Great Britain is a beguiling and enchanting combination of four nations: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. From awe-inspiring mountains and lakes to castles, architecture and prehistoric monuments, a tour of Britain will involve more photo-opportunities and memories than you ever thought possible.
Starting in London, England’s capital, there’s Buckingham Palace, the London residence of Britain’s royalty since 1837. The State Rooms are used to host official functions, and are also opened for guided tours so that visitors can marvel at the opulent chandeliers and decorated ceilings, see some of the world-famous works of art and get a feel for the glamour of royal life.
York is a Viking town in the north of England, with a rich heritage that infuses its quaint cobbled streets, ancient city walls and majestic Minster. York Minster is stunning – one of the most magnificent cathedrals in the world, and if you’re feeling energetic, you can climb the central tower and get a certificate to say you’ve done it. Clifford’s Tower is another monument with history, the remains of York Castle, which was built by William the Conqueror to subdue the northern rebels. Going back even further in time, the famous Yorvik Museum recreates an authentic Viking city, smells and all.
Towards the centre of England, in Warwickshire, is Stratford-upon-Avon, birthplace of William Shakespeare. An un-missable stop for anyone with more than a passing interest in literature, the whole town is steeped in culture and history. You can visit Shakespeare’s birthplace and immerse yourself in his life story, watch performances of his plays and visit the exhibition. Other Shakespeare related places to investigate include Hall’s Croft (where Shakespeare’s daughter was born), Anne Hathaway’s cottage and Mary Arden’s Farm, where his mother was born.
South western England is home to some of the most mystical parts of the British Isles. Stonehenge, near Salisbury in the beautiful Wiltshire countryside, is the famous prehistoric monument that historians have been trying to decode for centuries, and one of the most famous places in the world. Stonehenge is thought to have been built in three phases and is estimated to have taken around 30 million hours to build. That’s not all for this mysterious part of the country, just 25 miles north of Stonehenge is the Avebury complex, another prehistoric earthwork.
In nearby Glastonbury, arguably more famous for the music festival, is Glastonbury Tor which rises enigmatically above the meadows. Glastonbury village is steeped in stories of witchcraft and fairy tales – the Tor is said to be home of Gwyn ap Nudd, the Lord of the Underworld, and the fairy folk! Owned and cared for by the National Trust, it’s free to visit.
Over the sea to Northern Ireland, and the Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim is a curious reminder of how the country was formed. The Giant’s Causeway consists of 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, formed from volcanic activity millions of years ago. Designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, you can drive along the Causeway Coastal Route and experience one of the world’s great road journeys.
Find your way to Belfast and seek out Titanic Belfast, a six-floor exhibition dedicated to the doomed ship. Located next to the site where the Titanic was built, it’s justifiably Northern Ireland’s most popular tourist attraction, with a giant atrium surrounded by four hull shaped wings, housing nine galleries that tell the story of the Titanic from its conception in Belfast in the early 1900s to its famous maiden voyage and tragic end.
If outstanding beauty and sea-monsters go hand in hand for you, Loch Ness has it all. Quite apart from the legends surrounding Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster, Loch Ness is also famous for its scenery, hill walks and the Great Glen with signposted walks suitable for everyone. Add a bit of history to your travels and visit Urquhart Castle, whose tower house offers some amazing views of the Loch and the Great Glen.
Also in Scotland is Edinburgh Castle, the view of which dominates over the beautiful city of Edinburgh from a great height. See the Great Hall, completed in 1511 for James IV, where Scotland’s gentry honoured their king, and the Palace where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI. You can also see the oldest crown jewels in the British Isles at this stop on your tour of Britain.
Wales is also home to some must-see landmarks, including Mount Snowdon and the Snowdonia National Park. You can explore Stone Age burial chambers, Roman forts, castles and more, and the area is famous with geologists, who investigated some of the world’s oldest rocks there in the 19th century. Make your way to the top of Mount Snowdon for some views to die for, or you could take the train along the Snowdon Mountain Railway, Britain’s highest rack railway, and save your legs.
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Written by Katharina Kraetzer, a travel addict from Cambridge. She loves to visit the Cotswolds and the Scottish Highlands.