From Celts and Vikings to Romans and Saxons, the British Isles have seen quite a bit of historical action. The small islands in Northern Europe are prime stomping grounds for budding historians and anyone else interested in learning about the development of the modern world.

One mysterious prehistoric site, Stonehenge, still draws crowds hoping to interpret its ancient clues. The ring of monolithic stones, so deliberately placed by early Britons, is an enigma. Whether it was used as a ceremonial site, a celestial gauge or something else entirely may never be known. But walking around Stonehenge today is a reminder of the region’s past and an ethereal experience.

Julius Caesar came to Britannia (England) in 54 B.C., but the Roman Empire didn’t have a firm hold on the land until almost one hundred years later. In A.D. 122, Emperor Hadrian decided that fighting the northern tribes of Caledonia (Scotland) was futile and instead opted to create a barricade against them. He ordered the construction of a wall between what is now Carlisle and Newcastle; it represented the northernmost border of the empire for almost four centuries. A well-preserved section still remains and is a popular historic site.

Thanks to the prevalence and fame of Shakespeare’s works, Elizabethan England is a familiar setting for many. Named for the grand monarch, Elizabeth I, the era was a peaceful and prosperous time in England. The queen’s father, King Henry VIII, had a notable rule due to his multiple marriages (six in all) and their repercussions on the religious scene. The pope disapproved of the king’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and remarriage to Anne Boleyn, causing the Protestant Church of England to split from the Roman Catholic Church. Visits to the king’s residence of Hampton Court Palace and the Tower of London will reveal more details about Henry’s personal life.

More recent history has seen many cities on the British Isles prosper. London, Dublin, Edinburgh and Glasgow are modern centers of cosmopolitan life. The famous clock tower of Parliament, Big Ben, is an icon of engineering that’s more than 150 years old. The Museum of London provides a comprehensive history lesson with countless artifacts and fascinating exhibits.

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