Visiting Britain’s World Heritage Sites
There are more than 30 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.
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 2021, there are 1154 listed World Heritage sites, the country with the most being Italy with 58, followed closely by China with 56. Australia has 20!
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
Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal
The English Lake District
City of Bath
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.
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.
Originally published February 13, 2018.
Updated on October 8, 2019. Refreshed October 4th 2021
A small group tour of Wales, Scotland & England that traces the history of the journey that is the Industrial revolution. Knowledgeable local guides and your tour leader share their history with you on this escorted tour including Glasgow, London, New Lanark & Manchester, Liverpool and the Lake district.23 days
Stratford upon Avon, Shakespeares birthplace and Anne Hathaway’s cottage as well as the Lake district a UNESCO World site and Dicken’s London are part of guided tour for a small group tour of like minded people learning about the art and literature of England. Your tour leader and local guides share day tour itineraries to create a unique travel experience.
This guided tour invites you to explore UNESCO World heritage sites at Skara Brae in the Orkneys, Isle of Skye, and Stonehenge in a prehistoric tour. This escorted tour has trips to key sites in Scotland, and the Irish sea in Wales such as Gower Peninsula and National Museum in Cardiff and England. Each day tour is supported by local guides.
This guided tour of Scotland with a tour leader and local guides includes the isle of Skye, Orkney islands, the Scottish highlands with breathtaking scenery. Edinburgh including the royal mile, Palace of Holyroodhouse, Fort William, Urquhart castle, Stirling castle, loch lomond, Hadrians wall and New Lanark also a UNESCO World heritage site.22 days
A walking tour into England, Scotland and Wales provides small group journeys with breathtaking scenery to destinations such as Snowdonia national park , the UNESCO world heritage site Hadrians wall and the lake district. each day tour provides authentic experiences often off the beaten path from our local guides.
Our guided small group tour of Devon and Cornwall in England, designed for mature and senior travellers who are travelling with their partner or as a solo traveller. A journey filled with medieval treasures, charming fishing villages in the north Cornish coast, stunning cliff-top coastal views of the blue Atlantic, and atmospheric destinations traditionally linked to the legends of King Arthur.17 days
This guided small group tour starts in Scotland and finishes in England. On Orkney we have a day tour to the UNESCO World heritage site, Skara Brae, before travelling to city of York. Your tour leader continues to share the history from the Neolithic to the Victorian era. The tour concludes in the capital city, London.
A walking tour of England & the border of Wales. Explore on foot UNESCO World Heritage sites, Neolithic, Bronze age and Roman landscapes and the occasional Norman castle on your journey. Your tour director and tour guide walk you through the Brecon beacons, the Cotswolds and Welsh borders on this small group tour.21 days
Part of the small group tour of the British isles series, this walking tour goes west to east across England. The tour leader takes you into the national park of the UNESCO World heritage site in the Lake district and the North Yorkshire moors. This trip concludes in York. It is designed for senior walkers seeking authentic experiences.27 days