The UK is a popular international tourist destination for city breaks. Many of the United Kingdoms most important cities offer fantastic historical attractions, popular cultural destinations and excellent shopping opportunities to visit.
The UK is home to 69 cities in total. Therefore it is essential to have a good idea of what each destination offers before planning a visit to any part of the country or even before applying for a UK eTA.
Find out how cities are defined in the United Kingdom and also which major cities can be found in the constituent 4 countries of the island nation. This article provides a brief overview of the most famous and popular destinations visitors can travel to.
How are cities defined in the United Kingdom?
The UK is unusual in how it allocates city status on settlements. Internationally, towns with large populations or towns with cathedrals are usually conferred city status. Yet in Britain and Northern Ireland how and when towns become cities is decided by the incumbent monarch.
Furthermore city status in the UK does not confer any official benefits. Instead, it is seen as a sign of royal patronage and prestige by city councils.
Nevertheless, most cities in the United Kingdom are still among the largest population centres in the country. This is despite the strange selection process and loose definition of what constitutes a city.
The most famous cities in England
England is home to the most cities in the UK. Around 51 of the nation’s cities are located in the UK’s biggest constituent country, with each possessing its own unique culture and feel.
The cities in England with the biggest population include:
- London: England and the UK’s capital city and home to over 12 million inhabitants as well as major landmarks such as Big Ben, Tower Bridge and Trafalgar Square.
- Birmingham: England’s second-largest city with around 1 million residents and one of the UK’s best shopping and convention destinations.
- Manchester: The UK’s third biggest city beloved by lovers of music, culture and football.
- Leeds: A major hub for business and higher education in the North of England a fantastic location to enjoy classic Victorian architecture.
- Liverpool: One of Britain’s most significant cultural centres and the birthplace of the Beatles. A great place to explore historical architecture, experience an EPL football match or to explore museums.
- Bristol: A historic shipbuilding town in the South West of England and a major artistic hub for the region.
- Newcastle: An architecturally impressive and striking city with a strong artistic scene and which is surrounded by imposing countryside.
- York: A picturesque ancient city filled with historical antiquities and beautiful old buildings that hark back to an England of long ago.
- Oxford: England’s most famous university town. Home to the world-leading University of Oxford and many wonderful museums and picturesque Gothic Revival buildings.
Scotland’s most well-known cities
The country of Scotland is best known for its rural and wild landscape and its unique Celtic cultural influence. However, it is also the location of numerous famous cities that are favourites for tourists and visitors alike.
The biggest and most important cities in Scotland are:
- Edinburgh: The capital city of Scotland and one of the country’s most historically significant centres. Major sights include Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile.
- Glasgow: Scotland’s largest overall city. Glasgow is a revitalized and modernized once-famed industrial centre as well as a former European City of Culture.
- Aberdeen: Known as “the Silver City” or the “Granite City”, it is an amazing setting-off spot to explore Cairngorms National Park and one of the best places in the country to try Whiskey from a local distillery.
- Dundee: Dundee is one of Scotland and the UK’s most culturally significant cities. It is a major national hub for video games production as well as journalistic and artistic publications. It also boasts a spectacular waterfront.
Major cities located in Wales
Wales has a much smaller population than England and Scotland, yet it is still home to a few of the UK’s most important cities. There are 6 major population centres found in Wales, which include:
- Cardiff: The capital city of Wales. It has been the centre of Welsh affairs for centuries and is a great destination to explore the history of the country and to see a match of the country’s national sport of Rugby.
- Swansea: Wales’s second-largest city and a popular destination for coastal tourism and surfing.
- Bangor: Wales’s oldest city and a fantastic destination to enjoy the marvels of the North Welsh coastline and countryside.
Northern Ireland’s key cities
Northern Ireland is the smallest country of the United Kingdom and resultantly has the fewest cities overall. The land comprises the 6 Irish counties that remained loyal to the British crown after the independence of Ireland in 1922. It is home to just 5 of the UK’s cities.
The most important cities found in Northern Ireland are as follows:
- Belfast: The capital of Northern Ireland is home to around 300,000 people. Visitors can enjoy historical attractions such as the Titanic memorial museum, fantastic bars and restaurants as well as a strong cultural scene.
- Londonderry (Derry): Northern Ireland’s second city is just a hop across the border from the Republic of Ireland. It is a great place to enjoy some of Northern Ireland’s most important historical sites and is a great base for visits to some of the beautiful natural attractions nearby such as the giant’s causeway.
UK cities are great places to relax and unwind on a trip to the country. Each destination offers its own unique charms and numerous sights and attractions that will complete any visit to the United Kingdom.