Best Places to Visit in the U.K. and What to Know
The United Kingdom is always a popular travel destination, and especially now – a combination of pent-up demand and a more favorable exchange rate has sent Americans flocking to the U.K. Multiple surveys have shown London is Americans’ top European destination in 2022, with general estimates of European travel showing a 600% gain over last year.
If you’re part of that 600%, or want to be, but don’t know much about traveling to the U.K., here are a few facts you should know, and some great destinations to visit in this green and pleasant land. Or, jump straight to some of the post popular destinations in the U.K.
It’s made up of four different countries
The United Kingdom is a little like the United States in that it’s not just one state but a collection of semi-autonomous but not really independent units.
The U.K. includes the countries of Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and England.
The countries have become more independent over the last several decades, but traveling among them is more like traveling across state lines than across country borders. Where the the words “state” and “country” gets confusing is the U.K. calls itself a sovereign state made up of multiple countries, whereas the U.S. is a country made up of states. So, when we talk about European “states,” we mean countries.
However, each of the U.K.’s constituent countries has its own unique feel. Scotland doesn’t feel like Northern Ireland, and vice versa – and neither of them feel quite like England.
The four-country setup makes for a destination that’s surprisingly diverse, especially for a place as small as the U.K.
It’s surprisingly rural
Like a lot of European states, the U.K. has very urban areas with rural areas between. Less urban sprawl means there are more of the quaint English villages you see in PBS dramas.
It also means there are some surprisingly wild stretches, especially in the north of England and in Scotland.
The urban-rural dichotomy is especially noticeable if you take a road or rail trip out of London. It’s the best way to appreciate the country’s diversity.
It has a lot of coastline
Because it’s an island nation, the U.K. has a lot of coastline – almost 8,000 miles, to be exact. It’s not a particularly friendly coastline for beach lovers, but it does allow for some breathtaking views of cliffs, rocks and water.
Like everything else in England, the coast is diverse, from the cliffs of Dover to the beaches of Cornwall to the rugged Scottish coast. It may not be as well-publicized as the coast of Ireland, but it’s every bit as picturesque.
Also see: Ireland Travel Tips
Popular U.K. Destinations
London is one of the world’s great cities, and an easy city to get around, whether walking or taking the legendary Underground a/k/a The Tube. Other cities in the U.K. are compelling in their own ways, from Liverpool and its Beatles history and world-class soccer team to Edinburgh and its amazing Folk Festival.
Here are some places to consider when you visit the U.K.
The Lake District
The home of some of the greatest poets and writers of the English language, the Lake Country has inspired writers, composers, and artists for centuries.
Its rural allure persists virtually unchanged thanks to the Lake District National Park, more than 900 square miles of lakes, rivers, mountains, meadows, and villages that have been preserved and maintained as an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Whatever your passion, be ready for creative inspiration while visiting the Lake District. Drop your everyday worries amidst the freedom of travel and see what comes.
The Beaches of Cornwall
As mentioned earlier, for having almost 8,000 miles of coastline, the U.K. mostly comes up short in the beach department.
The exception is in the county of Cornwall, the little “foot” of England that stretches southwest into the Atlantic Ocean. Here the temperatures are moderate and more than 150 beaches await tourists.
Beaches like Praa Sands and Polzeath tend to be more touristed while Porth Joke and Gyllyngvase Beach are more laid-back – but even the most popular beaches are crowded in a very orderly, English sort of way.
Sometimes the Cornwall beaches get you to do a “wait – we’re in England?” sort of doubletake. Go with it – and yes, you’re in England.
There’s an indescribable warmth to Wales that emanates from its people. The countryside is warm too – soft and inviting, especially at twilight. It’s largely a rural country except for the two larger cities on the coast, Cardiff and Swansea.
The best way to see Wales is the same way you’d explore rural America: Take the backroads, stop at places that look inviting, talk to the people, and don’t drive too fast.
Along the way, plan to stop at Brecon Beacons or Snowdonia national parks. The former combines jewel-like lakes with mountains in a sort of miniature Norway; the latter is more bucolic.
Either way, the sights and the people will make the trip more than worthwhile.
The traditional seat of English learning is also a great place to wander about, whether walking the streets, visiting small bakeries or cheese shops, or “punting” (pole-boating) on the Thames.
The colleges themselves are also splendid, though smaller than you might have expected. It’s all very bookish in a Harry Potter sort of way, which is just the way you’d want it.
The Scottish Isles
You’ve heard of the British Isles? Well, up at the very top are some islands belonging to Scotland that provide all the solitude you could ever desire.
The southern islands in the Firth of Clyde, like Arran and Islay, are rural and more temperate than the Hebrides to the north, which are known for two things: sheep and the sweaters made from their wool.
Between the Outer Hebrides and the mainland is the Isle of Skye, with castles, rugged coastline, and the distillery that makes the popular liqueur Drambuie, a combination of local honey and scotch whiskey.
Finally, the Orkney Islands at the top of Scotland are wilder and more rugged, with weather that can change from sunny and blustery to stormy and blustery at the drop of a tam o’shanter.
Scotland in general isn’t afraid to show its wild side, but it also has some of Europe’s kindest, most welcoming people. Turns out you can have it both ways.
A vacation in England can be sophisticated or adventurous – or both if you do it right. Fortunately, Generali travel insurance is made to cover trips of all kinds, especially when going abroad. Get a quote today.