From the prehistoric builders of Stonehenge and Avebury to the cutting-edge architects of modern London, Britain has a rich architectural heritage. Visitors to some British cities can see a thousand years of architecture in an afternoon. Even with all the beautiful buildings in the UK, there are a few that stand out above the rest. This guide briefly covers a few of the most beautiful buildings in all of Great Britain.
It's easy to see why a 2011 poll in the Guardian voted Durham Cathedral Britain's most beautiful building. Work began in the late 11th century and the cathedral sits atop Durham's central hill, visible for miles over the roofs of the city. At night, its towers are lit by floodlights, making it even more spectacular and imposing. Both the interior and exterior combine a breathtaking sense of scale with delicate ornament. As an added bonus, the cathedral green also offers views of Durham Castle and of historic Durham University buildings.
Houses of Parliament
Also known as the Palace of Westminster, the Houses of Parliament are the set of Britain's government. The current building replaced an older medieval structure which burned down in 1834. Built between 1840 and 1870 to the designs of architects Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin, the structure is a striking revival of the 14th-century Perpendicular Gothic style. By using this distinctively English style, Barry and Pugin produced both a unique building and a strong statement of national identity. The most famous feature of this building is its clock tower, often called Big Ben after its largest bell; it is one of London's best-loved landmarks.
The ruins of Melrose Abbey, a Cistercian monastery founded in the 12th century and disestablished in the late 16th and early 17th, are widely considered to be one of Scotland's most beautiful sights. This elegant 14th-century Gothic building is decorated with innumerable stone carvings, including a famous sculpture of a pig playing the bagpipes. Painters such as J.M.W. Turner have drawn inspiration from the site's beauty. Today, the monastery stands in ruins, although a small museum houses medieval artefacts found at the site.
Built by Edward I to be the centre of English government in North Wales, Caernarfon Castle dates from 1283. To emphasise its role and to draw connections with Caernarfon's Roman history, Edward's architects built the castle on a monumental scale which echoes elements of Roman architecture. Even today, the walls of the castle tower over the town and give a particularly impressive view from across the River Seiont. Edward I's Welsh castles are considered to be among the finest examples of the castle-builder's art in the world, and Caernarfon is a particularly impressive member of this group.
The Georgian period produced buildings of unparalleled harmony and elegance, nowhere more so than Bath. Throughout the Georgian and Regency periods, Bath was a popular resort for the wealthy, and this boom in tourism gave rise to new construction of hotels and residences. Royal Crescent, built between 1767 and 1774, is a residential street with a beautiful Georgian facade. The facade is largely unchanged since the 18th century. The Crescent faces the green space of Royal Victoria Park, fulfilling the Georgian ambition of uniting buildings and open spaces.
The Tate Modern gallery, housed in the former Bankside power station, is one of Britain's best-known modern buildings. Although the interior has been extensively renovated, the exterior, built according to the designs of architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, remains much the same as it did when the power station began operation in 1952. The two-storey lightbox which crowns the power station's chimney is a new addition, added to the design by architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron. The Tate Modern preserves and modernises the stark, iconic appeal of a classic London building.
Northern Ireland Assembly, Stormont
Built between 1922 and 1932, Belfast's Parliament Buildings originally housed the region's parliament; today it is home to the Northern Ireland Assembly. The original plans for the building were much more extravagant than the elegant but restrained classical design seen today, but budgets cuts during the economic downturn of the 1920s caused the simple design to be used instead. The Parliament Buildings, often simply called "Stormont" because of their location in Belfast's Stormont area, enjoy a magnificent view from their position at the top of a gentle slope overlooking the city.
- The Guardian: The Votes Are In - Your Favourite British Building
- The Wall Street Journal: A Victorian Novel in Stone
- Historic Scotland: Melrose Abbey
- Cadw: Caernarfon Castle
- Visit Bath: The Royal Crescent
- Blueprint Magazine: Best British Buildings of the 21st Century IX - Tate Modern
- Discover Northern Ireland: Parliament Buildings