The United Kingdom attracts more than 30 million international visitors each year, and it’s fair to say they aren’t all coming for the weather! The UK offers some of the world’s most iconic landmarks, an array of engaging and exciting tourist attractions, and some of the most spectacular natural scenery anywhere in Europe.
From the action-packed capital city of London to stunning areas of natural beauty like the Cotswolds and the Lake District, there’s certainly no shortage of potential UK holiday destinations to choose from. Here, we outline the very best places to visit in the UK.
A good starting place when planning out the best places to visit in the UK is the nation’s capital city. London is a diverse city with plenty to offer visitors, from places of historical interest like Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London and the Palace of Westminster — which includes Big Ben — right through to globally recognisable tourist attractions, such as the London Eye and renowned museums like the Natural History Museum.
London is also an important cultural hub for the United Kingdom. It houses iconic music venues, like the O2 Arena and the Royal Albert Hall, and is home to some of the UK’s most famous sporting venues, including Wembley Stadium, Twickenham Stadium, Emirates Stadium, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and Stamford Bridge.
If you get sick of sightseeing, London has some of the world’s most acclaimed restaurants, as well as a vibrant and varied nightlife scene. Getting around the city is also easy, thanks to the London Underground, the world’s oldest rapid transit system. When it comes to things to do in England, you won’t find any other destination that offers more choices.
Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh, offers a vastly different atmosphere from England’s capital city. It is one of the very best cities to visit in the UK for pure exploration, owing to its cobbled streets, traditional pubs, an abundance of museums and art galleries, and a collection of world-class restaurants. With all this to offer and a whole lot more besides, it’s little wonder Edinburgh has emerged as the UK’s second most-visited city.
The historical Edinburgh Castle is one of the city’s most popular visitor attractions. It sits atop Castle Rock in the city’s Old Town and, throughout history, it is believed to be one of the most besieged castles in the world. Edinburgh’s geological features also provide interesting places to explore, such as Arthur’s Seat, located in Holyrood Park. This ancient volcano rises 822 feet above the city and provides incredible views.
Additionally, Edinburgh is a perfect UK destination if you’re like us and love to experience festivals. This is especially true if you can time your visit for the month of August. Doing so will allow you to partake in the Edinburgh International Festival and the world’s largest performance art festival — the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
If you’re planning to visit Wales, a trip to Cardiff is a no-brainer. Not only is it the capital city of Wales, but it is also one of the best cities to visit in the UK for entertainment and culture.
You can go and enjoy live music at venues like Cardiff International Arena and St David’s Hall, while the Wales Millennium Centre serves as Wales’ national arts centre and is a great venue for opera and ballet. For sports lovers, the Millennium Stadium is the home stadium of the Wales rugby union national team.
Cardiff Castle is one of the city’s major tourist attractions, and its city centre location helps to highlight the role it played at the very core of the mediaeval town. Cardiff is also well-known for the quality of its parks, with Bute Park being the most popular. With active nightlife and exciting museums, including the National History Museum at St Fagans and the Welsh National Museum, it’s fair to say there’s plenty to keep you occupied.
The capital and largest city in Northern Ireland, Belfast is a city of great historic importance. So what makes Belfast one of the best places to visit in UK regions, and why do we recommend a trip to the city?
One of the reasons is Belfast’s strong maritime heritage, which runs throughout the city. Historically, Belfast has served as a major port, and it was also the location where the Titanic was built. Today, it is home to Titanic Belfast, the world’s largest Titanic visitor experience. It’s well worth visiting, especially if you want to hear the story of the boat’s history and its fateful maiden voyage.
Looking for a city with great nightlife? Belfast houses excellent pubs, bars, beer gardens and nightclubs. Want access to interesting rural locations? The city is a great base for visits to the Giant’s Causeway, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a location that inspired some of the best-known stories in Irish mythology. On top of this, Belfast is known for its serene parks and gardens, including the Botanical Gardens and Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park.
The city of Manchester in North West England is widely regarded as one of the UK’s greatest cultural hubs. Whether you’re seeking live entertainment, some retail therapy or a sporting experience to remember, this is one of the top places to visit in England. It is also home to Heaton Park, Europe’s largest municipal park. Here, you’ll find everything from an 18-hole golf course to an observatory for stargazing and a lake for rowing.
Manchester has a thriving music scene, and visiting some of the city’s smaller music venues opens up the opportunity of catching an early glimpse of future superstars. This is, after all, the city that produced Oasis, The Smiths, The Stone Roses, Joy Division, the Bee Gees, Take That, The 1975 and New Order.
The city benefits from excellent transport links, which include Manchester Airport, as well as Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Victoria railway stations. It is also home to two of the most successful teams in the English Premier League: Manchester United and Manchester City. So, why not try and catch one of their home matches?
Liverpool is one of the best sightseeing UK places to visit, combining great museums, beautiful parks and places of cultural interest. The city is perhaps best known on the global stage as the home of The Beatles, and fans of the band are sure to enjoy visiting the Cavern Club, which regularly hosted the ‘Fab Four’ in their early years.
Away from The Beatles, Liverpool is often seen as one of the very best places to go in England for nightlife. Some of the key areas to visit if you want to dance the night away include Concert Square and Hardman Street.
The biggest tourist attraction in the city is the Royal Albert Dock, which contains the Merseyside Maritime Museum as well as the Tate Liverpool art gallery. This area also offers a number of bars and restaurants, and the Royal Albert Dock is recognised as the UK’s most visited multi-use attraction outside of London.
The Cotswolds is another one of the most popular places to go on holiday in the UK. The region provides a completely different experience from many of the city locations we’ve covered so far. It is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and stretches over an area of more than 785 square miles in total.
So now you know how large the area is, but what is there to actually see and do? How about a trip to the Cotswold Wildlife Park & Gardens, where you can see squirrel monkeys, Humboldt penguins, black mambas and red pandas? Alternatively, check out some of the charming villages in the region, like Bibury or Bourton-on-the-Water.
The Cotswolds is an amazing location for hiking, photography or simple romantic walks. Some other popular attractions in the area include Tewkesbury Abbey and the Jet Age Museum. For an opportunity to experience travel on an authentic steam locomotive, be sure to check out the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway.
Are you fascinated by history? We are, too, which is why we believe Bath is one of the very best places to visit in the UK. This incredible city, located in South West England, was founded by the Romans in the 1st Century AD, and evidence of their presence can be seen absolutely everywhere, from the city walls to the famous Roman Baths.
Recognised as one of the Great Spa Towns of Europe by UNESCO, the entire city of Bath is also a World Heritage Site. It attracts millions of visitors every year and features some of the UK’s most spectacular buildings, including Bath Abbey, which is one of the country’s finest examples of Perpendicular Gothic architecture.
In terms of transportation, Bath Spa railway station makes it relatively easy to reach the city from locations around the country, including London, Cardiff and nearby Bristol. A park-and-ride scheme in the city makes it easy to drive to Bath and explore the town. There’s also a convenient and frequent bus service that will take you right to the city centre.
Bristol is located less than 45 minutes from Bath via road and is just a 15-minute ride away on the train. This makes these two cities ideal for back-to-back visits. So what does Bristol have to offer holidayers?
With two universities in the city, it is little wonder that Bristol’s nightlife offering is strong. Looking for rave spots frequented by well-known DJs? Go to Bristol. Want great bars with good live music? Bristol has them. Hoping to find obscure ciders you don’t see in a typical pub? Head over to Bristol. Want to visit the oldest continually-operating theatre in the English-speaking world? Of course, you do! It’s beautiful, and you can find it in Bristol.
If you’re still not convinced, what about the sports teams in the city? Gloucestershire County Cricket Club and Bristol Rugby Club (better known as the Bristol Bears) both play at the highest level of their respective sports. There are also two Bristol-based football teams within the English Football League structure: Bristol City and Bristol Rovers.
As the second Scottish city on our list, Glasgow is unquestionably one of the best places to visit in UK territory. It is also the largest city in Scotland and home to some of Scotland’s most important cultural institutions, including the Scottish Opera, Scottish Ballet and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.
Glasgow boasts impressive art galleries, like the Burrell Collection, the Gallery of Modern Art, and the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. The city is also home to Scotland’s two biggest and most successful football teams — the Celtic and the Rangers. The teams are bitter rivals, so maybe you could consider choosing a side and watching a game.
If you’re looking to explore more of the UK, Glasgow serves as an ideal base for a number of nearby locations, including Loch Lomond and Stirling. Loch Lomond is ideal for water activities and exploration. The city of Stirling is a place of great historic interest, where key battles such as the Battle of Stirling Bridge and the Battle of Bannockburn took place.
If you love scenic walks, York is one of the best places to visit in the UK. The city walls protected the city from invaders during mediaeval times, but they now serve as a route for one of the most enjoyable city walks you’ll find anywhere in England. They’re also the most complete city walls in the country, so be sure to add this stop to your bucket list.
Now, as impressive as they are, it’s important to stress that we didn’t recommend you visit York just to walk around its walls. The city also offers one of the UK’s most unique shopping experiences at The Shambles. This narrow, mediaeval shopping street boasts buildings dating back to the 14th century. Think Diagon Alley from Harry Potter, but with fewer wizarding supplies and more tea rooms, boutiques and independent shops. If that doesn’t sound magical enough for you, there actually are several Harry Potter-themed shops on the street, too.
Other key attractions in the city include York Castle and the imposing York Minster, a huge Gothic cathedral. In the city centre, you’ll find more than enough old-fashioned pubs and charming cafes to keep you busy. Traffic congestion in York is also alleviated by a decent park-and-ride system. That means you can quickly park your vehicle, hop on a bus and travel to the city centre with ease.
Norwich is located in the east of England, approximately 100 miles northwest of London. It is a historic city, and you’ll find numerous remnants of its mediaeval past, including Norwich Castle and St Andrew’s Hall. One of the most popular must-see landmarks is Norwich Cathedral, which has the second-largest spire in England.
Norwich Market is another one of the most famous attractions in the city — and is one of the largest markets of its kind anywhere in Europe. It’s been around for 1,000 years and now serves as a major attraction for travellers, as well as a convenient resource for locals.
A bit tired of reading about cities filled with old stuff at this point? Fear not! Norwich has multiple modern shopping centres and regularly features on best UK shopping destination lists. It has a thriving nightlife with an abundance of entertainment venues, including The Waterfront, and is also home to Norwich City Football Club.
Last but by no means least, the Lake District is an amazing place to visit for anyone with an appreciation of nature. Explore the stunning landscapes that inspired renowned writers like William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey — collectively known as the ‘Lake Poets’.
Of course, you don’t need to be an acclaimed poet to appreciate the mountains, lakes and coastal attractions in the region. The area, located in Cumbria in the North West of England, is a national park and a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. It includes England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike, as well as England’s largest lake, Windermere.
If you’re looking to avoid the hassle of planning a trip on your own, why not join our Lake District Express self-driven tour? Our five-day canyoning and hiking tour is perfect for those seeking to get away from the frantic energy of city life. You’ll get a chance to fully explore one of the best places to visit in the UK, with plenty of time to try your hand at activities like kayaking. For a wet adventure that you’ll never forget, you can even jump right in and give ghyll scrambling a go.