30 of the Best Cathedrals to Visit in the UK
From the towering spires of Oxford to the stained-glass windows of Canterbury, the UK is home to some of the most architecturally impressive and awe-inspiring cathedrals in the world. We've compiled a guide to the best cathedrals to visit in the UK, as well as which campsites you can pitch your unit at nearby.
What is the difference between a church, a chapel and a cathedral?
This question is one that many people have asked, but few know the answer.
- Simply put, a church is a place of worship with a permanent congregation, usually managed by a priest or pastor.
- Conversely, a chapel is a church that does not have a priest or a congregation. It's often smaller than a church or found within a larger church.
- On the other hand, a cathedral is a church managed by a bishop. It's the principal church within a diocese – the area of land that a bishop has jurisdiction. Contrary to common myth, there are no physical requirements that differentiate a church or cathedral. However, the latter are generally larger and often display impressive stained-glass windows and imposing buttresses.
Our favourite cathedrals in the UK
Wander beneath the grand arches and sprawling ceiling of a Great British cathedral, and uncover the fascinating history and local culture behind each one. Take a look at our favourite cathedrals in the UK, and the best place to camp nearby.
1. Ely Cathedral, Cambridgeshire
Situated halfway between Cambridge and the Norfolk coast, the historic fenland city of Ely has long been considered a city but was only formally granted official status in 1974 by Queen Elizabeth II.
Looming over the cobbled city below, Ely Cathedral is a remarkable example of both Roman and Norman Architecture. Standing over 500ft tall, revered historian Nikolaus Pevsner once said that Ely Cathedral is the "greatest individual achievement of architectural genius".
2. Norwich Cathedral, Norfolk
Lying beside the meandering River Wensum, Norwich is the county town of Norfolk and the unofficial capital of East Anglia.
Boasting a 315ft spire, second in height only to Salisbury, Norwich Cathedral dominates the city skyline. Explore the largest monastic cloister in England, and marvel at its impressive roof bosses and tall arches.
3. St Edmundsbury Cathedral, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
Nestled in the heart of Suffolk, Bury St Edmunds is a charming market town, originally built around 1080 and known as "Beodericsworth".
Initially built in the 11th century, but rebuilt in the 12th and 16th, St Edmundsbury Cathedral is the Church of England's Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich. For over 1,000 years, this site has been one of worship and pilgrimage.
4. Derby Cathedral, Derbyshire
Sitting on the banks of the River Derwent, Derby was settled by Romans, Vikings and Saxons. Originally, Derby was a modest market town but proliferated during the Industrial Revolution.
Built during the 10th century, Derby Cathedral is home to the second-highest perpendicular church tower in England. Ascend the tower's 189 steps to marvel at the panoramic views of Derbyshire and the surrounding four counties. Listen out for the chiming bells – these are the oldest set of ten bells in the world, one of which was cast during the reign of Henry VIII.
5. Lincoln Cathedral, Lincolnshire
With a Norman castle and gothic cathedral, Lincoln is one of the best cities to visit in the UK if you are fascinated by medieval history.
According to various historians, Lincoln Cathedral was officially the tallest building in the world for 238 years, after the Great Pyramids of Giza. Uncover one of the four remaining copies of the Magna Carta in the library designed by acclaimed architect, Sir Christopher Wren.
6. Southwell Minster, Nottinghamshire
Arguably one of the prettiest towns in the East Midlands, Southwell is a charming town lying on the River Greet in Nottinghamshire.
Overlooking the town below, Southwell Minster is the Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham and displays one of the finest Norman naves in the world. Originally, the cathedral started as a Roman villa, before transforming into a Saxon church, before renovating into the magnificent minster we see today.
7. Down Cathedral, Downpatrick, County Down
Translated from Gaelic as "Patrick's Stronghold", Downpatrick is the county town of Down, around 20 miles south of Belfast.
Perched proudly atop Cathedral Hill, Down Cathedral lies within the Diocese of Down and Dromore. According to folklore, this cathedral is said to be the burial place of the Patron Saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick.
8. St Anne's Cathedral, Belfast, County Antrim
Historically a significant port city, Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland and a fantastic place to visit on your camping trip.
Lending its name to Belfast's famous Cathedral Quarter, St Anne's Cathedral is unusual because it serves two separate dioceses – Connor, as well as Down and Dromore.
9. Durham Cathedral, County Durham
Lying on the River Wear, south of Newcastle, Durham is a cathedral city and the county town of County Durham. Arguably one of the prettiest cities in the UK, Durham boasts over 600 listed buildings, each one with its unique architecture and fascinating history.
Displaying some of Europe's finest examples of Romanesque architecture, Durham Cathedral was built as the Shrine of St Cuthbert and the burial place of the Venerable Bede. In 1986, the cathedral, along with Durham Castle, was officially designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
10. Ripon Cathedral, East Yorkshire
Steeped in a long, varied history, Ripon is an unspoilt cathedral city in North Yorkshire. Wander through the mazy streets and pause to explore the historic buildings and bustling marketplace.
Originally founded as a monastery by Scottish monks in the around 660, Ripon Cathedral has been a place of worship and pilgrimage for nearly 14 centuries. Take a walk through the crypt, which has been here since 672. The cathedral's Gothic architecture in the Early English style inspired the literary genius of Lewis Carroll and Wilfred Owen.
11. York Minster, North Yorkshire
Officially the county town of the UK's largest county, York is a walled city teeming with breath-taking architecture and historical landmarks. In 71 AD, the city was founded by the Romans. Later, the city came under Viking rule and became Jorvik – the capital of Viking territory in Great Britain.
One of the largest of its kind in Northern Europe, York Minster is a spectacular cathedral overlooking the cobbled city below. The cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of York – the third-highest office of the Church of England.
12. Carlisle Cathedral, Cumbria
Lying just 10 miles south of the Anglo-Scottish border, the Cumbrian city of Carlisle is nicknamed the "Great Border City". Carlisle is over 2,000 years old and boasts two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and one World Heritage Site.
Founded in 1122 in King Henry I as a priory church, Carlisle Cathedral officially earnt its status ten years later when the king created the diocese of Carlisle. Constructed from striking red sandstone, this cathedral is home to the largest window in the Flowing Decorated Gothic style in England.
13. Chester Cathedral, Cheshire
Founded as a Roman fortress in the 1st century, Chester is popular with tourists for its extensive Roman walls, Tudor buildings and its spectacular cathedral.
Sitting proudly in the centre of the city, Chester Cathedral was initially founded as a Benedictine Abbey in 1092. Dedicated to Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary, this cathedral is a Grade I listed building and also part of a heritage site that includes former monastic buildings.
14. Liverpool Cathedral, Merseyside
Situated where the River Mersey meets the Irish Sea, Liverpool is a maritime city in northwest England, best known as the hometown of the world's most famous band, The Beatles. Between the 18th and 20th century, Liverpool was a significant trade and migration port.
Built on St James' Mount, Liverpool Cathedral is the largest cathedral and religious building in Britain, and the eighth largest in the world. Ascend the cathedral's tower and marvel at the panoramic views of the city from 500ft above sea level.
15. Manchester Cathedral, Greater Manchester
With a population of almost 3 million people, Manchester is one of the biggest and most populated cities in the country. Combining youthfulness, diversity and history, Manchester is the perfect place for a family break.
Nestled in the heart of the city's Medieval Quarter, Manchester Cathedral has stood here for over 600 years. Explore the cathedral's breath-taking interior, including the unique choir and extravagant ceiling.
16. Inverness Cathedral, Highlands
Often regarded as the capital of the Highlands, Inverness is a metropolitan city located on the northeast coast of Scotland. Not only does Inverness have a bustling city centre, but it also has the shimmering lochs and towering Munros of the Highlands right on its doorstep.
Situated beside the banks of the winding River Ness, Inverness Cathedral is the northernmost cathedral in mainland Britain. Built in 1886, this cathedral exhibits the unique architecture of revered local architect, Alexander Ross.
17. Oban Cathedral, Argyll and Bute
Deriving its name from the Gaelic meaning "little bay", Oban is a pretty resort town on the west coast of Scotland. Surrounded by dramatic coastline and rolling countryside, this seaside town is the perfect base from which to explore the nearby Outer Hebrides.
Looming over the Corran Esplanade, Oban Cathedral stands on the northeast side of Oban Bay. Designed in the Neo-Gothic style by iconic architect, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott.
18. Perth Cathedral, Perth and Kinross
Nestled beside the meandering River Tay, Perth is a historic city in Central Scotland. Labelled as the "Fair City", Perth is home to impressive architecture, dramatic surrounding landscapes and fascinating royal history.
Set in the north side of the city, this cathedral is officially A listed, indicating it is of national importance. Designed by William Butterfield, Perth Cathedral is named after Scotland's first saint, St Ninian.
19. Arundel Cathedral, West Sussex
Boasting a medieval castle and catholic cathedral, Arundel is a charming market town nestled in the heart of West Sussex. Walk through its mazy streets, pausing to browse at independent shops and marvel at the historic architecture.
Overlooking the rolling hills of the South Downs, Arundel Cathedral is a hidden gem in this unspoilt town. Serving as the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton, this Roman Catholic cathedral is regarded as one of the finest examples of Gothic Revival architecture in the country.
20. Canterbury Cathedral, Kent
With ancient walls, cobbled streets and timber-framed houses, Canterbury is a historic city and one of the most visited cities in the United Kingdom. Uncover the city's medieval history by exploring the ruins of St Augustine's Abbey and the stunning cathedral.
Situated a short distance from the River Stour, Canterbury Cathedral was formed in 597AD and is, therefore, the oldest, and arguably most famous Christian structure in England. With nearly a million visitors each year, the cathedral is one of the most popular attractions in the UK.
21. Rochester Cathedral, Kent
Located around 30 miles east of London, on the banks of the River Medway, Rochester is a historic town and former city. Fortified by an imposing Medieval castle, Rochester was cherished by revered writer Charles Dickens.
Comprising Norman, Romanesque and Gothic architectural features, Rochester Cathedral is the seat of the Bishop of Rochester, the second oldest bishopric in England. Since the 7th century, this cathedral has been a place of worship. The current building dates from the 12 and 13th century, hence the mix of styles.
22. St Albans Cathedral, Hertfordshire
Originally known as the Roman city of Verulamium, St Albans is a city situated around 20 miles northwest of London. St Albans was the first significant town on the ancient Roman road of Watling Street, between Canterbury and Wroxeter.
Boasting the longest nave in England, St Albans Cathedral has been a site of pilgrimage for over 1700 years. Take some time to study the historic paintings hung along the nave, before exploring the intimate chapels.
23. Salisbury Cathedral, Wiltshire
Situated at the confluence of the rivers Avon, Bourne and Nadder, Salisbury is a charming cobbled city. Just 8 miles northwest from the city lies Stonehenge, arguably the most famous landmark in the UK.
For over 800 years, Salisbury Cathedral has soared above the historic city below. Boasting Britain's tallest spire, this cathedral is one of the earliest examples of Early English architecture. Take some time to uncover one of the oldest clocks in the world and one of four original copies of the Magna Carta.
24. Truro Cathedral, Cornwall
Known as the southernmost city on the British mainland, Truro is the county town of Cornwall, as well as its only city. Historically, Truro was a port town, before becoming the centre of the Cornish tin mining industry in the 1800s.
Looming over the city below, Truro Cathedral is one of the most beautiful Gothic Revival churches in the country. Completed in 1910, the cathedral was designed by John Loughborough Pearson and is made from limestone, granite and quartz-porphyry.
25. Wells Cathedral, Somerset
Sitting on the southern edge of the Mendip Hills, Wells is often described as the smallest city in England. Taking its name from three wells dedicated to Saint Andre that are dotted around the city, Wells boasts an idyllic market place, the impressive Bishop's Palace and the awe-inspiring cathedral.
Described as the "most poetic" of English cathedrals, Wells Cathedral exhibits some of the world's finest examples of Gothic architecture. Built between 1175 and 1490, the cathedral has a unique feature which sets it apart from other English cathedrals, such as its iconic West Front and "scissor arches".
26. St Davids Cathedral, Pembrokeshire
Located on the west coast of Wales, in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, St Davids takes its name and is the resting place of the Patron Saint of Wales, St David. Known in Welsh "Tyddewi", or "David's Home", St Davids is the smallest city in the United Kingdom.
In the 6th century, St David chose this beautifully, untamed spot as the site of his monastery. Today, you'll find his shrine within the purple stones of St Davids Cathedral. For over 1500 years, the building has been revised on many occasions and the one standing today was founded by Norman bishop Peter de Leia in 1181.
27. Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, Oxfordshire
Famed as the home to the oldest English-speaking university in the world, Oxford is a historic city around 60 miles from both London and Birmingham. Labelled as the "City of Dreaming Spires" due to the architecture of its 38 university colleges.
Located in the university college of the same name, Christ Church Cathedral is unique from other English cathedrals because it is also a college chapel. One of the smallest cathedrals in the Church of England, Christ Church's nave, transepts and main tower are stylistically late Norman.
28. Hereford Cathedral, Herefordshire
Sitting beside the River Wye, close to the Anglo-Welsh border, Hereford is a cathedral city and the county town of Herefordshire. Traditionally, Hereford is known for trading cider, beer, leather and cattle.
Boasting towering spires and grand arches along the nave, Hereford Cathedral is nearly 1000 years old. Pause to revel in the beauty of the architecture, and read Mappa Mundi, the world's largest medieval map dating back to 1285 AD.
29. Lichfield Cathedral, Staffordshire
Set just 15 miles north of Birmingham, Lichfield is a vibrant city teeming with museums, trendy restaurants and independent shops. Exhibiting many fine examples of Georgian architecture, the city is also the birthplace of Samuel Johnson, the author of the first English dictionary.
Combining ancient artefacts, spectacular architecture and rich heritage, Lichfield Cathedral is the only medieval English cathedral with three spires. The Diocese of Lichfield covers Staffordshire, most of Shropshire and some of the West Midlands and Black Country.
30. Worcester Cathedral, Worcestershire
Located on the River Severn, Worcester is an attractive city in the West Midlands. Walk through the city's zig-zagged streets and discover half-timbered houses, historic architecture and city walls.
Overlooking the meandering river, Worcester Cathedral is considered one of the prettiest cathedrals in the country. Rebuilt in the 11th century, this cathedral was built with every English medieval architectural style, from the perpendicular Gothic tower, to the Norman Romanesque features.
If you're considering taking a camping trip to a British city, make sure you read our guide to the 11 best city breaks in the UK. Need more inspiration? Please take a look at our comprehensive list of the 50 best tourist attractions in the country.