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Exquisite galleries, famed concert halls and a wide range of annual festivals; you can't go wrong heading for the UK and Ireland for art and music. 2012 is an outstanding year with many special events being commemorated. Take a look at this year's highlights.

Pipers prepare for the Edinburgh Tattoo.
Photo: © Crown Copyright reproduced courtesy of Historic Scotland.

Cultural Olympiad Festival - The Summer Olympic Games don't start until July but the artistic events of the Cultural Olympiad have been ongoing since 2008. The events culminate with the London 2012 Festival, running from June 21 to September 9, 2012. Cultural events are planned across Britain covering all types of creative activity. Free workshops, concerts, displays and performances, including 108 music and 57 art events, will feature artists from around the world.

Queen's Diamond Jubilee Celebrations - While tickets to the BBC concert outside Buckingham Palace on June 4 are only available for British residents, this is just one of many events celebrating Queen Elizabeth II's 60 years on the throne. The National Portrait Gallery's Exhibit, "The Queen Art and Image", running from May 17 through October 21, features the works of a wide range of artists and photographers who have portrayed the Queen from Cecil Beaton to Andy Warhol.

World Shakespeare Festival, April 23 - November 2012, is a major international program produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company in collaboration with leading UK and international arts organizations. All Shakespeare's plays will be performed in venues across England, Scotland and Wales along with additional events and exhibitions celebrating the Bard.

The Titanic Festival of Creative Arts 2012, March 24 - May 11 in Belfast, features plays, musical events and art installations. This is a new art "mini-festival" to mark the 100th anniversary of the tragedy through music, theatre and visual art.

Peace One Day Concert, June 21, kicks off the London 2012 festival. It's a star-studded rock concert organized by Peace One Day in Derry - Londonderry, Northern Ireland. The show marks the three-month countdown to a Global Truce on Peace Day 2012.

Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, August 3 - 25, 2012 - The 62nd Tattoo draws together creative talent from four continents to pay tribute to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee and the year of Creative Scotland. The 90-minute show will feature heart-stopping sound, imaginative graphics, state-of-the-art lighting and specially commissioned fireworks with a line-up of nearly 1000 performers; hundreds of musicians, pipers, drummers, singers and dancers, as well as one of the World's most sensational percussion groups: Switzerland's Top Secret Drum Corps.

Festivals & Exhibits - Britain is renowned for its wide range of music festivals and gallery exhibits running throughout the year. These are just a few of the hundreds of special events on this year:

A performance by the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Photo: Paull Tickner
  • Guided tours of the Art Galleries of the National Museum of Wales, Tuesday through Sunday every week; Contemporary, Historic, Impressionist and Modern Art.
  • Lucian Freud Portraits, National Portrait Gallery, London, until May 27
  • Dickens and London, (2012 is the 200th anniversary of his birth) Museum of London until June 10
  • The Sculpture Show, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, until June 24
  • Picasso and Modern British Art, Tate Britain, London, until July 15
  • British Design 1948-2012: Innovation in the Modern Age, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, March 31 - August 12
  • Brit-artist Damien Hirst's first major retrospective, Tate Modern, London, April 5 - September 9
  • Bauhaus: Art as Life, Barbican Centre, London, May 3 - August 12
  • Bristol Folk Festival, May 5 - 7
  • Islay Festival of Malt and Music, May 25 - June 3
  • Leith Festival, includes music, theatre, film, visual arts, photography and literature, June 8 - 17.
  • Isle of Wight Festival (popular music), June 22 - 24
  • British Pipe Band Championships, Annan, Scotland, June 30
  • Hebridean Celtic Festival 2012, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, July 11 - 14
  • World Pipe Band Championships, Glasgow, Scotland, August 15
  • Masters of Tradition Festival (traditional Irish music), West Cork, Ireland, August 15 - 19
  • Swn Festival (Gaelic for sound), Welsh music festival, Cardiff, October 2012
  • The London Welsh Festival of Male Choirs, Royal Albert Hall, London, October 13
  • Blazing with Crimson; Tartan Portraits, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, to December 2013.

Note the outdoor Glastonbury Festival, recent winner of the International Music Festival of the Year, will be back in 2013.

By Susan Milne

Ensemble Travel Group

IMPORTANT: When booking, ask us for the appropriate supplier brochure for complete details and terms and conditions for your vacations and as well inquire about any possible past guest savings. Offers are space available and may be withdrawn at anytime without prior notice and are not combinable with other offers (unless stated otherwise). All prices, details and offers are subject to change. We are not responsible for errors or omissions.

Articles by Susan Milne

Ensemble Travel Group - Experience That Takes You Places

Volume 5, Issue 3
Next issue: The Mediterranean