From Thomas Land to Tate Britain, Simone Kane reveals the new places to go and things to see this year

All eyes are on Liverpool this year, as it revels in its reign as European Capital of Culture ( The programme covers everything from sporting events, to theatre, music and art, and highlights include the Tall Ships' Race '08 in mid-July and, in October, Le Corbusier: The Art of Architecture, the biggest exhibition of his work in the UK for 20 years.

Over the river, Cheshire's Year of Gardens '08 ( is a year-long celebration of the county's horticultural heritage. Meanwhile, in London, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew ( trees), the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art opens in April, and from May the Rhizotron will take visitors underground to explore tree roots, while the Xstrata Treetop Walkway will give a view from the canopy of under-explored gardens.

Also up in the trees, a new Go Ape ( high-wire course opens at Leeds Castle, Kent, on 14 March and a multi-million-pound regeneration of Trentham Estate (, near Stoke-on-Trent, includes an up-close monkey experience and sensory Barefoot Walk.

Simians loom large at Colchester Zoo (, where an Orang-utan enclosure opens in July, and, from Easter, you can test your speed against the fastest animal on earth at the new Cheetah Experience at Whipsnade ( in Bedfordshire.

From August, bird-lovers can flock to the largest wetland creation project in the North. The transformation of Saltholme ( in the Tees Valley into an international reserve will include lakes, pools, grasslands and reedbeds and a Wild Bird Discovery Centre.

Opening in Pembrokeshire in early June, the Blue Lagoon water park ( has got big green credentials and promises an abundance of aquatic antics including the largest indoor waves in the UK. If it's surf you seek, you'll be head over board that a new artificial surf reef – one of five in the world – will open this summer in Bournemouth (

Adrenalin junkies can get high on the Via Ferrata at Honister Slate Mine ( in the Lake District, an adventure climbing system that guides you along a mountain edge at more than 2,000 feet. Or, from 15 March try the Vikings' River Splash, part of the new Land of the Vikings at Legoland Windsor ( and its biggest and wettest ride ever.

On the River Thames, The London Bridge Experience ( takes visitors from 22 February on a grisly historical tour of its vaults and excavated tombs. Down river, a new Observation Wheel will stand in the grounds of the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich (, from June to September. If observation is your thing, then from April the new Kielder Observatory in Northumberland ( will take advantage of the "clearest skies in the UK".

Europe's first Thomas Land launches at Drayton Manor Theme Park ( in Staffordshire on 15 March. A 6,000 square-metre Sodor will have 12 rides. The Thomas & Friends Live! On Stage national tour ( starts in Londonderry on 6 March. But the city goes more high-brow with the Blue Eagle George Farquhar Theatre Festival ( uk), from 15 February, celebrating the work of its native son.

Some hefty makeovers of historic sites come to fruition this year. Torre Abbey (, the biggest surviving medieval monastery in Devon and Cornwall, reopens in July, while the Tudor and Stuart Hall Place & Gardens ( in Bexley opens again in late summer. April sees the official launch of the £9m visitor centre at Culloden Battlefield (, where state-of-the-art technology takes you to the heart of the battle.

From August, Edinburgh National Gallery of Modern Art hosts the first retrospective of the work of Tracey Emin to be held in the UK (, while the Francis Bacon exhibition at Tate Britain (, from October, marks the centenary of his birth. .

Also in the capital, from 19 February at the Science Museum (sciencemuseum., Listening Post will allow audiences to eavesdrop on the online world in real time. Hadrian: Empire and Conflict will be at the British Museum from July to October (, while an exhibition on Charles Darwin's work is at the Natural History Museum from 14 November ( The Imperial War Museum ( celebrates the centenary of Ian Fleming's birth and his most famous character, Bond, in For Your Eyes Only from April.

China Design Now, at the V&A from mid-March to mid-July, is one of 800 events happening countrywide as part of China Now! ( The UK's largest festival of Chinese culture kicks off with New Year on 10 February, takes in the Olympic Torch Relay in April and ends with the opening of the Beijing Olympics in late July.

Talking of China, a new Wedgwood Museum ( opens in Stoke-on-Trent in spring, and look out for two quirky new museums: the Quilt Museum & Gallery in York in June (visityork. org) and, just opened, the Gordon Russell Museum in Worcestershire ( dedicated to the Arts and Crafts innovator.

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