Britain’s best cities
Despite its comparatively small geographic size, the United Kingdom is a nation of ancient history and incredible diversity. Towns, cities and countryside, separated by tiny distances, are uniquely different. Each, possess their own quirks, beauty and story.
The vast and amusing array of Great British accents is perhaps the most striking illustration of the Islands diversity. 56 primary independent regional accents have been identified in the UK. However, there are hundreds, or even thousands of distinct local variations.
To experience real Britain, you must venture out of its capital city. Aussies, like visitors from many other nations, often choose to visit London exclusively. While a great city, far greater charm, character and insight can be discovered beyond its borders. The United Kingdom’s public transport system is expensive, and busy. Nevertheless, it’s comprehensive. This means the small distances between Britain’s hidden jewels can be navigated easily and reliably.
Countless hamlets, villages and towns offer a glimpse of iconic and idyllic country-life. Likewise: Rolling Hills, remote islands, towering mountains, lakes, plains, rivers and coastline, are all accessible representatives of spectacularly British national beauty.
Independent research and spontaneous adventures are certainly recommended. Nevertheless, this article will focus on five cities every Aussie should consider frequenting if they’re planning a visit to the other side of the world.
Scotland’s capital is a majestic city of two parts. The ancient charisma of the Royal Mile can be found in the heart of the city’s stunning medieval old town. The Street’s hidden passageways and narrow back alleys slope from the castle to Holyrood Palace. Holyrood Palace is the seat of the Monarchy in Scotland, and where Her Majesty spends a week every summer. The palace acts as her Scottish base, from which, she carries out a range of official engagements.
Alongside the Old Town, sits the grandeur of its neo-classical Georgian New Town. Both are classified as UNESCO world heritage sites.
Short hikes to Carlton Hill and Arthur’s Seat provide incredible vantage points to take in Edinburgh in its entirety. A post-night out pilgrimage up to the hill is somewhat of a local tradition. From the top, committed visitors can steal a glimpse of the ever-absent rising Scottish sun. If you’ve got any energy left, a daytrip to the breathtaking Scottish countryside is an investment you won’t regret. Fife, The Lothians and the majestic Scottish Highlands are, quite simply, awe-inspiring.
Edinburgh is a city of world-famous literary pedigree. In fact, UNESCO have recently announced that it had been chosen as the World’s first: ‘City of Literature’. The impressive Scottish National Library makes its home here. Down the road is the gothic ‘Scott monument’. This tribute to Sir Walter Scott is the largest monument tribute to a writer in the World. Similarly, find inspiration for your next novel in the Elephant House café. This popular spot was the place J.K Rolling sat to pen her Harry Potter novels.
It is the yearly Fringe Festival that brings the World to Edinburgh. The month of August is a binge of comedy, drama, theatre and music. The biggest arts festival on the planet creates an electric atmosphere and sees 400,000 people enjoy tens of thousands of performances in nearly 300 venues. Likewise, if you’re around to welcome in a new year, Hogmanay is a uniquely Scottish celebration. Good food and local barrels of booze are plentiful as parades and fireworks entertain vibrant street parties. Do remember to wrap up warm. Edinburgh’s average daytime winter temperature is a chilly four degrees.
The gorgeous and romantic city of Bath is Britain’s largest Spa Town. It’s 2000-year-old natural hot springs, developed by the Celts and Romans for their supposed healing qualities, are still in operation today.
Visitors are invited to bathe in the warm water of the Roman Baths, which have been voted the most romantic building in the UK. The Temple of Aqua Sulis Minerva is still open to the public, as is the courtyard, and areas in which prayers were offered to goddess Sulis Minerva.
Whereas most UNESCO accreditation’s are awarded to beautiful landmarks or buildings, the entire city of Bath has been awarded UNESCO status.
It’s easy to see why. The streets of honey coloured Bath Stone flaunt architectural brilliance. The Cities centrepiece is the Royal Crescent – a sweeping display of 30 Georgian terrace houses. Other attractions are ‘the circus’, pump room, Bath Abbey (the city’s Norman cathedral,) and Assembly rooms (Where fashionable, well to do Georgina socialites would mingle). All, are historic, and notably attractive designs. .
Baths ‘Recreation Ground’ is Britain’s most unique and prettiest stadium, and would certainly be worth a visit for any Aussie rugby fans. The uncovered ground sits aside the river Avon, and is surrounded by towering Georgian buildings.
Visitors interested in the life of Jane Austin can visit her house and garden – the place she called home for five years. The Jane Austen Centre allows those who want to dress up to don the eccentric garments of the Austen era.
From Bath, Stonehenge is only 90 minutes by public transport. Likewise, the glorious Cotswold’s national Park is on the city’s doorstep. The Welsh border and its capital city of Cardiff is also extremely close.
The City of dreaming spires is home to the oldest university in the English-speaking world. Some of Oxford Universities 38 colleges are almost one thousand years old. All have their own traditions, colours and mottos. Steven Hawking, C.S Lewis, Tolkien, 28 Nobel laureates and 27 former British Prime Ministers have all studied in this global seat of learning.
Oxford is a city of incredible architectural variety. Radcliffe Camera, the Bodleian Library and the Sheldonian Theatre are all worth a visit. A wonder through the grounds of Christ Church College will reveal the college chapel – also Cathedral of the diocese of Oxford – Comprising Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire.
Bookshops and libraries litter the streets, nestled next to some of the finest museums in the world. Tourists can replicate the famous Oxford v Cambridge ‘Boat Race’ by rowing a boat along the river Thames.
Free walking tours, covered by voluntary donations, are the best and easiest way to take in the city. This is undoubtedly the case with all of Britain’s ancient cities. Visitors will get so much more out of them if they are able to hear, and experience the history and stories within from a knowledgeable guide.
Cambridge is an even prettier, smaller and less crowded destination than Oxford.
It too is defined by its iconic University. However, many believe it’s 32 colleges to be even more diverse and architecturally spectacular than their Oxford rivals.
Every step you take is steeped in history. Sir Isaac Newton, no doubt with many incomprehensible scientific musings on his mind, trod the same grounds of Trinity College that tourists do today. Similarly, pints are still consumed in the same room of the Eagle Pub in which Watson and Crick celebrated their creation of the first free-dimensional DNA structure. In the heart of Cambridge you’ll find Parker’s Piece common – the place where the first official rules of football were comprised.
Cambridge University Library is Home to 8 million books, while Ely Cathedral is yet another intriguing and historic place of worship. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, known locally as ‘round church’ is one of only four medieval churches still in operation today.
This city is packed with café’s, parks, bicycles and book shops, and no trip would be complete without a sunset ‘punt’ along the river Cam. A journey that will carry you beneath many quaint bridges and besides the astonishing Kings College – one of the nation’s most iconic buildings.
York is the County Town of Yorkshire – England’s largest country. Originally constructed by the Romans before being capture by the Vikings. York is considered by many to be the historic centre of Northern England.
The city has always been a focal point of British History. Most notably, the decade long ‘War of the roses’ fought between the House of York, represented by the white rose, and the House of Lancaster, represented by the red rose. While ultimately defeated, York’s role in the war helped shape Britain’s Monarchical history.
Built around the River Ouse the city centre is still enclosed by stony Medieval Walls. Tourists are encouraged to walk along them, and absorb the beauty of the city. Beneath the walls, Timber-framed houses and lantern lit cobbled streets comprise the ancient ‘Shambles’. Voted Britain’s most picturesque street.
The city is home to architecture from every era of British history. York Minster, among the Europe’s most dramatic Gothic Cathedrals, is constructed of medieval stone and beautiful stain glass windows. Visitors can explore its underground chambers, and climb the many steps of the central tower. Nearby, is Clifford’s tower – first Constructed by William the Conqueror to control the Northern Rebels.
The city is bustling with traditional pubs, open fires, beer gardens and British Ale. For those who enjoy a ghost story – York has been names the ‘most haunted metropolis in Europe’.
There are numerous fascinating day trips from York. The city is surrounded by majestic abbeys, and grand stately homes. Steam Train’s still transport visitors through the Yorkshire Dales, and Yorkshire Moors. Alternatively, or as well, the picturesque Yorkshire Seaside town of Whitby is two hours by train.