Are you aiming to study history in Oxford or Cambridge? Aside from being very historic cities in their own right, you’ll also have the rest of the UK to explore during your holidays, and it’s packed with things to see! Here are 7 of the best.
1. The British Museum
A true heaven for history buffs, The British Museum in London hosts a vast collection of artefacts of every kind from every corner of the globe and every period in human history. Even better, the main collection is completely free to everyone! The museum’s collection is similar to that at the Ashmolean in Oxford or the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge, but on a much larger scale. It includes everything from ancient Babylonian sculptures to Aztec masks and Japanese swords.
2. The Tower of London
Located near London’s main financial district and just next to the equally famous Tower Bridge, the Tower of London is a historic castle on the north bank of the Thames. It was founded following the Norman conquest in the late 11th century, and has functioned as a royal residence, an armoury, a treasury, the home of the Royal Mint and, famously, as a prison.
Today the tower is home to the British Crown Jewels, and visitors are treated to guided tours by the Yeomen Warders, or ‘Beefeaters’. The tower is also home to a number of ravens, as legend says that should they abandon the tower, the Kingdom would suffer a disaster.
3. Edinburgh Castle
Standing on Castle Rock, an ancient volcanic plug, overlooking the Scottish capital, Edinburgh Castle dates back to the 12th century. Researchers believe the castle was besieged a total of 26 times throughout its history, making it one of the most attacked places in the world. Unfortunately, few of the present buildings pre-date the 16th century, when the original defences were obliterated by artillery.
The castle includes the National War Museum of Scotland, a royal palace, and the ‘One O’Clock Gun’, which fires every day other than Sunday, and was originally used to help ships navigate. The castle is one of Scotland’s most popular tourist attractions.
One of the most important ports in Britain, Portsmouth has long been the home of the Royal Navy. As a result, it’s home to three of the UK’s most famous historic ships: the shipwrecked Tudor carrack Mary Rose, housed in a special museum to preserve its remains, Horatio Nelson’s flagship, the HMS Victory, and the HMS Warrior, a steam powered ironclad warship dating to the Victorian period. You can get an insight into how naval warfare changed down the centuries by visiting these three attractions. Portsmouth is also home to the D-Day museum.
An iconic prehistoric monument in the southern English country of Wiltshire, Stonehenge was constructed between 3000 and 2000 BC. While it isn’t known exactly what the structure was built for, parts of it are aligned to the sunset of the winter solstice and the sunrise of the summer solstice, suggesting its function was at least partly astrological. There are also a high number of burials in the area, some with evidence of trauma, suggesting it was seen as a place of healing. Today there is a visitor centre and replica Neolithic houses on the site to accommodate tourists.
6. The city of Bath
Famous for its hot springs and inhabited since Roman times, Bath became a popular spa town from the 17th century, which has left it with a magnificent architectural legacy. In fact, the city was made a World Heritage Site in 1987. Major sights include the ancient Roman Baths, its enormous medieval abbey, the Royal Crescent and Circus and Pulteney Bridge, one of the only bridges in the world to have shops built along it on both sides.
7. Dover Castle
The largest castle in England, Dover Castle has a long history, seeing military use right from its construction in the medieval period through the Napoleonic wars right up to World War 2. During the war, the tunnels underneath the castle were converted into a military command centre and underground hospital, and it was on the front lines during the Battle of Britain. Today exhibits in the tunnels allow visitors to follow the journey of a wounded pilot in the hospital and to learn about the Dunkirk evacuation, planned within Dover’s tunnels.
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