Where to begin your vacation to the United Kingdom? Here we share the best of the best: the things we love, and that we think you will, too. From the teeming streets of cosmopolitan London to a far-flung, unspoiled green and pleasant land that hasn’t changed a lot centuries, England and Scotland are greater than the sum of their parts. A respect for the past rubs along with a vibrant and innovative outlook, evident in places like the Eden Project and Tate Modern. In Manchester, Edinburgh, and Brighton you’ll find tremendous diversity and a dynamic cultural lifestyle.
Start with London and its historic sights (the Tower, St Paul’s), plus its British Museum (free, like most museums here), expansive parks, and even more expansive shopping. For an insider take on urban England, move on to Manchester, a cradle of industry now reborn; Liverpool, with its Beatles history; and small, esoteric cities with sublime architecture, such as Georgian Bath and studious Oxford. Each will inspire you in a different way. Scotland’s cities certainly aren’t left behind: Edinburgh never fails to dazzle with its contrasting Old and New Towns. Glasgow claims Scotland’s top art galleries, best nightlife, and unbeatable shopping.
Beyond the city limits, England and Scotland have still more to offer, from the brooding glens and mountains of the Highlands to the pancake-flat fenlands of Norfolk and Suffolk, and the scenery of the Lake District that so inspired the Romantic poets. Amid it all are 13 National Parks, taking in the majestic bleakness of Dartmoor and the North York Moors and rolling hills of the Sussex South Downs. And the backdrop changes quickly; a day’s journey can take you across several different landscapes. Outdoor enthusiasts can choose mountain ranges, river valleys, or rugged moorland. You’ll find top golf courses, first-class fishing, limitless hiking, and a variety of wildlife. There’s dramatic coast- line, too, from Cornwall in the southwest to Whitby, whose ruined abbey inspired Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.”
Here are some of the most authentic experiences you can have:
Having a pint: It could be at a centuries-old pub on the Yorkshire Moors or a little place in the backstreets of London; it might be a famous inn or somewhere unassuming in any town. There’s nothing that helps you appreciate the scenery quite like a pint glass filled with good British beer.
The view over London from the top of St Paul’s: You really can climb up to that glorious cathedral dome, which has 360-degree views over the capital. It gives the feeling that you’re at the heart of where modern London began. If that’s uplifting, the view down is deliciously dizzying.
Uncovering a bargain at a London street market: A jumble of open-air stalls and warrens of indoor arcades combine to make Portobello Road the quintessential West London market. Haggle hard and you’ll likely get 15% off the asking price. Saturday is the best day, when even the crowds can’t ruin the fun.
Whisky tasting on the Isle of Islay, Scotland: Check your spell- ing—it’s whisky, never whiskey—then debate with locals over the peat-and-seaweed scented merits of Bowmore, Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Bunnahabhain, and others.
Reveling on London’s South Bank: England’s arts quarter takes in both the 1950s’ beauty of the Royal Festival Hall (RFH) and the brutal modernism of the National Theatre. Street theatre rubs shoulders with classic productions, and there’s usually something for free in the grand foyer of the RFH.
Having a bath in Bath: The stunning, steaming Roman Baths are there to visit, with lunch at the Pump Room; then you can sample the waters at the modern Thermae Bath Spa with its open-air pool and views across the UNESCO World Heritage rooftops.
Edinburgh at Festival time: Every August Edinburgh erupts in a spectacular celebration of culture, art, dance, politics, music, and street performance as a clutch of festivals—headed by the Edinburgh International Festival, the unstoppable Fringe, and the Military Tattoo—sweep across every venue in the city.
Shopping in the grandest department stores of them all: And, no, we don’t mean Harrods. Liberty of London, founded in 1875 and moved to its current half-timbered, mock-Tudor home in 1924, and Sel- fridges, both designed and built by Americans, redefined sales methods and played crucial roles in world history.