United Kingdom

8 of the best UK cities to visit in 2023

Photo of Cathy ToogoodPhoto of Cathy Toogood
By Cathy Toogood

2 June 20237 min read

View of the two-towered Tower Bridge spanning the Thames in London with boat tours running in the river

The UK has an exciting choice of cities to visit, with world-famous cultural attractions, top-notch places to eat and drink, and happening events calendars. And, its cities have been in the spotlight in 2023 with big events, such as the Eurovision Song Contest and the Coronation of the King, being streamed worldwide.

To help you decide where to go next, we’ve rounded up the best UK city breaks for 2023, from creative northern powerhouses and UNESCO Cities of Music to a beautiful Scottish city with walking opportunities galore.

1. Liverpool

Northern city Liverpool has enjoyed worldwide attention in 2023 as it hosted the Eurovision Song Contest on behalf of Ukraine. And it has plenty up its sleeve for visitors, whether you want to explore the Royal Albert Dock, with a stop in Tate Liverpool to see the displays as part of the Liverpool Biennial (from June 10 until September 17), or dance until dawn in one of the city’s lively music venues and clubs. First timers should also take a ferry across the River Mersey to see the city from the water.

Home of The Beatles, and a UNESCO City of Music, on a visit to Liverpool, you can also immerse yourself in the city’s happening music scene. Watch a live gig at the Cavern Club where the Beatles made their debut (the venue has been rebuilt using the original bricks), enjoy a concert in the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall or head to one of the hip music venues on Bold Street.

2. Leeds

Jazz performances, opera, adult roller discos, new public artworks and more are taking over Leeds in 2023 – all part of its year-long celebration of culture in the city. It adds to an already impressive line-up of long-standing cultural institutions, such as The Tetley contemporary art gallery, Stanley & Audrey Burton Theatre, which is home of the Northern Ballet, and Yorkshire Sculpture Park, around 30km (about 18.5 miles) south of the city.

Leeds is also known as the ‘Foodie Capital of the North’ thanks to its independent food scene, street food, excellent vegetarian choices and upmarket options such as Michelin-starred The Man Behind the Curtain. For a laidback meal, head to northern favourite, Bundobust, where you can tuck into Indian street food.

3. Edinburgh

Edinburgh was declared the best city in the world in last year’s Time Out Index. Time Out said that “year round, the Scottish capital is hard to beat” with 95% of its residents saying that the city was beautiful and 93% deeming it walkable.

Highlights on a visit are Edinburgh Castle, the Honours of Scotland (the oldest crown jewels in the UK) and the Scotch Whisky Experience. You can also easily spend a day wandering around the National Museum of Scotland, where can ogle at a giant T-rex skeleton cast, learn how the life of Scots has changed through the centuries, and launch a hot air balloon with the kids in the Explore gallery.

There are also plenty of fantastic walks here. Stroll down the Water of Leith, rewarding yourself with a Michelin-starred meal at Restaurant Martin Wishart at the end, hike up extinct volcano Arthur’s Seat for views over the city, or surround yourself with greenery on a wander around the Royal Botanic Garden.

4. York

York topped a Which? poll of the UK’s best city break destinations in 2023 thanks to its cultural attractions and eating out options. This handsome, historic city has lots to take in, whether you’d like to learn more about Viking life in the Jorvik Viking Centre, explore its city walls (which are the longest medieval town walls in England), or learn about all things chocolate on the York Chocolate Trail.

While the city has a rich history, it’s certainly not stuck in the past and you’ll have plenty of choice of independent bars, restaurants and hotels to relax in after a busy day sightseeing.

For a fantastic view of York Minster, head to the seventh-floor Asian fusion tapas and cocktail bar, Sora, in Malmaison York. Expect to see diners lining up on its terrace to get the perfect shot of the gothic cathedral.

5. London

No list of the UK’s best cities would be complete without London, and in 2023, it topped the Europe’s Best Cities list by Resonance Consultancy, which called it the “capital of capitals”.

World-famous attractions, a huge array of shops, and food and drink for all tastes and budgets are there to keep you busy on a trip to London. And while it’s easy to splash the cash on luxuries galore, there are tons of free attractions and things to do. Visit the British Museum to discover two million years of human history and culture; Richmond Park to meet its resident deer; and the Natural History Museum, where you’ll find a Patagotitan mayorum on display in a new exhibition – it’s one of the largest known creatures to have walked on earth.

Consider staying centrally in areas such as Covent Garden or the West End if you’d like to look around the city’s big landmarks. Bloomsbury has some good budget choices or stay south of the river in Greenwich to be close to Greenwich Park and the Royal Observatory Greenwich and still have good transport links to Central London.

6. Belfast

According to members of Which?, Belfast is the place to visit for a laidback UK city break this year – it was the only large city to score five stars for its lack of crowds. But fewer crowds don’t mean Belfast is lacking in things to do. Visit Titanic Belfast to see the story of the ‘unsinkable ship’ come to life, learn about its troubled past on a tour of its Peace Walls, and stroll through its lush Botanic Gardens to stop at the Ulster Museum, which is hosting a fashion photography exhibition from the National Portrait Gallery until September 30, 2023.

As a UNESCO City of Music, there’s a rich music scene in Belfast to discover, whether you’d like to tap along to a trad band in a cosy pub, watch a performance by the Ulster Orchestra or see a gig by a big band at the SSE Arena. Then, bed down for the night at one of Belfast’s coolest places to stay, the Titanic Hotel, which is in the building where the ship was designed, the Harland & Wolff Headquarters and Drawing Offices.

7. Manchester

Manchester was the only city in the UK to be featured in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2023 round-up, listed alongside New Mexico in the USA and El Salvador as one of the best places to learn. It’s all thanks to a number of exciting openings in the city this year, such as the Factory International arts space, the re-opened Manchester Museum after a £15 million transformation and the new ‘garden in the sky’, Castlefield Viaduct, which opened in 2022.

And it’s not just the attractions – you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to eating out in Manchester, whether you’re seeking top-notch seasonal dishes and natural wine in newcomer Higher Ground, Michelin-starred tasting menus in mana or small plates you’ll struggle to share in Another Hand. The hotel scene is booming too with upcoming openings in 2023 including Treehouse Manchester and Mollies Diner in partnership with Soho House.

8. Birmingham

Time Out named Birmingham as the second-best place to visit in the UK in 2023 – and its top city, saying it has “long been bubbling away as the UK’s most underrated food destination”. For a memorable meal with a view, head to newbie Orelle, a modern French restaurant on the 24th floor of 103 Colmore Row, or for a brilliant brunch to set you up for a day exploring, try Medicine Bakery.

The city will mark one year since hosting the Commonwealth Games this year with the free Birmingham Festival 23 from July 28 until August 6, which will showcase the city’s cultural offerings. The Library of Birmingham is also celebrating ten years since opening in 2023 and is well worth a visit – head to its Secret Garden terrace on the seventh floor for views over the city.

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