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12 Fantastic Things To Do in the UK

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Updated: 31st March 2024

Ask me what the best things to do in the UK are and I’ll always answer the same: immerse yourself in our culture. Perhaps you’re wondering what that means, seeing as a fair few memes say it’s only beige food and bizarrely titled royals. But having lived abroad for a few years now, I think I can finally answer that question based on all the bits of home I miss.

It’s proper pubs with banter, booze and slightly questionable carpets. It’s a cracking cultural scene that spans open-air theatres in the south to legendary live music and non-stop festivals in Edinburgh. It’s complaining about crappy countryside roads that squeeze through farmland before arriving at some of the world’s most spectacular coastal hikes. It’s wild camping on the outer Scottish islands where time stands still and stars dance, so you don’t mind the odd rain shower. And it’s lugging yourself into London on the train – while repeatedly complaining about the train prices to anyone who will listen – because there’s always another free museum to visit.

Not that we only have one culture – we’re four proud nations bound by one (often debated) union. Even city to city, you’ll notice the differences in accents, what we call a bread roll, and our signature slang. So, while it’s highly subjective, these are my picks of the United Kingdom’s top things to do – the ones I always suggest friends do when they visit to get a flavour of the country from top to toe. Sure, it might not list every single ‘must-see’ place in England, Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland, but these UK experiences will introduce you to the country’s history, nature, pomp and people.

Tackle Wales’ Great Trails 

Most first-time visitors to the UK rarely make it to Wales, and they’re missing a trick. Given my Gran’s Welsh, making me a quarter so, I’m proud to fly my little part of the coolest dragon-adorned flag there is. But if you venture to the wonderful wales, get beyond Cardiff and into the unadulterated nature. Summit Eryri (Snowdonia) for sweeping vistas of green-clad peaks and dramatic, cerulean lakes. If you’re lucky, you’ll see as far as Pembrokeshire, arguably the most handsome part of the whole country. 

And it’s here, amongst the windswept, croissant-coloured beaches, that you’ll likely fall in love – especially if you come in spring when the Wales Coast Path is lined with vivid, fluttering wildflowers. Whether it’s along the border-tracking Dyke Path or the craggy coastal trail, Wales’ Great Trails offer some of the UK’s best self-guided adventures on foot or bike. En route, I guarantee you’ll stumble upon so many beautiful off-the-beaten-path spots as you traverse across scrub, shores, moors and all-smiling remote villages that you might just forget about the other three nations.

People hunt for fossils on the pebbly beach of charmouth under an overcast sky
Fossil hunting on Charmouth beach is one of the UK’s best activities

Fossil hunt on a South Coast road trip

I might be biassed as this is my home region, but little can compare to the southwest of England, specifically the history-hiding Jurassic Coast. Not that it hides its history that much. You can actually hunt out fossils buried just below the surface of these gorgeous sands. One of my favourite things to do in the UK even now is to take a road trip along Dorset’s Jurassic Coast and search for ammonites and belemnites that are millions of years old. Pop into one of the museums along this 95-mile-long stretch of shore, and you’ll be stunned by some of the dinosaur fossils people have actually found and put on display for all to see.

I’d love to tell you to book a little beach hut and Lyme Regis and chill out for a while. But these days, getting one of those aquamarine seaside huts is nearly as impossible as meeting one of the stegosaurus that were here long before sunbathers. Instead, rent a car and work your way down the coast from Dorset to Devon. Start in my hometown of Bournemouth, skate along to the dramatic rock arch of Durdle Door – don’t miss the Man O’ War Beach next door, it’s the best – and then continue on to Charmouth to find your own piece of history. Along the way you’ll learn all about Mary Anning, one of our most prolific dinosaur fossil hunters, enjoy top-notch fish and chips in seaside pubs, and then cross into equally as handsome Devon for the final stretch. Summer might have the nicest weather, but it will also have half of London on the shores. Come in late spring or early autumn for the best experience.

The vivd green waters of the old roman bath complex contrast with the limestone pillars
Paying a visit to the Roman Baths is one of the best experiences the UK has to offer

Discover the UK’s Roman history

It’s not that I don’t think Stonehenge — our most famous prehistoric megalith – is impressive or fascinating. But if you ask me what the UK’s top historical experiences is, I’m going to point you in another direction: Roman Britain. For me, the 350-odd years we were part of the Roman Empire is a far more interesting part of our country’s story. Even these days, we’re still discovering new parts of this historic chapter, such as the new London museum showing off a recently discovered part of a former Roman Wall at Vine Street or the well-preserved mosaic found near the Shard. But it gets even better than that.

Start your history tracing in the city of Bath, at the impressive Roman bathing complex that has been in the heart of the city since 70 AD. Then, cross over into Kent to tour the Lullingstone Roman Villa (currently under renovation) and marvel at the well-preserved wall paintings and mosaics. Heading north, the Wroxeter Roman City is an open-air walk back in time, while Hadrian’s Wall, further still, is perhaps the best Roman sight of all to visit. Stretching across the width of the country, you can track the weathered Roman fortification wall across remains of forts and towns. Once, I was there for an epic evening when they illuminated the whole wall with torchlight, and it was incredible, though it apparently only happens once a decade. Regardless, it’s an excellent place to start your introduction to Roman history, before continuing on to bonnie Scotland.

An opulent bedroom with green wall tapestries depicting historic scenes and a chandellier in Durham Castle
Why not sleep in Durham Castle to upgrade your UK experience?

Sleep in a castle

We may be the country of outdated pomp and funny royal titles, but that’s given us plenty of practice at perfecting castles. Sure, visiting Windsor or Edinburgh Castle are cool things to do, but if you’re looking for the best castle-related activity in the UK, it’s got to be sleeping in one. In fact, you might be surprised to learn that castles are apparently so commonplace in this old land that students even use them for dorms. Yes, really! I couldn’t believe it either when I was touring Durham Castle — a Harry Potter filming set — and I was told that the University students slept there. During the summer holidays, it becomes one of the UK’s most unique hotels. And it’s far from the only option.

All across the land, you can splash out and splurge on a  stay in a British castle, which has got to earn some kind of bragging rights – especially if you rent a private one for you and your travel crew. Why not go wild and rent out the 1,900 acre estate of Crom Castle in Northern Ireland, or 18th-century Birkhill Castle in Scotland. Or perhaps you’d prefer to while away some days in Wales’ haunted Craig-y-Nos Castle? Either way, a regal stay is in sight on our shores. 

Ducks swim in front of a ruined castle which is backed by dark green Scottish mountains
From scenic rail to serene lochs, the Scottish Highlands have it all

Ride and hide in Scotland’s highlands 

Call me a traitor to England all you want, but Scotland can’t be beaten. Yeah, the weather might be worse more often than down south, but any chance I got to be in Scotland, I took, whether it was bar work in Glasgow or spending the month of August working at the non-stop Edinburgh Festivals. After those late-night work trips, I’d always slip away into the Scottish highlands for some R&R, and I highly recommend you do the same on your Scotland road trip. Sure, take the “Harry Potter” Jacobite train, it really is spectacular, and do a loop of gorgeous Skye – avoiding summer when over-tourism doesn’t even cover it – but then come back into the gorgeous glens (valleys), munro (high mountains), and legendary lochs (lakes) flanked by crumbling castles.

Out here in the hypnotic highlands, time really does seem to slow down if you’ll let it. Sure, you can get busy summiting Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountain, or trying to spot the mythical Nessy Monster with your own eyes, but it’s also equally enchanting cycling through Glen Coe, made famous by 007, or wild camping alongside a wild-flower flanked lake. Not a fan of camping? Spending a few nights at Eagle Brae Cabins, one of Scotland’s unique stays, is my top tip of things to do in the UK for a proper bolthole escape. Especially as these homely log cabins with photogenic turf roofs are set on a private landscape with deep and adorable goats trotting around. Pour yourself a dram of whisky (without the e up here) from the Isle of Arran, sit out on your terrace, and be entranced by absolute bliss.

Start a night in Manchester at Mackie Mayor for good grub before going until the early hours
Start a night in Manchester at Mackie Mayor for good grub before going until the early hours

Make it an all-nighter

There are a fair few jokes about British drinking culture (more on that later), which, I think, are mainly warranted. But if you really want to see the best of Britain, you’re gonna need to have at least one proper night out. Luckily, the best nightlife experiences in the UK span the whole country. From Belfast’s chummy and craic-filled Irish pubs soundtracked by traditional live music to the LGBTQ+ bars of free-spirited Brighton in the south of England, there really is a non-stop night out for all.

Liverpool, with its legendary musical credentials courtesy of The Beatles, won’t let you go to bed early. Manchester is a cracking city for a night on the tiles, whether at the gay bars of Canal Street or raving to pumping Techno at The Warehouse Project. Up in Glasgow, a UNESCO City of Music, I’ve had some of the absolute best and wildest nights of my life – Scottish people are the best people to make drinking buddies with. And, of course, in London and Edinburgh, you’re just as spoilt for choice. After dark, we Brits somehow seem to be at our best – just apologies for any chundering, scraps and the state of some kebab shops!

A vintage tram passes by old-style Victorian shops with wooden signs and porches
Ride vintage trams, play dress up, and visit recreations of Victorian kitchens at Beamish

Go back in time at Beamish

One thing the UK excels at is museums, and I’m not just talking about your average quick walk through some information boards. Take the Beamish Living Museum of the North in Durham, perhaps the best museum I’ve ever visited. Here, a whole set of interactive villages have been built to show what life was like at various stages throughout Britain’s history. From sweet shops to moving trams and photo studios to interactive classrooms, actors and the re-constructed properties literally transport you to times gone by – hopefully, they can open safely this summer.

There are multiple museums like this in the UK, from the Cosmeston Medieval Village in Wales to the Blists Hill Victorian Town in Shropshire, and including one of these in your next British getaway will add another level of history to your UK experience.

Fish and chips wrapped in paper and is one of the UK's best experiences
Have a proper fish and chip takeaway or get it down the pub to experience the UK’s boozers

Pies, pints and fish and chips

What’s a good night in the UK? Well, it might look something like this… It’s dropping clangers during a chinwag in a bee’s knees boozer that’s chockablock with sloshed chavs while complaining what a cock up things are to any geezer who will listen because it’s all gone pear-shaped. Then, it’s a cor blimey to the publican about how many quid a pint costs (he’s taking you for a mug) before noshing on a cheeky Nandos. But you’re cream crackered after, so you pinch one last fag and skip the knees up to leg it to your gaff for a kip so you’ll be full of beans tomorrow as you don’t want to make a dog’s dinner out of the Sunday roast, innit. Confused? You’ll have it nailed after a few nights down your temporary local!

Nothing can beat the British pub for an evening out. I’ve been lucky enough to travel and live in so many countries now but the good old British Pub is an institution that can’t be rivaled (alright, Ireland, I’ll tip my hat to you, too).

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