It may be one of the most visited countries in the world, but for many visitors, the United Kingdom is simply synonymous with London. With so many tourists focusing purely on the capital’s world-famous landmarks, queues inevitably are long and prices often intimidating.
So, while London rightly receives endless plaudits for its countless number of grand attractions, why not also consider venturing further afield in pursuit of something more unique? Here we present a few of the more tranquil, lesser-known, remote treasures that are waiting to be explored by the slightly more adventurous.
Let’s start our trip somewhere about as far west of London as it’s possible to get in the U.K., a place accessible by a 3-hour ferry ride from the Cornwall town of Penzance, or by plane from a range of small West Country airports. 45 kilometers off Land’s End in western Cornwall, the Scilly isles consists of five inhabited islands, each distinguished by its own unique attributes but sharing in common the considerable attractions of rugged coastlines, ancient archaeological sites, and all manner of panoramic sea views.
The primary island of St. Mary’s boasts a number of terrific art galleries and craft shops plus cafes and restaurants. Visitors can explore on foot, bicycle, or by boat, and will be presented with an astounding array of wildlife no matter which option they choose.
One particularly prominent attraction is Tresco Abbey Garden, often considered to be the preeminent horticultural experience in the whole of the U.K. It houses around 20,000 exotic species of flora. Another great draw is the 16th century King Charles’ Castle, offering striking ruins of an artillery fort that overlooks New Grimsby harbor.
Kynance Cove, Porth Keynans, Cornwall
Let’s remain for now in the southwest, where the peninsular county of Cornwall is one of the most popular domestic destinations and those in the know from all parts of the U.K. head down each summer for their annual holidays.
Life is much slower here and it’s a land surrounded by crystal clear seas that are among the cleanest in Europe due to Atlantic Ocean currents. Normally it’s a 6 hour trip from London by road or rail, but in the summer high season, you can expect heavy traffic to do its utmost to double the journey time by car.
You can make an impromptu stop at the Exmoor National Park & enjoy the majestic beauty of the night sky, Exmoor being declared as Europe’s first dark sky reserve.
There’s a plentitude of delightful spots to choose from in Cornwall, but we’re particularly drawn towards Kynance Cove, tucked away in the Lizard peninsula, located one and a half miles or so north of Lizard Point, the southernmost point in the UK. In the Cornish language, Porth Keynan translates to “ravine cove”, an apt moniker for this small hamlet perched between a couple of sheer granite slabs.
Facilities are limited to a cafe offering a nice cup of hot chocolate with which to celebrate your triumphant exploration of the caves and conquering of the island around Kynance. Just to give you a feel of how off the beaten path this spot is, bear in mind that before 1991 the cafe relied purely on power generated by the stream which runs down to the beach.
And while you’re down in those caves remember one other thing, too: the waters around Penzance and the Lizard Peninsula were once home to pirate hordes who often stored their treasure in coves just like Kynance, so keep a beady eye out for the odd glint of something precious that might really make your visit even more worth the trip!
Luskentyre Beach, Scotland
From one extreme point of the UK to another, let’s turn our attention to the finest that coastal Scotland has to offer. There’s “off the beaten track”, and then there’s more than a couple of miles away from the nearest road; situated on in the outer Hebrides on the Isle of Harris, this spot definitely doesn’t draw in the crowds in the numbers that its exceptional natural beauty would seem to demand, but that’s all the better for those who do actually manage to make the trip.
So bring your best walking boots, brace yourself for the lack of local amenities, and get ready to be uplifted by the unparalleled pleasures of the area’s endless sand dunes and beautiful surrounding hills. Most likely these will be absolutely unspoiled by distractions from the presence of anyone else, except for the island’s population of wild Shetland ponies, so allow yourself to enjoy in quiet contemplation the beach said by some to be the absolute best in Britain.
Undoubtedly the most widely known location that we’ve chosen, this mountainous national park in the heart of Wales nonetheless represents one of the U.K.’s best outdoor destinations that, due to its location, never gets too obnoxiously overrun by tourists, regardless of the season.
The park is home to any number of stunning hiking routes to satisfy even the most avid trekkers, a spectacular mountain railway for those who’d prefer to put their feet up when appreciating the landscape, 13th-century castles built by Edward the I, a dry ski slope,—oh, and the highest mountain in Wales, Snowdon itself, the summit of which is ascendable by said mountain railway.
On a day with thin cloud cover, visitors can enjoy the unforgettable experience of climbing up through the cloud into the blue that lies above. As for the castles, of particular note is the world heritage site of Conwy in the far northwest, recognized as one of the finest samples of the 13-14th century architecture, and perched on a rocky outcrop overlooking on one side the town of the same name and protected by the sea to the other.
Everybody has heard about Stonehenge, and admittedly it certainly is something to see, but if you fancy visiting a similar Neolithic site that isn’t swarmed year-round by flocks of tourists, nor restricted either from direct public access, then set your sights on the village of Avebury.
The three-stone circles found here include the single largest stone circle in Europe and are fully accessible to the public. Still a place of spiritual importance for contemporary pagans as well as a tourist attraction, in many ways it’s a far preferable destination for those hoping to get up close and personal with the mysteries of such a marvel of dedication and human ingenuity.