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If you’re going to Europe for the first time, chances are you’re going to visit London. While I adore London, and used to live there (until they said, “Hey, Chickie, you’ve had one too many temporary work visas. You can only come back in as a tourist!”), there are plenty of other fascinating places to visit in England.
So here are some of the best places to go to in England, the legendary Land of the Angles – from cities that will take your breath away with their historic architecture (hello, Bath!) to areas of stunning natural beauty.
Bronte country in West Yorkshire
There is nothing so atmospheric as the moors of west Yorkshire, where the Bronte family lived and wrote. Base yourself in Haworth and visit all things Bronte, including the Top Withins, the setting for Anne Bronte’s classic Wuthering Heights. Read all about the Bronte sisters in Haworth and the top sights to see.
Getting to Haworth: The nearest major airport is Manchester. To get to Haworth you can take a train to the town of Keighley. Then take the restored Keighley and Worth Valley railway to Haworth.
The Lake District
The stunning Lake District is one of the top places to visit in England and for good reason. Scenic hills, dales and lakes add up to a sightseeing feast for the eyes.
Not only was it Beatrix Potter’s home and the setting for many of her beloved children’s tales, it was also where William Wordsworth based himself as did many other Romantic Poets. It’s also a favourite British destination for outdoor activities.
Getting to the Lake District: Manchester is a good place to fly into. From there you can rent a car or take the train to Windermere. For more information read Things to do in the Lake District.
Bath, along with the spa town of Baden-Baden in Germany and Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic, is one of those places that make you catch your breath when you see it for the first time and say, “This can’t be real. Why can’t we have one of these in North America?”
It’s not just co-incidence that all of the above are spa towns. Where there is historical leisure there is historical wealth, and the result is … historical architecture! Go to Bath, UK, to soak in the hot springs, visit the original Roman baths and engage in every Jane Austen activity under the British sun.
Getting to Bath: Located in Somerset, Bath is 90 minutes from London’s Paddington Station.
Where to stay: Read my review of the Gainsborough Bath Spa hotel, the only hotel where the mineral-rich thermal springs is piped directly into the spa.
For everything wacky and New Age, Glastonbury is a one stop shop. Located 40 km from Bath, it’s a world away in atmosphere.
You can expect Goddess Festivals, vegetarian restaurants and the otherworldly conical hill called the Tor, which is believed to be hollow and the dwelling place of the fairies. Another thing to seek out is the Chalice Well, rumoured Joseph of Arimathea, the Virgin Mary’s uncle, hid the Holy Grail after he sailed to England.
Joseph of Arimathea is also said to have built the first chapel in England here, dedicated to Mary. Today, you can visit the site where it was built when you visit the once-mighty Glastonbury Abbey. Oh yes, and King Arthur is said to have been buried here, too.
And do we need to even mention th Glastonbury Festival?
Getting to Glastonbury: Glastonbury is about 3 hour’s drive from London. There is no train, so if you’re not driving you’ll probably have to take a bus (4 hours). It’s worth it, but better to combine it with a trip to Bath.
Avebury in Wiltshire is a bit of a sleeper town, far out shadowed by the more famous Stonehenge, but listen up. While it doesn’t pack as much of a visual punch as Stonehenge, Avebury’s stone circle is, like Stonehenge, an ancient pagan site, full of mystery, history and travellers sporting long hair and crystals.
The Avebury Stone Circle is larger than Stonehenge, 500 years older than Stonehenge and easier to access – the stones run right through town.
The difference between Avebury and Stonehenge is that Stonehenge is made up of shaped (by human) stones while Avebury is made up of naturally-formed ones, but if you want to commune with a mixture of grazing sheep and mystical energy, Avebury’s your man. I mean, place.
Getting to Avebury: Avebury is 120 km west of London. From London’s Paddington Station take a train to Swindon then the Transwilts Express Bus 49 to Avebury.
It’s a surprise to me why more guides to the best places to visit in England don’t mention Shrewsbury, a medieval town on the Severn River. Think half-timbered buildings, centuries-old pubs, narrow passageways and creaky old luxury hotels. What’s not to love?
The birthplace of Charles Darwin, Shrewsbury sits in the hills of Shropshire and you can visit the Shrewsbury Library, which was once a school Darwin attended as a boy. Very near the Welsh border, this walkable town is 240 km (150 miles) northwest of London and easy to get to by train.
You can visit Shrewsbury Castle, now a military museum; stay in a centuries-old hotel like the Prince Rupert, walk along the river, half a pint in a pub that’s been serving the thirsty for hundreds of years, and explore Quarry Park, or – if some spooky adventure appeals – check out the many ghosts of Shrewsbury – it’s one of the most haunted places in all of England.