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Visiting Britain's World Heritage Sites

UNESCO World Heritage sites are well represented in Britain, beyond Stonehenge. This collection of Small group tours across England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland incorporates visits to these current and future sites in its programs for mature and senior travellers of up to 12 people, a mix of couples and solo travellers. Often on Walking tours and History in depth programs.

8 Oct 19 · 5 mins read

Britain's World heritage sites

Visiting Britain’s World Heritage Sites

There are 31 spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the United Kingdom. They comprise some of the most spectacular and memorable cultural sites in Europe, and attract many tourists every year. Sites such as Stonehenge and Blenheim Castle are iconic British locations, as are the Tower of London and the Dorset and East Devon Coastline. Other, lesser known sites, such as Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast (in Ireland) and Heart of Neolithic Orkney (in Scotland) are equally impressive.

The complete list of Britain’s World Heritage Sites includes seventeen in England, five in Scotland, one shared between the boundary of England and Scotland (Hadrian’s Wall), three in Wales, and one in Northern Ireland. The sites have all been recognised as places of cultural or national importance by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Drawing travellers from all over the world, these spectacular sites still retain their startling power. Odyssey Traveller incorporates visits to many of these sites in our UK tours, using knowledgeable local guides as well as expert tour leaders to ensure that our groups get the most out of their experiences.

This article details some of the most spectacular UNESCO Sites (many of which are included in our tours). It provides information about their history and formation, as well as giving a sense of what travellers can look forward to when they visit these breathtaking British icons.

Britain canals and railways
Catbells, Lake District, England

The History of World Heritage

The World Heritage committee is a division of UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation), an agency of the United Nations.

The World Heritage committee began in 1954. The Egyptian government was planning to build the new Aswan High Dam, a project that would eventually result in the inundation of an area of the Nile valley containing many ancient Egyptian treasures. In order to ensure that the artefacts would be protected, UNESCO set about organising the recovery, excavation, and recording of hundreds of threatened sites, included the famed temples of Abu Simbel and Philae. The campaign continued until 1980. The formalisation of the World Heritage committee as a body that protects both cultures and the environment took place during this period, in 1975.

As of July 2017, there are 1073 listed World Heritage sites, the country with the most being Italy with 53, followed closely by China with 52. Australia has 19!

If a site is considered to be under threat that require a response, a location may be added to the List of World Heritage in Danger. Each site is reviewed annually to determine the state of any threat, and the World Heritage committee can take this opportunity to request protective measures or remove the property form the list.

Today, the mission of UNESCO’s World Heritage agency is to identify, protect, and preserve “cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity.”

Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites

The Stonehenge (and Avebury) may just be the most famous megalithic monument in the world and the most iconic landmark in Britain. This archaeological site shares similarities with other stone circles in Britain; what makes it unique are its sarsen stones arranged in a post-and-lintel formation (two posts holding up a third, laid horizontally on top of the two), and its smaller “bluestones” found to have come all the way from Wales.

Stonehenge was built in stages. The oldest part of the monument was built around 3000 BC. The bluestone pillars came first, followed by the huge sarsen stones about 500 years later. Most of the surviving 45 original bluestones of Stonehenge are of spotted dolerite found to have originated from the Preseli Hills of southwest Wales.

Some were as long as three metres (10 feet) and weighed four tonnes; a popular theory said they were transported by sea. A new study reported in February 2019 now debunks this theory, suggesting that the stones were transported by land.

The researchers led by University College London pinpointed two quarries in Preseli Hills where the Stonehenge bluestones likely came from. As the quarries were in the north side of the hills, the Stonehenge builders could have just made an overland journey from there to the Salisbury Plain.

The team continues to investigate to find out what’s so special about the Preseli Hills that the builders had to travel 290 kilometres (180 miles) to get building material 5,000 years ago. The study suggests it may have been because the pillars were “relatively easy” to remove as they were natural vertical pillars that could be chiselled away.

It has been a legally protected Scheduled Ancient Monument since 1882 when legislation to protect historic monuments was first successfully introduced in Britain. The site and its surroundings were added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 1986. Stonehenge is owned by the Crown and managed by English Heritage; the surrounding land is owned by the National Trust. (Read more here.)

Photos from the heritage list that you may visit on your Britain tour continues below.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew

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Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal

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Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

Ironbridge Gorge

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The English Lake District

England village tour
Sunrise of Grasmere, Lake District

City of Bath

UK bridge Avon river
Pulteney Bridge, which crosses the River Avon in Bath, England

Blenheim Palace

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Blenheim Palace and Gardens

Frontiers of the Roman Empire

Before William the Conqueror’s victory at the Battle of Hastings, Britain was ruled by the Romans. Hadrian’s Wall was a defensive fortification built around 122 AD, marking the northern limit of Roman Britain. It runs a total of 117.5 kilometres (73 miles) in northern England and was built on the orders of Emperor Hadrian.

In 140 AD, Hadrian’s successor, Emperor Antoninus Pius, ordered the building of the Antonine Wall to move the Roman frontier northwards. However, after his death, his successor Marcus Aurelius moved the frontier back to Hadrian’s Wall as it was easier to defend.

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Hadrian’s Wall

Odyssey Travellers small group tours

Odyssey Traveller, based in Australia, offers the most comprehensive educational tour programs. We provide worldwide experiences for mature travellers who are keen to blend a love of travel with a thirst for knowledge, and we welcome participants from any country.

Odyssey Traveller is famous for our small groups, and we average eight participants per tour. Our maximum group size is eighteen people, which ensures quality, flexibility and care that is tailored to our clients. We specialise in small group tours for the senior traveller who is seeking adventure or is curious about the world we live in. Typically, our clients begin travelling with us from their mid 50’s onward. Both couples and singles are welcome.

Packages for Tours of the UK

Odyssey Traveller’s all inclusive UK vacation packages provide unique experiences for senior travellers. Our Agrarian and Industrial Britain Small Group Tour for Mature Travellers, for instance, is perfect for singles and couples seeking a trip to the UK that takes you off the beaten track, while also letting you experience the best Heritage Sites that the country has to offer. Likewise, Odyssey’s Walking Rural Britain, small group history tour for mature travellers offers the chance to explore the country by train. Learn about the country’s history from an experienced guide. Book your next tour of the United Kingdom with the specialists in educational travel. If you’re keen to experience our guided tours of the UK, please call or send an email. We’d love to hear from you! For all Odyssey’s UK travel packages click here.

Coastal Britain

Originally published February 13, 2018.

Updated on October 8, 2019.

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