First things first, did you see my 25 Things to Do in London post in February?
Who among us isn't guilty of assuming England is equal parts London and charming, quaint countryside? In fact, when I announced I was moving to England, many people assumed I was moving to London. But I'm here to tell you there's so much more to the country than pretty pastel houses along quiet city streets and beautiful stone cottages scattered across rolling green hills. Although, I'll be honest, those are two of my favourite things about my new homeland.
But let's start with the basics. As Ted Lasso so eloquently put it, "How many countries are in this country?" Four. The answer is four. The United Kingdom is made up of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Great Britain is the island that is made up of the first three. And to answer your next question, Luke tells me that Northern Irish athletes compete on the Olympic team, even though they're always known as GB. I don't get it. To really simplify the history of this four-in-one country: the Kingdom of England had previously conquered and annexed Wales. In 1707, the Treaty of Union created the United Kingdom, which encompassed all of Great Britain. In 1801, the Kingdom of Ireland merged with the United Kingdom to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. In 1922, five sixths of Ireland seceded from the UK, creating the present Republic of Ireland separate from the United Kingdom, made up of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Needless to say, with four countries, centuries of history, and over 90,000 square miles, there's a lot to do and see. I've narrowed it down to my top 15 places to visit, only some of which I've actually visited myself. The rest are high on my list when considering travel around the country. I've grouped together them based on country, starting with England, following with Wales, Scotland, and finally Northern Ireland.
I'm starting with Bath because it's alphabetical, but also because it's #1 on my UK travel list. Between our friends who went to uni in Bath and one of my Instagram friends, Holly, who posts gorgeous photos of her town all the time, I'm just obsessed. And actually, when I first started looking for wedding venues in England, I looked a lot in Bath and found so many lovely venues, but Luke advised that it would be quite difficult for some out of towners to get to without a rental car. Bath is located in Somerset and is known for Roman-built baths. Bath Abbey was founded in the 7th century and became a religious centre; the building was rebuilt in the 12th and 16th centuries. In the 17th century, claims were made for the curative properties of water from the springs, and Bath became popular as a spa town in the Georgian era. Georgian architecture, crafted from Bath stone, includes the Royal Crescent, Circus, Pump Room and Assembly Rooms. It just sounds like every building, every street, every stone is absolutely stunning. Also, Jane Austen lived there! I've been told if you go to Bath, you must brunch, so that sounds like my kind of place.
Luke surprised me with a trip to the Cotswolds last year for my birthday. It was better than I could have ever dreamed! According to Wikipedia, The Cotswolds is an area in south central England containing the Cotswold Hills, a range of rolling hills which rise from the meadows of the upper Thames to an escarpment, known as the Cotswold Edge, above the Severn Valley and Evesham Vale. The area is defined by the bedrock of Jurassic limestone that creates a type of grassland habitat rare in the UK and that is quarried for the golden coloured Cotswold stone. It contains unique features derived from the use of this mineral; the predominantly rural landscape contains stone-built villages, historical towns and stately homes and gardens. This is the district that we Americans picture when we think of the English countryside! The area is dotted with little villages made up of the unique stone houses, most of which have sage green trim. I would recommend visiting a couple of villages as most of them are quite small and can be walked in a day. Two of the most popular (and photogenic) are Castle Combe and Bibury. If you have the time, I highly recommend renting a cottage via Airbnb to get the full experience.
Maybe you've heard of the Glastonbury Festival, but did you know that Glastonbury is home to many legends, like Joseph of Arimathea, the Holy Grail, and King Arthur? When I was a child I was obsessed with King Arthur so to find out that King Arthur and Guinevere's graves were supposedly found at the Abbey, I knew I had to visit someday. I haven't visited yet, but Glastonbury is also in Somerset, which sounds like a beautiful area of the country. And if you're as fascinated by the legend of King Arthur as I am, you're sure to love it. But don't worry, there's more to do and see around Glastonbury.
THE LAKE DISTRICT
Everyone says I have to visit the Lake District, but I haven't made my way over there yet. It's such a beautiful pocket of the country that offers so much to explore. According to Wikipedia, a popular holiday destination, it is famous for its lakes, forests and mountains (or fells) and its associations with the early 19th century writings of William Wordsworth and the other Lake Poets as well as those of Beatrix Potter and John Ruskin. A National Park was established in 1951 and, following a minor extension in 2016, now covers an area of approximately 2,362 square kilometres. It is located entirely within the county of Cumbria, and all the land in England higher than 3,000 feet (914 m) above sea level lies within the National Park, including Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England. It also contains the deepest and longest bodies of water in England, respectively Wast Water and Windermere. If you're outdoorsy, you're going to love the Lake District.
Luke and I visited Oxford on my birthday last year since it's quite close to the Cotswolds. To be honest with you, I didn't enjoy it all that much. It was so crowded and we didn't have much of a plan, so we ended up not seeing much of anything. However, I would quite like to go back someday. Of course Oxford is best known for its world-renowned university, but be prepared to pay a small fee to be able to see any part of the campus. The university also doubled as Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies and I would love to do one of the Harry Potter tours one day! But besides the university, the city is so beautiful and there is so much to do and so much to see. We mostly stayed around the high street, but easily walked from the university to the cathedral. And since it was such a beautiful summer day, we stopped for an ice cream in the park and enjoyed the sunshine.
I can't talk about England without mentioning probably the most famous landmark in the country. According to Wikipedia, Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument in Wiltshire. It consists of a ring of standing stones, with each standing stone around 13 feet high, 7 feet wide and weighing around 25 tons. The stones are set within earthworks in the middle of the most dense complex of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in England, including several hundred burial mounds. Archaeologists believe it was constructed from 3000 BC to 2000 BC. The surrounding circular earth bank and ditch, which constitute the earliest phase of the monument, have been dated to about 3100 BC. Radiocarbon dating suggests that the first bluestones were raised between 2400 and 2200 BC, although they may have been at the site as early as 3000 BC. Most people know Stonehenge is also a mystery. How did the stones get that way? Perhaps you should visit to see what you can find out.
I was originally going to write about Cardiff, but after speaking to some people who have spent more time in Wales than I have, they convinced me to ditch Cardiff for Anglesey, an island off the coast of northern Wales. You can get there via bridge from the mainland. If you love the water and beaches, you're going to love Anglesey. But you can also see quite a bit of history at the only working mill in Wales, Llynon Mill, which produces flower; visit Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch Train Station, which is the longest name in Europe, the second longest in the world; hike at Holyhead Mountain, the highest point on the island; discover the history of Ynys Llanddwyn, a magical island just off the southern coast; or explore Beaumaris Castle, considered to be the most technically perfect castle in Britain. With all the history, culture, wildlife, and landscapes, there's something for everyone in Angelsey.
Luke and I visited Conwy on our minimoon back in September and I wish we could have spent more time there! Conwy, is a walled market town on the north coast of Wales. The name 'Conwy' derives from the old Welsh words 'cyn' (chief) and 'gwy' (water), the river being originally called the 'Cynwy'. Conwy Castle and the town walls were built by Edward I of England between 1283 and 1289 as part of his conquest of Wales. It is currently the best maintained royal apartments in the UK. The roof has been removed from the castle, so as you walk along the outer walls, you can see into the entire castle. You can also walk along the entire city on the walls, which boasts great views of the water to one side and the hills to the other. Conwy has other great attractions, including the Abbey, the bridge, the watch tower, and two famous homes: Plas Mawr, an Elizabethan house built in 1576 by the Wynn family, which has been extensively refurbished to its original 16th-century appearance, and the Smallest House in Great Britain, which is 3.05 metres x 1.8 metres. The last resident was forced to move out in 1900 as he could not fully stand in the house. It is still owned by his descendants and is open to the public.
Snowdonia is a mountainous region and national park in northwestern Wales and is where Luke and I spent our minimoon. I quite enjoyed it, as it reminded me a little bit of Colorado with the scenery, but also had all the wonderful things Britain has to offer, like quaint little villages, castles, and the coast. There are so many different areas to explore and if you're an outdoorsy person, you'll love it. Luke and I stayed in Betsw-y-coed and travelled around to Dolwyddelan Castle and Black Rock Sand Beach to explore. The final day of our weekend trip, we made the short trip to Conwy. We would have liked to do the Snowdon Mountain Railway, but we were too late to book tickets for the day of.
I've only visited Glasgow in Scotland. My sister and brother-in-law did a two week tour of Scotland and Luke's working schedule allowed for us to meet them in Glasgow instead of Edinburgh, but they had so many wonderful things to say about Edinburgh. Plus, I've heard rumours of sushi burritos in Edinburgh, so that's more than enough reason to visit in my opinion. Edinburgh is slightly smaller (in population) than Glasgow, but it's the capital of Scotland and has been since at least the 15th century. While in Edinburgh, make sure you check out Edinburgh Castle, the Museum of Scotland, Arthur's Seat, Calton Hill, the Scottish National Gallery, the Nelson Monument, and more! Edinburgh has more green space than any other city in the UK with 49% of the city been green space, so make sure you get outside for some fresh air! I highly recommend checking out Georgina on Instagram for stunning shots of the city and more places to see.
THE SCOTTISH HIGHLANDS
The Scottish Highlands are more than just home to Highlands cattle and certainly worth exploring, even just a bit. According to Wikipedia, The Highlands are a historic region of Scotland. Culturally, the Highlands and the Lowlands diverged from the later Middle Ages into the modern period, when Lowland Scots replaced Scottish Gaelic throughout most of the Lowlands. The term is also used for the area north and west of the Highland Boundary Fault, although the exact boundaries are not clearly defined, particularly to the east. The Great Glen divides the Grampian Mountains to the southeast from the Northwest Highlands. The Scottish Gaelic name of A' Ghàidhealtachd literally means "the place of the Gaels" and traditionally, from a Gaelic-speaking point of view, includes both the Western Isles and the Highlands. The area is very sparsely populated, with many mountain ranges dominating the region, and includes the highest mountain in the British Isles, Ben Nevis. Before the 19th century the Highlands was home to a much larger population, but due to a combination of factors including the outlawing of the traditional Highland way of life following the Jacobite Rising of 1745, the infamous Highland Clearances, and mass migration to urban areas during the Industrial Revolution, the area is now one of the most sparsely populated in Europe. At 9.1 per km2 in 2012, the population density in the Highlands and Islands is less than one seventh of Scotland's as a whole, comparable with that of Bolivia, Chad and Russia. I like to think of the Highlands as The North (as in from Game of Thrones) of England due to it's vast reach and sparse population. There's so much to do and see so I'll leave you to do your own research, but definitely find a good B&B and be prepared for beautiful landscapes and lots of adventure.
Also known as the Isle of Skye. It's is the largest and northernmost of the major islands in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. There is so much to do around the cluster of islands like The Storr, Quiraing, The Fairy Pools, Neist Point, and Dunvegan Castle. It looks like it will absolutely be worth the trek, but be sure to do ample research and plan your trip well, including how you'll get there. (The closest airport is Glasgow, you have to plan on driving.)
LUKE, IF YOU'RE READING THIS, WE NEED TO GO TO BELFAST BEFORE GAME OF THRONES WRAPS! Okay, now that I have that out of the way and you know my real intentions, let's get down to brass tacks. Belfast, the capital and largest city in Northern Ireland, boasts many things to do. It's also well known for prime Game of Thrones cast spottings and my friend Greg met Littlefinger last year at a pub who said "everyone is in town for filming". Belfast has a rich industrial history and is where the RMS Titanic was built. Today, you can visit the Titanic Belfast, a museum that chronicles the history of the ship, from development and production through her fateful maiden voyage. Also worth checking out is Belfast City Hall, the Botanic Gardens, Belfast Castle, Grand Opera House, and many museums and galleries. And of course, if you're a Game of Thrones fan, check out one of the tours based on filming locations for the show. Have you packed your bags yet, Luke?
While I was doing research, I found that much of what I want to do in Northern Ireland is in County Antrim, including the Giant's Causeway. The country's most famous castle, Dunluce Castle, which is located on the side of a cliff; the Glens, a series of valleys; Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, which links the mainland to the tiny island of Carrickarede by 20 metres of rope and thrills; Bushmills, which is Ireland's oldest working whiskey distillery; Carrickfergus Castle, a Norman castle; The Dark Hedges, a popular location for both tourists and artists; and Glenoe Waterfall are all located in this 1,176 square mile county.
THE GIANT'S CAUSEWAY
At least from what I can tell, it seems like the Giant's Causeway is the most recognisable and popular natural attraction in Northern Ireland. It's also located in County Antrim and there are Giant's Causeway Game of Thrones tours available. The area is made up of balsalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic fissure eruption. Most of the columns are hexagonal, although there are also some with four, five, seven or eight sides. The tallest are about 12 metres high, and the solidified lava in the cliffs is 28 metres thick in places. The area was named the fourth greatest natural wonder of the United Kingdom in 2005. It is definitely a sight to behold and worth highlighting by itself.
What's the #1 place you want to visit in the UK, outside of London? Let me know in the comments below!
All photos have been taken via Google, except the header photo.