Great Britain: The Best Is Yet to Come

Great Britain is making a major bid to be the world's premier millennium destination, spending more than $8 billion on upgrading and creating new visitor attractions, galleries, museums and architectural projects. Throughout the country more than 40 projects, costing from $70 million to $320 million each, have been undertaken.

This massive effort is backed by a worldwide marketing campaign called "Britain -- Now is the Time." British Tourist Authority (BTA) chairman David Quarmby has said there are three aspects to the campaign: "The theme of time and the importance of Greenwich and Greenwich Mean Time (GMT); the Millennium Dome, now under construction in Greenwich, and the regeneration of Britain's cultural and environmental assets."

British tourism officials say the country occupies a unique place in the history of time and, therefore, has a special claim as the ultimate millennium destination. As the site of the prime meridian, the point from which longitudes worldwide are reckoned, the village of Greenwich in southeast London is the historic home of time. The prime meridian -- longitude zero -- divides the globe into the eastern and western hemispheres. Each new year officially starts when clocks on the prime meridian pass midnight on Dec. 31.

The centerpiece of Great Britain's millennium celebration will be the Millennium Dome, opening in Greenwich on Jan. 1. It is expected to draw as many as 60,000 visitors a day throughout the year.

London tourism officials, in fact, are promoting the British capital as "London Millennium City," and hoping to attract some 15 million overseas visitors during the year to a host of new and enhanced attractions.

But visitors venturing beyond London will also find a wealth of millennium attractions, including science and discovery projects, city waterfront makeovers, botanic gardens, museums and even a new network of bicycling routes.

The following is a sampling of millennium attractions in London and throughout Great Britain.

LONDON

The Millennium Dome, large enough to hold Trafalgar Square and all the buildings around it, is being constructed on the Greenwich Peninsula along the Thames River. It will contain 14 attractions arranged around a central performance area. These 14 separate exhibition zones will showcase British ideas, style and technology and examine the choices mankind will face in the 21st century.

Dome attractions will include Our Own Story, featuring multimedia images from Britain's towns and cities, and the Skyscape, an entertainment venue with two cinemas and Great Britain's largest live performance stage. A new extension to the Jubilee Underground Line, called North Greenwich, has been constructed to take visitors to the Dome. The trip from Waterloo Station will be 12 minutes and from Charing Cross it will take 14 minutes. There will also be connections with the Docklands Light Railway and the main rail services, as well as ferry service along the Thames from Waterloo to the Millennium Pier at the Dome.

Admission to the Dome will be by pre-booked tickets, available through tour operators and ticket agencies. The Dome will operate throughout 2000. After that, options include converting it to a convention center or sports facility.

The new Tate Gallery of Modern Art is scheduled to open in May 2000 on the south bank of the Thames, opposite St. Paul's Cathedral. To be housed in the former Bankside Power Station, it will contain the original Tate Gallery's collection of international 20th century art including works by Picasso, Matisse, Dali, Moore, Duchamps and Warhol. The galleries will be arranged over three levels, with plans also calling for a shop, cafe, auditorium and film and seminar room.

Meanwhile, the original Tate Gallery, located two miles up river in the Millbank building, will re-open at the same time following a project to add six new galleries for exhibitions and nine new or renovated galleries for its permanent collection of British art from 1500 to the present. It will be known as the Tate Gallery of British Art.

The Millennium Bridge, set to open in April 2000, will span the Thames, linking the new Tate Gallery of Modern Art with St. Paul's Cathedral. It will be the first pedestrian-only bridge to be built across the Thames this century.

The 450-foot-high British Airways London Eye will be the world's highest observation wheel and London's fourth tallest structure when it opens in January on the south bank of the Thames. Passengers will board one of 32 enclosed capsules, each accommodating 25 people, for a 30-minute ride over the city. Views will encompass a 30-mile radius, including St. Paul's Cathedral, the Houses of Parliament and the Millennium Dome.

The National Portrait Gallery is scheduled to complete an expansion by June. The project includes a new Tudor Gallery, Balcony Gallery, roof-top restaurant and lecture theater.

A major redevelopment focusing on the former Reading Room and the two-acre Great Court is expected to open at the British Museum in September. A steel and glass roof will be placed over the courtyard, opening up the inner court to the public. The museum's ethnographic collection, which had been housed at Burlington House, will be returned and displayed in its Sainsbury African Galleries.

Vinopolis -- the City of Wine, an attraction celebrating the world of wine, has opened in London on Bankside on the Thames River. Built on the site of an old Roman wine store, it is adjacent to Shakespeare's Globe Theatre and opposite St. Paul's Cathedral. The attraction includes the Wine Odyssey, a multi-media tour of the world's wine cultures, dealing with the history of wine making, its culture, grape varieties and vineyards. The tour passes through 20 dramatically themed rooms and culminates in the Grand Tasting Halls where visitors can sample wines from around the world.

Also part of the City of Wine are four restaurants featuring wine by the glass along with views of the River Thames. Shopping will feature a selection of wines from around the world plus special wine tasting events, seminars and facilities for corporate parties and functions.

The Story of Time exhibition will open Dec. 1 at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich and run through Sept. 24. Housed in the 17th century Queen's House, the exhibition is a combination of art and science that will challenge visitors' perceptions of time and reflect the ways cultures have expressed their understanding of time.

The exhibition will feature 300 objects from around the world including paintings by Titian and Dali, the earliest known watch, 10th century manuscripts and a photograph taken by the Hubble space telescope. The exhibition will also examine theories about the dawn of time, the measurement of time from sundials to the atomic clock and artifacts relating to eternity.

The National Maritime Museum completed an expansion project which added 12 new galleries.

More than 50 of London's most important historic institutions along the Thames River will stage special exhibitions and other events for the London String of Pearls Millennium Festival to take place throughout 2000.

Among the highlights of the festival, the Banqueting House, one of Britain's earliest classical buildings, will stage 17th century concerts at lunchtime from January through November; the Horse Guards Building in Whitehall opens to the public for the first time in July; a new series of medieval-style mystery plays will be staged in and around Southwark Cathedral from April to July, and the Tower of London will feature a variety of new exhibits, gun salutes, parades and pageants.

The new Royal Artillery Museum, is planned to open in 2001. It will house the Royal Artillery's collection of uniforms, photographs, books, manuscripts and guns spanning more than 600 years of artillery history. The facility will tell the story of the development of artillery and will recreate the experience of being a gunner in different wars using the personal recollections of those who served in the Royal Artillery.

ELSEWHERE IN GREAT BRITAIN

The Museum of Scotland has opened in Edinburgh's historic Old Town. The new museum is the first dedicated to the history of Scotland: the land, its people and their achievements from its beginnings to contemporary times.

The Big Idea, planned to open in the spring in Ayrshire, Scotland, will be Great Britain's first attraction devoted to the process of inventing. Dealing with 1,000 years of "Big Ideas," the attraction will include interactive exhibits.

The National Botanic Garden of Wales, scheduled to open in April, is the first national botanic garden to be built in Great Britain in 200 years. The garden is located at Middletown Hall, near Carmarthen, South Wales. Its centerpiece is the largest single span glass house in the world, which will house flora representing five regions from around the world.

Attractions will include an interactive Bioverse Center; all-season flower collections; plant worlds as diverse as those of New Zealand and China in the Woods of the World area; traditional Welsh orchards; the Biomass Energy Center; an Aquatic Laboratory; an herb garden, and Bioscope -- a subterranean multi-media visitor center.

The Lowry, set to open in April in Manchester, is a new waterfront complex in Salford Quays. It will feature a 1,650-seat theater, a gallery presenting works by the artist L.S. Lowry, a children's Hands On Gallery and a National Industrial Centre for Virtual Reality.

Also part of the project is a new footbridge and public plaza that is expected to act as a catalyst for further development on adjacent sites.

The York Millennium Mystery Plays will be held from June 22 to July 22. The plays, known throughout medieval times as the Corpus Christi Play, were traditionally performed outdoors in York from the 14th to the 16th century and later revived as part of the Festival of Britain in 1951.

Now the plays will be staged for the first time in York Minster, the largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe. Based on the Bible, the plays relate the story of man's spiritual journey from Creation to the Day of Judgment.

Magna will be a new visitor attraction set within the former steelworks at Rotherham in South Yorkshire. It is planned to open in April of 2001. The attraction will relate the story of steel as a foundation in building the modern world. Exhibitions and special effects will explore the elements which combine in the steelmaking process: earth, air, fire and water.

A modern Bath Spa is being constructed near the historic city of Bath's famous Roman Baths and is slated to open in the summer of 2001. The new facility, where visitors can bathe and recuperate in therapeutic waters, will be housed in a contemporary building designed to complement the city of Bath's 18th century urban landscape.

The Eden Project, scheduled to open in April in Cornwall, will demonstrate the relationship between plants and humans. A "global garden," the project will be based in a china clay pit overlooking St. Austell Bay and will contain thousands of plants from temperate zones and the tropics. Included will be giant conservatories called biomes, exhibition and conference space and catering and retail facilities.

A new National Cycle Network will make it possible to reach virtually every part of England, Scotland and Wales by bicycle. With the first routes opening by June, the network will eventually cover 8,000 miles throughout Great Britain by 2005.

The network is being developed by a charity called Sustrans (the name comes from "sustainable transport") with a $68 million grant from Great Britain's National Lottery Millennium Fund. The network will extend from Dover in southeast England to Inverness in northern Scotland. The 3,500 miles to open in 2000 have been dubbed the Millennium Routes.

The routes will go through most major towns and cities as well as forests. Half of the routes are being constructed along old railway lines, canal towpaths and riversides, with the remainder on quiet, minor roads and traffic-controlled town roads.

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