Sites of natural beauty and cultural riches
Did you know that Britain has 25 UNESCO World Heritage Sites? These range from sites of natural beauty like the Dorset and East Devon Coast to cultural riches such as the Tower of London and Stonehenge. Join us for a run-down of these show-stopping sites.
Canterbury Cathedral has been a place of pilgrimage since the 12th century – just ask Geoffrey Chaucer! His Canterbury Tales, written in the 14th-century, feature a motley crew of pilgrims who journey to the Cathedral to visit the shrine of Thomas Becket. Follow in their footsteps to discover a truly remarkable building ripe with history and atmosphere. See the spot where Becket was brutally murdered, the ancient crypt, vivid stained glass and the tomb of Henry IV.
For information, images, maps and more visit our Canterbury Destination Guide.
Honey-hued Bath is so chock-full of historical and cultural treats that the folks at UNESCO made the whole lot a World Heritage Site. And who can blame them? Visit the city of Jane Austen with its ancient Roman Baths, the elegant Pulteney Bridge, gorgeous Georgian architecture and Bath Abbey. And when you’ve soaked up enough history, take a relaxing dip in the thoroughly modern Thermae Bath Spa.
Get inspired by Bath – check out our Bath Destination Guide.
In a land of castles, Harlech, Conwy, Caernarfon and Beaumaris stand out for their sheer scale and sophistication. Well preserved, atmospheric and enormous they represent the pinnacle of medieval military architecture. The fortresses were built by Edward I of England as an ‘Iron Ring’ to pacify the Welsh and they remain a haunting presence.
To find out more about Welsh castles visit Cadw.
Just 20 minutes from central London, Maritime Greenwich is awash with eye-popping architecture surrounded by the green expanse of Greenwich Park. Christopher Wren’s elegant Old Royal Naval College heads up a star-studded line-up of majestic buildings including Inigo Jones’s elegant Queen’s House and the Royal Observatory. Relax in the park, check out the view of Canary Wharf across the river and savour the historic flavour.
Find out more about Maritime Greenwich.
Edinburgh's an obvious candidate for a World Heritage City and it’s not hard to see why. The Old Town topped by the castle oozes history and a stroll along its cobbled streets and dark alleyways is a walk through time. The New Town is equally evocative with its graceful crescents, squares and terraces. The two combine into a city that’s unique, instantly recognisable and impossible to resist.
Excited by Edinburgh? Check out our Edinburgh destination guide for photos, video, podcasts, maps and more.
Britain’s newest World Heritage Site is the longest and highest aqueduct in Britain. Towering 126ft above the River Dee it’s a 200-year-old engineering marvel and is considered Thomas Telford’s masterpiece. Pontcysyllte looks fantastic from a distance but walking or travelling by canal boat over the top is truly exhilarating.
If you want to find out more about Wales and Welsh attractions check out our Wales destination guide.
The ruins of Fountains Abbey are Britain’s largest monastic ruin and one of the most enchanting spots in the country. Founded in 1132 the abbey thrived until Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. It now stands ruined and uninhabited save for a large colony of bats. Lose yourself in dark passageways, winding staircases and an aura of spiritual peace. You can also explore the 18th-century water gardens and the Jacobean mansion Fountains Hall.
Find out more about Fountains Abbey.
UNESCO recognises Liverpool as being a ‘supreme example’ of a British port at the time of Britain’s greatest global influence. See the towering Liver Building, the Albert Dock and take a ferry across the Mersey. The World Museum Liverpool, The Walker Art Gallery and The Maritime Museum are all in the area and provide a fascinating insight into Liverpool’s place at the heart of world business, immigration and the slave trade.
Check out our Liverpool Destination Guide.
Graves and memorials of the great and the good sprout from every wall, jostling for position in this living show of British history. Charles Darwin, Geoffrey Chaucer, Lewis Carroll, Charles Dickens, Isaac Newton…the list goes on. It’s also been the venue for every royal coronation since William the Conqueror and includes the spectacular fan-vaulted Lady Chapel - the last great masterpiece of English medieval architecture.
Discover Westminster Abbey.
Kew’s only a few miles west of London’s frenetic centre, but it seems a world away. Wander through 300 acres of enchanting gardens, pause under shady, ancient trees and lose yourself in a jungle of green in the Palm House. Don’t miss the treetop walkway, a swaying, canopy-level structure with a tree’s eye view of the gardens.
Find out more about Kew Gardens.
Orkney is a group of islands in Northeast Scotland. The 'Heart of Neolithic Orkney' consists of prehistoric monuments that predate the Egyptian pyramids. The 5,000-year-old burial bound of Maes Howe is one of the most impressive chambered tombs in Western Europe and during the winter solstice, the sun sets along its stone passageway, striking a cairn in the central chamber with incredible accuracy. Remote, magical and with a sense of elemental beauty, Orkney is definitely worth the short trip from mainland Scotland.
St Kilda is a group of islands that form the remotest part of the British Isles lying 41 miles west of Benbecula in Scotland's famous Outer Hebrides. It’s 1 of only 24 locations in the world to be awarded World Heritage Status for both natural and cultural significance. Its islands with their exceptional cliffs and sea stacks form the most important seabird breeding station in north-west Europe. Uninhabited since 1930, St Kilda bears the evidence of more than 2,000 years of human occupation in the extreme conditions prevalent in the Hebrides.
New Lanark is a small and beautifully restored 18th-century cotton mill village set in the sublime Scottish countryside. Social pioneer Robert Owen moulded this model industrial community in the early 19th century and the site provides a fascinating example of 19th-century philanthropy. Don’t miss the spectacular Falls of Clyde, inspiration to Victorian poets and painters.
This World Heritage site consists of the border line of the Roman Empire when it was at its biggest in the 2nd century. The most well known part of the Frontiers of the Roman Empire in Britain is Hadrian's Wall, built under the order of the Roman Emperor Hadrian in AD122. It took soldiers 6 years to build the wall, which was 80 Roman miles long (73 modern miles) on the border of what is now England and Scotland.
The Cathedral is widely known as the largest and finest example of Norman architecture in England. The spectacular Nave never fails to impress, with huge carved pillars that measure 6.6 metres round and 6.6 metres high. Durham Castle stands behind the Cathedral. This ancient Norman fortress was once the residence of the prince-bishops of Durham.
The 'model village' of Saltaire in West Yorkshire is a complete and well-preserved industrial village, and an important part of England's industrial heritage. Built by Sir Titus Salt in 1876, the village still remains in its original form and is still inhabited by industrial workers today.
The Derwent Valley in Derbyshire, East Midlands, is home to a series of 18th- and 19th-century cotton mills, and the area is now an industrial landscape of high historical and technological interest.
Set in the heart of the beautiful Shropshire countryside, Ironbridge is known throughout the world as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and the home of the world's first iron bridge. Once described as "the most extraordinary district in the world", the Ironbridge Gorge is still a remarkable and beautiful place to visit today.
The Blaenavon area lies about 40km northeast of Cardiff and has been moulded by the coal and iron industries. It highlights the importance of South Wales in the world's production of coal and iron in the 19th century. There's so much to see and do related to this fascinating historical period that even if history isn't your thing, you'll be engrossed. You can see everything from coal and ore mines, quarries, a primitive railway system and furnaces to workers' homes and what their communities were like.
The birthplace of Winston Churchill, Blenheim Palace near Oxford is a perfectly preserved 18th-century stately home set in a 2,100-acre park landscaped by 'Capability' Brown. Gorgeous gardens, artistic treasures and a truly striking piece of English baroque extravagance add up to a truly memorable day out.
Stonehenge is the most famous megalithic (literally meaning ‘big stone’) monument in the world. Dating back an amazing 50,000 years, it’s drawn visitors for literally millennia. A place of ritual sacrifice and sun worship or a massive calendar? Nobody really knows its purpose, but no one who has ever been there will deny, it is truly awe inspiring.
Cornwall and West Devon was the centre of mining technology and it was from here that mining technologies spread across the world. The deep underground mines, engine houses, foundries, new towns, smallholdings, ports and harbours, and ancillary industries together reflect an innovation which, in the early 19th century, enabled the region to produce more than half of the world's supply of copper.
The Dorset and East Devon Coast, also known as The Jurassic Coast was the first ever site to be inscribed as a 'natural' World Heritage Site. It spans 95 miles of dramatic coastline all the way from East Devon to Dorset. What makes this coast so special is the way its cliff exposures provide an almost continuous geological 'walk through time' spanning the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods - a time capsule holding 185 million years of the Earth's history.
Giant's Causeway lies at the foot of the basalt cliffs along the rugged Antrim coast of Northern Ireland. This intriguing rock formation is made up of some 40,000 massive black basalt columns sticking out of the sea and has been shrouded in myth and legend for centuries. And as soon as you see it you'll understand why - it's hard to believe this bizarre rock structure was naturally formed.
The Tower of London has been a part of British royal history for nearly 1,000 years, and has become a national symbol of royalty and power. The massive White Tower is a typical example of Norman military architecture. It was built on the Thames by William the Conqueror to protect London and assert his power.