London is a great place to start when visiting the British Isles, but there are some wonderful smaller cities to explore that can offer a totally different experience of Britain. Exciting centres of arts and culture, full of beauty and rich in history and tradition, these places are a joy to discover. From the ancient spires of Oxford to the stately splendour of Edinburgh, here are five of the best cities to see on your visit to Britain.
Scotland’s capital offers a captivating blend of rich history, vibrant culture and stunning scenery. From heritage sites like the secret passageways of Gilmerton Cove to top arts venues such as the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh has it all within walking distance. Stroll down the Royal Mile at the heart of the city and admire the stately architecture, explore the medieval Grassmarket in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle and wander through the cobbled streets of the Old Town and the Georgian avenues of the New Town. Discover the wonderful cafes and galleries by the Water of Leith, the river that runs through the city. You can uncover the city’s intriguing history by visiting its famous landmarks, stately homes and castles, or at its world-class museums. And there’s surely no better time to visit Edinburgh than in August, when you can get swept up in the excitement of the world-famous Edinburgh festival.
The ancient colleges of Cambridge are famous all over the world, and make this beautiful city one of the UK’s top destinations. A guided punt tour on the River Cam is the prefect introduction to the city’s fascinating history, and is the best way to see the famous Bridge of Sighs and many of the main colleges. The iconic St Johns College is perhaps the greatest example of the magnificent architecture that can be found all over the city centre, and attending Evensong at the college’s stunning chapel is a must. The University has several museums and collections open to the public including the Fitzwilliam Museum, Botanic Garden and the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and many are free of charge. One of the best things about Cambridge is the amount of green space in the city, with parks and gardens around every corner. Midsummer Common, with the river running alongside it, is particularly beautiful, and cycling alongside the riverbank is a great way to take in the scenery.
The ‘city of dreaming spires’ is in many ways Cambridge’s rival, with an equally prestigious university and just as many splendid churches and college buildings. Visit the Bodleian Library and the Radcliffe Camera to see the city’s architecture at its finest. The library, which runs daily tours, is one of the oldest in Europe and contains over 11 million items. Climb the 14th century Carfax Tower for superb views of Oxfords striking skyline, or visit Oxford Castle and make your way to the top of St George’s Tower where you can see all of the major colleges in one glance. In summer months, there’s no better way to spend the day than punting on the River Cherwell or taking a boat on the River Isis. Oxford also offers some fantastic opportunities for shopping, and you can find everything from saddle menders to shoe makers in the covered market.
The city of York is steeped in history, and you can discover its Roman, Viking and medieval heritage through the many brilliant attractions within its ancient walls. York Minster Cathedral is a must see- this vast building is a brilliant example of gothic architecture, and some of the world’s greatest treasures are kept inside. Clifford’s Tower, too, is definitely worth a visit- it is one of York’s most famous landmarks, and a symbol of the power of England’s medieval kings. The city has some fantastic museums, such as the Railway Museum and Jorvik, and there are plenty of galleries too, or you could simply lose yourself in the maze of quaint cobbled streets in the city centre, where you can spot some of the most talented street performers around, before relaxing with a glass of wine by the river. There are some wonderful park and gardens to visit in warmer months, too.
Windsor is well-known as the home of Windsor Castle, one of the official residences of the Royal Family. The castle is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world, and its history spans over 1000 years. The Changing of the Guard is always a highlight of a trip to Windsor- the Guards march up the High Street and into the castle where the Ceremony takes place. But there’s more to Windsor than its castle. The Savill Garden in Windsor Great Park is one of the UK’s greatest ornamental gardens and is definitely worth a visit. If you fancy a day at the races, you can visit the Royal Windsor racecourse, which is set on an island on the banks of the River Thames. It’s also worth noting that if you’re looking to visit London but want to stay somewhere a little quieter, Windsor is only a short train ride away.