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Did you know that there are 69 cities in the UK?
Bet you can’t name them all – don’t worry, I couldn’t either.
While most people gravitate towards the English capital of London on a city break in the UK, there are actually a whole variety of other fascinating and exciting cities to explore.
So whether you’re looking for history, culture, shopping, nightlife or even an urban beach break, these are 12 of the best UK cities everyone should visit at least once…
The best cities in the UK you need to visit
London isn’t only one of the best cities in the UK but it’s one of the best destinations on the entire planet. Okay, I am a little biased here, but London is an amazing city that people from all across the world come to England to visit.
Each London neighbourhood has its own unique identity and a variety of different things to see and do, from the iconic landmarks of central Westminster and the world-class theatre scene of Soho to the cool and quirky bars of Shoreditch and modern skyscrapers of the City of London.
Whether you’re looking for a jam-packed trip visiting world-famous landmarks and grand historic palaces or are simply after a relaxing break enjoying the capital’s unbeatable foodie scene and many gorgeous rooftop bars, there’s something in London to suit any style of traveller.
Top things to do in London:
- Visit iconic Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament
- Pay a visit to the Queen at Buckingham Palace
- See a show in the West End, one of the world’s most established theatre districts
- Explore London’s many exciting markets
- Take in the city from above from an epic free viewpoint
- Eat at one of the capital’s quirkiest and most unusual restaurants
- Hunt down London’s lesser-known hidden gems
Also known as the ‘City of Dreaming Spires’, the city of Oxford is consumed by the stunning medieval buildings of prestigious Oxford University, which dates all the way back to the 12th century.
Again, I may be slightly biased having once called the city home for 3 years, but there really are so many great things to do in Oxford, from visiting the cloistered colleges and fascinating museums of Oxford University to enjoying dinner and cocktails on the large rooftop terrace of newly renovated Westgate Shopping Center.
Plus, if you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’ll also be able to visit the filming locations for numerous scenes throughout the franchise which were shot in Oxford.
Top things to do in Oxford:
- Explore the grand buildings of the historic Oxford Colleges
- Marvel at the impressive Radcliffe Camera and Bodleian Library
- Visit 1000-year-old Oxford Castle and Prison
- Grab lunch in Oxford’s Covered Market
- Go punting on the river with the students (flat bottomed boat similar to a gondola)
- Visit the many shops, restaurants and bars of the Westgate Shopping Center
Cambridge is another of the most important university cities in England and one of my favourite places in the UK to visit on a sunny weekend.
Much like Oxford, the city is dominated by the classical architecture of its prestigious colleges and steeped in traditions that date back over hundreds of years.
Punting along the scenic River Camb is the best way to see Cambridge and its many impressive buildings, while jumping on a bike is another great way to explore the city’s beautiful parks and green spaces.
Top things to do in Cambridge:
- Go punting along the River Camb
- Visit the Great Court of Trinity College, the largest of Cambridge’s colleges
- Admire the famous gothic architecture of 16th-century Kings College Chapel
- Take a peaceful stroll around Cambridge University’s Botanic Garden
Referred by some as ‘London-by-the-Sea’, Brighton is a bustling city on England’s south coast, known for its lively beachfront promenade, historic pier, ancient narrow streets filled with quirky shops and bars and, of course, its prominent LGBTQ+ scene.
There’s something to do in Brighton for everyone, whether you’re looking for a day relaxing on the beach, hitting the amusements and arcades with the kids, shopping for trinkets at the many independent shops or enjoying the city’s vibrant nightlife.
Located just a short train journey from London, Brighton makes for a fun day trip or weekend break from the capital.
Top things to do in Brighton:
- Sit and enjoy the sun or go from a dip in the sea at pebbled Brighton beach
- Visit Grade II listed Brighton Palace Pier with its many fairground rides and amusements
- Hit the independent shops, tearooms, pubs and restaurants of The Lanes
- Marvel at the grand Royal Pavilion, the unusual Indo-Saracenic style seaside retreat of George IV
- Take in the views from the top of the futuristic British Airways i360 viewing platform
- Enjoy the city’s famous LGBTQ+ nightlife scene and numerous live music venues
Bath is one of the best cities in the UK to visit for its history, architecture and all-around charm.
No trip to Bath is complete without a visit to the city’s Roman Baths, one of the best-preserved Roman remains in the world. Constructed around 70AD as a bathing and socialising complex, the baths are now a fascinating museum where you can visit the well-preserved remains and learn about life in Roman Britain.
But there’s more to Bath than just its Roman heritage. Don’t miss the chance to see the impressive Georgian architecture of the Royal Crescent, walk in the footsteps of Jane Austin who once called the city home and climb Bath Abbey’s Tower for breathtaking views back over the city.
Then when you start to feel a little peckish, be sure to pay a visit to Sally Lunn’s, the oldest house in Bath dating back to 1482, which is now a tearoom serving the famous local delicacy known as the Sally Lunn Bunn – part bun, part bread, part cake.
Top things to do in Bath:
- See the ancient Roman Baths and their fascinating museum
- Head for a soak at Thermae Bath Spa, the UK’s only natural thermal spa
- Visit the Royal Crescent and Circus, used as the backdrop in many famous films and TV shows
- Climb Bath Abbey’s Tower for amazing views over the city
- Visit the Jane Austen Centre to see how the city of Bath impacted Jane Austen’s life and writing
- Grab a freshly-baked Sally Lunn Bunn from Sally Lunn’s tearoom
Industrial textile hub turned creative and entertainment powerhouse, Manchester is one of the largest and most exciting cities to visit in the north of England.
Manchester is perhaps most famous for its football, so don’t miss the opportunity to tour the grounds of Manchester United and Manchester City football clubs and discover the sport’s history at the National Football Museum.
Manchester has also been the birthplace of many of the UK’s most famous bands, including Oasis, The Smiths, The Stone Roses, the Verve and Take That. And the city’s music scene is very much still alive today, with a whole plethora of live music venues such as Bridgewater Hall, The Deaf Institute, Band on the Wall and more.
Known as the ‘Gateway to the North’, Manchester makes a great starting-off point for exploring more of northern England.
Top things to do in Manchester:
- Admire the city’s impressive neo-Gothic town hall
- Visit the Science and Industry Museum, located on the site of the world’s first railway station
- Take a tour of Ethiad or Old Trafford football stadiums
- Explore Chetham’s Library, the oldest free public library in the English-speaking world
- See where the Suffragettes started out at No 62 Nelson Street, now the Pankhurst Centre.
- Hit the slopes at the Chill Factor, Britain’s longest and widest indoor ski slope
- Go clubbing at the world-famous Warehouse Project
A city shaped by the industrial revolution, Liverpool is an important cultural hub within the UK, with its historic docks, numerous museums and galleries, and world-famous music scene.
Walk in the footsteps of some of Britain’s most iconic bands, including The Beatles who met and formed in their hometown of Liverpool. You can visit John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s childhood homes, The Cavern Club where the band played many of their early gigs and The Beatles Story exhibition which features memorabilia from the band’s career and replicas of the places they played their most important gigs.
Liverpool is also home to two of the UK’s largest football clubs – Liverpool FC and Everton FC – so be sure to take a tour of Anfield and Goodison stadiums and decide if you’re blue or red.
Top things to do in Liverpool:
- Visit Liverpool’s historic Albert Dock
- Learn about the city’s industrial history at the Merseyside Maritime Museum
- Explore Liverpool’s Chinatown, home to Europe’s oldest Chinese community
- See the city from above at the viewing platform at Radio City Tower
- Hit the shops at modern shopping utopia Liverpool One
Lincoln is one of the lesser-known cities in the UK but certainly somewhere that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Located in the English East Midlands, Lincoln is a delightful small city rich in history and culture, with countless beautifully preserved historic buildings dating all the way back to Roman times.
There are plenty of things to do in Lincoln, from visiting the impressive medieval Cathedral, which was once the tallest building in the world, and fascinating Lincoln Castle, home to one of only four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, to enjoying the city’s many quaint cafes, cosy pubs and independent shops.
Lincoln is a quintessentially English city which would make a great addition to any visit to the UK.
Top things to do in Lincoln:
- Visit 1,000 year old Lincoln Castle, constructed by William the Conqueror
- Step inside impressive medieval Lincoln Cathedral
- Go shopping on Steep Hill, one of Britain’s steepest streets
- Stop for a coffee on High Bridge, the oldest bridge in the UK which still has buildings on it
- Grab dinner at Brayford Waterfront
Another of the lesser-known gems of northern England, Leeds is an exciting university city and the financial and cultural hub of the beautiful surrounding region of Yorkshire.
Leeds provides a stark contrast between old and new Britain, with its mix of impressive Victorian architecture, including the Grade I listed Corn Exchange, and ultra-modern buildings, such as the glass-roofed Trinity Shopping Centre.
Whether you’re looking for history, nature, shopping or a fun night out with the city’s lively student population, there’s plenty to do in bustling Leeds for everyone.
Top things to do in Leeds:
- Admire Britain’s national collection of arms and armor at the Royal Armouries Museum
- Explore the historic Victorian shopping arcades of the Briggate area
- See a performance at Leeds City Varieties, the oldest music hall in the UK
- Take a stroll around Roundhay Park, one of the biggest and most popular city parks in Europe
- Peruse the stalls at Leeds Kirkgate Market
Smaller than nearby Leeds but with more attractions per square mile than any other UK city, you’ll be spoilt with choice with things to do on a trip to charming York.
If you’re a history lover, you’ll be able to delve deep into York’s long and fascinating past, from Roman ruins and Viking settlements to some of the most striking medieval architecture in all of the UK. Plus, kids and adults alike will love the immersive galleries of the York Castle Museum, such as the live recreation of a Victorian street which really brings the city’s history alive.
And don’t forget to take a walk down the Shambles, one of the best-preserved medieval shopping streets in Europe which Harry Potter fans will recognise straight away as being the inspiration behind Diagon Alley. There are even four Harry Potter themed shops on the street to prove it.
Top things to do in York:
- Explore the magnificent York Minster, one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in Northern Europe
- Climb up to Clifford’s Tower for stunning panoramic views over Old York
- Visit the JORVIK Viking Centre and learn about the city’s fascinating Viking legacy
- Enjoy the immersive galleries of the York Castle Museum
- Wander down the Shambles, one of the best-preserved medieval shopping streets in Europe
Geek out on trains at the impressive National Railway Museum
The stunning city of Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and a must-visit destination in the UK.
It’s pretty much impossible to miss imposing Edinburgh Castle, which sits atop a hill dominating the city skyline and surrounded by the grand buildings and cobbled alleyways of the city’s medieval old town.
Walk to the top of Arthurs Seat for amazing views back over the city or stay on ground level and hit the many museums and attractions, from the fun-for-kids-and-adults Camera Obscura and World of Illusions to the adults-only Scotch Whiskey Experience.
Don’t forget to check what events are on too. During the winter you’ll find Edinburgh come alive with celebrations for St Andrew’s Day, Hogmanay and Burns Night, while during the entire month of August the city is home to the world-famous Fringe Festival.
Top things to do in Edinburgh:
- See striking Edinburgh Castle, one of the oldest fortified castles in Europe
- Walk up Arthur’s Seat for amazing views back over the city
- Wander down the Royal Mile which runs through the heart of Edinburgh’s medieval Old Town
- Hit the shops on Princes Street
- Visit The Scotch Whiskey Experience, featuring the world’s largest collection of Scotch Whiskies
- Grab a coffee at the Elephant House where JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter books
Glasgow may seem a little rough around the edges but this Scottish city is actually one of the most exciting and underrated cities in the UK and a destination that’s definitely worth a visit.
Despite being Scotland’s second city, Glasgow is bigger than the country’s capital of Edinburgh and is just as jam-packed with fantastic things to see and do, from medieval Glasgow Cathedral to the fascinating Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum sat within the lush greenery of Kelvingrove Park.
Plus, with its abundance of colourful street art and the famous traffic cone which sits atop the Duke of Wellington Statue at Royal Exchange Square, it’s easy to see that Glasgow is a city that doesn’t take itself too seriously. So once you’re done taking in the museums and landmarks, grab a pint of Tennent’s Lager and make the most of Glasgow’s lively and vibrant music and clubbing scene.
Top things to do in Glasgow:
- Follow Glasgow’s colourful city centre mural trail to discover the city’s best street art
- Visit Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum set inside a striking Spanish baroque style building
- Take a boozy tour of the Tennent’s Brewery
- Admire medieval Glasgow Cathedral and the world-famous Necropolis cemetery which sits beside it
- Explore the historic buildings and public museums of the University of Glasgow
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