The United Kingdom is a destination on many a wish list. This obsession is warranted due to its rich history, its multitude of cultures and possibly our intrigue arising from the media’s coverage of the celebrated English Royal Family. It would be prudent to realise that it would be bordering on impossible to visit all the nooks and crannies of the UK. It, therefore, seems apt to make a list of the must-visit places in the UK.
No person can make a legitimate claim to have visited the UK without a trip to the capital of England, London. The city bustles and brims with life. The locals from a diverse range of robust cultures and communities can be seen intermingling in everyday life, adding a much-needed myriad of colors to an otherwise gloomy city. The London Underground zooms everywhere through its complex metro system. The famed red buses fill the bountiful streets of London, each with its unique characteristics. Why is London special? Simply because at the turn of every street, you are exposed to a whole different world from the last, brimming with its spirited personality. Let’s take a look, shall we?
In a place overflowing with cultures from all over the world, you can expect to experience different authentic food served in one city. The Asian world of cuisine in the UK culminates in Chinatown. Chinatown has a vibrant community of restaurants and an ardent following of the various restaurants found within. As you walk the streets of Chinatown lined with charming oriental decorations, you will be subsequently spoiled for choice as to what to eat. The food goodness extends to Japanese food, acclaimed Hong Kong duck rice, appetizing dim sum, delectable pho. The list goes on and on. I would say take your pick, but from personal experience, I was never able to do that, with my head constantly turned by the bountiful options at my disposal.
Oxford Street offers unlimited shopping. Avid shoppers line the street in search of their next purchase. An estimated half a million visitors occupy the streets to visit 300 over stores (pre-pandemic that is). It truly is a shopping street for all. Stores with varying price points can be found there: Primark, Gap, Nike to the famed British departmental stores, Selfridges,
Debenhams, House of Fraser, John Lewis and Marks and Spencer. Need a break from the shopping? Oxford Street is also home to many restaurants, who would be more than happy to welcome you in for some food and drinks.
A visit to Abbey Road is mandatory if you’re a fan of the Beatles. Their album “Abbey Road” was a tribute to this very road as was their iconic album cover. In the album cover, the Beatles are pictured crossing Abbey Road with their classic effortless suave. Give the crossing a twirl and take some memorable photos why don’t you?
As you ascend from the underground of Piccadilly Circus station, you are met with bright, almost blaring lights from the huge advertisement boards emblazoned on one of the many buildings on the street. Street performers and buskers fill the street, inviting you to participate and enjoy their respective performances (and their tips). Lines form outside the theatre house nearby while tourists and locals alike take a rest (and pictures) at the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain. Welcome to Piccadilly Circus. The circus that never sleeps.
Carnaby Street in London is a personal favorite of mine. The street is densely packed with overzealous individuals, eager to enter their favorite stores. Restaurants hang by the side of the street, keen to offer their hospitality to shoppers needing a break with refreshments. Renowned shops open their doors to shoppers in the hope that they open their wallets in return. A tip? Pay a visit during Christmas. The Christmas decorations are merrily put on full display with their dazzling and colorful lights. People are in a merry mood and as you snuggle in your winter clothing against the cold, the kindness of the people all around you, fated to meet on this wonderful street and their love for the holidays will warm your bones.
A trip to Carnaby Street would be wasted without a visit to Liberty. Liberty is a luxury departmental store that can be found at the end of the street. The unique architecture of the building, three-story high, towers over the street. They offer an enviable assortment of items – sunglasses, shoes, bags, clothes, perfumes. The list is endless and has something for everyone. Even if you don’t particularly enjoy shopping, an entry into the famed building will also fascinate you due to its impressive design and stature.
Do you remember Regent Street? The most coveted property on the Monopoly board. Landing there and being able to buy the property meant genuine happiness and little death stares from others playing the game. In real life, it’s more of the same. The beautifully grand winding street is the pride of London, with its imposing buildings lined perfectly together seemingly stretching for miles, creating an illusion of walking into a meticulously designed domino of shopping.
Regent Street can be thought of as a more prestigious lifestyle destination, with luxury brands and shops adorning this celebrated street. Shops like Penhaligons, Burberry and the adored English toy store, Hamley call Regent Street their home. It’s a ‘classier’ Oxford Street objectively if you may, but of course beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, so make your way to the different streets and make your own choice!
A stone’s throw away from London is the famous Stonehenge. Okay perhaps not exactly nearby, but relatively so, with an hour’s drive or two from London sure to get you there. A visit to Stonehenge could be considered a detachment from your visit to London. For one thing, it is much more removed from civilization as we know it, there is a certain softness to your time there without the feeling of being rushed, being able to stroll and have a greater reflection.
Irrespective of whichever means of transport you take to arrive at Stonehenge, you will initially arrive at the visitor centre. The inexplicable Stonehenge itself is roughly a mile away, possibly by design, as it builds up an unshakeable excitement and anticipation in you. From the visitor centre, you could either choose to take the shuttle bus from the reception after buying your tickets and taking a gander at the gift shop to Stonehenge. Or, you could take an extremely fulfilling, albeit longer walk, with the breezy weather comforting you on your way. As you make your way to the Stonehenge, you will be greeted by various livestock like cows and sheep. There is no rule in place that requires you to make your way directly to Stonehenge, you will be free to explore the very generous open space in the compound. All very exciting indeed as you take in the history of Stonehenge. Especially for history buffs, this is a must-visit for you.
The town of Bath is stylistically designed to the tune of Roman civilization. It was built by the Roman empire as a complex for bathing and socializing. A visit to Bath would enable you to experience life as a Roman, walking along with the splendid Roman-styled architecture and taking a bath, albeit a very modern version of it. Imagine this. In the entire world, there are only two Roman baths remaining that see hot mineral water flowing into them. You see where I’m going with this, with one of the two found in Bath, UK. A visit to the Roman Baths is a must when visiting Bath, where you can immerse yourself in imagining how ancient civilization used to consider recreational activities as well as their socializing hotspot.
While it is certainly unfortunate that the Roman Baths are strictly for looking and not bathing, you can pay a visit to the Thermae Bath Spa and treat yourself to an awesome experience. Besides being able to submerge yourself in the mineral-rich water the Romans enjoyed all those years ago, they also offer relaxing spas as well as a rooftop spa that provides an all-encompassing view of the regal city.
After you’ve enjoyed a relaxing bath, you could take a stroll along the Pulteney bridge and witness the accompanying picturesque view or perhaps take a trip to Bath Abbey, a historic majestic Parish Church, perfect for either a deep dive into history or those coveted Instagram shots. Bath is unlike any town in the UK and that’s why it deservedly finds itself a spot on the must-visit places in the UK.
University Town of Cambridge and Oxford
The dream of entering Cambridge and Oxford university may have been shattered previously but that does not mean that you are barred from visiting their campuses and creating an engaging illusion in your mind of studying at one of the two highly accredited universities. The University of Cambridge and Oxford can be found in their respective counties, Cambridge and Oxford. The beauty in both universities is that they don’t have a campus per se, but, the entire campus is spread out over their respective cities, creating an immersive and holistic experience.
A visit to either Cambridge and Oxford would allow you to walk amongst the brightest minds in the country as they make their way to their classes, pay a visit to the local eateries or even when they are grabbing a drink. The beauty of it? You never know exactly what they are doing or where they are going due to the nature in which the university campus is spread across the town. Depending on the rule they have implemented at the time, you could make your way into the colleges, especially true if you had a current student bringing you around. While both campuses are beautiful in their way, my personal favorite memory was a trip to Trinity College in Cambridge. I had a friend studying there and he brought me along those hallowed halls and fields. It was a sight to behold. The vast fields spread for what seemingly felt like miles, the historic buildings that had nurtured so many great minds for society and the various bridges, bridging the entire campus from the graceful bodies of water that surrounded it. School? It felt more like paradise to me.
Bristol is another unique place that you have to visit in the UK. It sits next to the River Avon and thus has and continues to have a rich maritime culture. More recently, however, Bristol has come to be known as a center rich in arts and sciences. A visit to Bristol is necessary due to its almost genius-like urban planning. A view from the evergreen Clifton Suspension Bridge (a tourist attraction in and of itself) showcases how Bristol artfully and almost dangerously, combines its town precariously next to the river.
Its harbour makes for great viewing to understand better Bristol’s history as a maritime powerhouse in the UK. The Bristol Museum & Art Gallery also proudly exhibits fine art, with the interior of the building being a work of art itself. Bristol’s nightlife is also nothing to be scoffed at, where you can enjoy a great time at any of the multitudes of night clubs or bars present in the vibrant city center.
Ah, sweet little Durham. Probably not a name you would’ve expected to see on a list of places to visit in the UK. Perhaps I am partial, having spent my beloved university days here cramming for exams and making life long bonds with close friends. Scratch that. Of course, I am biased to Durham and I am here to passionately argue my case for why Durham is one of the places you have to visit in the UK.
The first thing to mention that will stoke your interest is a name familiar to every soul on the planet: Harry Potter. Yeah, that little franchise. Are you familiar with the iconic set in which Harry, Ron and Hermione traverse the cloisters to attend classes while students of Hogwarts mingle around? Or, maybe you remember the snowy quadrangle scene where Harry releases Hedwig into the wild. Those scenes were filmed in one of Durham’s famous monuments, Durham Castle. Apart from housing Durham’s rich history, a trip to Durham Castle will allow you to walk and ponder, personally experiencing the nostalgia of seeing those hallowed cloisters up close. Reminisce about the good old days when you were free of worries, with the only worry stemming from wondering whether Harry would triumph in his battles.
Not a Harry Potter fanatic? Let’s agree to disagree then. Not to worry, Durham has far more to offer. Durham is home to the regal Durham Cathedral, a UNESCO world heritage site. For history buffs, Durham Cathedral was home to the Bishop of Durham, who came to be known as a Prince-Bishop, owing to the importance of Durham as the connecting city between England and Scotland. Durham has a special place in England’s history due to its autonomy and power, where the Prince-Bishop even had the right to raise his own army!
Durham also finds itself home to a series of stony bridges in Kingsgate Footbridge, Elvet bridge and Framwellgate bridge being my personal favorites. Day or night, whenever I found myself stressed out from the perils of studying law (I’ve warned you, prospective law students), a peaceful walk by myself across these bridges were guaranteed to clear my mind and the incessant worrying. Further, through clearing the bridge, I arrived at the small but zestful city centre where the locals cheerfully gathered. If I felt peckish, I dropped by Durham’s famous Bells fish and chips. If I was famished, I paid a visit to Tangos, a delightful little burger joint, conveniently located on Elvet bridge. I’m not exaggerating when I say people from all over the country travel to Durham to have a taste of their mouth-watering burgers.
All in all, while my fond affection for Durham is part of the reason why Durham finds itself on this list, trust me when I say Durham is a relatively unknown gem in the UK. If you have the chance, definitely do pay a visit.
Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and one of the most captivating cities in the UK. Edinburgh sits grandly atop the wide Firth of Forth, a Fjord, surrounded by stone walls.
Do you know how people are always eager to get the best deals or the best bang for their buck? Edinburgh is your solution then, with people having described their visit as seemingly visiting two entirely distinct and separate cities. This distinction arises due to Edinburgh being subtly divided into New Town’s Georgian-styled architecture and the historic Old Town’s characteristically narrow and winding lanes with their little hidden passages. Apart from the delight of seemingly visiting two places for the price of one, Edinburgh is full of monuments and sights to behold.
Edinburgh Castle is a historic fortress that has long protected Edinburgh from invaders. Due to its strategic high location, it was immediately identified as a potential stronghold by the Scots. The beauty of Edinburgh Castle arises due to its almost defiant position on top of the mass of nature, daring invaders in the past to siege it and more currently, daring tourists not to visit.
The Royal Mile is right at the heart and center of Edinburgh’s Old Town. It has a rich and long history, being called the Royal Mile and found in the Old Town due to the tradition of Kings and Queens traveling across this historic and processional street. Interestingly true to its name, the Royal Mile is approximately 1.6 km, a mile indeed. What is now called the Royal Mile is a succession of streets that connects Edinburgh Castle with the Palace of Holyroodhouse, effectively a connection between the West and the East.
Things to do at the Royal Mile include the Scotch Whisky Experience, a must-see for Whisky enthusiasts considering the Scots’ pride and reputation in making unparalleled whiskeys. The Royal Mile Market is another gem begging to be uncovered (literally), with its artisan trinkets and handmade offerings by the locals. The Real Mary King’s close is a hauntingly captivating underground, known as closes, right beneath the Old Town and Royal Mile. Make your way down to the closes if you’re able to sleep at night after experiencing and hearing spooky stories dating back to the 17th century.
Arthur’s Seat is the best seat in the house. Arthur’s Seat can be described as a jagged hill, jutting out towards Edinburgh. It’s a large grass-covered hill that is the remains of a volcano that went extinct 350 million years ago. While it may be a slightly arduous journey to the top, the view of Edinburgh from the pinnacle will more than make up for it. Finding yourself on Arthur’s Seat will afford you the view of a lifetime, being able to take in Edinburgh in all its glory. You can find it in Holyrood Park, at the end of the Royal mile.
Inverness is a Scottish county and recognized center of the majestic Scottish Highlands. For all its charm, a visit to Inverness can also be tactical, considering its geographical position allowing you to visit all the highlands area of Scotland. Three areas to mention would be the Inverness Castle, Inverness Cathedral and the Inverness Botanic Gardens. The former two are rich in history for you history buffs and the latter offers a moment’s reprieve from the traveling you will be doing through a captivating through the well-kept gardens.
You could be forgiven for not considering Inverness, a county in the Scottish highlands as having an exciting nightlife. True to its rich tradition, local music can be heard from the robust pub scene where you can have a great time mingling with the friendly and welcoming locals. Perhaps when asked to imagine the lights of the nightlife, your mind immediately thinks of the bright colorful lights that dominate the dance floor, but in Inverness, the lights refer to something entirely different – the aurora borealis, or the Northern lights. Should you be lucky enough to pay a visit to Inverness in the winter season, you might be lucky enough to see this incredible and unique phenomenon take place. The sight is truly nothing less than breath-taking. Imagine having a drink in hand under the grandiose Northern lights. Just wow.
The beauty and majesty of Loch Ness cannot be overstated. The boundless body of water mirrors the bright blue sky, filled with innumerable soft white clouds, creating an image of pure transcendence for those lucky enough to witness it in the flesh. Besides, who could forget the Loch Ness Monster? The majority of tourists who visit Loch Ness do so because of the mystical tale of the Loch Ness monster. I won’t deny it, I was one such tourist. The intrigue is palpable. After all, between the tales of Nessie, Bigfoot and the Yeti, are the closest humans have come to the mystical realm. Who’s to say you won’t be the first one to get a glimpse of the legend that is Nessie? However, while many come for Nessie, countless stay for the Loch.
The loch extends for miles and the serenity that envelops you when you find yourself seated and gazing at the loch is incomparable with you losing yourself in the process. Being the main attraction in the area, the divine lake rightfully gets all the attention. However, beyond the (very hopeful) sighting of the Loch Ness monster and the Loch itself, is a quaint little town – Fort Augustus, home to only roughly 600 people. The locals used to the comings and goings of tourists are warm and welcoming, happy to mingle and share stories with you. Time spent here will not be forgotten, as you tour the loch in all its glory, share a laugh with the locals and the opportunity to witness the unique dam system located right in the middle of the town.
You can visit Loch Ness during virtually any season. In the summer, the lush green foliage contrasts amazingly with the piercing blue skies and calm reflecting water, perfect for a cosy picnic with loved ones. In the autumn, the green mountains in the background turn the shade of a graceful amber and you can take in nature’s scenic masterpiece while enjoying the accompanying breezy weather. In the winter, the cold white landscape combines with the Loch to produce a hauntingly beautiful view, befitting of a spot on your Instagram which you can be sure will make all your followers jealous.
And this concludes the list of must-visit places in the UK. I genuinely hope that everybody is granted an opportunity to visit the UK and enjoy their time there, as I did.