Now and then – the UK's finest cities

UK cities are packed with unique and interesting attractions. From World Heritage sites and ancient ruins to top-notch theatres, museums, galleries and everything in between, there’s enough to keep even the most discerning culture vulture satisfied. Many of these urban hubs date to medieval times, and despite the numerous modern additions they still retain much of their traditional character and old-world charm. SunLife recently produced a then and now tool showcasing some of the UK's finest cities, so we have taken inspiration and sourced our own images with descriptions below:  


England’s capital offers a rich tapestry of ancient and contemporary sites. The most visited and densely populated city in the UK, London is known for its vibrant nightlife, world-class arts and entertainment and diverse ethnic make-up. When exploring the city, you’ll find crumbling churches sitting side by side with skyscrapers, old pubs wedged between stylish eateries and grand Tudor buildings perched on busy shopping streets.

The city was founded by the Romans around 43 AD and the remains of its medieval borders can still be seen today at The Museum of London, Tower Hill and the Barbican Estate. Some of London’s oldest buildings include the Tower of London, Westminster Hall and Hampton Court Palace, each of which offers a fascinating glimpse into the city’s past life. More modern attractions include The Shard, the London Eye and numerous theatres, museums and art galleries.


With its historic Old Town and picturesque Georgian New Town, Edinburgh is steeped in culture. The city dates to the Mesolithic era and became Scotland’s capital in the 15th century. Today, it’s a centre for education, law, literature and science and is home to a number of significant establishments, including the National Museum of Scotland and the Scottish National Gallery.

Iconic landmarks such as Edinburgh Castle and The Palace of Holyroodhouse offer a fascinating insight into what the city once was. Meanwhile, royalists won’t want to miss the chance to take a tour of the Royal Yacht Britannia, which was used by the Queen from 1954 to 1997. Alternatively, take a leisurely stroll around the elegant Georgian neighbourhoods, or head to the lively Royal Mile to enjoy the atmospheric restaurants and pubs. 


Nestled in the scenic countryside of south-west England, Bath conjures up images of sand-coloured townhouses and natural springs. A designated World Heritage Site, the city serves as a real-life museum of England’s most prominent periods of history, from the Roman Baths, to the Georgian terraces and the contemporary Thermae Bath Spa. The city has been a sought-after spa town since the 18th century and much of the architecture from this era is still visible, most notably in the sweeping Royal Crescent.

Other must-see attractions include Bath Abbey, which was established in the 7th century and various Roman archaeological sites dotted around the city. There’s also a handful of excellent museums, galleries and theatres which have added to Bath's popularity as a tourist destination.


With its black-and-white buildings, hilltop castle, Grade I Listed city walls, cathedral and Roman amphitheatre remains, Chester is a history-buff’s paradise. This attractive city has some medieval buildings, although a lot of the architecture comes from the Victorian era. The walls, which encircle the city and run for almost two miles, are some of the most well preserved in the UK. A public footpath follows the circumference and passes several interesting sights along the way, including the heavily photographed Eastgate Clock and Phoenix Tower.

If you fancy a spot of retail therapy, the unique Chester Rows offer a selection of stylish shops and boutiques. The Grosvenor Museum is also well worth a visit for its interactive exhibits, Roman tombstones and gallery. Chester plays host to numerous cultural events throughout the year, including music concerts, literary festivals and open-air theatre productions. 


Although most well known for its esteemed university, Oxford affords plenty of other sightseeing opportunities. However, no trip to this vibrant cosmopolitan city would be complete without exploring the various college buildings and walking in the footsteps of the illustrious alumni. Notable university buildings include the Ashmolean Museum, the Bodleian Library, Christ Church Picture Gallery and Meadow, and the Sheldonian Theatre.

Aside from the main tourist attractions, it’s worth venturing off the beaten path to discover the quaint cafés, independent shops and bustling markets tucked away, down the side streets. In terms of nightlife, there’s a decent selection of bars, pubs, theatres and comedy clubs around the city centre.

Offering a complementary blend of old and new, these wonderful cities are unlike anywhere else in the world and are perfect for weekend visit.