My semester is sadly coming to an end. But before I board the plane and head back home, I must divulge my favorite places in Britain. If you’re itching to visit the United Kingdom, these are the five places you do not want to miss.
The oft forgotten city and gateway of the Highlands cannot be found on The Telegraph’s annual list of UK’s twenty best cities, nor on travel blogs of those visiting British Isles. And I cannot figure out why.
To me, Stirling is Edinburgh in miniature. A smaller castle sits atop a mount, while an old town trickles down into the valleys. Cobblestone composes the (narrower) traffic ways. It even has its own clock tower that dominates the skyline (of which nothing protrudes higher than a few stories). At this moment in time, however, you may be asking yourself, “Why would I want Edinburgh in miniature when I can have Edinburgh in regular size?” An incisive question, indeed.
To fully appreciate Stirling, you must head to the National Wallace Monument, a structure that I mistakenly took as a castle tower ruin. Standing like a stone torch, it provides a panoramic view of Stirling, which reminds me of something out of Disney.
If I can make it there
I’m gonna make it anywhere
It’s up to you, New York
I could not resist. Sinatra’s magnum opus could not escape my head as I trotted about this town, which bears no resemblance to its “newer” version other than the name. But enough of that!
Inside its (noncontinuous) city walls, York possesses some surprisingly significant history. Constantine the Great was allegedly proclaimed emperor of Rome in York, a proclamation that is commemorated with a statue of the emperor.
But that is not the only bit of Roman history York has to offer. Those aforementioned noncontinuous walls that partially encircle the city were built by the Romans. Various Roman imperial and military buildings once stood near what is now York Minister.
York Minister, the largest gothic cathedral in Northern Europe, is itself is a grand attraction and stands prominently in the center of the historic city. Shops and restaurants are housed in crooked, medieval buildings, with second stories overhanging so much you question its structural integrity and await its inevitable toppling. It’s almost comical!
London. London. London. It is a place we all hear of, and often, too. Therefore, it is impossible not to conjure up a mental image of what the British capital is like. It seems to be Britain’s celebrity equivalent of LA or Hollywood. The most famous fictional detective resides on Baker Street. The Beatles made famous an (admittedly boring) zebra crossing on Abbey Road. The Queen has a modest getaway cottage off one of the main roads. There is also a falling bridge and some big clock.
But whatever your expectations of London might be, the reality is bound to be different. It is more a conglomerate of different neighborhoods and cultures than it is city of one definable character. The City of Westminster and Soho are perhaps most associated with tourists’ expectations with Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus and Buckingham Palace.
The financial district colloquially known as “The City” offers up a mix of modern and historical with St. Paul’s Cathedral, Millennium Bridge (made famous in Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince), the Tower of London, and London Bridge. Whatever your interests, this global metropolis is sure to satisfy them.
2. Isle of Skye
A place so magnificent, I devoted an entire blog post to explaining its magnificence (which can be found here: https://usinedinb.wordpress.com/2017/03/29/heaven-on-earth/)
The island is the beautiful place in the world. The journey through the Highlands to Skye has to be my favorite road trip, too. But I do not want to be redundant, so just read the linked post to find out why it’s number 2 on this list, or simply take my word for it.
The Telegraph, which has ranked Edinburgh as the best city in Britain for three years in a row, got this one right. For those who have visited the Scottish capital, it’s place atop my list should not come as a surprise.
Some cities have monuments and museums but Edinburgh is itself a monument to Scottish history and a museum of Baronial and Georgian architecture. The various neighborhoods, from charming Stockbridge to the seaside Leith, add to the character. Its green space is generous, from the popular Princes Street Gardens and expansive Meadows, to Arthur’s Seat and the Salisbury Crags. One need not leave Edinburgh to appreciate Britain’s physical beauty.
While Edinburgh Castle is perched on an extinct volcano, the history that flows from its front gates and down the Royal Mile is anything but extinct. It is alive and well, providing a window into medieval times. From Calton Hill, one can enjoy the view of Princes Street glittering with activity in one direction, watch the barges move along the Firth in other and see Arthur’s Seat jutting out towards the Castle in another.
And strangely, Edinburgh feels like a town rather than a city. It’s walkable, quaint and friendly, and absent of any skyscrapers. It has such distinct charm and personality that it would be impossible to confuse it with any other place in the world. It’s May 22nd, well into my four month stay here, and Edinburgh has still found ways to surprise me.
Jess Walter once wrote, “If London was an alien city, Edinburgh was a different planet.” There is no better way to describe it.