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Top UK Cities for British History Fans

Some of the Best Destinations for Exploring the History of Britain


Let's face it, you can't turn over a pebble in the UK without revealing millennia of history. But if you're a history fan visiting from abroad or a Brit looking to add a historic buzz to a quick getaway, some places offer more concentrated historic essence than others.

Lots of people visit London for its historic riches and there's no denying the capital has plenty to offer on that score. But it would be a shame to stop there when so many other British cities are packed with stories too. This short list highlights a few of my favorite cities, outside of London, to explore the British past.


Bath Grand Parade and Pulteney Bridge
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About Bath - Located about two hours west of London, Bath is so jam packed with history - ancient, Roman, Regency, Georgian, literary, architectural - that the whole city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's also a sophisticated city with good shopping, dining and accommodation as well as Britain's only natural thermal spa.

How History Was Made - Before the Romans built Bath's thermal baths, 2,000 years ago, Bath's natural mineral hot spring was already a Celtic shrine dedicated to their goddess Sulis. The baths have been rebuilt many times and attracted a steady flow of kings and commoners, all of whom have left their mark on the city. In the late 18th and early 19th century, high society flocked to Bath to take the waters, socialize and arrange marriages in the neo-classical Pump Room. Jane Austen's characters regularly spend a season in Bath, and so did the author herself.

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Argyll and Sutherland's Highlanders on parade at Edinburgh Castle
Photo courtesy of www.britainonview.com

About Edinburgh - Scotland's capital and second largest city had a population of under half a million that more than doubles during its August festival season. It's the seat of the Scottish Parliament, an important university and the Queen's official Scottish residence, Holyrood Palace. Part Medieval and part Georgian, the two sections divided by a park, it is one of Europe's most beautiful cities.

How History Was Made Edinburgh Castle, high above the Prince's Street Gardens, has been a witness and occasional participant in Scotland's turbulent history for at least 1,000 years. Mid 16th century Edinburgh history was dominated by Catholic and Protestant rivalries for the throne of both Scotland and England, plots, counter plots and baroque twists all revolving around the person of Mary Queen of Scots. Arriving a Scotland as widow of the King of France, her subsequent marriages and liasons were wracked with political suspicion, murder and strife. Her husband, Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, murdered her private secretary, David Rizzio, in front of her at Holyrood Palace. He in turn was killed in suspicious circumstances by an explosion. Her last marriage before her abdication and imprisonment in England was to the divorced Earl of Bothwell and may have involved a kidnap and rape. Much of Mary's complicated story of marriages, murders and plots was set in Holyrood Palace and Holyrood Abbey at the bottom of Edinburgh's Royal Mile.

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Liver Building from The Mersey
Courtesy of www.britainonview.com

About Liverpool The city of about 450,000 on the Mersey in Northwest England, has been most famous in recent years as the home of the Beatles. But this was once one of the most important ports in the world, a fact now recognised by the UNESCO World Heritage status of its Albert Docks and the blossoming of museums in its historic district.

How History Was Made If you want to know about cotton, the slave trade and emigration to the New World, Liverpool is an essential stop. Once the most important port in the British Empire, at least 40% of total world trade passed through Liverpool at the beginning of the 19th century. When cotton was king, Liverpool was its main trading port with raw materials arriving from from America and the West Indies and later from India. It was home to cotton brokers from all over the world and the port of departure for finished cotton cloth from the mills of Lancashire. But Liverpool's fortunes were built on a darker trade. From 1699 to 1807 when the last slaver sailed from the city, Liverpool was the home port for the slave trade. Slave ships departed from Liverpool to buy slaves in Africa and transport them to America and the West Indies. The cities role in this human trafficking is examined in the world's first museum devoted to the history of slavery. Liverpool was also the port of departure for at least 9 million emigrants from Britain, Ireland and Europe to America between 1830 and 1930. In the mid 19th century, at least 1,000 ships a year left for the New World. During the Irish potato famine, hundreds of thousands of Irish immigrants arrived through the port of Liverpool giving a large part of the city's population an Irish heritage.

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York Minster From The City Walls
Photo courtesy of www.britainonview.com

About York After London, visitors to the UK flock to this picturesque, Medieval walled city with one of the finest cathedrals in Europe. Its shops and markets, ancient half-timbered buildings and the Shambles - one of the oldest commercial streets in the world - are among its attractions. But what is easiest to see is only a part of York's colorful history.

How History Was Made - The Romans founded York and called it Eboracum. One of the most important Romans in history, founder of Constantinople and the first Roman Emperor to become a Christian, Constantine the Great was proclaimed Emperor by the soldiers of York when his father died there during a visit. Little is known about Anglo Saxon York or Eoforwic. Then, in the ninth century, Vikings invaded (one of them known as Ivar the Boneless) and Eoforwick became Jorvik and part of what was known as the Danelaw. During the Medieval period York rose in prominence as a garrison for Edward I's wars against the Scots. At one time, Edward moved the heart of government, the Chancery and the Exchequer, to York, making it, in effect, the capital of England until the early 14th century.

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Read a review of the Mount Royale Hotel.

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