Nowhere in the world has such quirky little cities as Britain! When you’re looking for places to visit in England other than London, you’ll find plenty of fascinating smaller British cities to visit – each one welcoming and culturally rich – perfect for your UK itinerary.
With so many small cities in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales to choose from, you might find it a little overwhelming to decide which city to explore and which places to visit in the UK for a weekend.
This collection includes 9 of the best small British cities to visit – each blessed with gorgeous scenery and fascinating history. Top travel bloggers have shared their very best tips for which small cities in the UK you should visit, including what to see and do, where to eat and where to stay:
9 Lovely Little British Cities to Visit
This article aims to inspire you to visit small cities in the UK! You’ll discover some well-known names, but there are some real hidden gems sprinkled in here too! While the City of London and the City of Westminster are both small cities, this post focuses on little cities that you can visit beyond London.
1. Wells, Somerset
By Suzanne from Meandering Wild
Wells is the smallest city in England and is located in Somerset, southwest of the larger cities of Bath and Bristol. The A39 between Bath in the north and Bridgwater on the M5 runs through Wells making it easy to find by road. Buses from Bath and Bristol run to Wells as well as the surrounding villages. The nearest train station is at Castle Cary about 15 miles away.
Wells has a stunning cathedral at the top of the bustling high street and adjacent to this is the beautiful Bishop’s Palace. Within the grounds of the Bishops Palace are freshwater springs which give the city its name. Vicar’s Close, near the cathedral, is one of the oldest, still inhabited streets in Europe with pretty houses.
One of the smallest but nicest restaurants in Wells is The Courtyard – tucked away a short distance from the cathedral.
Stay here: Beryl Country House is the perfect place for a country retreat within the city.
2. Ripon, North Yorkshire
Tiny Ripon is the perfect small British city to visit if you love history, glorious North Yorkshire countryside, quirky traditions and totally unique little museums.
Located in the lush green Yorkshire Dales, while Ripon has no train station, it is within 75 minutes of Leeds (by train to Harrogate and onward by comfortable bus).
Visiting the ancient cathedral is one of the most popular things to do in Ripon. Dating back to the 7th century, the cathedral contains the oldest building of any cathedral in England (the intact Anglo-Saxon crypt) and you can see carved misericords that inspired Lewis Carroll to write Alice in Wonderland!
Ripon also has three fascinating Victorian museums, a thriving market, and a towering obelisk in the market square. If you’re in the market square at 9 pm, you can also witness the Ripon Hornblower “setting the watch”. This ancient tradition has taken place every night for over 1200 years!
Many visitors to Ripon use the city as a base for a trip to the UNESCO World Heritage Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal water gardens.
Read Next > 13 Best Things to Do in Ripon, North Yorkshire
3. Stirling, Scotland
By Amanda from AmandaWalkins.com
Stirling is certainly one of the best small cities to visit in the UK. A former capital of Scotland, visiting Stirling Castle should be on all tourists’ bucket lists — many say it’s better than Edinburgh Castle!
Beyond the castle, visit the National Wallace Monument to enjoy views across the valley from this prominent point. You can go inside the monument to see various weapons and get insights into Sir William Wallace and the fight for Scottish independence.
True history buffs should then head to the Battle of Bannockburn Experience, where the continuation of that fight under the leadership of King Robert the Bruce truly comes to life!
If you’re more into city breaks than history, Stirling boasts plenty of shopping opportunities right in the city centre. After the shops, grab a meal at Nicky-Tams Bar & Bothy or the Settle Inn for traditional pub vibes.
In fact, Stirling is a perfect city break for all of central Scotland! It’s an easy day trip from Edinburgh by train, taking about 50 minutes, while from Glasgow Queen Street, it’s only about a 30-minute train journey.
Stay here: Hotel Colessio for a central location while enjoying a splash of opulence.
Read Next > 12 Fairytale Scottish Castles To Love
4. Bath, Somerset
By Nicola from All About RosaLilla
Famous worldwide for its buildings made from the most magnificent golden coloured limestone and Roman influence, Bath is a vibrant small British city with over 40 museums, good restaurants, quality shopping and theatres.
The city became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 – the only city in the UK with this designation. Thanks to its heritage, Bath is widely regarded as one of the best British cities to visit.
Located in the gorgeous English countryside of Somerset in Southwest England, Bath lies in the valley of the River Avon, 156km west of London and 18km south-east of Bristol. The nearest airport is Bristol and for a £20 return ticket, you can get an Airdecker bus straight to Bath Bus Station. The bus journey takes just under an hour and there are some very pretty villages to see along the way.
There are so many incredible things to do in Bath. You can immerse yourself in history by visiting the Roman Baths, and Pulteney Bridge, and admiring the beautiful Georgian architecture of The Royal Crescent.
Enjoy a drink or afternoon tea in The Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa. Literary fanatics will be thrilled to realise that Jane Austen lived in Bath and wrote many novels here. There is a museum dedicated to her that is a must-visit. Be sure to also stop by Sally Lunn’s, which is in itself a museum, and try their world-famous walnut cake and milk jam.
5. Derry, Northern Ireland
By Joanna from The World in My Pocket
Derry is a lovely little city in Northern Ireland, worth visiting for its history, pretty architecture, as well as fantastic food scene. Derry has its own airport, where daily flights from London land. You can also fly to Belfast, and take a bus to Derry, for more convenient flight times and airline options.
There are plenty of things to do in Derry, starting with a tour of Free Derry, in order to understand the recent history of the city. The area has many commemorative murals that remind visitors of the Troubles and you can go to see the street art with the artists who created them.
The Peace Bridge connects the two sides of the city where the two different political supporters lived – like a handshake across the water.
Another great tour that you can join in Derry is the historical walk over the city walks. Taking you 400 years back in history, you will learn how the city managed to remain the only intact walled city in Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Stay here: City Hotel has great offers and rooms with views over the river. You also must eat at the Walled City Brewery, a restaurant and bar that doesn’t stock any commercial brands and brews everything on the premises.
6. Lincoln, Lincolnshire
By Cristina of My Little World of Travelling
Lincoln is one of the most charming small cities in England. Its pebbled streets, historical buildings and quirky independent shops and tea rooms, make it a great destination to visit.
When visiting Lincoln, you can’t miss the opportunity to visit Lincoln Castle, a medieval castle with beautiful grounds, an interesting prison and the only place in the world that has an original 1215 Magna Carta. Another must-see attraction is Lincoln Cathedral where you can book a tour and go to the rooftop to enjoy some of the best views in the city.
Other great activities in Lincoln include going to the Lincoln Museum, walking on the pier, or taking a boat tour and window shopping in Steep Hill.
Bunty’s Tea Room is the perfect place to enjoy a delicious piece of cake or afternoon tea. For dinner, head to Lincoln’s waterfront where you will find plenty of food options. However, one of the best places to have dinner is Olé Olé Tapas which offers a great selection of Spanish tapas.
Stay here: DoubleTree by Hilton situated in Brayford Waterfront. It’s not far from the city centre, has comfortable rooms and a rooftop bar overlooking the pier.
7. Salisbury, Wiltshire
By Laura of Travelers Universe
Salisbury is a beautiful little cathedral city of medieval origins located in Wiltshire. While the main attraction within the city is its majestic 13th-century cathedral, Salisbury is probably best known for the nearby stone circle of Stonehenge. Indeed, many people will arrive in Salisbury on a day trip from London by train and then immediately hop on a bus to make a beeline for Stonehenge. But the city of Salisbury is definitely worth a look around.
The main landmark in Salisbury is its amazing Gothic cathedral. It has the tallest spire in the country and quite possibly also the oldest working clock in the world. It also has the largest cloister in England. And the cathedral’s Chapter House hosts the best-preserved copy of the Magna Carta on display!
Stay here: Cricket Field House, a modern B&B with an impressive garden. And if you want to grab a bite, stop by Boston Tea Party, a family-owned café that serves homemade feel-good food in a building dating all the way back to the 1300s.
8. Bangor, North Wales
Picturesque little Bangor in North Wales is one of the oldest cities in the UK, and the oldest in Wales. It’s a far cry from the archetypal vision of a city, as it’s tiny, yet it has an international airport.
Bangor is also a bilingual city, with the large population of university students (who outnumber the city residents) mostly speaking English, while many of the city’s residents speak Welsh as a first language.
With glorious views of the Menai Straits and across to the Welsh hills, Bangor is beautifully located, and it’s also easy to explore on foot.
Don’t miss a trip to the 19th century Penrhyn Castle – a “fantasy” castle with incredible views, or down to the historic Bangor Pier which is the 2nd oldest pier in Wales. You can also visit the small but stunning 6th century Bangor Cathedral with its exquisite stained glass windows and regular organ recitals.
Stay here: The ultimate place to stay is at Bangor University!
Read Next > Utterly Beautiful Castles in Wales
9. Norwich, Norfolk
By Anisa of Norfolk Local Guide
Norwich may no longer be England’s second-largest city as it was during medieval times, but it still has plenty to offer visitors. This little city in England is about a two-hour train from London’s Liverpool Street station and you can explore the city on foot.
Take a walk along the River Wensum which snakes through the city centre and take a stroll down the picturesque Elm Hill, arguably one of the prettiest streets in England.
Next, head to Norwich Market which is one of the oldest and largest outdoor markets in the country. You must also visit Norwich Cathedral, the most complete Norman Cathedral in England and one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture in Europe. It is free to go inside and you can see the largest collection of medieval roof bosses in the world.
For a real treat, head to the Assembly House for afternoon tea. Not only is the food amazing but the setting is special too. It’s a Grade I-listed building that hosted a Grand Ball to celebrate Lord Nelson’s victory at the Cape of Trafalgar. They also have 15 rooms, so you can stay the night if you book in advance.
As you can see, there are some gorgeous little British cities to visit and, as they usually have far fewer crowds than the UK’s biggest cities, exploring them is a really attractive idea.
Whether you prefer bustling British cities, or really quirky small cities with hidden gems to discover, there are so many small cities in the UK to explore. The most difficult thing is picking just one to visit!
More Exciting British Cities to Explore
If you’re looking for more inspiration for the best small cities to visit in the UK, you may also enjoy:
- The 13 Best Things to Do in Ripon – A Quaint Little English City
- 2 Days in York – What to Do, Where to Eat & Stay
- Awesome Things to Do in Leeds
- What To Do In Durham + Best Places to Stay