South-east England: a whole host of homegrown attractions

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The Independent Online

While skiing in the Alps or working on a housing project in a developing country are guaranteed to provide you with fantastic memories and experience, closer to home you shouldn't forget what's right there on your doorstep this summer. With that in mind, we've put together an exploration of the South-east of England, with ideas of what to do should you find yourself twiddling your thumbs before university or college begins...

The Houses of Parliament, London

Many British tourists visit Buckingham Palace (which is not a bad idea - it's a nice house). But as a longer-term resident, you should head towards the real centre of power, the Houses of Parliament (right). The British parliamentary system of government has evolved gradually over several hundred years, with the upper chamber, the House Of Lords, filled by a number of hereditary members until very recently. During the summer opening (until September 29) you can take a tour of Parliament, but it's possible to attend debates and committees for free all year round.

Organised tours: Monday, Friday, Saturday 9.15am-4.30pm. Tuesday Wednesday, Thursday 1.15pm-4.30pm; student tickets £8

www.parliament.uk

The Madejski Stadium, Reading

Every visitor to the South-east should see the Royals at least once. No, not the ones with the large ears and the romantic scandals, the ones in the blue-and-white stripes. Reading FC play at the 24,200-seater Madejski Stadium (which is also home to the London Irish rugby club, and sees its share of pop concerts). Steve Coppell's team survived the difficult first season in the Premiership in style, just missing out on a run in Europe by finishing a very respectable eighth. The Royals kick off their second season in the top flight with a trip to champions Manchester United, before Chelsea make the journey south to the Madejski on 15 August.

Tickets: £35 full adult price, £27 for 17- to 21-year-olds

www.readingfc.premiumtv.co.uk

City Art Gallery, Southampton

From a 14th-century Italian Renaissance altarpiece to contemporary installations, Southampton's City Art Gallery offers a diverse collection of works spanning over six centuries. There's a smattering of French painters (Manet, Degas) and a hearty helping of British artists (William Blake and Antony Gormley). And, for those who prefer ceramics to paintings, there's a permanent pottery exhibit too.

Opening hours: Tues-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 1pm-4pm; admission free

www.southampton.gov.uk/leisure/arts/sotonartgallery

The Spinnaker Tower, Portsmouth

At 557ft, the Spinnaker Tower (main picture, right) is often compared to the Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai. Its views, however, are a bit different - rather than the Persian Gulf, in Portsmouth you can see over 23 miles across the harbour, the South Downs and out to the Isle Of Wight. Don't think those of you who are scared of heights can cower indoors, though - with Europe's largest glass floor inside, this is one for the brave.

10am-10pm peak season, 10am-6pm Sunday to Friday (to 10pm Saturday) from September; student tickets £5.60

www.spinnakertower.co.uk

The Beach Club, Brighton

Brighton's Beach Club is such a good night, other university cities are trying to get a slice of the action with "Brighton Beach" events taking place in London, Leicester, Leeds and Sheffield. Right on the seafront at Kings Road Arches, The Beach is expensive, but worth it for the location and the chance to see big-name DJs. If you're interested in the "British San Francisco's" gay scene, you could also check out super-camp super-club Revenge.

10pm-3am weekends; admission varies

www.brightonlife.com/clubs

Chartwell, Kent

Once home to Winston Churchill, Chartwell (above) is an impressive and interesting English country house in its own right, with a large well-tended garden. Inevitably you'll wander its rooms thinking about whether this idyllic lifestyle was what inspired Churchill to be so fierce about "fighting them on the beaches" and preserving English life. Not only that, but a long wall in the garden still stands as testament to his skill at, as well as enthusiasm for, the slightly bizarre hobby of bricklaying.

Opening hours vary, but generally 11am-5.30pm, Wednesday to Sunday. Admission £9.80

www.nationaltrust.org.uk

Punting, Oxford

A punt is a flat-bottomed boat with no keel that you move along a shallow river with the use of a long pole. The practice seems much less silly in Venice than it does in England, but basically works the same way. While there is obvious romance to hiring a boat as a couple, you could equally get one as a group of friends and all push each other in. Not that we at Exam Results would condone such behaviour, you understand...

Punt hire from £12 per hour

www.cherwellboathouse.co.uk

Thorpe Park, Surrey

When you're studying in the library all day, sometimes all you want is to strap in, get thrown up high, rushed down low, and inverted 10 times. Let your hair down at Surrey's Thorpe Park, which features Logger's Leap, the UK's tallest log flume, Slammer, the only sky-swat ride outside of the USA, and the twisting, upside-downing roller coaster Colossus (below), which makes us feel a little bit sick just thinking about it.

9.30am-8pm in peak season; admission £32 at the gate, £24 online

www.thorpepark.co.uk

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