The UK is not short on incredible cities to visit. England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have fascinating cultures that you can experience through their cities’ architecture, attractions, and hospitality.
We’ll cover the finest in the United Kingdom – from major cities like London and Edinburgh to lesser-visited cities like Inverness, Bristol, and York. When planning a trip to the United Kingdom, these are the places that you should be adding to your itinerary.
Top Cities in the UK
The UK includes some of the best countries to visit in the world, and each city reflects a unique culture and identity.
Whether you want to visit a lesser-known city or join the masses of tourists visiting major cities that have been darlings for decades, this list will give you plenty of choices.
1. London (Largest City)
As the capital of England and the country’s largest, London was always going to be on this list. It is one of the greatest arts and cultural hubs in both Europe and the rest of the world.
London is easily the most popular and famous to visit in England, and for many good reasons. London is full of attractions, including historical sites, landmarks, art galleries, theatres, and museums. Your days visiting London will be varied and action-packed. For example, you may spend a morning at the Natural History Museum, an afternoon grabbing lunch and shopping at the market in Camden Borough, and an evening watching a West End show.
If you are a first-time visitor to the UK, prioritize a visit to London. Not only does the city give you a broad impression of England, but London is also very accessible.
You’ll be bowled over by the number of things to do and see; just do some research and choose where to stay carefully beforehand to maximize your time when you arrive. If you need some extra guidance, you can read our 3-day itinerary for more information. Read More: 38 Best Things to do in London, England In 2023
Manchester is one of the best cities in Northern England. Its flamboyant urban area and nightlife make it popular with university students, and visitors can expect a fun, friendly atmosphere.
Manchester was massively shaped by the Industrial Revolution and is widely claimed to be the world’s first industrial city. Manchester was once famous for textile production, the wealth from which was reinvested in the city’s development and into wealthy families. However, Manchester has outgrown its Revolution associations nowadays and is now known as an entertaining weekend getaway and sought-after place to live.
You can learn about the Industrial Revolution at Manchester’s Science & Industry Museum. We’d recommend also allowing time to visit the Manchester Art Gallery and the National Football Museum. The Manchester Art Gallery showcases artworks from over six centuries, and the football museum is a must for Premier League fans.
In the evening, head to The Gay Village or Spinningfields for a few drinks at the best pubs and clubs. The Manchester dress code is retro and indie regardless of the venue, so come prepared with your trendiest outfits.
If Manchester is one of the greatest cities in Northern England, Leeds is not far behind.
Like Manchester, Leeds was also massively influenced by the Industrial Revolution, and you’ll notice converted mill and factory buildings in many of the nearby areas. Leeds is the third biggest in England and is known for its hospitality, small city center, and proximity to the Yorkshire Dales.
Leeds is favored amongst university students – meaning you’ll enjoy a friendly atmosphere and lots of cheap eateries. The center is small, easily walkable, and perfect for a weekend of shopping, wining, and dining. We’d recommend allowing time to take a day trip to Yorkshire Dales National Park, visit the Industrial Museum, and Kirkstall Abbey.
If you want a drink, don an embarrassing fancy dress costume for the Otley Run (a famous local pub crawl) or head to The Calls for photogenic venues along the river.
Edinburgh is an amazing city to visit. As the Scottish capital, it attracts millions of tourists and, honestly, you should join the crowd.
Edinburgh is famed for its Old Town, which has those dreamy cobbled streets lined with independent shops, cafes, and restaurants. Some of the buildings in the Old Town are 500 years old, and the architecture gives the neighborhood a time capsule effect – especially with Edinburgh Castle and the sound of bagpipes in the background.
Edinburgh Castle is easily one of the best things to do, although you should also visit the National Museum, climb the Scott Monument, and walk the Royal Mile. Edinburgh excellently encapsulates Scottish culture, history, and identity.
As a first-time visitor to Scotland, we’d highly recommend visiting Edinburgh.
Of course, just because Edinburgh is fantastic doesn’t mean you should skip visiting Glasgow.
Glasgow is a great city to visit, and you’ll find lots of things to do and see. It has a slightly more modern feel than Edinburgh and lots of public green space to enjoy in the summer. Of course, Glasgow has two very passionate rival football teams, and fans should try to attend a Celtic or Rangers game to experience the sporting passion firsthand.
You should prioritize visiting the Glasgow Necropolis, People’s Palace, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, and Pollok Country Park. Pollok Country Park is particularly popular amongst tourists wanting to see Highland Cattle. The park has a herd that lives on-site, so note it down if you want to meet one.
Glasgow is widely known as the country’s second city, but we think it ranks just as highly as Edinburgh.
The Northern Irish capital is well-deserving of a place on our list; Belfast has a lot going for it.
Belfast is easily added to a trip to England. You can catch a ferry from Liverpool or a domestic flight from any UK airport – sometimes costing less than $15 when booked in advance.
Belfast has a vibrant feel, with plenty of new developments like Castle Court Shopping Center. However, there is also a lot of history. You can learn about The Troubles by touring Belfast’s political murals, visiting the Titanic Belfast Museum, touring Crumlin Road Gaol, or walking up to Stormont – the home of the NI government.
From the city, there are hundreds of things to do, including visiting The Giant’s Causeway and the Mourne Mountains. Belfast is a fantastic base if you want to experience Northern Ireland for the first or millionth time.
While not one of the most famous cities in Great Britain, Bristol is easily one of the best cities for tourists.
Over the years, Bristol has transformed from a port town to a thriving city – highly sought after to visit, study, and live. Bristol is located along the Bristol Channel, an inlet from the Atlantic Ocean, so it is close to beaches should you want a sunbathe or swim. However, most impressively, Bristol is divided by a deep river gorge. Visitors entering Bristol cross over suspension bridges – making a scenic and memorable start to a holiday.
Bristol’s attractions include the SS Great Britain. SS Great Britain is an 1843 restored passenger liner. The ship is revered as the world’s first great ocean liner and has two museums, refurbished ship areas, and dockyards. The ship also houses many artifacts from its sister ship, The Royal Charter, which sailed around the world before her shipwreck.
For more naval history, you can stop by the nearby Underfall Yard Visitor Center to visit its popular maritime museum. Bristol is a fascinating place in England for those interested in maritime stories.
Liverpool is cool. Birthplace of the Beatles, dockside bar hopping, and the home of the huge Liverpool Cathedral, Liverpool is easily one of the most entertaining cities in England.
If you are traveling north of London, we recommend visiting Liverpool. The Liverpool atmosphere is down-to-earth and friendly, and it is the sort of place where you could go for a drink alone and leave to the next bar with twenty new friends.
Visiting the Beatles Story is a number one recommendation of things to do in Liverpool and is a world-famous attraction. But the British Music Experience, World Museum, and Port Sunlight Museum are all also worth visiting.
Music is at the heart of Liverpool’s identity, so we highly suggest watching some live music at Cavern Club during your stay. Cavern Club is a popular venue in Liverpool and specializes in tribute performances that run day and night.
If you want to experience music culture in England, look no further than Liverpool.
Unlike Liverpool, York is a quiet city surrounded mostly by country towns and villages. It may not be a popular destination for first-time travelers to the UK, but York does provide an idyllic introduction to England.
York is in the county of North Yorkshire and, despite its city status, has more of a town feel than a metropolitan one. York has incredible architecture, with its walls dating back to the 13th century and its narrowing shopping street, The Shambles, widely hailed as one of the best-preserved medieval streets in Europe.
York Minster Cathedral is beautiful to visit, while the York Dungeons and Jorvik Viking Center are immersive historical attractions to enjoy. Since York is located near both the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors National Parks, we’d suggest allowing time for a day trip in your itinerary.
For a laidback trip to Britain, York provides a relaxing experience with world-renowned, stunning medieval architecture.
10. Newcastle upon Tyne
Newcastle is a famously fun city with outrageous nightlife and plenty of culture. Newcastle is split in two by the River Tyne, with several footbridges and suspension bridges connecting either side of the city. Metropolitan but pretty (especially at night by the river), Newcastle has a lot to offer.
The city’s nightlife reputation was rocketed to fame by the reality TV program Geordie Shore, and it is also a popular choice amongst university students. The city’s popularity is well deserved, as you’ll find many pubs, clubs, and bars. However, the city isn’t just where you go for a party in the north of England.
Newcastle is fantastic for tourism, with lots of museums and art galleries. You should prioritize visiting Great North Museum: Hancock, Laing Art Gallery, and Discovery Museum. Newcastle Castle is also a great attraction to visit and doesn’t hold back on telling some of the most gruesome stories from history in England.
11. Birmingham (Second Largest City)
Birmingham is the second-largest city in England and has a massive population of over a million people. Visitors will find restaurants, attractions, and hotels at every step – a benefit of choosing such a major city to visit in England.
You can choose to visit popular attractions like Cadbury World, Legoland, and Sea Life. Or, visit some of Birmingham’s unique attractions like The Coffin Works, which runs tours explaining the process of coffin making and telling stories about the funerals of famous people. If you want diversity, Birmingham is one of the best cities in England.
Is Birmingham a little rough around the edges? Yes, in parts. Birmingham is best suited to people who want to experience a supercity in England and have already experienced other cities in the country. Birmingham is a destination for travelers who know exactly what they want and have a solid grasp on traveling in the UK.
Brighton is a seaside city with a big personality. While only just south of London, Brighton has a strong identity and boldly stands as a destination in its own right. You’ll see plenty of young families and couples commuting to Brighton from London and teenagers traveling with friends from neighboring towns.
Located on the south coast of England, Brighton is lined by beaches and overlooks the English Channel. There’s a mix of cheesy seaside attractions, a twisting maze of shopping alleys called The Lanes that were built from the 1500s, and an eccentrically placed Royal Pavilion – a palace constructed with Asian architecture.
A medieval town? Seaside resort? City of luxurious architectural follies? Who knows. Brighton denies a category, which definitely adds to the city’s tourism appeal. If you want a memorable seaside city in England, Brighton is a good choice. Brighton constantly remixes any expectations you might have of English cities, meaning you’ll never get bored.
Cardiff is the largest city and capital of Wales. As far as Welsh cities go, Cardiff is the main celebrity and one of the best places to visit.
Located just south of the Brecon Beacons National Park, Cardiff is a riverside city famous for television production, sports, museums, and nightlife. Unfortunately, as many people rush to the coast or National Parks in Wales, Cardiff is often overlooked as a city break.
What’s Cardiff got? In short, everything that you need. You’ll find green space to sunbathe in summer, nearby beaches if you want to brave a swim, and indoor activities if you get unlucky with the weather.
We suggest planning a stay in Cardiff, even if you continue to the Welsh countryside. There is the Museum of Cardiff, Cardiff Castle, and even a White Water Rafting Center to challenge yourself with rapids. The castle is around 2,000 years old, so there is no denying that the Cardiff has substance and plenty of stories to tell.
Book a hotel, slow down, and enjoy the capital before rushing off around Wales.
Cambridge is a prestigious university city – perfect for getting a taste of the elite student experience in England. The city is classy to the core, and you can fill your days with punting on the River Cam and visiting its many museums.
Aside from museums, Cambridge is home to many churches and the Ely Cathedral. The Ely Cathedral is a classic gothic cathedral and a popular religious site to experience on a booked tour. The Round Church is also worth visiting and dates back to the 12th century. The medieval church has a distinctive rounded shape and is a fun bit of architecture to visit.
Cambridge is easily one of the best cities in England to experience southern Englishness firsthand.
Speaking of elite universities, Oxford is Cambridge’s rival city. Oxford is home to Oxford University, which was established in the 12th century and is renowned across the world.
Like Cambridge, Oxford is a city where you go to experience southern Englishness. The city center is full of gothic architecture, and the buildings are typically made from pale cream clipsham stone. Oxford has a definite aesthetic, and it is easy to imagine yourself stepping back a hundred years.
Oxford also has a beautiful cathedral and is famous for its arts. Literature lovers should prioritize visiting the Bodleian Library, the UK’s second-largest library and containing over 11 million texts.
Bath is a Georgian-styled city, with lots of terrace buildings cut from pale yellow Bath Stone. Like Oxford, Bath has an aesthetic feel, and the uniformed buildings cut from the same stone make you feel like you are stepping out from the 18th century.
If you are a history lover, we especially suggest considering Bath, as it is one of the best cities to visit in England for literary and Roman history.
Bath has a Mary Shelley and a Jane Austen museum. The city also has The Roman Baths, where you can tour the preserved ruins, learn from the interactive exhibits, and observe original Roman artifacts. Next door to the Roman Baths, you can actually bathe in the UK’s only natural thermal baths. The Thermae Bath Spa uses natural spring water to heat a rooftop pool and multi-level spa.
Inverness is heaven. The Scottish Highlands are understandably popular and a stunning region of the UK to visit, and Inverness provides a city base in their center.
While Edinburgh and Glasgow get the brunt of tourist attention, those that venture further north are greatly rewarded. Known as the gateway to the Highlands, Inverness is a pocket of city life in a dramatic natural setting.
Just outside of the city, you can pay your respects at Culloden Battlefield – the final battle site of the Jacobite Rising. While in the city, you can visit St Andrew’s Cathedral, visit the Inverness Museum, or walk around Ness Islands. Inverness is a lesser-visited but fantastic Scottish city You can expect lots of exciting and inspiring things to do.
Cities in the United Kingdom FAQ
When Is The Best Time To Visit The UK?
The best time to visit the UK is in spring or summer. The UK will be warmer and have longer daylight hours during these months, and outdoor activities will be more enjoyable.
Keep in mind that there are school holidays in April and between July and August. School holidays may impact hotel availability and the busyness of tours and attractions.
What are the Largest Cities in the UK by population?
London has the largest population in the UK and has over seven million people. Birmingham, Leeds, then Glasgow follow closely behind.
What city in the UK should I visit first?
It might seem obvious, but you should visit London first. London is an amazing city with lots to see and do, but it is also the most accessible city for those flying into the UK. You should find the cheapest flights and a higher likelihood of direct flight routes.
Those wanting to combine visiting Britain and Europe should also consider taking the train to or from France. The Eurostar takes less than two and a half hours to reach Paris from London – which doesn’t get much easier.
What is the most beautiful city in the UK?
The most beautiful city in the UK is Bath. The bath stone color, Georgian street style, and general architecture make Bath a beautiful place.
What are the most popular cities in the UK?
The most popular cities in the UK are London, Edinburgh, Belfast, Liverpool, and Manchester.
These are thriving cities with plenty of arts, transport links, and things to do. Most people visiting the UK for the first time choose one of these cities.
The United Kingdom has a lot of beautiful cities that you should add to your bucket list. From incredible history and architecture to famous landmarks and tasty food, all of these cities in the UK offer something different depending on what you are looking for. If you are planning a trip to the UK anytime soon then make sure to add a few of these cities to your itinerary.