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Here are some top places in England to visit, and reasons to go there.
20 Top Places to Visit in England
As soon as I finished university I whisked myself off to England and ended up staying two and a half years.
There is something irresistible about a country so rich in castles, myth, fashion, art, and scenic hills and dales, not to mention the Beatles, Twiggy and punk rock.
When it comes to popular travel destinations, England is a tried and true favourite and you’ll never run out of things to do.
If you’re going to England for the first time, no doubt you’ll visit London. While I adore London (and would have stayed if they hadn’t decided I’d had too many work visas already), 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 (hello, Bath!) to areas of stunning natural beauty. (Lake District, anyone?)
From the Beatles to Beatrix Potter, from north to south, there is a destination in England for you, so use this guide to start your trip planning now.
For Buzzy Excitement Head to London
It’s impossible to squeeze London’s top spots into a couple of paragraphs, but let’s try a whirlwind tour.
Watch the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, tour Westminster Abbey, shop at Harrods or Selfridges (or both), and take a walk along the River Thames.
Hit up the posh neighbourhood of Mayfair then check out the bustling markets of Camden and Borough for a taste of local living. (Portobello’s a fun one, too.)
Don’t miss the British Museum for a look at the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles, the National Gallery in Traflagar Square and, if you love scandalous royal history, the formidable Tower of London.
End the day on a high note with cocktails at one of the bars in the Shard, an ice-pick of a high rise by London Bridge Station, or at the Iris Bar at the Gherkin, the unmistakable high rise that, yes, looks like a futuristic pickle.
Places to visit in England Outside London
Take a Day Trip to Windsor Castle
A favourite residence of Queen Elizabeth II, and where she is laid to rest, Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest continuously occupied castle on the planet.
(It’s also where Harry and Megan got married, if current non-working royals appeal to you more.)
With a 1,000 year history these walls have stories to tell.
Built in the 11th century by William the Conqueror, Windsor Castle was besieged by rebel barons in 1214; acted as Charles I’s prison before he was executed in 1649; and suffered horrific damage in an out-of-control fire in 1992.
Restorations took five years, and today this magnificent castle is up and running. Highlights include the State Apartments; Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House – which took more than 1500 skilled artisans to complete – and St. George’s Chapel, a Gothic masterpiece with its exquisitely carved stalls of the Knights and Ladies of the Garter.
Just be prepared for a long walk up a a hill to get there.
Getting to Windsor: You can take a direct train from London Waterloo Station. It takes about an hour.
Spa Like Jane Austen in Bath
Bath is one of those stunning historical cities that make you catch your breath and say, “This can’t be real. Why can’t we have one of these in North America?”
At least that’s how it affected me.
It’s not just co-incidence Bath is a spa town. Where there is historical leisure there is historical wealth, and the result is … historical architecture!
From the Celts and Romans to Jane Austen and the Georgians, Bath has garnered a long list of fans, and a good place to start is by touring the Roman Baths, which is a step into England’s lengthy liquid history.
Admire the Georgian buildings created from golden Bath stone, soak in the hot springs at the Thermae Bath Spa or the Gainsborough Hotel 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.
Go New Age in Glastonbury
For everything wacky and spiritual, the town of Glastonbury is a one stop shop. Located only 40 km from Bath, it’s a world away in atmosphere.
I landed up here during a Goddess Festival, and the streets were a swirl of capes, colours and laughter (even through a dismal rain).
Expect vegetarian restaurants, shops selling crystals and magical charms, and don’t miss climbing the otherworldly conical hill called the Tor, believed to be hollow and the dwelling place of the fairies.
Glastonbury may be zany but there is deep history here. Joseph of Arimathea, the Virgin Mary’s uncle, is said to have built the first chapel in England here, dedicated to Mary.
You can visit the site of the chapel at the once-mighty Glastonbury Abbey, where it’s said (but rarely believed), that King Arthur is buried.
Do we need to even mention the 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.
Discover the Rugged Beauty of the Lake District
The romantic Lake District with its fells, waters and gorges is one of the best places to visit in England for the scenery alone.
Not only was the Lake District Beatrix Potter’s home and the setting for many of her beloved children’s tales, it was where William Wordsworth based himself (and wrote Guide to the Lakes in 1810).
Meres, tarns and lakes such as Windermere, Coniston, and Derwentwater promise boating, hiking and scenic drives, while postcard pretty towns like Keswick and Ambleside are backdropped by mountain vistas.
While I wasn’t lucky enough to spot Peter Rabbit or Squirrel Nutkin as I wandered (and got lost) along sleepy country roads looking for Beatrix Potter’s Castle Cottage, the walk was blissful, and it’s worth taking time away from the top Lake District sights for a spot of peaceful meandering.
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.
Celebrate Charlotte Bronte in West Yorkshire
There is nothing so atmospheric as the windswept moody 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.
For me the highlight was the parsonage where Bronte sisters Charlotte, Emily and Anne, along with their brother Branwell, lived and dreamed up imaginary worlds.
You can read more about the Bronte sisters in Haworth and the top sights to see in my Bronte Haworth guide.
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.
Get Mythic in Stonehenge
Located 8 miles from Salisbury in Wiltshire, this ancient stone circle is one of the most historic sights in the world and somewhere in the neighbourhood of 5,000 years old.
A monumental ring of standing stones set within earthworks, Stonehenge was constructed between 3000 BCE and 2000 BCE, but its exact purpose remains uncertain.
Aligned with celestial events, it almost certainly it had some sort of religious or ceremonial significance, and visitors from around the world come to marvel at its ancient stones and ponder the mysteries of its origins.
I want to say I had a moving mystical experience at Stonehenge, but you can’t get close to the stones like you once could so the experience was a bit diluted. Next time I’ll plan ahead and do a special access tour.
Getting to Stonehenge: You can take a bus from London Victoria Station or from Salisbury but many people sign up for day tours.
Commune With the Stones in Avebury
Avebury, also in Wiltshire, is 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 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.
I had an amazing time here, meeting Pagans and going out to the stones at dusk when it was just me and the sheep in the field.
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.
Wander the Medieval Streets of Shrewsbury
It’s a surprise to me why more travel guides don’t recommend Shrewsbury, a medieval town on the Severn River. Think half-timbered buildings, centuries-old pubs, narrow passageways and creaky luxury hotels. What’s not to like?
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.
Other things to do here include visiting Shrewsbury Castle, now a military museum; staying in a centuries-old hotel like the Prince Rupert, walking along the river or have a pint in a pub that’s been serving the thirsty for hundreds of years.
If spooky adventures appeal – check out the many ghosts of Shrewsbury. That’s what I did, because it’s one of the most haunted places in all of England.
Getting to Shrewsbury: Very near the Welsh border, this walkable town is 240 km (150 miles) northwest of London and easy to get to by train.
Check Out Oxford University
Dating back to the 11th century, Oxford University is the oldest university in England and a mighty symbol of learning.
Explore its historic colleges, such as Christ Church and Magdalen, which boast stunning chapels, tranquil gardens, and centuries of academic tradition. (Not that you can see academic tradition, but do your best.)
It’s well worth touring the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology that opened in 1683 and the famous Bodleian Library. (If you’ve read the All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness, you’ll feel as if you know the library well, though you’ll be keeping a sharp eye out for witches.)
Finish off the day with afternoon tea in the drawing room at the Randolf Hotel, a quintessential British experience, and one guaranteed to come with scones and clotted cream.
Getting to Oxford: Direct trains leave from both Paddington Station and Marylebone in London. You can be there in an hour, making it a great day trip from London.
Now Visit Oxford’s Rival – Cambridge
Cambridge, like Oxford, is also renowned for its prestigious university, old-world architecture and tranquil river setting. (Although in this case it’s the River Cam, not the Thames.)
Along cobblestone streets you’ll find centuries-old colleges, including the Gothic glamour of King’s College that dates back to the 1400s, and the Harry-Potter-like Trinity College, founded by Henry VIII.
More recent history includes the notorious scandal of the Cambridge 5, a group of disillusioned university students recruited to be spies for the Soviet Union in the 1930s. Intelligent, ardent and lucky, they all entered government service and passed huge amounts of state secrets to the Soviets.
Getting to Cambridge: You can get to Cambridge from London by train from King’s Cross Station in under an hour.
Make a Pilgrimage to Canterbury
A UNESCO World Heritage Site and the end point for Geoffrey Chaucer’s classic Canterbury Tales, Canterbury is infused with history, and not all of it good – Canterbury Cathedral was the site of Thomas Becket’s murder in 1170.
This gruesome slaughter of Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, by knights loyal to Henry II was a murder that rocked the Middle Ages.
In the end Beckett was declared a saint, and Canterbury became one of the most important pilgrimage points in Britain. Today, the city is brimming with medieval charm and religious significance.
After visiting Canterbury Cathedral, wander past timber-framed buildings, stop in at a traditional pub for a pint and delve into the stories of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales at the interactive museum.
Getting to Canterbury: Located approximately 60 miles southeast of London, Canterbury is easily accessible by train, with a journey time of around one hour.
Head North to Hadrian’s Wall
It’s a sight to be seen, the ancient Roman wall that spans 73 miles from sea to sea.
Dating back to 122, Hadrian’s Wall was built to defend the Roman province of Britannia.
Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Wall once marked the northern edge of the Roman Empire.
With stone fortifications, milecastles (small forts), and barracks scattered along its path, it provides a look back into the military strategies and daily life of Roman soldiers.
My visit here was brief, and if I went again I’d spend more time hiking the Hadrian’s Wall Path, ideal for soaking up views of the North Pennines and South Tynedale.
Getting to Hadrian’s Wall: Situated about 80 miles northwest of Newcastle upon Tyne, Hadrian’s Wall is accessible by train, bus or car.
Forget New York, Explore the Original York.
Led by Ivar the Boneless, Vikings raided York in 866, about 800 years after it was conquered by the Romans.
Yet York, a 2,000-year-old city in North Yorkshire, England, is as British as it gets, with a wealth of heritage sights including Clifford’s Tower castle, infamous as the site of a massacre of some 150 Jews in 1190; and the Merchant Adventurers` Hall, which dates back 1357.
Dominating the city’s skyline is York Minster, a magnificent Gothic cathedral that dates back to the 7th century, while the appealingly-named Shambles is one of the best preserved medieval streets in Europe.
Getting to York: By train, it’s less than two hours from London’s King Cross Station.
Find Merlin in Cornwall
Cornwall in the southwest of England is known for its Celtic roots, rugged coastline, sandy beaches, and quaint fishing villages, but what triggered my interest is its link to the Arthurian legends.
We can thank George of Monmouth for that, who, in the 12th century wrote that Arthur was conceived at Tintagel, a castle perched dramatically on the craggy cliffs overlooking the ocean.
Below it is Merlin’s Cave, which, according to legend, was where the great wizard plucked Arthur out of the sea.
Cornwall has other many other attractions: the artsy fishing village of St. Ives; the Eden Project, a unique botanical garden housed in giant biomes; and Land’s End, the westernmost point of mainland England, where you can look out at the breathtaking views and imagine you’re at the end of the world.
Explore the World of Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon
Literary lovers should beeline for Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, England, the birthplace of the world’s most famous playwright, William Shakespeare.
Visit Shakespeare’s Birthplace, meticulously preserved to reflect the Bard’s early life, marvel at Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, the charming home of Shakespeare’s wife, and see a performance at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre on the River Avon.
Check Out the Quaint Villages of the Cotswolds
Characterized by honey-coloured stone villages, rolling hills and lush meadows, the Cotswolds is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Wander through idyllic towns like Bourton-on-the-Water, known as the Venice of the Cotswolds; Stow-on-the-Wold, where antique shops and ivy-covered cottages beckon; or the Slaughters, where you can walk from Lower to Upper Slaughter on a trail that follows the River Eye.
For scenic views and attractions like Broadway Tower, hike the 6-mile stretch from Chipping Camden to Broadway of the 102-mile Cotswold Way, or check out Castle Combe, a village known for its film sites like Bridgerton and Stardust.
With its timeless allure, a visit to the Cotswolds promises a serene country retreat (except for the busloads of tourists).
Bow to Beatlemania in Liverpool
As the hometown of the Beatles, music fans flock to iconic sites like The Cavern Club at 10 Mathew Street, where the Fab Four made their mark with nearly 300 performances between 1961 and 1963.
Also on Mathew Street is the Beatles Museum, with more than 1,000 items of memorabilia.
Another Fab Four destination is the Royal Albert Dock, home to the interactive The Beatles Story that promises a Magical History Tour. (Get it? Kind of witty, I thought.)
Take a break from all things Beatles with a stroll along the waterfront and a trip to Anfield Stadium, legendary home of Liverpool FC, before getting back on theme with a visit to Strawberry Field, where you can make memories that will last – wait for it – forever.
Love Manor Houses? Hit Up the Peak DIstrict
The Peak District National Park is known for its stunning landscapes including rugged moorlands, limestone dales and picturesque villages, but what appealed to me most about the Peak District were the grand manor houses.
The standout is Chatsworth House, set amid sprawling parkland. Home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, it stood in as Pemberley in the film adaption of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
As Austen wrote the book while in the nearby town of Bakewell, Chatsworth was likely the original model she had in mind.
Another of my favourite grand homes is Hardwick Hall, a symbol of Elizabethan splendour.
Built by the formidable Elizabethan countess, Elizabeth of Shrewsbury (also known as Bess of Hardwick) in the late 16th century, it’s a masterpiece of Tudor architecture – and I still can’t get over her showy giant initials ‘ES’ she had mounted on top of the house.
Spend a Dirty Weekend in Brighton?
Brighton, a lively city on England’s south coast, has a frisky history, and when I lived in London, I’d often hear jokes about “dirty weekends in Brighton.”
Its racy rep stems back to the early 1800s when Britain’s Prince Regent, later to become George IV, found Brighton a more enjoyable place to spend time with his unsuitable mistress, Maria Fitzherbert, than the disapproving court in London. Soon enough it became a popular destination for illicit affairs.
Today Brighton is more of a fun family seaside escape, but its risque royal history lingers.
One of the top Brighton attractions, in fact, is the Royal Pavilion, a pleasure pavilion built for the Prince Regent. With its exotic Indian-influenced architecture, complete with domes and minarets, it was the perfect place for George to dally with his mistress.
Whether you’re here for romance or with children in tow, the Brighton Pier, with its lively arcades and fairground rides offers fun for all ages; and the eclectic shops and street performers showcase Brighton’s Bohemian spirit.
Getting to Brighton: You can easily get to Brighton by train in under an hour from Victoria or St. Pancras Station.