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Planning a trip to the UK? Want to venture out of London? There are so many amazing cities, staggeringly beautiful national parks and historic towns to visit in this country. It’s packed so full of attractions, it will take you years to see them all!
That being said, there are some particular highlights. The UK encompasses England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – four significantly different nations, each with their own landscapes, identity and history. Each nation has incredible diversity within itself, as well – when driving around you’ll notice the accents changing from region to region, as well as the architecture, cuisine, and historical tales having their own distinct flair.
This is why it’s so important to venture out of London during your trip to the UK – the city is one of a kind, and there’s so much to explore there – but you’ll be wowed at the rest of the country too!
So, without further ado, here are the best places to visit in the UK.
As I said, it’s important to venture out of London while you’re in the UK – but most trips begin here, and it’s undoubtedly worth a visit. London has been the capital of England and the UK since there has been a kingdom of Great Britain. Throughout this history, different eras have left their mark on the city, much of which can still be seen today.
There’s so much to do in London – highlights include:
- Touring Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral (both easily the most spectacular religious buildings in the country)
- Seeing the guard change at Buckingham Palace
- Learning about the historical Tower of London
- Walking over Tower Bridge
- Wandering around the many (most of them free!) museums
- Enjoying the rich dining and cultural scene of this diverse city
London’s also in an ideal place for visiting the rest of the UK – from the centre, you can reach just about anywhere!
The religious capital of the UK, Canterbury is a standout place to visit. Famed for being the start of the Via Francigena, and the home of Canterbury Cathedral which has been the site of pilgrims for centuries, it’s a historic city with plenty of stories to tell!
I recommend visiting all the UNESCO attractions of Canterbury – the cathedral, St Augustine’s Abbey, and St Martin’s Chapel. When visiting Canterbury cathedral, be sure to learn about the murder of Thomas Beckett, the Archbishop of Canterbury, which caused the cathedral to become famous throughout the Christian world.
The city has lots of historic buildings and cosy cafes, so it’s perfect for a walk around, and the nature of Kent (known as ‘The Garden of England’) including its beautiful beaches, are just a short drive away.
One of the most touristy cities in the UK, Bath has a fascinating history spanning back to Roman times. Your Bath itinerary should include visiting the ruins of the historic Roman Baths, which is nowadays a museum. Also be sure to go inside Bath Abbey, where the first king of all of England was crowned.
Bath is also famed for its Georgian architecture and many crescents. Most famous are the appropriately named ‘The Crescent’ in Royal Victoria Park and The Circus, which is a perfectly circular road.
You can also visit the Jane Austen Museum (who was a resident of the city), the Fashion Museum, and enjoy the many parks dating back from the 1800s. Once you’ve finished sightseeing, have an afternoon tea in the historic Pump Rooms, and soak in the modern Thermae Bath Spa!
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Oxford is a well-known city for its renowned university – one of the most prestigious in the world. A lot of the city’s attractions involve the university – you can do tours of the individual colleges, and check out some of its beautiful libraries such as the Rad Cam.
However, this isn’t all that Oxford is about. Historical pubs line the city centre, many which were visited by famous historical characters including C.S Lewis and Thomas Hardy! Punting on the river is a local pastime and something that tourists love to do while enjoying the city.
For shopping, check out the Covered Market for local produce, or head to Cowley Road – a diverse street with food from all corners of the world, as well as shops selling just about anything imaginable.
Cambridge is Oxford’s rival, and it is another university town that’s well worth exploring. Again, many of the main attractions involve exploring the university campuses and learning about the history of Cambridge University (dating back to 1209).
Once you feel educated, punting is also popular in Cambridge – although here, the river actually runs past some of the university campuses! You can either hire a boat or take a guided tour which will tell you about some of the points of interest that you’re floating by.
And for those wanting a bit more rock n roll – Pink Floyd came from Cambridge. If you want to see where Syd Barrett, Roger Waters and David Gilmour grew up, and the famous Grantchester Meadows, these are all close to Cambridge city centre, and can be visited either independently or on a guided tour.
Cornwall is a popular UK destination – and it’s easy to see why. With stunning coastal villages, crashing blue oceans, mysterious moors, and a distinct local culture, Cornwall is somewhere that every keen traveller should visit at least once.
Do a Cornwall road trip to see the best of this country – it’s the best way to connect all the towns and villages together! Highlights are the quaint villages of Port Isaac and Mousehole, the busy tourist hub St Ives, and Cornwall’s castles – don’t miss Tintagel Castle and Pendennis Castle!
Sitting in the Bristol Channel, a couple of hours’ trip from Ilfracombe in Devon, is the picturesque Lundy Island. This island sits between the waters of the channel and the Atlantic Ocean, allowing a diversity of wildlife to make their home here – there’s a colony of seals living here, and the opportunity to go snorkelling with them!
Lundy’s precarious position has made it historically significant over the years. Take a guided tour, and you’ll be told plenty of stories about piracy and smuggling! There is no permanent population on the island, but people do live in a small village for tourism purposes, and there are holiday lettings – you can either do a day trip from Ilfracombe or stay for 2+ nights.
Bristol is the biggest city in South West England. It sometimes gets overlooked due to its proximity to Bath, but there’s so much to do here – I’d recommend spending two days in Bristol to see it all.
The historic harbour is the central point of Bristol, and is generally the first place people explore when they arrive in the city. The River Avon runs through the harbour, with the old docks on one side and a hill dotted with brightly coloured houses on the other. Don’t miss the SS Great Britain in this area – it was the largest and fastest ship in the world when it was built, and it is now an excellent museum.
Bristol has lots of different suburbs, all with their own atmosphere. Stokes Croft has lots of street art and a great cafe and bar scene, Gloucester Road and Southville are famed for their independent shops, and Clifton has the famous Clifton Suspension Bridge. Designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel (the same engineer who designed the SS Great Britain), this bridge is a particular highlight – it’s a marvel in itself, and has breathtaking sweeping views of the Avon Gorge below.
The Cotswolds span from Bath to Worcester to Oxford, covering a huge part of England. The region is famed for its beautiful villages which are all very typically English – if you’re after exemplary British architecture and rolling countryside, this is your place! My favourite Cotswold villages are:
- Bourton in the Water is called ‘the Venice of the Cotswolds’ and is famous for its many canals running through the heart of the village.
- Stow on the Wold has one of the oldest inns in the country and one of the most unique churches in the area, St Edwards Church.
- Bibury generally has the reputation of being the most beautiful village in the area (although it is subjective!) and some say, the whole of England.
- Bradford on Avon is a small Wiltshire village close to Bath, with beautiful buildings and the Avon running peacefully through.
There are dozens more, and a wonderful trip can be spent driving from village to village, exploring each one!
One of the gems of Wales, the Brecon Beacons is a vast national park in South Wales. It’s perfect for mountain biking, hiking, and enjoying the views – try hiking up Pen Y Fan, the largest hill in the area, for epic views over the country!
There are also cave systems, places for watersports, and plenty of stargazing opportunities throughout the national park. It is a less than two-hour drive from Cardiff, and are an easy stop off while touring the UK!
If mountains are more your thing, you’ll want to head up to north Wales, and to Snowdonia. This National Park spreads across North Wales, close to Bangor and Anglesey.
Home to Mount Snowdon, the largest mountain in Wales, which you can either hike to the top of (if you’re up for a challenge) or take the Snowdon Mountain Railway. Hiking is a six hour round trip and should only be attempted by people in good fitness.
Also worth visiting in Snowdonia is the Ogwen Valley and its many waterfalls and Tryfan Mountain, which is a five hour return trip.
Famed for its docks and The Beatles, Liverpool is a northern city with a lot of spirit and is well worth visiting while you’re touring the UK. With the most extensive collection of museums outside of London, you’ll be able to learn a tonne about British history here, as well as enjoy the shops, restaurants, and bars that give this city its unique atmosphere.
The Museum of Liverpool is a great start to go into the history of the city and the region. A sombre but important place to visit in Liverpool is the International Slavery Museum, which details the brutal history of the slave trade and what we can learn from it.
The Beatles hark from Liverpool, and you can either explore The Beatles Story exhibition, or join in a Beatles tour to visit locations in the city that are unique to each Beatle – such as the houses of John and Paul.
After a day’s sightseeing, visit the historic Royal Albert Dock, which has been transformed into cafes, bars and restaurants – the perfect place to enjoy Liverpool’s signature friendliness!
Just down the road from Liverpool is Manchester, another northern city with great spirit. Manchester grew enormously during the industrial revolution, and has since been re-invented as a place where lots of businesses have moved their headquarters to, turning it into a fun city with a distinctive culture.
Places to visit include Castlefield which is a reconstructed Roman Fort, the 18th century Bridgewater Canal, The Manchester Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry and the People’s Museum, and the street art of the Northern Quarter, where the famous Affleck Palace is situated.
It’s also got an awesome food scene, with traditional British pubs and cuisines from all over the world, and it is one of the best places in the UK to have a great night out!
York is one of the UK’s beautiful historic cities, with influences from nearly every main period in British history. It’s got the longest city walls in the country – and you can actually walk around these ones, making them doubly fun! There’s also the city’s cathedral – the York Minster – and Clifford’s Tower, which is part of a historic castle.
York is also home to plenty of museums, so don’t worry if you’re visiting in the rain! Try the Yorkshire Museum for an overview of this distinctive county, the National Transport Museum, and the fascinating York Castle Museum.
There’s also the world-famous Betty’s Tea Rooms – one of the best places in the country to enjoy a quintessentially British afternoon tea, historic pubs, and plenty of chilled-out bars.
Potentially England’s most epic natural destination, the Lake District was formed during the last ice age, when glaciers transformed the land into how it looks today. The most famous lake is Lake Windermere, which is where Beatrix Potter lived.
You can drive around the lakes, taking them all in – don’t miss Buttermere, which has a great circular walk where you can take the entire lake in, and Ullswater, which isn’t as touristy as many other lakes but completely matches their beauty.
You’ll be able to soak in rural village life and quintessential British atmosphere in the surrounding towns and villages. Make sure that you go to Kendal, famed for its Kendal Mint Cake, the scenic resort town of Ambleside and the market town of Keswick.
Derbyshire’s Peak District was the first-ever National Park in the UK, and it encompasses a large expanse of nature close to the cities of Manchester, Derby, and Sheffield. It is divided into two areas – the Dark Peak, which is made of gritstone, and the White Peak, an area made of limestone.
It’s a beautiful rural area that’s famed for its hiking opportunities and epic viewpoints. There are also spa towns at Buxton and Matlock Bath, and Bakewell, which is famous for its cherry-topped tart. Many tourists also like to stop into Chatsworth House, a famous historical estate near Bakewell.
Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and is one of the best places to visit in the UK. It has hilly cobbled streets, a fusion of Gothic and Georgian architecture along its Royal Mile, and plenty of British pubs all that offer a warm welcome.
The most popular place to visit in Edinburgh is potentially Edinburgh Castle, a previous royal resident and a point of defence for Scotland over the years. It’s also worth visiting Giles Cathedral, the stunning main cathedral of Edinburgh, as well as the Palace of Holyrood House, which is the official residence of the Queen in Scotland, and was the previous home of Mary Queen of Scots.
If you fancy a local tipple, head to the Edinburgh Gin distillery to learn about how the drink is made. There are also plenty of whiskey distilleries, if that’s your drink of choice!
The Scottish Highlands is a spectacular region of the UK. They’re one of the most mountainous areas of the country, with plenty of unique flora and fauna, mystical glens and lochs, and peaceful towns; the perfect road trip destination.
Highlights include Glencoe, which sits in the remains of an ancient volcano, other glens including Glen Tay and Glen Shiel, Loch Ness (home of the Loch Ness monster, apparently!) and the enigmatic moorland of Rannoch Moor.
The Scottish Highlands is a massive area of the country, and it encompasses the UK’s largest national park, numerous castles, and hundreds of spectacular spots. It’s somewhere to really get lost in and just see where the road takes you!
Finally – the natural beauty of Scotland is so awe-inspiring that it had to have more than one entry on this list! There are dozens of amazing Scottish Islands to visit, which are some of the most epic places to visit in the UK.
The Inner Hebrides Isle of Skye is one of the most famous, popular for its fairy pools and serene landscapes, and its endless light during the summer! The Isle of Rum is nearby, and is more off the beaten track – it does have a small community living there, but most of the island is untouched wilderness.
The Outer Hebrides is slightly further afield and consists of Lewis, Harris, Uist, Barra, and St Kilda. These are, again, a fantastic place to learn about ancient Gaelic history, see some spectacular nature, and go wildlife watching – deer, a variety of birdlife, whales and seals are all local residents!
In the far north, there’s the Shetland Islands. Most of these islands are uninhabited, and they have some of the most dramatic scenery in the UK. It takes a while to get there – either a 12 hour ferry or a short flight from the top of Scotland – but for the intrepid, it’s more than worth it.
Best Places to Visit in the UK
There are many, many more places to visit in the UK, but I hope that this list of a few of them has whetted your appetite! We don’t have year-round sunny weather here, but we do have charming countryside, charismatic cities, and unmistakably British culture, that can be experienced throughout all of these attractions. There’s something for everybody in the UK!
About the author: Claire Martin is a Bristol/ London local who has been travelling, mainly overland, since 2016. She has two travel blogs, Claire’s Footsteps – which focuses on overland travel around the world – and Go South West England, where she writes about local tourism in South West England. She has drove around the entirety of Australia and travelled overland from Bali to London – and is writing a book about it!
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