20 Best Cities to Visit in the UK

12 Jul, 2023 | Blog Articles, Get the Edge

The UK is a diverse and culturally rich country, known for its architectural landmarks, cultural contributions and vibrant cities.  Whether you’re looking for a medieval adventure, new cuisines to try, or a stroll through the English countryside, the UK and its cities have lots to offer. 

With so much to experience, we’ve put together this helpful list of the 20 best cities to visit in the UK!

1. London

Recently voted Europe’s best city for culture, the UK capital is a must-see! Home to the royal family, London has plenty of historic attractions to visit, including the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace. For art lovers, check out the National Gallery, the Royal Academy of Arts or the Tate Modern for some of the most famous collections in the world. 

There’s also plenty to do beyond sightseeing, like shopping at Oxford Street and Covent Garden. London’s diversity is reflected in its food, so be sure to explore Chinatown or the amazing Borough Market. If you want to escape the hustle and bustle, step into one of London’s beautiful green spaces, like St James’ or Hyde Park. 

As England’s capital, London is easily accessible by public transport – and is only an hour away from Oxford – making it the ideal day trip if you’re staying in the city

2. Edinburgh

The capital of Scotland, Edinburgh is a real treat. Charming winding streets, and impressive medieval and Victorian architecture, give Edinburgh its distinctive character. 

Step into history, with landmarks like Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile, or trace the footsteps of writers like Robert Burns and Walter Scott. If you’re up for an adventure, climb Arthur’s Seat to enjoy fantastic views over the town and the coast. 

The city has a thriving arts scene, with the annual Edinburgh Fringe Festival bringing together artists and performers each summer in one of the world’s biggest showcases. The characters of Sherlock Holmes and Harry Potter were both created in Edinburgh, so let your imagination run wild and see what your visit inspires!

3. Oxford

Home to one of the oldest universities in the world, Oxford is a truly remarkable city. Visitors can immerse themselves in its rich history and culture, discovering iconic sights like the Radcliffe Camera, the Bodleian Old Library, Christ Church College and the Bridge of Sighs. 

You’ll be walking the same streets as some of Oxford’s greatest writers, like Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carrol and Philip Pullman! Keep an eye out for famous locations from film and TV too, like the Golden Compass, Morse and Harry Potter. 

There’s also lots to do other than sightseeing! Try punting on the River Cherwell, or a beautiful riverside walk along the Thames. Explore the treasures of the Ashmolean and Pitt Rivers Museums, or take a walk around the Botanical Gardens

There’s so much to do, and most of it is conveniently located within the city centre. The Oxford Scholastica Academy summer school students get to experience living and working in Oxford, with plenty of day trips, sports and activities to make the most of this unique city!

Please note, whilst the Oxford Scholastica Academy is based in the city of Oxford, we are separate from universities such as Oxford University (you can read more about our relationship here).

Oxford, one of the best cities to visit in the UK.

4. Cambridge

Oxford’s counterpart, the city of Cambridge has a truly unique beauty and incredible history. The picturesque colleges of Cambridge University are scattered throughout the city – and many are open to visitors! 

Small but perfectly formed, it’s easy to take in the best sights Cambridge has to offer, like King’s College Chapel, the Mathematical Bridge and the Cambridge Backs, in a day. The Fitzwilliam Museum houses a stunning collection, with plenty of free exhibitions and activities. However, the idyllic setting of the city is best appreciated by punting through it on the river. 

Perhaps you can finish off by trying the Cambridge speciality of a Chelsea Bun from Fitzbillies!

5. Bath

A favourite for visitors to the UK since Roman times, Bath is the perfect day trip. With its elegant Georgian architecture, famous Roman Baths and showstopping Bath Abbey, the city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage site. 

The stately buildings and quaint shopping streets give Bath an individuality that has been captured in novels, poetry and film for centuries. Famous spots like the Royal Crescent, Abbey Green and Beauford Square have appeared in all sorts of media, from Jane Austen to Bridgerton. The Jane Austen Centre pays homage to the literary heritage of the city, best enjoyed after a trip to Sally Lunn’s tea shop for a Bath Bun. 

6. York 

Nestled in a bend of the Great Ouse River, York is a medieval gem. The city and its magnificent York Minster cathedral have hosted some of the most important moments in British history. 

The rich heritage stretches from the Viking invasions to the present day, and there are plenty of ways to explore like walking along the well-preserved city walls, following in the footsteps of Roman guards and Civil War infantrymen. The Jorvik Viking Centre offers a taste of life in Viking York, while at the York Castle Museum you can walk through an exact replica of the Victorian streets. 

The National Railway Museum pays homage to British railway engineering, while the Barley Hall offers a glimpse of Tudor life. York is a foodie city, and there are lots of shops and outdoor markets to tickle your tastebuds, from the famous Yorkshire Pudding wrap to a traditional afternoon tea at Betty’s.

7. Manchester

Manchester is a cultural hub in the UK. Flourishing as a centre for global trade and industry during the Industrial Revolution, Manchester has always been at the forefront of technology, media and pop culture. You can explore this amazing heritage at the Manchester Museum or the Science and Industry Museum

The city is a home for musical and theatrical performance in the UK, from Manchester Arena to the Royal Exchange Theatre. It’s the birthplace of famous British bands like Oasis, the Smiths and Joy Division. Manchester’s vibrant, modern character is captured in the colourful streets of the Northern Quarter, where you can find the city’s liveliest restaurants, shops and entertainment venues.

8. Liverpool

Built on maritime heritage and world trade influence, Liverpool is another UNESCO World Heritage site steeped in history. The docklands that initially put Liverpool on the map have been refurbished into the Royal Albert Dock and waterfront, home to museums, galleries, restaurants and shops. 

You can find plenty of amazing galleries elsewhere, including the Tate Liverpool, Sudley House and Walker Art Gallery. Like Manchester, Liverpool is another musical gem in the North-West, most famously known as the birthplace of the Beatles. The Beatles Story Museum documents the swinging sixties and this vibrant city that produced one of the most successful bands of all time.

The Beatles statue in Liverpool, a famous UK city.

9. Birmingham

Birmingham is a dynamic and multicultural city, home to a diverse and vibrant community which prides itself on its cultural offerings, particularly its culinary scene. 

A major city of the Industrial Revolution, Birmingham’s foundries and factories now house museums, galleries, restaurants, shops like the Bullring shopping centre, and entertainment venues like Symphony Hall. The historic jewellery quarter is home to over a hundred retailers, diamond dealers and workshops – perfect for some window-shopping! 

Birmingham doesn’t just produce precious metal, it’s also the reputed home of heavy metal music, with bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and members of Led Zeppelin hailing from the city.

10. Glasgow

On the banks of the River Clyde in Scotland, Glasgow is known as the “World’s Friendliest City”. The historic second city of the British Empire due to its shipbuilding heritage, it’s also home to the world’s oldest football team. 

The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, the Riverside Museum, and the Glasgow Science Centre pay homage to this city’s unique place in world history. Glasgow’s incredible architecture features the amazing buildings of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, a leader in the Arts and Crafts movement, as well as medieval gems like Glasgow Cathedral, Provan Hall and Tolbooth Steeple. 

The city also has a reputation for excellent shopping and dining, so there’s something for everyone!

11. Winchester

Winchester is a city of myth and legend. Home to the earliest kings of England, it’s also believed to have been home to King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. 

Winchester Cathedral, Winchester College and the bustling high street, are all exceptional examples of early medieval architecture. 

The city hosts local art, music and theatre events, and the local shops and cafés represent local independent skill, passion and produce. Once you’ve finished with the winding streets, you’re just a stone’s throw away from the stunning landscape of the South Downs for a breath of fresh air.

12. Bristol 

With its colourful houses and stunning docks, Bristol is known as a hub for creative industries. With a strong industrial and shipping heritage, factories, shipyards and warehouses have been transformed into venues for the city’s buzzing music scene, galleries, and unique shops, restaurants and cafes. 

There are lots of unique attractions, like the SS Great Britain, where you can get a taste of the high life exploring a real Victorian cruise ship. Bristol is home to a vibrant street art culture, and its walls are canvases for the likes of Banksy! 

13. Cardiff

The capital city of Wales, Cardiff is of immense historical and cultural importance. Widely regarded as the city with the most castles in the world, there’s plenty to see! The most famous of these is Cardiff Castle, which has stood at the heart of the city for nearly 2,000 years. 

Formerly a thriving dockland, Cardiff Bay once exported Welsh coal around the world. It’s now a vibrant destination for entertainment and relaxation, with stunning views across the shore. Cardiff is also famous for its sporting history, and Cardiff Arms Park has hosted many major events in rugby, football, boxing and motorsports.

Cardiff, the capital city of Wales in the UK.

14. Belfast

The capital of Northern Ireland, and once a prominent battleground during the Troubles, Belfast has been transformed into a vibrant and welcoming city. Some buildings still show the scars of Belfast’s violent past, and are a testimony to the remarkable resilience of the city and its people. 

The city is famously the birthplace of the Titanic, a legacy you can explore in the dockland’s Titanic Quarter, which includes the Titanic Belfast museum. For art, culture and food, visit the Cathedral Quarter, a maze of cobblestones and warehouses that now host theatre, comedy and art shows, as well as food festivals and summer concerts. 

15. Newcastle

With its bustling city centre and vibrant nightlife, Newcastle has a reputation as the party capital of the UK – but if you’re not a night owl, Newcastle still has plenty to offer! 

Another important industrial city, there’s lots of attractions like the iconic Tyne Bridge or the medieval castle from which the city takes its name. 

The city’s lively character is reflected in its art. It’s home to the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, with lots of internationally acclaimed modern installations. 

16. Brighton

Set on the beautiful south coast, Brighton is a bohemian seaside city. It has an established reputation as an LGBTQ+ hub, hosting diverse events celebrating inclusivity all year round, culminating in the famous Brighton Pride Festival

The city is full of iconic landmarks, like Brighton Pier and the Brighton Pavilion, or you can visit North Laine for shops full of vintage treasures, quirky cafes and restaurants.

17. Inverness

Inverness is the cultural capital of the Scottish Highlands. In its stunning natural setting in the wild, Inverness has inspired artists and writers for hundreds of years. 

There are plenty of beautiful walks to take in the scenery of the nearby Cairngorms National Park. Perhaps hike across Culloden Battlefield or go monster-hunting at the mysterious Loch Ness

For literature-lovers, visit Inverness Castle, where Macbeth murders King Duncan in Shakespeare’s darkest tragedy, Macbeth.  

Inverness in Scotland, one of the UK's best cities.

18. Canterbury

Canterbury is one of the oldest and most important cities in the UK, full of medieval charm, quaint streets and a vibrant art scene. As the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the city has been of religious and royal importance since its earliest history. 

Attractions like St Augustine’s Abbey and the Canterbury Tales visitor attraction bring this long heritage to life, and Canterbury Cathedral remains an important site of power for the Church of England and political structures.

19. Leeds

Leeds is a thriving city, with a unique blend of history, culture and modernity. The Leeds City Museum, the Royal Armouries Museum and the Leeds Grand Theatre, are a testimony to the storied past of this amazing metropolis. 

It has become a popular shopping destination, with plenty to offer no matter your preference or budget. There are plenty of food and drink venues where you can enjoy a range of offerings while you catch your breath.

20. Norwich

The historic city of Norwich is a glimpse into the royal merchant towns of the Middle Ages. The amazing landmarks of Norwich Cathedral and Norwich Castle were built on the huge wealth of trade guilds which ran the city, and are still impressive today. 

If you want to know what life was really like in its heyday, take a walk down cobbled lanes past the colourful houses of Elm Hill – the most complete medieval street in the city! 

The reputation of medieval Norwich for patronage of the arts continues today, with plenty of cultural offerings including the Norwich Festival and the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts.

So, if you’re visiting the UK this summer, make sure to check out some of its best cities, and experience the history and charm that the UK has to offer!

alice

By Alice Spiers

Alice is an historian at St Anne’s College, Oxford, where she teaches undergraduate history (predominantly medieval history and historiographical theory). She is also a freelance writer and editor, and a research assistant at the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Studies.

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