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

best UK attractions


We asked 5,402  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.

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

best UK attractions


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.

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

Foutains Abbey best UK attractions


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%

Stourhead House best UK attractions

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%

Tower of London best UK attractions

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%

Houses of Parliament best UK attractions


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.