(MENAFN - Arab News) This year will be a very special time to visit Britain as the country celebrates 60 years of Queen Elizabeth II's reign.
The year also promises to be an unforgettable sporting year in Britain and beyond, with the Olympics and Paralympics set to deliver moments of sporting glory in London, and plenty of other major international events to look forward to including the 6 Nations rugby tournament, British Grand Prix, World Snooker Championships, Ryder Cup, ICC Word Twenty20 and much more.
"With several activities planned throughout the year to celebrate these events, there is a lot for guests and visitors from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries to see and do in Britain during 2012," British Ambassador Sir Tom Phillips said here yesterday. Phillips said: "There's a real sense of excitement in the UK at the moment, with the start of the Olympic Games less than 76 days away, and all taking place in the year which marks the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II."
Saudi Arabia will be participating with a huge contingent in London Olympics. "Like everyone in London, I'm proud that the capital of my country will host this year's games, and I know from the visit I made late last year to the Olympics site how thoroughly London is preparing for this task," said Phillips, adding that London is already a global city for tourism, business, culture and sport. "I'm glad that so many Saudis go there each year," he added.
"I hope many Saudis will be watching the games, either in person or on television, and I wish all the Saudi athletes who will be participating every success," said the envoy, adding that a number of programs have been lined up in London as part of the 60th anniversary of Her Majesty's reign. A Diamond Jubilee Pageant at Windsor Castle in London will be held today in which over 500 horses and 800 international performers will take part.
It will be followed by several exhibitions at the National Portrait Gallery of London, which run from May 17 to October 22 this year. The exhibitions will bring together 60 images of Elizabeth II including Chris Levine's 2004 photograph "Lightness of Being," a highly unusual portrait of the queen with her eyes closed. Then, there will be an Epsom Derby on June 2. The event is just one of a series of special celebrations marking the Queen's 60th anniversary.
Referring to other events being hosted by London on this occasion, Saba Said, a British Embassy official responsible for media and events, said the Queen would lead a flotilla of up to 1,000 from the UK, the Commonwealth and around the world for The Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant on June 3. The flotilla, expected to measure seven and a half miles from end to end, will be the largest fleet of ships to be assembled on the Thames in 350 years, a royal tradition which dates back to 1533 when Anne Boleyn traveled by boat for her coronation.
Then, there will be a BBC concert at Buckingham Palace on June 4, said Saba, adding that Sir Elton John, Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Cliff Richards and Sir Tom Jones will be joined by Shirley Bassey, Madness, Annie Lennox, JLS and Jessie J as well as a host of other A-list stars. Gary Barlow, one of the organizers, has put together a fitting line-up of rock royalty including Alfie Boe, Jools Holland, Lang Lang and Ed Sheeran to mark the Queen's 60th year on the throne and 10,000 lucky people will get free tickets to see the concert live.
Saba said the UK had always been a fascinating destination for Saudi and Gulf nationals. The UK was the sixth most-visited destination in 2010 in terms of international tourist arrivals, which included a large number of Saudi nationals. According to a survey by the Paris-Ile de France Regional Tourism Committee, London is the best tourist destination in Europe. The "Twenty Four Hours in a Tourist Capital" report compared London with six other major European cities. London scored 82 percent for its welcoming approach to visitors from abroad, earning it first place.
This year is special, said Saba. From the London 2012 Games to the Titanic Museum, from the Diamond Jubilee celebrations to the opening of the Harry Potter visitor attraction, there will be something to suit every age and interest, she added. In addition to the Olympic Park, 11 other venues across London will host sport competitions during the Games. Tennis at Wimbledon and football at Wembley are obvious, but beach volleyball on Horse Guards Parade and show jumping in Greenwich Park less so, she added.
There will also be volleyball at Earl's Court, triathlons in Hyde Park, archery at Lord's, shooting in Woolwich and gymnastics in the iconic North Greenwich Arena, originally built for the millennium celebrations and now one of Europe's finest entertainment centers, she added. The mood of celebration will last the whole year and Britain's hospitality industry is gearing up to offer its visitors an exceptional welcome.
"Great Britain has several scenic locales to offer travelers and tourists, from bustling cities to the quiet green countryside and beaches," said the embassy official, adding that some of the lesser visited albeit rewarding tourist experiences can also be found within London or conveniently connected to London. To this end, she noted that the names of several seaside towns in England end with the word Regis, meaning that they have a strong connection with or were built for a past king.
The most famous ones include Bognor Regis, just 70 miles south of London, and Lyme Regis and Melcombe Regis on Dorset's world famous Jurassic Coast where the 2012 Olympic Games sailing competitions will be held. On the other hand, visitors can enjoy UK's heritage and royal castles all over Britain, many of them now well-preserved ruins, according to a report released by the British embassy. Corfe Castle and Tintagel Castle in South West England, Sandringham Castle in the county of Norfolk in the East of England and Beaumaris in Wales are other great examples, said the report.
All of these castles are living castles open to visitors throughout the year. Other castles include Arundel Castle in Sussex and Alnwick Castle in Northumberland used as Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films, said the report. On the other hand, in London between Westminster Abbey (where Prince William and Kate Middleton recently got married) and Buckingham Palace (The Queen's main residence), one can see the royal residences of Clarence House and St James' Palace and walk along Horse Guards Parade.
"Or if you are looking for some clothes shopping, take a stroll down Jermyn Street, where the Royal Family shops for everything from shoes to outdoor clothing and leather goods can be found," said the report. The Royal Armouries in Yorkshire houses an amazing collection of arms, armor and artillery dating from antiquity to the present day. The Royal Leamington Spa in Shakespeare's country in the center of England was where the Royal Family used to 'take the waters' at the Royal Pump Rooms, which are now home to an award winning cultural and tourism center.
In anticipation of the large number of tourists which are expected to visit UK during the summer months, a number of literary and cultural heritage sites are being restored to their original splendor. Stunningly located in the Scottish Borders, Abbotsford sits at the heart of the landscape that inspired the poetry and novels of its creator, Sir Walter Scott, said the report, adding that the house and gardens are undergoing a major restoration and will be open daily until September 2012.
This is in addition to the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of Britain's greatest ever novelists Charles Dickens, which will kick off with a year-long program of events across England. On the other hand, the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic is being marked by a yearlong program of events starting in Liverpool and finishing with the opening of a new visitor attraction in Belfast, where the famous liner was built.
Referring to the celebrations to commemorate William Shakespeare as the world's great playwright, the report said that the World Shakespeare Festival will run from April 23 (Shakespeare's birthday) to Sept. 9, 2012. Productions and events will take place across the UK, in London, Stratford-upon-Avon, Newcastle/Gateshead, Wales and Scotland. In fact, every year Britain hosts thousands of exciting events spanning theater, music, dance, comedy, cinema and art exhibitions.
During the whole of 2012, there will be several such unique events, said the report, giving details of the celebrations and Saudi participation. From the sports enthusiast who will revel in the heady atmosphere of the Olympics to the discerning tourist who will have the opportunity to visit heritage sites which have been meticulously restored, there is something for everyone to enjoy in the UK this year, added the report.