Next day, you’re deep in the countryside, high in the hills or enjoying a classic seaside resort. It’s called Great Britain for a reason, and these are just some of the destinations that prove it.
When it comes to must-see sights, there’s simply nowhere quite like London. This sprawling, stately city has been at the centre of British history for 2000 years, and it shows no sign of slowing down. With its world-class theatres, landmark museums, iconic architecture and nonstop nightlife, London is truly a city that never sleeps, and you could spend your whole trip here and never run out of things to see and do.
Lake District, England
William Wordsworth and his Romantic chums were the first to champion the charms of the Lake District, and it’s not hard to see what stirred them. With soaring mountains, whaleback fells, razor-edge valleys and – of course – glistening lakes (as well as England’s highest peak), this craggy corner of northwest England has some of the country’s finest vistas. Come for the comfortable lakeside hotels or the hardy hiking – whatever you choose, inspiration is sure to follow.
Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England
Mysterious and compelling, Stonehenge is Britain’s most iconic ancient site. People have been drawn to this myth-rich ring of bluestones for the last 5000 years, and we’re still not sure why it was built. You can gaze at the 50-tonne megaliths from behind the perimeter fence, or with enough planning you can book an early-morning or evening tour and walk around the inner ring. In the slanting sunlight, away from the crowds, it’s an ethereal place – an experience that certainly stays with you.
For centuries, the brilliant minds and august institutions of Oxford University have made Oxford famous across the globe. You’ll get a glimpse of this revered world as you stroll hushed courtyards and cobbled lanes roamed by cycling students and dusty academics. The beautiful buildings and archaic traditions have changed little over the years, leaving Oxford much as it was for alumni such as JRR Tolkien, Lewis Carroll and Oscar Wilde.
The rugged northwest corner of Wales is filled with rocky mountain peaks, glacier-hewn valleys, sinuous ridges, sparkling lakes and rivers, and charm-infused villages. The most popular part is Snowdon itself, where many people walk, climb or take the train to the 1085m summit. To the south and west are rarely trod areas perfect for off-the-beaten-track exploration. And just nearby sit the lovely LlÅ·n Peninsula and Isle of Anglesey, where the sun often shines, even if it’s raining on the mountains.
Edinburgh is a city of many moods – famous for its festivals and especially lively in the summer. It’s also worth visiting in the low season for sights such as the castle silhouetted against a blue spring sky with a yellow haze of daffodils misting the slopes below the esplanade. Or on a chilly December morning with the fog snagging the spires of the Old Town, the ancient streets and alleyways more mysterious than ever, rain on the cobblestones and a warm glow beckoning from the window of a pub.
At Britain’s far southwestern extremity, the former kingdom of Cornwall boasts endless miles of unbroken coastline, with rugged cliffs, sparkling bays, scenic fishing ports and white sandy beaches favoured by everyone from families to sun-bronzed surfers. Above the cliffs, the towers of former tin mines now stand like dramatic castles, while inland from the coast is a tranquil landscape of lush farmland and picturesque villages, crowned by the gigantic domes of the Eden Project.
The pretty English Midlands town of Stratford-upon-Avon is famed around the world as the birthplace of the nation’s best-known dramatist, William Shakespeare. Today, the town’s tight knot of Tudor streets form a living map of Shakespeare’s life and times, and many fans and would-be thespians come to enjoy a play at the theatre or visit the five historic houses inhabited by Shakespeare and his relatives, with a respectful detour to the old stone church where the Bard was laid to rest.
Britain boasts many great cities, but Bath stands out as the belle of the ball. Thanks to the natural hot water that bubbles to the surface, the Romans built a health resort here. The waters were rediscovered in the 18th century, and Bath became the place to see and be seen by British high society. Today, the stunning Georgian architecture of grand town houses and sweeping crescents (not to mention Roman remains, a beautiful cathedral and a cutting-edge 21st-century spa) means Bath demands your undivided attention.
Isle of Skye
Of all Scotland’s many islands, Skye is one of the most famous and best loved by visitors, thanks to a mix of history (the island’s link to Bonnie Prince Charlie is forever remembered by ‘The Skye Boat Song’), accessibility (the ferry from the mainland has been replaced by a bridge) and sheer beauty. With jagged mountains, velvet moors and towering sea cliffs, Skye’s scenery never fails to impress. And for those days when the mist comes in, there are plenty of castles and local museums to explore, and cosy pubs to enjoy.