Britain has its fair share of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, with 33 natural and human-made attractions to visit and admire. Better yet, several of them are located close to the West Coast Mainline.
Whether you’re in Scotland, Wales, or England, none are more than a few hours away by train. In other words, they’re super easy to get to.
Here we present six of the best UNESCO World Heritage Sites to visit in the UK and how to get to them.
What is a UNESCO World Heritage Site?
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) puts special status on certain places around the world that meet its cultural or natural importance standards. These places are called World Heritage Sites.
The list is ever-growing, but there are still only about 1,100 around the world, including sites like the Pyramids in Egypt, Machu Picchu in Peru and the Great Barrier Reef.
To think that there are 33 sites in the UK is a testament to our country’s incredible historic impact and natural wonders, and we’re delighted to be able to help people get close to them.
1. Kew Gardens
The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in West London are every horticulturalists’ dream. Set on over 300 acres of land, the Gardens contain living examples of plants from all over the world and play host to over 350 scientists, who work on vital conservation and research programmes.
It can date its history back to 1759, when specimens were being brought back to London from around the world. The iconic glass and iron Palm House was built in the mid-1800s and has become synonymous with the gardens. This has allowed more exotic species to be cultivated than would normally be possible in the British climate.
Fast forward to today, Kew Gardens attracts over 1.35 million visitors per year and has over 50,000 plant and fungi specimens. Other highlights of Kew Gardens include the Great Pagoda, the treetop walkway, and the Hive, a 55-foot tall structure that mimics life inside of a beehive.
Nearest train stations: London Euston, London Marylebone
2. Ironbridge Gorge
The idea that large bridges could be constructed out of anything other than stone was practically unheard of in the early eighteenth century. That is until 1779 when Abraham Darby III proved that it could be done with his iron bridge across the River Severn - Ironbridge Gorge.
The area is designated a World Heritage Site both for its industrial importance and its natural beauty. The bridge still stands to this day, nearly two and a half centuries after being completed.
Nearest train station: Shrewsbury Station
3. Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd
This isn’t a single site, but a series of fortified structures built in North Wales around the reign of Edward I (1272–1307) when relationships between the English and the Welsh were at their most fractious.
What’s remarkable is how well preserved many of the structures are, despite castles, in general, falling out of use soon after. Caernarfon, Conwy, Beaumaris, and Harlech still look almost new to this day. That’s despite their cut stone being a tempting resource for later builders.
Conwy Castle also features walls that you can still walk around if you have a head for heights.
Entry fees vary by location, with a variety of special events held throughout the year at each location.
Nearest train stations: Colwyn Bay and Llandudno Junction
4. The English Lake District
It’s easy to think of the Lake District as an area of natural beauty. In reality, the majority of what we see today is the result of centuries of farming and also a degree of industry such as mining.
Only the upper crags of the Langdales and a few other peaks would look the same had humans never existed. But through stewardship and a light touch, and building the homes and villages sensitively, the area retains a kind of beauty and tranquillity that at least gives the impression of a natural landscape.
The Lake District is proof that humanity can work the land and still retain the incredible beauty that put it on the list, and even millions of annual holidaymakers seem to blend into the valleys.
Nearest train stations: Oxenholme Lake District and Penrith North Lakes
5. City of Bath
The city of Bath, located in south-western England, is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in history, culture and architectural beauty. The city’s main attraction is perhaps the Roman Baths; a well-preserved complex of ancient Roman buildings and hot springs.
The baths offer visitors an insight into the lifestyle and culture of the ancient civilizations that dwelled there. In addition to the baths, you can explore the stunning Georgian architecture of the city. Wander through picturesque streets and alleyways, taking in the beauty of the surrounding countryside.
Nearby is the world-famous Stonehenge. This prehistoric, mysterious stone circle is one of the world’s most famous landmarks and has been subject to numerous theories and speculation.
A visit to the tones is an opportunity to see one of the world’s most enigmatic structures and to ponder the mysteries of the past. You might consider a Stonehenge walking tour to ensure you get the most out of your visit.
With its stitch history, natural beauty and intriguing landmarks, Bath is a must-see for anyone interested in exploring the best England has to offer.
6. Old and New Towns of Edinburgh
Britain is full of new towns, but Edinburgh’s New Town isn’t one of them. What passes for “new” in Scotland’s capital is housing and commercial property that dates back to the 18th century, as opposed to the “old” town which goes back to Mediaeval times.
The Old Town is a place of pageantry and pride, and developed organically from the 12th century onwards. Key landmarks include the Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Mile, Grassmarket and Greyfriars.
The New Town was more planned and is notable for its desirable dwellings built in blocks, as well as parks and shopping streets. The city has continued to grow outside these areas, but the two distinct quarters are almost unchanged from their initial layouts.
These areas remain thriving, active parts of Edinburgh and are well worth a visit.
Nearest train station: Edinburgh Waverley
Why travel to UK UNESCO sites by train?
Travelling via train to these UNESCO sites is a great way to experience the UK’s rich history and natural beauty. All of the places are easily accessible by train, offering stunning views of the beautiful British countryside along the way.
Train travel is also eco-friendly and affordable, making it a good option for those looking to reduce their carbon footprint, as well as sticking to a budget. With comfortable seating and onboard amenities, train travel allows you to sit back, relax and enjoy the journey as you make your way to these incredible destinations.
No motorways, no stress, just enjoyable travel.
Get your cultural fix
Whichever of these UK UNESCO sites you fancy visiting, you can get there with Avanti West Coast. Enjoy an epic voyage of discovery and save money with cheap train tickets while you’re doing it.