One of the things that surprised me when I first moved to London was how much more particular British people are about what counts as a city than I am. Back in California I used the words “city” and “town” interchangeably, not knowing or caring what the technical status of a place was. But over the years I’ve learned to watch my language or get berated by a Brit. Whether it’s the presence of a cathedral, a royal grant, or another qualification, I know when to call a place a city (and more importantly, when not to). I’ve also enjoyed traveling to a number of cities, especially the less visited. If you’re interested in exploring more cities in the UK, today I bring you 9 underrated cities in Britain that are worth visiting.
Underrated Cities in Britain
Cities like London have achieved international stardom, but a lot of Britain’s cities get overlooked. Some of the most beautiful places I’ve discovered in this country have been the least recommended, and I’ve definitely been laughed when I’ve told people I’m going to visit them. But I’ve learned over time that I shouldn’t let my own or anyone else’s preconceived notions about a place prevent me from going, and I’ve been rewarded for it. I hope you are, too.
It amazes me that so few people I know have been to Chester, and surprises me even more that so few of them have heard of it. But this city in England’s Cheshire is not only one of the most beautiful in the UK, but also one of the richest in history. From a Roman wall to half-timbered facades, a soaring cathedral to medieval towers, Chester has wow factor. Add to that pretty streets with colorful doors and great coffee shops, and this city is worth a special trip.
People stared in disbelief when I told them I was going to visit Leicester for fun. But it turned out to be another of the underrated cities in Britain that impressed me. I found so much to do that I had to go back a second time to see everything. Like Chester, it has Roman ruins and a cathedral, and it also has a Richard III museum that follows the miraculous story of the discovery of the king’s remains. Add in beautiful heritage architecture and New Walk, one of the prettiest pedestrianized streets in the country, and this city is a winner.
Wells finds itself among the underrated cities in Britain more because it’s so small than because there’s a perception it lacks beauty or interest. This city in Somerset could be mistaken for a town if it wasn’t for the massive cathedral that dominates its center and elevates it to urban status. The cathedral is certainly worth seeing, but it’s the charming side streets that get my heart fluttering. Vicar’s Close is particularly stunning, and I love the shopping streets in the city center.
Birmingham won me over when I first visited for the city’s annual Christmas markets, and has since lured me back for more. This city in the West Midlands is packed with beautiful historic buildings, shopping arcades, and art museums. Centuries-old pubs and creative districts add to the appeal, and the contemporary library gets my inner architecture (and book) lover excited.
Up in Scotland, Glasgow always seems to get overlooked in favor of Edinburgh. But this city on the west coast has undergone a revival in recent years and is full of life and activity. From vintage markets to funky shops and lively bars and restaurants, Glasgow has a wealth of things to do and see. And that’s to say nothing of the medieval university and 19th-century buildings that show off the city’s historic merchant wealth and add aesthetic appeal.
I didn’t know what to expect the first time I traveled to Leeds. But the city showed me everything from stunning shopping arcades like the County Arcade to art galleries and museums like the Henry Moore Institute. I’ve been back a few times since, and each trip reveals more to see and do. I could spend days exploring the streets, ducking down alleys, and soaking up the cultural treasures here.
Newcastle might be known for girls in short skirts and no coats braving sub-zero temperatures to go out at night, but there’s a lot more to the city than that (although it is amazing to see—how do they not freeze?). From Grey Street, which has been voted the finest street in Britain by BBC Radio 4 listeners, to contemporary art museums like BALTIC, Newcastle offers a great mix of old and new. The same goes for the bridges, which span both the Tyne and the centuries. And that’s to say nothing of the pubs, some of which have amazing historic interiors and lively atmospheres.
Cardiff is the capital of Wales, but it still manages to fly under the radar for most visitors to the UK. The city is worth a trip for its castle alone, though. This imposing complex might look like any other fortress from the outside, but the walls hide an extravaganza of interior decor within. From ornate gold ceilings to mosaic floors, Cardiff Castle is one of the most impressive of its kind in the country.
Back in England, Nottingham is one of my favorite under-the-radar cities. From castles to pubs, historic streets to hidden lanes, this place has everything I love in one compact area. Add to that the Robin Hood legend and one of the oldest pubs in England—you have to see the Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem—and it’s hard to find a more exciting spot to explore.
Cities. Towns. Whatever you want to call these places (although I advise you to call them cities if you know what’s good for you), these underrated cities in Britain will surprise and delight you. Whether you’re looking for history, beauty, culture, or nightlife, it’s worth braving dubious looks, blank stares, and laughter to find it.
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