Ireland & the United Kingdom Beyond The Castle Walls: Exploring The Modern Side Of The British Isles
Oftentimes, the British Isles conjure up thoughts of medieval castles, gilded palaces, afternoon tea, photogenic clocktowers, moats and dragons, “Braveheart,” Merlin, knights and maybe a redcoat soldier with a tall bearskin hat.
But, God save the Queen, there’s so much more to the British Isles than the already iconic and quintessential. The flow of time slows for no square inch of the world, and, as such, everyone beats on into the new and novel— including the land of Merlin and moats. While the remnants of the British Isles’ storied past still rise up amongst the hustle and bustle of modern metropolises, take a good look at that hustle and bustle. It’s the modern side that crackles with thrilling vibrancy and energy, just waiting to captivate you. And here, in the following pages, we’ll spell out where and how.
With buildings dating back to the 11th century, the capital of the Republic of Ireland has long been the nexus of life in the country. Amongst the cathedrals, castles, pubs and other traditional trappings is a flourishing contemporary culture—the key is just knowing where to look.
For example: art. The Irish Museum of Modern Art is on the forefront of the contemporary, leading the charge to inspire the minds of today with over 3,500 pieces of revolutionary vision in a space designed to foster participation with the thousands of visitors. Scores of galleries have followed suite, with spaces like the Kerlin Gallery and the Molesworth Gallery showcasing the cutting edge of modern Irish artistic talent.
Beyond the palette and onto the palate, Dublin’s culinary scene has entered a modern renaissance. Now commonly described as a leading culinary destination within Europe, Dublin’s focus on fresh, farm-to-table ingredients and creative reimaginings of time-tested staples translates to meals that far surpass the traditional beef stew and potatoes you may be expecting. Whether it’s the shockingly sumptuous seafood of the Michelin-starred Chapter One, or the caramelized brown-bread ice cream of Murphy’s, your taste buds will delight in the modern day.
Historically, Scotland is a country of kilts, smoky scotch and warbling bagpipes. But, the future of the country is bright—and no city provides as thorough a glimpse into the promises of Scotland’s tomorrow like Glasgow. Named a European Capital of Culture by the European Union in 1990, the city continues to hum as a hotbed of youthful energy. This energy more often than not manifests in a myriad of visual and performing arts: from the building-sized murals littered throughout the city to the riches of museums to peruse, it’s difficult to run out of things to admire in Glasgow.
The Gallery of Modern Art should be at the top of your to-do list, with four galleries of ever-exciting exhibitions and hands-on workshops. A worthy follow-up to the GoMa is a visit to the Glasgow Print Studio. The informal backbone to Scotland’s artistic and cultural scene, the print studio is a long-established hub of creative energy. Between the exhibitions and galleries showcasing local and international artists, and the open access workshop offering printmaking classes, it’s all too easy to feel a part of the artistic community while visiting.
Another gallery you can’t miss is the Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre. A scene unlike any you’ve encountered before, the theatre is comprised of hundreds of hand-carved figures, cogs, old scrap, ethereal music and haunting lights, all animated to perform the cyclical tales that comprise existence. It is not hyperbole to say there is little else like it in the world—making it a must-see of Glasgow.
“Beachside paradise” doesn’t come up often when discussing the British Isles, and yet, Cornwall fits the bill. Sure, there’s not many tropical plants—unless you count the inhabitants of the Eden Project, the world’s largest indoor rainforest. And sure, the county is more known as the setting of King Arthur tales than serious swells to surf, even though nearly every stretch of shore is perfect for yelling “cowabunga!” But these peculiar contradictions are what make modern Cornwall so incredibly exciting to visit: you’re constantly straddling the line between medieval times countryside and Surfin’ USA.
The aforementioned Eden Project should take precedence over all the medieval relics dotting the peninsula. Comprised of two utterly massive biomes and an educational facility, Eden is equal parts educational and eye-popping—the Tropical Biome alone covers 3.9 acres and stretches 180 feet high. A stroll through the many banana plants, coffee and rubber trees between the towering bamboo shoots will have you completely forgetting this is England.
Equally out of place from your expectations of conventional England are the beaches. Porthcurno Beach sports calm, Caribbean-blue waters to go with its surprisingly soft sand. On the other side of the spectrum, Fistral Beach in Newquay is the center of Cornwall’s surfing universe. Regularly seeing waves over eight feet tall, Fistral also regularly hosts surfing competitions—making it a great destination for people-watching if you don’t feel like getting wet.
“Cornwall feels like a particularly vibrant area now, with new restaurants, cafés and art galleries adding to the cultural mix. The region is having a moment; I think that’s because life is much easier here than it is in London. People are helpful, you’re surrounded by nature and there is a large creative community. Much of life in Cornwall remains the same, but we like this new energy.”
– Jonathan Lawley, Hotel Tresanton
Once you see past the extraordinary castles and storied history of Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh takes on an air of refined coziness and peculiar curiosity. A good start to the morning here includes the perfect cup of coffee—Edinburgh’s craft coffee scene is on the rise like the scent of savory beans floating through the air. Cairngorm Coffee Company, the Elephant House, Artisan Roast and Dovecot Café by Leo’s all comprise the vanguard of quality cups of coffee in this city.
If you’d rather spend your day browsing shops instead of museums and castles, Multrees Walk is a blossoming of designer shops. Mulberry, Louis Vuitton and Kurt Geiger all call Multrees Walk home, while just a street over are boutique womenswear Jane Davidson and footwear specialist Pam Jenkins—both widely considered the best in Scotland. If neither shops nor museums are your cup of tea, then check out Stobo Castle—a state-of-the-art luxury spa that now calls the medieval castle home.
Speakeasies make for a thrilling evening thanks to their wholly cool atmosphere and quality craft cocktails. Edinburgh may have a treasure trove of hidden bars to choose from, but two rise well above the rest. Slyly located in the basement of a dry cleaners, Bramble Bar is a local-favorite where the cocktails are crisp and the vibe is cozy. After Bramble, the next-best hidden hideaway for drinking is Hoot the Redeemer. With the entrance guarded by both an easy-to-miss street door and then a fortune-telling machine, the interior of Hoot’s is a 1950s New Orleans bar filled with funfair magic, complete with fair games, and bespoke cocktails all waiting to be enjoyed for an evening of delightful indulgence.
London has been one of the pinnacles of modernity since the Roman Empire, and that fact in itself makes distilling the thrills of the city today tricky. But, looking beyond Big Ben and the Tower of London, a static charge of excitement crackles all throughout the city, just waiting to be discovered.
Now with that, nowhere is the energy more visible than on gameday—London lives and breathes football (soccer to Americans). London is the proverbial promised-land of football: there are 11 professional teams within the city. English football season starts in August and ends in May, meaning that much of every year is centered around the matches, and much of the city makes for the perfect place to spend gameday. Whether you’re sharing a pint with dedicated fans in a pub, or lounging in a suite at the ultra-modern Emirates Stadium, you’ll likely feel the excitement on the Richter scale.