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30 October 2020

Best 50 UK attractions – days out rated by visitors

From Royal Yacht Britannia to the Tower of London to the Ullswater Steamers and Cliveden, more than 5,000 visitors rate the UK’s best historic attractions
Which? Team

We asked 5,402 Which? members to rate 50 historic attractions across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – and it wasn’t the Tower of London, Shakespeare’s birthplace or even Stonehenge that came top.

The results of the survey show that we demand more from our historic attractions nowadays than the mere fact that they are old. We want to have the opportunity to snoop around the Queen’s bedroom aboard Royal Yacht Britannia or brandish a sword at the Tower of London.

There are also some surprising tourist favourites. The likes of Culzean Castle, Tyntesfield and Stourhead House and Gardens were all rated in the top ten best attractions in the UK, beating better-known competition. 

While coronavirus restrictions are causing us to look closer to home for weekend activities, there’s no better time than now to discover the best UK attractions for families, couples and solo history buffs. 

For more reviews, as well as exclusive investigations and expert advice, subscribe to Which? Travel.

Top-rated UK historic attraction: Royal Yacht Britannia 90%

The charm of the Queen’s former yacht, which sailed its last tour in 1997, lies in its homeliness. Now, we can gawp at the rooms the Queen designed herself, with their comfortably upholstered furniture, floral curtains and surprisingly suburban 1950s chintz. 

During a visit, tourists are free to roam around the ship, which was launched in Clydebank in 1953 and is permanently berthed in Leith, with an engaging audio guide (the quality of information provided was rated five stars in our survey). 

You too can dine like royalty – champagne cream teas are served on the Royal Deck, where Charles and Anne once played deck quoits and where the Duke of Edinburgh enjoyed painting. Visitors gave a five-star rating to the food and drink. 

UK’s best and worst historic attractions: the full list

Discover how your local attractions fared in our survey.

Historic attraction Location Admission fee Entertainment and/or engagement Facilities Food & drink Lack of crowds or queues Value for money Attraction score
Royal Yacht Britannia Edinburgh £17
90%
Fountains Abbey Yorkshire £19
89%
Stourhead House & Gardens Wiltshire £18
88%
Tower of London London £30
87%
Houses of Parliament London £21
86%
Culzean Castle Ayrshire £17
85%
Dover Castle Dover £19
85%
Durham Cathedral Durham Free
85%
Titanic Belfast Belfast £19
85%
Tyntesfield Somerset £17
85%
Anglesey Abbey, Gardens & Lode Mill Cambridgeshire £17
84%
Attingham Park Shropshire £15
84%
Calke Abbey Derbyshire £18
84%
Kingston Lacy Estate Dorset £19
83%
Lynton and Lymouth Cliff Railway Devon £3
83%
Stirling Castle Stirling £18
82%
Ullswater Steamers Cumbria £17
82%
Waddeson Manor Buckinghamshire £21
82%
Wakehurst Sussex £14
82%
Westminster Abbey London £24
82%
Hampton Court Palace London £26
81%
Mottisfont Abbey Gardens, House & Estate Hampshire £20
81%
Polesdon Lacey Surrey £15
81%
Tower Bridge Exhibition London £11
-
81%
Winchester Cathedral Winchester £10
81%
Belton House Lincolnshire £19
80%
Dunham Massey Hall Manchester £17
80%
Hever Castle and Gardens Kent £19
80%
St Paul's Cathedral London £20
-
80%
Cardiff Castle Cardiff £15
78%
Chatsworth House Derbyshire £28
78%
Cliveden Buckinghamshire £16
78%
St Michael's Mount Cornwall £18
78%
York Minster York £17
-
78%
Leeds Castle Kent £27
77%
Roman Baths and Pump Room Bath £23
77%
Stonehenge Wiltshire £22
77%
Tatton Park Cheshire £14
77%
Edinburgh Castle Edinburgh £20
75%
Glasgow Cathedral Glasgow Free
- -
- 75%
Bodleian Library Oxford £18
-
74%
Windermere Lake Cruises Cumbria £23
74%
Blenheim Palace Oxfordshire £29
73%
Scarborough Cliff Railway Scarborough £2 - - -
73%
Bristol Cathedral Bristol Free
-
72%
Bath Abbey Bath £8
-
70%
Shakespeare's Birthplace Stratford-upon-Avon £18
-
69%
Kensington Palace London £24
68%
Somerset House London Free
68%
Southend Pier Southend-on-Sea £6
63%

USING THE TABLE: Admission fee Standard adult, non-member gate price with gift aid/donation, rounded to the nearest £1, collected in June 2020. Star ratings From one to five stars. Customer score Combination of overall satisfaction/likelihood to recommend. A dash (-) indicates the sample size was too small to calculate a rating.

Second-place UK attraction: Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden 89%

Fountains Abbey came second only to the Royal Yacht Britannia, but it was an extremely close finish. 

It scored five stars for lack of crowds too, which is ideal at a time where that's especially important to us all. It means visitors can roam with plenty of space between the two worlds: the Royal Water Garden with its serene, mirror-like pools, statues and follies, and the well-preserved, impressively grand Romanesque Abbey ruins.

The country’s largest monastic ruin is best approached from the hilltop lookout in the Water Gardens. The garden’s creator, William Aislabie, bought the abbey in 1767 to incorporate it into his grandiose landscape scheme and realised that there are fewer focal points more impressive, and more surprising, than a ruined abbey. 

Third-place UK attraction: Stourhead House & Gardens 88%

In third place is Stourhead House, a Palladian mansion filled with extraordinary art. Its landscaped gardens are the focal point, though: an Arcadian world of classical temples, grottoes, rare trees and follies reflected in a huge, still lake. 

This garden isn’t just for summer. It has some of the UK’s tallest trees, a 40-metre oak among them, which shed their leaves in spectacular style in the autumn.

Stourhead House and Gardens tick more boxes than just beauty. The facilities, food and drink offerings, lack of crowds, information and value for money were all rated highly by Which? readers.

Fourth-place UK attraction: Tower of London 87%

It may be familiar, but the Tower of London still has the power to surprise visitors with an innovative range of exhibitions. Coachloads of people are drawn by its unique promise of horrid histories, dazzling jewels, and friendly Beefeaters, so be prepared to queue. It scored just two out of five for lack of crowds.

Here you’ll find the world’s biggest diamond, armour worn by several kings, and sculptures of exotic beasts of the royal menagerie. You’ll also learn about some of the most gruesome episodes in British history in the place they actually happened. Executions, torture, and imprisonment all had their home at the Tower of London, and hands-on experiences, such as shooting an arrow, bring it to blood-thirsty life. It’s no wonder it scored five out of five for engagement.

Fifth-place UK attraction: Houses of Parliament 86%

In fifth place was the home of democracy in the UK. 

A visit to the Houses of Parliament will allow you to wander through the chambers, as well as the 11th century Westminster Hall, with an audio or tour guide to get a feel for the ‘palace’ where the country’s most important decisions are made. 

The guides will talk you through the history of the building – including the fire that destroyed most of it in 1834 – as well as current political discussions.  

It’s best to book tickets online in advance and check opening times as tours don’t take place every day, so it’s no surprise it gets fairly crowded. It scored just three out of five for lack of queues in our survey. If you’re a UK resident, you can request free tickets from your local MP.