TV Shows to Inspire Your Next Trip to the UK

TV Shows to Inspire Your Next Trip to the UK

TV Shows Set in the UK to Inspire Your Next Trip

It’s no secret that I am, above all else, a hopeless Anglophile. My choices of entertainment are no exception – I adore British television and find it far superior to what we have here in the US. The plot lines are more complex, the humor can be much subtler, and the actors look like real people, not unrealistically perfect specimens of humanity. (Except maybe Aidan Turner in Poldark. But more on that later.) The added benefit of watching British television is that many TV shows set in the UK have a star that does not get any credit: the scenery. I’d like to share with you some of my favorite TV shows set in the UK that have inspired my travels – past and future.

NOTE: In the US, we refer to a year’s worth of programs on a show as a “season.” In the UK, they call it a “series.” For the most part, I have tried to use “series” here because streaming services list it that way.

1. Shetland – the Shetland Isles

This is the most recent show that I’ve watched. It takes place on the Shetland Isles, which are a group of islands northeast of Scotland. If you’ve heard of Fair Isle sweaters, then you’re at least a tiny bit familiar with Shetland. One of the islands is Fair Isle (population 55).

TV Shows Set in the UK - Shetland features murder mysteries set in the Shetland Isles

The show features Douglas Henshall as DI Jimmy Perez, a widower who has raised his stepdaughter alone since the death of his wife. His daughter is now college age, and heading off to Glasgow, which leaves Jimmy somewhat alone and at a loss as to what to do with this phase of his life.

One of the police officers under DI Perez is DS Alison “Tosh” McIntosh. Originally from Glasgow, Tosh has always struggled to fit into the close knit community of Shetland. But under the mentorship of Perez she flourishes and becomes a vital member of his team. Her character becomes especially well developed in series 3.

What I like about the show: Well, besides the beautiful landscape, I especially like the characters of Perez and Tosh. I also found the “whodunit” aspect to be intriguing as I could never figure out (before the characters did) who had committed the crimes or why.

Where it’s inspired me to travel: I want to visit Shetland (despite the 12-14 boat ride from northern Scotland!). Specifically, I’d like to go in late January to see the fire festival known as Up Helly Aa.

TV Shows set in the UK: In one episode, Shetland features the fire festival known as Up Helly Aa.
Photo via Flickr by Vincenczo Fileccia.

Groups dress in costumes and carry torches through the town. At the end, they throw their torches into a replica Viking longship. Then the groups visit local halls to attend private parties. At the hall, each group performs an act, which may be a send-up of a popular TV show or film, a skit on local events, or singing or dancing. The Up Helly Aa festival in Lerwick serves as the backdrop for one of the show’s episodes.

What you need to know before you watch it: Series 1 and 2 of the show consisted of two part episodes based upon the mystery novels of Ann Cleeves. Series 3 departed from that format with a six part episode written solely for television.  Series 1-3 of Shetland are streaming on Netflix; Season 4 has been released in the UK but so far has not made it across the pond.

2. Outlander – Scotland (Inverness & the Highlands)

Outlander is a story that has it all — romance, time travel, war, politics, villainous scheming, espionage, torture, and history. Add to that the gorgeous main characters and beautiful highland scenery, and it’s a must-see.

TV Shows Set in the UK: Much of the Outlander series takws place in the Scottish highlands.

What I like about the show: I read the book series by Diana Gabaldon long before the TV series aired. What I appreciate most is that the show is pretty faithful to the books, which is a rare and wonderful thing. Also, the cinematography is very visually appealing, and then there’s this guy:

TV Shows Set in the UK: Sam Heughan stars in Outlander as Jamie Fraser

Where it has inspired me to travel: After seeing how beautiful the mountains of northern Scotland are, I have placed it much higher on my list of places I want to visit.

What you need to know before you watch it: The show is not available via Netflix or A,mason Prim3. The fourth season will premiere in November 2018. Starz has already renewed the series for a fifth and sixth season.

3. Doc Martin – Cornwall, England

This was the first show that really made me fall in love with a place, and it’s my favorite of all the TV shows set in the UK. Set in the north Cornwall fishing village of Port Isaac, Doc Martin is the story of a very intelligent, highly skilled London surgeon who suddenly develops a fear of blood. Pretty inconvenient for a surgeon, right? Well, he gets reassigned as a general practitioner in the fictional small town of Portwenn and, as he has no bedside manner whatsoever, hilarity ensues.

TV Shows Set in the UK: Doc Martin shows off the north Cornish coast of England.
Martin Clunes stars as Dr Martin Ellingham in Doc Martin.

Unlike many television shows filmed on location, this program has many scenes filmed right in the village. Many times, viewers will see the characters walking down the street, popping into a store, or welcoming someone into their home… and all of those places are right there in Port Isaac. The large white building with church like arched windows in the photo below is a hotel (in fact, the one where we stayed). But in the show it’s the village school, where Martin’s love interest works.

TV Shows Set in the UK: the Cornish village of Port Isaac is the setting for the show Doc Martin.

The show has proven very popular, with eight series already aired, and a ninth in the works for 2019.

What I like about the show: It’s quite funny, but also a bit suspenseful as you watch Doc Martin try to figure out why someone is ill.  A bit like House, MD, but not as serious. Every episode features lovely, quirky characters who will either remind you of someone you know or make you wish you knew them. (Sole exception: the secretary from Series 1, who is absolutely dreadful.)

Where it’s inspired me to travel: Because I fell in love with this show almost from the first time I watched it, going to Cornwall, and especially to Port Isaac, was a priority for me. We have already crossed this one off of our bucket list, and it was a wonderful trip.  Cornwall is every bit as stunning in person as it is on television. I hope to return some day.

What you need to know before you watch it: Series 1 through 6 of Doc Martin are streaming on Netflix.

4. Sherlock – London

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote his Sherlock Holmes stories between 1887 and 1927. The BBC has taken the beloved title character and placed him in modern day London. The result is a brilliant adaptation of classic literature that is relevant to today’s audiences while staying true to the original story. Add to that the brilliant talent of Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role, and it’s completely riveting.

TV Shows Set in the UK: BBC's Sherlock, the most recent incarnation of the famed detective, is set in modern-day London.

What I like about the show: Hands down, the dialogue! Each episode abounds with quotable sentences and stinging one-liners. However, they speak so fast at times that it’s difficult to take in everything that they’re saying. I usually watch with English SDH subtitles on just to make sure I don’t miss anything important.

Where it’s inspired me to travel: I went to the Sherlock Holmes Museum in London on our last visit there. However, it was a disappointment as this incarnation of the detective was noticeably absent from the museum.

What you need to know before you watch it: The episodes are three to a series, and they run 90 minutes each. There have been four series total, and all are currently available streaming on Netflix. No word yet on whether there will be a fifth series.

5. Poldark – Cornwall

Ross Poldark returns home from fighting in the colonies’ Revolutionary War to find that his father is dead, his family home is in shambles, and his beloved, Elizabeth, has wed his cousin’s wedding proposal. Always a risk taker, the stubborn Ross decides to restore his estate and his family’s disused mine. He finds opposition at every turn. This underdog with a strong sense of social justice wants to prove that he alone is the master of his destiny.

TV Shows Set in the UK: Poldark is set in late 18th century Cornwall.

 

What I like about it: Well, Cornwall, for a start. And Aidan Turner is a fantastically broody Ross Poldark. I also love the headstrong and self-sufficient Demelza, and Ross’ cousin, Verity. These women are intelligent, capable of taking care of themselves, and firm in their opinions.

TV Shows Set in the UK - Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza Poldark
Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza Poldark.

Where it’s inspired me to travel: Back to Cornwall, although that’s an easy sell for me. Specifically, I would like to learn more about and visit sites pertaining to the area’s tin mining heritage.

What you need to know before you watch it: The show is based on a 12-book series written between 1945 and 2002. This is not the only television adaptation of the Poldark story. Other versions were made in 1975 and 1996. But they don’t have Aidan Turner!  Series 1-3 are available streaming on Amazon Prime Video. Series 4 is currently airing in the US on PBS stations.

6. Broadchurch – Dorset’s Jurassic Coast

I recommend Broadchurch to nearly everyone I discuss television with. It is so brilliantly put together – the cinematography is stunning and the music perfectly complements what is happening on screen. The series 1 debut episode opens with the discovery of an 11 year old boy’s body. He has been murdered, resulting in enormous repercussions of grief, mutual suspicion and media attention on the small town. Detectives Alec Hardy (played by Doctor Who’s David Tenant) and Ellie Miller (played by Olivia Colman, now one of my favorite British actresses) set about finding out who killed the boy, and why. But every time they (and you, the viewer) think the answer is obvious, it turns out to be a dead end.

TV Shows Set in Dorset: Broadchurch is set in a small town on the Jurassic Coast of Dorset, England.

What I liked about the show: So many things! For starters, there’s the music (which is something I rarely even notice, let alone appreciate!). Also the dynamic between Hardy and Miller. Then there’s the way the show kept me guessing about who had killed the boy. (Ultimately, I was wrong each time I thought I had figured out the identity of the killer.) It’s just an all-around excellent show, and I can’t say enough good things about it.

Where it’s inspired me to travel: Dorset, obviously.  It’s a very dramatic coastline, with huge cliffs looking out over the sea.

TV Shows Set in the UK: Broadchurch features the Jurassic coast of Dorset as its locale.

What you need to know before you watch it: There are three series of the show.  Series 1 is the whodunit, followed by series 2, which is the trial of the murderer and the turmoil around it. Series 3 is an unrelated case, a rape, with the same detectives investigating. All three seasons are available in streaming from Netflix.

7. Last Tango in Halifax – Yorkshire

Celia Dawson and Alan Buttershaw are both widowed and in their seventies. Attracted to each other as teenagers in the 1950s, they never expressed their feelings, and Celia’s family moved away before they had a chance to do so. After their respective grandchildren persuade them to join Facebook, they reconnect with each other and meet. After their reunion, Alan and Celia discover that they still feel as passionately for each other as they did when they were teenagers.

TV Shows Set in the UK: Last Tango in Halifax takes place in Yorkshire.

The romance between Alan and Celia runs in contrast to the the troubles of their own grown-up daughters. Alan’s daughter Gillian and Celia’s daughter Caroline are complete opposites: widowed Gillian runs a farm and works part-time in a supermarket, while Oxford-educated Caroline is the headmistress of a successful school. Their parents’ engagement affects both daughters’ lives. Gillian wonders how she and her son will cope without her father around to help. Caroline, struggling with depression and her feelings for a female colleague, feels that her mother’s unconventional romance gives her “permission to finally admit to being who she really is.”

Many comical and cringe-worthy moments follow as the characters try to sort out their feelings, deal with their changes in circumstance, and come to terms with how their choices impact the people they love.

What I like about the show: I felt like the characters were real people with real problems. They weren’t rich, powerful, beautiful people who had perfect lives. Nor were they total basket cases who couldn’t turn around without causing drama and upheaval. They were real people with real struggles, perfectly relatable to viewers.

TV Shows Set in the UK: the characters of Last Tango in Halifax are relatable through all their ups and downs.

Where it’s inspired me to travel: Because of the rolling hills and stunning Yorkshire countryside, I was inspired to travel to that county in 2016. It was every bit as beautiful and as picturesque as I’d seen in the show. It’s a lovely area of the UK, and I highly recommend that you explore it a bit.

What you need to know before you watch it: There are three series of the show and a two part Christmas special/epilogue.  All of them are available via streaming on Netflix.

8. Hinterland – Wales

Hinterland is described as a “noir police drama” set in Aberystwyth, a historic market town and holiday resort on Wales’ western coast. It differs from most television shows in that the cast filmed every scene twice – once in English and once in Welsh. The show features troubled DCI Tom Mathias solving murders while searching for personal redemption.

TV Shows Set in the UK: Hinterland is one of the few shows to be set in Wales.

What I like about the show: Honestly? Not a whole lot. I watched 5.5 episodes before calling it quits. I appreciated seeing glimpses of Wales, but I didn’t particularly care for the characters, and found the show to be a little too grim for my tastes. While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, there are few alternatives. Not many of the TV shows set in the UK have Wales as their setting.  For a lighthearted alternative, I recommend the 1995 Hugh Grant film The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain.

TV Shows Set in the UK: Hinterland features beautiful Welsh landscapes.

Where it’s inspired me to travel: Wales has been on my bucket list for a while now. I’d still love to go there.

What you need to know before watching it: All three series of the show are available to stream on Netflix. The version available on Netflix is almost exclusively an English language version, and each episode runs about 90 minutes.

But Wait – There’s More!

And if this isn’t enough, consider subscribing to the all-British streaming channel BritBox. I’ve arranged for my like-minded Anglophile readers to receive a free trial of BritBox at Amazon.com. I know you’ll love it – they have documentaries, dramas, comedies, historical series, and more. Like most streaming services, they routinely add new shows, so you’ll never run out of great content. Give it a try today!

 

TV Shows Set in the UK that will inspire you to travel there!
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8 TV shows that will inspire you to travel to the UK
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8 TV shows that will inspire you to travel to the UK
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Eight shows you can watch right now that are set in the UK and will inspire you to visit there.
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Travelasmuch.com
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