When someone says England, what comes to your mind? The Queen? Rain and grey skies? Afternoon tea? Or football perhaps. For most people, England is a mashup of many things.
You may visit one coastal town, which boasts a beach culture and uses the term bread bun. Then you travel twenty-minutes west to find moorland, drystone walls, and farming culture with a different dialect and the term bread bap. And, aside from cultural and idiomatic differences, the best places to visit in England are spread right across the country. How, you may wonder, will you decide where to visit?
To help you choose, I have curated the following list. From London to the Lakes – here are the 8 best places to visit in England.
London is the obvious place on the list. An internationally revered city, London is the UK’s financial and economic hub, as well as a major stopover city thanks to its major airports. Chances are, if you are flying into the UK, you will arrive in London. Flights are often cheaper and more regular to the capital, making it an obvious starting place for a UK trip.
Aside from accessibility, London is a tourist’s dream. Whether you want to visit Buckingham Palace, shop the hippie markets of Camden, or browse the endless galleries and museums – London will keep you entertained at all hours. In fact, home to West End performances, a world-famous skyline, and firm advocate of quintessential British culture – disappointment might be the only thing that London doesn’t entertain. The lists of attractions in London just go on…and on.
Where to stay in London?
When staying in London, it is worth splurging to prioritise a central location. Try to research attractions you’d like to visit in advance and choose a location accordingly, as public transport can be expensive and tiring after a long day sightseeing. Good areas to consider include South Bank, Covent Garden, Soho, and Kensington.
As south as south can go, Cornwall is a coastal county known for surfing and a strong beach culture. And, with over 200 beaches, its easy to see why. The county is a popular summer destination for British vacationers, who flock for the foreign-feel of Cornwall’s shores.
If you visit Cornwall, you will want to spend a lot of time on its beaches. Conde Nast Traveller list Fistral, Sennen Cove, and Pendower Beach amongst the best beaches to visit in Cornwall, which you may wish to factor into your itinerary.
But, if you somehow find yourself fed up with beaches, not to worry – there are plenty of things to do in Cornwall. The Eden Project offers a unique take on a botanical garden, featuring different natural landscapes in huge ‘biome’ domes. Visitors can experience the ‘largest rainforest in captivity’ and the botany of Western Australia, all within the Project’s 30-acres. Or, for a taste of legendary literature and history, visit Tintagel Castle for a King Arthur tour. Local legend has it, that the wizard Merlin also lived nearby in a 330ft sea cave.
Where to stay in Cornwall?
If you decide to visit Cornwall, you have many beautiful towns to consider staying in. St Ives, Newquay, Truro, and Penzance are the most popular options. Although, smaller towns such as Bude and Port Isaac also make great choices if you are happy to travel to sightsee.
Visit the Cotswolds
While the aesthetic Instagram pictures of pretty stone villages may present the Cotswolds as a small area, the region actually covers nearly 800 square miles. In fact, the Cotswolds makes up the largest Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England and Wales.
The region is certainly deserving of its title, and fortunately is well-protected by local and global regulations – even recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The villages of the Cotswolds seem otherworldly, as if you have rewound time or accidently walked onto a film set.
While the Cotswolds can fill a day’s itinerary with ‘walking around villages’, there are plenty of things for visitors to do in the region. For those visiting in April or May, you should visit the Cotswold Lavender Farm. The farm allows tourists to explore fields of purple lavender, which is excellent for any budding photographers or those simply wishing to take in the aesthetic.
For a more unique exploration, visit The Model Village. The ‘village’ shows a miniature replica of Bourton-on-the-Water, which visitors can wander round and enjoy Gulliver’s Travels vibes as they tower over the perfectly detailed buildings. Open all year but Christmas Day, the entrance fees are also modest, at £4.50 for adults.
Where to stay in the Cotswolds?
The most popular, picturesque villages in the Cotswolds include Castle Combe, Bibury Village, Lower Slaughter, Blockley, and Stanton. To book accommodation in a village, bear in mind that places are limited and book up in advance. That said, you can find a fair number of options on booking.com and Airbnb. If you would prefer to travel into the villages and stay somewhere with more facilities, Cheltenham or Stroud also make good options.
Visit the Yorkshire Dales
Famous for limestone, farming, and wind-beaten moorland, the Yorkshire Dales is one of the most iconic English National Parks. The region inspires many artistic movements – both in film and literature. Harry Potter, The Railway Children, Downton Abbey, The Peaky Blinders, and The Secret Garden have all used film sets in and around the Dales.
Hikers will love the Yorkshire Dales, which holds many scenic routes. One of the main challenges in the area is the Three Peaks. Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough cover 24 miles, taking walkers a goal of 12 hours to beat. Of course, there are many shorter walks in the area, such as hiking to the top of Malham Cove or the Fell Beck Circular route around Brimham Rocks. I’ve written a complete guide to the best walks in the Yorkshire Dales you can read here.
And, for history lovers, the Yorkshire Dales have some incredible castles to explore. Skipton Castle is just one of the many medieval castles. Over 900-years-old, the property boasts a Tudor-style courtyard and an intact ‘Banqueting Hall’ – maintaining an immersive historical world to experience. Open daily apart from the Christmas period, adult can expect to pay £8.90 for an entrance ticket, with children tickets for 5 to 17-year-olds costing £5.70.
Where to stay in the Yorkshire Dales?
Deciding where to stay in the Yorkshire Dales will depend on whether you want a village, town, or city feel. Do you want to travel to rural locations? Or would you prefer to base yourself in a remote location and travel to local amenities when needed? For a city or town feel, Leeds, Harrogate, Ripon, Skipton, Haworth, and Ilkley all make good accommodation choices. Whereas, for a smaller feel, Malham, Kettlewell, or Horton-in-Ribblesdale, are good spots to base yourself.
For Viking history, medieval streets, Roman influence, and excellent chocolate, York makes the perfect Northern city to visit in England. The city is known for its narrow shopping street, The Shambles, and its 13th century surrounding city walls.
Visitors to York can appreciate the city’s endless historic attractions – whether they visit the Viking JORVIK Centre, gothic York Minster, or William The Conqueror’s Clifford’s Tower.
Or, for a sweeter taste of history, tourists can visit York’s Chocolate Story, a chocolate museum located in King’s Square. Once home to many chocolate factories, York gathered a reputation for chocolate production, with many locals relying on the industry for their livelihoods. Nowadays, visitors can discover York’s chocolate-producing past daily from 10am. Adult tickets to York’s Chocolate story cost £15, with tours taking around 90 minutes.
Where to stay in York?
York’s centre is relatively small and easy to explore on foot. However, you should aim to find accommodation around the centre rather than York’s outskirts, since most of the city’s attractions are centrally located. For proximity to York Minster, Bootham and the City Centre are your best options. The City Centre West area, over the River Ouse, also offer a conveniently central location. Slightly further west, South Bank and Holgate offer less tourists and more of a residential retreat after a day of sightseeing.
Located in Somerset, Bath coins its name from its iconic Roman baths. An adored UNESCO World Heritage site, the city is estimated to have been founded in the 1st century AD. Then, Romans utilised the natural hot springs as a spa – making Bath the ultimate example of an ancient spa town in England.
The obvious thing to do in Bath is to visit the place where it all began, The Roman Baths. While visitors cannot bathe for safety reasons since the water is not treated, the Baths act as a real-life museum with informative displays throughout. For adults, weekend tickets cost £22.50 and weekday tickets cost £19.50. However, students, seniors, and children are entitled to concession tickets.
If you are disappointed that you can’t swim in The Roman Baths, don’t worry; the Thermae Bath Spa offers ‘natural thermal waters’ so you can bathe just as the Romans did (with the benefit of treated water). According to the spa’s website, the ‘thermal waters contain over 42 different minerals, the most concentrated being sulphate, calcium & chloride’ – which could explain why the Romans believed it held magic healing powers. Thermae Spa is open daily apart from Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and New Year’s Day, which means it is easy to fit into your Bath itinerary.
Bath boasts lots of architecture and cultural attractions, including Bath Abbey and the Fashion Museum. However, literature fans should carve some time out to visit The Jane Austen Centre to celebrate the accredited, classic English author. Jane spent 1801 to 1806 living in Bath and its influence can be read across her famed works. And, after absorbing in the literary history of the museum, you can head upstairs to sample a classic afternoon tea at the Regency Tea Room.
Where to stay in Bath?
When choosing accommodation in Bath, centrality is the way forward. The City Centre offer lots of accommodation options in the way of hotels and Airbnb properties. Although, the suburbs of Walcot, Bathwick, and Bear Flat are all residential areas close to the centre – so these are worth considering as well.
Perhaps most known for its prestigious Cambridge University, the city has accrued an upper class reputation and strong place in the educational field.
Aside from discovering the Cambridge University buildings, punting along the River Cam is a popular experience in Cambridge. Seated in a long wooden boat, a punter stands at the rear of the boat, pushing it along the river with a large stick. Picture a British version of the gondolas in Italy and you should be on the right lines to picturing punting in Cambridge. Boats can be booked online with many reputable companies, including Scudamore and Rutherfords Punting.
Depending on your skillset, you can opt to go self-hire punting or hire a chauffeur – it really comes down to personal preference. Although, if you value sightseeing, you should consider a chauffeur for a time-effective experience!
For cultural things to do in Cambridge, there are many museums for you to enjoy. The Fitzwilliam Museum, Scott Polar Research Institute, and the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology are all great choices. Architecturally, King’s College Chapel and the Mathematical Bridge are also good places to visit in Cambridge.
Where to stay in Cambridge?
Again, the City Centre should be your aim when staying in Cambridge. Otherwise, the neighbourhoods of Newtown, Castle, and Chesterton are all located close to the centre. Alternatively, for a unique insight into top university living, you can opt to stay in Cambridge University accommodation – though you should book ahead as availability is mostly available outside of term time.
Visit the Lake District
Located in Cumbria, the Lake District is one of the country’s most revered National Parks. The Lake District is heavily associated with the literary arts and is linked to the famous poet William Wordsworth – inspiring works such as The Prelude.
Wordsworth lovers can pay their respects to the poet with a visit to Dove Cottage, where he resided from 1799 to 1808. Now a renowned museum, visitors can find over ‘90% of William Wordsworth’s original verse manuscripts’ in the property’s collection – making it quite the literary visit. Open Tuesday to Sunday, guests can opt for a ticket to include or exclude Dove Cottage. Adult tickets including Dove Cottage cost £12, while excluding the cottage costs £8.50.
For nature lovers, Lake Windermere and Buttermere offer beautiful waterside walks and serene water activities. Windermere is particularly popular for water sports. Whether you want to hire a motorboat, row, or canoe across England’s largest lake, bookings can easily be made online for a hassle-free experience.
The Lake District also holds the title for the highest point in England – with Scafell Pike standing at an impressive 978m. Experienced hikers can expect a tough scramble up steep terrain but will be rewarded with expansive views over the hills below. You should allow between 5 and 6 hours to scale the Pike and research the weather forecast in advance to ensure safety when hiking.
Where to stay in the Lake District?
There are so many beautiful towns to base yourself in the Lake District. The most popular areas include Grasmere, Bowness-on-Windermere, Coniston, Ambleside, Keswick, and Kendal.
England has many amazing places for you to visit. When considering other countries to discover nearby, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and Northern Ireland are all accessible options. From London, you can also take advantage of cheap flights to explore Europe.
Do you have any more suggestions for the best places to visit in England? Feel free to let other readers know in the comments below.