October 23, 2014

The Best Little Cities in the UK

The glorious United Kingdom is made up by Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales. These countries are home to some of the most charming little towns in the world. From St. Ives near the land’s end of Southwest England to Coleraine near the North coast of Northern Ireland, the U.K. boasts some of the most well-preserved medieval and Elizabethan-era towns that beam with rich tradition and proud history. Often seeming to be frozen in time, these little seaside villages and country towns are waiting to tell you their stories.

St. Ives, Cornwall

If it were up to the Kernow people, this coastal village would be the capital of Cornwall. Since ages old, Cornwall has passively sought independence from England, to no avail. The dreamy, picturesque village of St. Ives, located near the land’s end of southwest England, is deep with Cornish pride. After a day at the beach, head up to the boardwalk and stop by one of Cornwall’s oldest and most famous inns: The Sloop Inn, a pub that dates back to 1312. St. Ives is an artist colony the only small town that has its own Tate Art Museum. Hire a car and head up to the awe-inspiring Minack Theatre or St. Michael’s Mount near Penzance and Land’s End about 20 minutes from the center of the village. If you visit during the month of September, enjoy daily art activities taking place all around the village as part of the St. Ives Art Festival.

Bangor, Gwynedd

In the northwestern Welsh countryside lies the smallest city in all of Britain, Bangor. This tiny town is known as “the Athens of Wales” by the locals and visitors. Dating back to the 6th century, Bangor began as a monastic establishment and is the site of the oldest bishopric in Britain. Classical music and art is a point of pride for the people of Bangor with the recent announcement of a new center for the arts opening soon.

Coleraine, Northern Ireland

See the mythical coastline of Giant’s Causeway where legend has it, giants played and splashed in the sea. Natural stepping stones that look as if they were carved into blocks line the seashore, just 20 minutes away from the center of Coleraine. The town of Coleraine is home to the world’s largest whiskey distillery at Bushmill’s with a brilliant steam train running from Bushmill’s to Giant’s Causeway in the summer. Pick up some little trinkets or souvenirs here in the largest market and shopping centers of Northern Ireland.

Oban, Scotland

The seafood capital of the U.K. and the home of the fantastic Festival of the Sea, Oban is a true treasure. This busy little port town features the famous Arduaine Gardens where the plants and flowers are candy for the eyes against the backdrop of the windswept Gaelic coast. The sea life is the true star of this town and is best seen by kayak or canoe. A car rental is a good idea for visiting the nearby attraction such as the legendary 13th century castle of Duart where you can explore dungeons, the Millennium Wood Walk and the stunning views.

Inverness, Scotland

Another Gaelic jewel, Inverness is a rich in historical significance and Scottish heritage. Located between two major battlefields, the fields of the 18th century Battle of Culloden and the 11th century Battle of Blar Nam Fienne. This capital of the Scottish Highlands dates back before AD 565 when the early medieval sect of people known as Picts inhabited the land. Inverness’ s history reads like a who’s who of British history with characters like Mary Queen of Scots and Oliver Cromwell making their mark on this town.

Hay-on-Wye, Wales

This breathtaking town is home to the famous Hay Festival of Literature which has been called “Woodstock for the mind” by American President Bill Clinton. With a yearlong happily buzzing vibe, The village of Hay-on-Wye hosts many other world class festivals throughout the year. The village’s bookshops, however, have put this precious town on the world map. Located right on the boarder of Wales and England on the Welsh side, Hay-on-Wye is actually in the county of Herefordshire (not to be mistaken as Hertfordshire). Visit the village markets and taste the delicious locally grown fruits, vegetable and locally made chutneys.

If you fancy a visit to somewhere off the beaten path of London or Edinburg, there are many little jewels lying along the coasts and around the countryside. The U.K. makes for a perfect road trip. Tour this glorious part of world by car, stopping by the classic tourist spots like Stonehenge and Ben Nevis in Scotland. Just be sure to look around the nearby bend where a charming little village likely lies.

Steven Hampshire has been the Director of Travel Content for CarRentals.co.uk for the past five years and can’t imagine looking back. It is the best job he’s ever had and he hopes that he can really change the face of the car hire industry online. He loves to travel around Europe from London, but really appreciates his beautiful country and takes the opportunity to explore the United Kingdom at every chance he gets.

Photo credit: Dogfael via Flickr

About Thomas Bruhl

Thomas is a keen travel writer and musician.

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