City secrets

Date Posted: 01/05/2010

Explore the hotspots and hidden gems of these popular city break destinations.



The Rows: The Medieval black and white timber-framed shops of Chester’s historic Rows are a favourite for visiting groups, featuring a variety of independent stores and boutiques.

City Walls: Reportedly the only city in the UK to retain the full circuit of its defensive walls, groups can complete the 2.2 mile course, taking in such sights as the Eastgate Clock, the amphitheatre and the racecourse.

Chester Cathedral: Bringing to life 1,000 years of history, take a tour of the city’s vast cathedral and grounds, famed as one of Cheshire’s Gardens of Distinction.


Town Crier Proclamation: Make time to hear the daily proclamations from Chester’s husband and wife town crier team, made at the Cross from 12 noon to 12.15pm throughout the summer.

Secret Chester Tour: Pre-booked groups of up to 15 people can explore some of Chester’s most fascinating historic buildings on this two-hour walking tour, including the towers on the City Walls, not usually accessible to the general public. Contact Heather Beecher on 01244-405626 for more details.

Roman High Tea Cruise: A riverboat tour with a difference, Mill Hotel Cruises’s Roman High Tea Cruise promises to steer groups through Chester’s Roman roots, with commentary from a costumed guide. The one-hour cruise includes afternoon tea and caters for groups of up to 50 people. Telephone: 01244-350035 for further information.

0845-647 7868



Cardiff Castle: If your group has a penchant for decorative arts, make the most of a visit to this 2,000-year-old historic site by arranging a specialist tour and discover more about the castle’s splendid décor. Available to pre-booked groups, the tour includes an illustrated talk and light refreshments.

Mermaid Quay: To indulge in a spot of retail therapy away from the bustling city centre, venture to Mermaid Quay by the historic waterfront, which boasts a wide selection of shops, bars and eateries.


Craft in the Bay: For an alternative retail experience in Cardiff Bay, visit this Victorian dockside building. Home of the Makers Guild in Wales, Craft in the Bay features an exhibition space, cafe and craft retail area.

Cardiff International White Water Park: Unlikely to remain a secret for any longer, the new CIWW is now open, and adventure-seeking groups can enjoy a range of exciting watersports on the 250-metre canoe slalom course. Multi-activity courses are also available for pre-booked groups.

029-2087 1846

Dublin, Ireland


Guinness Storehouse: Arguably one of Dublin’s most popular tourist attractions, groups can opt for a guided tour of the storehouse at the famous St James’s Gate brewery, before enjoying a pint at the seventh floor Gravity Bar offering unrivalled views of the city.

Kilmainham Gaol: Visit the haunting passages of Kilmainham Gaol to unearth Dublin’s Republican history. Groups cannot fail to be moved by the tranquil Stonebreakers Yard, which witnessed the execution of four leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising.

Temple Bar: The lively Temple Bar area is recognised as Dublin’s cultural quarter. Offering an eclectic mix of bars and eateries, open-air performances at Meeting House Square, quirky shops and outdoor markets, it is extremely popular with tourists.


Old Jameson Distillery: An alternative experience to the popular Guinness Storehouse, groups can re-live the story of John Jameson & Son and discover the secrets of Jameson Irish Whiskey before indulging in a tipple or two at the Smithfield site. Group rates available for parties of 15 plus.

James Joyce Museum: A good option if you’ve already visited the Dublin Writers Museum, the museum is housed at the James Joyce Tower in Sandycove. Located eight miles south of the city, the tower is famed as the setting for the first chapter of Joyce’s Ulysses. Discounted rates available for groups of 20 plus.

Dublin Docklands: An area of continuing regeneration a few minutes from the city centre, the Docklands Trail will lead groups past Custom House, taking in the Famine Memorial statues and the World Poverty Stone. The Docklands also accommodates a growing number of popular eateries and specialist food and wine outlets.

0800-039 7000



Custard Factory: Promoted as the focal point of the city’s arts and media quarter, discover the host of antique shops, studio workshops, bars and galleries at the five-acre riverside factory site.

Jewellery Quarter: This historic quarter is home to 400 jewellery businesses and 200 listed buildings. Groups can venture on a public art and building trail, or shop for jewels and gems from over 100 specialist retailers.


Back to Backs: The only back to back properties to survive the 60s ‘slum clearance’, groups will uncover the story of the city through the lives of ordinary working-class people on a guided tour of the restored 19th-century courtyard. Pre-booking is essential.

The Electric: A quirky experience for visiting groups, The Electric is promoted as the UK’s oldest working cinema, featuring sofa seating, a full bar and waiter service. Log onto

0844-888 3883

Rome, Italy


Colosseum: One of Rome’s most iconic buildings and a must-see for groups visiting Italy’s capital. Look out for the underground basements, still visible at the centre of the amphitheatre, and the Roman numbers above the ground floor arches indicating various sectors.

The Official Angels and Demons Tour: Inspired by Dan Brown’s popular novel, the tour enables groups to visit a number of historic sites in one hit, including St Peter’s Square, the Pantheon, Castel Sant’Angelo and St Maria del Popolo Church. Log onto for more information.


Cruise on the River Tiber: View the historic city from a fresh perspective on a six-kilometre river cruise from Castel Sant’Angelo to the Isola Tiberina - a boat shaped island dedicated by the Romans to Aesculapius, the Greek god of medicine. Wine Bar and Roman Cuisine Speciality cruises are also available. Log onto

Centrale Montemartini Museum: Located in the increasingly fashionable Ostiense Quarter, two opposite worlds - the classical and industrial - collide in this intriguing museum, which showcases a combination of ancient Roman art with turbine and diesel engines. Go to for more information.

Amsterdam, Holland


Anne Frank Huis: A visit to the secret annex where Anne Frank and her family hid for two years from Nazi persecution is an extremely moving experience, bringing to life the story behind the famous diary.

Van Gogh Museum: Located in the city’s attractive museums’ quarter and purportedly home to the largest Van Gogh collection in the world, the museum showcases a permanent array of paintings, drawings, and letters, and is extremely popular with tourists.

Westerkerk: For a remarkable view of the city, agile groups can ascend the spiral staircase of the Westertoren bell tower (a maximum of six per tour), before admiring the decorative Hemony organ and peaceful interior of the church building.


House of Bols: Located close to the popular museum quarter, this interactive experience will tantalise the senses as groups are introduced to the art of cocktail-making, with the chance to sample a personalised tipple in the mirrored bar following a self-guided tour.

Oude Kerk: Dating back to the 13th century, the ‘Old Church’ is reportedly the city’s oldest building. Strangely located in the middle of the red-light district, the church’s magnificent interior makes it well worth a visit.

Leidseplein: One of the city’s most charismatic areas, groups can soak up the atmosphere of the lively square, partaking in a game of giant chess or enjoying a bite to eat on the cafe terraces.

020-5512 548

Valletta, Malta


St John’s Co-Cathedral: Art-loving groups can take the opportunity to view Caravaggio’s masterpiece The Beheading of St John the Baptist, housed in the capital’s famous cathedral.

Grand Masters Palace: Showcasing the history of the order, The Palace of the Grand Master of the Order of St John houses some of the most impressive stately rooms on the island.


The Manoel Theatre: Groups can enjoy a backstage tour of this baroque gem dating back to the early 18th century. Recently restored, the Manoel Theatre is reportedly one of Europe’s oldest theatres.

Casa Rocca Piccola: Still in use as a private residence, many of the rooms of this striking 16th century palace are open to visitors, providing an insight into the 400-year tradition and customs of the Maltese nobility.



Gunwharf Quays: With its 95 designer outlets and a variety of restaurants and eateries, groups can indulge in a spot of retail therapy at lively Gunwharf Quays.

Spinnaker Tower: For stunning views across the Solent, venture to the top of the 170-metre-tall Spinnaker Tower. Benefits for pre-booked groups of 15 plus include free GTO and coach driver admission, fast-track entry, and a meet and greet service. Groups can also take advantage of a joint ticket with the Historic Dockyard.

Historic Dockyard: Discover 800-years of maritime history at one of the city’s most popular visitor attractions. Explore the HMS Victory and HMS Warrior 1860, and visit the Mary Rose Museum, the National Museum of the Royal Navy, and Action Stations. Telephone: 023-9283 9766 or log onto


Royal Marines Museum: Located on the seafront at Southsea, groups can immerse themselves in the heart of Royal Marines history, exploring their role in past conflicts, from the Battle of Trafalgar to D-Day. Group incentives are available for parties of ten plus. Telephone 023-9281 9385 or log onto for more information.

Explosion! Museum of Naval Firepower: Located in Gosport, Explosion! enables groups to explore more of the area’s rich naval history, tracing the development of armaments from gunpowder to the Exocet missile.

Dark Encounters: Experience the spookier side of Portsmouth on a guided ghost walk with Dark Encounters. Allegedly one of the most haunted cities on the south coast, uncover Portsmouth’s murky history and gruesome tales. Telephone: 07818-461295 or log onto

023-9284 1666



Houses of Parliament: Take a guided tour of the Palace of Westminster, available every Saturday throughout the year from the 10th July. Highlights include the Commons and Lords debating chambers and the Queen’s Robing Room.

London Eye: Celebrating its tenth birthday this year, why not enhance your group’s London Eye experience by reserving a private capsule? Accommodating up to 25 people in each, groups can even indulge in a Pimm’s or Afternoon Tea capsule. With a range of packages available, GTOs should telephone 0871-222 3345 for further details.

Tower of London: Unearth almost 900 years of history at the iconic White Tower, with private tours available with registered Blue Badge guides. Pre-booked groups can also take the opportunity to view the early morning Opening Ceremony from within the tower itself, or watch as the Military Guard collects the secret password for after-hours entry at 2.45pm.


Old Operating Theatre, Museum and Herb Garret: Explore the history of surgery and herbal medicine at this quirky museum close to London Bridge. After-hours visits are available for pre-booked groups, providing an educational talk accompanied by a glass of wine. E-mail or log onto

Viaduct Tavern: This public house was originally built in 1869 on the site of the infamous Newgate Prison. Enjoy a bar menu from 12 noon to 8pm, and put in a request to be shown the pub’s cellars, formerly the prison cells.

Old Spitalfields Market: London’s many markets provide an alternative shopping experience for groups bored of traipsing round the bustling high streets. Try Old Spitalfields Market, boasting everything from vintage fashion and antiques to an international food court.

020-7234 5800

Under lock and key... the best of the rest

Salzburg, Austria:
From the city associated with The Sound of Music, visit the historic Salzburg Marionette Theatre which stages a 90-minute puppet-on-a-string version of the much-loved musical film, featuring over 100 puppets.

View the world’s smallest Van Gogh, measuring just 2.3 by three inches at the quirky, A World in Miniature Museum on the outskirts of the city.

The 2008 European Capital of Culture will add to its museum collection next year as the £72 million Museum of Liverpool is unveiled on the UNESCO World Heritage Waterfront in spring 2011.

Unveil the secrets of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. The real Alice was the daughter of the Dean Liddell of Christ Church, whose constant lateness inspired the character of the White Rabbit, while Theophilus Carter rumoured as the model for the Mad Hatter is buried at Holywell Cemetery.

Built by Charles II and now home to 29 Commando Royal Artillery, the Royal Citadel on Plymouth Hoe is allegedly one of the finest star-shaped fortresses in the UK, and is open for guided tours on Tuesday and Thursday from May to September.

Aided by Mark Jones’s The Snickleways Guide to York (available at York Visitor Information Centre), explore the network of ‘ginnels’ or alleyways which wind through the centre. Each Medieval shortcut reveals a different story, with captivating names including Whip Ma Whop Ma Gate, Lady Peckett’s Yard and Mad Alice Lane.

Budapest, Hungary:
Located in District VI, themed restaurant Lancelot will transport groups back to the Medieval age. With suits of armour, swords and torture devices all part of the décor, serving wenches, and background Lute music, the eatery offers a fun-filled experience for visitors.

Paris, France:
For panoramic views of the city, a good alternative to the iconic Eiffel Tower is the Montparnasse 56 observation visit, offering 360-degree views at a height of 196-metres from the top of Tour Montparnasse in the heart of Paris.

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