Consisting of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom (UK) has long been one of Europes most popular tourist destinations. The countrys appeal has much to do with its diverse scenery and rich cultural heritage. The best places to visit in the UK include everything from beautifully preserved country estates and castles, to its many world-class art galleries and museums.
One of the greatest pleasures of a UK vacation, however, is just how easy it is to explore this fascinating and diverse country. Thanks to its size – the UK could easily fit into the state of Texas (with room to spare) – you can base yourself in cities such as London or Liverpool and simply take a train, bus, or ferry to explore other areas.
From the nations capital, a 90-minute train ride is all it takes to access beautiful Salisbury, and a short bus ride or tour from here will take you to one of the countrys most recognizable attractions, Stonehenge. And if you want to hop between the Scottish cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, a one-hour train ride will deposit you in the heart of either city.
London: The UKs All-in-One Destination
While its possible to plan a trip to the UK without visiting London, its certainly not to be advised. The nations sprawling capital boasts plenty of attractions to keep you busy. For those interested in learning more about the UKs rich history, one of the top things to do in London is visit the Tower of London. Located beside the 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 armor and weaponry, and the Jewel House, home to the Crown Jewels.
Fans of Britains Royal Family will want to head to Buckingham Palace, Londons Royal home since Queen Victorias reign. Here, you can enjoy the colorful pomp of the Changing of the Guard or even take a tour of the Palaces State Rooms (be sure to book in advance as theyre only open for a few weeks each year).
The citys Whitehall Road area is another must, where youll find 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 citys best museums, including the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Natural History Museum, as well as the famous Harrods department store. Also check out Trafalgar Square, home to iconic Nelsons Column and the National Portrait Gallery
Although one of the UKs smaller cities, Bath more than makes up for its diminutive size with a multitude of things to see and do. Named after its famous Roman Baths, this beautiful city has been luring visitors to its healing waters for more than 2,000 years.
Gushing from three hot springs, the water-known to consist of 43 different minerals, hence its curative properties-travels upwards some 3,048 meters at a rate of 275,000 gallons per day, before spilling out at a consistent 46.5 degrees Celsius. While its not possible to bathe in the original Roman Baths, a number of nearby spas – most notably the superb Thermae Bath Spa – offer guests the chance to enjoy the citys famous waters.
In addition to its ancient history, Bath is also famous for its lovely Georgian architecture. The best examples can be seen along the magnificent, curved Royal Crescent, with its palatial townhomes. One of them, No.1 Royal Crescent, is now a museum that offers a fascinating peek into life during Georgian times.
Ancient Stonehenge and Medieval Salisbury
One of the planets oldest World Heritage Site, 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 mankinds ingenuity.
Its a sprawling site, covering an area of more than 20 square kilometers and boasting a state-of-the-art visitor center. Here, you can catch a fascinating glimpse not only into the construction of Stonehenge, but also its history since then. Plan ahead and purchase a timed ticket for the day of your visit.
Be sure to also spend time exploring the nearby medieval city of Salisbury, located just 16 kilometers south of Stonehenge. Youll be rewarded with a chance to visit one of the countrys most famous cathedrals, dating back to 1220 and home to an original Magna Carta. Afterwards, be sure to wander the old city center with its many fine churches and historic medieval architecture.
Medieval York and its Minster
One of northern Englands most popular tourist destinations, the medieval city of York, long the ecclesiastical capital of the Church of England, boasts one of the countrys most magnificent cathedrals. The countrys largest medieval church, York Minster can trace its roots back to the spread of Christianity in the 3rd century, although the splendid present Gothic structure was built almost 1,000 years later.
Highlights of a tour include the opportunity to view its 14th-century stained glass windows, plus the richly decorated interiors of the choir and north transept. Also worth a visit is the crypt, which contains parts of the original 11th-century church the cathedral now stands on.
Other landmarks worth exploring are the ancient City Walls, which stretch almost five kilometers around the old medieval city center. Along the way, youll enjoy excellent views over The Shambles, a narrow 14th-century roadway, famous for its fine old timber-framed buildings, many of which hang over the street below. Its also an area known for its many restaurants and tearooms, as well as its many boutique shops and galleries.
York also boasts a number of major museums, the most popular being the National Railway Museum. Highlights of this museums vast collection include many fine old steam engines dating as far back as 1820, plus a unique collection of Royal Trains.
Loch Ness and Inverness
Despite the fact that the legends of mythical monsters have largely been debunked (just dont tell the locals), spectacular Loch Ness remains an extremely popular tourist attraction for travelers heading to Scotland. While its unlikely youll encounter any monsters, you will, however, be rewarded with seeing some of the UKs most beautiful scenery
Highlights of Loch Ness include the ruins of Urquhart Castle. Set overlooking the loch, its one of Scotlands largest fortifications (the current structure dates from the 14th century). For those wanting to learn more about the areas 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. This lovely city boasts numerous excellent attractions, including Inverness Castle, the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery, and the late 19th-century St. Andrews 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.