The Romans ruled Britain for nearly 400 years – from Emperor Claudius’ invasion in 43 AD until the fall of the Empire in the 5th century.
During this time, the Romans transformed the tribal land that predated their arrival into a sophisticated country dotted with towns, forts, cities, and most famously, roads – many of which we follow today.
From World Heritage Sites like Hadrian’s Wall to the remains of impressive villas and amphitheatres, Roman ruins still shape sections of the UK landscape thousands of years later.
If you’d like to see some for yourself, here are 12 Roman sites to visit in the UK.
Note: Ireland never became part of the Roman Empire. While the Romans did exert influence on the island, only a very small amount of evidence of this has survived. For this reason, our article will focus on Roman sites in Great Britain.
1. Chedworth Roman villa, Gloucestershire
Tucked away in the tranquil Cotswold woodland, Chedworth Roman villa is one of Britain’s grandest and most extensive Roman ruins.
Evidence for the first stone structure at Chedworth dates back to the 2nd century AD, but the residence was extended and improved over the following two centuries – reaching its prime between 360-380 AD as a place of wealth, comfort, and luxury. However, the site remained undiscovered until 1864 when a gamekeeper stumbled across a fragment of mosaic.
Over the mile of walls that you can explore at Chedworth, you’ll find mosaics in remarkably good condition – as well as two bath houses, a water shrine, a hypocaust (system of central heating), and a Roman temple just a short stroll away.
An onsite museum displays various objects that were discovered at the villa. Plus, because Chedworth is an active archaeological site, new discoveries are still being made, so you never know which artefacts you might see next…
2. Roman Baths, Somerset
Constructed around 70 AD as a grand bathing complex and area for socialising, the Roman Baths are one of the best-preserved Roman sites not just in Britain, but around the world too. This was once the site of one of the ancient world’s greatest religious spas.
People of Roman Britain would come to the baths to worship the goddess Sulis Minerva, who was known for her healing abilities. And the 1,170,000 or so litres of steaming spring water still fills the Baths today.
Visitors can explore the complex, peek into the chambers that used to house changing rooms, and stroll on the ancient pavements, just as the Romans did 2,000 years ago. The museum collection also hosts plenty of exciting artefacts, including a gilt bronze head of the goddess Minerva.
3. Antonine Wall, Scotland
Scotland lay on the northwest frontier of the vast Roman Empire, so it’s unsurprising that all of the surviving monuments found here are military in nature. But of all the forts, roads, and towers, remains of the Antonine Wall are undoubtedly one of Scotland’s most magnificent Roman military monuments.
Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius ordered the construction of the Antonine Wall in 140 AD, as a barrier to raiding Caledonian tribes in the north and a symbol of Roman might. The wall was made of turf instead of stone, and was fronted by a deep, wide ditch.
Today, a large proportion of the wall survives at various sites and provides a fantastic excuse to explore this wonderfully rugged landscape. One of the best viewing points is near Bonnybridge, where the line of the Antonine Ditch and Wall can be clearly seen for a quarter of a mile.
4. Fishbourne Roman Palace, West Sussex
Fishbourne Roman Palace is the largest Roman residential building discovered in Britain. Built in the 1st century, it traces back to an unusually early date of 75AD – just 30 years or so after the Roman conquest of Britain.
Built as a residence for the very highest rankings of Roman society, the palace reveals a different side of Roman life, away from invading armies and brutal conquests. Discovered late in the 1960s, much of the building has been successfully excavated and preserved.
Today, visitors can marvel at Fishbourne’s mosaic floors and stroll around the recreated Roman gardens – re-planted to the palace’s original plan. There’s also an onsite museum, which is home to the largest collection of mosaics in situ in the UK, as well as an impressive collection of artefacts.
5. Chester Roman amphitheatre, Cheshire
Chester was an important site for the Roman Empire, mainly for establishing military rule in the northwest. The Roman amphitheatre here was the largest of its kind in Britain – used for entertainment and military training.
It’s thought that the arena has been rebuilt more than once, with the remains of the current structure dating back to around 280 AD. At its peak, Chester Roman Amphitheatre could have seated up to 8,000 people.
Chester amphitheatre was the scene of Britain’s largest archaeological excavation in 2005 and has unearthed a range of precious artefacts. The site is located right in the heart of Chester city centre, and finds from the amphitheatre’s excavation are on display in the nearby Grosvenor Museum.
6. Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland and Cumbria
Hadrian’s Wall is undoubtedly one of Britain’s most impressive remnants of the Roman Empire. This UNESCO World Heritage Site stretches 73 miles from Wallsend in the east to Bowness-on-Solway in the west.
It was built under the instruction of Emperor Hadrian in 122AD, and guarded the wild north-west frontier of the Roman Empire for almost 300 years. Dotted along the wall are an assortment of barracks, forts, ramparts, and towers, which beautifully complement the rugged landscape. Check out this list of scenic spots along Hadrian’s Wall from Visit Northumberland for ideas on where to stop for the best views.
Hadrian’s Wall was built by a force of 15,000 men over six years, and, today, visitors continue to be amazed by this astounding feat of engineering and labour.
If you’d like to visit some of the other Roman remains along Hadrian’s Wall, Birdoswald Roman Fort, Corbridge Roman Town, and the most preserved fort on the wall – Housesteads Roman Fort are worth seeing. For more ideas, check out this list of 7 best Roman ruins along Hadrian’s Wall path by Hillwalk Tours.
7. Bignor Roman Villa, West Sussex
The Roman villa at Bignor is one of the largest in Britain open to the public. At its peak, Bignor is thought to have covered 70 different buildings spread across four acres.
It’s home to some of the most complete, detailed, and well-preserved mosaic floors in the country, which are a sign of Bignor’s substantial wealth. The famous Ganymede and Head of Medusa mosaics are particularly fine displays of craftsmanship.
Visitors can walk on original floors dating back to 350 AD and imagine the disbelief and excitement of George Tupper who uncovered the villa’s summer dining room foundation after striking it with his plough in 1811. Perfectly placed in the South Downs National Park, there are plenty of wonderful places to explore nearby the villa too.
8. Museum of London, London
Between 50 and 410AD (approx), Londinium (as it was then known) was the largest city in Roman Britannia. Trade and commerce were central to London’s economy, and it was a thriving port too.
The museum’s Roman collection includes over 47,000 objects, which offer fantastic insight into the Roman capital’s past. The majority of these were discovered during the building operations of Southwark and the City of London.
The UK’s largest collection of semain ware (earthenware pottery – usually reddish brown or black in colour) can also be found at the Museum of London, as well as some of the best examples of Roman sculpture in the form of marble statues. Impressive coin, glass, wood, leather, and metalwork collections are housed here too.
9. Vindolanda Roman Fort, Northumberland
Lying just to the south of Hadrian’s Wall, Vindolanda Roman Fort has a different feel to many other sites along the wall.
Vindolanda was first built by the Roman army sometime around 85AD (well before Hadrian’s Wall). It was designed to guardStanegate; a major road that stretched roughly east to west across the top of Roman Britannia.
Today, the site is home to a world-class museum, which uses the latest technology to tell Vindolanda’s Roman story. The Vindolanda writing tablets are arguably the site’s greatest discovery – previously voted by experts and the public alike as ‘Britain’s Top Treasure’. The displays are also constantly changing as new artefacts are added annually due to an ongoing excavation programme.
10. Ambleside Roman Fort, Cumbria
Perched on the shores of Lake Windermere, the well-preserved remains of Ambleside Roman Fort date back to the 2nd century – when Cumbria was a land of mountainous warfare.
Believed to have been built during Emperor Hadrian’s reign, Ambleside was designed to guard the Roman road stretching from Brougham to Ravenglass. However, there are also signs of a late 1st century fort beneath the stone buildings.
During a visit here, you can see parts of the gates and fort walls, as well as well-preserved structures of the headquarters, granaries, and commanding officer’s house.
11. Aldborough Roman town, Yorkshire
Aldborough – known in Roman times as Isurium Brigantum – began as a trading settlement around 70 AD, before becoming the civilian ‘capital’ of a large region in northern Britain between 120 AD and 400 AD.
The settlement at Aldborough was strategically built on the Roman road network and, as the highest navigable point on the river Ure, this bustling town was a key site of communication, trade, and administration in the Roman north.
To reimagine the scene of Roman Aldborough, visitors can feast their eyes on the museum’s fantastic collection of ceramics, brooches, jewellery, fragments of glass and pottery, and materials associated with the Roman army.
12. Chichester City Walls, West Sussex
The historic city of Chichester was founded by the Romans in the 1st century AD. Today, four main Roman streets surrounded by walls and gateways continue to define the city; and various traces of Roman life, including houses and public baths, still stand.
Chichester’s city walls date back to the 3rd century. They were built to defend the affluent town and its trade from coastal raiders. Today, they’re the most intact Roman walls in the south of England. At seven metres high, the walls truly are a sight to behold, and glaring up at them you can only imagine the major task faced by those responsible for building it.
You can follow the wall’s circuit on foot for nearly a mile and a half, and leaflets and guides are available from the city’s Tourist Information Centre. Guided walks are also held by the Chichester Walls Trust.
Building walls, fortresses, amphitheatres, and spectacular villas, the Romans left a lasting mark on Britain during their 400 year reign. And through fantastic preservation and archaeological work, special glimpses of this formidable empire can still be seen today.
For further reading, head over to the art and culture and travel sections of our website. Here, you’ll find everything from coastal walks and woodland adventures to more history-themed days out in the UK.
Have you visited any of these sites? What fascinates you most about the Roman Empire? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.