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The UNESCO World Heritage Sites of the UK

The UNESCO World Heritage Sites of the UK

You might have had to cancel a big foreign trip this year, or maybe the continued threat of the pandemic has left you cautious about travel.

Record numbers of families have instead turned to ‘staycations’ for their summer holidays, but just because you’re staying in the UK it doesn’t mean you have to miss out on stunning sights and unique experiences.

Of the 1121 UNESCO World Heritage Sites across the world, 32 are located in the UK. But what does it mean to be listed, and where are some of the best?

What is a UNESCO World Heritage Site?

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO for short, designates places to be World Heritage Sites on the basis of having “cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity”.

Areas must have a geographic uniquity or be a place of deep historic and cultural significance.

World Heritage Sites are designated for means of conservation and are protected against many developments in the modern world – whether restricting building or other ventures.

Sites are either designated on cultural or natural grounds – although some are of mixed significance.

We’ve picked out eight of the UK’s 32 World Heritage Sites that you ought to consider visiting, whether staycationing or just looking for a fun day out.

Blenheim Palace

Built in the 1700s, this Oxfordshire estate is best known as the birthplace and ancestral home of Sir Winston Churchill. With vast grounds to explore and spectacularly opulent interiors to gaze at, you get quite the sense of how the other half have it when visiting this grand manor.

Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal

The largest monastic ruins in the UK can be found just outside Ripon in North Yorkshire. The abbey was founded in the 12th century and was in operation for almost half a millennium until it was dissolved by Henry VIII as part of his great dispute with the Church.

The Giant’s Causeway

On Northern Ireland’s northern coast a few miles from Bushmills stands the Giant’s Causeway, a vast formation of basalt columns that has fascinated us for centuries. Along with Fountains Abbey, the Giant’s Causeway was among the first places in the UK to be awarded World Heritage Site status in 1986.

Hadrian’s Wall

A long-time favourite attraction for those that are fans of hiking holidays in the UK, Hadrian’s Wall has stood since construction began in 122AD under the command of the eponymous Roman Emperor. The wall originally ran from the banks of the River Tyne in Newcastle to the Solway Firth on the England-Scotland border close at the Irish Sea, and a significant part of it remains visible today.

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

The Llangollen Canal is carried over the River Dee by this stunning work of engineering genius in Wrexham, North Wales. Almost 40 metres at its highest point, the bridge’s construction was completed in 1805 to link coal fields with major cities in north-west England. It remains navigable today for narrowboats and a towpath runs alongside for walkers who don’t mind heights – this is the world’s highest canal aqueduct.

St Kilda

Just 3% of the World Heritage Sites are listed on both cultural and natural grounds – St Kilda, a group of islands off the west coast of Scotland is one of them. These tiny islands are believed to have been permanently inhabited from the middle ages, right up until 1930 when they were evacuated. Left behind are astonishing natural landscapes interspersed with signs of a truly unique human existence.

The Tower of London

Officially Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London, this castle has stood for almost 1000 years and was used as a prison for much of that time, although its most famous residents are the Crown Jewels of England, which have been under lock and key since Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953. Whenever they are called upon next, the new king or queen will be in a procession from the Tower to Westminster Abbey for their coronation ceremony.


This West Yorkshire village was built in the 1850s by Sir Titus Salt to house the workers of the textile mill he had built on the Leeds-Liverpool canal. This model village was seen as a beacon for Victorian town planning and its heritage remains, with street names named after Salt’s relatives including Caroline Street (Salt’s wife) and ones named after his children: Titus, William Henry, George, Amelia, Edward, Fanny, Herbert, Whitlam, Mary, Helen and Ada. Today the mill is an art gallery that regularly houses work by pop art legend David Hockney, who was born in nearby Bradford.


Images: Unsplash