14 of the best UNESCO UK World Heritage Sites

Days out, Educational

Posted by Ruth on 21st February 2023

Conwy Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

When you think of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, you might conjure up images of ancient pyramids, Indian temples or far-flung islands.

But you don’t need to go far to visit some of these hallowed places – there are so many UNESCO sites in the UK for you to explore on your next holiday.

From finding out about our country’s prehistoric residents to marvelling at landforms that are hundreds of millions of years old, the UK’s World Heritage Sites tell stories of the lives and landscapes that have shaped our country. We’ve picked out 14 of our favourites – where will you discover next?

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5 of the best UNESCO World Heritage Sites in England

Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Palace

This grand, 18th-century country house in Oxfordshire is one of the most well-known UNESCO sites in England. It was voted one of the UK’s favourite stately homes and it’s easy to see why. Boasting a jaw-droppingly elegant interior and surrounded by 7 acres of land – including a garden landscaped by none other than Capability Brown – Blenheim is the stately home that dreams are made of and is a must-visit on a holiday to the Cotswolds.

Blenheim Palace is one of the largest properties in the country, and the only palace not to be associated with the royal family. UNESCO chose to make it a World Heritage Site due to its influence on the English Romantic movement of architecture, as well as its ties to the English aristocracy.

  • Date of inscription: 1987
  • Postcode: OX20 1UL
  • Fun fact: Winston Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace and proposed to his wife at the Temple of Diana on the palace’s grounds. You can take a trail through the palace and grounds to walk in his footsteps and discover his favourite places.

Visit the Cotswolds

The Lake District

The Lake District

Described as “the loveliest spot that man hath found” by Wordsworth, the Lake District has been beloved for centuries. It finally made its way onto the list of England's UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2017 due to its spectacular scenery and the influence it had on landscape painting and poetry in the Picturesque and Romantic movements of the 18th and 19th centuries.

It’s easy to see how artists and poets found their inspiration, whether you visit the 16 bodies of water that give this national park its name, or summit one of the 214 famous Wainwrights, such as Scafell Pike, Helvellyn and Skiddaw, to gain a whole new perspective of this world-famous landscape.   

  • Date of inscription: 2017
  • Postcode: CA12 5JR (Keswick Tourist Information Centre)
  • Fun fact: The Lake District is England’s largest national park and is also home to England’s deepest and largest lakes (Wastwater and Windermere, respectively).

Visit the Lake District

Botallack Mine, Cornwall

Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape

Recognisable as the rugged and romantic setting of BBC’s Poldark, the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape became a World Heritage Site due to the innovation of its steam engines, the remains of which still evocatively pepper the stark coastal landscape today.  

One of the finest examples is the Levant Mine and Beam Engine in Penzance, a National Trust-owned attraction where you can find out more about Cornwall’s groundbreaking mining heritage. Other places of interest along the dramatic Tin Coast and beyond include the Geevor Tin Mine, Wheal Coates and Heartlands.

  • Date of inscription: 2006
  • Postcode: TR19 7EW (Geevor Tin Mine Museum)
  • Fun fact: This UNESCO site spans 20,000 hectares, making it the UK’s largest industrial World Heritage Site.

Visit Cornwall

Durdle Door on the Jurassic Coast

Dorset and East Devon Coast

A landscape loved by holidaymakers the world over, the Jurassic Coast of Dorset and East Devon was made a World Heritage Site in 2001 for its significant geology which spans around 185 million years of history.

You can uncover this history for yourself, whether you’re fossil hunting in Charmouth, or marvelling at the iconic limestone arch at Durdle Door or multi-layered golden cliffs at West Bay, made famous by ITV’s Broadchurch. Find out which other hot spots you should visit with our guide to the best places to stay on the Jurassic Coast.

  • Date of inscription: 2001
  • Postcode: DT6 6LL (Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre)
  • Fun fact: One of the biggest fossils ever found at the Jurassic Coast was a 2.4-metre-long pliosaur skull – it’s thought the whole sea creature would have been 16 metres in length. You can see the fossil for yourself at Dorset Museum.

Visit the Jurassic Coast

The Roman Baths in the city of Bath

City of Bath

One of the older England UNESCO sites in terms of inscription date, the city of Bath became a World Heritage Site because of the remains of the Roman baths and its Georgian architecture, as well as the influence the town had on the wool industry in the Middle Ages. Bath also forms UNESCO’s Great Spa Towns of Europe, comprising 11 locations across the continent including Vichy in France, Baden-Baden in Germany and Montecatini Terme in Italy.

You can see for yourself the qualities that were recognised by UNESCO on a visit to this Somerset city. Wander around the Roman Baths, immerse yourself in the mineral-rich waters of the Thermae Bath Spa and stroll down the streets admiring the Georgian architecture such as the iconic Royal Crescent.  

  • Date of inscription: 1987
  • Postcode: BA1 1RD (Bath Visitor Information Centre)
  • Fun fact: Roman baths and Georgian architecture aren’t the only important historical moments in Bath’s history; it was also where the first ever stamp – the Penny Black – was mailed from.

Visit Somerset

5 of the best UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Scotland

St Kilda, off the Outer Hebrides

St Kilda

One of Scotland’s most remote places, St Kilda is an archipelago off the coast of the Hebrides, comprising four islands: Hirta, Dun, Soay and Boreray. Despite being uninhabited since 1930, St Kilda became one of the first UNESCO sites in Scotland due to its impressive natural landscape – including some of the highest cliffs in Europe – as well as being culturally significant, evidencing thriving island life of over 2,000 years despite being subject to strong Atlantic winds, crashing waves and freezing temperatures.

You can reach St Kilda by plane from Stornoway or Glasgow, or by ferry. While you’re there, you can get a glimpse into island life by wandering the old streets of Hirta, and discover the myriad species of natural life that are now the island’s main inhabitants, including over a million seabirds. Sea tours are also available, where you can delve into ancient sea caves and sail past the towering granite cliffs of this rugged volcanic archipelago.

  • Date of inscription: 1986, 2004 and 2005
  • Postcode: G76 9ER
  • Fun fact: Due to a lack of resources on this harsh island, St Kildans had to eat what they could find, which more often than not was the large variety of native seabirds; it has been said that the islanders used to eat puffins for a snack!

Visit the Outer Hebrides

The Forth Bridge over the Firth of Forth

The Forth Bridge

Opening in 1890 to provide a railway link between Fife and Edinburgh over the Firth of Forth, the Forth Bridge is one of the most iconic of Scotland’s UNESCO sites, as well as being one of the best things to see in Scotland. A feat of engineering using over 54,000 tons of steel, it is thought to be the world’s earliest cantilever bridge and is still one of the longest in existence today.

It’s for these reasons and more that UNESCO made this famous bridge a World Heritage Site, with the title paying homage to its industrial aesthetic and pioneering design. You can see it for yourself – alongside the two other bridges spanning the Firth of Forth – by taking the train at Dalmeny Station or North Queensferry Station.

  • Date of inscription: 2015
  • Postcode: EH30 9SF
  • Fun fact: It takes 240,000 litres of paint to cover the entire bridge, using a shade known as ‘Forth Bridge red’.

Visit Edinburgh and the Lothians

Skara Brae, part of Neolithic Orkney

Heart of Neolithic Orkney

Dating back around 5,000 years, Neolithic Orkney gives a glimpse into what life was like for some of Scotland’s oldest inhabitants. The heritage site comprises a range of settlements and stone circles, most notably Skara Brae – one of the best-preserved Neolithic sites in Europe – alongside two ceremonial stone circles and a tomb.

UNESCO deemed Neolithic Orkney a World Heritage Site due to its sophisticated architecture and authenticity which showcases a significant stage in the development of human civilisation. As well as being a great place to learn about prehistoric life, Orkney is also one of the best places to see the northern lights in Scotland.

  • Date of inscription: 1999
  • Postcode: KW16 3LR (Skara Brae Prehistoric Village)
  • Fun fact: Skara Brae lay hidden until 1850 when it was revealed after a particularly ferocious storm.

Visit Orkney

New Lanark in Scotland

New Lanark

New Lanark is a unique living museum of 18th-century life, in the most picturesque of Scottish settings. Designed by the utopian idealist Robert Owen, New Lanark was a pioneering industrial community incorporating cotton mills alongside housing for the workers and schools for their children.

The mills were powered by the impressive Falls of Clyde – now a visitor attraction in their own right – and after buying the business in the late 18th century, Owen set to work improving the efficiency of the mill and the happiness of its workers. He described it as “the most important experience for the happiness of the human race that has yet been instituted in any part of the world”. Today, New Lanark is a visitor attraction where you can learn what life was like for these workers and see the workplace reforms introduced by Owen, many of which we still benefit from today.

  • Date of inscription: 2001
  • Postcode: ML11 9DB
  • Fun fact: Owen was one of the early pioneers of the eight-hour workday, which he introduced at New Lanark. His philosophy was “eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest”.

Visit Glasgow and the Clyde Valley

The Old Town of Edinburgh

Old and New Towns of Edinburgh

One of the most visited UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Scotland, the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh incorporate the higgledy-piggledy streets of the medieval Old Town with the grandly Georgian New Town.

Honoured by UNESCO for its reflection of urban planning and building styles throughout the ages, this World Heritage Site features some of the city’s most beloved attractions, including Edinburgh Castle, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Calton Hill and the Georgian House. With so much to see and do, it’s no surprise that Edinburgh is one of the best places to stay in Scotland.

  • Date of inscription: 1995
  • Postcode: EH1 1JY
  • Fun fact: Edinburgh has more trees per person than any other city in the UK, making it the greenest city in the country!

Visit Edinburgh and the Lothians

4 of the best UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Wales

Blaenavon Industrial Landscape with mining machinery

Blaenavon Industrial Landscape

Combining quarries, mines, railways and accommodation, the Blaenavon Industrial Landscape showcases the well-preserved machinery and might of iron-making and coal mining in South Wales. One of four of Wales’ UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Blaenavon Industrial Landscape was given the title due to being a complete example of a 19th-century industrial landscape with its blend of industry and community.

Today, the heritage site spans almost 13 square miles and is filled with attractions where you can learn what life was like in this area during the Industrial Revolution. One of the highlights is the Big Pit National Coal Museum, offering one of the best days out in South Wales where you don your hard hat and torch, and delve over 90 metres underground to the industrial coal face.

  • Date of inscription: 2000
  • Postcode: NP4 9AS (Blaenavon World Heritage Centre)
  • Fun fact: The Big Pit Coal Museum was still a working pit until 1980.

Visit the Brecon Beacons

Caernarfon Castle

Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd

The castles of Beaumaris, Harlech, Caernarfon and Conwy all combine to make one of only two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in North Wales. Built between the 13th and 14th centuries, these fortifications were part of defence works during the reign of Edward I and are just as impressive in the 21st century, complete with intimidating dungeons, towers and drawbridges.

There are many castles in Wales – more than 600, in fact – but these are some of the finest and became the first UNESCO site in Wales due to their sophisticated architecture and workmanship. Dotted around the edge of Snowdonia National Park, these fortresses are easy to visit in one holiday while you take in the stunning scenery of North Wales too.  

  • Date of inscription: 1986
  • Postcode: LL55 2AY (Caernarfon Castle)
  • Fun fact: King Charles III was given the title of Prince of Wales at Caernarfon Castle; it is likely the new Prince of Wales – his son, William – will be given the same title here, too.  

Visit North Wales

The slate landscape of North Wales, with the Snowdonia mountains in the background

The Slate Landscape of North West Wales

The essence of the most recent UNESCO World Heritage Site in Wales is slate; the rock was extensively quarried and mined in the Snowdonian mountains during the Industrial Revolution, changing the area from pastoral to industrial. Such was the importance of the Slate Landscape of North West Wales that it formed the blueprint for other slate quarries around the world and necessitated the creation of a network of harbours and railways to transport this precious material.

Today, the quarries have fallen silent of machinery, but have proven to be highly popular tourist destinations, whether you want to learn about this once-thriving industry at the National Slate Museum or explore the mines for yourself on a caving adventure in the Snowdonia National Park.

  • Date of inscription: 2021
  • Postcode: LL55 4TY (National Slate Museum)
  • Fun fact: In the 19th century, Wales produced over 80% of the slate in Great Britain.

Visit Snowdonia

The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct over the River Dee in autumn

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal

You only need to visit the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct to marvel at its engineering, so it's no wonder that UNESCO made it a World Heritage Site due to its innovative design. Created by Thomas Telford at the turn of the 19th century, the aqueduct carried canal boats across the River Dee and is still the UK’s longest aqueduct, as well as being the highest canal aqueduct in the world.

Known as ‘the stream in the sky’, the aqueduct is still traversable today, either on foot along the towpath or by canal boat or canoe along the Llangollen Canal, 11 miles of which is also incorporated in the UNESCO World Heritage Site. In fact, navigating the aqueduct and canal is one of our favourite outdoor activities in Wales!

  • Date of inscription: 2009
  • Postcode: LL20 7TY
  • Fun fact: The aqueduct stands 39 metres high – 1 metre taller than Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro!

Visit North Wales

The Great Wall of China, Angkor Wat and the Pyramids of Giza - all UNESCO World Heritage Sites

UNESCO World Heritage Sites FAQ

UNESCO stands for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

According to its website, UNESCO “contributes to peace and security by promoting international cooperation in education, sciences, culture, communication and information”.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site is a building or area that has been deemed significantly cultural, historical or scientific. The sites are designated by UNESCO as being of outstanding value to humanity due to their cultural or natural heritage. Examples of famous UNESCO World Heritage Sites include the Pyramids of Giza, Angkor Wat and the Great Wall of China.

If you’re wondering how many UNESCO sites are in the UK, you might be surprised as there are more than you think. In fact, there are 33 UK UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including those in Overseas Territories such as Henderson Island in the South Pacific, and Gorham’s Cave Complex on the Rock of Gibraltar.

The full list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the UK is as follows:

  • Blaenavon Industrial Landscape
  • Blenheim Palace
  • Canterbury Cathedral, St Augustine's Abbey, and St Martin's Church
  • Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd
  • City of Bath
  • Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape
  • Derwent Valley Mills
  • Dorset and East Devon Coast
  • Durham Castle and Cathedral
  • Frontiers of the Roman Empire
  • Giant's Causeway and Causeway Coast
  • Gorham's Cave Complex
  • Gough and Inaccessible Islands
  • Heart of Neolithic Orkney
  • Henderson Island
  • Historic Town of St George and Related Fortifications, Bermuda
  • Ironbridge Gorge
  • Jodrell Bank Observatory
  • Maritime Greenwich
  • New Lanark
  • Old and New Towns of Edinburgh
  • Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey including Saint Margaret’s Church
  • Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal
  • Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
  • Saltaire
  • St Kilda
  • Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites
  • Studley Royal Park including the Ruins of Fountains Abbey
  • The English Lake District
  • The Forth Bridge
  • The Great Spa Towns of Europe
  • The Slate Landscape of North West Wales
  • Tower of London

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If you want to visit some of the 33 UK UNESCO sites for yourself, start planning your UK holiday. We have a wide range of holiday cottages that provide the perfect base for visiting UNESCO’s UK sites, whether you want to marvel at awe-inspiring architecture or learn about the lives of some of our country’s earliest inhabitants. Take a look at our full range of UK cottages by clicking the button below.

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Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.