London: one of the most talked about and desired places to visit in the world. When studying abroad in Europe, it might seem natural to make your first trip to the historical and influential cities given the proximity and opportunity presented through study abroad. However, the whole of the U.K. is littered with rich history, amazing scenery and fabulous culture. While London is surely a great city and a must visit, there are a few more affordable and rewarding places to consider before committing the time and money needed for an international hub like London.
For many, the hustle and bustle of big cities means excitement and never-ending entertainment. This large and diverse atmosphere is what draws people to the expanse of a place like London. However, I dare to argue that Edinburgh is a better source of history, culture and attractions, all that fit well within a student’s budget. While walking to one of the most famous castles in all of the U.K., bagpipes can be heard echoing through the streets. The castle itself holds so much history that it takes well over three hours to explore it all. For literary fans, Edinburgh is also the birthplace of many legendary works such as Harry Potter and Sherlock Holmes, and boasts a fabulous walking tour for less than £20! There is also a free Harry Potter walking tour every day at 2 p.m. which starts at Grey Friars Bobby and ends at Victoria Street (the real life Diagon Alley). For the thrill seekers, Edinburgh holds a dark gruesome history, and tours of the vaults and famous graveyards can be booked for £12 to £14! Edinburgh is also a really walkable city, and public transportation is very affordable! There are also an abundance of hostels and AirBnBs that make finding inexpensive accommodation effortless.
The Lake District, England
Famous for the views of the beautiful and expansive landscape of the U.K., villages such as Keswick, Adelaide and Windermere are perfect for a quiet retreat into the countryside. The hiking (and water sports in the summer) attract locals and visitors alike from around the country all year long. Located in the northern region just below the Scottish border, the Lake District is the best cure for the cold, gray concrete of larger cities across the U.K. (I’m looking at you, London and Manchester). The gorgeous rolling hills of the English countryside mixed with the vibrant evergreen from the nonstop rain and humidity make for a lush backdrop. Along many of the trails you will find waterfalls and century old bridges and roads giving the hike a historical feel and chance to live the daily treks of early trade/craftsmen and women.
The birthplace of The Beatles, and home to one of the most popular football clubs in the U.K., Liverpool is a chance to explore engineering feats like Queensway Mersey Tunnel and experience a musical revolution with many Beatles tours and museums, all for £10 or less. During WWII, Liverpool was badly destroyed and many citizens lost their lives in the bombings. For just £7.50, you can tour a real German U-Boat and through an interactive exhibit, learn what life was like on a wartime submarine. For a little light-hearted competition, tickets to a Liverpool F.C. game will run at about £12.
The Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye, Scotland
I really can’t stress the beautiful landscape of the U.K. enough. If you haven’t had the pleasure to acquaint yourself with the Isle of Skye in northern Scotland, you’re sorely missing out on some of the most mesmerizing waterfalls and hiking within the whole of the U.K. While hiking might sound intimidating, it’s important to remember that these are not elite athlete level hikes and are pretty easy to follow and navigate. Some of the pools even make for great swimming, although the geography means that they rarely get warm even in the summer. The Fairy Pools are accessible by bus, taxi, or uber from the town Portree, ranging anywhere from £23 to £55 depending on mode of transportation, but good news is that the joy of the hike is free!
Last on this list is located in the heart of the gorgeous Welsh district Pembrokeshire. Poor Wales often gets left behind when it comes to holidays in the UK. Starting with the coastal town of Tenby where the pastel buildings facing the luminous green/blue Irish sea give Tenby a Cinque Terre vibe, but without the price tag. All along the coast of Pembrokeshire you’ll find locally sourced seafood and horseback riding on the beach. Head to beaches such as Newgale and Freshwater at low tide to hunt for rock samphire and sea purslane. Whether you’re studying, just visiting, or living in the UK, Pembrokeshire is the slow and deliberately low-key soul cure from the stereotypical wet dreary rest of the UK.
While no one could doubt the magnificence of London with its rich Shakespearean history and architectural and historical masterpieces such as Big Ben and Westminster, many treasures of the U.K. find themselves overshadowed by the constant hype. London, I fear, doesn’t accurately capture the whole culture of the U.K. or represent some of the greatest contributions of the U.K. to the world today. For a more diverse experience, the places listed above are a great opportunity to have a well rounded UK experience.