The 19 Best Cities to Visit in the UK
The United Kingdom, made up of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, has so much to offer as a travel destination, from historic attractions to stunning natural wonders. This article is going to focus specifically on the cities where you can experience the rich heritage and dynamic cultures of these four countries. Here is the list of the best cities to visit in the UK, from tourist favourites to lesser-known gems.
London is a city that needs no introduction. The UK capital, this city is brimming with rich history, beautiful architecture and numerous activities waiting to be discovered. One trip is rarely enough to experience everything that London has to offer. There is an endless choice of fun events, amazing museums, beautiful parks, theatre shows, historic pubs, shopping opportunities and more.
London is truly vast, so it is easy to feel overwhelmed when visiting. The best way to tackle it is to approach it as a collection of towns and villages with unique personalities. Select the ones that sound the most appealing to you and start exploring from there. This blog on the best things to do in London for first timers is a great source of ideas if you are visiting the capital for the first time.
Located on England’s south coast, bohemian Brighton brings together progressive culture, fun attractions and miles of sandy beaches. The city began its life as a fishing village. However, in the late 18th century, King George IV fell in love with the location and made it his home. As a result, the town’s popularity increased, and economic growth ensued.
Present day visitors can experience the history of Brighton by admiring its regency architecture, visiting aristocratic mansions and heading to the historic Palace Pier to get a taste of traditional seaside fun. Brighton offers many modern activities too, from vintage shopping and independent eateries to endless gigs, comedy shows and festivals. If you’d like to get away from all the craziness, there are plenty of coastal and countryside walks right on Brighton’s doorstep.
A popular tourist destination, Cambridge is most famous for being the home of the prestigious University of Cambridge. However, the city is a great place to visit even if you’re not a student or academic. Just a one-hour train ride away from central London, this historic city founded back in 875 oozes charm and sophistication.
Explore its heritage and beautiful architecture on a walking tour, go punting on the river Cam, visit some of the famous university buildings and museums and unwind in traditional pubs and tearooms. Cambridge certainly has plenty to keep you busy.
Oxford is another historic treasure trove amongst the best cities to visit in the UK. Also called the City of Dreaming Spires, it is home to Oxford University, the oldest university in Britain. Some of the biggest names in British politics, science and culture received their education there.
Oxford has a beautiful city centre adorned with architectural masterpieces from various historic periods. Visitors to the city can tour Oxford University’s historic buildings, explore excellent museums and enjoy a pint at some of the oldest pubs in the country. Complete your experience with a trip on a punt along the idyllic River Cherwell.
Located in the south-west of England, Bath is a small but perfectly formed city famous for its elegant Georgian architecture, Roman Baths, and connections to Jane Austen. The entire city was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, reinforcing its historic and cultural importance.
Bath offers plenty of activities for visitors. From unwinding at a spa and exploring numerous museums to savouring delicious treats at historic tea rooms and enjoying its tranquil green spaces, you are not at risk of running out of things to do.
Nestled among the green hills of South West England, Bristol is famous for its alternative vibe and creative spirit. Over the centuries, the city has played an important role in maritime trade, and at one point was England’s second city. Today, Bristol is a lively university city with a cosmopolitan identity with plenty of fun things to do.
A trip to Bristol would not be complete without experiencing its famous street art. Join a guided tour to see the works of Banksy, arguably one of the most famous street artists in the world. Many other emerging and established artists have also left their mark on Bristol. Aside from street art, Bristol is also home to fascinating historic attractions, fun festivals, burgeoning dining scene and tranquil green spaces.
Located in the county of Norfolk in Eastern England, Norwich will transport you back in time. It is an ancient city that has seen Roman and Viking invasions, an economic boom during the Middle Ages and a rise of new industries during the Industrial Revolution. More recently, in 2012, Norwich was named as England’s first UNESCO City of Literature, acknowledging its literary heritage.
Visitors to Norwich can roam cobbled lanes and alleys, admire Medieval architecture, experience a historic castle and marvel at stunning cathedrals. There are plenty of dining options for when you need to refuel. From street food at Norwich Market to fine dining establishments, there are options for every taste and budget. If you are looking to indulge in retail therapy, Norwich offers a good mix of high street retailers and independent shops.
The Midlands city of Nottingham is firmly associated with the legend of Robin Hood. You can immerse yourself in the stories of this Medieval hero by visiting the historic Nottingham Castle, taking a selfie with the famous Robin Hood statue, taking a fun guided tour or exploring the trails of the Sherwood Forest.
However, the legendary outlaw is not the only reason to visit Nottingham. Explore a fascinating network of caves that lie beneath the city, have a pint at one of the oldest pubs in England or learn about the city’s history in one of its museums. There is also plenty of independent cafes, restaurants and breweries for when you need to re-fuel.
Located in the Northwest of England, Manchester is the third largest urban area in the UK. The city has a rich history of science, innovation, the arts, and civil thought. Manchester saw the dawn of the industrial revolution and inspired political changes including the Suffragette movement and communist theories.
The Manchester of today is proud of its heritage but looking towards the future. Major investment is transforming the city making it an even more exciting place to visit. From traditional art galleries and historic sights to a vibrant music scene and a dining renaissance, there is lots to see and do in Manchester.
To find out more about this ever-evolving city, check out this article on how to spend the perfect weekend in Manchester.
A charming Cheshire gem, Chester is amongst the best cities to visit in the UK for a short break, with plenty of attractions, events and dining options waiting to be discovered. Just over an hour’s drive from Manchester, the city boasts a unique blend of different historic periods, from ancient times to modern comforts.
Chester was founded by the Romans over 2,000 years ago and their presence is still evident in the impressive city walls and the largest amphitheatre in Britain. You can experience the city’s Medieval side by visiting its majestic cathedral and exploring the Rows – historic two-tiered structures with covered walkways featuring shops, bars and eateries.
Liverpool is one of the most popular cities to visit in the UK and with good reason. Firmly associated with the Beatles, fans can connect with the band in many ways. You can learn more about the history of the Fab Four at the Beatles Story, catch a gig at the legendary Cavern Club and even visit Paul McCartney’s and John Lennon’s childhood homes.
There is plenty to explore beyond the Beatles though. From world-class museums and art galleries to excellent dining and famous cathedrals, Liverpool has something for everyone. If you are planning to spend a couple of days in the city, this article on the best things to do in Liverpool is the perfect starting point for creating your itinerary.
Another Yorkshire gem, Leeds is a great UK city break destination offering shopping, dining and cultural attractions. Between the 17th and mid-20th century Leeds was an industrial powerhouse. Unfortunately, centuries of prosperity and growth were followed by significant decline.
Thankfully, through investment and re-invention, Leeds is now an educational and cultural centre with its fortunes, once again, being on the up. From art galleries and historic architecture to designer boutiques and independent restaurants, the city has something for everyone. It is also a great starting point for exploring the spectacular Yorkshire countryside.
Without a doubt, York is a must-visit UK city for history lovers. Located in Yorkshire, the early history of the city was shaped by the Romans, Vikings and Normans. Thanks to trade and political significance, the city enjoyed a growth in prosperity in the Middle Ages. Visitors can get a sense of what life would have been like then by visiting York’s well-preserved city centre.
With its cobbled lanes, medieval architecture and imposing protective walls, York invites visitors to travel back in time. To learn about the city’s past, visit York’s famous gothic cathedral, explore its world-class museums or join one of the many guided tours. Along the way, check out traditional shop fronts on The Shambles, one of Britain’s most beautiful streets. In-between sight-seeing, enjoy excellent dining at independent restaurants and cafes scattered around the city.
Learn more about the best things to do in York in this guide.
Located in northeast England, the city of Durham is famous for its 11th century cathedral and castle that make up Durham UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was founded by the monks of Lindisfarne in 995. They chose the location where the city now stands as the final resting place of Saint Cuthbert, the patron saint of Northern England. They first built a wooden church that eventually became the site of the famous cathedral that we can see today.
However, Durham’s heritage attractions do not end there. History lovers can wander its cobbled medieval lanes, visit a host of fascinating museums and explore beautiful historic houses. Film buffs can enjoy spotting filming locations from famous movies and TV programmes, including Harry Potter films, Downton Abbey and Victoria.
With its stunning architecture, fascinating history and rich cultural offerings, it is not surprising that the capital of Scotland is one the most well-known cities to visit in the UK. Walk the cobbled alleyways of medieval Old Town, admire beautiful Georgian architecture in New Town, and visit Edinburgh’s many world-class attractions.
On your visit to Edinburgh, you can marvel at an iconic castle, climb an ancient volcano, descend into the city’s underground vaults to learn about the darker side of its history, and explore excellent museums and art galleries. The city’s cosy cafes, historic pubs and inviting restaurants are a great place to unwind and re-fuel.
When it comes to tourist destinations, Scotland’s biggest city, Glasgow is often overshadowed by Edinburgh. However, that doesn’t mean that this gritty city is not worth a visit. Glasgow has a rich history that can be traced back all the way to the 6th century. Visitors can experience it through the many museums and historic sites that the city has to offer.
Glasgow also boasts a vibrant nightlife, excellent shopping, acclaimed street art and an ever-growing selection of trendy restaurants and bars. To top this off, the city is a great gateway for Scotland’s natural beauty spots. The iconic Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park is just over an hour’s drive away.
Located in the northeast of Scotland, Inverness is the capital of the Scottish Highlands. With the famous Loch Ness and the natural wonders of the Highlands right on its doorstep, it is no surprise that it is considered one of the best cities to visit in the UK. It is a great option for a weekend break or as a base for a longer holiday.
There is plenty to see and do in Inverness itself. Explore the historic city centre complete with a neo-Norman Castle, visit museums and art galleries or relax in the beautiful Botanic Gardens. Inverness is also home to a raft of restaurant and pubs perfect for those who would like to try the best of Scottish fare.
The capital of Wales, Cardiff was once a small port town. It was transformed during the Industrial Revolution with the development of coal and iron ore mining. These industries fuelled the expansion of the city. Eventually it became the largest city in Wales and recognised as the capital in 1955.
Present day Cardiff is a compact city brimming with activities and events. From ancient castles to elegant shopping arcades to famous sporting grounds, Cardiff has something for every traveller. The city also has a vibrant music scene with its various venues hosting rising stars, international legends and everything in-between.
Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, has a troubled past. Its modern history began in the 17th century when Baron Chichester built a castle there. The town around it quickly grew, eventually becoming a busy port and the centre of the global linen trade. In the late 20th century, these industries declined and the city experienced decades of political and religious strife.
Today, Belfast is re-emerging as one of the best cities to visit in the UK. The city has a rich heritage that you can experience in one of its many museums. Belfast is also the birthplace of Titanic. You can learn about the history of this ill-fated ship at the Belfast Titanic Museum. Fans of the Game of Thrones TV series can explore the filming locations scattered in and around Belfast. When you need to take a break, there is a myriad of pubs, cafes and restaurants serving up delicious fare.
This list of the best cities to visit in the UK is by no means exhaustive. However, it is a great starting point for planning your own UK adventure.
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