Elizabeth’s Completely Biased Guide to the Best Cities to Visit in Britain
In the five months or so I’ve spent in England, I’ve done my fair share of travelling around Britain. There’s not a place I didn’t enjoy going, but there are definitely cities I preferred over others. So if you ever find yourself in not-so-sunny Britain, I’ve compiled an extremely biased guide to the best places to visit and the best things to do there!
- Sheffield, England
Best things to do: Cathedral was lovely, if you’re an Arctic Monkeys fan (like my flatmate, hence the reason for our trip) there’s the pub they played their first gig, the town hall is pretty to look at, and the Winter Garden is great!
Why it’s number 14: it was perfect for a day trip, but there was nothing stand-out that we did while we were there, not helped by the grey weather that plagued us the whole day, it doesn’t have buildings as pretty as cities like York and fewer cute little shops to walk around
- Liverpool, England
Best things to do: World Museum (incl. a little aquarium and an exhibit on Māori in New Zealand!), walking around the Albert Dock and the lock gates, and the Beatles Museum (I actually didn’t go but obviously if you’re a big Beatles fan you should go!), I also loved walking by the ocean – for the first time since I’d arrived in England ocean (even in the hail that started while I was walking)!
Why it’s number 13: a rainy day puts a dampener even in the best of cities and it certainly did with Liverpool, while I really enjoyed the museum, I’m not a huge Beatles fan and most of the tourist stuff seemed to be geared towards that. I’m also pretty sure I was the only tourist in Liverpool on the day I was there start of January. I was busy taking pictures of the beautiful old buildings by the train station and got odd stares from everyone who walked past me.
- Nottingham, England
After four months in Nottingham, I’ve got a lot of recommendations on what to do if ever stumble across it.
Best things to do: Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem (oldest pub in England!), walking around the lake at the University (definitely the prettiest part of the city), Wollaton Park (where they filmed Wayne Manor for the Dark Knight Rises and I only visited for the first time two days before I left even though it’s only a 15-minute walk from my flat, it’s also got deer!), Greenhood Coffee in Beeston (purely because it’s my favourite café), Nottingham castle is perhaps the least exciting castle I’ve been to but if you’ve got a couple of hours to kill you might as well!
Why it’s number 12: Nottingham will always be my favourite city in the UK. But the reasons I love it (the university, the people I met, the good cafes and bars we found) don’t scream for others to visit. Number one in my heart, number 12 on this list.
- Manchester, England
Best things to do: People’s History Museum – an absolute gem! Full of political history and an exhibit on the Suffrage movement (which was unfortunately closed when I went there), Old Trafford if you’re a Manchester United fan obviously (but I didn’t go so I can’t tell you how good it was)
To be honest that was about the extent of my ‘things I did’ in Manchester despite going multiple times throughout my exchange. I’ve got family who live just outside of Manchester so I made lots of day drips into the city when I went to visit them in Oldham. But because I was with them I didn’t do a lot of sightseeing or touristy things (mostly just ate, drank, and was merry). I also don’t have any pictures at all of Manchester which is absolutely terrible!
Why it’s number 11: first and foremost, Manchester is a big city, with lots of great shopping and incredible food, but I didn’t find there to be much great sights to see or tourist things to do (although there were several museums that I didn’t manage to get to that I’d go and see if I went back) – hit me up if you ever want food recs though!
- Lake District, England
Best things to do: going on walks and enjoying the views
Why it’s number 10: possibly the most surprising thing about moving out of New Zealand was how much NZ has ruined me for other countries. I take the beautiful landscapes for granted, when travelling around and going to places like the Lake District (and to some extent also Snowdonia and the Isle of Skye – both higher up on this list) I can’t help but feel like I’ve seen things just as beautiful (if not more so) in New Zealand, also the weather was not great which didn’t help matters at all. It was still absolutely beautiful though and I’d recommend a visit if you like nature!
- Glasgow, Scotland
Best things to do: god bless Glasgow: home of the best McDonalds of my life! (10/10 recommend McChicken Combo at the Argyle Street branch), visit the University (apparently wasn’t in Harry Potter, but it sure looks like it – it’s stunning!), The Stand Comedy Club (absolutely hilarious show that we saw and its reputation indicates it’s probably always this good), Gallery of Modern Art, apparently there’s another Art Museum as well which my friends went to before I arrived and adored, walking in Kelvingrove Park
Why it’s number 9: looking back on the city there wasn’t a huge amount that stood out, I just really liked the vibe of Glasgow (and Scotland in general!), apparently the nightlife is incredible but we got unlucky and chose a rubbish club (this is one of the problems of going out while travelling)
- York, England
Best things to do: the Little Shambles market area (cute little cobbled streets and boutique shops), a walk around the city wall, York’s Chocolate Story (chocolate tour!!), lunch and a pint at any one of the cute pubs dotted around the city, York Minster (I didn’t have time to go inside because I was on the chocolate tour instead but my flatmate went and loved it!)
Why it’s number 8: I thought York was adorable, the Old Town where we spent the day was what I’d always imagined an archetypal British town to look like: brick buildings, cobbled streets, grey skies, etc. It was also the city in the UK where all the chocolate families lived (not like Willy Wonka but ones like Terry’s and Rowntree) and there’s not much better on a town that prides itself on chocolate. There’s not tons to do there, so I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it as more than a day trip, but the day we did have was super fun!
- Durham, England
Best things to do: Durham castle is really pretty and the tour is super informative and only £4 for students, Durham Cathedral is beautiful and where they filmed some of the scenes from Harry Potter (Snape walking down a corridor, Ron vomiting up slugs), and it has really cute little streets to walk around.
Why it’s number 7: I was absolutely charmed by Durham! Really similar to York in the cobbled streets, old town England kind of vibe. The reason it beats York is because I loved the tour of the castle so much and the cathedral was really cool too! The only thing I don’t recommend is taking the 7pm train home on a Saturday night – it will be full of English people drinking, which is not very conducive when you’re trying to get your head around international child relocation law.
- Isle of Skye, Scotland
Best things to do: I can’t remember the exact spots but just driving around and taking in the stunning scenery that the North of Scotland has to offer! My friends and I went on a tour because public transport doesn’t really work up there, but I’d recommend taking a car if you have one/want to hire one – it would make everything so much easier.
Why it’s number 6: even though I just talked about how NZ has spoiled me for a lot of the nature the rest of the world has to offer, the Isle of Skye really was stunning. Just lots of really beautiful scenery meant that it had to be high up the list.
- Conwy and Snowdonia, Wales
Best things to do: Conwy castle (the only thing we did besides eat lunch in Conwy but it’s awesome!) and a walk up Snowdonia
Why it’s number 5: I’ll be the first to admit that nature and I do not have the best track record, but goddamn it was worth my eternal suffering to see Snowdonia. It was an absolutely stunning mountain and we hiked to and up part of it on an absolutely stunning day at the end of March. Good weather + fantastic scenery = A+. Conwy castle was awesome too! It’s mostly ruins and not in use, but a fun stop on the way to Snowdonia.
- St Andrew’s, Scotland
Best things to do: walk around the University, visit the ruins of the Cathedral, St Andrew’s Pier, the café where Will and Kate had their first date!
Why it’s number 4: I adored St Andrew’s! We went on New Year’s Eve during the day and my friend’s friend who lives there acted as a tour guide taking us around the best spots and telling us all about St Andrew’s Traditions. It was incredible because the town was nearly empty (all the students were away for the holidays) and having someone who knew where all the good spots were was amazing. I’m also in love with the Royals and so seeing all the spots Will and Kate were supposed to have hung out was definitely a highlight (the café they had their first date Northpoint also has really good food and a beyond incredible Malteasers hot chocolate)
- London, England
Best things to do: go to a West End show (Les Mis was the best musical I have ever seen in my life), British Museum (I only managed to do a quarter of it on my first visit and never made it back because there is so much to do in London!!), Tate Modern, Tower of London, Hyde Park – esp. Winter Wonderland if you’re there over Christmas!, the Harry Potter Studio Tour (although it’s a bit outside London), brunch anywhere in Soho (recommendation: The Breakfast Club – they have four branches around London), brunch in Notting Hill (recommendation: Farm Girl) Camden Markets, Portobello Road markets, Houses of Parliament tour if you’re into politics (I adored it), Buckingham Palace – I realise pretty much all of these are the standard tourist things to do in London but I loved them all (and London is so big that four visits still wasn’t enough to get through even the touristy stuff!)
Why it’s number 3: London has been my number 1 ‘To Visit’ holiday destination for as long as I can remember, and it did not disappoint. I went there four times in the five months I spent in the UK and each time there were more new and exciting things to discover. To be honest the only reason it’s not higher up on my list is because I expected London to be amazing – and it was, but I feel like my top two destinations stood out more to me because I didn’t have all these incredible expectations going in.
- Brighton, England
Best things to do: brunch anywhere (recommendation: New Club and Bill’s), do a day trip to the Seven Sisters and the surrounding area to go for a fantastic walk, relaxing on the beach, eating the best doughnuts of your life at Brighton Pier, Brighton Pier in general (although not the Haunted Mansion ride – the biggest waste of £4), the Royal Pavilion, wandering around the shops in the lanes
Why it’s number 2: Brighton stole my heart from the moment we checked into our amazing hostel and it has kept it ever since, there was nothing I didn’t like about this city and if a job popped up I would move there in a heartbeat. It had a relaxed and slightly hipster vibe about it that reminded me a bit of Wellington and I adored it. There was something incredibly relaxing about wandering around boutique shops all day, eating fantastic food, and then sitting on the beach enjoying the sun. (Controversial opinion: I loved the pebble beach – it would suck for swimming but is so much easier to sit on because you don’t sand everywhere)
- Edinburgh, Scotland
Best things to do:
HOGMANAY! If you’re in Europe for New Year’s you can’t get better than Edinburgh’s annual Hogmanay Festival – complete with torchlight procession (one of my top exchange moments) ending in a spectacular firework’s display, massive street party to bring in the new year, displays of various Scottish arts (from dance to poetry to music), and finishing it all off with a traditional Scottish ceilidh on New Year’s Day in the stunning National Museum of Scotland. I cannot recommend this experience enough.
Mum’s Great Comfort Food – my favourite restaurant in Edinburgh, I have been for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. Try their deluxe hot chocolates (as featured in my previous post) they’re incredible! Plus you can get traditional bangers and mash but you get to choose the flavour of your sausages and the flavour of your mash! So beautiful.
The Stand Comedy Club – there are no words to describe my love for stand-up comedy and Edinburgh is one of the best locations to do it. I wish I was there for the annual Edinburgh Fringe Festival but if you’re like me and can’t make it up then (or afford it – I imagine accommodation is insane around this time) then The Stand is your next best place. I think they have comedy of some sort most nights and (as far as I’m aware) it’s always brilliant! I went twice – once for a standard Saturday night gig with more experienced comedians, and then once on a Monday for their £3 newcomers’ night. They were both hilarious shows and I would go every week if I lived close.
Enjoying a drink under Edinburgh Castle – while I found the castle itself overpriced for what it was, one of my fondest memories of Edinburgh is cracking open a couple of ciders with my friends on the lawn in front of the castle on the one sunny afternoon I got in the eight days I was in the Scottish capital
Walking up Arthur’s Seat – Edinburgh’s hill stop has great views of the city and while it’s not an easy walk up, it’s definitely do-able in converse so it’s not like a proper hike or anything if you’re like me and fitness isn’t necessarily your strong suit.
Calton Hill – I like the views from here better than Arthur’s seat. It’s closer to the city so you see more of the buildings in detail. Plus it’s a cruisy ten minute walk from the bottom.
Edinburgh Christmas Markets – if you’re there over Christmas it’s lovely! Not much else to report other than I love Christmas so Christmas markets make me ridiculously happy.
Why it’s number 1: Edinburgh is competing with Melbourne, Barcelona, and Portland for my favourite city I’ve ever been to. Steeped in history, incredible vibe, lovely people, so much to do. I can’t recommend it enough. I went twice – in winter and spring (although it was still cold), and even though I’m a complete sun baby, I still thought it was the bees’ knees. I don’t quite know how to describe why I love Edinburgh so much, I just do. If there’s one city I recommend you go to while you’re in the UK, this one is it!
Also would 10/10 recommend going here on exchange itself if you can! We don’t have the option for law but my friend went for commerce and science and loved it. Even though Nottingham is incredible, I’m still sad I never got the option to go to Edinburgh!
It’s a wrap
Going through this post again and adding in all my pictures has just made me miss Britain even more. I can’t recommend it or the cities I’ve talked about enough! I hope this has helped you all find inspiration of the places to visit if you ever make it over to the Queen’s country. You definitely won’t regret it. Also if anyone in Edinburgh or Brighton is reading this and looking to hire a graduate law/politics/history student – I’m your girl!
Hope everyone’s exams went well!