A GUIDE TO THE BEST WORLD HERITAGE SITES IN THE UK
Great Britain is home to 31 of the 1073 UNESCO World Heritage Sites that are spread across the globe. Despite the modest size of our island, we are one of the top 10 countries for having a high number of UNESCO sites, losing out only to Italy, China, Spain, France, Germany, Mexico, and India.
These unique sites are considered to have ‘Outstanding Universal Value’, either for their historic and cultural importance or for their incredible natural beauty. Going to check out UNESCO Sites in the UK is the perfect way to spend a weekend break in the UK, and be sure to book accommodation in a stately home or castle for a really special experience.
If you want to enjoy a tour of the UK’s most iconic places and finest attractions, here are the World Heritage Sites that you should add to your bucket list.
1. GIANTS CAUSEWAY
Discover the amazing stones at Giant’s Causeway, one of the most popular tourist attractions and natural sights in Northern Ireland. This vast area consists of more than 40,000 interlocking basalt columns which, although strangely surreal, have been formed from natural causes. These incredible, towering columns feature in varying heights, and are the result of an ancient volcanic fissure eruption. They are truly a wonder to behold and they are also a budding photographer’s dream.
Visitor Tips: Get there as early as possible to beat the crowds. This is the best time to take photographs of the stones.
Where to Stay: A few nights in the city of Derry positions you close to the coast, whilst nearby areas such as County Tyrone or County Fermanagh make great bases too. Have a look at our Irish castles here.
One of the UK’s most beautiful cities is Edinburgh, Scotland’s romantic and luxurious capital. It’s one of those places that has something for everybody (from shopping, sights, museums, kids’ attractions and Michelin star restaurants to a huge medieval castle atop an extinct volcano).
And it’s also an important UNESCO City of Literature, with stunning New and Old Towns that are worth exploring in detail. From the winding cobbled streets and gabled houses to the famous Royal Mile and open squares, every inch of the city is beautiful. Take one of the literary tours or visit one of the literary festivals if you want to learn more about the authors and writers both historic and contemporary.
Visitor Tips: The best time of year to visit the city is from June to August, when average highs are around 19°C.
Where to Stay: Spend the weekend in the capital or stay in a nearby Scottish castle for an unforgettable break.
Another city recognized for its literary significance throughout time is Dublin, Republic of Ireland’s famous capital and a place for every type of traveler. From large groups, stags and hens to families in search of excitement and couples in search of romance, this destination has it all. The literary legends include Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, William Butler Yeats and Emma Donoghue, and the attractions not to miss are Dublin Writers Museum, the National Print Museum, the Abbey and Marsh’s Library.
Visitor Tips: You can also soak up some of capital’s literary history in many of the local pubs. The Dublin Literary Pub Crawl is a great idea for those who love books and a good tipple.
Where to Stay: Stay at Straffan House in County Kildare, less than an hour’s drive away.
4. THE LAKE DISTRICT
If you choose just one vacation region in England to visit in your lifetime, it has to be the Lake District. This vast UNESCO area is made up of 16 main lakes and many smaller waters, meres and tarns. The biggest and most well-known lake being Lake Windermere, a superb spot for sailing, boat tours, and fishing. This large lake links up some of the region’s quaintest and prettiest towns, such as Bowness and Ambleside. This place is perfect for walkers, or anyone who enjoys traditional English pubs and gorgeous lake views.
Visitor Tips: Add Castlerigg Stone Circle to your itinerary to catch amazing sights of the sunset.
Where to Stay: Some of the best towns to book into a B&B or hotel include Bowness-on-Windermere, Kendal, Keswick, Grasmere, Newby Bridge, Ambleside or Coniston.
5. CANTERBURY CATHEDRAL
Canterbury Cathedral, Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion and seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, is one of the most striking pieces of British architecture and is recognized as both a holy place and a World Heritage Site. Towering above the historic city, this church featured in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and is home to the 1498 Bell Harry Tower (designed by architect John Wastell).
Visitor Tips: Also not to be missed when you are here is St. Augustine’s Abbey, the Canterbury Roman Museum, Canterbury Castle, Beaney House of Art and Knowledge, Westgate Towers Museum, and Westgate Gardens.
Where to Stay: Book your stay in the city to avoid congestion / parking problems during busy hours, or stay in nearby areas within easy reach of Kent Downs AONB.
A tour of the top World Heritage Sites in the UK isn’t complete without a visit to Stonehenge in Wiltshire. This Neolithic attraction receives over 1.3 million visitors every single year, and it’s perhaps the best-known prehistoric monument in Europe as well as being considered as one of the ‘Ancient World Wonders’.
The site consists of a large ring of standing stones, each around 13 feet high and 7 feet wide. The huge structures, which were built in 3000 BC, weigh in around 25 tons per stone, and the mystery of how and why they were erected remains unsolved.
Visitor Tips: Stonehenge can get incredibly busy throughout the day and at any time of year. Whilst summer is peak season, the site is popular in all seasons. Be sure to also visit Avebury Stonehenge (40 minutes north) whilst you’re in the area, where you can get up close to the stones and touch them.
Where to Stay: The city of Bath makes a great base for exploring, and is fantastic for sightseeing, shopping and restaurants. Or you can also find a beautiful market town in the Cotswold region.
7. FORTH BRIDGE
The Forth Bridge was given World Heritage status in 2015 and is perhaps one of the lesser known sites for tourists new to the UK. Set across the Firth of Forth in the east of Scotland (9 miles from Edinburgh), this striking construction is a sight to behold. In 2016, it was voted as “Scotland’s Greatest Man Made Wonder” and it is recognized as an iconic landmark and symbol of Scottish engineering.
Construction of the bridge began in 1882 after being designed by Sir John Fowler and Sir Benjamin Baker, and it later opened in March 1890. The entire bridge stretches 2,467 meters, linking the village of South Queensferry with the village of North Queensferry. It is one of the greatest cantilever trussed bridges in Great Britain and it can be seen from a number of viewpoints. Including Port Edgar Marina, Hawes Pier in South Queensferry, North Queensferry Light Tower, Forth Road Bridge and Blackness Castle.
Visitor Tips: Another way to enjoy views of this famous bridge is to take a boat tour with Maid of the Forth and Forth Boat Tours. Both operators offer a choice of tours that will take you right under the bridge and out to Inchcolm Island.
Where to Stay: Stay in the magnificent Kemback House in Fife or book your stay in Scotland’s dazzling capital.
8. IRONBRIDGE GORGE & MUSEUMS
Ironbridge Gorge is a UNESCO site in Shropshire, and was one of the first locations to be listed as a World Heritage Site in the UK. It’s a key landmark that tells the tales of the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain, a period which transformed the socioeconomic landscape of the country and shaped the nation today. By the close of the 18th Century, the Ironbridge Gorge had earned its reputation as one of the most technologically advanced areas in the world, and was part of the legacy left behind by new age industrialists such as Abraham Darby, William Reynolds and John Wilkinson.
Today, the bridge, the museums, and the glorious nature that surrounds them serve to remind us of the area’s contribution to the history and development of industrialized society. The Ironbridge attractions to check out include the Bridge and Tollhouse, Museum of the Gorge, the Jackfield Tile Museum, Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron, Derby Houses, Tar Tunnel, Blists Hil Victorian Town, and Broseley Pipeworks.
Visitor Tips: Buy single attraction tickets or save money with an Annual Passport (which gives you daytime admission to all 10 museums for a year).
Where to Stay: Stopover in Shropshire, Telford or surrounding areas.
9. ROYAL BOTANICAL GARDENS KEW
Kew Gardens is one of those places to tick off your list before you die. Whether you are a London local, a UK resident or traveling from outside of the country, the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew are a must-visit. It is known to house the largest and most diverse botanical and mycological collections in the world, and was listed as a UNESCO site in 2003.
It was originally founded in 1840 (from the exotic garden at Kew Park in Middlesex), and today the living collections have more than 30,000 species of plants. Additionally, the herbarium is one of the largest in the world (with more than 7 million preserved specimens) and the library features more than 750,000 volumes as well as 175,000 prints and plant drawings.
Visitor Tips: Visit during the summer months to enjoy the garden at its best.
Where to Stay: Stopover at a luxurious boutique hotel close to the city.
10. CITY OF BATH
There are so many stunning cities to spend a long weekend in the UK, but one of the most spectacular places to visit is the city of Bath. This beautiful spa town has so much history and culture, and you could spend weeks exploring all its wonderful sights and attractions. It is home to the historic Roman Baths as well as the Thermae Bath Spa (which is Britain’s original thermal spa).
Must-see and must-do include Bath Abbey, Pulteney Bridge, Kennet and Avon Canal, the famous Royal Crescent, Victoria Art Gallery, and the Jane Austen Center. Bath is also excellent for shopping, with many great boutique stores to choose from. And for foodies, there are so many fantastic restaurants (with four venues in Bath and the surrounding area securing a Michelin star in 2017).
Visitor Tips: If you want to see the Roman Baths, go very early or later on in the day to skip the busy crowds! If you are visiting in the summer months, you can take advantage of the late night hours as the baths are open as late as 9pm.
Where to Stay: Stay in the South Cotswold area. Towns and villages such as Cold Ashton, Old Sodbury, Wotton Under Edge and Stroud are all less than an hour away from the city.
11. BLENHEIM PALACE
A beautiful landmark not to be missed if you are exploring the South of England. Blenheim Palace is a monumental English country house set in the civil parish of Blenheim near Woodstock in Oxfordshire. It is recognized as one of England’s largest houses and is home to the Duke of Marlborough. Listed as a UNSECO site since 1987, Blenheim Palace is a historically significant property and offers a park and gardens for superb strolls. There’s also an Orangery Restaurant on site, where guests can enjoy everything from a three-course lunch to afternoon tea with champagne.
Visitor Tips: Check the website for dining experience vouchers – they make a great gift for loved ones and are ideal for life’s special occasions.
Where to Stay: Stay in the nearby city of Oxford or make your base in Milton Keynes, Reading, Stratford Upon Avon, Leamington Spa or Cheltenham.
From entire cities such as Dublin (the UNESCO City of Literature) attracting more than 300,000 visitors and literary fans each year to the mysterious and utterly fascinating formations of prehistoric Stonehenge to the mighty fortresses and castles that reveal Great British fairytales, there’s so much to see. If you’d like any help planning your vacation, please do get in touch.