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30 Aug 2020

Top 50 UK historic attractions revealed

Readers rate clifftop castles, historic houses and atmospheric ruins for value for money and lack of crowds
Fountains Abbey

Which? readers have rated 50 of the most-visited historic attractions in the UK, but the highest rated isn't a castle or cathedral as you might expect, but a floating palace. 

More than 5,000 people took part in the survey, giving UK attractions an overall customer score, as well as ratings in eight categories, including accessibility, engagement, information provided, food and drink, and value for money.

The results conclude that the top UK attractions are those that bring history to life, giving unfettered access to the lives of former residents with immersive and interactive exhibitions.

Some top-scorers include Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire, Stourhead House and Gardens, and the Tower of London. But which ruins, castle and heritage railway ranked best? And where can you visit for a great day out that won't cost a penny?

Find more unbiased advice on travel and coronavirus, award-winning investigations, and legal advice on holiday refunds and cancelled flights with Which? Travel.

The 50 Top UK historic attractions

Best UK historic attraction

Royal Yacht Britannia

Edinburgh's Royal Yacht Britannia, the Queen's former yacht, took the top spot for best attraction in the UK, scoring 90% overall. Visitors gave it a five-star rating for food and drink, information and value for money.

On board, you can snoop around the adjoining bedrooms of the Queen and Prince Philip, with their rather austere single beds, and gawp guilt-free at the surprisingly suburban 1950's chintz of rooms the Queen designed herself.

An excellent audio guide leads you around the ship explaining where the Queen enjoyed afternoon tea and entertained heads of state, including four US presidents.

Visitors can also dine like royalty, with champagne cream teas served on deck.

York scored highly in our UK cities survey too - find out all the best UK cities as rated by readers.

Top-rated ruins in the UK

Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden in Yorkshire came in a close second with a score of 89%. Even with the £19 entry fee, it scored full marks for value for money.

The country's largest monastic ruins fell into disuse in 1539, but what remains of the abbey was later incorporated into Studley Royal Water Garden.

Visitors have plenty of space to roam between the two worlds; the water garden with its serene, mirror-like pools and follies, and the well-preserved and grand Romanesque ruins. With more than 800 acres to explore, it's no wonder it was rated the full five stars for its lack of crowds.

UK's best castle

Culzean Castle, first built for the 10th Earl of Cassillis in Ayrshire, is the nation's favourite, with a customer score of 85%. It beat the likes of Cardiff, Dover and Edinburgh Castles to the title.

Its spectacular setting no doubt helped: perched on cliffs above sandy Culzean beach and with views across the Firth of Clyde.

As well as its ornate, antique-filled interior, tourists can explore the expansive grounds from the woods to the fruit-filled glasshouses, deer park and walled gardens.

Readers rated 50 UK attractions - find out where the rest came in our full results table.

UK's best cliff railway

What better way to travel from the Esplanade at Lynmouth to Lynton 500 feet above it than by ascending in the bottle-green carriages of a water-powered Victorian funicular railway?

Visitors gave Lynton and Lynmouth Funicular Cliff Railway in Devon a customer score of 83%.

At the top, visitors can enjoy a Devon cream tea in the dog-friendly Cliff Top Cafe while looking out over Lynmouth Bay. An ideal family day out.

Find the best and quietest UK seaside towns - as rated by Which? readers.

UK's best-value historic attraction

Durham Cathedral

The dizzying scale of Durham Cathedral perched high above the city wowed medieval pilgrims and still makes jaws drop today.

Inside it's an amazing mix of chevron stripe pillars, pointed arches and vaulted ceilings.

The best bit? It's completely free to enter - hence its full five-star rating for value for money.