It was difficult to narrow it down, but here at BRITAIN we think we’ve done it: we’ve picked our 12 Wonders of Britain – the sites we think everyone should visit at least once
From stunning natural landscapes to manmade marvels, our guide to the 12 Wonders of Britain will surely make you want to hotfoot it back to our shores.
Read on for a taster of why these 12 national treasures were chosen…
The iconic Giant’s Causeway is the setting of a fabulous story, involving a fight – between giants, of course. The slightly more prosaic reality behind the creation of the basalt columns is that the UNESCO World Heritage Site was formed after a volcanic eruption around 60 million years ago, with the cooling lava forming the distinctive hexagonal patterns, but why let the truth get in the way of a good story?
An inspiration to everyone from Beatrix Potter to William Wordsworth, the wildlife-rich scenery of the Lake District has been a national park since 1951 and is undoubtedly one of the Wonders of Britain. With rolling hills and rugged terrain, not to mention the lakes themselves, Cumbria offers astounding views. There is also plenty to keep literary and history buffs happy, with Neolithic stone circles like Castlerigg, and Roman forts such as Hardknott.
Another landscape that lives up to its legendary status is the Highlands, which is everything you ever dreamed Scotland would be. With mountains, glens, stunning islands and pristine beaches, there is so much to explore. Shakespeare decided to set his famous tragedy, Macbeth, here while ruined castles such as Eilean Donan add to the dramatic landscape.
Our fourth Wonder of Britain, the Crown Jewels, which can be seen at the Tower of London, are the most powerful symbols of the British monarchy and hold deep significance in our nation’s history. The mystique and beauty of the diamonds and precious jewels in the Royal Regalia have always held an unparalleled allure to visitors from across the globe. The Crown Jewels are still regularly worn by the Queen during important national ceremonies, such as the State Opening of Parliament.
High on every visitor’s to-see list, Stonehenge, which was declared a World Heritage Site in 1986, is as close to a national icon as we have. How and why the ancient standing stones –some of which come from as far as south Wales – came to be arranged the way they are has baffled visitors for centuries. At the nearby visitor centre you can make more sense of this most famous of the Wonders of Britain through 250 ancient objects and the 5,500-year-old man.
Wales has King Edward I to thank for its magnificent Iron Ring of Castles, which was designed to keep control of the dissident Welsh in the late 13th and early 14th centuries. Medieval military architect James of St George was the brains behind the operation and today’s well-preserved castles, such as Beaumaris, Harlech, Caernarfon and Conwy include drawbridges, dungeons and towers.
Known for its association with Britain’s wartime leader, Sir Winston Churchill, Blenheim Palace is the only stately home in Britain to be designated a World Heritage Site. A masterpiece in Baroque architecture – along with its Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown landscaped park it has been called a ‘naturalistic Versailles’– it is typical of an 18th-century princely residence. Designed by renowned British architect John Vanbrugh and completed by Nicholas Hawksmoor (with later additions by Brown), it was built for John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough, on land gifted to him by Queen Anne in recognition of his victory in 1704 over French and Bavarian troops, at the Battle of Blenheim.
The stones of Hadrian’s Wall march for 73 miles across some of our most dramatic terrain, from Bowness-on-Solway in Cumbria to Wallsend on the east coast of England. The wall was planned before Roman Emperor Hadrian’s visit to Britain in AD 122 when he gave the order to start building; it was an expression of Roman dominance and a means of defence against the ‘barbarians’ to the north. Walking the remains of the wall today, looking across the barren landscape, you can almost see the terrifying blue-painted Pictish or Caledonian warriors the Roman soldiers so feared screaming out of the trees towards this last line of protection. Bamburgh Castle, one of the largest inhabited castles in the country, makes an interesting stop-off point on the way, while Bush Nook promises luxurious comfort to tired walkers.
Aside from its 18th-century Royal Crescent – perhaps the finest example of Georgian architecture in Britain – it is for its Roman spas that Bath is celebrated. Because of its rejuvenating mineral-rich qualities, Bath’s water was favoured by Queen Anne before she was crowned and in the early part of her reign when Bath was the ‘premier resort of frivolity and fashion’. During the 18th century, Bath’s population multiplied by as much as 10 times and its place in fashionable society resulted in a building boom. You can enjoy the fruits of this boom today in the Pulteney Bridge and the Assembly Rooms, where Jane Austen, who set two of her novels in the city, once danced.
One of the world’s most exquisite cathedrals, a William the Conqueror motte and bailey castle, and one of the oldest universities in England all form Durham World Heritage Site. Durham Cathedral’s recent Open Treasure project saw the opening up of previously hidden claustral spaces, which now form part of a new exhibition route starting in the Monks’ Dormitory and ending in the Great Kitchen – one of only two intact surviving monastic kitchens in England.
For a taste of the English idyll, there are few pastimes as joyous as taking a punt along the Backs on the River Cam – the picturesque area that runs behind the city’s most famous building King’s College Chapel, among other colleges and under the Bridge of Sighs. The University of Cambridge was founded in the early 13th century when a group of scholars left ‘hostile’ Oxford and settled in the city on the River Cam and began to organise themselves into regular courses of study. Work on King’s College Chapel began in 1446 under King Henry VI and was completed in 1515 during the reign of King Henry VIII. The building is a splendid example of Gothic architecture, with the largest fan vault in the world and some of the best stained glass.
Founded in 1753 from the extraordinary collection of Georgian physician Sir Hans Sloane, the British Museum was the first national public museum in the world. British highlights include the Lewis Chessmen and the treasure of Sutton Hoo, but much of the museum’s collection of some 8 million treasures comes from across the world, including the famous (and controversial) Parthenon Sculptures.