Date of Publication: 15 March 2021
For many years now, the UK has been a popular destination for holidaymakers both nationally and for tourists from around the world. In the past few years, visits to the UK had begun to reach new highs, with international bookings to the UK reaching over 1.5 billion in 2019 – which is up by 19% when compared to the year previous.
This year, as travel restrictions begin to ease and the UK looks to fully lift all social contact limits by the summertime, the UK is expected to see another unprecedented rise in the number of families looking to arrange holidays within its most loved towns and cities.
But where are the best cities to visit in the UK? Outside of London, there are so many exciting and equally-impressive destinations for holidaymakers and tourists to visit, with all of them offering easy transport links.
To help decide where to explore this summer, we’ve put together a comprehensive list of 15 of the best cities to visit in the UK. They are often rated as the best in the British Isles, offering a wealth of heritage, culture, and entertainment for those of all ages.
What Are the Best Cities to Visit in the UK?
Visiting the UK this summer? Or looking to explore the best that the UK has to offer on a staycation?
Take a look at our list of 15 of the best cities to visit in the UK this summer, each offering plenty to see and enjoy for families of all ages.
As a city that has long been leading the cultural scene, Bath remains one of the top cities to visit in UK. Hosting a busy but quality schedule of festivals throughout the year which includes live theatre, music and literature, there’s also plenty of evening entertainment to enjoy too, including an art house cinema and comedy club.
With a history dating back to 1AD, the city was built as a space for relaxation by the Romans which is recognisable with its collection of swish spas and easy-going city life. Warming, honey-coloured Georgian architecture can be seen around every corner, with the Circus and Royal Crescent showcasing some of the city’s grandest buildings – which led to the city being one of the most popular destinations for 18th Century socialites and holiday-makers.
Today, no trip to the city is complete without a visit to the incredible Roman Baths, which used to be the city’s central socialisation and cleaning spot. These are recognised as some of the best-preserved in the world, with hot springs that bubble up to 46°C. There’s also the sophisticated Thermae Bath Spa, offering a luxurious retreat for spa-lovers, with stunning city views to be captured from its roof-top pool.
As the capital of Scotland, it’s hardly surprising that Edinburgh is often rated as one of the best cities to visit in the UK. Complete with snippets of medieval history in its historic Edinburgh Castle and Palace of Holyroodhouse, it’s also a cosmopolitan city of arts, music, and all-things culture. In the summer months especially, the city hosts an exciting arts festival known as the Fringe, which is the largest of its kind in the world – drawing hundreds of thousands of tourists every year.
But if you want to escape the hustle and bustle of city life and enjoy some incredible panoramic views, then take a trip up the ancient volcano, Arthur’s Seat. As the highest point in the city, it offers breath-taking views over Edinburgh and its surrounding rocky hills. Fortunately the walk isn’t too difficult either, so the whole family can enjoy the relaxing hike to the top.
Like your favourite book, Edinburgh is a city you and your family will want to visit time and time again. With easy access via the UK’s railway lines and an enchanting scene of entertainment and tourist attractions to see, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Don’t forget it’s also home to The Elephant House, a gourmet tea and coffee shop which inspired JK Rowling’s world-famous Harry Potter book series.
For fans of Medieval architecture, a trip to Norwich will certainly not disappoint. Recognised as the most complete Medieval city in the UK, Norwich is filled with heritage and history; from its magnificent Cathedral and Castle to the 900-year-old market which captures the city’s locals and visiting tourists.
The city is a true reflection of when old meets new; cobbled lanes and half-timbered architecture sets the backdrop for an exciting student population which enhances the city’s relaxed atmosphere. It’s also conveniently located close to the Norfolk Broads and beaches, making it the perfect base for further exploration.
Despite its convenient location, there is plenty to keep you occupied in Norwich, with a collection of independent cafes, venues and boutique shops to sample as an alternative to the usual high-street options. One of these includes the vibrant Biddy’s Tea Room, which has been world-famous for its eccentric design, delicious homemade afternoon tea, and variety of tea samples to enjoy.
There’s no denying that a trip to England’s capital city offers plenty of opportunities for fun and action-packed excitement. As one of the most visited cities in the world, London is bursting full of instantly recognisable buildings, including the Tower of London, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey to name a few of its most famous landmarks. There’s also plenty of innovation to see, including The Shard and the Sky Garden which stand out against the city’s centuries-old narrative.
London really does have something for everyone to enjoy. Families visiting here can enjoy some of the city’s biggest attractions, including the London Eye, Tower Bridge, and Madame Tussauds, indulge in a shopping spree down the world-famous Oxford Street; or sit back and enjoy the thrill of live-action performance in one of the West End’s leading theatres.
The capital is deeply multicultural and bustling with different personalities which can be found in the city’s exquisite collection of food, music, and fashion options, as well as in its historic museums which celebrate cultural diversity. Destinations such as the Victoria & Albert Museum offer magnificent collections of artists passed by, while the atmosphere of Borough Market, Carnaby Street, and other market destinations embrace the current eclectic mix of residents and local traders.
Families looking for the best cities to visit in the UK will do no wrong in the city of Bristol, which has recently been named by the New York Times as one of the top places to visit in the world.
There’s so much to see and do in Bristol, making it the perfect option for families looking to explore more of the UK this summer. One of the most hailed attractions is the world-famous SS Great Britain, a giant naval ship which holds so much of Britain’s maritime history. It’s an excellent educational centre, with an on-board museum and learning facilities – with ticket prices reasonably priced.
Beyond the city’s maritime past, the city of Bristol holds so much more, including The Christmas Steps. Despite what the name suggests, these famous steps actually refer to a narrow 17th Century lane, which is surrounded by an impressive collection of boutique shops and galleries. There’s also Stokes Croft – a bustling community area filled with great cafes, restaurants and bars, which is a great place to grab lunch and sample food from the local traders.
Did you know that Manchester was at the heart of Britain’s Industrial Revolution? Hence the iconic ‘worker bee’ symbol you will proudly see on display throughout much of the city. Still retaining an important part of its heritage, invention, discovery and progress remain one of the city’s keen driving forces, especially with it being one of the cities to produce some of the greatest musicians in the world, including Oasis and The Smiths.
Want to catch this city at its coolest? Whether you’re a keen day-tripper or looking to spend a few days immersing yourself in its culture, there’s much to see and do in Manchester that you’ll be wanting to visit time and time again. From arts and crafts to fine dining and shopping, there’s so much to soak up, with an atmosphere that’s electric in the summer months.
As a city synonymous with creative spirit, be sure to explore the creative Northern Quarter, a Bohemian maze of backstreets dotted between Piccadilly train station and the High Street which is filled with galleries, quirky cafes and shops. But if you’re looking for a more relaxed and independent setting for shopping and brunching, then Beech Road in the suburb of Chorlton offers a far more laid back atmosphere with its outdoor dining terraces and open green spaces.
For great architecture, make sure you take a marvel at the city’s orante Town Hall in Albert Square and the Central Library which is located in St. Peter’s Square. Both very different in style but equally marvellous in terms of architectural integrity, they’re a must-visit for those who enjoy sight-seeing and exploring UK listed buildings.
Finally, after a busy day of exploring, a trip to Ancoats is a must. Ancoats, the canal-side neighbourhood is a popular hangout spot for foodies and students – with so many independent cafes and restaurants springing up to choose from, including the first Michelin-star restaurant since 1977, it’s recognised by locals as one of the coolest neighbourhoods in Manchester.
Abundant with inspirational charm, grand architecture, and quirky university rituals, it comes as no surprise that Cambridge is so often rated as one of the best cities to visit in the UK.
With a world-leading university that makes it so frequently compared to Oxford, the city of Cambridge is remarkably smaller than its rival, but certainly offers no less in what it has to offer tourists. With a choice of world-famous museums, galleries, live entertainment festivals, theatres, and shopping centres, there’s always something to do, no matter when you visit.
Of course, the city’s defining feature is its educational roots, with over 30 colleges making up the highly-acclaimed University of Cambridge. Being quite a compact city, it really is possible to wander around the city’s narrow streets and cobblestone streets and literally walk the same paths as countless prime ministers, award-winning scientists, writers, and poets. But to catch the best views, it’s recommended that you go punting along the River Cam. Whether you’re going it alone, or enjoying a guided tour with a professional, punting allows you to see the colleges’ ‘Backs’ and Cambridge from behind its grandiose front exteriors.
The majority of the city is also ‘car-free,’ making sightseeing far more enjoyable. Of course, cobblestone streets are usually occupied by students and locals on their bicycles, but these still make the city far more tranquil than noisy traffic. There’s also plenty of green space to escape to, including the university’s Botanical Gardens, as well as open parks and the surrounding wild-flower Grantchester Meadows, which are perfect summer spots for family picnics.
Brighton is one of those busy seaside destinations that make it a rival as one of the best cities to visit in UK. Comfortably positioned between the sea and Sussex countryside, it offers a variety of things to see and do for families looking to escape into the fresh air. It’s also conveniently located within easy reaching distance of the UK capital, London, making it a popular destination for family day trips to the seaside.
One of main visitor attractions is the Palace Pier, which is filled with exciting rides, arcade activities, and refreshing seaside themed refreshments. Next to it, there’s also the Victorian aquarium, Sea Life Brighton, where you can learn more about the creatures who live in seas around the world – and even watch them swim over your head in the underwater tunnel!
But aside from the bustling coastal attractions, Brighton is a city full of history. Filled with its ancient narrow lines and quirky shops which have been passed from generations to the next, it’s also home to the world-famous Royal Pavilion – an exotic seaside palace built for a place of pleasure for King George IV in 1787.
Having only recently been crowned as the capital of Wales in 1955, Cardiff has embraced the role with full-force, emerging itself as one of the leading urban centres in the UK. A compact but busy little city, Cardiff really is the definition of old meets new, with a border which connects from an ancient fort to an ultramodern waterfront feature.
Come the weekend and summer holidays, a buzz swarms through the city, as visitors and locals soak up everything this city has on offer. Cardiff has a bevy of museums, attractions, parks, live entertainment venues, restaurants and more – if anything, it’s hard to narrow down what to see and do during your time here.
No trip would be complete without a look around Cardiff Castle – an ancient stone fortress that has overlooked the city since the 11th Century. Similarly, Cardiff Bay offers exquisite architecture like Pierhead and the Norwegian Church, as well as the old docks and Wetlands Nature Reserve. You can even take a guided boat tour around Mermaid Quay and Penarth Barrage to learn more about the city’s most recent developments, or visit Craft in the Bay: a permanent exhibition by Welsh craft-makers which celebrate their work and heritage of traditional craft.
But if you ever want to escape the busyness of city life, Cardiff also makes an excellent base for day trips to the surrounding valleys and coastal areas, where you can discover ancient castles, secluded beaches, and famous monuments – making it a great destination for summer breaks.
Often rated as one of the best cities to visit in the UK, York is a must-visit for families looking to explore a city that screams Medieval history and heritage. As a city that has committed itself to preserving its pre-industrial lustre, it offers plenty of Gothic architecture and cobblestone streets, including the magnificent 13th-century walls which close it all together.
Unsurprisingly, York is a popular tourist destination, containing a myriad of museums, restaurants, cafes, and pubs. At his heart lies York Minster, which is revered as one of the most immense Gothic cathedrals in the world. Sitting in its basement is an underground museum, which teaches visitors all about its impressive history and preservation. Nearby, there’s also the York Chocolate Story and York Castle Museum, both of which are fun, educational centres, with plenty of interactive entertainment for keeping you and your family enthralled throughout the day.
Of course, no trip to York is complete without a walk around the most ancient parts of the city centre, including those preserved medieval city walls. Explore the nearby narrow lanes and discover a unique collection of shops and boutiques, each hidden within Victorian timber buildings and offering the finest local produce. There’s also plenty of places to find refreshments too, including the highly-recommended Countess of York cafe inside the city’s Railway Museum, where you can enjoy one of the city’s finest afternoon tea experiences from the comfort of a beautifully restored rail-carriage.
It may be best known as the home of the Beatles, but the port city of Liverpool has established a reputation as one of the UK’s most creative and exciting cities in the UK, thanks to its proliferation of art venues, listed buildings and national museums. In fact, if you love history, then you’ll be pleased to know that it has the second-highest number of these, after the UK’s capital London.
Museum-hopping and a stop at some of the best-rated independent eateries? Or how about a day of sight-seeing followed by a show at one of the venues which established some of the greatest bands in the world? Whether you’re on the hunt for culture, breath-taking architecture or just somewhere to enjoy some delicious food after a long day’s sightseeing, Liverpool really does have it all.
Top attractions in the city include the immersive walk-through journey of The Beatles Story, which pays homage to the world-famous band with interactive exhibits for the whole family to enjoy. There’s also Tate Liverpool, which has become a major site for major art-touring exhibitions and events. For outdoor enthusiasts, there’s Sefton Park – a 250 acre Grade I-listed park which offers an abundance of green space in the south of the city. Or if you prefer something off-ground, why not take a ride on the hop-on-hop-off Mersey Ferry ride, or try climbing the 138-metre-tall Radio City Tower, which offers unrivalled views of the city.
As Scotland’s biggest city, Glasgow stands one of the top cities to visit in the UK, mainly due to its rapid evolution of the past couple of decades. The city’s collection of free museums and Victorian architecture pay homage to this, making it an exciting summer destination for those who love to immerse themselves in history.
Architecturally, the city really is astounding. Its centre is constructed of impressive stately Victorian mansions and public buildings, which were a product of wealth generated from manufacturing and trade many many years ago. The industrial heritage which helped build it as one of the leading trade centres in the UK can be seen through the many production buildings which remain today. Innovation remains at the forefront of the city’s most recent developments, with many iconic buildings which sit alongside the Clyde River having recently become local icons.
Extensive shopping, dining, and entertainment quarters draw in many tourists, while the University of Glasgow and nearby School of Art has become major attractions, and helped Glasgow become recognised as the City of Music by UNESCO.
For families, the Hunterian Museum, Riverside Museum, and People’s Palace & Glasgow Green offer a wealth of interactive exhibits to educate city-visitors on Glasgow’s history over the centuries. Meanwhile, Glasgow Botanic Gardens and Kelvingrove Park are the perfect destinations on sunny days when you want to relax. There’s so much to see and do in the city!
Stratford-upon-Avon remains one of the top cities in the UK for literary fans, having been the birthplace of world-famous writer, William Shakespeare. But with over 800 years of history, there’s so much more to explore in this thriving market town.
A much more compact and quieter destination for tourists, Stratford-upon-Avon is certainly the place to go if you love exploring quaint communities with a proud heritage and history. Explore everything it has to offer with one of its easy walking tours, which will take you past some of its most impressive landmarks, including William Shakespeare’s grave, at the Church of Holy Trinity, his school (where he studied from 1571 to 1578), and his wife, Anne Hathaway’s cottage.
Finish a busy day of sightseeing with a trip to the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre, which can seat over 1000 guests. The theatre has recently undergone a major refurbishment and now houses a thrust auditorium, with seats no further than 15 metres away from the stages. Next door, you will also find ‘The Other Place,’ which is a great creative hub for learning, research and development – created by the same community that ignite Shakespeare’s plays on stage each night.
Durham is an ideal destination for families looking to holiday within the UK. With easy transport links, beautiful swathes of greenery as well as stunning Romanesque architecture, it’s also incredibly easy to find your way around. But what draws most individuals to the city of Durham is that it’s also home to an internationally-acclaimed university, which is often ranked as one of the top 10 places to study in the UK. It truly is an inspiring place to be.
If you choose to travel into the city by train, you will be falling in love with it almost instantly. As you pull into the station, you’ll be introduced to the stunning architecture, which sits enclosed by the stunning natural landscape of northern England.
Of course, the major attraction of the city is the stunning architecture, including Durham Cathedral and Castle, which are surrounded by an intricate map of hilly, cobblestone streets. Those who are feeling brave can climb the 325 steps of Durham Cathedral Tower, which offers unparalleled views of the city and its surrounding countryside.
Be warned that any sightseeing comes with a slight challenge: Durham is a very hilly city, but this is one of its appeals. With preserved winding alleys filled with boutiques, independent eateries, and museums about the city’s history, a day exploring its hidden streets will present you with unique finds that capture the city’s history and best local trade.
Though Durham is one of the smallest cities on our list, it’s conveniently located a short drive from the rolling hills of Durham Dales, making it the perfect base for lovers of beautiful open countryside. There’s hikes of varying abilities to be enjoyed, as well as quaint B&Bs, shops, cafes, and museums to be found in some of the neighbouring towns to learn more about the area’s local history.
Of course, it would be impossible to create a list of the best cities to visit in the UK without paying homage to our beloved city of Oxford. So often ranked as one of the top cities to visit in the UK for tourists to visit, its honey-coloured dreaming spires and riverside location, make the university city of Oxford as charming as it is inspirational.
Although there’s so many things to see and do, the University of Oxford and its 45 colleges are very much the city’s defining feature. Consistently ranked around the world as one of the most prestigious academic institutions, the university traces its award-winning reputation back to the 11th Century, where it laid the foundations for excellence in education in the UK. Modern visitors flock to the city to explore these colleges and soak up the inspirational atmosphere that bounces between these historic buildings.
But beyond the university, there’s so much more to see and enjoy in Oxford. For families and children, there are plenty of interactive museums dotted around the city centre, with one of the most famous (and oldest in the UK) being the Ashmolean. There’s also the Oxford Museum of Natural History and Pitt Rivers, which showcase an acclaimed collection of artefacts around human and animal development from around the world.
One of the city’s biggest draws is how compact and easily accessible it is by foot. Like Cambridge, much of the city is closed to traffic, allowing tourists to stroll around the streets and soak up the grand architectural designs of the university which are often referred to as the city’s ‘dreaming spires.’ There’s also plenty of famous sites to see, such as some of the filming locations from the Harry Potter film franchise, as well as plenty of open green spaces and parks to relax in during the warm summer months.
Study in One of the Best UK Cities This Summer
Can’t wait to visit the UK? The UK is a popular destination for summer holidays, with so many family-friendly cities and attractions to be explored. But if you’re looking for a summer trip that incorporates exceptional learning opportunities with exciting extracurricular activities and city exploration, then look no further than our summer courses.
Located in some of the top cities in the UK due to their renowned academic institutions which have firmly established them as the best educational sites in the world, you can choose from Oxford, Cambridge, or London, depending on the subject and type of learning style which suits you best.
Available to students aged 13-24 years-old, we have over 50 subjects available, with the option to extend your stay and study in more than one city during your time with us. Contact our admissions team to learn more about our award-winning summer courses and find out what options we have available this summer.