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The North of England and Scotland was once a place of Roman rule, Viking conquests, Saxon settlements and Celtic clans. And that’s well before we get into the Industrial Revolution and the history made by our musicians, football teams and thinkers.
The cities in the north and across Scotland are awash with history and offer plenty for tourists, visitors and locals to brush up on their knowledge of the past, but which is the most historic?
We set out to find out. By looking at cities in the region with a population of over 100,000 we analysed the amount of listed buildings, listed parks, gardens, museums, scheduled monuments, UNESCO World Heritage Sites with a 50-mile radius, historical and heritage tours, and historic sites to create our Historic City Index.
Here’s what we found out:
It’s with a trip north of the border that you’ll find the most history with Edinburgh and Glasgow taking the top two spots. Edinburgh has by far the most listed buildings, with a huge 4,871, and boasts a total of 93 museums. Glasgow isn’t too far behind in the history stakes, while York and Leeds make up the rest of our top four proving that Yorkshire really does do it best when it comes to historical cities in the North of England. The rest of the top 10 sees Liverpool, Sheffield, Newcastle upon Tyne and Manchester showcasing their historical credentials.
Top of the table sits Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh. The city is home to Gothic, medieval and neoclassical architecture, making it an essential spot for history enthusiasts. Visitors to the city will find 51 historic sites, 242 historical and heritage tours, as well as nearly 5,000 listed buildings and just shy of 100 museums. Absolute must-sees include Edinburgh Castle overlooking the city, Arthur’s Seat, Palace of Holyroodhouse and Holyrood Abbey. And when your feet are tired of walking and your camera roll is full, it’s time to relax in one of the city’s 18 listed parks and gardens.
Thought to have been founded by Saint Mungo in the 6th Century, Glasgow has a rich and varied history encompassing industry, most notably shipbuilding and marine engineering, as well as the Scottish Enlightenment. It’s no surprise then, that you’ll find around 18 historical sites, three UNESCO World Heritage Sites and 59 museums, making a historical trip to Glasgow a bucket list must. Highlights include Glasgow Cathedral, City Chambers and The Mackintosh House.
York is a historical wonder. It was founded by the Romans in 71 AD, has also experienced Viking rule, and had its first settlers as early as 8000 and 7000 BC. Really, what’s not to love for history buffs? The city itself is home to 29 major historical sites, two UNESCO World Heritage Sites and over 1600 listed buildings. Visitors to York will enjoy a walk around the ancient Roman city walls, a trip to the Shambles and of course a visit to the world famous York Minster. Dating back to medieval times, the Cathedral is home to 14th and 15th century stained glass (don’t miss the Rose Window), and elaborate tombs.
Nowadays Leeds is one of the largest and fastest growing green cities in the UK, home to 14 listed parks and gardens for visitors to enjoy some green open spaces. Sitting fourth in our list, Leeds is packed with history, originally starting out as a market town in the Middle Ages well before its growth around textiles in the Industrial Revolution. Today visitors can enjoy 59 monuments, two UNESCO World Heritage Sites and 2370 listed buildings. Not to be missed is Abbey House Museum, Kirkstall Abbey and Harewood House.
Located where the River Mersey meets the Irish Sea, Liverpool’s shores are rich in history and culture and boast an enigmatic population that’s fiercely proud of their city’s heritage. The borough of Liverpool was founded by King John in 1207 and was a major trade link from the 18th to early 20th Century. It’s also home to the most famous of Rock & Roll icons, the Beatles. History hunters simply can’t stay away from its 31 museums, three UNESCO World Heritage Sites and 29 historic sites. When you’re next in the city, pay a visit to The Cavern Club, Royal Albert Dock and Liverpool Cathedral.
Tourists heading to the streets of Sheffield can expect the Full Monty when it comes to historical attractions with the Steel City home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 1,177 listed buildings, 26 museums and 48 scheduled monuments. The Steel City moniker harks back to the Industrial Revolution and the steel industry, while Sheffield is also home to the world’s oldest football club, Sheffield FC. A third of the city lies in the Peak District National Park, making it one of the greenest cities in the UK. Top historical attractions include Sheffield’s Town Hall, and Sheffield Manor Lodge.
Newcastle’s history is entwined with the River Tyne. The Roman fort and bridge was the very first settlement here founded by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd Century AD. The city also enjoyed Norman rule, was the northern fortress in the Middle Ages, and played a central role in the coal industry. Newcastle is home to 42 scheduled monuments, three UNESCO World Heritage Sites and 27 museums, with particular historic highlights including Newcastle Castle, Newcastle Cathedral, Victoria Tunnel, and of course Hadrian’s Wall close by.
This Northern powerhouse boasts much in the way of recent regeneration and a historical past taking in everything from an influence on 80s and 90s worldwide pop culture, a major part in the Industrial Revolution and a Roman Fort in AD 79 as the first recorded settlement. Visitors these days enjoy historic sites including Manchester Cathedral, Manchester Central Library, Elizabeth Gaskell’s House and Victoria Baths, as well as 32 museums and three UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
With 37 scheduled monuments and 1336 listed buildings, it’s no surprise to see why Lancaster is so popular with visitors looking for their historical fix. The beginnings of this ancient city started with Roman forts, the Domesday Book, the Norman Conquest and the Pendle Witch Trials. Today visitors enjoy historical sites that include Lancaster Castle which was built on the site of the original Roman fort and was the location for the witch trials, as well as Lancaster Cathedral and Lancaster Town Hall.
With three UNESCO World Heritage Sites within 50 miles of the city, just under 500 listed buildings and eight listed parks and gardens, Preston is worth a visit for intrepid historical explorers. The history of the city dates back to the Romans and it was cited as the most important town in Amounderness in the 1086 Domesday Book, while the Industrial Revolution transformed Preston from a once small market town. Visitors today can take in such historical attractions as Winckley Square and Samlesbury Hall.
The port city of Kingston upon Hull is packed with history and culture, promising 18 museums and close to 500 listed buildings packed into 71 square kilometres. Hull has enjoyed a rich and varied history, having first been founded by the monks of Meaux Abbey in the 12th Century, as Wyke on Hull. Since then it’s been the location of historical battles, has served as a market town, military supply port, trading hub and fishing and whaling centre. It was also UK City of Culture in 2017. Top historical attractions include Hull Minster, The Maritime Museum, and The Streetlife Museum.
You can explore the very best of Northern England and Scotland with TransPennine Express, using our Historic City Index to delve into their unique past.