Top 30 UK Bucket List Ideas for South African Travellers

If you’re planning a visit to the United Kingdom and seeking guidance around the best places to see and the best things to do, look no further.  In no particular order, we’ve compiled our top 30 UK bucket list ideas.

1. Do a Walking Tour of Oxford

Mired in hundreds of years of history and education, Oxford is one of the world’s original university towns.  Boasting exceptional architecture and quaint bookshops, make a point of signing up for one of the free walking tours of the city, which can often be led by a former or current Oxford student.  You’ll hear about famous martyrs and a time when ordinary folk hated students enough to try and murder them.  Curious yet?  Just don’t forget to tip your tour guide.

Radcliffe Camera, Oxford

2. Visit the Crown Jewels

The crown jewels at the Tower of London (c) OSU.edu
Tower of London at sunset, England

The Crown Jewels are a collection of historic ceremonial objects worn by British royalty during the coronation ceremony. However, the collection generally includes more than 100 other historic objects, including crowns, swords, rings, dish-ware and royal robes. Most of the items were last used at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, but several are also used today for royal christenings and state openings of parliament.

The Crown Jewels are heavily guarded at The Tower of London, but both are well worth a visit during your trip to the UK.  While they keep the Queen’s most valuable jewellery and crowns under lock and key here, the Tower of London is infamous for its executions and housing many a dangerous prisoner.  

Bookend your Crown Jewels experience by exploring 1000 years of history at London’s iconic castle, where you can also take a legendary Yeoman Warder tour and meet the famous ravens, otherwise known as the guardians of the Tower.

3. Ogle Famous Paintings at The National Gallery

The entrance to The National Gallery on Trafalgar Square in London
Sunflowers by van Gogh

Home to many of The Masters, entrance to The National Gallery is free to the public. 

Give yourself at least three hours to meander through the maze of rooms displaying plenty of celebrated artworks, including works by famous Dutch, Italian and French painters including Vermeer, Monet, Rembrandt, Botticelli, da Vinci and van Gogh.

4. Attend a Free Classical Concert at Trafalgar Square

Violinists at a classical music concert

Located to one side of The National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, St Martin in the Fields continues its age-old tradition of hosting free classical music concerts for the public inside the church.  Usually starting at 1pm and lasting about 45 minutes to an hour each, there’s no need to book seats for these performances.  

Visitors can simply check the website to find out which musicians will be performing which pieces in a given week.

5. Stand in Awe of Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

Coronations, royal weddings, kings, queens, statesmen and soldiers; poets, heroes and villains – history happens here and it’s all waiting to be discovered by you!  Benedictine monks founded Westminster Abbey in 960AD, but to this day the Abbey still operates as a fully functioning church. 

Whether you attend a prayer or communion service or take a tour, visit the museum or just admire the general splendour, we’re pretty sure many future historic events will be linked to this iconic church.

6. Visit Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace

Overlooking St James’s Park, taking a turn past Buckingham Palace is a vital thing to do for anyone visiting London.  With 775 rooms, 52 royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 78 bathrooms and 19 state rooms, the more than 800 staff members certainly have their work cut out for them looking after Queen Elizabeth II, the royal family and their guests. 

Time your visit right and you can even book tickets to see the State Rooms, which are open for ten weeks in the summer.

7. Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

Sunset at Giant s Causeway in North Antrim, Northern Ireland

The Giant’s Causeway is found off the coast of Antrim and made from 40,000 basalt columns.  

In spite of scientists’ linking the rocks to volcanic eruptions, the site carries powerful mythological meaning.  Legend says the columns were constructed so that Irish and Scottish giants could meet and fight.  Famous for its high cliffs and fascinating history, this is a captivating place to visit.

8. Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace is a royal palace in the borough of Richmond upon Thames, 12 miles south west and upstream of central London on the River Thames. Hampton Court was Henry VIII’s favourite summer residence, epitomising Tudor fashion and style.

The palace boasts the largest surviving 16th century kitchens in the world and a large garden maze and is well worth a visit!

9. Big Ben & the Houses of Parliament

Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament

One of the icons of London, Big Ben is a tourist favourite. 

Unfortunately, it is currently under construction and will be for the next few years, leaving all but one of the faces of London’s most iconic clock clad in scaffolding.  The good news is that the Elizabeth Tower (Big Ben’s official name) is connected to the Houses of Parliament, where you can book yourself on a tour, watch a debate and get an up close and personal experience of British politics.

10. Walking in the Lake District

Keswick Lake District

If you fell in love with England while watching Pride and Prejudice (the one starring Keira Knightley, not the original BBC series), you probably were seduced by the epic landscapes of the Lake District. 

Remarkable landscapes, including England’s highest peak (Scafell Pike), can be enjoyed while walking miles and miles of public footpaths.

11. The Thames Path, England

The Thames Path runs alongside the River Thames for 296 kilometres from its source in The Cotswolds, down to the sea – passing through Oxford, Abingdon, The Chilterns, Henley, Marlowe, Staines and London along the way.  Thanks to mostly flat terrain and scenic vistas, it’s one of the UK’s most appealing long-distance paths.  You can walk the whole of the path, which takes about two weeks, or you can break it down into as many day-long segments as you can manage. 

Walking the Oxford to London section takes about a week-and-a-half with plenty of camping spots, B&Bs and quaint English pubs for you to rest at along the way.

12. Swimming in the Fairy Pools on the Isle of Skye

Fairy Pools, Scotland

The Isle of Skye has many beautiful sights, but the fairy pools are worth a special visit. Situated near Carbost, visitors can walk 2.4km from Glenbrittle to the collection of natural pools, which are connected by small waterfalls.  You can venture a swim, but make sure you have a wetsuit to survive the freezing cold water!

13. Seeing Canterbury Cathedral

Most famous for being the subject of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Middle Ages’ literary writings, The Canterbury Tales, this small British city is full of history, intrigue and quaint spots and it is perfect for a weekend getaway or day trip from London.

Besides the beautiful cathedral, Canterbury’s outstanding architecture, ancient pubs and markets are the heart of the city.

14. Watching one of Shakespeare’s Plays at the Globe Theatre

Shakespeare’s Globe houses a reconstruction of the Globe Theatre, an Elizabethan playhouse associated with William Shakespeare, on the south bank of the River Thames in London. 

It’s one of the only playhouses with coveted standing room tickets – think big concert Golden Circle views at backrow prices – but there are several stories of seating for those who prefer a seated theatre experience.  If you have any appreciation for Shakespearean productions, it’s a must!

15. Snowdonia, Wales

Snowdonia is a national park in Wales, with a view from the summit that has been voted as the best view in the UK.  While it attracts loads of hikers, people who visit the region also enjoy cycling, canoeing and fishing, with photography and painting not far behind!  If you’re an outdoorsy type who comes alive in nature, Snowdonia should be high up on your list.

16. Tanning on Porthcurno Beach

Spending the day in Cornwall at Porthcurno Beach is a day well spent. 

Porthcurno Beach is an award-winning beach about 3 miles east of Land’s End on the south coast of West Cornwall. 

A popular family beach, there is a stream at the top ideal for children wanting to paddle, while the steep shelves are more suitable for more experienced swimmers.  Its fine white sand and clear turquoise waters make it a picture-perfect beach for loads of holiday pics.

17. Go to Stonehenge

Stonehenge

Ancient burial ground or religious artefact?  Stonehenge is the best-known prehistoric monument in Europe and has become a place of significance for enthusiasts of the New Age and Neo-druid movements. 

Refresh your knowledge of Neolith and Bronze Age history with a tour of the famous stones and a visit to the 5,500-year-old man.

18. Cairngorms, Scotland

The Cairngorms are a mountain range in the Highlands of Scotland, which form part of the Grampians mountain range. Local skiers often travel to Lecht and Glenshee for their deep and powdery snow.  The outstanding scenery and challenging terrain make the Cairngorms a skier’s dream destination, without the usual crowds or high prices associated with famous ski resorts.

19. Fingal’s Cave, Isle of Staffa

Fingal’s Cave is a sea cave located on the isolated volcanic Isle of Staffa, south-west of the Isle of Ulva. 

The cave is naturally formed from angular columns that create musical acoustics from the waves and was known to the Celts as ‘The Cave of Melody’. 

Weather permitting, boats can enter the cave that has inspired everyone from Queen Victoria to Pink Floyd.

20. Madame Tussauds

Britain’s Prince Harry and his fiancee Meghan Markle are on display as wax figures at Madame Tussauds in London (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

While you’re in the City of Westminster, be sure to pop by Madame Tussauds – the famous museum chain for life-size wax replicas of famous celebrities and historic icons, usually arranged in themed galleries. 

You’ll be able to get up close and personal with (replicas of) your most adored celebrities and royals. 

If you have a weak stomach, just don’t research the beginnings of this quirky museum…

21. Take in a play at the RSC in Stratford Upon Avon

The birthplace of Shakespeare and a picturesque village, it’s no surprise that Stratford-Upon-Avon finds its way onto many a tourist’s list of things to do in the UK. 

For a quintessential English experience, book yourself a ticket for a play at the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). 

The theatre stages plays from a number of playwrights including some of the favourites of the British stage.  Book in advance if you can, otherwise it’s worth trying the box office for tickets on the day.

22. Drive through The Dark Hedges

The Dark Hedges, Northern Ireland

The Dark Hedges is a 200-year-old beech tree tunnel, situated in Ballymoney, Northern Ireland.  Originally planted in the 1700s by the Stuart Family, the trees were designed to impress visitors on the route up to the mansion. They have become one of the most photographed natural phenomena in the UK.  

The Dark Hedges are one of the many Northern Irish spots that feature in the famous Game of Thrones TV series (it’s the setting for The King’s Road).  

23. Road Trip on the North Coast 500

The North Coast 500 is a route over 800 kilometres long (the distance from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth) that follows the main roads of the coastal edges of the Northern Highlands and takes you through villages and towns such as Ullapool, Durness, John O’Groats, Dornoch and Inverness. 

From out-of-the-way beaches to historic lochs, castles to wildlife, and mountains to artisan distilleries, it’s pretty obvious why the NC500 is known as one of the ultimate coastal road trips in the world. 

24. Book a Tour of Wimbledon

The Wimbledon Championships © Allstar Picture Library/Alamy Live News

England is a tennis-loving nation, which makes it no surprise that they host the top tennis tournament in the world every year – Wimbledon. 

Go behind the scenes at the All England Lawn Tennis Club:  the world’s most famous tennis club and home of The Championships – where you can get up close to The Championships Trophies, see John McEnroe’s ghost, and learn about the history, traditions and legends of the game.  

The grounds tour provides an unforgettable experience, allowing guests to walk through the same doors as the players, sit in their seats in the Media Centre, and learn what it takes to grow a perfect grass tennis court.  Where do we sign up? 

25. “Zone” out in Greenwich

If you’re looking for a fun, free activity in London, have the ‘time’ of your life and snap a selfie with one foot on either side of the Prime Meridian in Greenwich – the reference point for Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) since 1884.

26. Visit Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle

The inspiration behind the Pussey Cat, Pussey Cat nursery rhyme, Windsor Castle was the venue for the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.  It is notable for its long association with the English and later British royal family and for its architecture.

The original castle was built in the 11th century after the Norman invasion of England by William the Conqueror.

27. Jane Austen Festival, Bath

Attendees of the Jane Austen Festival dressed in their period costumes

If you’re a fan of the late, great British authoress you won’t want to miss the annual Jane Austen Festival in Bath during the month of September. 

Whether you visit the Jane Austen Centre or attend the Regency Masked Ball – in your own costume, of course – you’ll find plenty of opportunities to immerse yourself in her literary world, come to life! 

28. Kew Gardens

Palm House in Kew Gardens

One of the UK’s most famous natural attractions, Kew Gardens is a botanical garden in southwest London that houses the “largest and most diverse botanical and mycological collections in the world”. 

With several attractions to visit with the gardens, you can even escape to a rainforest climate inside the iconic Palm House and discover which plants coffee, rubber and chocolate come from.

29. Oxford Street

Oxford Street, London

Oxford Street is widely considered Europe’s busiest shopping street. With 300 shops, it receives well over 500,000 visitors every day. 

With so many exciting shops in close proximity you can shop ‘til you drop in designer stores and world-famous department stores like Debenhams and House of Fraser. A seasonal highlight occurs around Christmas, when the Oxford Street Christmas lights are switched on to light up your shopping experience and add some magic to the evenings.

30. Portmeirion, North Wales

Portmeirion is a picturesque village in Gwynedd, North Wales. It was designed and built between 1972 and 1975, intended to resemble an Italian village. 

With vistas of the Irish Sea, Portmeirion is perfect for family holidays and offers plenty of hotels, cafes and shops for its visitors. 

The abundance of flowers, palms and Italian-inspired buildings make Portmeirion a welcome addition to our bucket list.

Let us help you make your bucket list a reality: our experienced consultants can take care of all the details of applying for your tourist visa! Whether you need it chop-chop or you have some time to spare, our team will ensure you get what you need, when you need it. Get in touch now.

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