What's New in Britain 2006?

Fans of William Shakespeare, Agatha Christie and Mozart are among those who will find plenty to interest them in Britain in 2006. A major sporting venue and a royal palace are also set to reopen and there are new museums and galleries to enjoy. Here are just some of the highlights visitors can look forward to in an event-packed year.

Among a clutch of anniversaries is the 250th of composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s birth, being marked widely around the country by orchestras, opera companies and choirs. The Austrian genius lived for more than a year in London, where he was a child star. In 1764 he taught music in Soho Square and lodged in Cecil Court near Leicester Square. He composed his first symphony, age eight, at 180 Ebury Street in elegant Belgravia. Celebratory concerts include several in London on his birthday (Jan. 27) and in Oxford; later in the year (August) one of England’s oldest music festivals, the Three Choirs Festival, this year in Hereford, will celebrate with his sublime “Requiem”, performed by the three cathedral choirs. Websites: www.bbc.co.uk/symphonyorchestra; www.3choirs.org. 

The 300th anniversary of Twining’s tea is marked with a special birthday blend from the company, which has a shop and museum at 216 The Strand. And where better to enjoy afternoon tea than The Ritz Hotel in Piccadilly, which is celebrating its centenary? Founded by César Ritz, it opened its doors on May 24, 1906 to great acclaim from the press and public. http://www.theritzlondon.com/.

A four-month celebration of Chinese arts and culture is staged in the capital from January. ‘China in London 2006’ begins with a New Year parade and festival, followed by exhibitions, performances, food tastings and more. A Royal Academy exhibition, ‘China: The Three Emperors’, runs until Apr. 17. www.threeemperors.org.uk

This year is also the 30th anniversary of murder-mystery author Agatha Christie’s death. She was born in Torquay in South-West England, where the local tourist board will promote short break hotel packages including a tour of the ‘Agatha Christie Mile’. The resort has a shop devoted to the author, plus there are two festivals for lovers of crime writers. One in Torquay (Sept. 11-16) and another in Harrogate, Yorkshire, to where she famously ‘disappeared’ in 1926 (July 20-23). www.harrogate-festival.org.uk/crime.

One of the great engineers of the Victorian age, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, is subject of an all-year celebration in South-West England marking the 200th anniversary of his birth.

Many of the events will take place in April in Bristol, location of some of his greatest works, including the terminus of his Great Western Railway, the Clifton Suspension Bridge and the iron-clad transatlantic steamship SS Great Britain. www.brunel200.com. Lovers of engineering will also relish a new hi-tech museum in Swansea, South Wales. The National Waterfront Museum, newly opened beside the city’s marina, celebrates Welsh industrial achievement over the last 250 years: from the first steam locomotive, ships and pioneering aircraft to the latest film animation. www.waterfrontmuseum.co.uk 

The London home of American statesman Benjamin Franklin (1706 - 1790) opens on February 1 in time for his 300th birthday. The Georgian terraced house at 36 Craven Street, near Trafalgar Square, was his ‘genteel lodgings’ from 1757 - 1775 and now offers an ‘historical experience’. As well as promoting the Declaration of Independence, Franklin found time to design the lightning rod, invent bifocal spectacles and experiment with daylight saving time. www.BenjaminFranklinHouse.org 

Also in February, a major contemporary art exhibition opens in Wales – in the National Museum, Cardiff. The Artes Mundi Exhibition (Feb. 11-May 7) features work from eight artists short-listed for this international biennial prize. www.wai.org.uk. March 1 is St. David’s Day and Cardiff holds a lively celebration and parade in honour of Wales’ patron saint – plus the Welsh Assembly’s new debating chamber, designed by Richard Rogers, will be opened by HRH Prince Charles. 

In Chichester, West Sussex, art aficionados eagerly await the reopening in March of one of Southern England’s best galleries of 20th century art. Pallant House, set in a Queen Anne townhouse, now has a brand new gallery next-door. www.pallant.org.uk. In Edinburgh, Scotland’s cradle of science and invention for centuries, an interactive science and technology gallery opens at the Royal Museum. At the British Museum in London, an exhibition of Michelangelo’s drawings traces 60 years of the Italian Renaissance genius’s life, reuniting material for the first time since dispersal of the artist's studio 400 years ago (March 23 – June 25). www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk.

As part of its 150th anniversary in 2006, London’s National Portrait Gallery presents an exhibition on the biography and portraiture of William Shakespeare. ‘Searching for Shakespeare’ (March 2-May 29) includes the first portrait presented to the newly-founded Gallery in 1856 – believed to be a painting of the playwright. www.npg.org.uk. 

In fact, Shakespeare fans are in for a treat this year. The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) is to stage the biggest festival in its history, featuring every play, sonnet and poem by the great dramatist. ‘The Complete Works’ will be staged in the town most associated with the bard, Stratford-upon-Avon, between April 2006 – April 2007, and you can expect a carnival atmosphere throughout the year. www.rsccompleteworks.co.uk

In York, the National Railway Museum is creating its first exhibition dedicated to one of the world’s most famous trains: the Flying Scotsman. ‘The Flying Scotsman Story’, set to open at Easter, is a permanent exhibition telling the story behind a romantic icon from the age of steam. www.nmsi.ac.uk 

Sports fans eagerly await opening of the new Wembley Stadium in May, in time for the Football Association Cup Final. The stadium will once again host the biggest and most exciting events in the sporting calendar – and the Rolling Stones are booked to perform there in August. www.wembleystadium.com

The Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships (June 26 – July 9) is a key component of the English ‘season’. This year there is an added bonus: a brand new Lawn Tennis Museum (opens in April). www.wimbledon.org/museum 

A royal palace in West London that was a favourite of King George III (as portrayed by Nigel Hawthorne in the play and film The Madness of King George) in the early 19th century opens in May for the first time in a decade. The interiors of Kew Palace, situated in the Royal Botanical Gardens beside the River Thames, have been restored as the king and his family would have known them. www.hrp.org.uk 

In May, the long-awaited movie version of Dan Brown’s best-seller ‘The Da Vinci Code’, starring Tom Hanks, is released. The premiere is sure to attract even more fans to the locations featured in the book: among them are Rosslyn Chapel, an ornate medieval church six miles south of Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh; and, in London, St. James’s Park, Kensington Gardens, Temple Church in the Inns of Court; and Westminster Abbey. Lincoln Cathedral in Eastern England stands in for the abbey in the film: it was reported that Mr. Hanks loved this historic city. 

June sees two contrasting events in the capital. More than a hundred private squares, gardens and historic green spaces will unlock their gates and welcome visitors for the Open Garden Squares weekend (June 10-11). Later in the month, up to a million lesbian and gay visitors will be in town for the EuroPride Festival Fortnight (June 17-30) and the free EuroPride Day with its colourful parade (July 1). www.PrideLondon.org 

A key event of the English ‘season’, horseracing at Royal Ascot, returns to its Berkshire home (June 20-24) following a £200 million redevelopment including a new grandstand. It’s the perfect backdrop for the pageantry and stylish fashion (including those flamboyant hats) that made Ascot famous. www.ascot.co.uk 

The Senior British Open Golf Tournament returns to Turnberry in Ayrshire, Scotland (July 27-30). The Westin Turnberry Resort celebrates its centenary by hosting the event on its Ailsa course which has spectacular views across the Irish Sea. www.westin.com/turnberry. Historical re-enactments are among the events the British do best and, over two July weekends ‘Britain’s largest and most spectacular medieval festival’ is staged at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire. Jousting, sieges, falconry, archery, medieval minstrels and appropriate food and drink will combine to create a feast for the senses. www.joust.info 

The Jurassic Coast, which stretches from East Devon through Dorset and is so-called because of its rich geological remains (it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site) gets a new gallery in August. The Jurassic Coast Gallery, at Dorset County Museum in Dorchester, has much to interest students of geology but also includes animated dinosaurs, touch screen interactives, tactile exhibits and family-friendly activities. www.dorsetcountymuseum.org 

Glasgow, Scotland sees the reopening of one of its showpiece museums, Kelvingrove Museum & Art Gallery, in the summer following a major revamp that has taken three years. With an outstanding collection of British and European art, and 21 galleries on many Scottish themes, it is a must-see in this bustling Victorian city. In September, Glasgow holds its first ‘Mackintosh month’, with many events linked to one of its best-known sons: art nouveau designer and architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh. www.glasgowmuseums.com 

Several hundred visual artists will show their work in more than 40 locations across Liverpool, North-West England during the fourth Liverpool Biennial in 2006 (September 16 – November 26). The last festival, in 2004, attracted 350,000 visitors. www.biennial.com. A short cruise aboard a River Mersey ferry will take you across to Wirral, where the International Guitar Festival of Great Britain will be in full swing (Nov. 10-30). There are jazz, rock, blues, country, folk and classical performances in a variety of venues. www.bestguitarfest.com 

Towards the end of the year we can look forward to a new attraction in Edinburgh: the Family History Centre. A boon to anyone with Scottish family roots, it will enable people to search records up to 500 years old, trace their family tree and get a glimpse into the richness of Scotland’s past. It will include exhibitions, search rooms and retail spaces and be open to amateurs and professional genealogists alike. www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk 

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More information on events and help planning a trip around Britain can be found at www.visitbritain.com. As dates are liable to change, please check details before travelling. 

Reprinted with permission.