The top 500 experiences in Great Britain revealed by Lonely Planet, with Edinburgh Festival top

There are, by all accounts, a dizzying number of things to do in the UK.

Which makes Lonely Planet’s latest book – Ultimate United Kingdom Travelist – exceptionally useful, because it ranks the top 500 unmissable experiences and hidden gems across Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands. 

And the coveted No1 spot goes to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It’s where some of the world’s biggest comedy legends cut their teeth and is described by Lonely Planet as being ‘the greatest show of arts and culture on Earth’. 

Second place goes to the British Museum in London for its free entry to an ‘unparalleled collection’ of treasures.

The third top experience is to ‘step ogre-sized strides over hexagonal stones at the Giant’s Causeway’ in Northern Ireland, the country’s only Unesco World Heritage site, which is ‘shrouded in a sense of magic, myth and natural wonder’.

Lonely Planet’s VP of Experience, Tom Hall, said: ‘Lonely Planet’s Ultimate United Kingdom Travelist brings together the UK’s most compelling sights and experiences, ranging from world-class museums and giant cathedrals to rollicking festivals, inky lochs and tiny pubs. We’re thrilled to name the world’s largest arts festival, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, as the UK’s top experience – it’s one of the most exciting and diverse destinations on the planet.’

Scroll down for a peek at the top 50… 

1. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Edinburgh 

A ragtag of performers at The Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival. The event has been ranked by Lonely Planet as the number one experience in the UK 

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe staked its claim to the top spot because, according to Lonely Planet, it ‘floods the city with art’ and ‘nowhere beats it for spectacle or scale’.

The travel experts continue: ‘There is theatre, comedy, dance, circus, cabaret, opera, music and spoken word and whatever the time of day, an acrobat, trapeze artist, contortionist or tried-and-tested bagpiping busker will be pleased to entertain you. Simply step through the looking glass and prepare to be dazzled by the greatest show of arts and culture on Earth.’ 

Each year the Festival hosts some 3,500 shows, 1,900-odd premiers and 55,000 performances over three weeks in August. Lonely Planet recommends ‘tackling the Fringe over several days’ choosing events by ‘word-of-mouth reviews’ and ‘tips picked up in the pub’.

Previous comedy heavyweights that have performed there include the Monty Pythons, Robin Williams and Sir Billy Connolly – it’s a hotbed of up-and-coming talent so you can say you saw them here first!

Shona McCarthy, Chief Executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, said: ‘We are enormously proud to be named the UK’s top experience in Lonely Planet’s Ultimate United Kingdom Travelist, a true testament to the creativity, energy and imagination that Fringe artists and audiences bring to Edinburgh each year.’

2.  Take a world tour of treasures at the British Museum, London 

The British Museum is ranked at number two and is famous for its ancient Egyptian artefacts and modern archaeology exhibitions - it's also free

The British Museum is ranked at number two and is famous for its ancient Egyptian artefacts and modern archaeology exhibitions – it’s also free 

The British Museum started out as a humble cabinet of curiosities but is now a ‘miraculous museum’ that’s the ‘envy of the world’, according to Lonely Planet.

It houses myriad treasures – some rather questionably obtained during colonial times – including a mummified Pharaoh and the Rosetta Stone, a template for deciphering hieroglyphics dating from 196 BC.

The museum, founded by the man who invented hot chocolate, Sir Hans Sloane, also has its finger on the pulse of modern archaeology, hosting temporary exhibitions in the Reading Room, underneath a geodesic canopy designed by Norman Foster, says the new book.

3. Step ogre-sized strides over the Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland 

The Giant's Causeway in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, features a stunning formation of 'giant's steps'

The Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, features a stunning formation of ‘giant’s steps’

This geological phenomenon, unchanged for countless centuries, has been ranked third because it’s ‘shrouded in a sense of magic, myth and natural wonder’, says Lonely Planet.

Legend has it that it was part of a causeway built across the sea by the Irish giant Finn McCool to get to his rivals in Scotland. Giants aside, scientists have put the formations down to volcanic activity from 60 million years ago, when lava cooled and hardened, creating the distinctive ‘honeycomb’ pattern.

The book suggests getting there early morning or late afternoon to beat the crowds, or if you are feeling fit, cycle or walk the three miles from the nearby village of Bushmills.

4. Experience how the Romans bathed in Bath

Hot property: The Great Bath, says the book, is one of the best-preserved Roman Bathhouses in the world

Hot property: The Great Bath, says the book, is one of the best-preserved Roman Bathhouses in the world

As Lonely Planet points out, as well as excellent sanitation, gladiatorial gore and straight roads, the Romans liked nothing more than a nice hot bath.

Roughly 2,000 years ago they built a sumptuous bathing complex at Aquae Sulis – present-day Bath – taking advantage of the area’s geothermal hot springs. Most of the structure is still standing today, including the original Great Bath, which is filled with 5.2ft of geothermally heated water. It is, says the book, one of the best-preserved Roman Bathhouses in the world.

Visitors can’t actually take a dip in it anymore but can get very close to a ‘bona fide Roman bathing experience’ at the nearby Thermae Bath Spa, which has a panoramic rooftop pool.

5. Retrace the Romans’ footsteps along Hadrian’s Wall, Northeast England    

Mighty Hadrian's Wall in the Northeast is 73 miles of defensive wall dating back 2,000 years. It's easily accessible and the cities of Carlisle and Newcastle are ideal starting points

Mighty Hadrian’s Wall in the Northeast is 73 miles of defensive wall dating back 2,000 years. It’s easily accessible and the cities of Carlisle and Newcastle are ideal starting points 

Another impressive Roman legacy is Hadrian’s Wall in the Northeast – 73 miles of defensive wall commissioned by Emperor Hadrian and built from local whinstone.

It took 15,000 men six years to construct it and even though only 10 per cent remains intact, that still makes an ‘unforgettable impression’, says Lonely Planet.

Ideal launch cities are Carlisle and Newcastle, according to the tome, and visitors can walk the whole length in about a week.  

6. Make a British weekend of it with a Sunday pub roast

A Sunday Roast in a pub is one of the traditions most entrenched in British culture so it is no surprise it ranks in the top 10

A Sunday Roast in a pub is one of the traditions most entrenched in British culture so it is no surprise it ranks in the top 10 

There’s little more British in life than a traditional Sunday roast lunch in a pub.

No matter what else is going on, a plate of roast beef or pork, roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, vegetables and lashings of gravy at the end of the week is the ultimate ‘comfort food par excellence’ throughout the UK.

According to the new Lonely Planet book, the Sunday roast pub lunch is a reassuring experience and ‘a weekly ritual where the nation stops time… and lives in the moment’.

7. Discover a powerhouse of modern art at Tate Modern, London 

Tate Modern on London's South Bank showcases amazing modern art - and offers stunning city views

Tate Modern on London’s South Bank showcases amazing modern art – and offers stunning city views

When Tate Modern opened in 2000 in the hollowed-out shell of the decommissioned Bankside Power Station, says Lonely Planet, ‘modern art finally got an address to be proud of’.

It stood in stark contrast to the London art galleries that were ‘stuffy, nostalgic [and] heavy with history’.  

What can you see at the Tate? Anything from Rothkos, Dalis and Picassos to Monet and Matisse. Lonely Planet’s insider tip is to head to the top-floor viewing deck for ‘stunning city views’.

8. Marvel at the mighty megaliths of Stonehenge, Southwest England 

The enormous slabs of rock used to build Stonehenge - some weighing 25 tonnes - were transported from Wales, 140 miles away. No one, says Lonely Planet, has the foggiest why it's there

The enormous slabs of rock used to build Stonehenge – some weighing 25 tonnes – were transported from Wales, 140 miles away. No one, says Lonely Planet, has the foggiest why it’s there

Stonehenge was built between 4500 BC and 1500 BC – and has been baffling academics for decades.

No one, Lonely Planet points out, ‘has the foggiest why Stonehenge is there’.

The enormous slabs of rock used to build it – some weighing 25 tonnes – were transported from the Preseli Hills in Wales, 140 miles away. All in all, a ‘mind-boggling achievement’.  

To step inside the circle, you’ll need to pre-book. 

 9. Find poetry on the shores of Lake Windermere, Cumbria 

Lake Windermere in the Lake District inspired the work of the Romantic poets

Lake Windermere in the Lake District inspired the work of the Romantic poets

Lake Windermere, England’s largest natural lake, ranks in the top 10 for its ‘scenic splendour’ and for the ‘bucolic experiences’ that inspired William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and other English Romantics.

Visitors, for instance, can ride across the lake on a 19th-century steamer just like the Victorians did.

But there are modern pursuits too. The adventure centre at Brockhole has a zip wire that runs between 250-year-old oak trees, for instance. A visit to the World of Beatrix Potter, who dedicated her life to preserving the Lake District, is also recommended. 

10. Explore Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, South Wales 

Pembrokeshire Coast National Park ranks at number 10. It's known as the 'Wild West' of Wales

Pembrokeshire Coast National Park ranks at number 10. It’s known as the ‘Wild West’ of Wales

Pembrokeshire Coast National Park has been dubbed the ‘Wild West’ of Wales.

Here you’ll find ‘ravishing cliff-flanked coves, thrashing seas and hedgerowed tracks leading to one-pub villages’.

Plus beaches that are ‘a treat’. All in all, a ‘great escape’, adds Lonely Planet. 

11. Punting in Cambridge, East Anglia 

Punting in Cambridge leads to views of 'improbably grand' colleges - the Gothic King's for instance (pictured)

Punting in Cambridge leads to views of ‘improbably grand’ colleges – the Gothic King’s for instance (pictured)

In the words of Lonely Planet, ‘what gondolas are to Venice, punts are to Cambridge’.

As navigating the waters of the River Cam can be tricky, it is recommended to book a punt tour, with your own personal guide resplendent in a waistcoat and boater.

The trip will take in some of Cambridge’s most famous sights, including the Backs – the rear of the ‘improbably grand’ colleges, the Gothic King’s College being a highlight – and the Bridge of Sighs.

12. Glastonbury Festival, Southwest England  

The Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury at Worthy Farm in Somerset is the main stage. Up to 150,000 make the journey each year that Glastonbury is on and the week-long event is one of the highlights of festival season

The Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury at Worthy Farm in Somerset is the main stage. Up to 150,000 make the journey each year that Glastonbury is on and the week-long event is one of the highlights of festival season 

The UK’s biggest music festival is described as a ‘rite of passage for every self-respecting British music fan’. An experience that’s ‘marvellous, majestic and mud-drenched’.

Glastonbury is held at Worthy Farm in Somerset and hosted by dairy-farmer-turned-music-impresario Michael Eavis and each year (when it’s on) 150,000 revellers descend on the countryside for the week-long festivities.

Tickets are like hot cakes and sell out within minutes. Previous headline acts include The Rolling Stones, Stormzy, Elvis Costello, The Cure, Lenny Kravitz and Dolly Parton.

13. Be wowed by St Paul’s Cathedral, London 

St Paul's Cathedral in London was built in 1697 by Sir Christopher Wren. The architect is actually buried within it, alongside many other important dignitaries and royals

St Paul’s Cathedral in London was built in 1697 by Sir Christopher Wren. The architect is actually buried within it, alongside many other important dignitaries and royals 

The standout feature of St Paul’s Cathedral in London is its mighty dome, which weighs 65,000 tonnes.

Lonely Planet recommends approaching the cathedral from Ludgate Hill, for a more ‘atmospheric’ experience, rather than getting off at the cathedral’s Tube station.

The building is legendary. It survived the Blitz during WWII and still looks as imposing as it did when it was completed in 1697 by Sir Christopher Wren, who’s buried within. Highlights include the whispering gallery and the views from the outdoor gallery at the top of the dome.

14. Find paradise in the Scilly Isles, Southwest England 

The Scilly Isles in the Southwest of England is an archipelago of more than 100 islands

The Scilly Isles in the Southwest of England is an archipelago of more than 100 islands

Lonely Planet says that the remote Scilly Isles is the perfect place for your own Robinson Crusoe fantasy – a place where you can discover the most remote beaches and coves.

Comprising more than 100 islands, the only ones that are lived on are St Mary’s, Tresco, St Martin’s, St Agnes and Bryher – the others are only accessible for boat day trips.

The Scilly Isles are ‘the very end of the British Isles’ and ‘there are few destinations to match the scenery’.

15. See Shakespearean sights in Stratford-upon-Avon

William Shakespeare's birthplace - Stratford-upon-Avon - boasts three Royal Shakespeare Company theatres, as well as opportunities to visit homes that were linked to the famous playwright

William Shakespeare’s birthplace – Stratford-upon-Avon – boasts three Royal Shakespeare Company theatres, as well as opportunities to visit homes that were linked to the famous playwright 

Stratford-upon-Avon is, of course, the home of the ‘prince of playwrights’, William Shakespeare, and according to Lonely Planet, the town very much cashes in on this.

Open to the public are Shakespeare’s birthplace, his wife’s old house and the home of his son-in-law and his granddaughter’s husband’s house. Additionally, the Royal Shakespeare Company operates three theatres there.

But, says Lonely Planet, ‘the town touts plenty more 16th-century architectural charms than just the addresses with Bardic ties’, if you’re feeling a bit Shakespeare’d out… 

16. Take a foodie foray through Borough Market, London

There are hundreds of delicious food stalls at Borough Market in south-east London, near to London Bridge. But get there early to avoid the crowds, advises Lonely Planet

There are hundreds of delicious food stalls at Borough Market in south-east London, near to London Bridge. But get there early to avoid the crowds, advises Lonely Planet

Borough Market in south-east London is the capital’s ‘foodie epicentre’ and is ‘blowing holes in Britain’s reputation for stodgy, stolid cuisine’, says Lonely Planet.

It was created in the 1850s, but it was during the 1980s that the bustling market, located under railway arches, ‘made the leap to artisan epicureanism’, with everything from gourmet burgers and oysters to craft ale and stinky cheeses on offer.

Most visitors get there early to avoid the lunch-time crush and have a leisurely time of it sampling various goodies and people watching.

17. Step into your own movie in Glencoe, Highlands and Islands

Glencoe was the location for Skyfall and Harry Potter. It's a 93.5-mile drive north of Glasgow

Glencoe was the location for Skyfall and Harry Potter. It’s a 93.5-mile drive north of Glasgow

Glencoe at dawn on a softly lit winter’s day, says Lonely Planet, ‘presents a portrait of a country dressed in its fullest finery – an image Scots love the rest of the world to see’.  

Its snow-dusted hills, frozen waterfalls and lost valleys are suggestive of a mythical place, the book says.

The area has been used extensively in films – Skyfall and in the Harry Potter franchise for instance – and is considered to be ‘ground zero’ for skiers and mountain bikers. 

18. Have an outdoor adventure in the Yorkshire Dales National Park

The Yorkshire Dales, a national park since the 1950s, is a magnet for outdoor pursuits enthusiasts

The Yorkshire Dales, a national park since the 1950s, is a magnet for outdoor pursuits enthusiasts

You’ll find a ‘perfectly preserved slice of 1950s England in the Yorkshire Dales’, says Lonely Planet – picture-postcard villages, flat-topped hills and broad valleys peppered with stone barns.  

The Dales, a national park since the 1950s, is a magnet for outdoor pursuits enthusiasts, with wonderful spots for caving, wild swimming and mountain biking.

For the extremely brave, Gaping Gill, a 328ft-deep cave, is open for a week in May and a week in August if you dare to brave its depths.

 19. Catch your breath on Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh 

The view from Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh is 'the rampant Scotland you've been dreaming of'

The view from Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh is ‘the rampant Scotland you’ve been dreaming of’

The view from Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh is ‘stupefyingly wild’, according to Lonely Planet, ‘the rampant Scotland you’ve been dreaming of’.

The summit of this 335-million-year-old extinct volcano is a lofty 823ft high, so it’s quite a climb. But the ‘snaggle-tooth ruins and mussed-up gorge ridges’ you’ll see from the top make it all worthwhile.

Situated southeast of Edinburgh’s old town, Arthur’s Seat is a three-mile round trip from Holyrood Place.

20. Promenade with the people on London’s South Bank

London's famous South Bank boasts some of the best views of the capital's iconic skyline

London’s famous South Bank boasts some of the best views of the capital’s iconic skyline

London’s South Bank, the book points out, offers a view of some of the capital’s most prominent landmarks including the Tower of London, Tate Modern, the Shard and St Paul’s.

It’s also home to a strip of buzzing bars and restaurants and the brutalist Southbank Centre.

Lonely Planet recommends strolling down the Thames Path starting at Shad Thames, past the hulking wharfs, then following the South Bank to Parliament.    

LONELY PLANET’S TOP UK EXPERIENCES 

1. Edinburgh Fringe Festival

2. British Museum, London

3. Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

4. Bath, Somerset

5. Hadrian’s Wall, Northeast England

6. A Sunday pub roast

7. Tate Modern, London

8. Stonehenge, Wiltshire

9. Lake Windermere, Cumbria

10. Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, South Wales

11. Punting in Cambridge

12. Glastonbury Festival, Somerset

13. St Paul’s Cathedral, London

14. Scilly Isles

15. Stratford-upon-Avon, West Midlands

16. Borough Market, London

17. Glencoe, Scotland

18. Yorkshire Dales National Park

19. Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh

20. South Bank, London

21. Durham Cathedral

22. Skara Brae, Scotland

23. Shakespeare’s Globe, London

24. Harry Potter on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh

25. Kew Gardens, London

26. Robin Hood’s Bay, North Yorkshire

27. Tower of London

28. Holkham Beach, Norfolk

29. Durdle Door, Dorset

30. York Minster

31. Bonfire Night in Lewes, East Sussex

32. Chatsworth House, Derbyshire

33. South West Coastal Path

34. Dinner and a show in Theatreland, London

35. Beachy Head and Seven Sisters cliffs, Sussex

36. Harry Potter Warner Bros Studio Tour, Watford

37. North Coast 500, Scottish Highlands

38. Soho and Covent Garden, London

39. Blakeney Point, Norfolk

40. Lake District, Cumbria

41. Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye

42. Hampstead Heath, London

43. Cairngorms National Park, Scotland

44. Gothic Whitby, Yorkshire

45. Snowdon, North Wales

46. Natural History Museum, London

47. Gower Peninsula, South Wales

48. Welsh rugby match at the Principality Stadium, Cardiff

49. Lost Gardens of Heligan, Cornwall

50. Christ Church College, Oxford

Source: Lonely Planet. To read more click here. 

How the list was drawn up: The Lonely Planet team compiled every highlight from the Lonely Planet guidebooks to Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Every sight, attraction and experience that had caught their writers’ attention over the years were included. Everyone in Lonely Planet’s London office, plus 20 leading figures in the country’s travel sector, were then asked to reveal their favourite spots and experiences before the voting began. Everybody in Lonely Planet’s UK community was asked to vote for their top 20 experiences. With hundreds of votes cast, Lonely Planet ended up with a score for each of the 500 experiences in the book. 

 

 

 

 


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