“What have the Romans ever done for us?” It’s not only one of the most famous lines in British comedy, but it’s a question well worth asking when you’re next motoring around the UK in your campervan! And we certainly have the answer right here, with a rundown of some of the best Roman sites in the UK for history lovers.
From the remains of remote forts and luxurious villas to baths, temples and amphitheatres, a tour of ancient Roman sites will take you to some far-flung corners of our islands. So, be sure to arrange some campervan insurance before you leave if you don’t want to get stuck far from home.
A very brief history of Roman Britain
After a few minor cross-Channel incursions led by none other than Julius Caesar, it wasn’t until AD 43 that the emperor Claudius directed his Roman legions to invade these islands. Over the next 40 years, the Romans advanced steadily across the south of England into Wales and further northwards until halted by the Caledonians in the Scottish Highlands.
For the following three centuries, until the Roman army left in AD 410, the Romans were very busy indeed. Creating a distinctive and sophisticated Romano-British culture that bore little resemblance to what had come before it.
Even today, thousands of years later, we can still see much evidence of the engineering feats, towns, cities, and forts they built. And, of course, their famously straight roads. Many of which you may still be following in your campervan today.
Visit any of the remarkable sites below and be wowed by the sophistication of the architecture, artistry and innovation on show. We think you’ll agree, they really did do a lot for us!
Museum of London, London
There are few better places to discover London’s Roman history than by wandering around the Museum of London. One of the largest cities in Roman Britain and a strategically important port, Londinium (as it was then called) was a hub of Roman activity throughout this period. Today, the museum displays thousands of objects from London’s Roman past discovered during the process of developing the surrounding city.
While the museum’s collection provides a fascinating insight into the capital’s Roman history, you can still see parts of the old Roman wall which marked the ancient boundaries of the city. From Tower Hill to Blackfriars, these are all free to view. Follow this fascinating walk around the old Roman city wall on the Historic UK website.
Like any large city, London presents its fair share of risks to campervan owners. As well as damage from shunts and bumps, crime rates can also be higher than what you’re used to. If you’re planning on visiting a city in your campervan, be sure to check your campervan insurance cover before you set off.
Verulamium, St Albans, Hertfordshire
Founded soon after their successful invasion, the town of Verulamium was one of the largest Roman settlements in Britain. Despite being burnt to the ground by Boudicca and her followers, its reconstruction was swift and it remained a major administrative centre throughout the period.
Indeed, it was here in AD 209 that a Roman soldier called Alban became Britain’s first Christian martyr when he was beheaded for sheltering a priest. For the visitor today there’s still lots to explore.
You can visit the remains of the town and city walls in Verulamium Park, the Hypocaust (a Roman central heating system) and the outstanding Verulamium Museum, which is home to several breathtaking Roman mosaics.
The Roman theatre here is also well worth visiting as it’s a unique example of a theatre with a stage, rather than the traditional Roman amphitheatre. Standing here today it’s incredible to imagine the religious processions and wild beast shows that would have taken place here all those years ago in front of thousands of spectators.
Richborough Roman Fort and Amphitheatre, Sandwich, Kent
Another early Roman settlement, Richborough (or Rutupiae) was a major Roman stronghold and port with a commanding position near the mouth of the River Stour. The most prominent ruin to be seen today are the walls of the fort, which once sat on a small island that separated the Isle of Thanet from the Kentish mainland.
It formed part of the coastal defences built to repel Germanic raiders along the coast. Legend has it that Emperor Claudius, on his way to London, once rode an elephant through a triumphal arch nearby. What a sight that must have been!
Perhaps the best way to approach the fort today is to take a river bus up the Stour from Sandwich Quay. Unless you’ve got an elephant handy.
Richborough is just one of many Roman sites that English Heritage maintains. Witnessing both the very beginning and end of the Roman occupation, it’s a great place to consider this thrilling stretch of history.
And if you fancy extending your Roman holiday and travelling over to France, then the port of Dover is not far away.
If a trip to the Continent sounds like a possibility, give your campervan insurance provider a call to check you’re covered for adventures abroad. Call our helpful team to discuss your options before leaving.
Fishbourne Roman Palace, Chichester, West Sussex
Just two miles west of Chichester is Fishbourne. The largest and best-preserved Roman palace in the country and home to the most superb collection of early Roman mosaic floors. It really does rank as one of Britain’s finest archaeological sites. Alongside the stunning mosaics depicting the famous dolphin-riding cupid, you can also see the ingenious under-floor heating system.
For the green-fingered, the extensive gardens have been carefully replanted in an effort to showcase how the original formal Roman garden may have looked.
Bignor Roman Villa, West Sussex
The excavated 2nd Century ruins of the Bignor Roman Villa can be found just six miles from the beautiful hilltop town of Arundel. Undoubtedly one of the largest Roman villas open to the public today, the original inhabitants of Bignor were clearly wealthy.
Superbly placed at the base of the South Downs, the villa features a number of well-preserved mosaics. The internationally-important Ganymede and Head of Medusa mosaics showcase the very best of Romano-British workmanship. You’ll also find the interesting remains of the Roman underfloor heating system.
A nice contrast to the Roman remains can be found a few short miles from here at the pretty little village of Petworth. One of the south east’s most impressive stately homes, the grand 17th Century Petworth House contains an impressive collection of paintings from the likes of Turner, Van Dyck, Titian, Gainsborough and Blake.
Portchester Castle, Portsmouth, Hampshire
Built by the Romans in the 3rd Century, Portchester Castle boasts the finest surviving example of Roman walls in northern Europe and is a must-visit. Still over two feet high and incorporating around 20 bastions, the waterside fortress has been adapted and transformed countless times over the centuries.
Indeed, it even served as a prisoner of war camp as recently as the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars of 1793–1815, when it housed up to 8,000 prisoners.
Brading Roman Villa, Isle of Wight
The Isle of Wight packs a surprisingly wide variety of landscapes, coastal scenery, and historical treasures within its bounds. There are remains of two Roman villas on the island, the best of which is the Brading Roman Villa on the busy Ryde-to-Sandown A3055.
First discovered back in 1879, the villa dates from the 1st Century, although some parts have been dated as late as AD 300. It’s believed that the villa was occupied by a very high-status owner and was probably a site of bacchanalian worship.
It’s rightly renowned for its superbly preserved and breath-taking mosaics. These include images of the mythical Medusa and depictions of Orpheus, long associated with the cult of Bacchus. An opportunity to show off the owners’ wealth and education, but also often used to ward off evil and protect the home.
If you’re visiting the Isle of Wight’s capital Newport then the other Roman villa site stands at the end of a well-signposted 10-minute walk southeast of the town centre. Its sister villa at Brading is better but it’s still worth a visit.
While the ancient Romans may have used such images to protect themselves from harm, modern visitors to the Isle of Wight would be better off investing in campervan insurance to keep their home on wheels safe. Although a glass of wine or two in honour of the god Bacchus probably wouldn’t go amiss either!
Roman Town House, Dorchester, Dorset
The Roman town of Durnovaria was founded in about AD 70 and remains of it can still be spotted today around 21st Century Dorchester. At the back of County Hall, excavations in the 1930s uncovered a fine Roman town house and its well-preserved mosaics. It’s the only example of a fully exposed Roman town house in the country.
Further out of Dorchester on the south east edge of the town you’ll find the Maumbury Rings. Here the Romans held vast gladiatorial combats in an amphitheatre adapted from a Stone Age site.
Roman Baths, Bath, Somerset
Bath owes its name and fame to the unique hot springs to be found here. A feature which made it a place of particular reverence not only for its original Celtic inhabitants but also the Roman invaders. Built in the 1st Century, the Roman Baths can still be visited today and are a remarkably evocative remnant of Roman Britain.
Sadly, you can’t take a dip in the ancient Roman pools, but there’s still plenty to entertain you as you wander around the temple and bathing complex. Highlights include the remains of the open-air Great Bath with its steaming waters surrounded by 19th Century pillars, terraces and statutes of famous Romans. Here you’ll experience a small part of what the Romans who bathed here felt all those thousands of years ago.
Known as Corinium in Roman times, the delightful Cotswold town of Cirencester was once second only to mighty Londinium in terms of size and importance. Despite the Saxons polishing off much of the Roman city, today the town is still home to a variety of Roman attractions.
These include the extensive remains of a large Roman amphitheatre and the interesting Corinium Museum. The museum houses an extensive collection of Roman and Saxon artefacts, including several wonderful mosaic pavements.
Chedworth Roman Villa, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire
Set amid tranquil woodland in a beautiful Cotswold valley, this National Trust-owned villa is one of the UK’s largest and most elaborate villas yet discovered. Offering more than a mile of walls to explore there are so many must-sees to visit at Chedworth Roman Villa. These include stunning mosaics, a hypocaust, two bath houses, a Roman temple, and even evidence of a flushing toilet!
Chedworth Roman Villa is just one of many interesting National Trust properties that could add something to your Roman-themed road trip. From Ambleside Roman Fort at Lake Windermere to the Dolaucothi Gold Mines in Carmarthenshire take a look at this incredible list.
Just like the Romans we love the idea of a hot shower and a fully-functioning toilet. If your beloved campervan offers such luxuries then it’s more important than ever to make sure you have the right campervan insurance to protect them.
Caerleon, Newport, South Wales
Visiting the compact town of Caerleon today, you’ll inevitably come across the remains of the major Roman town of Isca that pepper the area. Originally built to provide administrative and military support for the smaller, outlying Roman camps in south Wales. The town eventually grew to rival the size and importance of the better-known York and Chester in the north of England.
Although much has inevitably been lost over the years, be sure to visit the Roman fortress baths, which are remarkably intact and beautifully presented. The National Roman Legion Museum on the High Street is laden with fascinating artefacts unearthed in the area.
Opposite the museum, follow Fosse Lane down to the hugely atmospheric Roman amphitheatre, the only one of its kind preserved in the UK. Built around AD 80 at the same time as the Colosseum in Rome. Up to 6,000 spectators could have packed into here to watch animal baiting, military exercises or even gory gladiatorial contests.
While you’re packing for your Welsh trip, remember that Wales is full of narrow country lanes that criss-cross many areas. Always be on the lookout for horses or other livestock and animals in the road. Be sure to get good campervan insurance in place before you set off.
Chester Roman Amphitheatre, Chester, Cheshire
The glorious city of Chester is wonderous for anyone with even a passing interest in history. But as home to the largest known Roman fortress in Britain, Deva Castra, it is of particular importance to fans of this period.
The largest archaeological excavation in British history has uncovered the country’s largest stone-built amphitheatre. Currently only half uncovered, it’s estimated to have been able to hold over 7,000 spectators.
While the stonework is barely head height now it’s nonetheless an impressive and evocative window into the gladiatorial world of ancient Rome. Don’t miss the Roman Gardens next door where Roman foundations and columns dug up during redevelopments are on display.
Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland and Cumbria
No list of Roman sites worth visiting in the UK could possibly be complete without a visit to Hadrian’s Wall. Stretching across Northumberland and Cumbria, it once marked the north western border of the massive Roman Empire.
Stretching 73 miles from coast to coast, it’s surely the most spectacular remnant of the Roman Empire’s time in Britain. While most of the wall disappeared centuries ago it still makes a wonderful accent to the landscape’s rugged beauty.
Built by a force of 15,000 men over the course of six years, Hadrian’s Wall is still an impressive and extraordinary feat of engineering and labour. Even almost 2,000 years after its completion in AD 122.
As well as the wall itself you’ll find an assortment of barracks, ramparts and forts. Highlights include Chesters Roman Fort and Museum near Chollerford, the remains of Housesteads and Vindolanda forts and the milecastle remains at Cawfields, just north of Haltwhistle.
One of the least known and yet most interesting sites along the course of Hadrian's Wall is the Temple of Mithras at Carrawburgh. It is a 'mithraeum', or temple dedicated to the god Mithras, a sun god originally worshipped in the eastern Empire and whose cult became extremely popular among soldiers of the Roman legions.
In such a wild and rugged landscape, you don’t want to get stuck behind the wheel of a broken-down campervan. Speak to Motorhome Protect about adding breakdown cover to your campervan insurance.
Antonine Wall, Scotland
When the Roman legions attempted to penetrate into Scotland, they encountered persistent resistance from the Caledonians. So, in AD 142 the Antonine Wall was built in a desperate attempt to try to exert some control over the region.
Made of turf on a stone foundation, the three- to four-metre-high fortification stretches 37 miles across the centre of Scotland. The wall was occupied for about 40 years before the Romans largely gave up their attempts to subjugate the area, and instead adopted a policy of containment. Today, it provides the perfect excuse to walk through the rugged Scottish countryside.
If you’re heading out to such wild places then make sure you’ve got the right campervan insurance cover in place. While you won’t encounter any dangerous Roman warriors it’s still best to be on the safe side.
If you’re planning a longer Scottish adventure, check out some of these top places to see in Scotland when touring in your campervan.
Don’t leave home without the right campervan insurance
If you’re planning a trip back into the distant past, there are a few essentials to remember before you set off on your adventure. Campervan insurance being one of them.
Insurance cover from our panel of leading insurers can come with a range of benefits including:
- Cover for up to 365 days a year
- Discounts if you’re a member of a club
- Unlimited EU cover
- Up to £3,500 of cover for your camping personal effects
- Value up to £120,000
Get covered by campervan insurance from Motorhome Protect today.