The Eden Project
Though it was only finished in 2001, the astonishing Eden Project - a huge botanical garden and greenhouse complex in a reclaimed quarry in Cornwall - has quickly become one of England's best loved attractions. And deservedly so; a centre designed to teach environmental awareness might not sound jazzy and exciting, but so much effort and imagination has gone into the place that it is now the fourth most visited British attraction.
The Project's most striking features are the geodesic domes that form the greenhouses, called biomes. Made of transparent plastic covering a steel lattice, they look from a distance look like giant, foaming blue bubbles emerging out of the earth (the architect got the idea when washing up).
There are two biome networks - the largest, with a four acre coverage, is the biggest greenhouse in the world. Its humid, steamy interior holds a tropical rainforest environment, featuring plants such as banana trees, bamboo, coffee and rubber. The smaller biome houses plants at home in temperate, Mediterranean style climates, including olive, grapevines and Aloe Vera.
Outside the domes, paths wanders between vegetable gardens and floral displays, and past a stage where artists such as Amy Winehouse and Pulp have performed. Sculptures dot the site throughout - a giant bee, a horse made of driftwood, a savage robot made of discarded household appliances. An enormous stone seed sits at the heart of the newest building, the educational centre.
Of course the site is environmentally friendly - the massive amounts of water the greenhouses use all comes from aquifiers that collect rainwater, and the electricity comes from local wind turbines.
Throughout, emphasis is on interactive displays, teaching rather than preaching, and making it a fun family day out. Even those who find the hippified ethos a bit over earnest have to admit that the place is a great natural wonder and welcome new national treasure.
The Eden Project is open from 9am-6pm April to October 9.30-4.30 November to March. Tickets cost £16. Saint Austell, three miles away, is the nearest train station. Buses to the Eden Project run from all over Cornwall.