There are actually quite a lot of World Heritage sites in the UK and when I began researching this article I was really surprised at what was on the list but also surprised at what wasn’t on there.
I guess we have so many historic sites in the UK that you have to draw the line somewhere!
There are also so many utterly amazing places to see in the UK that sometimes it can be hard to decide where to go. Many people use the World Heritage list as a starting point for what to visit and it’s a really good idea.
World Heritage sites in the uk – where to start?
If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed when planning a UK trip or just looking to tick off some sites, then this list of the UNESCO sites in the UK should help to give you some ideas and inspiration. And if your interests include heritage, history and gorgeous scenery you’re in for a treat!
What I quite like about this list is that although it does contain some really obvious sites like Stonehenge, there are some real hidden gems here too that not many people venture to visit.
I’ve split this post into 4 different sections focusing on some of the different areas the UNESCO sites in the UK are located. Feel free to jump to the section you’re interested in:
- World Heritage sites in England
- World Heritage sites in Scotland
- World Heritage sites in Wales
- World Heritage sites in Northern Ireland
UNESCO World Heritage sites in England
Starting with England which is where you’ll find the biggest proportion of the UK’s UNESCO World Heritage sites. If you can only visit London then don’t worry – we’ve got you covered there too as the first 4 UNESCO UK sites are in the capital!
South East England, including London
1.Maritime Greenwich – City of London
Greenwich is one of my favourite spots in London and one that I return to again and again because it has such a nice vibe yet is still easy to get to.
The area has so much to offer from the amazing architecture of the Royal Palace and area around it to the Royal Observatory and home to the meridian line (where time is measured from!).
There’s also the Cutty Sark – an old tea clipper boat which was used to bring tea from China – which is a must see, among many other things too.
Getting around London is so accessible for tourists and Greenwich is really easy to get to from the centre of London – you can get the tube or the DLR to the area and you can also go by the water buses or thames cruise boats.
2. Tower of London – Central London
The Tower of London is an iconic Royal site in the capital city and has been since 1066 when it was built by the new King, William the Conqueror, after he successfully invaded and conquered England. He built the White Tower, the square keep you can see in the image, as a symbol of his power over the people.
Of course the Tower has a long history and many stories to tell from being the home of the Kings in medieval times to when it was a prison and held some pretty famous people. A visit here includes a tour by the Yeomans (also known as Beefeaters) where you can hear all about the history.
I’ve only ever been to the outside of the Tower but it’s been on my list for so long to actually go inside – fingers crossed this coming January I’ll be able to tick off the inside!
3. Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey and Saint Margaret’s Church – Central London
When anyone even thinks about a trip to London I can guarantee that the image in their mind is of Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster – it is probably imagined even more than Buckingham Palace!
It sits alongside the River Thames and is more commonly known as the Houses of Parliament since it’s where the government of the UK sits. The building as you see it today dates from 1840 as the original building was destroyed by a fire a few years previously.
Alongside it is the Westminster Abbey which has been the site of coronations, royal weddings and many famous people are buried there too. And outside there are loads of statues of famous people who made a difference, including Winston Churchill who used London in WW2 as his base!
You can visit the Houses of Parliament even though it’s a working parliament and the Abbey is easy to visit too when there aren’t services on.
Alternatively, you can get some wonderful views just from Westminster Bridge, although it can get really busy along there. Better still, book a hotel with a Big Ben view and enjoy it at your leisure!
4. Royal Botanic Garden’s Kew – Richmond, Greater London
Still in the Greater London area is the Royal Botanical Gardens of Kew – a huge site with enormous importance to the world of botany.
It dates back to the mid 18th century, has some amazing landscaped gardens to see as well as a royal palace too.
If you want a day away from the hustle and bustle of the city of London then a trip to Kew Gardens is a must. It’s easily reached by tube, rail or bus and has some limited parking if you come by car.
5. Canterbury Cathedral, St Augustine’s Abbey and St Martin’s Church – Canterbury, Kent
Heading out of London now and we have Canterbury cathedral which is around 60 miles from the capital city and in the far South East of England. It’s not far from the iconic white cliffs of Dover and often many tours from London to Dover will incorporate a visit.
The cathedral is the the head of the church of England and so incredibly important in that sense. It’s also a stunning example of a cathedral with Romanesque and Perpendicular gothic style.
As well as the Cathedral, Canterbury has some other important religious sites just next to it which are also part of the UNESCO status.
St Augustine’s Abbey is a ruined abbey dating from the 6th century and which was built as a place to bury the Anglo-Saxon kings of Kent. Also nearby is St Martin’s church which also dates to the 6th century and is the oldest church in English speaking countries that is still in use.
6. Blenheim Palace – Woodstock, Oxfordshire
A truly stunning stately home and the only one in the country that has the title of Palace and isn’t actually for Royals is Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire.
It’s about 10 miles north of Oxford and about 60 miles north west of London – it would be an excellent place to visit if you’re visiting the University city of Oxford or on your way to the Cotswolds.
Built in the early 1700s, the palace is immense and you could easily spend so much time there not only on a tour of the interior rooms but also the amazingly landscaped gardens which are gorgeous and designed by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. It’s also known for being the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill.
South West England
7. Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape
Cornwall and Devon are stunning counties in the south west of England – they are popular places for UK holidaymakers but less so for international visitors as it can be quite a journey from the more touristy areas.
If you do venture this far west you’ll be greeted with amazing seaside resorts, stunning coastal paths and history in spades. The mining around here is mostly tin and copper and you can see many of the old buildings that housed the steam equipment used at the time – mostly from 1700s to the early 1900s.
There are many different individual areas you can look around – for more information about the sites see here.
8. Dorset and East Devon coast
The coastline of Dorset and East Devon is sometimes referred to as the Jurassic coast and if you like your fossils and fossil hunting then be sure to add this place to your list.
Lyme Regis is a town that has a lot going on with guided fossil walks and we’ve also enjoyed visiting Charmouth which is a smaller village in the past which has a nice heritage centre to learn about what you might find.
Mary Anning is a famous name around these parts. As a girl in Victorian times she spent her days with her father collecting and cleaning up fossils to sell and one day after she discovered a huge dinosaur skeleton. It was at a time when this was a big deal – at the time Creationism was believed to be how the world came to be so finding fossil skeletons from creatures way before this time caused quite a stir and projected her in to the limelight.
You can learn more about Mary Anning in Lyme Regis at the museum which was built on the site of her home.
9. City of Bath, Somerset
Bath is a beautiful city in the west of England that has history going back to the Roman times when they built thermal baths on the site. Since then it’s been an important place throughout history and much of it’s beauty comes from the Georgian times when many of the gorgeous buildings were built.
If you’re a fan of Jane Austen then you’ll also love Bath as it’s where she lived for a period of her life and where she got some inspiration for some of her novels and it’s often used as a filming location for period show. The Netflix show Bridgerton used many Bath locations!
Going back to the Romans, one of the most famous and popular places to visit there are the Roman Baths from which the city got it’s name. They are incredibly well preserved ruins which date back to 70 AD and still to this day have hot water coming through them! They are definitely one place not to miss.
Bath is actually really easy to get to from London so it’s a really popular place to visit. The location in the South West makes it a good base for a few days too, especially for day trips nearby. Getting to Stonehenge from Bath is really easy, as is some of the Cotswolds and the city of Bristol.
10. Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated sites – Wiltshire
Visiting Stonehenge is top of so many people’s bucket lists when visiting England. It’s one of my favourite sites so I do tend to go on about it a lot – I think it gets a lot of bad press because it is so famous and can be busy when you’re there.
It is just one part of the World Heritage site in Wiltshire and it also includes a large stone circle in Avebury (which I also love as you can actually go up to the stones and touch them) and many of the smaller sites that encircle the stones and are part of the bigger picture.
It’s really a must for anyone interested in English ancient sites, their history and how humans constructed these monuments – there are some great museums and visitor centres with lots of information as well as the sites themselves.
11. Ironbridge Gorge – Near Telford, Shropshire
Based in the western edge of midlands of England and not too far from the Welsh border is the village of Ironbridge which is named after the impressive bridge which spans the gorge it was built on.
The bridge was actually the first bridge ever made of cast iron and as such it was a celebrated piece of engineering – this was in the late 1700s, right in the midst of the Industrial Revolution.
It’s a really lovely part of the UK and well worth a visit if you can. As well as the bridge itself there’s a museum next to it and if you have a few days in the area then there are a raft of museums all focusing on different parts of the industrial revolution, things made and life back in those days – you’re really spoilt for choice in this part of England! See here for more info on the museums there.
12. Derwent Valley Mills – Derwent Valley, Derbyshire
You’ll have to forgive me because I’ve been unable to find a picture of the Derwent Valley Mills online – perhaps highlighting that it’s one of the more off the beaten track sights. 2022 update – found a picture!!
It’s actually quite close to where I live but I’d never heard of it until a friend pointed it out to me a few years ago. We did go to visit but I don’t have any pictures of the day – time for a return trip I think!
The mills are another preserved site from the Industrial Revolution and are special because many industrial scale inventions were made and tested here which eventually had a big effect on other mills and industries at the time. The mills were owned by Richard Arkwright and they produced silk and cotton.
As well as the mills there are buildings which housed the workers all preserved in the area.
Masson Mills is one example of his mill and it’s still a working textile mill today where you can learn about how fabrics are made and also buy it too! You can see more about the area and what there is to do here.
13. Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City
2023 update – Liverpool was recently stripped of this status which is a shame, but I’ll still include it here in case you’re interested in visiting.
Liverpool is a large city in the North West of England and it’s important because of the role it has played as a port over history.
As a commercial port, Liverpool has seen a number of important developments and historical milestones. From building the first enclosed wet dock in the world all the way up to being the home of the Beatles, Liverpool has a history that is vast!
One important area and one I’m glad is addressed is the city’s role in slavery – it isn’t hidden. As a port Liverpool shipped many things and humans were part of that. If you want to learn more about this there’s a really good museum called the International Slavery Museum which is well worth a look.
We went a few years back when my kids were probably too young to take it all in but I remember being extremely saddened about it all yet glad to have learned more.
We really enjoyed our trip to the city, although it was a few years back now – I’d definitely recommend a visit. If you are an international visitor then Manchester airport is quite close by.
14. Jodrell Bank Observatory – Macclesfield, near Manchester
Situated in the North West of England just over 20 miles south of the city of Manchester is a relatively modern site, compared to many of the others on this list anyway!
Jodrell Bank Observatory is home to a giant telescope, the Lovell telescope, and has been a major player in scientific discoveries from astronomy to quantum physics.
It’s still in use today but you can also visit the site too – see their site here. This one isn’t too far from us so I’m definitely going to head there soon and report back on the day!
15. Saltaire – Shipley, West Yorkshire
Saltaire was a village built around mills near Bradford in Yorkshire. The village has been really well preserved and shows the kind of area that some wealthy mill owners made for their workers.
It’s important because the architecture and also the beginnings of urban planning. Since it’s so well preserved we can get a real sense of how the Victorian era mills worked and what they were like to live in. Saltaire had textile mills, like many in the area and the name comes from the man who built it, Sir Titus Salt, and the fact that it was powered by the river Aire.
Again – we haven’t visited here, but it’s close to us so it’s on the list and I’ll let you know how it goes! If you do want to visit you’ll be pleased to know it’s open all year round (except Xmas and New Years) and it’s free! (my favourite price!)
16. Studley Royal Park and the Fountains Abbey
Although an Abbey on its own is a magnificent sight, what makes Fountains Abbey special is the fact that some amazing water gardens were built round it 600 years after it was built.
The Studley Royal Park is almost exactly as it was when it was made in the 18th century which gets it on to the list! The site is immense so pick a nice day and make a day of it with a picnic.
It’s one of many Yorkshire Abbeys situated in North Yorkshire near the town of Ripon and would be a great day out if you’re visiting the city of York. It’s also perfect for those who want to take a dog with them!
17. The English Lake District
The Lake District is stunning and one of the most beautiful places in England. I’ve driven past the edges of the area so many times but I’ve yet to explore it fully. If you like hiking, beautiful nature and striking scenery this is the place to go in England! With numerous lakes it’s a perfect place for walks and water sports.
Fans of Beatrix Potter will love visiting an attraction there all about the book characters she created. It’s also where the book Swallows and Amazons was set.
18. Durham Castle and Cathedral
Durham lies in the North East of England and is a lovely small city which is absolutely beautiful. Part of the beauty comes from the Cathedral and the Castle which dominate the city.
The castle was for the important families at the time (medieval) who looked after the North of England and protected its borders and as such is a large and important building.
The cathedral was built in Norman times and was built to house the relics of some important Benedictine monks, St Cuthbert and the Venerable Bede.
Durham is definitely worth a visit if you find yourself in the North of England, perhaps as part of a trip to visit Hadrian’s wall?
19. Frontiers of the Roman Empire
Hadrian’s wall is, of course, what many of us know of as the frontier of the Roman Empire in northern England and there’s a huge amount of the Roman wall left for us to see.
The World Heritage status actually covers sites in other places too that were the front line of the Roman Empire in the 2nd century AD including sites in Germany and also the Antonine Wall in Scotland, much further north than Hadrian’s wall.
It also covers some of the forts and settlements along Hadrian’s wall such as Vindolanda and Housesteads.
For fans of Roman history it’s really a must see area. You can do tours which will take you around the sites or a car might be good if you like to go at your own pace.
UNESCO World Heritage sites in Scotland
20. New Lanark
This is one from my childhood and I remember visiting here with my parents when I was a teenager. It’s in Lanarkshire in Southern Scotland and pretty much equidistant from Glasgow and Edinburgh at about 35 miles away.
New Lanark is another cotton mill and a model industrial village that was built by Robert Owen, a Utopian Idealist. The village was purpose built around the textile industry in the area with workers houses and the entire needs of the workers being there.
Southern Scotland is a really stunning area and one that is often overlooked but if you can get out there I highly recommend it. See here for more information about visiting.
21. Old and New Towns of Edinburgh
Edinburgh is one of my favourite cities and the entirety of the Old and New towns are UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Both sites are very different in feel and look with the old town being dominated by winding streets, tenements and of course Edinburgh Castle overlooking the area. It’s situated at the top of the Royal Mile, the area’s heart and at the other end you’ll find another royal site – Holyrood Palace!
The houses are very dark as you can see in the image above. This is Grassmarket – just below the castle and great place to stay to get a castle view. It’s also very close to Greyfriars Kirkyard where you can learn about Bobby the dog.
The New Town it’s a much lighter feel with wider streets. The New Town was built in the Georgian era with a Neoclassical style.
22. The Forth Bridge
The Forth bridge just reminds me of my childhood so much as I grew up in Fife which is the region on one side of it. We’d cross the road bridge almost every week on visits to Edinburgh and would marvel at the rail version!
The rail bridge was built in 1890 and is a really distinctive piece of engineering spanning the Firth of Forth which is still used today. Get a train from Edinburgh going north and you’ll probably go over it!
If you want to visit and get some good views I can recommend a visit to South Queensferry where the picture above was taken. There are a number of little shops and restaurants in the village which makes for a nice little trip from Edinburgh.
Don’t forget to plan a boat trip around the Forth Bridges for an unforgettable and iconic view.
23. Heart of Neolithic Orkney
Skara Brae on Orkney
Skara Brae was a neolithic village that was discovered after a huge storm on Orkney – it was so well preserved, even furniture was present.
Skara Brae is just one of Scotland’s ancient sites in Orkney that are covered by the World Heritage status with some stone circles, a tomb and burials all in the same area.
Orkney is a group of islands at the North of Scotland and as such isn’t the easiest to visit although you can do day trips from Inverness if you’re keen or travel over from John o’Groats while driving the NC500! If not then definitely try and take some time to explore the amazing scenery and past of Orkney.
24. St Kilda
Apologies, but I haven’t managed to find a picture of St Kilda and it’s not a place I’ve managed to go to – a stock photo of a puffin will have to do! If you want to go really off the beaten track then trying to get to St Kilda has to be on your list!
St Kilda is an island way off the west coast of Scotland and is a really important site for seabirds, especially puffins, and nature with some of the highest cliffs in Europe.
Historically it’s also got an important tale to tell. It was inhabited for 4000 years until in the 1930s the community decided that the island was no longer sustainable to live on and were evacuated. There are still the houses on the island that the islanders lived in as well as many old ruins and signs of settlement.
The only way to get to St Kilda is by boat and there are various companies who do tours there. See the National Trust for Scotland site for a bit more info.
UNESCO World Heritage sites in Wales
25. Blaenavon Industrial Landscape
South Wales was a major producer of iron and coal in the 1800s and many of the remains of this industrial past is found at Blaenavon Word heritage site. You can visit a mining museum, ride on the heritage railway and much more.
Blaenavon is about 30 miles north of Cardiff in South Wales and so is an easy trip from that city. If you’re in England and visiting Bristol, Gloucester or the Cotswolds area it’s not too far from there too.
26. Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal – Llangollen, Wales
Another product of the Industrial Revolution was the engineering feat that is the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. It’s in Northern Wales near the town of Wrexham and the border with England.
Canal boats still use the aqueduct although it’s not for the faint hearted or if you don’t like heights! If you want to visit this lovely area of Wales you can do small boat trips or you could hire a canal boat and have your holiday aboard the canals.
It’s high on James’s wishlist to rent a canal boat – hope we can do it one day.
27. Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd
This UNESCO site covers 4 different castles in the North of Wales – Beaumaris, Conwy, Caernarfon (pictured above) and Harlech.
They date from the late 13th and early 14th century at the time of King Edward I (Or Longshanks as he was known) and are testament to the military architecture of the medieval age.
They are really well preserved and easy castles to get to – in fact if castles are on your list of places to go in the UK definitely head to Wales as there are so many!
UNESCO World Heritage sites in Northern Ireland
28. Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast
Northern Ireland (a country that is elusive to me!) only has one site on the UNESCO world Heritage list but it’s a beauty.
The Giant’s Causeway is a unique volcanic rock formation that looks just like steps. The legend goes that there was a giant called Finn McCool who threw rocks from his coast at a Scottish giant. These rocks form the path you can see! A nugget of truth? Perhaps not, but I do love how legends permeate our culture!
The Giant’s Causeway is not too far from Belfast, the capital city of Northern Ireland, and many tours go there from there.
🇬🇧 Great Britain Travel FAQ 🇬🇧
Do I need insurance for traveling to Britain?
YES! I always recommend people take travel insurance when exploring the world!
Check Travel Insurance Master for quote comparisons from different providers.
Do I need a car for visiting Britain?
YES – If you’re wanting to explore the whole of Great Britain, or at least some of its wonderful countryside then a car is worthwhile. It will get you around all on your own timetable
I recommend DiscoverCars to compare car rental prices in Britain
How to book accommodation in Britain?
For hotels I recommend Booking.com
For apartments and cottages check out VRBO
Will my phone work in Britain?
Perhaps – it depends if you have roaming enabled and beware this can be an expensive way to use your phone.
If you need a SIM for use in the UK I recommend GiffGaff which you can get and set up before traveling.
What’s the best guidebook for Britain?
I really like the Lonely Planet Guidebooks
Where to get flights for Britain
Skyscanner is my first port of call for finding cheap flights to the UK.
Do I need a visa for the UK?
Many countries don’t need a visa for visiting the United Kingdom as tourists (USA, Canada, Aus, NZ and Europe) – it’s always best to check first though.
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