We’re a country of culture, and many of us spend our weekends off touring the country for its hidden historical gems. But what really is the best historical landmark in the UK to visit? I decided it was time to find out.
But what criteria do we need to make our choice? Firstly, its historical value and how recognised it is, the second is value for money, the third its impact and the fourth, the one I think is most important, is its uniqueness. It’s this fourth criteria that brings up some landmarks you might not have thought of visiting before. I did some googling (an invention of the Gods) and decided between three of the most popular UK landmarks by visitors numbers (Tower of London, Windsor Castle and the Roman Baths) and three of my own more unusual additions (Hampton Court, Shakespeare’s House and the Southampton Docks). This does exclude other obvious choices, like Buckingham Palace or Stonehenge, but I’m sure they’ll get over it.
Lets start with price. Those enthused by the Southampton Docks will be happy to know this attraction is free. The Roman Baths come in at £13.25. The Tower of London (picture above), while the most expensive, is surprisingly cheap – given its standing and location – at £19.50, with Hampton Court just behind with £17.10. Shakespeare’s house, made up of six small attractions based in Stratford-Upon Avon. comes in surprisingly expensive at £19.12, while Windsor finishes the set at £18.20 (all prices for an adult ticket).
What about historical value, attention to detail and impact? The winner here has to be the Tower of London which stands as a memory of heritage spanning 1,000 years as it played a crucial role as a prison in the Early Modern World, housing the likes of Anne Boleyn, Thomas Cromwell and Thomas More, before then playing a significant role in the English Civil War. It now takes on an even bigger role, housing the Crown jewels: the biggest display of monarchical authority. Hampton Court and Southampton Docks also do well, both with a great heritage to expose, though the impact of the docks is recognisably lower as its attuned more to the key eye without the overriding spectacle, and Hampton Court (picture below) can be guilty of trading accuracy for entertainment.
The Roman Baths are interesting – especially from the artistic perspective as they display the classical and Renaissance motifs – though I would not say they are rich beyond that (though for keen artists this is enough). Windsor Castle is surprisingly unimpressive; as a location it deserves great recognition but when I visited it felt all a little constructed and historically unimportant. To the academic historian it has a lot to offer, but not the casual one.
On the grounds of quirkiness, though, Shakespeare’s House stands out as there is nothing like it and gives you a real insight into the era of Tudor and Stuart England, though its accuracy is certainly questionable. Windsor Castle equally has little uniqueness to offer, especially pitted against Hampton Court’s maze and gardens and the Tower of London’s raven and jewel spectacle. The Docks are also certainly individual, though I’ll leave you to figure if this is in a good way.
So, lets count down…
6th – Windsor Castle. It seems might not be all its cracked up to be. Despite the hype it’s not of the greatest historical value, is not that unique and is just like any other ordinary castle by its interior. The difference is that the Queen lives there so people see it as a sign of respect to the monarchy, and has an immediate, if ambiguous, impact for this reason. A nice day out but certainly not the best.
5th – Southampton Docks. I imagine many would say that the ruins and dockyard have done well to make the top six, but their individuality is a major selling point. The ruins are cleverly integrated into the town centre and sustains the areas cultural heritage. I can’t see them becoming a major attraction any time soon but value is not always in popularity and commercial opportunity.
4th – Roman Baths. We seem to love classical and Renaissance influences in art, and this is the best place to experience them first-hand and get a real idea of the spectacle of the Roman world. Admittedly, its downfall is that it doesn’t have as much to offer, and may not be worth the whole day out devoted to it.
3rd – Shakespeare’s House. This is high on the list just because it’s so unique – in terms of an enclosed, rich historical value it has so much to offer. Its impact, and value for money, are not brilliant but its quirkiness easily outshines.
2nd – Hampton Court. Now, I haven’t put this so high simply because of my love of Tudor history, but rather because it offers an incredible experience and emerges you, in a fun and exciting way, into our heritage. While of great historical significance, it also encourages an appreciation of rarity and splendour as it’s adapted to not only entice but educate. Its only disadvantage is that it can be very busy (Is that a curse?) and at times historical accuracy in its representation is lagging. Still, at a very affordable price, it is one of the best landmarks of our British past.
1st – Tower of London. Without a doubt, the best historical landmark this country has to offer. Its heritage is so rich and spanning such a wide range of periods. In the same day, you can experience a sense of the Medieval, Tudor and Modern-day monarchy in a real celebration of the value of kingship, all alongside the Crown Jewels and dramatic realisations. It’s the perfect historical day out!
So I’m off to the Tower. See you there!