With staycations top of the holiday agenda this summer, thousands more Brits will be ditching the Costa del Sol for travel a little closer to home. But given just how unpredictable our weather can be, it’s good to have a backup plan whenever and wherever you’re holidaying in the UK.
To help you make the most of your flight-free British break, we’ve put together an in-depth guide to the best cultural and heritage attractions around the country to visit by car. Focussing on castles, palaces and national heritage sites, our destinations index is great for those who are looking for more than just a lazy trip to the seaside.
And to make sure our picks are appropriate for a summer staycation, we’ve factored the average temperature and average rainfall of different regions into the equation too – perfect for pre-planning and deciding if you need to pack those waterproofs.
So, what are you waiting for? Discover the best of British in our attractions guide below.
Top Destinations for a British Staycation
It’s easy to underestimate just how many brilliant destinations are on our doorstep. From castles and gardens to ancient heritage wonders, there’s no shortage of cultural attractions to fill your staycation itinerary.
The question is, which destinations are most worth your time? Take a look at our top 10 list below to find out.
Windsor Castle, Blenheim Palace and the Tower of London clinched the top spots as Britain’s best heritage attractions, ranking highly for their overall rating and low average rainfall. And this is true of the rest of the top 10, with attractions in southeast England out-performing those in other parts of the country – mainly thanks to their reliable summer weather.
In fact, no attractions in northern England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland made the top 10, despite such destinations been renowned for their rich history and culture. That’s all down to the weather, with higher average rainfall and lower average temperatures affecting scoring.
So how did we come up with our British attractions index? And what factors did we include to calculate different destination ratings? Find out below.
How We Came Up with Our Destinations Index
We gathered data on hundreds of attractions around the UK, attributing points to each destination based on a range of factors, including:
- Average weather temperature
- Average rainfall
- Average customer star rating (from Trip Advisor, Google and Facebook reviews averaged)
- Average Google search volume
From there, we gave each castle, palace, park or heritage site a score out of 100 – giving us an ultimate list of the must-visit destinations to travel to by car this summer. You can explore the full destination index in our attractive guide.
Now you’re up to speed with how we came up with our results, let’s explore some of the other heritage attractions that came out on top in different regions around the country.
Good things come in small packages, and Wales and Northern Ireland might not have the space for loads of destinations, but what they do have are worth visiting.
One Welsh destination that ranks in our data was Caernarfon Castle, a medieval fortress towering above the skyline of the pretty north-west Wales’ town of Caernarfon. Sure, average temperature and rainfall aren’t great here, but the history of the place, coupled with the amazing driving routes of north Wales, make it a great day-trip destination this summer.
If you live in Northern Ireland or are making the crossing from the mainland, there are certainly no shortage of places to explore. Ancient castles, quaint towns and unique geology make Northern Ireland the perfect destination for a leisurely driving break, all with the promise of famously warm Northern Irish hospitality.
While you’re on the Emerald Isle, be sure to visit Hillsborough Castle, the official residence of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. With its lush grounds and majestic setting, this is one heritage site you won’t want to miss. The Giant’s Causeway is also a must-see. You might have a long drive to get there, but it’s a beautiful journey and the destination makes it worthwhile.
It’s no surprise that castles dominated the top five in the North West; Lancashire, Chester and Cumbria have long been renowned for their mighty keeps and strongholds. While Beeston Castle came out on top, Lancaster Castle wasn’t far behind despite having a considerably higher average rainfall score.
Indeed, it might be umbrellas at the ready for a staycation in the North West, with more rain than any other part of England. Don’t let that put you off though, as the region’s imposing castles and excellent driving roads make it a great place for a cultural getaway.
Owing to its rich history, the North East is home to some of England’s finest castles and heritage sites, including Bamburgh, Alnwick and Durham. And in our view, it’s also one of the UK’s best destinations for a driving holiday, with the sweeping vistas of Northumbria providing the ideal backdrop for a summer road trip.
Overall, heritage attractions in the North East scored slightly higher than the North West. That could be down to lower average rainfall, or the fact that the region is home to Alnwick Castle – a heritage site that’s famous as the setting for the early Harry Potter films.
Yorkshire & Humberside
With its quaint villages, rolling hills and beautiful heritage coast, Yorkshire remains one of the UK’s most popular staycation destinations. And while there are literally hundreds of things to see and do in this beloved English county, the five attractions listed came out on top for their high visitor ratings and relatively low average rainfall.
In fact, had it not been for lower average temperatures, Yorkshire’s famous historic attractions could have made it into our overall top 10. Destinations like Goldsborough Hall and Ripley Castle had some of the highest visitor ratings around the country, so they’re certainly worth your time during a drive through the beautiful Yorkshire countryside.
The West Midlands is easy to overlook as a staycation destination, but if you want to beat the crowds that are guaranteed to descend on places like Cornwall, Devon and Yorkshire, it’s a good choice for a peaceful, cultured driving holiday.
When touring the West Midlands you have to stop off at Warwick Castle, easily the region’s most popular heritage site (as confirmed by our index). Goodrich and Eastnor castles are also worth a look, while the impressive gardens of Witley Court are perfect for a sunny afternoon.
As with its twin county above, the East Midlands isn’t an obvious choice for a UK staycation. But dismissing it altogether means missing out on some great cultural highlights, not to mention low average rainfall and strong average temperatures.
Easily one of the most famous heritage sites in the region is Belvoir Castle, which accrued an average search tally of over 22,000 monthly searches. But that’s not to say it’s the best, with Bolsover Castle scoring higher from a visitor rating point of view.
Offering the best of coast and country, the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk and Lincolnshire make East England a good proposition for a summer staycation. Great beaches, charming countryside and excellent driving routes are par for the course here, and there are lots of heritage attractions to keep you busy for a week or two.
Hadleigh Castle came first in our list of the top five places to visit in East England, with a low average rainfall score and a very respectable visitor rating of 4.6. Elsewhere it’s no surprise to see Sandringham House make the cut, with the estate’s Royal Family connection making it a hotspot for culture-seekers.
If you can brave the crowds and the queues, the South West may well be the UK’s premier summer staycation spot. From the wild beauty of Dartmoor to Cornwall’s pristine coast, there are iconic destinations aplenty in this corner of England, making it the ideal place for a family road trip.
So, what can you get up to when you’re here? For starters there’s Stonehenge, an impressive ancient wonder that came eighth in our overall top 10 of British heritage attractions. Elsewhere Corfe and Sudeley castles are worth a day trip, while the grounds of Place House are great for soaking up the Cornish sunshine.
With some of the UK’s driest, warmest weather and a great mix of cultural highlights, the South East fared well in our overall destination rankings. If you can pull yourself away from the beach, there are lots of historic attractions to discover here, including Blenheim Palace and the castles of Windsor, Hever, Leeds and Arundel.
As well as having the weather on their side, the South East’s heritage destinations also performed well thanks to high average search volumes, with Blenheim Palace and Windsor Castle accruing tens of thousands more Google searches than places in Yorkshire and the North East.
London is always going to be a popular destination for UK holidays, and though it isn’t the best place for a driving break (to put it mildly), you can’t argue with its list of great heritage attractions.
From the Tower of London to Buckingham Palace, London’s beloved cultural sites performed well across the board, with thousands of monthly searches, high visitor ratings and decent average temperatures. But with all that said, you may want to leave the car keys at home for this one.
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