From ancient stone circles and castles built on siege and turmoil, to dramatic modern museums and reinvented industrial sites, nowhere in the world showcases such diverse tourist appeal as the UK. Where to start? We’ve put together 10 must-go UK attractions you should squeeze in on a visit to Blighty.
Got any top UK attractions you’d like to recommend? Let us know in the comment section below and we’ll include some of your tips in our next round-up.
Quite simply one of the world’s great museums. The gargantuan Neoclassical building between Holborn and Tottenham Court Road Tube stops is a work of art in itself. The collection first began in 1753 and encompasses everything from history to art and culture, with more than eight million exhibits, ranging from Egyptian mummies and the controversial Elgin Marbles (sculptures taken from the Acropolis in Athens) through to a pair of eighteenth century chronometers that were used on Charles Darwin’s voyage on the HMS Beagle. Be there as the doors open at 10am – you’ll want all the time in the world to explore. Free entry
The London Eye is the UK’s most popular paid-for visitor attraction – and for good reason. This huge Ferris Wheel on the banks of the River Thames (get off at Waterloo Tube station) is both an iconic symbol of the modern city and offers 360° panoramas over the bridges, gleaming towers and domes that make up today’s London skyline. Opened in 2000, it stands 135m tall with slowly revolving glass walled and roofed capsules that take 30 minutes to rotate right around and back to river level. The view is even more dramatic at night – book for just before sunset for the best experience, the sky changing colour around you, but be sure to factor in substantial queues! Heading out for dinner after a spin on the wheel? Here are a few cheap alternatives to London’s most expensive restaurants. Adults £24.95, children 4-15 £19.95, under 4s free
This forbidding building on the banks of the River Thames dates back to 1066, following the Norman conquest of England, and has served as a prison (Mary Queens of Scots spent the last days before her execution here), as well as a fortress. You really need a whole day to explore the sprawling complex fully – and arriving early will help you get ahead of the crowds. Tickets allow access to the White Tower, a chance to gaze in awe at the famous Crown Jewels and a Yeoman Warder guided tour (every 30 minutes until 3.30pm in summer, 2.30pm in winter), delivered with plenty of colourful charm by Her Majesty’s official Tower guards. There are live historical re-enactments and children’s activity trails too, not to mention striking views from the battlements. Adults £24.50, children 5-11 £11, under 5s free
Windsor Castle, Windsor
Built to solidify Norman power on the outskirts of London, this lavish retreat overlooking the Thames is today the Berkshire residence of the British Royal Family, and is said to be Queen Elizabeth II’s favourite (she spends many a weekend here). Highlights to squeeze in include the State Apartments, with their Royal Collection of paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens and Canaletto, the gloriously Gothic St. George’s Chapel, the burial place of Henry VIII and Charles I, and Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, the largest, most beautiful and most famous dolls’ house in the world. Re-entry permits are issued, so you can pop out into the surrounding town for lunch. The delightful Windsor & Eton railway station is styled as a old shopping arcade, crammed with a huge choice of modern bars and restaurants from Pizza Express to La Tasca. Take a complete castle tour of the UK with more of our favourite ruins and fortresses around Britain. Adults £30, children 5-17 £11.70, under 5s free
One of the world’s greatest prehistoric sites – and arguably the most famous – Stonehenge offers the chance to literally walk in the footsteps of Neolithic man and woman, our ancestors from a mind boggling 5,500 years ago. The epic standing stone circle, or henge, is of course the main attraction, and since the busy A303 road has now been diverted, it’s a peaceful place to contemplate the history of Britain and the mysteries of how and why the stones came to rest here. The nearest airport is London’s Heathrow, and you can drive to the Wiltshire attraction in just over an hour from there. Adults £14.50, children 5-15 £8.70, under 5s free
An old mining site that’s been creatively transformed into a phenomenal natural attraction, with the construction of striking glass domes filled with flora and fauna from around the globe. The two largest spaces are themed around the Rainforest and the Mediterranean, with climatic conditions and vegetation to match – you’ll find yourself stripping off the layers if you come here in winter! Check the events calendar for what’s on, as there are regular family-friendly, educational events and festivals. Located near St. Austell with a direct bus from the railway station, there’s a discount on entry if you go with the eco-friendly theme and come by public transport. Cornwall’s one of our top block-busting film locations to see this year; check out the best of the rest here. Adults £25 or £22.50 online, children 5-16 £14 or £12.60 online, under 5s free
Big Pit: National Coal Museum, near Newport, Wales
Coal mining has traditionally been one of Britain’s biggest industries and this museum sheds light both on coal production, but also the important role coal mining has played within local communities, economies and cultures in South Wales. The mine opened in 1860 and burrowed on until 1980, only to re-open as a visitor attraction in 1983. The story is told in the Mining Galleries, Pithead Baths exhibitions and the old colliery buildings. Make sure to also take one of the underground tours, the museum’s highlight, which see visitors descend as the miners would once have done – and experience what pitch black is really like! Free entry
The Scottish capital’s landmark castle not only houses the Scottish Crown Jewels and the ‘Stone of Destiny’ which once seated great kings and queens, but is the city’s most recognisable sight, surveying the Old Town below from its lofty position on top of the volcanic Castle Rock. Step inside the rugged fortified walls, once home to Mary Queen of Scots and King Robert the Bruce, as well as Scottish regiments of the British Army who have been garrisoned here. Visit in time to hear the one o’clock gun fired, take a guided tour from the Portcullis Gate and don’t forget your camera for the endless sprawling views reaching out to the countryside in every direction. Only have a day in the city? See how many other attractions you can squeeze in with our 24 hours in Edinburgh video tour. Adults £16.50, children 5-15 £9.90, under 5s free
Dig deeper into Britain’s past – Roman Britain, that is – to find these most ancient of public swimming pools in the old spa city of Bath. One of the best-preserved Roman sites ever unearthed, get a real insight into what life was like, circa first century AD, and enjoy the extra bonus of an audio guide by comic travel writer Bill Bryson as you roam the colonnaded walkways and gaze into the Sacred Spring of Aqua Sulis (Bath’s Roman name). Don’t miss an elegant cream tea with silver service and live classical music at the upstairs Pump Room afterwards. Built on famously ‘healing’ waters that used to draw the who’s who of Regency society, Bath itself is well worth a few days of your time, if only to take a turn about the immaculate Royal Crescent and Georgian townhouses of Jane Austen’s day. Adults £15, Children (6 – 16) £9.50
Seldom has a museum become so popular and become such an icon of a city so quickly as the Titanic Belfast. Dedicated to what is surely the world’s most famous ship to ever sail, this striking modern structure is located on the land formerly occupied by the Harland and Wolff shipyard, the firm who so proudly built the ill-fated Transatlantic liner. The museum’s main appeal is in telling her story from numerous perspectives, but also look out for information on her White Star Line sister ships RMS Olympic and HMHS Britannic, as well as Belfast’s maritime history at a museum with a whopping 12,000sqm of floor space. Want to see more of Northern Ireland? Check out the beautiful route from Belfast to Derry/Londonderry, in our road trips around Ireland special. Adults £17, children 5-16 £7.25, under 5s free