World Heritage Sites in Britain

Last updated on April 29th, 2024 at 06:11 pm

World Heritage Sites in Britain

Britain has 29 World Heritage Sites.  The United Kingdom has 30, including the Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland but excluding overseas territories.  It would have been 31, but Liverpool’s maritime mercantile city was, sadly, stripped of its status in 2021.  Don’t let that put you off; Liverpool is more than worth spending time in, whatever anyone says.  But before we get to a bit about Britain’s World Heritage Sites, what exactly is a World Heritage Site?

UNESCO World Heritage

Briefly, a World Heritage Site is designated by the United Nations‘ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) as of “outstanding universal value”, a place of unique cultural or natural significance.  There are more than 1,100 designated World Heritage Sites across the globe, including such places as the Taj Mahal and the Serengeti National Park.  So, a WHS could be a place of great beauty and environmental importance, a building of special historic significance, a location where something remarkable was achieved, or a combination of all.  The full text of the UN “Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage” is exceptionally verbose, no doubt worthy of publicly accountable bodies with time on their hands the world over, and can be read here if you have a spare day or two.  All you really need to know is that a World Heritage Site is considered by some people to be somewhere special.  Of course, this does not mean that other places are unworthy; they simply haven’t been nominated and chosen.  Look on World Heritage status as similar to being featured on A Bit About Britain, but much, much, more expensive.

Here are Britain’s World Heritage Sites, in alphabetical order.
CLICK or TAP on a heading to reveal more about it.

Blaenavon Industrial Landscape

Blaenavon is a town and area in South Wales that reflects the importance of South Wales in Britain’s Industrial Revolution and the production of iron, coal and steel from the 18th to the 20th centuries.  The four principal visitor attractions are the World Heritage Centre, Big Pit National Coal Museum, Blaenavon Ironworks and Blaenavon Heritage Railway.

Here is Blaenavon’s website.

Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Palace, next to the charming town of Woodstock near Oxford, is one of the treasure houses of England.  The estate was given to the 1st Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill, as a reward for his military victories against the French in 1704.  It is named for the Battle of Blenheim, in Bavaria, that took place on 13 August 1704.  The enormous 18th century house was designed by John Vanbrugh and Nicholas Hawksmoor, the park was landscaped by Capability Brown and both house and park are judged to be perfect examples of their work.  Winston Churchill was born at Blenheim and has many associations with it – he proposed to Clementine in the Temple of Diana in the grounds. Blenheim is judged “typical of 18th century European princely residences.”

Here is Blenheim Palace’s website

Canterbury Cathedral, St Augustine’s Abbey, and St Martin’s Church

Canterbury City Walls and Cathedral. Image via Pixabay

St Martin’s Church, the ruins of St Augustine’s Abbey and Christ Church Cathedral mark a milestone in the history of Christianity in Britain – the reintroduction of Christianity to southern Britain by St Augustine in 597 AD, as instructed by Pope Gregory the Great.

Christ Church Cathedral Canterbury was founded in 597 AD, but today’s building is a much later medieval Romanesque and Gothic building.  It is the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion and seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered here in 1170 and it thereafter became a place of pilgrimage.

St Martin’s is the oldest church building in Britain still used as a church.  It was the private chapel of Queen Bertha of Kent before St Augustine’s arrival and, by tradition, was a renovated Roman building.

The ruins of the Norman Benedictine Abbey of St Augustine stand on the site of the original Anglo-Saxon Abbey, founded in 598 AD by St Augustine and dedicated to St Peter and St Paul – traditionally on the site of King Ethelbert of Kent’s pagan temple.

Here is the website for Canterbury Cathedral

Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd

Conwy Castle, Wales

These are reminders of the wars between the Welsh and English, of English colonisation and, in particular, of King Edward I’s aim to bring all of Britain under his rule.  World Heritage Site status covers the four north Welsh castles of Beaumaris (on Anglesey), Harlech, Conwy, Caernarfon and the town fortifications of Conwy and Caernarfon.  UNESCO considers these structures to be “the finest examples of late 13th century and early 14th century military architecture in Europe, as demonstrated through their completeness, pristine state, evidence for organized domestic space, and extraordinary repertory of their medieval architectural form.”

All of these four castles are in the care of Cadw, the Welsh Government’s historic environment service.

Go to Cadw’s website

City of Bath

Pulteney Bridge, Bath

Bath has World Heritage Site status alongside ‘The Great Spa Towns of Europe’ – 11 towns, including Bath, located in seven European countries: Austria; Belgium; the Czech Republic; France; Germany; Italy – and Bath in the UK.  All of these towns developed around natural mineral water springs and represent the ‘spa culture’ that became popular in the 18th century and which lasted into the 20th.

Bath was in fact a Roman spa town, Aquae Sulis, and this fact, as well as the famous Roman remains, are a key factor in Bath’s WH status.  However, Bath is additionally important because of its sumptuous Georgian architecture, as it developed as one of Britain’s most fashionable spa towns and a magnet for polite society (see Jane Austen).  Other spa towns are available, but there is only one Bath and here is the link to the tourist website.

Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape

Cornish tin mine at St Agnes

Mining has been a feature of England’s West Country for thousands of years.  It was particularly known for its tin, which the Romans exploited.  The medieval tin miners (‘tinners’) of Devon and Cornwall had special rights, including being able to search for tin on any unenclosed land.  Tin and copper mining, in particular, took off in the region during the 18th and 19th centuries, transforming some of the landscape.  There were deep mines, even under the sea, engine houses, foundries, new towns and ports.  In the early part of the 19th century, Britain produced more than half the world’s copper, most of it from Cornwall. In the 1870s, Cornwall and Devon also produced over half the world’s arsenic.  Technology, equipment – and culture, including games – were exported by Cornish miners all over the world.  There are substantial remains of this contribution to the Industrial Revolution all over Devon and Cornwall.

Here is a link to the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape World Heritage Site website

Derwent Valley Mills

Derwent Valley stretches north from the town of Derby in England’s East Midlands, on the edge of the Pennines.  This was where the modern factory system began, in the 18th century, together with the first modern industrial settlements.  John and Thomas Lombe built a silk mill in Derby in 1721, but in 1771 Richard Arkwright established a water-powered spinning mill at Cromford, followed by a larger mill in 1776-77 and the creation of workers’ housing associated with this.  There are four principal 18th and 19th century industrial centres at Cromford, Belper, Milford and Darley Abbey with surviving mill (factory) buildings located in a much-admired landscape.

Here is a link to the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage site website

Dorset and East Devon Coast

Old Harry Roacks, free access

England’s Jurassic Coast encompasses 95 miles of lovely coastline from Exmouth in East Devon to Old Harry Rocks in Studland Bay in Dorset.  It actually covers three geological time periods – the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous which together make up the Mesozoic Era, from around 250 to 65 million years ago. The area’s significant fossil sites and model coastal geomorphologic features have contributed to the study of earth sciences for over 300 years.  The coast includes some wonderful geological features, like Durdle Door, Chesil Beach and Golden Cap, dramatic views and seaside towns and resorts such as Bournemouth, Poole, Swanage, Lyme Regis and West Bay.  Walk, bathe and hunt for fossils.

Here is the link to the Jurassic Coast’s website

Durham Castle and Cathedral

Durham Cathedral, River Wear

Durham Castle and Cathedral have architectural, political and cultural significance.  Both buildings are huge reminders of the Norman Conquest of England and Durham Cathedral, built between 1093 and 1133, is one of the finest examples of Norman architecture in Europe.  Politically, the site is a reminder of the Prince-Bishops of Durham and the unique status and power granted to them, initially by William the Conqueror as royal representatives in the north.  The Prince-Bishops had both spiritual and temporal authority and ruled, virtually autocratically, a buffer state between England and Scotland from the late eleventh century until 1603.  Since 1832, the castle has been home to Durham University, a significant educational institution and the third oldest university in England.  The cathedral also contains the shrines of St Cuthbert, who lived in the 7th century and is pretty much the patron saint of Northern England, and the Venerable Bede, who also lived in the 7th century and who is regarded as ‘the father of English history’.

Here are the links to Durham Cathedral’s website and to Durham Castle’s website.

And here is the Durham World Heritage website.

English Lake District

Walk up Cat Bells

The Lake District is one of the jewels in the crown of northwest England.  It is England’s only mountainous area, a discrete massif shaped by glaciers in the last ice age to create a radial pattern of valleys and lakes, which has subsequently been further moulded by human activity.  It is beautiful, in parts deceptively pretty, with a patchwork of drystone walls, heather and bracken hillsides, grim stone and peaks reflected in shimmering water.  There are grand houses, cute cottages, busy tourist towns, remote settlements and lots of sheep.  The landscape was popularised by members of the Romantic Movement in the 18th century, including Wordsworth, and later championed by Beatrix Potter and the work of the National Trust.

The Lake District is the largest and most visited national park in England. It includes England’s highest peak (Skafell), as well as its longest (Windermere), and deepest (Wastwater), lakes.  The area is also known as ‘the English Lakes’ and is popular with walkers, cyclists, campers, families and geographers – as well as outdoor enthusiasts of all types, including serious climbers.

Here is the link to the Lake District World Heritage website.

Forth Bridge

Forth Bridge, World Heritage Site

With its distinctive rusty-red colour, the Forth Bridge is a Scottish landmark, a much photographed and painted (in both senses) railway bridge that spans the Firth of Forth in the east of the country.  It was the world’s first major (I agree, that sounds a little subjective) steel structure when it was opened by the then Prince of Wales on 4 March 1890 and is still the world’s longest cantilever bridge.  When it opened, it provided an unbroken railway line between London and Aberdeen.  It took 7 years to build, employed more than 4,000 men at the peak of its construction and 57 lives were lost in the process.  It is 8,904 feet (2,467 metres) long, stands 361 feet (110 metres) above the water at high tide and requires 52,793 gallons (240,000 litres) of paint.  Lost for anything else to say except to spout more statistics, 200 trains use the Forth Bridge each day carrying 3 million passengers a year.

It is not the only means of crossing the firth (estuary) of the River Forth.

Here is the link to the website of the Forth Bridges

Frontiers of the Roman Empire

Hadrian's Wall

This World Heritage Site is shared between Germany and Britain.  The Roman Empire was one of the greatest empires ever known.  Its borders at their greatest extent in the 2nd century AD extended over 3,100 miles (5,000 km) from northern Britain, across mainland Europe to the Black Sea, south to the Red Sea and west across North Africa to the Atlantic coast.  The Roman frontier is often referred to as the Limes (lee-mez) – Latin for ‘limit’.  Constructed sections of border defence works can be seen all over the lands of the old empire.  In Britain, there are two locations: Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall.

Hadrian’s Wall stretched 73 miles (118 km) from the Solway Firth in the west to Wallsend in the east.  The Emperor Hadrian ordered its construction in 120 AD to defend the north-west border of the Empire.  Troops were stationed at milecastles along its length and forts were later built at 5-mile (8 km) intervals.  It was abandoned in the late 4th century.  Much of it remains, albeit heavily ruined, and it is possible to walk the entire length, if you’re that way inclined.  There are multiple sites that can be visited, many of them in the care of English Heritage.  The best preserved site along the wall is Housesteads Fort.  At Vindolanda, where there is also a fascinating museum, excavations are ongoing and can be observed.  To the far east, at Wallsend, is the site of Segedunum – which lay underneath Wallsend’s shipbuilding community until the houses were demolished to expose the foundations of the fort.

Many of the sites along the wall are managed by English Heritage.

The Antonine Wall was built in 140 AD on the orders of Hadrian’s successor, Emperor Antoninus Pius.  It ran 37 miles (60km) from Old Kilpatrick in the west to near Bo’ness in the east and formed the north-west frontier of the Roman Empire, but was abandoned after 20 years and the frontier shifted back south to Hadrian’s Wall.  Unlike the latter, the Antonine Wall was constructed mostly out of layers of turf.  These ramparts reached a height of almost 10 feet (3 m).  In front, to the north, ran an enormous ditch, up to 16 feet (5 m) deep.  There were 17 forts along the wall, plus additional ‘fortlets’.  The Antonine Wall website calls it “the biggest, most awe-inspiring building project the people of Scotland had ever seen” – which is true but for the fact that Scotland did not exist at the time.  There are several stretches of the wall that can be seen today – one of the best is at Rough Castle.  The largest collection of Antonine Wall artefacts is at the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow.

Here is the link to the Antonine Wall World Heritage website

Here is the link to Hadrian’s Wall Country World Heritage website

Heart of Neolithic Orkney

Skara Brae

A group of four Neolithic monuments on Orkney provides an exceptional insight into the lives of our ancestors, 5,000 years ago.  Three of the monuments are in close proximity in a landscape scattered with prehistoric remains.

Maeshowe is one of Europe’s finest chambered tombs.  The entrance passage is aligned with the setting midwinter sun, illuminating the tomb’s interior.  You can also spot Norse graffiti inside, runes carved by Nordic knights in the 12th century.  Nearby are the Stones of Stenness.

The Stones of Stenness are four thin, angled, stones up to 20 feet (6 metres) high, the remains of a great circle of twelve stones surrounded by a ditch and bank, thought to be the earliest henge monument in the British Isles.

Not far away from Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar comprises thirty-six stones, once a massive circle of 60 stones with at least 13 burial mounds and a rock-cut ditch surrounding the stone circle.  The circle is almost perfect, measures 341 feet (104 metres) in diameter and is the third largest stone circle in the British Isles (after Avebury and Stanton Drew).

Skara Brae is a Neolithic village, unknown until uncovered by a storm in 1850.  People were living here before the Egyptian pyramids were built and it is the best-preserved Neolithic settlement in Western Europe.  There are the remains of nine, extraordinary, houses where built-in stone furniture such as cupboards and beds can be seen.

All of the monuments of the Orkney World Heritage Site are cared for by Historic Environment Scotland. Here is the relevant link to their website.

Ironbridge Gorge

Ironbridge over Ironbridge Gorge

Ironbridge, named for the world’s first cast-iron bridge, constructed there across the Severn in 1779, has a unique part in the story of the Industrial Revolution and, to many, is a symbol of it.  It was here that Abraham Darby I pioneered using coke to smelt iron ore.  The area contains examples of many of the components of progress, from mines to factories to housing to transport, that resulted in it being the most technologically advanced place in the world by the end of the 18th century.  Today, the town of Ironbridge itself is peaceful and charming, but the reminders of its noisier and dirtier past are all around, including the Iron Bridge itself, Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron, the Museum of the Gorge, Blists Hill Victorian Town, Jackfield Tile Museum, Coalport China Museum, the Broseley Pipeworks, intriguing Tar Tunnel and the houses the Darby family lived in.

Here is the website of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, who look after most of the World Heritage Site.

Jodrell Bank Observatory

Visit Jodrell Bank

Working on cosmic rays from the University of Manchester after the Second World War, Sir Bernard Lovell (1913 – 2012) established Jodrell Bank Observatory in a rural area, away from the radio interference he was experiencing in a busy city. His observatory is still in operation and is home to the famous giant Lovell Telescope.  Jodrell Bank has had substantial scientific impact in understanding meteors and the moon, as well as in the discovery of quasars, quantum optics, and the tracking of spacecraft. UNESCO says, “This exceptional technological ensemble illustrates the transition from traditional optical astronomy to radio astronomy (1940s to 1960s), which led to radical changes in the understanding of the universe.”  So, this is the place to learn all about life, the universe and everything – well, the universe, anyway.  In addition, there are 35 acres of gardens, which include an arboretum and a playground.

Here is Jodrell Bank’s website.

Maritime Greenwich

Maritime Greenwich is a historic location on the south bank of the Thames and part of the royal Borough of Greenwich.  There is so much packed into a relatively small area: heritage, art and architecture, seafaring, science, parkland – and royalty.  With Saxon roots (there is a Saxon cemetery in Greenwich Park), Greenwich includes an ensemble of grand buildings – the Queen’s House designed by Inigo Jones and built for Anne of Denmark on the site of the Royal Palace, Christopher Wren’s Royal Hospital for Seamen (the Old Naval College), the National Maritime Museum, the Royal Observatory (home of the Meridian Line), and the Cutty Sark.  The pretty, old, Georgian town of Greenwich also includes the parish church of St Alfege, designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor.

World Heritage UK says, “Maritime Greenwich encompasses international significant architecture and landscape, artistic achievement, scientific endeavour and royal association which together tell the story of Britain at sea, and of world time keeping, navigation and exploration.”

Here is the website for Maritime Greenwich

And here is the website for Royal Museums Greenwich

New Lanark

New Lanark is a purpose-built industrial complex established in 1785 in rural south Scotland by industrialist David Dale (1739-1806).  Although initially based on Arkwright’s Cromford Mill in Derbyshire, Dale’s vision was to provide better working and social conditions for his workers than anywhere else in the UK.  These ideas were further developed by his son-in-law, Robert Owen (1771-1858), who envisaged a utopian society without crime, poverty, or misery.  Dale and Owen created a model industrial community at New Lanark.  The mills were operational until 1968 and the workers’ housing and educational facilities are still there, visited by people from all over the world.  New Lanark greatly influenced other benevolent employers and is seen as a milestone in social and industrial history.

Here is the New Lanark World Heritage Site website

Old and New Towns of Edinburgh

Edinburgh, Calton Hill

Edinburgh, capital of Scotland since the 15th century, has two distinctive towns at its core, rubbing shoulders with each other.  First, there is the almost rambling old medieval town, stretching from its dramatically sited ancient castle along the Royal Mile and Canongate to Holyrood Abbey, founded by King David I in 1128 and its adjoining Royal Palace of Holyroodhouse. Secondly, there is the planned Georgian New Town, with elegant neo-classical facades and squares and open spaces.

The Old Town contains many tall buildings, built on restricted plots, including the 17th century Gladstone’s Land, often with narrow lanes in between, as well as the world-class cathedral of St Giles.  UNESCO believes that the developments of the New Town in the 18th and 19th centuries reflect Edinburgh’s status as “a major centre of thought and learning in the 18th century Age of Enlightenment, with its close cultural and political links with mainland Europe.”

Here is Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site website

Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey including Saint Margaret’s Church

Parliament, London, UK

In the 11th century, King Edward the Confessor decided to build an abbey and palace on the low lying Thorney Island upstream from London. This was his West Minster and the area has been a centre of government, royalty and power ever since. To UNESCO, they represent “the journey from a feudal society to a modern democracy and show the intertwined history of church, monarchy and state.” Right.

Some early English parliaments were held in the medieval Westminster Palace, but the current home of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, the Houses of Parliament, aka the Palace of Westminster Palace, was rebuilt from 1840 on the site following a disastrous fire.  (Unlike Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, England does not have its own national assembly.)  The building is a fine example of Victorian Gothic, designed by Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin.  Its silhouette is iconic and instantly recognisable around the world, alongside the sound of Big Ben.

Westminster Abbey has been at the centre of English, and British, state occasions – coronations, weddings, funerals, services of commemoration – since William the Conqueror was crowned there on Christmas Day 1066.  The present building is largely 13th-14th century, with the addition of 18th century towers.  The interior is breathtaking and contains the tombs of many of England’s great monarchs, including Edward I and Elizabeth I, as well as memorials honouring national heroes and poets – and the tomb of the Unknown Warrior.

All three buildings – the Palace, Westminster Abbey and the medieval St Margaret’s Church – are still functioning and the Palace and Abbey play a pivotal role in British national life.  It could (and has) been said that they encapsulate the history of one of the most ancient parliamentary monarchies of present times and the growth of parliamentary and constitutional institutions.

The Westminster World Heritage website is boring, so here are the websites for the UK Parliament, Westminster Abbey and St Margaret’s Church.

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is the longest aqueduct in Britain and the highest navigable aqueduct in the world.  It was designed by Thomas Telford (1757-1834) and carries the Llangollen Canal 126 feet (38 m) over the valley of the River Dee.  The Aqueduct was built between 1795 and 1805 is 1,008 yards (307 m) long and just 12 feet (3.6 m) wide.  You can walk across on a path alongside the canal (the advice is not to look down), or take a boat.

The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is considered one of the outstanding examples of the innovations brought about by the Industrial Revolution in Britain and has been described as a masterpiece of creative genius.

Here is the website of the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal World Heritage Site.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Kew Gardens, World Heritage Site

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is located in 300 acres beside the River Thames between Richmond and Kew in south-west London.  It boasts six glasshouses, the great pagoda, a range of landscapes and the “largest and most diverse botanical and mycological collections in the world”.  There is also a large, specialist, library. One highlight of a visit is Kew’s Rhizotron and Xstrata Treetop Walkway, which takes visitors underground and then 59 feet (18 metres) high up in the air.

The botanic gardens were founded in 1840, though its roots (pun intended) go back much further, to at least 1759 when Princess Augusta, mother of King George III, established a nine-acre botanic garden within the pleasure grounds at Kew.  However, this part of the world has been a bit of a Royal Playground for centuries.

Kew Gardens has its own small police force, the Kew Constabulary, operational since 1847. Entry into the gardens also gives entry to Kew Palace, managed by Historic Royal Palaces. Kew, and the botanic gardens at Wakehurst, Sussex, are managed by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, a government sponsored internationally important botanical research and education institution.

Here is the website for Kew Gardens.


Saltaire, West Yorkshire

Saltaire is a Victorian model village in West Yorkshire, built by textile magnate Titus Salt.  The name is a combination of ‘Salt’ with ‘Aire’, the local river.  Salt gave his workers considerably better living and working conditions than they had endured in Bradford, after he moved production to his new facility in 1853.  Saltaire today is a preserved, living, village with shops, a park, canalside walks, all part of the World Heritage Site.  But no pub – Titus didn’t do pubs.  The main feature is the old factory building, Salts Mill, which includes exhibitions, specialist retail outlets and a permanent gallery exhibiting the works of local Bradford artist, David Hockney.

Saltaire gives a vivid impression of Victorian philanthropic paternalism and, as with New Lanark, had a profound influence on industrial social welfare, urban planning and the 19th century garden city movement in the UK and beyond.

Here is Saltaire’s website

St Kilda

St Kilda is unique, an isolated volcano archipelago 40 miles (64 km) northwest of North Uist in the Atlantic Ocean. It is a dual World Heritage Site, noted by UNESCO for both its cultural and natural attributes.  The islands witnessed human activity for at least 4,000 years, subsisting on seabirds and domesticated animals (notably the Soay sheep), but the last 36 islanders voted to leave in 1936, acknowledging that their way of life was no longer sustainable.  They have left behind the ghostly remains of their homes and village.  The islands are no longer permanently inhabited, but there is a military site on Hirta, the largest island, and National Trust for Scotland staff are in residence for part of the year.

Hirta’s massive sea cliffs are the highest in the United Kingdom.  The islands are home to nearly 1 million seabirds at the height of the breeding season, including gannets, fulmars and the UK’s largest colony of Atlantic puffins. St Kilda in fact supports the largest seabird colony in the northeast Atlantic.  Isolation has also resulted in two unique animal species, the St Kilda wren and the St Kilda fieldmouse. Finally, surrounding the islands is an invaluable and diverse marine environment.

The islands can be visited by boat, a journey of between 3 and 6 hours from the Western Isles, subject to strict rules to maintain the integrity of the islands’ environment.

Here is information about St Kilda from the National Trust for Scotland, which owns the islands.

Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites

Avebury, Wiltshire

Stonehenge, the most sophisticated stone circle in the world, is internationally renowned.  Avebury, about 24 miles (39 km) to the north, is less well known but is the largest stone circle in the world.  They share an astonishing landscape with a raft of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments covering a period of about 2,000 years of continuous use from c3700 to c1600 BC.  UNESCO, rightly, sees this as “a unique embodiment of our collective heritage”.

Stonehenge monuments include the Avenue, the Cursuses, Durrington Walls, Woodhenge, and the densest concentration of burial mounds in Britain. Avebury monuments include Windmill Hill, the West Kennet Long Barrow, the Sanctuary, Silbury Hill, the West Kennet and Beckhampton Avenues, the West Kennet Palisaded Enclosures, and other barrows.

Here is a link to the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site website

Studley Royal Park including the Ruins of Fountains Abbey

Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire

The atmospheric ruins of Fountains Abbey, the great Cistercian house founded in the 12th century and which lasted 400 years, are one of Yorkshire’s ‘must visit’ places.  They are the largest monastic ruins in the United Kingdom and, looking at them, it is impossible not be awed by the power that the monasteries once had.

Adjoining Fountains is Studley Royal Water Garden, an enormous 18th century water garden formed from part of the once wild and wooded valley of the River Skell.  It is ostentatious and not to everyone’s taste, but is certainly impressive, with water features, statuary, follies and wildlife mingling together. At the opposite end to Fountains Abbey is a medieval deer park with red, fallow and sika deer; and don’t miss the high Anglican Victorian Gothic church, St Mary’s, which is completely over the top.

UNESCO’s website says, “In the 18th century a designed landscape of exceptional beauty was created around the ruins of the Cistercian Fountains Abbey, in Yorkshire. The spectacular ruins of the 12th century abbey and water mill, the Jacobean mansion of Fountains Hall, the Victorian masterpiece St Mary’s Church and one of the most magnificent Georgian water gardens ever created, make this a landscape of outstanding merit.”

Unlike Fountains Abbey, Studley Royal Park has survived substantially in its original form.  It is thought to be one of the most spectacular water gardens in England.

Here is the link to more information about Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal from the National Trust

Slate Landscape of Northwest Wales

Snowdonia, Nantlle Valley

Slate has been quarried in North Wales since at least Roman times, but production rocketed during the Industrial Revolution when it became the material of choice for roofing Britain’s new and expanding towns and factories.  From the mountains, slate was carried to ports, transported by canal and, eventually, railway.  Welsh slate is thought to be the best in the world – and has been used all over the world.

Today, among the natural beauty, the landscape is punctuated with quarries and mines, industrial archaeological sites, historical settlements, the grand houses built by quarry owners, ports and transportation relating to the slate industry.

Here is Gwynedd Council’s website for the Slate Landscape of Northwest Wales World Heritage Site. Personally, I think it needs a little more work.

Tower of London

Tower of London, the City

Like the Houses of Parliament, The Tower of London is internationally famous and one of London’s – and Britain’s – most iconic buildings.  Arguably the best pay to visit attraction in London, the Tower has been so many things – Norman fortress, medieval palace, mint, prison, place of execution – even a zoo. There is so much to see, not least the Crown Jewels, the Royal Armoury, Yeoman Warders – and (of course) the ravens.  Its centrepiece, the massive keep known as the White Tower, was built using stone imported from Caen by William the Conqueror both as a demonstration of Norman power to his new subjects, and as a fortress to help defend London.  UNESCO says it is the most complete example of an 11th century fortress palace remaining in Europe. However, the Tower of London continually developed, right up to the 19th century, into a massive complex whose unique atmosphere you feel as soon as you walk through its daunting outer gateway.  Of course, The Tower of London is particularly associated with royalty, the Tudors in particular, and the three English queens who were executed there – Anne Boleyn (1536), Catherine Howard (1542) and Lady Jane Grey (1554). And, naturally, it is full of ghosts.

Here is a link to the Tower of London’s website

Click or tap for the full UNESCO listing details for the United Kingdom’s World Heritage Sites.

Look at what the official United Kingdom World Heritage website has to say about our sites.

A closing thought.  All of the above are unquestionably wonderful places that need to be preserved, protected and visited.  They reflect an astonishing range of heritage, natural beauty and diverse achievement in science, industry, architecture and culture.  However, I bet most people reading this can think of other worthy places.  But achieving World Heritage Status does not happen by osmosis.  It first has to be planned and promoted by interested parties, then receive the support of national government before being put forward to UNESCO for consideration.  It takes years, is very expensive to get there and expensive to maintain the status – if achieved. Part of the initial plan must include a realistic cost-benefit analysis.

62 thoughts on “World Heritage Sites in Britain”

    1. I’ve visited 17 (though some in part) – it would be good to tick off all of them. I pass Lanark so often, but always on the way to somewhere! St Kilda, though – now THAT wold be something!

  1. I never knew about World Heritage sites! So little I know – it’s embarrassing. I’m proud to say that I’ve been to four that are on your list here: City of Bath, Lake District, Stonehenge, and Tower of London. How much I’d love to visit more of them. One of these days…. I think on the top of my England visit list is Liverpool. Not just because of the Beatles “stuff”; a good friend, recently passed, grew up in the area, heard the early Beatles sing, and frequently used the “Ferry…Cross the Mercy.”

  2. I confess — I’ve been to a number of these sites and never knew they were UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I love that they include areas rather than just sites/buildings. Thanks for this list.

  3. Interesting list – I’ve only done a few of them despite the fact I feel like I’m always going to new places in England. It’s amazing how much there is to do in this (relatively small) country! 🙂

    1. You are right. Britain, including England, packs a lot into a small, damp, space. I would be gobsmacked if most of our own citizens knew all the WH sites – I certainly didn’t until researching the article.

  4. I’m sure that compiling such a list gives the UN something to do, but what’s the point of it if they can do nothing to prevent the destruction of such sites as has recently happened in Afghanistan, Mali and several other places. Even in the UK all they do is de-list Liverpool when new developments take place; that’s not preserving heritage, that’s just standing idly by and tut-tutting.

  5. I don’t know why, but I’ve always thought of World Heritage Sites as being compact and I’m surprised to discover that Stonehenge isn’t a WHS on its own. I’m even more surprised that vast swathes of countryside constitute one site. You’re never too old to learn something new every day.

  6. That was really interesting! Enjoyed reading about several of those, especially the old industrial sites. And pleased to see that we’ve actually been to ten of those.

  7. Thank you, Mike, for another informative blog post. If I WERE ever to travel to the UK again (I visited there as a teeenager), I would make sure to spend at least a day at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. Wow!

  8. artandarchitecturemainly

    I clearly understood years ago that it would be impossible to visit, photograph and enjoy EVERY heritage site. So I made a 25 year plan to select and visit places that most appealed, covering Bath, Dorset, Greenwich, Durham and Edinburgh in the first ten years. I selected courses from the Summer Academy, depending on the universities’ locations.

    If Covid ever ends and overseas travels re-open, the next destination will be the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.

  9. Michael W. Zach

    Thank you for sharing another interesting information about Britain, Mike! It seems to me, a visit to the UK should be combined with a longer stay. 😉 Will you not return to the EU? Would be a little bit easier for heading over. Have a nice rest of the week! xx Michael

  10. How revealing. Must admit I never gave the subject of World Heritage Sites much thought. Though of course this is B and B for A B A B. (bread and butter). And I have to say, when you suddenly wrote WHS at first glance I though you were referring to a bookstore branch. But clearly obtaining and maintaining WHS status (the heritage one) is really only likely with the support of the government of the territory. So how would a developing country afford to go through that process, or are they given concessionary rates, or would they have to go cap in hand to wealthier donors maybe? With these unresolved thoughts floating around inside my troubled bonce I must admit I was having one of those indignant – What utter tosh! – moments. You know the kind of moment you might have when you get hold of the wrong end of a few sticks, assume the worst and get all high-horsey.
    I’m quite sure I could resolve these issues if I were to follow the link, read up, etc. Or I could just ask Mike and let him do the research? 🙂
    Should he be so inclined of course.

    1. I have to say that you echo my thoughts about developing nations. As for WHS, I guess people still shop there, otherwise they wouldn’t still be on the high street when so many decent brands have gone.

  11. Great post Mike which got me checking how many World Heritage sites there are (1,153) and pondering whether anyone had ever attempted to visit them all. I then moved on to which I would have dearly loved to have seen (but never will). I have to content myself with those I have visited and the fact that I lived on the UK’s only dual registered site for a total of 8 months!

      1. It was really very special, especially as it was before St Kilda gained WHS status and so there were very few people who travelled out there. We had a NTS Ranger/Warden and the occasional bird or sheep specialist and some of the military team helped out with counting, ringing, ear tagging etc. I suppose I am saying it was great before the tourists spoiled it!

  12. Hi Mike – it’s good to have your list … and to know that we have places worth preserving for posterity – as too promote. But there’s so many delightful places in Britain for us to ponder and visit – cheers Hilary

  13. Thanks for listing these; I’m pleased to know that I’ve visited quite a few of them. My favourite World Heritage site is Bath, it truly is stunning. But I agree, there are probably lots of other beautiful sites which merit the same accolade.

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