UK tourist attractions

The most spectacular sights to visit in the UK, from world-class museums to epic landscapes

From dynamic London to misty Scottish mountains, Shakespeare to world-class museums, there’s plenty to get excited about in the UK.

  1. Hampton Court Palace
  2. The Gower Peninsula
  3. The British Museum
  4. The Lake District
  5. Giant’s Causeway
  6. Stonehenge
  7. Isle of Skye
  8. Shakespeare’s Globe
  9. Eden Project
  10. Edinburgh Festival

From railways to royalty, shipbuilding to Shakespeare, football to fish and chips, there are a lot of exciting things that originated in the UK. There are few holiday destinations with so much history. For the uninitiated, the UK covers England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, making UK tourist attractions among the best in the world.

1. Hampton Court Palace

Got a taste for blue blood? With its yew hedge maze and restored State Apartments, Henry VIII’s extravagant Thames-side Hampton Court Palace is the most revered of England’s royal abodes. Built in 1516, the gardens were laid out in the seventeenth century, modelled on those at Versailles. It’s worth taking a day to fully explore - Hampton Court is huge - but the most rewarding sections are: Henry VIII’s Apartments, William III’s Apartments, Henry VIII’s Kitchens and the Cumberland Art Gallery. Mad for ruffles? Book a guided tour - led by a period-costumed historian - to bring the place to life.

Best for: Historical house lovers

While you're there: The Cumberland Art Gallery displays a superb selection of works from the Royal Collection.

2. The Gower Peninsula

For a Welsh gift to UK sightseeing, make for the Gower Peninsula. This is a stunning stretch, fringed by glorious bays and dramatic cliffs, and dotted with prehistoric remains and castle ruins. Watersports are king here, and you can try your hand at surfing, sea kayaking and coasteering.

Best for: Blowing the cobwebs away

While you're there: Avoid high summer - July and August especially - which can be horribly congested.

3. The British Museum

The British Museum is one of the great museums of the world. With more than seventy thousand exhibits arranged over several miles of galleries, it holds a huge collection of antiquities, prints and drawings. Its assortment of Roman and Greek art is unrivalled, its Egyptian collection is the best outside Egypt and there are fabulous treasures from Anglo-Saxon and Roman Britain - and from China, Japan, India and Mesopotamia.

Best for: Culture vultures

While you're there: The museum is vast and immensely popular - keep your sanity by focusing on one or two sections.

4. The Lake District

England’s largest national park, the Lake District, is also one of its favourites - and ours too, by the way. With sixteen lakes, scores of mountains and strong literary connections, what’s not to love? The almost alpine landscape is characterised by glistening water, dramatic valleys and picturesque stone-built villages. Given a week you could easily see most of the famous settlements and lakes on a circuit taking in Windermere, Coniston, Keswick and Ullswater.

Best for: Rustic rambles and long views

While you're there: Away from the more obvious sights, the Lakes really pay dividends. Try the dramatic valleys of Langdale, Wasdale and Eskdale, or take a ride on the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway.

5. Giant’s Causeway

It would be criminal to make a list of UK attractions and not include the Giant’s Causeway. Northern Ireland’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Causeway is an astonishing assembly of more than 40,000 basalt columns, formed into packed hexagonal shapes by the cooling of molten lava. Its existence wasn’t even known about until the Bishop of Derry stumbled upon it in 1692!

Best for: An otherworldly landscape

While you're there: A shuttle bus runs from the visitor centre to the stones - a good option for those with accessibility needs or little ones in tow.

6. Stonehenge

An ancient - still unexplained - ring of monoliths, Stonehenge attracts sun-worshippers in their thousands over the summer solstice. No such structure arouses more controversy, as archaeologists argue over its purpose, and guardians struggle to manage its enormous visitor numbers.

Best for: Archaeologists and sun worshippers alike

While you're there: The best way to approach the site is on foot - the stones are a pleasant 30-minute walk from the visitor centre across fields (once part of a World War I airfield).

7. Isle of Skye

Scotland is full of dramatic and brooding landscapes - especially on its highlands and islands. The scenery on the Isle of Skye is a pinnacle of UK sightseeing, with its craggy shoreline, mighty sea cliffs and formidable mountain peaks. Anyone who thinks the UK is just historic houses, quaint towns and village greens, prepare to have your socks blown off.

Best for: Wild walking

While you're there: Don’t miss the harsh peaks of the Cuillin and the bizarre rock formations of the Trotternish peninsula.

8. Shakespeare’s Globe

It’s a genuine thrill to watch Shakespeare performed in this reconstruction of the famous Elizabethan theatre. Shakespeare’s Globe has the first new thatched roof in central London since the Great Fire of 1666 - and the first candlelit indoor theatre since the advent of electricity.

Best for: Honouring the Bard

While you're there: To learn more about Shakespeare, the Globe’s stylish exhibition is well worth a visit. Included in the ticket is an informative half-hour guided tour of the theatre.

9. Eden Project

Pride of Cornwall, the Eden Project showcases the diversity of the planet’s plant life in an imaginative way. Centre-stage are the ‘biomes’ - vast conservatories made up of hexagonal panels that look like giant golf balls. One holds groves of olive and citrus trees, cacti and other plants usually found in the warm, temperate zones of the Med, southern Africa and southwestern USA. The larger one contains plants from the tropics, with a waterfall and river gushing through.

Best for: Green-fingered visitors

While you're there: In summer, the grassy arena sees musical performances - its winter equivalent is a skating rink.

10. Edinburgh Festival

One of the world’s great arts festivals - in fact, several festivals - transforms the handsome old city of Edinburgh each year into a swirling cultural maelstrom. The principal events are the Edinburgh International Festival and the much larger Edinburgh Festival Fringe, with a diverse range of theatre, comedy, dance and music on show. The latter sees more than fifty thousand performances of more than three thousand shows, in almost three hundred venues, with performers - and audiences - hailing from every corner of the globe. Keep calm and carry on cheering. Looking for UK holiday packages? There’s plenty of fantastic options to choose from.

Best for: Arts lovers

While you're there: If you’re planning on attending the Fringe, book your hotel well in advance - beds fill up months in advance.

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