10 Charming UK Cities to Visit (That Aren't London)

For many travelers, a country's personality is synonymous with that of its capital city. But, just as any Spaniard can explain that Madrid barely skims the surface of all that Spain has to offer, and any American can promise that the US is hardly defined by the likes of Washington DC, it's safe to say that the UK is so much more than London.

From castles on hills and sweeping sea views to booming port cities and donkey sanctuaries (yes, really) — here's a look at 10 cities across the UK that everyone should visit at least once . . . including all Brits!



Nestled along the English seaside, about an hour south of London by train, Brighton is the perfect weekend destination if you're looking to escape the city and enjoy a bit of fresh ocean air (and maybe some sunshine, if you're lucky!).

Stroll down the famous Brighton Palace Pier for some carnival rides and Victorian gambling, then spend your winnings at one of the many charming shops or cafes along The Lanes. And if you're interested in exotic architecture, head to the Royal Pavilion — described as a "seaside pleasure palace" constructed for King George IV.



Liverpool is far more than just the home of The Beatles, but of course you have to pay proper reverence to the Fab Four on your visit. There’s no better way than with the aptly named — and highly-rated — Fab Four Taxi Tour, offering customised tours led by knowledgeable guides in (drum roll, please!) taxis. Be sure to pop into The Cavern Club as well, where John, Paul, George, and Ringo were famously paid just $7 to play their first gig.

If your taste in art goes beyond iconic pop music, make your way through the converted dock warehouses of The Tate Liverpool or catch a glass-blowing demonstration at the World of Glass. And for a more poignant museum experience, visit the International Slavery Museum, which looks at the histories of enslaved peoples and examines how slavery looks around the world today.



The very hilly capital of Scotland, Edinburgh offers visitors a brilliant blend of quirky and classic.

Edinburgh Castle overlooks the city, housing the country's crown jewels as well as the Stone of Destiny (also known as the Stone of Scone, which was used at coronations for centuries). Just across the way is Arthur’s Seat, an ancient volcano so called for the legendary king who pulled the sword from the stone (and the perfect place for an afternoon hike).

Tucked between Edinburgh's cliffs and castles, you'll find everything from "the birthplace of Harry Potter" to the Royal Mile, a collection of shops and restaurants made up of four streets and filled with narrow passageways (or "closes"), which make you feel like you're really exploring every nook and cranny in the city. Oh, and fans of eclectic jewelry and decor should absolutely stop by Miss Katie Cupcake to snag a souvenir.



Manchester may be better known for its spirit than its sights (chat with anyone sporting a Man United or Man City shirt and you'll understand), but there's plenty to see in this north English city.

Football fans already know the city for its many stadiums, but bookworms will adore its never-ending libraries — including the famous John Rylands Library (which houses the largest collection of illuminated manuscripts in the United Kingdom beneath its stunning, vaulted ceilings), Chetham's (the oldest public library in the English-speaking world, where Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels are said to have spent their days studying), and The Portico (which now sits atop The Bank pub).

If you'd rather hit the bars than the books, make your way to the Gay Village, where all are welcome to grab a pint and dance the night away.



Within its ancient walls, York is teeming with both history and charm. Explore its Gothic architecture at York Minster (one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in Northern Europe) or get to know locals while wandering through The Shambles (historically, and somewhat disturbingly, called The Great Flesh Shambles, apparently for its butcher shops?). If you can get past the meat hooks, though, it looks an awful lot like Diagon Alley — you might even spot The Shop That Must Not Be Named.

Head to Stonegate to find more independent shops and cafes charmingly jumbled together and begging to be explored. And if you can make it past the world's most adorable bouncer (OK, it’s a giant teddy bear) at Stonegate Teddy Bears, you’ll find an equally adorable tea room . . . Bringing your own stuffed companion is optional.



The capital of Northern Ireland, Belfast is perhaps best known for being the birthplace of the RMS Titanic (whose history you can explore at the Titanic Belfast museum). Beyond its history for building sunken ships, however, Belfast has become a true destination city in recent years, with sweeping sea views, a wealth of museums and galleries (including the Ulster Museum, located in Belfast's botanical gardens), and a lively bar and pub scene in Cathedral Quarter.

If you'd like to explore the lands of Gaelic mythology (and Game of Thrones) on your Northern Irish adventure, rent a car and drive about an hour north to Giant's Causeway — a collection of stacked basalt columns that, legend has it, were once a causeway constructed by a giant named Fionn mac Cumhaill.



Leeds is a wildly underrated city, but it's chock-full of artistry and entertainment.

Start by exploring Kirkgate Market, known for its endless stalls and Instagram-worthy street art. If you're truly dedicated to the visual arts, don't miss the floor-to-ceiling mosaic work of Tiled Hall Cafe at Leeds Art Gallery either.

For a bit of quiet reflection, visit Kirkstall Abbey, the site of a 12th-century Cicerian monastery — it's a gorgeous space for walking through ruins or enjoying a picnic and a good book. Once the sun sets, head to Granary Wharf and pump the energy levels back up with some libations and live music at Belgrave Music Hall and Canteen.

To cap it all off, Leeds is also home to — you guessed it! — the Donkey Sanctuary (what's that? You didn't guess?), where it's been supporting these adorable creatures for more than 50 years, if you'd like to pay those fellas a visit, too.



I once had a literature professor who described Bath as "the Jane Austen version of the Hamptons," which feels like a fairly accurate description of this ancient Roman city.

Known for its natural hot springs and Roman baths (the only place in the UK where you can bathe in natural, thermal waters), the entire city of Bath has been deemed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Tour the 2,000-year-old bath house, the former Benedictine monastery of Bath Abbey (if Gothic interiors are more your style), and the 14th-century remains of Farleigh Hungerford Castle (found just outside the city limits).

For a more modern spa experience, book a stay at The Royal Crescent's Spa and Bath House (a place any one of Austen's characters would be happy to unwind).



A port city on the southern coast of Wales (and the country's capital), Cardiff delightfully combines old and new.

Located at the heart of the city, Cardiff Castle's Victorian Gothic towers (and stunning interiors) and ancient ruins look like something out of a fairy tale, while the Wales Millennium Centre (home to the opera) on Cardiff Bay is said to resemble a large, mechanical armadillo.

Beyond its eccentric architecture, Cardiff is known for its buzzing waterfront, and the many shops, restaurants, and marina views along Mermaid Quay.

And last but not least, this city also happens to be the hometown of famed children's author Roald Dahl — you can follow in his foot steps on this self-guided walking tour.


Isle of Skye

Though technically not a city, it's hard to beat the natural beauty of Scotland's Isle of Skye — from the waterfall at Kilt Rock to the jaw-dropping landscapes of Quiraing. If you’re fond of hiking, this is a can’t miss experience . . . and hey, perhaps you'll befriend a “heilan' coo" (local cattle) along the way!

Aim to make the isle's bustling city centre of Portree your home base. And if you need to warm up after a day of outdoor adventures, the Isle of Skye Distillers & Gin School can walk you through delicious options that far exceed the basic G&T, including their own house label (they've got a special Mulled Christmas Gin for the festive season as well).