The United Kingdom has centuries of rich history, with no shortage of castles, monuments, and museums for interested travellers. Whether you have an interest in architecture, religion, war, nature, or royalty, there’s a historical site for you to explore.
Don’t forget to check the forecast before visiting any of the outdoor monuments or castles, and pack a raincoat in case of poor weather.
Here are 17 of the top historical sites you need to visit throughout the United Kingdom.
This prehistoric site consists of about 100 stones placed upright in the earth in concentric circles. Historians are most baffled by the methods used to move and lift the enormous stones in 3,000 BC – before the invention of the wheel! Archaeologists estimate that Neolithic people spent over 1,500 years constructing the monument, though many of the other details are still unknown. You can see more Stonehenge facts here.
2. The Tower of London
Her Royal Majesty’s Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London, or The Tower of London for short, is a castle, fortress, and prison set inside two sets of defensive walls and surrounded by a moat. The construction of the complex started with the White Tower in 1078 by William the Conqueror. Latter kings expanded the layout in the 12th and 13th centuries to the complex you see today.
The Tower of London is located on the north bank of the River Thames in central London. Today, the palace holds the impressive English Crown Jewels, the Beefeaters, and the famous ravens that live on the property. A tour of the complex will leave you with dozens of well-known historical anecdotes linking famous figures throughout British history to this important palace.
3. Warwick Castle
Built by William the Conqueror in 1068 shortly after invading England, Warwick Castle was originally a classic medieval castle made of wood and surrounded by a moat. The castle was rebuilt with stone in the 12th century and was latter home to the powerful Earls of Warwick in the 18th century until it was converted to a historical site in 1978.
Today, the castle is a wonderful place to tour with families. Not only are there battlements, towers, turrets, and lush interiors to explore, but the castle hosts many events, shows, and re-enactments for the whole family. The Castle Dungeon tour – complete with live actors and special effects – is a wonderful example of family entertainment that seamlessly combines history and fun.
Located just a short drive from Warwick Castle, Stratford-Upon-Avon is a medieval market town on the River Avon. Although the town is a wonderful example of medieval layouts from the 12th century in its own right, it receives over two million visitors per year because it’s the hometown of William Shakespeare, the most famous playwright in history.
Wander around town to discover important locations of Shakespeare’s early life, including Anne Hathaway’s cottage to see where his wife grew up, Mary Arden’s Farm to view the childhood home of his mother, and finally Shakespeare’s own birthplace on Henley Street. Afterward, attend a Royal Shakespeare Company production at the Theatre on the banks of the River Avon.
5. Leeds Castle
One of the most picturesque castles in the UK was first built in 1086 on islands in the middle of the River Len in Kent, England. Leeds Castle was residence to King Edward I in the 13th century, King Henry VIII and Catherine of Argon in the 16th century, and famously escaped destruction during the English Civil War.
In addition to an in-depth historical tour covering over 900 years of history, Leeds Castle is known for its aviary with over 100 species of birds, a massive maze of yew trees, and a unique museum of dog collars. For travellers with little ones, the castle also boasts two different children’s play areas decorated in adventurous medieval fashion.
6. St Paul’s Cathedral
St Paul’s Cathedral, with its massive white dome, is a recognisable centrepiece in London’s skyline, and represents an important part of English history. Britain’s famous architect, Sir Christopher Wren built the cathedral between 1675 and 1710 after the Great Fire of London destroyed the original. It was the first cathedral built for Henry VIII during the English Reformation when the Crown took control of the Church of England, removing it from the Pope’s jurisdiction.
Today, the cathedral is the seat of the Bishop of London and the mother church of the Diocese of London. Prayers are held daily in the morning and the evening, and it’s open for tourists in between. Visitors can choose a live tour or an audio guide to explore the cathedral floor, the three galleries of the dome, and the crypt.
7. Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle towers above Scotland’s capital of Edinburgh, atop a huge volcanic cliff known as Castle Rock. As one of the most important strongholds in Scottish history, records show it sustained 26 attacks over 1,100 years of history, and is now known as the most besieged place in Great Britain and one of the most attacked castles in the world.
There is no shortage of activities for the whole family at Edinburgh Castle today. History buffs can tour the Great Hall or the vaults underneath that held pirates in the 18th century, whilst those with expensive taste can gaze upon the Scottish Royal Jewels. Children will love the daily firing of the field gun each afternoon.
8. Caernarfon Castle
Caernarfon Castle is perfectly situated between the River Seiont and the Menai Strait in northwest Wales. This medieval fortress was originally constructed in the 11th century but was later rebuilt with stone by King Edward I in 1283. At the time, the castle was an administrative centre for north Wales, hence the grand defensive walls around the castle and the town.
With 13 grand towers and a beautiful view over the water, this castle is a wonderful location for a sunset stroll. Take a self-guided tour through the castle by reading informational signs and taking in the medieval architecture without a crowd of fellow tourists.
9. Hadrian’s Wall
Hadrian’s Wall is a low-lying rock and turf wall that stretches 135 kilometres from the west coast of Britain all the way to the east coast. It was built from the orders of Emperor Hadrian around AD 122 to identify and control his newly won Roman Empire.
There are many ways to see the vast stretch of wall that still stands today. Bus tours will give visitors the chance to see the vast countryside before visiting Birdoswald Roman Fort, Corbridge Roman Town, Housesteads, and Chesters Roman Forts. For the more adventurous travellers, take a jog or rent a bike to explore the wall via the National Trail over several kilometres.
10. Fountains Abbey
Fountains Abbey, located in Yorkshire, England, is one of the best-preserved and oldest monasteries in the country. The Abbey was founded in 1132 by 13 Benedictine monks who were exiled from St Mary’s Abbey for disputes and riots. In 1539, it was closed by King Henry VIII during the historical Dissolution of Monasteries.
The Abbey is located on an 800-acre estate and is now one of the most well preserved monastic ruins in the UK. Visitors can get a glimpse into the life of a monk during the 11th century by touring the cloisters, the cellarium, and the surrounding valley.
11. Roman Baths
The famous ancient Roman Baths, located in Bath, were established around AD 43 as a sanctuary of relaxation for locals and visitors of this great Roman town. Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, royals regularly visited the baths, increasing their popularity and historical significance.
Though visitors cannot get into the water, hours can still be spent exploring the pools, saunas, thermal baths, and changing nooks. Guided tours are also available throughout the day to share historical anecdotes about the Temple courtyard, the bronze goddess statue, and to explain the ingenuity behind the spring overflow.
12. Temple Church
Located in Central London, the Temple Church was built in the 12th century by the Knights Templar – the catholic military order of monks who were founded to protect the pilgrims travelling to and from Jerusalem. Over time, Temple Church became the English headquarters of the Templars as they became wealthy and powerful among the Christendom.
The church consists of the Round and the Chancel. The Round Church is circular to mimic the shape of Jerusalem’s Church of Holy Sepulchre and contains excellent acoustics, perfect for singing. The church is open most weekdays, though it is best to check the website before planning a visit.
13. Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle is famous today as a favourite holiday destination for Her Majesty the Queen and the location of the most recent royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
However, the castle was originally constructed by William the Conqueror after the Norman invasion and is now the longest-occupied palace in the world. Like many castles at the time, it was originally a wooden structure with a moat and was only later built of stone by King Henry II. Since then, the castle has been expanded and embellished by many of the monarchs of the UK to create the impressive estate you see today.
With about 150 current residents, the castle provides tours, but also takes care of its residents. As a traveller, explore the open apartments, St George’s Chapel, and witness the changing of the Guard. For more interesting facts about the castle, click here.
14. Ironbridge Gorge
Taking a break from religious and royal history, the Ironbridge Gorge is the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, where some of the most important technological breakthroughs in history took place. It was here that Abraham Darby, one of the leaders of the Industrial Revolution, was the first person to smelt iron with coke instead of charcoal, thus creating cast iron. The world’s first cast-iron bridge was then completed in 1781 over the River Severn in England.
Now, the gorge is filled with museums of old furnaces, workshops, factories, and tools that give a taste of what life during the Industrial Revolution was like. There are often actors in full costume around town to make the scene feel even more authentic.
15. Grey’s Monument
Grey’s Monument was constructed in 1838 in honour of Charles Grey, the second Earl Grey, for his work with the Reform Act of 1832 as Prime Minister. This monument stands 40 metres above the Newcastle skyline facing south. A hike up 164 steps to the top of the structure will provide sweeping views of Grainger Town’s Georgian architecture.
After the visit, stop by a local café to enjoy a cup of Earl Grey tea – named after the Prime Minister whose monument you just visited!
16. Giant’s Causeway
Just outside of Bushwick on the northern coast of Northern Ireland, the Giant’s Causeway is an area of over 40,000 interlocking basalt columns. Ancient volcanic pressure led the earth to crack into hexagonal columns leading from the green hills down to the cliffs of the tumultuous Atlantic Ocean.
As one of the natural wonders of the UK, the Giant’s Causeway is worth a visit. Bring a windbreaker and hiking shoes to explore this historical national phenomenon on foot.
17. St Fagans National History Museum
St Fagans National History Museum in Cardiff in a mecca of artefacts chronicling the life of the Welsh people. This open-air museum in the middle of St Fagans Castle and gardens was originally a 16th-century manor house.
Visitors can witness how Welsh people lived over multiple centuries through traditional crafts and activities. Plus, over 40 original buildings have been preserved so visitors can walk through various time periods of Wales – nicely demonstrating how daily life changes throughout the years.