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Top attractions waiting to be explored in our own backyard

The travel gurus at Lonely Planet have published a new book which rates the best things to do and see close to home. Sarah Marshall reveals five top picks

Hadrian’s Wall
Hadrian’s Wall
Rock star: the Giant’s Causeway draws visitors from all around the world
Edinburgh Festival Fringe
The British Museum
The Roman Baths in Bath

By Sarah Marshall

For the first time, Lonely Planet has ranked the UK's 500 most unmissable sights and experiences to be published in a new book, Lonely Planet's Ultimate United Kingdom Travelist.

From fabulous street theatre to jaw-dropping geological wonders, here are some of the amazing things that just happen to be right on our doorstep...

1. The greatest shows on earth

Where: Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Scotland

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Edinburgh Festival Fringe
 

Running every August for more than 70 years, the world's largest art show continues to baffle, befuddle and bemuse audiences, with knife-throwing unicyclists, karaoke versions of Macbeth, and drag queens pulling balloons from their buttocks. These are just some of the sights you might encounter among the 3,500 taking place in 300 venues across the city.

In previous years, the Royal Botanic Garden has hosted a 'pianodrome' built from 55 recycled pianos, and a chicken coop has hosted the world's smallest-ever comedy show - with capacity for just three.

2. Gaze at priceless treasures

Where: The British Museum, London

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The British Museum
 

What started as a cabinet of curiosities collected by 18th-century physician Sir Hans Sloane, blossomed into Britain's first public national museum. The eccentric collector bequeathed his treasures on the condition they could be viewed by everyone - and even today, the museum's permanent exhibition is free to visit.

From mummified Pharaohs to the Parthenon Marbles, controversy surrounds many of the pieces which were the spoils of a colonial era.

Temporary exhibitions are also held beneath a geodesic canopy designed by Norman Foster. There's far too much to see in one trip, so plan to visit on multiple days. Or focus on particular areas; the Egyptian treasures are the best.

3. Take giant strides over legendary stones

Where: The Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland

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Rock star: the Giant’s Causeway draws visitors from all around the world
 

Northern Ireland's only Unesco World Heritage site has been the subject of legends for centuries. The uneven stacks of hexagonal basalt columns, standing in neat clusters along the water's edge, are said to be the debris remaining from a battle between giants.

According to scientists however, the formation of rocks was created by volcanic activity some 60 million years ago, when lava flow cooled, hardened and contracted, resulting in a honeycomb pattern.

A clifftop path leads to the Amphitheatre viewpoint and down the Shepherd's Steps to the shore. There's also a minibus that runs to the rocks from the visitor centre, where you can learn more about the causeway's history, geology and legends.

4. Find out how the Romans liked to bathe

Where: Bath, England

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The Roman Baths in Bath
 

Along with conquering empires and making excellent roads, the Romans were experts at bathing. During their reign in Britain about 2000 years ago, they took advantage of geothermal springs around the area today known as Bath, by building a sumptuous spa.

Regarded as one of the best-preserved Roman bathhouses in the world, most of the structure is still standing - including bathing pools, changing rooms, the original hypocaust heating system and the central Great Bath, lined with lead and filled with 5.2ft of steaming, geothermally heated water.

Unfortunately, it's not possible to take a dip, but you can pop over to the nearby Thermae Bath Spa and enjoy its panoramic rooftop pool.

5. Retrace the path of great empires

Where: Hadrian's Wall, England

Another Roman phenomenon is this defensive wall which stretches 73 miles across Britain. It was built under the emperor Hadrian between AD 122 and 128 to keep out Scottish Picts, and took 15,000 men six years to construct.

Although only 10% of the wall survives today, it's still impressive. Exploring sections is easy, thanks to good rail and road access. And if you're feeling energetic, it's possible to complete the whole national Hadrian's Wall Path walking trail in about a week.

Carlisle and Newcastle-upon-Tyne are ideal launch cities. Visit in summer (but bring waterproofs all the same).

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