Britain is the island where the industrial revolution happened first and one of the consequences of that massive explosion of power and wealth was the creation of the world’s first modern cities. Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Southampton and London were and have been hotbeds of industrial and artistic endeavour for hundreds and in some cases, thousands of years.
The Romans knew how to pick the location for a city: many of their towns are now the major ports and cities of Britain. While they never made it to Wales or Scotland for any reasonable amount of time, the Romans certainly left their mark on England. The city of York was known as Eboracum and was a major trading hub from then until now. York retains its medieval city centre and was voted the most picturesque city in Europe, and once in the world. Definitely to go on the list.
Other Roman cities include Leeds (Leodis), London (Londinium), Newcastle (Pons Aelius) and Manchester (Mamucium).
The first industrial city in the world, Manchester is and was one of the great powerhouses of Northern England. The huge wealth accumulated here during the 18th and 19th centuries produced amazing architecture, parks and places to visit. There are art galleries (Lowry painted Manchester and captures its character beautifully), music venues and shops galore.
The wealth of Manchester came from the cloth trade but it has now got a vibrant science and technology scene. This is where the electron and nuclear fission were discovered, as well as the modern creation of graphene. A buzzing nightlife with loads of live music (remember the Hacienda and Madchester?), great food from the large and varied immigrant population and excellent transport links make it one of the great cities of Britain.
Built largely on the export of coal, the import of sugar and the trading of slaves, Newcastle has a unique place in British and world history. The Tyne Bridge is particularly impressive, as is The Castle. There’s loads for kids to do in Newcastle, with the Beamish Museum, and parks and shops all located not far from each other. The locals are called Geordies and are a fun bunch, with wicked senses of humour.
Another centre of the industrial revolution, Birmingham has continued to grow and remains a major industrial hub, as well as being Britain’s second city. Famed for the silver work of the cities artisans and the Cadbury’s chocolate that started life here, Birmingham hosts a vast range of activities, jobs and sights. The largest fountains in Europe are in the crowded city centre, where you can find food from every corner of the world, shopping for nearly anything and astounding architecture. Known as Brummies and having a distinctive local accent, the locals are good company.
One of the fastest growing cities in England, Leeds is second only to London for the quality of its shopping. The centre is compact, with everything no more than 10 minutes’ walk away. The Corn Exchange is a marvel of Victorian engineering, the nightlife is buzzing and Leeds boasts one of the best music scenes in Britain. Drive for 20 minutes north and you’re in the Yorkshire Dales, Leeds gives you a wonderful mix of vibrancy and access to nature.
At once the national capital of Scotland and the cultural one (though Glaswegians would have something to say about that!), Edinburgh is an ancient city nestled in a long-dormant volcano caldera. Edinburgh castle has stood for a thousand years in the centre, commanding amazing views over the city and its surrounds. Not to be missed are the Tattoo and the toch-lit parades. Edinburgh has an amazing amount of culture packed into a relatively small place and is regarded as one of Britain’s most romantic cities. The locals are absolutely hysterically funny and always up for fun.
Once the shipbuilding capital of the world, Glasgow now offers incredible food, technology, culture and the best comedy clubs anywhere on this pretty globe. Unique and unforgettable, Glasgow and the Glaswegians leave an indelible mark on the mind with the contrasts and energy of the city. Plain spoken and generous, Glaswegians are amongst the best company in Britain.
One of the wold capitals, London’s reputation precedes it. A city of 8 million people and one of the highest proportions of foreign-born citizens of anywhere on Earth, it is one of the true cultural capitals and an incredibly exciting place to visit. Free museums, huge parks, a massive variety of food, an unbeatable nightlife and a music scene that puts all others to shame, it’s hard to understate the attractiveness of the city.
Quiet corners like Greenwich (see the meridian line and the observatory) and Kew Gardens (possibly the world’s greatest collection of plants) give Londoners a chance to escape the mad buzz of the city. It’s one of the greenest cities on Earth and offers something to everyone, no matter their age, background or nationality. Crowded, polluted and insanely busy, it can be best experienced in short bursts as it can be overwhelming and exhausting to those not used to it. But if you can catch a bit of that buzz, you’re in for an amazing time.
As the diarist Samuel Johnson said: a man who is tired of London is tired of life.