English Heritage is a registered charity responsible for managing the National Heritage Collection. They have over 400 buildings, monuments and sites in their care, spanning more than 5,000 years of history. From this 400, we have narrowed the list down to the 7 sites we consider to be the most vital for you to visit. So next weekend break or bank holiday, head over to a heritage site and get to know your own country better! Now to look at the lucky 7...
#1 Chester Roman Amphitheatre
Beginning our list with a lesser known site, the Chester Roman Amphitheatre is the best choice of heritage sites in the UK for those wishing to avoid crowds and extreme tourism. This amphitheatre was the largest in Britain, used for entertainment and military training. It was built in the late first century AD, and lay just outside the south-east corner of the Roman legionary fortress. There is still disagreement regarding the buildings original material, but today the amphitheatre is created by concrete slabs. This site is convenient through its close distance to the city centre, making it the perfect stop before going for lunch or a shopping trip.
#2 Hadrian’s Wall
Hadrian’s Wall is also known as the Roman Wall, Picts’ Wall or Vallum Hadriani (the Latin translation). It was a defensive fortification in the Roman province of Britannia, and construction on it begun in AD 122. It ran from the banks of the River Tyne near the North Sea to the Solway Firth on the Irish Sea, the northern limit of the Roman Empire. A significant portion of the wall still stands, and you can follow it easily by foot along Hadrian’s wall Path. It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 and is considered a British cultural icon, remaining one of Britain’s major ancient tourist attractions. A common misconception about the wall is that it marks the boundary between England and Scotland, when in fact it lies entirely within England and has never formed the Anglo-Scottish border. The area surrounding Hadrian’s Wall is gorgeous, so we recommend making a day of hiking out of this trip, enjoying the acres of countryside and a picnic somewhere nice.
One of the most common sites visited by English Heritage Pass holders, Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument located in Wiltshire. It is one of the most famous sites in the UK, and consists of a ring of standing stones, each weighing approximately 25 tons and about 13 feet high and 7 feet wide. Archeologists believe it to have been constructed from 3000 BC to 2000 BC, although there is great folklore regarding how stonehenge came to be. The stones have been roped off to avoid serious erosion, except for permit access during the summer and winter solstice, and the spring and autumn equinox. It has been a World Heritage Site since 1986 and is owned by the Crown. This site is a classic British cultural icon, and great to combine with a trip to the Cotswolds or Salisbury.
#4 Canterbury Cathedral, St Augustine’s Abbey & St Martin’s Church
Canterbury Cathedral is one of the most famous and oldest Christian structures in England, and together with St Augustine’s Abbey and St Martin’s Church, makes up a World Heritage Site. They are located in Kent, and are considered to reflect the reintroduction of Christianity to southern Britain. The breath-taking mixture of Romanesque and Gothic architecture makes this heritage site a popular one for architecture enthusiasts, and will keep visitors busy exploring for hours. It has been a World Heritage Site since 1988, and depicts a great deal of English history, particularly the milestones in the history of Christianity. We recommend taking a weekend to Kent, so that you can also explore more of the medieval city of Canterbury and take a look at the impressive White Cliffs of Dover.
#5 Tower of London
One of the most infamous heritage attractions in the UK, the Tower of London has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988. Built in 1078 by William the Conqueror, it initially represented oppression upon London by the new ruling elite. Since then, it has served numerous functions, including: grand palace, armoury, treasury, menagerie and home of the Crown Jewels of England. The Tower of London is most commonly known as a prison, which was primarily throughout the 16th and 17th centuries for figures who had fallen into disgrace, such as Elizabeth I before she became queen. The Tower is now centred primarily on tourism and ceremonial events, with tours being given daily. A trip to the bustling capital would not be complete without a stop to this iconic landmark. But aim to go during the week and early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid bothersome crowds.
#6 Durham Castle and Cathedral
Built in the late 11th and 12th centuries, the Durham Castle and Cathedral houses the relics of St Cuthbert and the Venerable Bede. They were made into a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986, considered to attest to the importance of the early Benedictine monastic community and showcase the largest and finest example of Norman architecture in England. The Castle has since been converted into a section of Durham University and hence been refurbished, but you can still come and view the original exterior. And this is a World Heritage Site you can enter for free.
#7 Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal
A more unusual choice of the English heritage buildings as it is actually located in north east Wales, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal is a navigable aqueduct that takes the Llangollen Canal across the River Dee. The structure is cast iron with 18 arched stone, taking ten years to design and build. It was completed in 1805 and is now the oldest and longest navigable aqueduct in Great Britain. It was first suggested as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, but only became one in 2009. The valley surrounding it is gorgeous, and definitely worth a stroll around. If you’re lucky, you may spot otters in the area, so keep an eye out for the adorable creatures and cubs!
#Bonus! Heart of Neolithic Orkney
Alright, so this may not be an English Heritage site, but it is a UNESCO Heritage Site and definitely worthy of a visit! The Heart of Neolithic Orkney lies about 15 km north of the coast of Scotland and are a true wonder to behold. This heritage site actually consists of four sites, which were proclaimed as a World Heritage Site in 1999. The first is Maeshowe, a unique chambered cairn and passage grain, that is aligned so that the central chamber is illuminated on the winter solstice. The second site contains the Standing Stones of Stenness, the four remaining megaliths of a henge. The largest of these is 6 metres high, a daunting sight to behold. Third is the Ring of Brodgar, a stone circle composed of 60 stones. It is 104 metres in diameter and is estimated to have taken 80,000 man-hours to construct. Lastly, there is the Skara Brae, a cluster of eight houses comprising Northern Europe’s best-preserved Neolithic village. These sites constitute a major prehistoric cultural landscape, giving a graphic description of life in this remote archipelago approximately 5,000 years ago. Despite the remote location, you can reach the Orkney Islands through numerous methods, including flights, ferry, train and more. Whilst this is one of the more difficult heritage attractions to reach in the UK, it is most certainly something that must be seen within your lifetime, so make a trip out of it and enjoy the wonders of Northern Scotland whilst you’re there.
So what are you waiting for? Grab your English Heritage Pass or head to the website to get one today. No pass? No problem! Many sites can be viewed for free or for a small fee, so there is no excuse to not start visiting the heritage attractions in the UK. There are numerous English Heritage events throughout the year, so keep an eye out!