People in the UK and the USA are increasingly choosing to spend their money on experiences, rather than things. This is probably wise. Way back in 2014, San Francisco State University research showed that experiences were more likely than possessions to make people happy. And on a practical note, a voucher for an experience is an easy gift to buy at the last minute.
There are literally thousands of experiences to choose from. I spotted some great gift ideas on Groupon, like a soap-making workshop, a hop-on hop-off London bus ticket, or a massage (always a winner). I’ve also put together my own list, of gift experiences for people based in the UK. They’d be perfect for any book-, theatre- or history-loving people in your life.
Blacksmith lessons are available in a number of places. I surprised D with a birthday present of a class with Kevin Boys Blacksmiths at Surrey Docks Farm, London. It was a good way to access the ancient skills that are rarely practised these days. For a very reasonable £25, Kevin taught D the basics of forming, shaping and joining. This was a few years ago, so prices might have increased since.
Mr B’s Reading Spa at Mr B’s Emporium, Bath
Mr B’s Emporium has twice been named the UK’s best independent bookshop, and according to the Guardian in 2015, is one of best bookshops in the world. Its staff and owners are passionate about books, and it’s a cosy, energetic place to discover new and old reads. Mr B’s even ran a pop-up festival bookshop at Glastonbury this year. For £80, bibliophiles can have a ‘reading spa‘: tea, cake and a chat with a knowledgeable ‘bibliotherapist’, who will then hand-pick a large pile of books to explore, based on the reader’s likes. The spa ticket includes a £55 voucher for books.
Star-spotting at Galloway Forest
The Scottish Dark Sky Observatory is set in the Galloway Forest, 373 square miles of dense woodland. The Forest was the first place in western Europe to be given official Dark Sky status, so it’s perfect for gazing at the 3,000 stars above. Visitors have to pre-book sessions. A 90-minute evening session of star-spotting and astronomy presentations starts at £15 per adult.
Day trip to Paris (with cheese package)
For those who live in the south of the country, Paris is just a short train journey away. The Eurostar whisks passengers from London St Pancras straight into the heart of Paris, so there’s time to take in the Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay, or just to stroll round the historic Père Lachaise Cemetery, where you can see the graves of the graves of Marcel Proust, Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison. Eurostar tickets from London to Paris cost from £29 one way.
If you wanted to include a stay in London as part of the experience, why not combine the Paris trip with an Academy of Cheese masterclass at the UK’s premier cheesemongers, Paxton and Whitfield? Cost: £195.
You can read about my own day trip to Paris here.
Shakespeare double bill – in Stratford-Upon-Avon and at the Globe Theatre, London
There’s no better place to watch a performance penned by the Bard than in the RSC theatre at his childhood home, Stratford-Upon-Avon. Or is there? The Globe Theatre, on the banks of the River Thames in London, is a faithful reconstruction of the venue for the majority of Shakespeare’s performances. If you find it difficult to choose between the two, why not spend a night in each town, for a Shakespeare double bill? It takes around two hours to travel from London to Stratford, so it’s easily accomplished. Ticket prices vary, so check out the theatres’ websites for details.
At Leeds Castle in Kent, the falconry school offers half-day or day-long experiences. These include a Hawk Walk, where budding falconers are introduced to one of the Castle’s hawks and taught the techniques of handling and flying the birds across the beautiful Leeds Castle parkland. Also available is the Owl Experience, Bird of Prey Walk, and Bird of Prey Phoography Day. Prices begin at £75, which includes a day’s entrance to Leeds Castle.
English Heritage membership
English Heritage cares for over 400 sites across the country, from medieval castles and inspiring abbeys to grand houses and heritage gardens. A year’s membership gives unlimited entry to them all. Up to six accompanied children can use the same membership ticket. So if your loved one wants to explore prehistoric mines, Roman public loos or monastic tanning vats, English Heritage membership might be for them. Annual membership for one adult is £54.
Fly a vintage aeroplane
History enthusiasts can fly a number of vintage planes, including a Tiger Moth or a Dragon Rapide, at IWM Duxford. This branch of the Imperial War Museum was built in 1918 as a training base for the newly formed Royal Air Force. Classic Wings has been based at Duxford for 25 years. It restores and maintains all its own aircraft, and offers flight experiences from March to October, beginning at £95.
Subscription to BookBeat
Audiobook sales have shot up in the UK, with a 25% increase in the first half of 2017. For people who might not be able to take the time out for a big experience, audiobooks could be a good option. They can transport the listener to another world, on all those moments when their mind has time to wander: when doing the housework, gardening, commuting…. There are a number of audiobook apps available. We trialled BookBeat, which usually costs £12.90 per month and is great for real bookworms, as it offers unlimited listening. You can read more about BookBeat here, as well as sign up your loved one for a month’s free listening before the subscription charge kicks in.
Do you have any more ideas for gift experiences? Do let us know, in the comments below.
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This is a collaborative post. All views are my own.