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World Heritage Sites in the UK You Must Visit

The UK offers plenty of opportunities for history and heritage fans to visit. The rich culture of the misty island has even resulted in a number of listings in the World Heritage Program.

Here are some UK World Heritage Sites and the reasons they are worth visiting.

What are World Heritage Sites?

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) keeps a list of sites with special cultural or physical significance. The list is conducted by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, which is composed of 21 UNESCO member states. These member states rotate and are elected by the UN General Assembly.

Sites can be proposed to the committee, which then evaluates it against the UNESCO World Heritage Site criteria. If the conditions are met, site is added to the list. Currently, the list has 1031 sites around the world.

World Heritage Sites in the UK

The UK has 25 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The first time British sites were included in the list was in 1986. A selection of sites from the Durham Castle to Stonehenge was included at the time. The most recent addition was the inclusion of Forth Bridge in 2015.

5 stunning World Heritage Sites you should visit

It's quite a difficult task to pick the best heritage sites from a wide selection of 25. So, we picked a favourite from each country part of the UK, as well as added a bonus site in London.

Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire, England

Fountains Abbey is among the largest and best preserved ruined Cistercian monasteries in England. The abbey was founded in 1131, after 13 monks were expelled from the St Mary's Abbey in York. The Archbishop of York, Thurstan, provided these monks refuge and a small piece of land, where they set the monastery.

The monastery grew in size over the years, with the precinct covering around 70 acres of land. The abbey operated for over 400 years, closing in 1539 when Henry VIII ordered the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Fountains Abbey was among the first UK entries on the UNESCO World Heritage site list. It was added on 1986, as a cultural site.

Why visit Fountains Abbey:

Fountains Abbey is a stunning attraction to visit and to learn about life in monasteries - something which was one central to the way of life on the island. The vast location offers plenty of things to see; you can visit indoor museums and spend time outdoors taking in the stunning views across the ruins.

There's even something for film-fans. Several films have been filmed around the ruins. For example, Omen III: The Final Conflict and TV Shows such as Flambards.

New Lanark, South Lanarkshire, Scotland

In Scotland, you should head down to the tiny village of New Lanark. The village was founded in 1786 by David Dale and it was built on the shoulders of the cotton industry. The village's architecture took advantage of the nearby waterfalls of the River Clyde, with the New Lanark mills providing the backbone on which the village could grow.

The mills remained in operation until 1968. Since then, the village and conservation trusts have battled to prevent the demolition of these buildings. In 2001, the fight was made easier by the inclusion of New Lanark mills to the UNESCO list of cultural sites.

Why visit New Lanark:

The village is the perfect destination for experiencing how heritage can be preserved in the face of modernity. The village has plenty of old and new architecture to stun you - at times, it feels like a time machine has taken you into the past.

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, Wrexham Country Borough, Wales

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is another stunning cultural site and you can find it in Wales. The aqueduct is the highest and longest such structure in the UK and it's a navigable aqueduct.


The site was completed in 1805, linking villages of Froncysyllte to Llangollen parish and Trewor. It consists of a cast iron trough supported by iron arched ribs and hollow masonry piers. The aqueduct is 336 yards long and 4 yards wide.

Pontcysyllte was long a contender for inclusion on the list. For example, there was a big campaign in 2005 during its 200th anniversary. The aqueduct was finally inscribed by UNESCO on the list in 2009.

Why visit Pontcysyllte Aqueduct:

The aqueduct is a marvellous example of engineering. The location also has a thriving wildlife community, of otters especially, and therefore, offers plenty to do. If you are the adventurous type, you can even cross the aqueduct!

Giant's Causeway, County Antrim, Northern Ireland

The Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland was among the first UK entries on the UNESCO list in 1986. It's among the natural type of sites and a marvellous experience.

The Giant's Causeway is a collection of around 40,000 interlocking basalt columns - a leftover of an ancient volcanic eruption. Its columns are mostly hexagonal, but the tops of them acting as stepping stones leading from the cliff to the sea. The height and width varies - the tallest can be up to 12 metres high and 28 metres thick.

Why visit Giant's Causeway:

The simple fact that the site is a natural formation will make your jaw drop. The scenes are amazing, with plenty of mythology making it even more interesting. The scenic walk from Portrush alongside Dunluce Castle and to the Giant's Causeway is a pleasant experience you'll never forget.

Kew Gardens, London, England

Finally, you should consider heading out to Kew Gardens in London. This cultural site was inscribed in the UNESCO list in 2003.

The botanical garden offers the world's largest collection of living plants for visitors. Founded in 1940 the garden has gone to include over 30,000 different plant specimens to its collection.

Why visit Kew Gardens:

Nowhere else can you discover more about plants and see them bloom in front of your eyes, as in Kew Gardens. The place offers interesting and informative guided walks that can open your eyes to completely new world of plants. You can even take a tour on the new treetop walkway!