The Best Places to Visit the United Kingdom
No destination quite captivates American travelers quite like the United Kingdom. The country’s rich history gathers moss at every corner. The best places to visit in the United Kingdom include cathedrals, towers, forts, stone henges, and castles - each painting a picture of life in centuries long past.
From the Canterbury Tales to Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes to James Bond, Downton Abbey to Outlander; as American's, we’ve been charmed for centuries by stories from the region. Some of us choose to visit because we already speak the language – although the robust accents encountered across England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland can almost seem like another tongue altogether! Today even the food has undergone a renaissance! The old stereotype of British cooking is dead, and today’s vacationers are treated to exceptional cuisine and nourished with farm-to-table meals highlighting harvests from the field, forest, and sea.
Travel beyond London for vacations in Scotland, the English countryside, Nothern Ireland, and Wales. Venture past Great Britain to Northern Ireland with a visit to Belfast, Londonderry, and the legendary Giant’s Causeway. Or, visit Gothic Cardiff and Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales. No matter your choice in destination, you're sure to be enchanted by the region's high culture, picturesque villages, and gorgeous scenery.
While seeing all the fascinating places these countries offer could take several trips abroad, here’s GET's list of our favorite places to visit in the United Kingdom.
Top Sites to See in England
Home to Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, and Westminster Abbey, London is a city bustling with energy. The city’s West End offers incredible restaurants, shops, and a famous theater scene.
Ramble through the buzzing stalls of Borough Market, London's most renowned food market which has been supplying locals with fresh produce and goods for centuries. From the city’s pub scene to the Thames, Greenwich to the Tower Bridge, starting your tour of Great Britain in London offers a modern-day look at English culture.
GET President and London-local, Jo Basley, shares more in her post on Insider Tips: The Best Things to Do in London.
This historic market town hosts Windsor Palace, one of the British Royal Family’s official residences and the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world. Stroll beside the River Thames, shop for royal souvenirs. Right across the river is Eton, home of the famous boys’ school where George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, and Ian Fleming were educated.
The iconic landscape of rolling hills, the ‘wolds’, truly captures quaint old-world England. Dotting the hills are quintessential English villages with honey-colored buildings built of local limestone and complete with rose-bedecked walls and the occasional thatched roof. Among the palaces, castles, and country houses found across the five counties that The Cotswolds cover, visitors can visit Shakespeare's home in Stratford-upon-Avon, and Oxford - the oldest university in the English-speaking world.
The peninsula that is County Cornwall reaches into the Celtic Sea with a long, salty finger. The rugged coast is speckled with seaside towns like Penzance, made famous in the comic opera, and St. Ives, a fishing port-turned seaside resort town, along with the medieval ruins of Tintagel Castle. Visitors to the area can view the Isles of Scilly from the dramatic cliffs of Land’s End, the most southwestern point of Britain.
The dazzling landscape of the mountainous Lake District has inspired literary icons of the likes of William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter for centuries. Lake District National Park, England’s largest national park, is the focal point of this lush quilt of forests, lakes, and peaks. Visitors come for hiking, scenic drives, and the celebrated local mutton, lamb, and Cumberland pork sausage.
Britain’s largest county offers a living window into the pastoral agricultural past of Northern England. Traditional architecture dots the landscape, including dry stone walls zigzagging across fields. Travel through the Yorkshire Dales to visit the Brontë Parsonage Museum, created within the actual home of the Brontë family. Learn all about the family's literary legacy and what inspired them from the surroundings of their own home. Travel to York, one of the oldest cities in England to discover its Viking history and exquisite architecture. Home to York Minster, Britain’s largest medieval cathedral, the cobbled Shambles, and the National Railway Museum, York is a must-visit for any traveler.
This seaside town sprang from Iron Age hill forts and Roman villas. Spanning the River Avon, the Clifton Suspension Bridge has been an emblem of Bristol since opening in 1864. Brunel's SS Great Britain, the world’s first great ocean liner (1843) attracts visitors to the harbor's 19th-century warehouse district, which now overflows with restaurants, shops, and galleries.
Top Places to Visit in Scotland
Compact and hilly, Scotland’s capital delights visitors with its kaleidoscope of history and architecture. Wander the mystical, medieval Old Town and the elegant Georgian New Town, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Edinburgh Castle dominates the skyline, overlooking the Castle Esplanade, site of the famous Edinburgh Tattoo, and the Royal Mile, a thriving street descending to the Palace of Holyroodhouse - the Queen's official residence in Edinburgh and the home of Scottish royal history.
The rugged north of Scotland glistens with stark natural beauty. The heart of clan culture, the Loch Ness Monster, and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, the Scottish Highlands are full of history and romance. Witness the rugged rural life of three centuries past, as revealed at the Highland Folk Museum. Step back in time and learn of the Jacobite rising on a walk through Inverness and be moved by the tragic battlefield of Culloden. The imposing Cairngorm Mountains and windswept summit of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the British Isles (4411 feet), strikes awe in all those who travel through.
Scotland’s Islands - Orkney and Skye
From the coastal village of John O'Groats, catch the ferry that crosses the Pentland Firth and arrive on one of the Orkney Islands. Discover the legend of Orkney's mythical Selkies, seals which shift from their watery form to walk as humans on land. Visitors travel to the mystical Orkney islands to see the remains of the Neolithic Skara Brae village, which were previously lost for millennia.
Visit Scotland's largest and northernmost of the principal islands in the Inner Hebrides and go “over the sea to Skye” as Bonnie Prince Charlie once did after his defeat at the Battle of Culloden Moor. Known for its rugged landscapes and locals, the island is also famous for its fishing villages and medieval castles. A world-class destination for wildlife watching, Skye offers visitors a chance to see otters, seals, whales, dolphins, and red deer. For bird watches, check off the highly sought-after White-Tailed Sea Eagle on a visit to the Isle of Skye.
Amazing Places to See in Wales and Northern Ireland
While in Wales, you must visit Cardiff Castle. Built over 2,000 years ago, surrounded by beautiful parklands, you'll hardly know you're in the bustling capital. The castle was once a Roman fort, then a Norman fortress and continues today to be an extraordinary example of the Victorian Gothic style. Another must in Wales is Principality Stadium, formerly known as Millenium Stadium, and home to Welsh rugby. Principality Stadium is thought to be one of the most iconic stadiums in the world with its fully retractable roof, which creates one of the world’s largest indoor arenas.
Brecon Beacons National Park
A mountain range in South Wales, it is little surprise this striking location is a chosen destination for so many hikers and nature enthusiasts. With mountains and moorland, standing stones and castles has a rich and varied mythology and culture. Its old red sandstone cliffs hold a variety of plant life, including roseroot, green spleenwort, and rue-leaved saxifrages, while its range of fauna includes otters, herons, kingfishers and the soaring red kite, which is the national bird of Wales.
Northern Ireland's capital city of Belfast offers visitors a deep look at the history of the area and its current progress and prosperity. While there, the Titanic Belfast Museum is a must-see. The museum and monument are located on the site where the RMS Titanic was built from 1909-1912 and visitors can explore the shipyard and many interactive exhibits and see original artifacts from both the ship and White Star Line. You’ll also want to visit the City Hall, Queen's University, and the Parliament Building at Stormont. Keep an eye out for the city's political murals symbolizing the sentiments of its local residents.
Derry, or Londonderry, is the second-largest city in Northern Ireland and is known for its intact 17th-century surrounding wall that includes seven gates. While there's still debate between Irish nationalists and unionists as to what to call this great city, it remains the only completely walled city in Ireland. Visitors are encouraged to walk atop the ramparts of the walls - but go slow as the walls are over 20 feet in height! While there, check out the neo-Gothic Guildhall with its organ and the famous Peace Bridge. Don't miss out on the murals! Similar to in Belfast, locals of the area painted political murals that offer a look into a time that's widely known only as "The Troubles".
A geological masterpiece created by the cooling of lava that burst through the earth's crust millions of years ago, Giant's Causeway might be as famous as the bright greens of Ireland. As a result of the ancient volcanic eruption, 40,000 basalt columns still rise out of Ireland's wild Atlantic coastline. A Unesco World Heritage Site since 1986, the collection of columns is thought by locals to be the 8th Wonder of the World. Add to the scene fierce cliff faces and one of the best coastal drives in the area and you've got yourself a wonderful day trip from Cardiff.