What the United Kingdom lacks in size and sunshine it more than makes up for with history, heritage and culture. Indeed every year millions of tourists flock here to explore the fabulous tourist attractions of the United Kingdom.
The UK has seen the rise and fall of kingdoms, empires and nations. This eclectic past permeates its present. Looking for castles? The UK is your place. More into museums? There are many first-class (and free) ones here too. The list of tourist attractions in the UK even boasts ruins dating from the Stone Age. There are so many UK visitor attractions that the challenge is choosing which ones to see first. And that’s where we come in.
It’s a tough ask, but we’ve highlighted our top ten tourist attractions in the UK below. Though only ten could make the list, there were many, many runners-up. If you have the time we suggest checking out our comprehensive list of UK sites and scheduling in a few more. After all the country is small, meaning you’re never more than an ancient stone’s throw away from something truly fantastic.
Don’t forget to download your free printable Top 10 UK tourist attractions map and guidebook now.
For anyone who grew up wanting to be a prince or a princess (and didn’t we all?), it doesn’t get more fairy tale than Buckingham Palace. Probably the most famous tourist attraction in Britain, this magnificent space dates back to the eighteenth century and has been the official residence of Britain’s monarchs since 1837. Today it’s home to Queen Elizabeth II, who kindly allows visitors to wonder around certain parts of the palace. For the ultimate regal experience, we recommend approaching Buckingham Palace from the top of The Mall. With its canopy of trees and flags, it simply doesn’t get more grandiose. It’s sheer popularity ensures it has a place on any Top 10 UK tourist attractions list and if you do decide to travel by numbers and visit then be sure to watch the famous Changing of the Guard ceremony.
There was once a dream that was Rome and this dream stretched to the UK. Hadrian’s Wall, named after Roman Emperor Hadrian, is a magnificent fortress situated in England’s north. Probably the most famous Roman site outside Italy - and one of the best-known tourist attractions in the United Kingdom - it was built between 122 and 130 AD and was once up to 80 miles long and 15 feet tall. Now a shadow of its former self, it’s still a formidable shadow at that and one definitely worth visiting. Large sections of Hadrian’s Wall remain intact, as do various Roman monuments, forts and other ruins. So don your walking boots, grab your legionary helmet and revel in Rome’s former glory.
The Scottish Highlands have been the subject of many famous poems and it’s easy to see why – they’re at once fearsome and beautiful. One of the best ways to explore them is to visit Balmoral Castle. With its series of turrets and towers and its picturesque setting, Balmoral is everything you would want from a castle. It was built under the reign of Queen Victoria in the nineteenth century and is still the official Highlands home of the royal family. Plan to spend a while here.
Mention ‘The Tower’ in the past and it would have sent shivers down people’s spine, for though the Tower of London was used as a residence for monarchs of England, it was better known as a place of torture and execution. It was here that some of the UK’s most famous historical figures - such as Anne Boleyn and Sir Thomas More - met their brutal end. The story of the Tower dates back to the 1070s. Sitting on the banks of the River Thames, it was originally designed as a fortress-stronghold used to protect England from conquering forces. As was intended, it’s one of the most popular and domineering visitor attractions in the United Kingdom - and probably its most haunted. For those with a morbid fascination therefore, it’s a must. But it also houses the royal family jewels, so it’s got a lighter side too. Definitely a must see for any UK trip.
With their ocean-conquering ships and fearsome reputation for invasion, plunder and slaughter, the Vikings left an enduring mark on British history. Today it’s estimated as many as one million people in the UK can trace a direct line back to these raiders of tradition. And nowhere explored this history better than the Jorvik Viking Centre. Located in York, which is one of the UK’s prettiest cities, the centre is located on the site of a former Viking City. Archaeologists found around 40,000 well-preserved Viking items, including textiles, tools and human remains. All these items are on display, alongside the main highlight – a mock Viking city, complete with sights, sounds and even smells. Great fun for kids and tremendously interactive, we think Jorvik’s sheer uniqueness marks it out as one of the very best tourist attractions in the United Kingdom.
Set in the rolling hills of the Cotswolds, Blenheim Palace has many strings to its bow and is certainly one of the most impressive of all United Kingdom tourist attractions. It was built as a gift to the Lord Marlborough following his victory against the French in 1704, and this battle is depicted in an epic tapestry housed within the complex at Blenheim. It was also the birthplace of Winston Churchill, the darling of British politics and Second World War history. The life and times of the “British Bulldog” can be explored in detail here. Add to this its 200 acres of manicured gardens, maze and train (yes train!) and Blenheim Palace really is one of the very best UK tourist sites.
The Houses of Parliament, with its famous Big Ben clock tower, is a first-stop for anyone visiting London and therefore a shoe-in on any list of the best British tourist attractions. Facing the River Thames on one side and Parliament Square on the other, it’s hard not to be in awe of the sheer scale and stature of the building. It is here that both houses of the UK parliament still converge and to this end it remains the heart and soul of British political life. What’s more, it’s just a stone’s throw from Westminster Abbey, which is one of the most beautiful religious spaces this side of the Vatican.
Featured in perhaps every holiday brochure on Britain there has ever been, Stonehenge is as famous a UK tourist attraction as you can get. Stonehenge, which is literally a circle of massive grey stones in the middle of a field, is a wonderfully eerie, evocative and mysterious site. No one knows what its original purpose was. All we know is that it came into being from 3000 BC, making it one of the oldest historical sites in the world. Each stone weighs around four tonnes, and how exactly these stones were transported to this corner of western England is one of the many unanswered questions, and forms part of the magic of Stonehenge. A brand new visitor centre has now also opened boasting a world-class museum housing permanent and temporary exhibitions, plus a spacious café!
Windsor Castle claims the title of world’s oldest continuously occupied castle and has worn the centuries remarkably well, all things considered. Among the most iconic visitor attractions in the United Kingdom, Windsor Castle is a visual feast and it’s little wonder that it has been the favourite residence of so many monarchs. People can visit the graves of Henry VIII, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert here, to name just a few. Beneath its stunning veneer are plenty of fascinating stories too, some of a more tumultuous past, making Windsor Castle one of the very best attractions to visit in the UK.
One of the lesser-known entries on our list of the top attractions in the United Kingdom, but one we think is a real winner. Set in the heart of the picturesque Scottish countryside, this 13th century castle is one of the UK’s most impressive medieval fortresses. With its triangular shape and imposing moat, it conjures up images of battles yonder. And there were many; due to its strategic position near the English border, Caerlaverock was the site of on-going warfare between the two crowns. You can learn all about this troublesome past at Caerlaverock and even take part in it through the series of lessons in siege warfare. As for the kids, there’s a castle-themed adventure park, turning it into medieval, educational Disneyland.
And One For Luck... The British Museum
Ok yes, we know we’ve already got to ten, but we just felt any list of the best UK tourist sites was incomplete without mention of the British Museum. This isn’t just because it looks like an ancient Roman temple transported to the middle of London, though that helps. Rather it’s because of what’s inside. The British Museum houses some of the largest and most respected collections in the world, from ancient Egyptian mummies to Samurai swords. The collection is almost overwhelming and yet the British Museum remains a light, tranquil spot, which you visit time and time again. Unmissable.
If that’s whetted your appetite for all things British, remember you can download your free printable Top Ten UK tourist attractions guidebook now as well as exploring our full list and map of Britain’s tourist attractions.