The UK is one of the most visited countries in the world, and for good reason. With beautiful towns, rolling hills, rich history, and spectacular scenery, there is absolutely no shortage of places to visit in this island country.
Too many visitors, however, book their tickets to London to see Buckingham Palace and Big Ben before moving on to the next European capital. That is understandable with all there is to see on the old continent, but there are so many more places in the UK that will truly take your breath away.
If you’ve found yourself here, you are probably looking for the amazing places of Great Britain and Northern Ireland that you can’t get to via the Tube or double-decker bus. We could go on all day about the countless cities, villages, nature reserves, national parks, and historic sites, we’ve narrowed it down to some of our absolute favorites.
Read on to see our take on the UK’s most beautiful places for stunning views and an overall grand time. As everyone likes to travel a bit differently, they are in no particular order.
Table of Contents
- 1. Snowdonia National Park
- 2. The White Cliffs of Dover
- 3. Seven Sisters & South Downs National Park
- 4. New Forest National Park
- 5. St. Michael’s Mount
- 6. The Channel Islands
- 7. Northern Ireland’s Dark Hedges
- 8. Lake District National Park
- 9. Loch Ness
- 10. Jurassic Coast & the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
- 11. Cairngorms National Park
- 12. Robin Hood’s Bay
- 13. Dartmoor National Park
- 14. Peak District National Park
- 15. Holy Island
- 16. Brecon Beacons National Park
- 17. Orkney Archipelago
- 18. Giant’s Causeway of Northern Ireland
- 19. Isle of Man
- 20. Shetland Islands
- 21. Stonehenge
- 22. Shaftesbury Village
- 23. Bath
- 24. Isle of Skye & the Fairy Pools
- 25. Pembrokeshire Coast National Park
1. Snowdonia National Park
Snowdonia has to be one of the UK’s best-known national parks. Located in Northern Wales, this area of more than 800 square miles has just about everything: mountains, lakes, beaches, and villages.
Nature lovers will be in heaven with the preservation of the landscape and the spectacular views. Hikers will probably want to conquer Snowdon Peak, but there are well over 1,000 miles of trails throughout the area, which is designated as a place with ‘the right to roam.
To get there, you can take a train from London or fly to the airport in Liverpool or Manchester. Public transport to the park exists but it would be strongly recommended to rent a car for the best experience.
Visiting Snowdonia National Park is easy enough as a day trip from one of the nearby major cities. But for the best experience, stay a few days in the park or nearby in one of the hard-to-pronounce Welsh villages- for example, take a look at this beautiful countryside cottage between the mountains and the beaches.
If that’s not possible for you, Manchester and Liverpool are just 1.5 to 2 hours away from the park and have plenty of hotel options. Personally, I like the Hotel Indigo Liverpool for its location, cleanliness, and upscale touches.
2. The White Cliffs of Dover
Here’s another one that might not sound so foreign, as the beautiful white cliffs along the coast at Dover are another well-known site in the UK. If you aren’t familiar, Dover is a coastal town along the southeastern coast of England where the English Channel cuts between Britain and France.
This coastline is famous for its limestone cliffs topped with green grass, which drop off vertically into a beautiful white wall, plunging into the blue seas below. The cliffs really are one of the most dramatic landscapes in the country.
This is an easy place to visit from London, which you can fly into from just about anywhere. However, be sure to use Skyscanner and make your destination “London (Any)” to take advantage of the four or more alternatives to Heathrow, which seems to just be getting more and more expensive.
From London, take a train or rent a car to get to Dover – again, search the entire city on a site like Kayak to avoid expensive airport rental locations.
FUN FACT: Contrary to the song lyrics, you’ll never see bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover as bluebirds aren’t native to the UK!
3. Seven Sisters & South Downs National Park
While we’re on the subject of beautiful cliffs, there’s another beautiful place for these along the coast of Southern England. The Seven Sisters are a series of seven chalk cliffs, quite similar to those of Dover, within the South Downs National Park.
The idea is similar here with scenic hiking trails, photo opportunities, and historic sites and monuments. It’s also a similar distance to London and could be an easy excursion if you planned to see the beaches of Brighton and its Royal Pavilion anyway. From there, a bus can take you to the cliffs.
You might be tempted to explore the rest of South Downs and the natural beauty of this park as well. In that case, consider a day tour of the national park, including the famous cliffs, departing from London. This is a great way to really learn about the places you are seeing.
4. New Forest National Park
Here we have another of the UK’s many national parks, called New Forest. Also in the south of England, it covers a vast area on the mainland just across from the Isle of Wight, home to Queen Victoria’s holiday retreat.
The park is home to diverse landscapes including picturesque villages with thatched roof houses, tranquil rivers flowing through towering beech trees, and my personal favorite- wild ponies!
Besides the scenic trails and exotic wildlife, you can also visit the National Motor Museum to see race cars and motorbikes. The main city of Southampton is just outside the park and is also a wonderful place to visit.
Southampton also has an international airport and train connections to London. For a more relaxed visit, stay in the city. The Southampton Harbour Hotel & Spa is a luxurious place that won’t break the bank.
5. St. Michael’s Mount
This small island off of the Cornish coast is England’s answer to Mont Saint Michel in France. The two counterparts share much more than a name, as St. Michael’s Mount is also the home of medieval settlements and also connects to the mainland at low tide.
This alone is fascinating and draws thousands of visitors each year. There is also a castle at the peak of the island, which comes with a ton of history and allure. Just be sure to get back to shore before the tide comes in, or you’ll have to catch a boat.
The Cornwall peninsula does have a small airport, but it’s not a major one. Use a search engine like Skyscanner to see if you can find a connection to this beautiful piece of England. Alternatively, it’s a beautiful train or car ride through the countryside from London or Bristol, which has a major airport.
Because Cornwall is such a beautiful place (and you’ll find more of it to come on this list), consider staying a few days rather than a day trip from the city. Hotel Penzance is a great base with luxurious amenities while you enjoy this piece of English paradise.
See Related: 25 Fascinating United Kingdom Nicknames to Know
6. The Channel Islands
If you’re looking to get off the beaten path, the Channel Islands of Guernsey and Jersey are super cool places that the average visitor to the UK doesn’t get to. They are actually just off the Normandy coast of Northern France.
These tiny British administered islands are known for their beaches, hiking trails, picturesque port towns, wonderful dairy, and unique culture. You won’t find much city buildup here and even the islands’ capital cities have a fishing village feel. Aside from the stunning natural attractions, the islands are a haven for history buffs.
As the only British territories that were captured by the Germans in World War II, The Channel islands are littered with old German fortifications and relics from the war. There are several great museums, including a spooky underground German hospital.
The weather is also quite nice in The Channel Islands, being warm enough that you’ll actually find palm trees in some places!
As mentioned, the dairy here is great. Both Guernsey and Jersey have their own breeds of namesake cows, that produce some of the world’s best butter – it’s so yellow it almost glows!
The Channel Islands have ferry connections to both southern England and northern France as well as their own airports. If you are just looking for the cheapest flight, save yourself some time and effort by using Kayak. You can input both islands as your destination- this way, you will see all the possible flights.
You won’t find big chain hotels in the Channel Islands, but you’ll appreciate the local options. Somewhere like the Driftwood Inn in Guernsey makes for a comfortable stay, and consider a tour of the coastal highlights to get the most out of your trip.
In all seriousness, the Channel Islands are one of the best-kept secrets in the British Isles.
7. Northern Ireland’s Dark Hedges
Sticking with the theme of escaping the island of Britain, don’t forget that the UK comprises a sizable piece of Ireland as well. And you will find a gorgeous spot that is truly a photographer’s dream out in the Northern Irish countryside.
The Dark Hedges is a spot along Bregagh Road, an eighteenth-century avenue around an hour north of Belfast. The road is lined with beech trees that seem to form a natural tunnel, creating a mystical Harry Potter-esque landscape. It feels like you are in a land of fairytales.
To get here you will need to start by traveling to Northern Ireland. This is easily done by car or train from the Republic of Ireland, by ferry from England or Scotland, or by flight to Belfast. To get to the Hedges, you will want to rent a car as the spot is remote and a bit of a headache on public transport. RentalCars.com can show you the cheapest local options.
Belfast is a wonderful city to stay in and see; but if I were you, I’d consider staying in the stunning countryside. Take a look at some of the local cottages available as vacation rentals, and you’ll see why.
8. Lake District National Park
If lakes are what you’re after, you’ll surely find them here. The Lake District National Park is England’s largest, located in the Cumbria region of the northwest.
The park is full of tranquil lakes with hiking and biking trails between them. This is an all-seasons place to visit, as you can enjoy watersports on the lakes during the warm months, and hike through the snowy peaks in the cold ones.
Potential bases for exploration are the villages of Keswick or Bowness-on-Windermere, where you can find places to stay and rent gear for your outdoor fun. The nearby city of Manchester has an international airport, as does Newcastle-upon-Tyne, which I found charming and enjoyable on my visit.
The Lake District is another one that we’d recommend renting a car for, as is mostly the case with national parks. Depending on how intense your outdoor activities are planned, don’t forget to take out an appropriate travel insurance plan, like World Nomads offers.
9. Loch Ness
If you can’t make it to the Lake District but are still looking for a pond, the famous Loch Ness is a wonderful option. Most visitors have heard of this one, but may not have known that it’s an easy sight to see in Scotland.
The famous lake, or Loch in the local language, is long and narrow, extending more than 37 kilometers. You’ve surely heard of the mysterious monster, named Nessie, who supposedly lives in its depths. But don’t be too afraid as it really is a tranquil place surrounded by pine trees and rolling hills.
The lake is quite close to the city of Inverness, on the north coast of Scotland, where there is an international airport and plenty of hotel options. We recommend the River Ness Hotel by Radisson, and if you want to avoid renting a car, there are plenty of guided tours to Loch Ness and the beautiful surrounding area.
I’ll be honest, it gets a bit rife with American tourists looking disappointed at not seeing a monster, and the site has gotten more tourist trappy in recent years. It’s still beautiful though!
10. Jurassic Coast & the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
Another stretch of the beautiful peninsula or Cornwall is the Jurassic Coast, within the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. In fact, the coast runs to the nearby Dorset AONB, meaning you can visit two of these beautiful nature reserves together.
The coast runs for about 95 miles between the town of Exmouth and Studland Bay and is a UNESCO Heritage Site. The reason is beyond its natural beauty. The geology provides a look into three prehistoric periods: the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous, a rare glimpse of the earth over 100+ million years.
One of the most popular spots on the coast is a natural limestone arch called Durdle Door with a stunning sandy beach beside it. This rugged beauty complemented by a relaxing seaside is especially incredible in the spring and summer.
One potential gateway to the coast and its AONBs is Bournemouth, a historic city along the sea with sandy beaches of its own. Thanks to its proximity, it’s no problem to stay in the city at a place like the Hampton by Hilton Bournemouth (with that great and free Hampton breakfast).
See Related: 17 Best United Kingdom Beaches to Visit (Ranked!)
11. Cairngorms National Park
Back up to Scotland, this national park spans a large area and encompasses some of the Scottish Highlands. You will find peaceful lochs, fast-flowing waterfalls, rocky peaks, and even castles and ancient ruins in this park.
Cairngorms National Park is a paradise for those in search of hiking and cycling trails. You can also spot some of the UK’s wildlife here, as well as visit distilleries. Even if you aren’t a whiskey person, don’t leave this region without trying some form of a Scotch whiskey experience!
The nearest city and international airport are Inverness, making this a great place to pair with Loch Ness. If you have time to make a separate day out of Cairngorms, there is a great guided tour of the park plus the famous Glenfiddich Distillery.
If you don’t go on a tour and intend to hike the trails yourself, don’t forget appropriate travel insurance. One of our favorites is AIG Travel Guard, which does have options for more intense activities.
12. Robin Hood’s Bay
While Robin’s Hood is indeed a bay in the sea, it is also the name of a village in North Yorkshire that makes it onto our list of beautiful places to visit. Robin Hood’s Bay is on the Heritage Coast of the North York Moors, a national park itself.
The town is a lovely old fishing village with cobblestone streets and small-town charm. A local favorite in the summertime is the nearby stunning beach, which rather than being backed by sand dunes are instead below small and rocky cliffs covered in greenery.
This picturesque town has something to please everyone in terms of boutique shopping and local dining. One international gateway to the region is Leeds, connected by flights around the continent.
For the best experience, stay in a local cottage to really feel like a villager. If this small town is just too small for you, the town of York is close enough at just over an hour away and has a nice Novotel.
13. Dartmoor National Park
Dartmoor is a vast moorland in Devon, southwest England, just before the Cornwall region. This national park is loved for its forest, rivers, wetlands, and unique rock formations. But besides that, you’ll find pieces of ancient history here.
Neolithic tombs, Bronze age stone circles, and medieval farmhouses can all be found in this preserve. There are also rich wildlife habitats throughout where wild ponies roam and rare barbastelle bats can be sighted. Haymeadows is one of the best places to spot animals like these.
The main town in the area is Plymouth, which may be familiar-sounding to a traveling American. Take the train in from London, or fly to the small airport of Exeter. You can use Skyscanner to get creative with other airport options in the area to combine with trains and buses.
If you are looking for a unique adventure, there is a really cool guided e-bike tour through Dartmoor. Of course, you could hit the trails the old-fashioned way as well.
14. Peak District National Park
The Peak District is in central England, just between the cities of Sheffield and Manchester. In fact, the rail line connecting the two runs straight through it, meaning this is a national park that you don’t necessarily need a car to visit.
It is known for its steep limestone valleys, step stones across rivers, and famous Gritstone Edges along its boundaries. Besides these views, the park also has plenty of caves and caverns that are just begging to be explored.
Besides nature, Peak District is home to Chatsworth House, a massive manor home that serves as the seat of the Duke of Devonshire. It has belonged to the family since 1549 and tours of its gardens and interior are available.
There are plenty of vacation rentals in the villages around the park, as well as campsites if you want to pitch a tent. Or, stay in the less-visited English city of Sheffield somewhere like the Three Cranes Boutique Hotel.
15. Holy Island
This island is similar to St. Michael’s Mount as it is a tidal one, meaning crossing is only possible when the sea moves out and the causeway appears. Also called Lindisfarne, the island is one of the most important sites of Celtic Christianity in England.
The monastery on the island dates all the way back to the year 680 by Irish monks, and the castle on it was built in 1550. There is a residential community of about 180 that welcomes visitors that generally leave before the tide rises for the day.
Besides the important history of Holy Island, its preservation status makes it a destination for migrating birds and therefore attracts birdwatchers. Seals also frequent the island and its islets.
There is a single hotel on the island, the Manor House. If the island is an interesting destination to you, then definitely consider staying here. Visitors who spend the night get a much more unique experience after the quiet comes with the tide, pushing the day-trippers back to the mainland.
See Related: Tower of London Tour: History, Tickets & What to See
16. Brecon Beacons National Park
The Brecon Beacons is another of the three national parks in Wales. This harsh, beautiful mountain range contains forests, waterfalls, and rolling green hills grazed by Welsh ponies and mountain sheep.
This area is most popular with serious hikers, as the terrain can be rough going. It’s so rough going that the Brecon Beacons are used by UK Special Forces for training exercises. If you’re exploring the area in summer or winter you may run into prospective SAS Troopers conducting the famous, brutal (and very misleadingly named) “Fan Dance” march across the mountains!
Besides the usual hiking and cycling that can be done in a place like this, you can also try horseback riding, hang-gliding, and even caving. A top-visited site in the park is Henerhyd Waterfall, at nearly 90 feet tall. Another is Ystradfellte Falls and its cace, Ogof Ffynnon Ddu. Try saying that five times fast (or just once).
The Welsh capital of Cardiff is nearby and is a wonderful city to visit as well. The city has one of my favorite hotel brands by IHG: the Voco St. David’s Cardiff, which has a trendy atmosphere and amazing pool.
One interesting experience to try is a guided tour with a treasure hunt. What better way is there to see the sites, learn the history, and have a ton of fun?
17. Orkney Archipelago
Certain types of travelers looking for true adventure will appreciate the islands in the northernmost reaches of the UK. The Orkney Islands are some of these and are a great choice if you want to get something really wild out of your British vacation.
Orkney is especially interesting for people interested in ancient archaeology. The islands contain Neolithic sites that are some of the oldest and best-preserved in Europe. There are also plenty of marine animals, birds, and other wildlife to admire in this remote place.
Adventure-seekers will appreciate that the Orkney Islands are home to the shortest commercial flight in the world, between the islands of Westray and Papa Westray. It is not uncommon to have favorable winds that cause the flight to last for under a minute before it lands on the beach runway, which disappears with the tide!
There are some hotels and inns on the islands, but in places like this, it is especially fun to go with a rental such as a cabin-style lodge in the countryside. Orkney is accessible via ferry from the farthest northern reaches of Scotland, or by flight on Loganair.
18. Giant’s Causeway of Northern Ireland
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the result of a volcanic eruption many millions of years ago. It created tens of thousands of interlocking basalt rock formations, in the shapes of tall, hexagonal columns.
The science aside, this series of rocks make for a really cool-looking photograph along the Northern Irish coast. According to Gaelic mythology, the causeway was built by an Irish giant as a way to meet and fight a Scottish giant. Some rock structures even resemble giant shoes or chimney stacks.
The causeway sits on the coast of Bushmills, a small village north of Belfast. In fact, it’s not terribly far from the Dark Hedges and the two could easily be done on the same day. There are plenty of castles and other fun attractions in the area nearby.
It is really best to rent a car, in this case, to get the most out of your Northern Ireland experience. Visit RentalCars.com to find the best deals in Belfast, Dublin, or any other city on the island.
19. Isle of Man
If you are into islands, here is one right in the middle of the sea separating Ireland and Britain. Isle of Man is a self-governing territory of the UK known for its rugged coastline, medieval artifacts, and beautiful countryside.
The island has a rich history as a strategic location once claimed by the Celtics and the Vikings. One special thing to do is get to the top of the highest point, Snaefell Mountain, and catch a glimpse of what is known as the seven kingdoms: the Isle of Man, England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and the kingdoms of Heaven and the Sea.
There are plenty of interesting things to do around the capital, Douglas, and throughout the countryside. The Best Western Palace & Casino is a comfortable place to stay with upscale amenities and an indoor pool.
For a very unique way to see what the island has to offer, consider a guided tour aboard a historic steam train. It will also take you to the medieval castles of the Isle of Man.
That said driving around the isle of Man is kinda awesome because they have on speed limit!
See Related: 12 Best Islands in Germany to Visit
20. Shetland Islands
If Orkney wasn’t remote enough for you, there is one archipelago that can take you a bit further. The Shetland Islands, previously called Zetland, are the northernmost part of the United Kingdom.
Home to the world’s favorite diminutive pony, these rugged islands are about halfway between Norway and the Faroe Islands. As you might expect, they are the site of prehistoric settlements by Norse people as they voyaged around the Atlantic. You can see plenty of these fascinating sites around the islands, such as at Jarlshof; and the island prides itself on being an open-air museum.
Besides the history, the landscape of the Shetland Islands is breathtaking. There are sandy beaches, dramatic cliff sides, and vast plains. In fact, you’ll notice a large lack of trees on Shetland, which is due to the sheep that graze and prevent tree growth.
Getting to Shetland is done either by overnight ferry from Aberdeen in Scotland or by flights from the major airports of the country. Don’t expect big chain hotels in this archipelago, but inns such as The Brae Hotel are perfectly comfortable for a trip to this wild place.
He might not know who or why it was built, but in the words of Ylvis “God, it is the greatest henge of all”.
The famous prehistoric monument of Stonehenge is well-known around the world and an easy site to visit in south England. Surviving from Neolithic times, science tells us that these stones were transported from Wales, but history hasn’t been able to tell us exactly why.
Today, the phenomenon is managed by English Heritage and can be visited in the plains surrounding Salisbury. They have done an excellent job creating an exhibition out of it, with other attractions such as Neolithic houses to show how they lived in prehistoric times.
Many tourists see Stonehenge on a day trip from London, which is certainly doable. It is also very close to the towns of Bath, Shaftesbury, and the Jurassic Coast; all places to visit are on this list.
Personally, I’d rent a car upon arriving in London and drive west, hitting each of these places and staying somewhere central like Bath. I’d then continue my drive west through the regions of Devon and Cornwall, both of which have plenty of beautiful sights to see.
22. Shaftesbury Village
Here is another English village that itself is a very beautiful place. It is a small town in the Dorset region, sitting on the top of a tall hill with sweeping views of the countryside.
That height is what makes Shaftesbury famous. A street called Gold Hill climbs above downtown. Made of cobblestones and lined with little old, typical houses, the top of this street is consistently voted to be one of the most beautiful views in the UK.
There is even a Gold Hill museum to tell you about the local history. There is an annual snowdrop flower festival in celebration of the flowers that line the fields nearby. The snowdrops were also used to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth.
To see the picture-perfect scene at the top of the hill and be surrounded by flowers, you may want to start your journey in Bristol to the north of Bournemouth to the south. Shaftesbury is easily combined with other southwest England attractions like Stonehenge or Bath. Check Kayak for deals on car rentals nearby to see it all at your own speed.
This English town is located in the gorgeous Somerset countryside. As you might be able to guess, it is the home of ancient Roman Baths, which are the only natural thermal water baths you can enjoy in Britain.
Besides bathing, you can enjoy a tour and dining at the Roman Baths. The city has plenty more to offer, though, such as beautiful architecture from the Georgian era and a lovely park where you can take in the skyline. You can also stroll through the Royal Victoria Park, home to beautiful botanical gardens, opened by Queen Victoria even before her reign.
One thing that might draw a lot of visitors from recent times is that Bath was the main filming location for the hit Netflix series Bridgerton. Superfans can even take a guided Bridgerton walking tour to see all the spots and inspiration from the show.
Bath is a great destination and it would be fine to make it a day trip from nearby Bristol or base yourself in town. As a huge fan of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World chain, I’d recommend The Gainsborough Bath Spa for an exceptionally relaxing base.
24. Isle of Skye & the Fairy Pools
This is a large Scottish island off the west coast of the country but connected to the mainland by a short bridge, so no planes or ferries will be necessary. However, that doesn’t mean you won’t feel a bit separated from it all on this island!
While the small villages and scenic coastline of the island are great, the real bonus of visiting is a quick hike to the famous Fairy Pools. This is a spot nestled deep within the Black Cuillins Mountains and consists of stunning natural waterfalls flowing into beautiful pools below.
The pools are seemingly blue, green, and crystal clear all at once. You can even go for a swim if you are willing to brave the cold. The whole area is a great place for hiking and wandering through nature.
As we said, you’ll be well off the beaten path on the Isle of Skye. There are some boutique hotels and guest houses, or you could take a cabin at the Skye Camping Pods to have an experience somewhere between a campsite and a forest lodge.
25. Pembrokeshire Coast National Park
Finally, the third of the three national parks in Wales certainly deserves a spot on our list. The Pembrokeshire Coast is a beautiful one on the southwestern tip of the country, known for its coastal trail.
You can hike all 186 miles of the clifftop trail if you’d like, or just pieces of it. Either way, it is not a terribly difficult one as parents with strollers have even been known to enjoy it. The dramatic drops tower above sandy beaches and rolling waves below, making for a peaceful stroll.
A major town within driving distance is Swansea, but why not stay in the countryside and enjoy a town like Pembroke? After all, this is the land of Welsh Corgis, and you may be lucky enough to see one around here. You can find adorable cottages for rent within walking distance from the famous trail.
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