1. The Lake District, Cumbria
The Lake District has inspired artists, poets, and musicians since the Picturesque and Romantic movements of the 18th- and 19th- centuries. Now home to renowned music festival Kendal Calling, Cumbria's slice of paradise continues to blend nature and culture in perfect balance. Geographically, the Lake District is unique for the valleys carved by glaciers during the Ice Age. The subsequent centuries of agricultural land use have created a uniquely harmonious landscape created by nature and human activity.
The nearest station to the Lake District is Oxenholme, which is on the West Coast Main Line with frequent services from London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, and Glasgow. At Oxenholme, just outside the charming town of Kendal, you can change onto the heritage Windermere Branch rail line to England's largest natural lake. Needless to say, the window views are sensational.
2. Heart of Neolithic Orkney, Orkney Islands
The Orkney Islands are rich in history, and even richer in prehistory. This remote archipelago north of Scotland was home to a huge Neolithic society some 5,000 years ago. The most famous remnant of this civilisation is the village of Skara Brae, which was preserved under the sand until a storm uncovered it in the 19th century. Other monuments include two imposing ceremonial stone circles at Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar, and the large burial tomb of Maes Howe.
Think it's a bit far for a train journey? Think again. Stromness, on Orkney Mainland, is only 1h 35m by bus and ferry from Thurso, the UK's northernmost train station. The breathtaking train journey from Inverness to Thurso takes 3h 45m, cutting through the wild Scottish Highlands.
3. Dorset and East Devon Coast, South Coast
As well as being breathtakingly beautiful, this stretch of coastline is considered by geologists and geomorphologists to be among the world's most important research sites. The almost continuous sequence of eye-catching rock formations here spans the entire Mesozoic Era, nearly 200 million years of Earth's history. And the fossil sites here have been the focus of earth science studies for over 300 years. Dubbed the 'Jurassic Coast' of Dorset, this UNESCO World Heritage Site of UK and world importance is only a few hours from the British capital.
4. Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape, Southwest England
This is another unique UNESCO World Heritage Site in the UK. While it's set on the South Coast like Dorset, it covers a completely different part of human history. Cornwall and Devon once supplied two-thirds of the world's copper. More importantly, however, was the innovative mining technology developed here. The method was adopted around the world and had an immense influence on the Industrial Revolution. You can visit the region's deep underground mines, foundries, engine houses, historic ports and harbours, and 'new town' developments. These sites reflect a prolific and pioneering industry, the scale and importance of which is hard to grasp today.
Did we mention that the area also has some of England's most scenic railway lines? Make sure to check out the famous 15m journey between St Ives and St Erth.
5. Ironbridge Gorge, Shropshire
It's hard to discuss the Industrial Revolution without mentioning Ironbridge Gorge. Primary materials mined here sparked the rapid expansion of industry in the 18th-century. In nearby Coalbrookdale, Abraham Derby developed the process of smelting iron with coke, which began the 18th-century iron revolution. There are plenty of important 18th- and 19th-century landmarks in the area, such as the Bedlam blast furnaces, the former Blists Hill brickworks, the Coalport china works, and the innovative Hay Inclined Plane. And of course, there's the unmissable 1779 bridge from which the gorge takes its name.
Although it's not the railway hub it once was, Ironbridge is still easy to reach thanks to its proximity to Telford Central station. Birmingham to Telford takes around 45m by train, with direct services from Birmingham New Street.
6. The Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland
The Giant's Causeway is a geomorphological marvel comprising 40,000 huge basalt columns jutting out of the sea. Theories suggest they were caused by volcanic activity in the Tertiary period, about 50 million-60 million years ago. The area boasts plenty of human heritage, too. For starters, it has inspired myths and legends from Celtic to modern times. The most famous tale involves giants chasing each other over the sea between here and Scotland.
The region was also one of the world's first major travel attractions. Bustling souvenir and food stalls were set up here in the 19th century after the advent of railways made it accessible to average folk. You can still recreate that experience today, thanks to the reopening of the two-mile-long Giant's Causeway and Bushmills Heritage Railway.
7. Canterbury, Kent
Of all the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the UK, only one can kick it with the big boys of European Christianity – Canterbury, Kent. The triple bill of Canterbury Cathedral, St. Augustine's Abbey, and St. Martin's Church comprises what may be Britain's most important spiritual site. St. Martin's is Britain's oldest church, Canterbury Cathedral is the headquarters of the Church of England, and the ruins of St. Augustine's Abbey mark the saint's role in reintroducing Christianity to southern Britain in the 6th century AD. Canterbury is near the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Taking the 1-hour train from London to Canterbury through lovely Kentish countryside can be as rewarding as seeing the religious sites.
8. Frontiers of the Roman Empire, Scottish Borders
Hadrian's Wall was built at the height of the Roman Empire, in the 2nd century AD. It was constructed to protect the huge empire's northernmost border against Scottish tribes. An engineering feat, this coast-to-coast wall crosses some of Britain's wildest, most rugged landscapes. It passes gorgeous rivers, valleys, and mountains. Today, a remarkable amount of it remains, and the dedicated Tyne Valley Railway between Newcastle and Carlisle makes it easy to visit.
Regular 40m services run from Newcastle to Hexham, then 50m services run from Hexham to Carlisle. Several stations along the way are within walking distance of Roman sites and parts of the wall. If you'd rather not walk, the seasonal summer AD122 bus operates from Hexham to several major sites.
9. Old and New Towns of Edinburgh, Scotland
Since we're on the subject of the Scottish border, we can't miss Edinburgh. One of the UK's most historic cities, it hosts the world's largest annual cultural festival. The medieval Old Town and its world-famous Royal Mile developed organically beneath Edinburgh Castle. Just across the valley, by contrast, is strictly planned Georgian New Town. Designed and built in the 18th century, it had a huge influence on modern urban planning, and it's also very pretty.
The city’s main train station, Edinburgh Waverley, is right between the Old and New Towns, under Waverley Bridge, so trains are by far the most convenient way to arrive. The journey from Newcastle to Edinburgh takes 1h 21m.
10. Liverpool, Lancashire
In case you're wondering, UNESCO doesn't designate World Heritage status based on European football trophies or famous rock bands. What makes Liverpool of global significance isn't the Beatles, but its mercantile maritime history. Through both good and bad, Liverpool was often the centre of major developments in human history. Specifically, the port and dock technology developed here allowed for the massive expansion of the British Empire. From the slave trade to ocean liners, Liverpool was the primary port for the mass movement of people around the world. In many ways, it's where globalisation began.
Important historical sites to see around the old city and docklands include the Royal Liver Building, the old warehouses and canal system, and the former Brown Street Cultural Quarter.
Liverpool Central railway station is less than a mile from all these historical sites.
11. Stonehenge, Wiltshire
There's so much to say about Stonehenge, and yet so little we're sure about – much about it remains clouded in mystery. Who built it? What was it for? A few things aren't up for debate, though – it is undoubtedly one of the UK's most famous UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It has inspired legends and archaeological research for centuries. The second indisputable aspect is that it's one of the world's most accessible major prehistoric sites.
The nearest station to Stonehenge is Salisbury, just 9 miles away. The fastest train from London to Salisbury takes just 1h 20m, so it's ideal for day trips from the capital. You can whisk yourself back several thousand years and be back in time for tea.
12. Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire
Blenheim Palace is the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, whose celebrity has somewhat clouded the long and colourful history of the palace itself. It was constructed in the early 18th-century, in recognition of John Churchill's 1704 victory over France and Bavaria. One of Britain's largest houses, it's one of the country's best surviving examples of an 18th-century princely residence. Furthermore, the palace and its equally impressive park had a huge influence on the English Romantic movement, which shared its incorporation of art and nature. It's also situated in a gorgeous section of Oxfordshire countryside, so it makes for a pretty train ride.
The nearest station is Hanborough, a 45m walk or 10m drive away. You can get from Oxford to Hanborough in under 10m by train.
So, still think that UNESCO World Heritage Sites have to be inaccessible and out of the way? If any of these sounds like the right spot for your next getaway, start planning today. Look through train times, fares, and ticket types online for all of the routes above. If you want to lock it in, you can even book advance tickets.