Castle Combe, England
Often referred to as ‘the prettiest village in England’, Castle Combe in the Wiltshire Cotswolds is a picturesque little community nestled on the edge of the Bybrook River. Its small pretty streets are lined with quintessential Cotswolds stone-wall cottages and its quaint beauty has attracted the attention of the silver screen. The village has starred in both Stardust (2007) and Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-nominated War Horse (2011). Formerly an important wool-industry hub, Castle Combe’s history is still evident in its riverside cottages bearing names like ‘Weaver’s House’ and visitors can see one of the country’s oldest medieval clocks still in use at St Andrew’s Church.
The charming Welsh community of Beddgelert lies in the western edges of beautiful Snowdonia National Park and is a truly unspoiled gem nestled around the converging point of the Glaslyn and Colwyn rivers. Steeped in history, legend has it that the town is named after the 13th-century Welsh Prince Llewelyn’s hunting dog Gelert, whose grave resides a short distance south of Beddgelert. More recently, the village is known as the home of the late Alfred Edmeades Bestall, illustrator of the Rupert Bear comics. Beddgelert’s proximity to nesting ospreys in the summer has made the village popular with birdwatchers, and fans of horticulture will love its flower displays, which have scooped several Britain in Bloom awards.
With its location in a sheltered bay on northwest Scotland’s Loch Carron, surrounded by the majestic Highlands, the charming coastal community of Plockton is truly special. During the early 18th century, Plockton was a thriving fishing community, but today much of its economy relies on the tourist trade from visitors and photographers attracted to the area’s outstanding natural beauty. A row of charming cottages curve around Plockton’s harbour where boats offer seal-spotting and fishing trips. Across the bay is Duncraig Castle – a spectacular mansion built in 1866 for railway entrepreneur Sir Alexander Matheson.
Cushendun, Northern Ireland
Situated at the mouth of the River Dun on Northern Ireland’s north-east coast, Cushendun was designed in 1912 by prominent architect Clough Williams-Ellis in the style of a Cornish village for politician Lord Cushendun and his Cornwall-born wife. Home to a pretty row of harbour-side houses and a charming stone bridge stretching over the River Dun, Cushendun has been protected by the National Trust since 1954. This, combined with its location in the Antrim Coast and Glens Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, ensures its charm will be enjoyed for years to come. Less than an hour’s drive along Antrim’s coast is the awe-inspiring Giants Causeway.
Built into a scenic valley leading down to a beautiful bay, Polperro is the archetypal Cornish seaside village with its winding, traffic-free streets lined with cottages and its small, boat-filled harbour. Its coastal location has contributed to a colourful history too – the village was once a pilchard fishing haven and a former smuggling hotspot in the late 18th century when contraband goods were sneaked across the English Channel to Guernsey. Charming shops selling local handcrafted goods and confectionery items are ideal for browsing and Polperro’s famous seafood, available at its cafés and pubs, must be tried.
Stretching along an idyllic sandy beach on the Llŷn Peninsula in North West Wales, Porthdinllaen is home to a natural harbour and, as one might expect, was a former fishing port. Proposals put forth in the early 18th century would have placed Porthdinllaen as the main port on the crossing route to Ireland, though thankfully these were transferred to Holyhead in Anglesey and the village’s period charm is largely untouched by modern development. Visitors to the lovely seaside hamlet can spend their days rock-pooling before retiring to Porthdinllaen’s legendary beachside Tŷ Coch Inn for a pint of local beer, while taking in the village’s gorgeous views.
Located on the western edge of Scotland’s magnificent Loch Lomond, Luss is a picturesque conservation village inhabited since the medieval age, though much of its character today is typified by its 18th- and 19th-century sandstone and slate cottages. Many Brits may recognise the scenic village as the setting for the Scottish soap opera Take the High Road. Its idyllic loch-side location makes Luss perfect as a starting point for exploring the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. The village church is a beautiful example of 19th-century architecture with Victorian stained glass windows, while Luss’ charming pier is a vantage point for budding photographers hoping to capture the serene beauty of Loch Lomond.
Groomsport, Northern Ireland
Situated just 3.2 kilometres (two miles) from Bangor on the northern edge of County Down, Groomsport is historically known as the launch site of the ship Eagle Wing – an ill-fated attempt in 1636 by a group of Scot-Ulsters to travel America. With over 3,000 residents, Groomsport is one of the largest places on this list, though its charming harbour, sandy beaches and the village’s main attraction – the thatched fisherman’s cottages of Cockle Row – make it an ideal day trip stop when visiting nearby Bangor or Belfast.
Nestled in the heart of England’s breathtakingly beautiful Lake District, the charming village of Hawkshead is known throughout the country for its picturesque cobbled streets, quaint whitewashed cottages and rich history. The ruins of the 15th-century Hawkshead Hall mark the village’s medieval history, and Hawkshead’s Old Grammar School was where poet William Wordsworth spent his boyhood years. The National Trust-run Beatrix Potter Gallery celebrates the art of the British author and illustrator who dearly loved the Lake District. Flanked on both sides by Lake Coniston and Lake Windermere, Hawkshead is an ideal stop-off for thirsty ramblers in need of refreshment at the village’s pubs.
Fort Augustus, Scotland
Located at the southernmost point of Scotland’s legendary Loch Ness, Fort Augustus’ halfway-point position on the 97-kilometre (60-mile) Caledonian Canal, stretching from Fort William to Inverness, and its dramatic, stepped canal locks make it a popular stopover for visitors exploring the region. The Caledonian Canal Visitor Centre is perfect for boating enthusiasts wanting to learn more about the canal’s history, and boats equipped with sonar monitors offer cruises out into Loch Ness and the possibility of seeing the fabled monster. For hikers traversing the Great Glen Way, Fort Augustus’ small community of pubs and dining establishments, conveniently clustered around the canal, are ideal for a much-needed rest stop.
Looking for more picturesque UK spots? Read our article on the most beautiful villages to visit in the Peak District.