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While London, Edinburgh and other big cities throughout the United Kingdom are well worth visiting, there are lots of small towns that you’ll want to explore. When it comes to snapping postcard-perfect photos, these storybook villages are a must for your itinerary. Grab your camera and take a stroll with a long list of charms waiting to be discovered.
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The hilly Cotswold region is a designated “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty” in southwestern England, and one of its prettiest villages is Bibury. It’s famous for its fairytale good looks with River Coln dominating the main street and lush meadows backing ancient stone cottages with steep pitched roots. The most scenic area here is Arlington Row, a lane of sepia-hued cottages built in the 17th century to house weavers working at Arlington Mill. It was first mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 and still stands as it did hundreds of years ago.
Another storybook village in the Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the enchanting streets of Castle Combe are lined with homes made of Cotswold stone. A top thing to do in Wiltshire, the small town also hosts a 13th-century St Andrew’s Church with a faceless clock that’s said to be one of the country’s oldest working clocks. With its good looks and historic charm, it’s also served as the setting for multiple films, including being featured in the original “Dr. Doolittle,” “Stardust” and “War Horse.”
Bourton-on-the-Water is frequently referred to as the “Venice of the Cotswolds” as it’s dotted with little bridges that cross the River Windrush which winds through the center. It’s also home to a number of attractions like Adam Henson’s Cotswold Farm Park which offers lots of attractions for the kids, including close encounters with animals like Gloucestershire Old Spot Pigs and Highland cattle. Birdland Park & Gardens is set across nine acres of gardens and woodland, with more than 130 bird species on display, including the United Kingdom’s only breeding group for the King Penguin.
The gateway to the glens, Kirriemuir is a fairytale village in more ways than one as the birthplace of Sr JM Barrie, renowned author and creator of Peter Pan. His childhood home was transformed into a well-restored museum and visitors can enjoy the Neverland play park on Kirriemuir Hill too. Kirriemuir was also the childhood home of AC/DC’s original lead singer, rock legend Bon Scott. Many come to take a selfie next to his statue and there’s even a festival held annually to celebrate him, Bonfest, held over the first weekend in May.
Portree is the largest town on Scotland’s breathtaking Isle of Skye. Looking at it from the waters of Loch Portree or from above on the cliffs that surround it, provides some of the most magnificent views. It looks out across the loch and towards the Sound of Raasay, serving as Skye’s primary cultural center. The town has a rich history too – in 1746 it was here that Bonnie Prince Charlie took his leave of his protector Flora MacDonald as he fled the English. Visitors can also step back in time to an old Highland village a century ago at the award-winning Skye Museum of Island Life.
Sir Walter Scott once touted Kelso as the most beautiful town in Scotland. Located at the intersection of the Tweed and Teviot rivers, visitors can explore the impressive ruins of Kelso Abbey, which dates back to the 12th century. It was once an important religious center, though much of it was destroyed during the Reformation. Kelso is also home to Floors Castle, parts of which can be toured. While it’s technically a country house rather than a fortress, it has an especially commanding presence.
In Welsh, Tenby is the “little fortress of the fish.” The walled town, founded in 900 AD, was fortified after the Norman Conquest of England to hold rebels at bay and features a harbor with access to both the Irish Sea and the Atlantic. Its golden coastline is home to many of the best beaches in Britain, like Castle Beach which was named the Beach of the Year in 2019. There are multiple historic attractions like a 500-year-old Tudor House, the oldest independent museum in Wales and some well-preserved Victorian architecture. In the center there are lots of fun shops and ice cream parlors to discover.
Pembroke has a mile-long Main Street with a layout that dates back nearly a thousand years. While it has the occasional modern building, most have existed for at least two centuries. Pembroke Castle dominates and was the birthplace of Henry VII, the first Tudor king and the father of infamous Henry VIII, known for his six marriages, including one to Anne Boleyn, whom he ultimately executed. It was originally built in the late 11th century, and was rebuilt in stone 100 years later to become one of the most impressive examples of Norman stone castles in Wales. Step back into medieval times by taking a tour of the interior and then stroll the path behind it that edges swan-filled Mill Pond.
Located near the border with England at the northern tip of the Black Mountain, this incredibly cute storybook village was recognized as the United Kingdom’s first book town, with its economy primarily built on secondhand bookshops. There are around 20 book stores, from specialized retailers to broader ranging shops, yet the year-round population is just 1,500. In early June every year when Hay-on-Wye hosts the Hay literary festival, that number explodes to as many as a quarter of a million. The event began over three decades ago, featuring live performances and a wide range of tasty food offerings.
A picturesque gem along the Causeway coastal route, Ballintoy is mostly known to “Game of Thrones” fans with its little fishing harbor often spotlighted in the former HBO series as the Port of Pike. It features rock formations that form tide pools along with colorful moss in a brilliant array of greens, golds and even fiery reds that create a striking contrast against the turquoise water. You’ll also find a charming stone café onsite that serves homemade fare, with especially delicious desserts and scones.