The United Kingdom (UK) or the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland consists of England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and a host of small islands and territories across the world (Falkland, Tristan da Cunha etc.). The UK is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe. The UK is brimming with diverse scenery and extraordinarily rich cultural heritage. The entire country is also filled with world-class art galleries, museums, and wonderfully maintained estates and castles (including a few which are supposedly ‘haunted’).
The beautiful and diverse United Kingdom (UK) is one of the easiest countries to explore and travel through. The country is smaller than the American state of Texas and the entirety of it can be covered by basing yourself in a major city like London or Liverpool. The country has an extensive network of motorways and a very good railway service which can be used for exploration with ease.
A quick, 90 minute train ride is all it takes to go from the modern metropolis of London to the old charm of Salisbury. A short bus ride from Salisbury takes tourists to one of UK’s most well renowned attractions, the Stonehenge. And if you want to travel through William Wallace’s Scotland, a one hour train ride is all it takes to travel between Edinburgh and Glasgow, Scotland’s two largest cities.
So without further ado, here are the
10 best places to visit in the UK:
1. London: The Capital and the Heart of the UK
While you may be able plan a trip to the UK without visiting London, it’s definitely NOT advisable to do so. The UK’s sprawling and beautiful capital boasts plenty of attractions to keep all kinds of tourists busy. For those interested in learning more about the UK’s rich history, one of the top things to do in London is to visit the Tower of London. It is located very close to the world famous and spectacular Tower Bridge on the banks of the River Thames. This former palace and prison includes highlights such as the iconic 1,000-year-old White Tower, with its fascinating displays of armour and weaponry, and the Jewel House, home to the Crown Jewels of the British Monarchy.
Fans of Britain’s Royal Family will want to head to the fabled Buckingham Palace, London’s Royal home since the reign of Queen Victoria I. Once at the Buckingham palace, you can enjoy the colourful pomp of the Changing of the Guard or even take a tour of the Palace’s State Rooms (be sure to book in advance as they’re only open for a few weeks in a year).
Whitehall Road is another must-see in London. On this legendary street, tourists can see London’s iconic landmarks such as the Big Ben and the Parliament Buildings, as well as Westminster Abbey, scene of many a royal wedding. Another area to visit in London is South Kensington, home to the city’s best museums, including the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Natural History Museum, as well as the incredibly famous Harrods department store (supposedly the largest of its kind in the world). And no trip to London can be complete without a visit to the Trafalgar Square, home to the iconic Nelson’s Column and the National Portrait Gallery.
2. Edinburgh: Capital of Scotland
No trip to the UK can be complete without stepping foot in one of Scotland’s most attractive cities, the capital city of Edinburgh. It is one of the UK’s most visited destinations. While it has many well-preserved historic buildings, the city of Edinburgh is best known as the home of the majestic and glorious Edinburgh Castle. Perched high above the old city on a rocky promontory, the highlights of this 13th-century royal fortress include things and events such as the famous One O’Clock Salute, held daily at Half Moon Battery; the Scottish Crown Jewels in the Royal Palace; the Scottish National War Memorial; and the famous Stone of Destiny (the Stone of Scone), which only came back to Scotland after a 700 years stay in the English capital of London.
Once tourists reach the castle, they can easily explore the other famous and important historic sites in the city. The most notable among them is the Old Town’s Royal Mile with its fine architecture, boutique shops, cafés, restaurants, and amazing art galleries. Aside from that, there is also the beautiful Palace of Holyroodhouse. Other highlights in Edinburgh include the broad Princes Street. It’s popular for its shopping and dining options. It is also famous for the Royal Botanical Garden and the National Gallery of Scotland.
3. Medieval Salisbury and Ancient Stonehenge
The Stonehenge is one of the oldest sites on UNESCO’s revered ‘World Heritage Sites’ list. For all residents of the British Isles, the Stonehenge has been a place of pilgrimage for more than 4,500 years. It was believed to have been erected as a place of worship, but these days, the crowds consist of tourists drawn by the sheer scale of this magnificent monument to mankind’s ingenuity. It is also considered to be one of the wonders of the ancient world.
Stonehenge’s sprawling site covers an area of more than 20 square kilometres and boasts a state-of-the-art visitor centre. The centre offers a fascinating glimpse into the construction and history of Stonehenge. It will help if you can plan ahead and purchase a timed ticket for the day of your visit.
16 kilometres south of Stonehenge, is the beautiful medieval city of Salisbury. While in Salisbury, you can visit one of the UK’s most famous cathedrals, dating back to 1220 and home to an original Magna Carta. Afterwards, you can also wander around the old city centre with its numerous beautiful churches and historic medieval architecture.
4. Historic Town of Windsor
The historic town of Windsor, is just a short train ride to the west of London. It offers a plethora of fun things to do for all types of tourists. In addition to the spectacular Windsor Castle, the most famous of the UK’s royal castles, the town of Windsor also has a lovely Thames-side setting and many medieval half-timbered buildings along its quaint old cobblestone laneways.
The Windsor castle has served as the summer residence of British royalty for almost a thousand years (it was built by William the Conqueror in 1078) and is the world’s largest inhabited castle. Highlights of the castle include the splendid State Apartments with the Queen’s Gallery and dining hall, each feature magnificently painted ceilings and woodcarvings. The castle also features the St. George’s Chapel, famous as the home of the Knights and Ladies of the ancient Order of the Garter.
When you’ve had your fill of these historic buildings, you can head out and explore the castle’s large and beautiful grounds, which extend for almost 10 kilometres from one end to another. Here you can enjoy some truly memorable panoramic views over Windsor and its magnificent castle.
Aside from the castle, tourists can also head over to Legoland Windsor, a fun family resort built on 150 acres of parkland and just a short bus ride from the town centre. Royal Ascot, the UK’s most famous horse-racing venue, also lies in Windsor (plan your trip to coincide with the Royal Meeting held each June).
5. Lake district and the Cotswolds
The beautiful Cotswolds are undoubtedly one of the most photographed corners of the UK. Featuring 1,287 square kilometres of pristine and stunning countryside, the Cotswolds are just a day’s trip from London. The Cotswolds are very close to the old towns of Bath and Bristol. The Cotswolds feature some of the most heavenly parts of the counties of Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Wiltshire, Warwickshire, and Worcestershire.
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Travelers usually visit the Cotswolds to experience a true taste of rural English life. The Cotswolds are filled with many quaint village greens and idyllic pasturelands. One of the most popular ways to soak up all of this natural beauty is via the area’s extensive trail network, including the excellent 16-kilometer-long Cotswold Way. Some other fun things to do are horseback riding and biking, or simply soaking up the history of popular market towns such as Castle Combe or Tetbury.
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When you travel north of the Cotswolds, you arrive at another slice of ravishing English countryside. 1,448 square kilometres of spectacular English scenery: the Lake District National Park. Encompassing 12 of the country’s largest lakes (Windermere and Ullswater are the biggest), this region of the UK is great to explore on foot thanks to the fact that it features more than 3,218 kilometres of trails. Highlights include the highest mountain in England, the Scafell Pike, 978 meters above sea level, as well as its many picturesque towns including Grasmere.
6. University towns: Oxford and Cambridge
The UK has long been a centre of learning, with two of its most famous university towns also ranking highly as tourist destinations. An easy commute north of London-and just 128 kilometres apart-Cambridge and Oxford have for centuries been rivals for the title of the country’s top academic establishment. That rivalry is celebrated annually during The Boat Race, the famous rowing event between the teams of both universities. The race takes place each spring on the River Thames.
A planned visit to Cambridge will give tourists a chance to wander the UK’s largest collection of preserved historic buildings. Most of the buildings appear as you take a walk through Cambridge University‘s 31 colleges, the oldest of which was founded in 1284.
In addition to touring the stunning college grounds (only a handful of the university’s buildings offer tours), visitors to Cambridge should also take a punt along the River Cam, as well as explore the old town centre.
Oxford University’s 38 colleges are equally attractive, each set around a quadrangle and several inner courtyards along with chapels, dining halls, libraries, and student accommodations (some offer unique tourist accommodation packages, too). Oxford highlights include the Carfax Tower, with its fine views over the city centre, and the numerous fine old buildings of the town’s High Street.
When tourists visit the historic town of Canterbury in Kent, they immediately realise why this beautiful town is so loved by everyone. It’s just an easy hour long train ride from central London (or just minutes away from the EuroTunnel). For over 1,500 years, Canterbury has been a draw for pilgrims. It all started when St. Augustine started converting pagan Anglo Saxons to Christianity here in AD 597.
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The city’s most famous attraction is the Canterbury Cathedral. It is the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this stunning cathedral offers a plethora of architectural marvels to see. It features some intricately carved masonry across its exterior and interior. The highlight of the Cathedral is the beautiful choir place with its statues of six English kings. Also of note are the exquisite Miracle Windows, dating from the 12th century and depicting scenes from the life of murdered Archbishop Thomas Becket.
Afterwards, be sure to spend time wandering the pedestrianized area of Old City Canterbury with its many preserved, historic, timber-framed buildings, particularly along Mercery Lane. Other must-sees include the Canterbury Tales, a fascinating look at the life and times of famous English poet Geoffrey Chaucer (aka the “Father of English Literature”), and the amazing Canterbury Roman Museum. The museum is built around the remains of an original Roman townhouse and it features some unique and beautiful mosaic.
8. Lochness and Inverness
Despite the fact that the legends of mythical monsters have largely been debunked (just don’t tell the locals), spectacular Loch Ness remains an extremely popular tourist attraction for travellers heading to Scotland. While it’s unlikely you’ll encounter any monsters, you will, however, be rewarded with seeing some of the UK’s most beautiful scenery.
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Highlights include the ruins of Urquhart Castle, overlooking the loch, one of Scotland’s largest fortifications (the current structure dates from the 14th century). For those wanting to learn more about the area’s many legends, the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition recounts its history, along with that of its monster, including details of ongoing searches for the elusive creature.
A little farther north is Inverness, which boasts numerous excellent attractions, including Inverness Castle, the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery, and the late 19th-century St. Andrew’s Cathedral.
History buffs should also check out the Culloden Battlefield and Visitors Centre. It was in Culloden in 1746 that the English and Scots fought their last battle and where the fate of Scotland as a British dominion was determined. Also of interest are the gravestones of warriors from the Scottish clans, as well as the six-meter-high Memorial Cairn erected in 1881 to commemorate the battle.
9. Manchester and Liverpool
Featuring a spectacular international airport and some of UK’s most internationally renowned sites, Manchester is often the first stop for many visitors planning to explore northern England, Scotland, or Wales. Highlights of Manchester include Castlefield, which is extremely popular for its numerous well-preserved Victorian houses, canals, and Roman ruins, along with numerous old warehouses which now serve as trendy shops, hotels, and restaurants. Other attractions include Manchester Cathedral and the historic Town Hall, as well as a rich cultural scene that includes museums (Museum of Science and Industry), galleries (Manchester Art Gallery), and entertainment (Chinatown). Old Trafford, the home ground of the Manchester United Football Club is a must-see for all football fans.
Just an hour away from Manchester, is the fabled city of Liverpool. The city offers a lot of cultural excitement for tourists. After all, it is the town which gave the world its biggest band ever, The Beatles. All fans of the ‘fab four’ can get their fix of ‘Beatlemania’ in Liverpool. Some famous attractions include Beatles Story in the renovated Albert Docks area; the famous Cavern Club, where the band made its debut in 1961; as well as the former homes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney (numerous walking tours and bus tours of Beatles sites are also readily available).
A visit to Liverpool also lets tourists explore the city’s numerous historic buildings. Tourists can also walk through the city’s lovely gardens and parks. For the art and culture fans, Liverpool is loaded with great museums such as the Merseyside Maritime Museum, the Museum of Liverpool, and world-class art galleries like the Walker Art Galleryand the Tate Gallery.
10. Cardiff: Capital of Wales
Despite its diminutive size when compared to Scotland and England, Wales contains some of the best tourist attractions of the UK. Wales features breath-taking scenery and offers a chance to indulge in fun outdoor adventures in its national parks. Wales also features a lot of historic castles to tantalize the history buffs.
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Cardiff, the capital of Wales is a great place to sample everything that Wales has to offer. One of the city’s highlights and most famous tourist attractions, is the Cardiff castle. Located in the middle of the city and built on the ruins of an ancient Roman fort, parts of the current structure date as far back as 1090, with much of it restored in the 1800s. Highlights include the State Apartments, the Clock Tower, the Chapel, and a spectacular Banqueting Hall with its fine murals.
Afterwards, be sure to spend time wandering the city’s many old Victorian shopping arcades, the best of which can be found around The Hayes. Also worth checking out is Cardiff Bay. One of the UK’s largest redevelopment projects, this vast area is now home to numerous fine restaurants, theatres, galleries, and shopping opportunities, many of them housed in former warehouses on lovely Mermaid Quay.
Cardiff Bay is also the home of the World of Boats. It features a unique collection of sea going vessels from all across the globe. Another point of interest is the Techniquest, a fun science centre featuring a planetarium and theatre.