One of the remarkable things about living in the UK is the abundance of rich and vibrant history found in almost every town and city.
From the early settlements of the Celts in around 600BC to the invasions of Romans, Gaels, Saxons, Vikings and Normans, our green and pleasant archipelago has witnessed the convergence of many distinct peoples and cultures, resulting in the fascinating history you can explore today.
So, with summer here, now could be the ideal time to delve into the historical locations around the UK to learn more about how our nation developed over time. Continue reading to discover five fascinating UK destinations that are steeped in history.
York has played a central role in England’s history and has many wonderful sights.
The Roman Ninth Legion were supposedly the first to settle York, or “Eboracum” as they called it, in roughly AD71. During this time, they built walls to protect the legionaries from the quarrelsome Brythonic-Celt locals, though they were mainly built in the 13th century.
While they don’t protect the city from much these days, the walls offer a delightful 3.4-kilometre, two-hour walk around the city. Better yet, you’ll even see the four imposing fortified gateways during your stroll.
Long after the Roman incursions, the bloodthirsty Viking, Ivar the Boneless, helped conquer the city in AD866, renaming the fortress “Jorvik”.
The ruthless Norse invaders left a permanent mark on the city, which is brought to life at the Jorvik Viking Centre. The attraction displays a reconstructed Viking city and around 40,000 well-preserved artefacts, giving you a glimpse into the life of the Norsemen in approximately AD975.
And, of course, no trip to York would be complete without a visit to York Minster. Officially known as “The Cathedral and Metropolitan Church of St Peter in York”, King Edwin of Northumbria initially ordered the construction of this place of worship in the 7th century.
While it was only a small wooden structure at first, these days, the vast Gothic cathedral boasts glorious stained-glass windows and cavernous ceilings.
Nicknamed “Auld Reekie”, which means “Old Smokey” in Old Scots, Edinburgh is a city with a captivating and tumultuous history.
Its iconic castle, which is situated on an extinct volcano in the centre of the city, has served as a vital stronghold for Picts, Gaels, and Scots since around 900BC.
The fortress, which is the most besieged castle in Europe, houses several captivating sites and artefacts, such as the Stone of Destiny, the Honours of Scotland, and a breathtaking great hall. And, if you time your visit well, you may witness the one o’clock gun, a 64-pounder howitzer fired every day so ships could set their maritime clocks.
Holyroodhouse Palace is also well worth a visit – the royal residence was famously home to Mary, Queen of Scots, between 1561 and 1567. During a tour of the halls, you’ll see the State Apartments that housed Scottish nobility, exquisite furniture, and a collection of artworks including Renaissance frescos and French tapestries.
You can see more of Edinburgh’s brutal history at Mary King’s Close. The “close”, the Old Scots word for an alleyway, descends below the city we know today and was home to Edinburgh’s poorest throughout history.
The close was the location of many grisly murders and even housed condemned plague victims, all contributing to the eerie myth and legend that now shrouds the site. You may even be able to spot a ghost or two during the tour!
Bath is another British city filled with alluring historical sites. In fact, the city has been called “a living museum” and is the only city in the UK to be designated as a World Heritage Site in its entirety.
The Romans were the first to establish the city, building the famous basilica and bathing complex upon hot springs. While you can’t soak in the water, you can walk in the footsteps of the ancient Romans around the pool and view beautifully preserved treasures.
You could also visit Bath Abbey, a place of worship initially built in the 15th century. The site has been occupied by three different churches since AD757 – make sure you see the amazing organ in the church, which has 4,000 pipes, some of which are as tall as 10 metres.
After a stroll through the abbey, it may be worth visiting Pulteney Bridge, one of only four bridges remaining in the world with shops along its entire length on both sides. The Grade-I listed building, which crosses the river Avon, was completed in 1774 to connect the city with the Pulteney family’s land.
Known as the “Garden of England”, Kent has seen its fair share of history, and now boasts many imposing castles and towering cathedrals. Perhaps most notable is Canterbury Cathedral, the construction of which can be traced back to the arrival of St Augustine in AD597, who established Christianity in England.
The prominent cathedral soon became one of Europe’s most significant pilgrimage sites. Today, the place of worship is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and offers must-see Romanesque architecture, dank crypts, and spectacular stained-glass windows.
It’s also worth visiting Dover Castle, or the “Key to England”, as it’s known. William the Conqueror constructed the first incarnation of the castle in the 11th century, though it has evolved over the centuries into the medieval fortress you can visit today.
During a tour, you’ll be able to explore exquisite medieval architecture and numerous underground tunnels, giving you an insightful glimpse into the lives of its former inhabitants.
If you’ve not yet satiated your castle fix, you could then visit Hever Castle, a picturesque Tudor mansion that was the family home of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII. The manor was originally built in the 13th century and later converted into a castle.
As well as grand towers and walls, Hever Castle offers a fascinating glimpse into Anne Boleyn’s life and her relationship with the monarch.
No list of historical British locations would be complete without London. The Romans originally founded the city in AD43, and while little remains from this period, you can still find a wealth of historical sites here.
One of the few Roman sites that remains is the London Mithraeum. The Roman temple was discovered on the banks of the long-lost River Walbrook in 1954 during the construction of a new office block for Legal & General. Today, the site offers an innovative museum experience designed to change the way you view archaeology.
Following the Norman invasion, William the Conqueror commissioned the Tower of London in AD1078, a fortress-stronghold to safeguard his royal prerogative. Over the centuries, the tower has witnessed a tumultuous history, serving as a prison and execution site. Most notably, Anne Boleyn was executed here, and Henry VI was murdered on location during the War of the Roses.
It’s worth allowing plenty of time for your visit, as the tower has many things to see, such as the Crown Jewels, the Bloody Tower, and even a Beefeater or two.
And, of course, Westminster Abbey is the jewel in London’s crown of historical sites. The abbey has been the site of every single royal coronation since AD1066, and has hosted many royal weddings and funerals.
As well as the breathtaking architecture, the abbey is home to the tombs of many famous figures throughout history, such as Elizabeth I, Geoffrey Chaucer, and Sir Isaac Newton.