you, meant to make you fail and quit at any time. The Death Race may just be the most extreme mud race in the world, and as the motto says “every man dies, but not every man lives”.

Via ThoughtCo

6. Mudderella

It is one of the most widespread mud races with events across the world, in U.S, Canada, Australia and the UK. This is a course designed by women for women, although men are allowed to join teams only if invited by a female team member. Races are five to seven miles long in length and the motto here is to “own your strong”, through 12 to 15 obstacles.

These challenges range from muddy piggy-back rides, slides, mud crawls under barbed wire fences and more. Mudderella prides itself on not being a race and the goal of this event is to complete the course, starting together with your team and finishing together. The reward at the end of this event is a nice cold shower to rinse that mud off and a high energy post-race party complete with food, music, dancing, and beverages. Truly one of the highest energy, uplifting mud runs out there.

Via Pretty Connected

5. Rugged Maniac

It prides itself on having an abundance of obstacles, more per mile than both the Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash, and this race will leave you muddy and exhausted. The course is only 5km long but after facing at least twenty obstacles in that short time you will be ready to hit the showers. Challenges include hanging mud tires to traverse, 100 foot slides, rope nets to climb up and mud pits to crawl through.

Don’t forget about the fires you have to jump over. In addition to the actually race though, this event is full of other activities including a mechanical bull, adult bounce houses, and muddy tug-o-war. The epic after-party is worth sticking around for with plenty of live bands, beer, and food.

Via Legacy Athletic

4. Savage Race

This race is offered twelve times a year, averages more obstacles per mile than any other race and has a race distance of an average of 5.9 miles. 25 obstacles await racers, including the Colossus, the prized jewel of the race. This two-part obstacle stands 43 feet off the ground and combines an enormous quarter pipe ramp with a free fall water slide.

Other challenges include a 50 foot trench filled with mud, tunnels to climb through, cement cinder blocks to carry and a bone-chilling ice dive. Extreme participants can register to go “pro” and compete for awards and cash prices while others can race for fun. This race encourages people of all ages to get involved and kids under 12 can participate in the Savage Junior Race that features 10-12 obstacles over a ½ mile course.

Via afreserve.com

3. Run for Your Lives

If you have a thing for zombies or want to pretend that The Walking Dead is real life, this race is for you. Although technically it’s not a mud race, we had to include it due to the extreme awesomeness it is. At last count this race was offered 23 times across the U.S in 2014 and participants have the option of racing as either a runner or a zombie, full makeup transformation included.

After the year 2014, the race was taken over and is now offered in Australia, Asia and other parts of the world. The race is 5km in total and features numerous obstacles including electric shocks, mazes, and one disgusting blood pit. Runners are equipped with flags and it is the zombie’s job to try and steal the flags before they cross the finish line. We can’t promise you will walk away from this race without blood, dirt and a little zombie guts covering your body.

Via WeekendNotes

2. Spartan Race

This mud race is no joke and has gone international in eight countries. There are three main types of races here, The Sprint which is meant for the beginner racer, is only 3 miles long and features 20 obstacles. If you happen to fail an obstacle along the way through, you will owe 30 burpees before continuing on. The Super race is a bit longer; capping out around 8 miles it features 24 obstacles and is hosted on tougher terrain. The hardest of the three is The Beast, over 12 miles long and more than 30 obstacles.

Think of spear throws, rope climbs, barbed wire crawls, fire jumps and more. What makes this race so interesting is that the courses are constantly changing and the obstacles stay a secret prior to the race. If you really feel like taking on a challenge you can always enter the Ultra Beast, a 26.2 mile marathon mud race that offers no details or maps; just the promise of the ultimate tough race.

1. Tough Mudder

It is perhaps the most well known of all mud races and the 10-12 mile events are held on five continents and have raised over $5 million for the Wounded Warrior Project. The obstacle courses here have been designed by British Special Forces and include 25 military-style obstacles. Expect to swim in icy waters, jump over a four-foot high fire pit, traverse muddy walls and overcome a field of live wire. It is no surprise that only 78% of participants can actually complete the courses laid out.

Tough Mudder participants can be recognized by the signature orange headbands and the sheer amount of mud covering their bodies. If you do happen to be one of the lucky ones who finish, you will be greeted at the finish line with a beer and live music. Awards are handed out in various costume categories such as least clothing, best costume, and best mullet. You can even get a Tough Mudder logo tattooed on your body for just a $70 donation.

The Top Destinations Being Destroyed By Tourism

More people than ever before in history are exploring beyond the boundaries of their own country to take in the incredible beauty the world has to offer. In fact, tourism is one of the fastest-growing industries in the world, with over 1.1 billion people traveling internationally in 2015 alone!

While travel certainly has many economic benefits, such as providing people with jobs, it also has some negative impacts as well. For these 10 natural wonders and historic sites, the swell of tourists has begun to threaten their long-term preservation. If we’re not careful, we could destroy these precious places for good.

10. Venice, Italy

Photos By: Shutterstock

It’s no secret that Venice is sinking, and the hordes of tourists that flock there each year certainly aren’t helping. During peak season, the picturesque floating city can see upwards of 80,000 tourists per day, making it so overcrowded that some of the main tourist attractions become inaccessible. And many of these tourists are brought to the city by cruise ships, whose traffic threatens the waterways and historic areas they travel through.

9. Great Pyramids, Egypt

Photos By: Shutterstock

Of the original Seven Wonders of the World, only the Great Pyramid of Giza remains. At the current rate of deterioration, however, it—along with the Sphinx other pyramids at the historic site—may not be around for much longer. Many decades of mass tourism to this area of Egypt has led to irreparable damage to these ancient structures, and any attempt to restore them has only led to further destruction.

8. Roman Colosseum, Italy

Photos By: Shutterstock

The grandeur of Rome’s Colosseum is certainly not what it was when it opened in the year 80 AD. Almost 2,000 years of wear and tear has not been kind to the structure, nor have tourists, who have been caught moving or stealing stones and graffiting the remaining pillars. Although the site is now mainly piles of broken stone, it is a historic site from which there is still much to be learned and needs to be preserved and respected as such.

7. Stonehenge, United Kingdom

Photos By: Shutterstock

The still-unexplained phenomenon that is Stonehenge draws many thousands of tourists each year. They have, unfortunately, caused quite a bit of damage to the prehistoric stones by chipping away at them, and restoration attempts have not returned them to historical accuracy. Several busy roadways that are located in close proximity also threaten the area.

6. Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Photo By: Shutterstock

Proudly displayed on Cambodia’s flag, this ancient temple boasts classical style Khmer architecture and is one of the country’s top attractions. While money from tourism is used to restore the structure, it is one of the leading causes of its damage. Not just from foot traffic either; graffiti has been found on many of the walls. Unless the government takes action to limit tourist traffic, this World Heritage site could be destroyed beyond repair.

5. Antarctica

Photos By: Shutterstock

This once-remote location is no longer quite so. The rise in cruise ship traffic has increased water pollution, threatening the continent’s coastline and the species that inhabit it. Fortunately, the Antarctic Treaty has limited the number of people on-shore to 100 at a time, and ships that carry more than 500 passengers are not allowed at any of the landing sites.

4. Phi Phi Islands, Thailand

Photos By: Shutterstock

Since being featured as a private paradise in the 2000 film The Beach, the Phi Phi islands of Thailand have become a bucket list destination for many. The pristine beaches and clear water of these virgin islands may not last for much longer, however, as the rise in tourism has attracted resort developers. It seems as though Thailand is serious about preserving their land though, as another popular tourist island, Koh Tachai, was recently closed indefinitely to tourists in order to allow the environment to rehabilitate.

3. Great Wall of China

Photo By: Shutterstock

Although it once stretched more than 5,000 miles, over the years approximately two thirds of the Great Wall of China has been destroyed. This is largely due to the thousands of tourists that walk, vandalize and graffiti it each year, but also because of environmental erosion and sections being torn down to make way for development. A lack of government funding for protection of the Great Wall mean these factors will continue to threaten it in future.

2. Machu Picchu, Peru

Photo By: Shutterstock

Located high in the Andes Mountains of Peru, the ancient Inca village of Machu Picchu is truly a sight to behold. It’s no wonder it tops many people’s bucket lists. But such a massive influx of visitors has threatened the preservation of this ancient archaeology; UNESCO has even considered placing it on their list of World Heritage in Danger. The country’s government currently limits the number of tourists to 2,500 per day, but even that may be too many to prevent irreparable damage.

1. Galapagos Islands

Photos By: Shutterstock

The incredibly diverse ecosystem of the Galapagos Islands is what helped Charles Darwin develop his Theory of Natural Selection, but it is incredibly fragile to outside influence. So much so, that UNESCO placed the location on its World Heritage in Danger list in 2007. In order to preserve the land and its wildlife, many tourist restrictions have been put in place—including the requirement that a licensed guide accompany all visitors of Galapagos National Park.

8 Unusual Organized Tours for an Outstanding Vacation

Are your usual travel plans seeming a little flat? Do you want a travel experience that is truly conversation-worthy when you return home? Do you crave something out-of-the-box, but can’t quite put your finger on it? Read on below for some suggestions of amazing tours that are out of the ordinary- to varying degrees. Some will put a different perspective on familiar sites or cities. Others may have you saying- they have a tour for that?

1. Disney’s Keys to the Kingdom, Orlando

One of the first rules of being a magician is to never reveal the secrets behind your tricks. Well, the Magic Kingdom in Orlando turns that whole concept on its ear by providing a tour to its underground tunnel system (Utilidor) – which is where much of their magic happens. If you’ve been to the Magic Kingdom- think about it; have you ever seen anything the least bit utilitarian (i.e. supplies traveling) or un-magic? The complex Utilidor system is an intricate, minutely detailed system that is the conduit for Disney Cast Members (staff) to whisk from one location to another, supplies to be delivered and for garbage to be transported. It’s a whole other world underground at Disney World- complete with cafeterias, a hairdresser as well as a myriad of offices. The traveler who has a keen appreciation for well-executed logistics will enjoy this 7 hour tour, which includes lunch. It’s Disney from a whole new perspective.

Katherine Welles / Shutterstock.com
Katherine Welles / Shutterstock.com

2. Chernobyl, Ukraine

While touring the site of a nuclear disaster may not top everyone’s travel wish list, those wishing to gain insight into the historic 1986 Chernobyl disaster will be pleased to know that there are a number of organized tours open to the public. There are one day and two day tours offered (some include transportation to and from Kiev). Depending on your tour company, expect to see the village of Chernobyl and to travel through various checkpoints. You’ll see the abandoned town of Pripyat. Groups are taken through the Exclusion Zone (which is closed to the general public, but open to tour groups) and then brought into the Chernobyl Power Plant itself to witness the site of the disaster.

Chernobyl

3. Helter Skelter Tour, Los Angeles

In Los Angeles you can go on a guided tour that takes you through the sites of some of the grisly Tate/LaBianca murders committed by the Manson family. The tour delves into the minds of the killers and victims themselves in the hours prior to the murders. These cases continue to fascinate the public to this day, and this tour explores some of the reasons why.

crime scene

4. Funky Chicken Coop Tour, Texas

This organized tour is a little different than other tours for a number of reasons. For one thing- it is a once-a-year event. For another, it was developed as a promotional tool of sorts. The annual tour was launched by not-for-profit Urban Poultry Association of Texas, Inc. in order to raise public awareness around urban farming. The tour has a home base with family-friendly activities, and proceeds to tour around several urban chicken coops in the Austin area, where the public can view urban poultry (and other) farming first hand.

Photo by: Austin Funky Chicken Coop Tour
Photo by: Austin Funky Chicken Coop Tour

5. Train with a Sumo Wrestler, Japan

Ever wonder what it would be like to be a Sumo Wrestler? In Japan, there are a number of tours intended to acquaint you with a morning in a typical day in the life of a Sumo Wrestler by immersing you in the experience. The art of Sumo Wrestling is steeped in centuries of tradition, deep history and regard for ritual. The tour begins in a traditional Sumo stable, where wrestlers live and train together. On this tour, your day starts with the traditional early morning Sumo Wrestling practice, where you’ll watch wrestlers have at it, and then have a go in the ring yourself. After your wrestling, you’ll eat the traditional Chanko meal (which is a mix of protein and veggies) which Sumo Wrestlers eat every day (these wrestlers reportedly eat about 10,000 calories in a single meal) to maintain their training regime. You’ll share the meal with the Oyakata (master) who will field any questions about what it is really like to be a Sumo Wrestler.

Sumo Training

6. Tragic History Tour, Los Angeles

Unfortunately, often with fame comes a lot of tragedy and promising young lives are cut all too short. So it is no surprise that star-studded Hollywood has been the scene for a number of star-related deaths and scandals. There are a few organized tours that let you be celebrity voyeurs, and get your fix of celebrity gossip, complete with guided commentary. The Dearly Departed, Tragic History Tour brings you to 75 different sites over the course of an afternoon. See where Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and River Pheonix died. See the sites of the scandals that surrounded Hugh Grant, Rhianna and Chris Brown. With a nod of decidedly dark humor, this tour is delivered from a “tomb buggy” (a bus). It’s the perfect tour for the celeb-obsessed.

The Viper Room

7. Red Light District Tour, Amsterdam

There is nowhere quite like Amsterdam, the ultimate melting pot of all vices. Why not benefit from a little local commentary from an expert guide while taking in the “sights”. One tour company (named, plainly Amsterdam Red Light District Tours) has a tagline of ‘History, Hookers and Hashish: we have an awesome tour for you’. Delivered in English by local Dutch guides, guests of this tour will see the first condom shop in the world, peep shows, the infamous Amsterdam pot-smoking coffee shops, prostitutes (including the Museum of Prostitution) and appropriately, the Hangover Information Centre.

Red Light District Tour, Amsterdam

8. Crop Circle Tours, UK

Paranormal believers unite! You have likely heard of crop circles, but did you know that they have a high season? (which interestingly peaks in the middle of high traffic summer vacation season). There are a number of tours that take you out to tour recently formed circles. If you’d like to extend your extra-terrestrial tour time, then combine the crop circles with a “Magical Mystery tour” which hits all the local crop circles, but also takes you to see Stonehenge and Avebury, which borders the Warminster Triangle, where there has reportedly been strange sights, sounds, ghostly/unexplained apparitions- not to mention a very strong electro-magnetic field, which is requisite it would seem for UFO encounters.

Crop Circle

8 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Skip a Visit to Wales

Wales is often the overlooked country in the United Kingdom. This small country, wedged between Scotland and England is usually just the stepping stone to get to the Great Britain hot spots like London and Edinburgh, but it shouldn’t be! For a small country, Wales has so much to offer. It has the dramatic and beautiful national parks, with mountain ranges and miles of pristine coastline, and it has the years of history and charm, with the castles and archaeological landmarks (seemingly) every few feet. The food is spectacular, the people are warm and inviting (if a little hard to understand!); Wales will be surely be a highlight of your British adventure- you may just skip the other countries and stay here even longer!

8. Caernarfon Castle

Often historic castles that are open to tourists have been restored so much that it is hard to get a feel of what it was really like to live there. Not this one. Caernarfon Castle still retains much of its historical features and charm, which lends to a greater feeling of authenticity when walking through the narrow, stone-laden halls and climbing the rickety, steep tower stairs. Of course it has been preserved, and since it is a tourist hot spot, there is a museum to walk through, but the museum is well done and gives excellent information to Wales’ military past. The walled castle is stunning; walk up to the top of one of the towers and you get an entire view of the impressive building, as well as the surrounding town. Be sure to leave time to explore the town of Caernarfon itself; with colorful buildings, great music and delicious food, Caernarfon is everything a charming port town should be, with an impressive fortress smack-dab in the middle, of course.

Caernarfon Castle

7. Millennium Stadium

Sports fans all over flock to the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. Ultra-modern and architecturally stunning, come rugby game day, this stadium and the surrounding streets are overwhelmingly overflowing with crazy Welsh sports enthusiasts. Europe sports fans are passionate when it comes to soccer (or more appropriately, football), yet in Wales it is all about the rugby. They are fanatics and huge supporters of their team. Even if you don’t enjoy sports, be sure to come here for a game and soak in the atmosphere. Crowds grow hours before the game starts, spilling from the pubs out onto the street, singing, dancing and chanting loud enough for all of Wales to hear. It won’t be long before you are joining in on all the fun!

Millennium Stadium

6. Snowdonia National Park

Mountains, lakes, beaches, castles, villages… all are found in Snowdonia National Park, Wales first national park, and the third largest in Great Britain. Popular with locals and tourists, this park receives nearly six million visitors each year, and it is not hard to see why. The landscape is sprawling and dramatic; from the harsh coastline, to thick forest to mountainous peaks, this park has it all. It is popular with hikers and mountain climbers; there are three thousand feet summits that require expert training, and there are simple, beautiful trails perfectly suited for a fun afternoon in the park. If visiting, bring a rain jacket, as Snowdonia is the wettest spot in all of the United Kingdom- chances are, you will get wet!

Snowdonia National Park

5. Brecon Beacons National Park

Rolling hills, mountains, moorlands, lush valleys, sprawling fields, AND centuries of tradition and history. If you can believe it, all of that and more are overflowing in a 42 mile wide national park, located in the South and Mid Wales. During the summer months, or the winter, miles of trails are available, from easy beginner strolls to hardcore multi-day treks and everything in between. While the stunning scenery leaves nothing to be desired in the park, this national site is home to over 200 archaeological sites, including prehistoric and Roman castles, stone circles, burial chambers and camps. And, if none of the above entices you to visit this beautiful landscape, Brecon Beacons was given International Dark Sky Reserve Status for its endless stargazing opportunities.

Brecon Beacons National Park

4. Big Pit National Coal Museum

Located in Blaenavon, a historical mining town and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is Big Pit; a working coal mine turned museum and heritage preservation site. The Welsh have a rich heritage of coal mining, an industry that drove their country during the industrial revolution, and later was the source of many national tragedies. Wales is on a mission to preserve and pay respect to their heritage, and Big Pit is one of the best locations in Wales to get a glimpse into the past. The site has an interactive museum where you can experience a typical miner’s day through video and demonstration and another, where you can learn about the history of mining in Wales, through pictures, props and descriptions. But, if you really want the experience, take the tour into the pit- at three hundred feet underground you can begin to somewhat understand what life was like for the Welsh miners every day. A worthwhile and moving experience, although definitely not for the claustrophobic!

Big Pit Wales

3. Wales Coast Path

The United Kingdom is known world over for its stunning and dramatic coastline – from the cliffs in Ireland to the harsh yet pristine beaches of South England- but the Wales coastline is perhaps the most dramatically stunning of them all. For the adventurous and the outdoorsy, you can spend 80 days walking the Welsh coastline in its entirety- with the option to camp or for the more luxurious folk, you can stay in one of the many local inns dotting the coastline. There are also many small, low key trails on the 870 mile route- Pembrokeshire Coast National Trail is one of the more established trails and offers a chance to get out and take in the stunning Welsh landscape. From rugged cliffs and sprawling windswept beaches, to castles and quaint villages, the Welsh coastline is one of those scenic landmarks that exceeds all expectations.

Wales Coast Path

2. Portmeirion

When you think of Disney, you often think of Wales, right? Well that’s very nearly what you get in this eccentric, Disneyland inspired resort near Porthmadog in North Wales. This quaint, somewhat strange resort is the very definition of whimsy; the architecture, the flowers, the setting all seem way over the top, yet somehow here it all works. It is difficult to be the most eccentric in Wales, as the country is chalk full of many bizzare yet interesting little villages, castles, and countrysides, but this Portmeirion may do just that. If you want, you can spend the night, but costs are high; though, wandering around here for a few hours will surely satisfy any curiosity you have about this neat resort in North Wales.

Portmeirion wales

1. Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwymdrobwllllantysiliogogogoch

It may look made up, but that is the actual name of a Welsh town in North Wales! Made up of 57 letters (all but 13 consonants), this town means “St. Mary’s Church in the hallow of the white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio of the red cave”. Tongue twister, isn’t it! You don’t need long to wander this small town, but make sure you take your picture standing in front of the sign- the best photo is in front of the town’s railway station. And, try your hand at pronouncing it! Warning though, if attempted in front of a local Welsh, you will be (endlessly) made fun of.

Llanfairpwllgwyngyll

The Fairy Tale Tour: 10 Best Medieval Castles in Europe

Since ancient times, Europe has been layered in history, and one of the best ways to see the culmination of different architectural styles is the famous castles. Many started out as medieval fortresses that served as strategic defense systems against nearby invaders. After the 15th century wars, royalty and aristocrats transformed many of the crumbling fortress into opulent, captivating pleasure chateaus that inspired Walt Disney and other famous fairy tale writers. From Rapunzel to Cinderella to Belle of Beauty and the Beast, discover the ancient medieval castles of Europe at these 10 stone fortresses.

10. Chateau de Chenonceau -Chenonceaux, France

Walt Disney drew inspiration for Cinderella’s Castle at Disney World from several castles in Europe, including the Chateau de Chenonceau, the crown jewel of France’s Loire Valley. Situated on the river Cher in the small village of Chenonceaux, the chateau is one of the most visited private historical monuments in France. With its magical five arches and four corner turrets, it’s a lasting relic of medieval Gothic architecture with a touch of ornate Renaissance detailing. Such an enchanting palace is fit for Cinderella and Prince Charming, especially the moat filled with swans and richly decorate rooms with paintings by Rubens, Le Tintoret, and other great masters. Like a page out of a fairy tale, Chenonceau is a treasured castle of the Loire Valley and a testament to the passion and influence of the French Renaissance.

Chateau de Chenonceau

9. Windsor Castle -Berkshire, United Kingdom

Another quintessential fairy tale castle is Windsor Castle built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century. Today, the ancient medieval fortress is still the primary castle of the royal family. Although it suffered a fire in 1992, it was renovated a few years later and fully restored to its original glory, including Gothic turrets and towers, and romantic moat, all cornerstones of a fairy tale castle. The castle was also a favorite spot for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who were the first monarchies to open parts of the fortress to the public. Now, visitors have the chance of seeing the same rooms where royalty entertained top aristocrats and dignitaries. Head to Berkshire and begin the long walk to the enchanting castle, which is considered one of the finest examples of English Perpendicular Gothic architecture.

Kiev.Victor / Shutterstock.com
Kiev.Victor / Shutterstock.com

8. Chateau Fontainebleau -Loire Valley, France

You might recognize the towers, moats, and turrets of the Chateau Fontainebleau from Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle, since Disney is noted to have drawn inspiration from this Loire Valley treasure. With its French Renaissance style architecture and famous horseshoe staircase, the castle is the perfect setting for princesses and visiting royalty. Today, France’s largest castle is a World Heritage Site and national museum where visitors can tour the boudoir of Marie-Antoinette, the throne room of Napoleon, and the apartment of the Pope. The Fontainebleau started out as a fortified castle in the 12th century. After the wars of the 15th century, castles were no longer a viable defense, so Francis I decided to rebuild the crumbling medieval fortress and transform it into a lavish pleasure palace in the 16th century. Later on it was taken over by Henry II and Catherine de’ Medici who continued to expand the chateau.

Chateau Fontainebleau France

7. Prague Castle -Prague, Czech Republic

The city of Prague is full of some of the best-preserved medieval, Classical, and Renaissance architecture in Europe, making it a real life fairy tale town with Prague Castle as its crowning achievement. Situated on a hill overlooking the Charles Bridge, the Prague Castle is home to centuries-old myths and legends passed down through the generations. Popular Czech fairy tales were set here, including Dalibor’s Tower where the Knight Dalibor of Kozojedy was imprisoned. It also was the setting for Golden Lane, the age-old tale of alchemists trying to invent gold. Looming above the Vltava river, the castle overlooks the ancient city like a fairy tale fortress with spires, towers, and enormous palaces. Meander through the galleries, historic buildings, and museums to catch a glimpse of Prague’s most beloved national treasures.

Prague Castle

6. Krivoklat Castle -Bohemia, Czech Republic

Krivoklat Castle in central Bohemia is classic fairy tale with its ancient towers, stone turrets, and Gothic detailing, making it an ideal setting for the movie The Brothers Grimm (2005). Built in the 12th century by Bohemian kings, it got several major overhauls by powerful members of the monarchy. Later on, the castle suffered some setbacks, including several fires that caused considerable damage. But luckily, Krivoklat has a fairy tale ending. During a wave of romantic époque in the 19th century, the family of Furstenberg saved the castle from ruin and had it rebuilt with a glorious mix of Gothic, Classical, and Neo-Renaissance styles. During that time, aristocrats all over Europe were transforming crumbling fortresses into lavish palaces, a trend that symbolized the lasting legacy of wealth and idealism of the Renaissance.

Krivoklat Castle

5. Chateau de Chambord -Loire Valley, France

After the wars of 15th century, the French aristocrats and royalty saw the idyllic countryside of the Loire Valley as the perfect spot for building extravagant pleasure castles, many which were Walt Disney’s inspiration for Cinderella’s Castle at Disney World. In fact, the Chateau de Chambord is among them, particularly for its 16th century turrets, Gothic towers, Renaissance style detailing, and opulent interiors. If you look closely at Disney’s version, it looks very similar to Chambord, making it a real-life castle out of a fairy tale. Standing out against the lush, verdant landscape of the French countryside, the chateau contains all the fairy tale touchstones, including a swan-filled moat, hundreds of ancient frescoes, and fancywork ceilings. In its heyday, it drew 16th and 17th century A-listers, including visiting dignitaries and high society aristocrats.

Chateau de Chambord

4. Bran Castle -Transylvania, Romania

Commonly referred to as Dracula’s Castle, Bran Castle in Transylvania, Romania, was the setting for the world famous Bram Stoker’s Dracula, making it a top destination in Europe. Built in 1211 as a customs post along the mountain pass from Transylvania to Walladia, it also served as a defense against the Ottoman Empire. Vlad Tepes, the real-life man characterized as Dracula, never actually resided in the castle but stayed in the dungeon for two days when the Ottomans invaded Romania. An exciting way to see the castle is by an authentic 19th century horse and carriage ride that will bring you through the countryside and to the Gothic gates of Dracula’s Castle. Once inside, get ready to enter an ancient, medieval world where time stands still.

Bran Castle

3. Blenheim Palace -Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England

Serving as the backdrop to Disney’s live action version of Cinderella starring Cate Blanchett, Blenheim Palace is considered England’s crowning glory and an architectural achievement of the ages. Built in the English Baroque style in the 18th century, the castle was commissioned to celebrate the victory over the French in the War of the Spanish Succession. Designed by Sir John Vangrugh, the monumental country house is till home to the ancestors of the dukes of Marlborough who opened its doors to the public in 1950. The palace has had its share of ups and downs, particularly at the end of the 19th century when it was saved from ruin by the 9th Duke of Marlborough and restored to its former glory. The surrounding gardens are full of ancient oaks and tranquil moats, a classic example of English landscaping.

Amra Pasic / Shutterstock.com
Amra Pasic / Shutterstock.com

2. Mont Saint-Michel -Normandy, France

Situated in Normandy is Mont Saint-Michel, one of the most revered and culturally significant chateaus in France. It also inspired the depiction of Rapunzel’s castle in Disney’s animated feature Tangled. Like many castles in Europe, its origins can be traced back to medieval times when the island was a fortified defense system strategically located at the mouth of the Couesnon River near Avranches. Since the 10th century, the castle has undergone extensive renovations and rebuilding, the most significant construction in the 17th and 18th centuries. In the 11th century, William de Volpiano, an Italian architect, designed the abbey in the Romanesque style followed by the building of Gothic elements in the 12th century. Opened year round, pilgrims, tourists, and locals travel here to see some of the best-preserved medieval architecture in Europe.

Mont Saint-Michel

1. Neuschwanstein Castle -Fussen, Germany

Of all the enchanting fairy tale castles in Europe, Neuschwanstein Castle in Fussen, Germany is one of Europe’s top destinations and the most-visited castle in the country. Built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, the architectural design was actually inspired by the fairy tale operas of world-renowned composer Richard Wagner. In fact, his ballet opera “New Swan Castle” was set at Neuschwanstein, which also inspired Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle at Disney World. Also known as the “Fairy tale King,” Ludwig cherished Wagner’s fairy tales so much that he designed the castle and interiors based on his characters. In fact, when it was built in the 19th century, a time when European castles were no longer a strategic or viable defense, it was considered by many to be extravagant and over-the-top, even for a king. But today, the village of Fussen treasures its grand castle, which is now a major tourist destination.

Neuschwanstein Castle

7 Things to See in and Around Dover, England

Widely known to be a common thru-city between the United Kingdom and mainland Europe, there is actually much more to Dover than the fact that it’s a departure point for trips across the channel. The city is riddled with historical, cultural and natural sites that are often overlooked by travelers eager to get to the other side. From centuries-old castles to the famous chalk-white cliffs, here are 7 reasons to make time to explore this city (and its surrounding areas) before or after your next channel crossing:

7. Richborough Roman Fort

About 25 km North of Dover, in the heart of the East Kent marshes, lies Richborough Roman Fort. The fortress was built in the third century, but remains an important landmark of both the beginning and end of Roman rule in the area (43 AD– 410 AD). The site contains the ruins of a triumphal arch that is speculated to have been erected to mark the place of the initial Roman landing in 43 AD, at which point Richborough was a lagoon island linked to the mainland by a causeway. This environment established it as an ideal invasion point and military base for the Romans in Southern Britain. Today, the fort is accessible daily from 10 am-6 pm, and visitors can check out the 18 century old stone walls that mark the outer perimeter of the fortress, learn about Roman occupation in the site‘s museum, and even take a boat ride from nearby Sandwich see the area as the Romans would have when they first landed.

Photo by: English Heritage
Photo by: English Heritage

6. Dover Museum

Found in the heart of the town, the Dover Museum is among the oldest in the county (created 1836) and houses an impressive collection of records and artifacts of the historic port. Spread over three floors, visitors can check out exhibits chronicling the city’s history from the building of Roman forts to the making of stunning Saxon jewelry. The most recently created gallery, the Dover Bronze Age Boat gallery is the undisputed highlight of the museum, showcasing not only elements of the bronze age in the area, but also the excavation and preservation of the famous Dover boat, the oldest known seafaring boat in the world. For those on a time crunch but still interested in learning about the area, the museum is the perfect place to get an extensive dose of local history all in one convenient location.

Photo by: Nessy-Pic via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Nessy-Pic via Wikimedia Commons

5. Deal Castle

Fourteen km straight up the A258 highway (and a good place to stop on route to Richborough Roman Fort) is Deal Castle, an incredibly well-preserved (and awesome looking!) 16th century artillery castle. Commissioned by Henry VIII, the coastal fort is one of the earliest and finest in the string of coastal defenses found along England’s south coast, and visitors today can explore every inch of the property, from the store rooms to the bastions. The site also includes an interactive exhibit detailing the castle’s history, an audio tour of the building and officer’s quarters and a stunning two km waterfront walkway to nearby Walmer Castle (another coastal defense fort).

Photo by: English Heritage
Photo by: English Heritage

4. Roman Painted House

The Roman Painted House is an incredible attraction (don’t be put off by the exterior) that consists of a museum-like structure built over the excavated remains of a Roman house dating back 1800 years. Archaeologists have determined that the house was built in about 200 AD, just outside the walls of the Classis Britannica naval fort, and was later partly demolished by the Roman army in the construction of a bigger fort. To the delight of the Kent Archaeological Rescue Unit, 3 rooms in the original house remained relatively unharmed and were preserved under the fort’s foundations. Today, the site awes visitors as they explore the ancient ruins and marvel at the unique preservation of over 400 square feet of Roman painted plaster and parts of 26 panels depicting art relating to the Roman God of wine, Bacchus.

Photo by: Dover UK.com
Photo by: Dover UK.com

3. Dover Castle

Open daily from 9:30 am to 6 pm, a visit to Dover Castle is a historically and culturally stimulating outing for the whole family. Witnessing nine centuries of history, with significance to everything from Roman rule to the Cold War, the many things to explore here easily result in a full-day stay. Visitors can check out the remains of one of the oldest lighthouses in the world, the Roman Pharos and then hop over next door to the Anglo-Saxon church St. Mary in Castro before spending hours meandering through the castle itself and marveling at the Medieval interiors and winding underground tunnels. Fast forwarding to the 20th century, visitors can see the landmarks of WWI Fire Command Post when the castle served as the city’s military headquarters and the eerie secret WWII tunnels and underground hospital dug deep into the area’s chalk-white cliffs. The site also offers several cafes to keep you energized and various audio and visual tours to supplement the many attractions on the property.

Valery Egorov / Shutterstock.com
Valery Egorov / Shutterstock.com

2. South Foreland Lighthouse

Just 6 km from the heart of Dover, the Victorian South Foreland Lighthouse has become an iconic landmark of the region’s White Cliffs. Found on the cliff-side area known as The Front in St. Margaret’s Bay, the lighthouse provides a wonderful outdoor excursion suitable for all ages. Visitors can climb up to the very top of the structure to experience unparalleled views of the cliffs and surrounding areas and learn about the mechanism that allowed the site to be the first lighthouse in the world to flash electric light. The property also provides kites and games for outdoor family enjoyment, as well as access to the former lighthouse keeper’s cottage, now a tea, cake and sandwich shop called Mrs. Knott’s Tea Room.

South Foreland Lighthouse

1. White Cliffs

Whether from the grassy top or the beach below (in some areas) seeing the white cliffs in person is the highlight of any visit to Dover. From high above visitors get sweeping views of the English Channel, with visibility on a clear day stretching all the way to the French coast. From the beach or water below, you get breathtaking views of the towering chalk-white cliffs, an iconic image experienced by so many throughout history as they approached the historic port city.

White Cliffs

10 Things to See and Do in Kent County, England

Kent is a home county bordering Greater London to the northwest, Surrey to the west and East Sussex to the southwest. It has been home to Canterbury Cathedral since the 6th century. It is known as “The Garden of England” due to its abundant fruit and hop gardens. Kent has something to offer everyone whether a romantic getaway is on your mind or a fun family outing. With its age old heritage sites, modern art galleries, luxurious spas and great hiking trails, Kent is the perfect holiday destination. With its close proximity to London, you will never have a boring moment while visiting this picturesque English county.

10. Tonbridge Swimming Pool

The Tonbridge Swimming Pool is not just your average swimming pool. It offers an indoor swimming pool joined to an outdoor swimming pool by a swim-through channel. The original outdoor pool, built in 1910, is a four lane, 20 metre heated pool with a man-made beach and sunbathing terrace. You will also enjoy a wonderful cafe and the “Lifestyles Health Suite” which features a jacuzzi, sauna, steam room, aromatherapy room, sunbeds and a rest lounge. The 25 metre indoor fitness pool is designed to accommodate all your family’s fitness needs while providing a clean and safe environment. They offer many fitness programs such as aqua aerobics and swim fit. They even offer fun sessions for parents and toddlers to develop water confidence. What more could you ask for in a family outing destination?

Photo by: Kent Garden of England, Visit Kent
Photo by: Kent Garden of England, Visit Kent

9. St. Augustine’s Abbey

Founded shortly after 597 AD, St. Augustine’s Abbey was a benedictine monastery until its dissolution in 1538 marking the rebirth of Christianity in southern England. Until 1848, it was dismantled and since then the site has been used for education and the ruins of the abbey have been preserved for their historical value. It was originally created as a burial place for Anglo-Saxon kings and is now part of the Canterbury World Heritage Site along with the cathedral and St. Martin’s Church. Also located at the abbey is a museum and you can experience a free audio tour. The museum showcases artifacts and stone carvings originally found at the abbey during excavations. The artifacts range from skeletal remains to costumes worn by actors playing the king and queen in celebration of St. Augustine’s arrival.

via Wikimedia Commons
via Wikimedia Commons

8. The Hop Farm Country Park

A 400-acre (1.6 km2) country park in Beltring near East Peckham in Kent, the  450 year old Hop Farm Country Park has the largest collection of oast (a kiln for drying hops) houses in the world. Some of the spectacular attractions you can visit on the farm include: Yesterday’s World – a period replica village featuring artifacts from the Victorian era to the 1970s, Hop Story Museum – the museum features exhibits and a film about growing and harvesting hops, The Magic Castle, Children’s Driving School – a track for small cars and trucks for children to drive, Giant Jumping Pillows, Hoppers Animal World – petting farm and falconry centre, Inflatable Boats and Slides, 4D Cinema, Outdoor Adventure Play, Indoor Soft Play, Shops and Children’s Rides. Many events are also hosted in the park, so there is always plenty to see and do for all ages at this family-oriented attraction.

Photo by: Kent Garden of England, Visit Kent
Photo by: Kent Garden of England, Visit Kent

7. Romney Marsh

Covering an area of about 100 square miles (260 km2), the Romney Marsh is a flat, low-lying wetland area stretching from Rye to Hythe with parts of it even reaching below sea level. The area is well known for its diverse wildlife, natural beauty, extensive coastline and fascinating history. There is plenty to see and do here with its sandy beaches, medieval churches, nature reserves and breathtaking countryside. Contained within the marsh are the historic towns of Romney and Lydd, the Hythe and Dymchurch Railway and the Royal Military Canal. You can enjoy the pristine beach before heading out for a fantastic meal at one of the many restaurants, then just take in some of the natural beauty all around you while relaxing for the day or go and explore one of the magnificent medieval churches. Whatever your preference, there is something new and incredible for you to discover at every turn.

 Photo By: Brian Fuller
Photo By: Brian Fuller

6. Canterbury Roman Museum

Located in Canterbury, Kent, the Canterbury Roman Museum opened in 1961 houses Roman pavement, a scheduled monument and is in the remains of a Roman courtyard house. You will find many artifacts on display here from Roman Canterbury which includes the Roman silver hoard known as the Canterbury Treasure along with reconstructions of the town. You can walk through the marketplace, examine the recreations of Roman rooms and learn about the Canterbury Treasure. You will also be able to handle, sort and classify real Roman pottery fragments and other items relating to the times. Some of the museum’s premier features include their mosaic tile floors and hypocaust (underfloor heating system) which have been preserved, rare tools, building materials of the times, painted plaster fragments and figurines of gods. You and your family will feel like you stepped back in time in the interactive museum.

 Photo By: Jononmac46
Photo By: Jononmac46

5. Beaney House of Art and Knowledge

Located on High Street in Canterbury, the Beaney House of Art and Knowledge is the main museum, library and art gallery in Kent along with a cafe. This state-of-the-art facility was upgraded in 2012 and is a hub of activities and programs. After exploring the museum exhibits why not venture into the art galleries and take in the many permanent exhibits featuring Ancient Egyptian and Greek artifacts, objects from all over the world including Kent, birds, butterflies, stained glass, paintings and drawings.  In their Cabinet of Curiosities you will find rare and exotic animals and objects collected by amateur collectors from the late eighteenth century on through the ages. The library, the first publicly funded library in Great Britain, is now one of a large network of public libraries managed by Kent County Council and is chock full of interesting resources and more  collections in conjunction with the art gallery.

Photo By: Geni

4. White Cliffs of Dover

Forming part of the English coastline facing the Strait of Dover and France, the White Cliffs of Dover are cliffs which are part of the North Downs Formation. The cliff face reaches up to 350 feet (110m) and its white colour comes from its composition of chalk which is accentuated by the black streaks of black flint within it making a striking spectacle you won’t want to miss. The cliffs are at the one end of Kent Down declared an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. From atop the magnificent cliffs, you have a breathtaking panoramic view of the English Channel toward the French coast. If you walk the coastal path toward South Foreland Lighthouse you will see the chalk grasslands that are home to unique species of plants and insects like the pyramidal orchid and chalkhill blue butterfly. It’s a spectacular adventure and one you won’t experience anywhere else in the world.

White Cliffs of Dover

3. Canterbury Cathedral

Forming part of a World Heritage Site, the Canterbury Cathedral is the oldest and most famous Christian structure in England. It is the cathedral of the Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the Church of England. Founded in 597 and completely rebuilt from 1070 to 1077, the building has undergone many renovations and extensions over the centuries with the Norman nave and transepts being demolished in the fourteenth century to make way for the present structures. Inside the cathedral, you will be awed by the beauty of the 12th century choir, the colourfully magnificent stained glass windows, the Tomb of The Black Prince, Trinity Chapel, the Shrine of Thomas Becket featuring his crown, the incredible ornate nave and the cloister and other monastic buildings around the church. The beauty of the architecture along with the spiritual air of the cathedral will leave you feeling renewed and a peace when you visit.

Canterbury Cathedral

2. Howletts Wild Animal Park

Originally set up as a private zoo in 1957 near Canterbury, Howlette Wild Animal Park was opened to the public in 1975. The collection of animals here are referred to as unorthodox because of the close relationship between the animals and the zoo staff and their breeding of rare and endangered species. This 90 acre (36 ha) park houses over 400 animals of more than 50 species. Amongst the animal collection is Howletts’ Western Lowland Gorillas known for being some of the largest family groups in the world and the largest breeding groups of Lion-Tailed Macaques in the world. You will also see Sumatran tigers and elephants and get to watch the elephants play in their sandy beach. Then you can enhance your visit by experiencing Keeper Day or Animal Encounters,  where you get up close and personal with the animals. There is tons to do here for all ages.

 Photo By: Michael Haslam
Photo By: Michael Haslam

1. Leeds Castle

Opened in 1119, the Leeds Castle is located 5 miles (8 km) southeast of Maidstone in Kent. It was the favourite residence for King Edward I and then served as residence to Catherine of Aragon, King Henry VIII’s first wife. The castle sits on 500 acres of land and because of its constant upkeep over the past 900 years, its condition is amongst the best of Europe’s medieval era landmarks. The tapestries, ceramics and paintings in the castle are very elegant adding to the beauty and ambiance. On the castle grounds, you will find an aviary, grotto, golf course and hedge maze constructed of over 2,400 yew trees. The only viable entrance to the grotto is through the maze providing an incentive for curious visitors. You will be awe-struck by the majestic beauty as soon as you see this impressive castle rising up from the moat.

Leeds Castle