The largest settlement in this British Overseas Territory distant by a windswept mile, but it’s better not to be called the ‘big smoke’ of the anniversary year. Next month will mark 40 years since, after a brief but intense land, sea and air conflict, the Argentines surrendered to the British at Stanley – and the stage was set for the most unlikely of tourism booms. In 1982 there were around 500 visitors to the Falklands; before the pandemic, it was up to 80,000 a year. All of them would have spent at least some time in a city (sorry, city) which is a damn sight prettier and more charming than anywhere, so the cut has a right to be – clusters of kaleidoscopic rooftops marching upwards waterside, pristine military monuments, much-photographed red phone booths, and doorless friendliness that will have you racking up new friends with every turn.
Don’t miss Christ Church Cathedral, the southernmost Anglican cathedral in the world, and probably the only one with a huge whalebone arch on the outside.
Where to stay The Waterfront Boutique Hotel, as described, near the cathedral, with wi-fi and a restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the glistening/wind-whipped waters (remove where not applicable) (B&B doubles from 150 £;waterfront hotel.co.fk).
Talbooth House & Spa, Colchester
2. Colchester, Essex
Good morning! A third-generation Essex girl here, dancing around her handbag and kicking her white stilettos at the news that historic Colchester has been crowned a town. Unless you’re my mother or grandmother, it’s safe to say that this corner of East Anglia near where I grew up has been overlooked. When I was a child, I couldn’t get enough of parading in Roman armor around the excellent Norman-era Colchester Castle; as a teenager, I had blisters while dancing on a podium at the Hippodrome discotheque (RIP); and as an adult, I’m seduced by softer pleasures, like wandering the villages of Constable Country. Was it just me who thought Britain’s oldest settlement was already a city? Embarrassing.
Don’t miss Firstsite, a visual arts museum in the Cultural Quarter (free; firstsite.uk).
Where to stay A few miles from Colchester proper is the elegant Talbooth House & Spa, a half-timbered boutique hotel on the banks of the River Stour and an ideal base for exploring beautiful villages on the Essex-Suffolk border – Constable would approve (double B&B from £300; milsomhotels.com).
Boats in the Marina, Bangor
3. Bangor, County Down
As well as being the butt of Northern Ireland’s best honeymoon joke – “I’m going to Bangor for a week, so I am” – this seaside resort ten miles east of Belfast is fiercely loyal to the Crown, and therefore will perhaps be most delighted with the platinum octet. Mention the Queen to the elderly outside In the Name of Cod fishmonger’s on Clandeboye Road or stroll along Ballyholme beach, and they’ll look back wistfully to the last royal visit in 2009 and then the one before in 1961, when the Duke of Edinburgh took the helm of a racing boat at the Royal Ulster Yacht Club. The elegant city – once known as the Brighton of Northern Ireland – has based its bid for city status on the three pillars of Heritage, Heart and Hope; the latter, no doubt, that the province will remain part of the United Kingdom rather than a united Ireland.
Don’t miss Bangor Castle for the walled garden; if you’re lucky, the Friday night trad music session at Fealty’s.
Where to stay Shelleven Guest House is a Victorian pad with sea-view rooms that can now, for the first time, be described as standing in the heart of the city (double room from £95; shellevenhouse.com).
Bletchley Park, Milton Keynes
4. Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire
A ‘new town’ created in the Swinging Sixties, Milton Keynes is the youngest and largest of the Jubilee Towns, with a population of around 264,000. That means its claims to fame are modern rather than historic – footballer Dele Alli and Olympic champion Greg Rutherford were born here, while Milton Keynes has more roundabouts than any other city in the UK. That said, it’s a leafy place; it was designed so that no resident would ever be more than half a mile from a green space.
Don’t miss XScape – an activity center in a giant dome, most popular for its ski slope which uses real snow (ski session from £20; xscapemiltonkeynes.co.uk).
Where to stay The new Hotel La Tour is part sculpture, part hotel, its square skyscraper design imprinted with a 100-foot-tall LED-lit ‘sun’ – told you MK was modern (double room from £96; hotel-latour.co.uk).
The Llangollen Canal at Wrexham
The world finally paid attention to Wrexham when Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney recently bought its football club, the oldest in Wales, founded in 1864. Not before time. The soaring steeple of St Giles Parish Church and the County Museum are a nod to history, but otherwise this newly promoted town is very much in motion. It has its eye on the ball culturally, with a growing crop of cool independent galleries, boutiques, cafes (Lot 11) and restaurants (The Fat Boar), the avant-garde arts center Tŷ Pawb and the new science center Xplore! When you feel like taking a breather, there are medieval castles, abbeys, manor gardens and the deserted mountains of Berwyn just around the corner.
Don’t miss The 18-arch, 307m-long Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is a Unesco World Heritage Site bearing the hallmark of Thomas Telford from 1805 – a stunning engineering triumph that carries the Llangollen Canal over the River Dee . On foot or by narrow boat.
Where to stay The neo-Gothic lemon tree, listed grade II, is charming. Its restaurant is among the best in Wrexham, riffing on local ingredients in dishes such as Pen-Y-Lan pork with pickled apple and cider juice (B&B doubles from £80; thelemontree.org.uk).
The restaurant at 1703, Dunfermline
6. Dunfermline, Fife
Once the capital of medieval Scotland, the birthplace of Charles I was the ‘full perfection of decadence’ at the time of Daniel Defoe’s visit in the 18th century. But soon the ‘old gray toun’ became the world center of damask production, and signs of its Victorian heyday can still be seen in its stepped gables, imposing stone facades and flourishing parks. The main street is dominated by the City Chambers, with a gothic tower that is pure Tim Burton; Robert the Bruce is buried in the mighty 12th century abbey just off the high street.
Don’t miss Through an 87-step tunnel descending from an unassuming, albeit currently closed, public car park, St Margaret’s Grotto is a haunting shrine where Queen Margaret prayed nearly 1,000 years ago.
Where to stay In the town centre, 1703 Dunfermline is a 200-year-old stone building with simple but elegant rooms, two loft-style bars and a lively German brasserie (double room from £70; 1703dunfermline.co.uk) .
A laburnum arch at Brodsworth Hall, near Doncaster
7. Doncaster, South Yorkshire
Donny’s town center is surprisingly beautiful: the glass-glistening Cast Theater lines up next to the dancing fountains of Sir Nigel Gresley Square. But Doncaster Market, nearly 2,000 years old with 400 stalls, is the superstar – the International Food Hall is great pasture for wallets. Doncaster is a pleasantly green, suburban place, with sprawling parks replacing coal mines. Get out into nature with birdwatching at Potteric Carr Wetlands and forest hikes at Cantley Park.
Don’t miss Children love the lions and polar bears in the ever-expanding Yorkshire Wildlife Park’s moated enclosures (£22; yorkshirewildlifepark.com).
Where to stay The art deco Earl of Doncaster stands out for its flamboyant rooms (doubles from £74; theearl.co.uk).
The Isle of Man Steam Railway
8. Douglas, Isle of Man
Perhaps the least known of the New Jubilee towns, Douglas is best considered a cross between Copenhagen and Deauville, with its colorful waterfront houses and maritime architecture. Much of its fame rests with the Isle of Man Film Festival and TT races, when the island’s population of 84,000 rises by more than 50% – and nearly all visitors s stop at Douglas (which serves as the backdrop for the comedy film wake up NedBesides).
Don’t miss The Isle of Man – Douglas Steam Railway is significant for its railway heritage, so the trains are a must. This route departs from Douglas, circumnavigates the island and includes a meal in the gourmet car (from £32 pp; iombusandrail.im).
Where to stay The Claremont is the best address on Douglas’ Victorian waterfront, right on the prom and within walking distance of the ferry (double room from £126; clarremonthoteldouglas.com).
What does city status mean?
It’s simply any place that has been granted city status – officially ‘letters patent’ – by the Queen and the government. However, there is no additional funding or guaranteed renovation projects for new towns on the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee list here; it’s just for the glory. There are also no rules about which cities can become cities: you don’t have to have a certain population size and it’s a myth that cities must have a cathedral (this requirement was officially abolished in the 19th century). The eight towns here all had to prove their royal ties and cultural status.
What are the benefits of city status?
It’s no wonder the competition has been fierce in this latest round of bids – 39 towns across England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and British Overseas Territories have put their name in the hat for top city status – because it’s sure to mean a boost for tourism and local businesses. A good example is Perth in Scotland, which won the 2012 competition; it has seen the local economy grow by 12% since its elevation. The stamp of ‘city status’ will also mean that these new names will be in the spotlight internationally, which he hopes will have a dividend in terms of business and leisure visitors.
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