Many visitors to the United Kingdom are absorbed by London’s architecture and epic range of cultural activities. But to never leave the city is to miss out on the spectacular scenery and picturesque small towns in shires across the UK. With an expansive motorway network, you can travel by rental car with ease. We have chosen five of the best small towns in the United Kingdom to visit based on their proximity to areas of natural beauty and their charming and historic architecture.
1. Grasmere, England
William Wordsworth had his home here and described Grasmere as “The loveliest spot that man hath ever found.” Surrounded by the Lake District’s rugged beauty, the town lies on the River Rothay and is dominated by the rocky Helm Crag hill. Grasmere is a hiker’s paradise and there are excellent hikes in almost every direction. It is easy to see why the Lake Poets – a group of poets who lived in the Lake District – Coleridge, Southey and Wordsworth made their home here in the early 19th century. Take a trip to Dove Cottage and the Wordsworth Museum; the cottage remains as it was around 200 years ago.
2. St. Davids, Pembrokeshire, Wales
Officially not a small town, St. Davids is the UK’s smallest city, achieving city status mostly because of its incredible cathedral. The area surrounding St. Davids is achingly beautiful, with Whitesands Bay and the rugged craggy coastline just a few miles away. The town is on a hill that slopes down to a cathedral. A sight not to be missed, it stands in stark contrast to the equally beautiful ruins of Bishop’s Palace. The town has some great pubs and you can book a huge variety of boat rides to the islands of Pembrokeshire here as well as renting a huge range of watersport equipment.
3. Haworth, Yorkshire, England
This picturesque town is centered on its cobblestone hill and perhaps most famous for being the home of the Brontë sisters. Charlotte, Emily, and Anne lived in a house above the town that has now been turned into a museum that offers insight into their lives. They wrote most of their novels here and the moody landscapes conjured in Wuthering Heights can be seen in the upper moorland’s nearby. The town also has some excellent boutiques and vintage shops, achieving Fairtrade Village status in the early 2000s.
4. Portree, Isle of Skye, Scotland
This magical fishing town is the capital of the island, easily reachable from the mainland with your rental car via the bridge or ferry. Its location on the east coast of the island just south of the Trotternish Ridge makes it a fantastic base if you intend to take one of the numerous hikes nearby, such as up to the pinnacle of rock known as the Old Man of Storr. The harbor area is stunning and you can find excellent seafood restaurants here. The town center is perched on the cliffs above and is full of excellent pubs and shops. The tourist information center here is a useful stop off to stock up on maps and guides for your vacation on the Isle of Skye.
5. St. Ives, Cornwall, England
This fishing village looks quaint but houses one of the most impressive art collections in the United Kingdom in the Tate Gallery, St. Ives. The town’s beauty has been a magnet for modern painters and sculptors with heavyweights like Barbara Hepworth and Patrick Heron making much of their work here. We highly recommend the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden for an in-depth look at this important 20th-century artist. Be sure to sample local ales in St. Ives’ famous Sloop Inn that dates to 1312. The town’s fishing cottages and harbor make for delightful strolls and there are many quirky boutiques, craft shops, and smaller galleries dotted around the town to explore.