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Tower of London, UK
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9 stunning World Heritage Sites in and near London

From Norman architecture to sacred sites over 5,000 years old, there are loads of amazing World Heritage Sites in England. Here are the ones within day-tripping distance of London

By Lucy Lovell
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The UK is peppered with stunning Unesco World Heritage Sites, and London is no exception. In and around the capital are landmarks of extraordinary beauty and historical significance, which have been recognised and protected by the United Nations.

There are 31 sites alone in the UK, but let’s not get bogged down with all of them; here we’re just interested in those that are easy(ish) to reach from central London. From exemplary Norman architecture to sacred sites over 5,000 years old, here are nine World Heritage Sites you can visit within three hours of London. 

RECOMMENDED: The best day trips from London

Unesco World Heritage Sites near London

Kew Gardens, Temperate House
Kew Gardens, Temperate House
Photograph: elRoce/Shutterstock.com

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Attractions Parks and gardens Kew

More than just a picturesque place to prance about and Instagram flora, Kew is one of the world’s leading botanical research centres. Since its conception in the eighteenth century, Kew has shared its findings with scholars across the globe. Its architecture has been preserved, too, with nearly all of the buildings still used for their original purposes (with the exception of the Orangery, which is now a restaurant). No wonder Unesco thinks that Kew is pretty bloomin’ marvellous.

The Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey

Attractions Parliament and civic buildings Westminster

Gunpowder plots, devastating fires, two world wars and Brexit: the Palace of Westminster has seen it all. It’s a wonder that it hasn’t given up and imploded. It hasn’t, of course, and it gets top points from Unesco for containing an exceptional example of neo-Gothic architecture in the Houses of Parliament, while the Church of St Margaret and Westminster Abbey have huge historic importance. It’s also home to our pal Big Ben, which – yawn, excuse the bellsplaining – actually is the name of the bell, not the tower.

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Tower of London

Attractions Historic buildings and sites Tower Hill

The Tower of London is well known as a tourist attraction, but maybe less well known as a Unesco World Heritage Site. Look beyond the crown of Queen Victoria and the prodigious codpiece of King Henry VIII, and you’ll find an outstanding example of Norman architecture and the most complete survival of a late eleventh-century fortress palace in Europe. Much of the work of Henry III and Edward I, whose additions made the Tower into a model example of a concentric medieval fortress in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, can be found here. 

Maritime Greenwich

Museums Military and maritime Greenwich

Props to architects Inigo Jones (1573-1652) and Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723), who pretty much smashed it with the elegant symmetry of the Queen’s House and the Royal Observatory, respectively. The National Maritime Museum’s London gallery – a permanent exhibition exploring the importance of the capital's seafaring heritage and its impact on world trade – also helped to win over the fine folk of Unesco. 

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Canterbury World heritage site
Canterbury World heritage site

Canterbury Cathedral, St Augustine’s Abbey, and St Martin’s Church

Name a better trio than the Unesco-protected buildings in Canterbury... we’ll wait. They’re made up of St Martin’s Church, the oldest parish church in continuous use; the atmospheric ruins of St Augustine’s Abbey; and the breathtaking Canterbury Cathedral, whose gothic towers and beautiful stained-glass windows have survived fire, the Restoration and over 1,000 years of daily use. 

Canterbury, Kent. Get there: around one hour 30 minutes by car. Find out more here

Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Palace

Last time we checked, not even Kanye had a backyard like this. Designed by Sir John Vanbrugh, the scale and grandeur of Blenheim Palace were fully intended as a testament to the power of the First Duke of Marlborough’s family. In the grounds today you can still take a stroll to the 134-feet-high Column of Victory, with a statue of the First Duke depicted as a Roman general on the top of it. Subtle.

Woodstock, Oxfordshire. Get there: around one hour 40 mins by car. Find out more here

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Stonehenge
Stonehenge

Stonehenge

Stonehenge: older than the Great Pyramids, and still largely a mystery. Was it a Druidic site of worship? A place of pilgrimage? Or just a hip neolithic hangout with ye olde DJs? Okay, maybe not. Whatever it was, now it’s a World Heritage Site, putting the mega into megalith for more than 5,000 years. 

Salisbury, Wiltshire. Get there: around two hours by car. Find out more here.

Bath, England
Bath, England

Bath

The ENTIRE city of Bath – yep, Unesco went big on this one – is a protected World Heritage Site. It’s mainly down to the Roman and Georgian architecture of the city. It was the Romans who discovered its hot springs, and the Georgians who took a shine to the famous golden limestone, which they liberally used to construct elaborate and elegant buildings, including the Circus (a circular street of large townhouses), the Assembly Rooms (where you'll find the Fashion Museum) and the Pump Rooms.

Bath, Somerset. Get there: around two hours 45 mins by car.

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Jurassic Coast
Jurassic Coast

The Dorset and East Devon coast

The spectacular Jurassic Coast was designated England’s first natural World Heritage Site by Unesco in 2001. It joins the same prestigious family as America’s Grand Canyon and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The unique rock formations here reflect 185 million years of the earth’s history, and stunning coastal features – such as Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove – make it the perfect place to put on your walking boots and take a seaside hike.

The Jurassic Coast runs from Exmouth in Devon to Studland in Dorset. Get there: around three hours by car. Find out more here

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