The UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites is an internationally renowned classification, which identifies places of importance to cultural or natural heritage. Earlier this year, Jodrell Bank Observatory, in rural north-west England, became Great Britain’s latest addition to the UNESCO list. We think they do a pretty good job of picking out some key sites for your self-drive trip in Great Britain! Broadly travelling from north to south, here are ten of our favourite UNESCO sites:
1. Edinburgh Old & New Town
Scotland’s capital is a city of two halves, but each is as compelling as the other. Simply wandering the steep, narrow lanes of the medieval Old Town and strolling through the wide crescents and gardens of the elegant Georgian New Town is a highlight of any visit. The Old Town is topped-and-tailed by two of Scotland’s greatest historic assets – imposing Edinburgh Castle and the grand Palace of Holyrood House.
2. Frontiers of the Roman Empire
Built as a barrier between the ‘civilised’ Roman Empire to the south and the ‘marauding Scots’ to the North, Hadrian’s Wall is testament to Roman ambition and engineering skills. Several long sections of the wall remain fully intact and the remains of forts and ‘milecastles’, while in the most part reduced to foundations, provide a huge amount of information about the lives of soldiers and the communities that sprang up around them at this remote northern outpost. The wall crosses dramatic, stark Northumberland scenery, making the sites all the more atmospheric and a great place to stretch the legs.
The picturesque and historic city of Durham is also easily visited when in this area, and is home to one of Britain’s most impressive cathedrals (another UNESCO World Heritage Site!) and an enticing tangle of cobbled streets running down to the river. Durham’s other famous site, its Castle, stands across the square from the cathedral and is now a college building for the city’s renowned university.
3. The Lake District
Added to the UNESCO list in 2017, the towering mountains, glistening lakes, pretty villages, classic pubs and fascinating literary connections all combine to make the Lake District a favourite stop on any tour of England. The stunning scenery makes it a top walking destination, with options for all levels, from tough mountain hikes to gentle lakeside strolls.
Traditional slate villages with winding lanes, country cottages and inviting pubs and cafes are found throughout the area. Simply driving between them over the winding mountain passes can be a great way to see the Lake District.
4. Studley Royal Park and the Ruins of Fountains Abbey
The ruins of 12th century Fountain’s Abbey sit in the beautiful Victorian gardens of Studley Royal Park. Left to ruin after Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century, the abbey, situated in what was a remote and inaccessible valley, retains a feel of peace and tranquillity. The fascinating history of the abbey is told in the onsite visitor centre.
5. Blenhiem Palace
Undoubtedly one of the country’s finest stately homes. Sir Winston Churchill was born here and there is a very interesting exhibition in the house about his life. You can learn more about the palace and its incredible collections by joining a guided tour of the State Rooms (which leave every 20 minutes or so). Leave plenty of time to explore the grounds and gardens landscaped by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. While there, take the opportunity to visit the small Cotswolds town of Woodstock, a short stroll out of Blenheim's grounds.
6. Tower of London
A building with one of the most fascinating histories of any in the world. Royal palace, fort, prison and place of execution, the Tower has witnessed many of the most significant events in English history. It remains home to the Crown Jewels as well as the famous ‘Beefeaters’, who conduct tours of the tower.
7. Maritime Greenwich
This lovely area of east London combines three excellent sites: the Old Royal Naval College, Royal Observatory, and the recently reopened Cutty Sark. The large park is also a great place for a stroll or a picnic on a sunny day.
8. Stonehenge, Avebury and associated sites
Any visit to Wiltshire (and even the UK) often seems incomplete without stopping at this iconic site which is probably one of the most recognisable monuments in the world. Stonehenge is a ring of 5000 year old standing stones set within earthworks which became a World Heritage Site in 1986. It understandably receives the highest number of visitors in the region. With much mystery still surrounding Stonehenge, the new visitor centre provides a lot of information and interesting exhibitions.
Wiltshire’s other most recognisable stone circle, Avebury, forms part of the World Heritage Site with Stonehenge and is actually older and, for many, more atmospheric, than its more famous neighbour. Make time to wander amongst the stones of the inner circle and the great outer circle, take a walk to the largest man-made mound in Europe (Silbury Hill), offering lovely views of the surrounding country, and explore the ‘West Kennett Long Barrow’. Avebury Manor also makes a great stop with lovely gardens and tea room.
9. City of Bath
Wandering around the crescents and gardens it is easy to see why Bath has UNESCO protected status. Bath is also the only place in the UK where you can bathe in naturally hot spa water, which has made it a popular spa break destination for thousands of years! The city offers some of the finest architectural sights in Europe, including the Roman Baths & Pump Room, England’s most complete Georgian and Regency architecture and a stunning medieval abbey. You will certainly not be disappointed if you are looking for somewhere to eat - Bath has a wonderful array of award winning restaurants and welcoming pubs.
10. Mining Landscape of Cornwall & West Devon
From 1700 to 1914, the metal mining industry (mainly copper and tin) played a vital role in providing essential raw materials to feed the Industrial Revolution. Mining relics and sites can be found all along the coast. The area around St Agnes is particularly rich in mines. For TV fans, Owles and Crowns mines near Botallack starred as Ross Poldark's Wheal Leisure in the popular series.
We hope that these places have inspired you to explore some of Britain and, if you would like some help planning a self-drive trip, please do get in touch.