16 of the best places to visit in England - Lonely Pnet

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Be inspired to see some of Englands highlights © 1000 Words / Shutterstock

16 of the best places to visit in England: from untouched landscapes to culture-packed cities

With a story that stretches back more than 5000 years (and likely long before), the past is a constant presence inEngland. If you want to explore urban historic centers, admire mysterious monoliths, walk through scenic landscapes and enjoy ruggedcoastlinesandnational parks, then be inspired by these 16 highlights of a trip to England.

When it comes togetting around, train and long-distance bus services connect most major destinations. You may need local buses, taxi services, organized tours or your own wheels to get to the smaller places.

In a nation packed with pretty cities,Bathstill stands out as the belle of the ball. Founded by the Romans, who established the spa resort of Aquae Sulis to take advantage of the areashot springs, Bath hit its stride in the 18th century when the rich industrialist Ralph Allen and architects John Wood the Elder and John Wood the Younger oversaw the citys reinvention as a model ofGeorgian architecture. Awash with golden stone townhouses, sweeping crescents and Palladian mansions, along with appealing pubs and restaurants, Bath demands your undivided attention.

Looking like a cross between a lunar landing station and a James Bond villains lair, the gigantic hemispherical greenhouses of theEden Projecthave become a symbol ofCornwalls renaissance. Built in an abandoned clay pit near St Austell to mark the start of the new millennium, and now considered one of Britains modern architectural wonders, the Eden Project aims to explore issues of environment and conservation, and point the way to a cleaner, greener future for us all. Exhibits cover everything from global warming to rubber production and chocolate-making. The glass-domed biomes recreate major world climate systems in microcosm, from the lush jungles of the Amazon rainforest (complete with treetop walkway winding through the canopy) to the olive trees, citrus groves and colorful flowers of the Mediterranean, South Africa and California. Its incredibly impressive as well as educational and inspiring.

Hadrians Wallis one of the countrys most dramatic Roman ruins, its 2000-year-old procession of abandoned forts, garrisons, towers and milecastles marching across the wild and lonely landscape of northern England. This wall was about defense and control, but this edge-of-empire barrier also symbolized the boundary of civilized order to the north lay the unruly land of the marauding Celts, while to the south was the Roman world of orderly tax-paying, underfloor heating and bathrooms. NearNewcastleyou can visitSegedunum, the walls last stronghold, for an insight into life during Roman times. Hiking the full 84-mile distance coast to coast alongthe national trailtakes around a week, but if you have less time and your own car, you may want to select from a few of the wallshighlights.

Itsbarely an hours train ridefrom the capital, but the seaside city ofBrightonhas a quirky character thats completely its own. Overlooking the English Channel on Englands pebbly south coast, its a city thats long been known for its oddball, alternative character. The warren of streets known as the Lanes is a good place to soak up the vibe; sprinkled with vegan cafes, espresso bars, chaotic pubs, record stores and bric-a-brac shops, its a browsers dream come true  especially at local institutionSnoopers Paradise. Youll also find the UKs biggest gay scene here, and the regions best clubbing. The highlight for the sightseeing visitor is theRoyal Pavilion, a 19th-century party palace built by the Prince Regent, who kicked off Brightons love of the outlandish.

Best place for performances in England

Waist-deep in history,Londons rich seams of eye-opening antiquity appear at every turn. The citys architecture pens a beguiling biography, and a multitude of buildings theTower of LondonWestminster AbbeyBig Ben are instantly recognizable landmarks. Its also a tireless innovator of art and culture, a city of ideas and imagination. Visit world-class museums such as theBritish MuseumNatural History Museumand theScience Museum, and be dazzled at art galleries, includingTate ModernTate Britainand theNational Gallery, all of which are free to visit. However you budget your time and money in London, make sure you take in a show. Big names perform inthe West End(Londons equivalent of Broadway), and on the South Bank at theNational Theatreandthe Old Vic.

Mysterious and compelling,Stonehengeis Englandsmost iconic ancient site. People have been drawn to this myth-laden ring of boulders for more than 5000 years, and we still dont know quite why it was built. An ultramodern makeover at ancient Stonehenge has brought an impressive visitor center and the closure of an intrusive road (now restored to grassland). The result is a strong sense of historical context, with dignity and mystery returned to an archaeological gem. Most visitors gaze at the approximately 25-ton stones from behind the perimeter fence, but with enough planning, you can arrange anearly-morning or evening tourand gain access to the inner ring itself. In the slanting sunlight, away from the crowds, its an ethereal place. This is an experience that stays with you.

The Cotswolds, a tangle of impossibly-quaint villages of rose-clad cottages and honey-colored stone, is a region spreading over six English counties. Its a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the most wonderful thing about it is that no matter where you go or how lost you get, youll still end up in a spot with a charming village green, a pub with sloping floors and fine ales, and a view of the lush green hills. Crisscrossed by long-distance trails including the 102-mile Cotswold Way, these gentle yet dramatic hills are perfect for walking, cycling and horse-riding. Its easy to leave the crowds behind and find your very own slice of medieval England here and some of the best boutique hotels in the country.

And while in the Cotswolds, try to visit nearbyOxford. This is as close as most of us will get to the brilliant minds and august institutions that have made this city famous across the globe. Youll catch a glimpse of this rarefied world in the cobbled lanes and ancient quads where cycling students and dusty academics roam. The beautiful college buildings, archaic traditions and stunning architecture have changed little over the centuries, coexisting with a lively, modern, working city. As befits a city of students and professors, Oxford is one of the last bastions of the great British pub, with irresistible old pubs dotted down its central lanes and alleyways.

Highlights of Englands other great historic university city,Cambridge, include a tour of at least one of theancient colleges, and time spent marveling at the intricate vaulting ofKings College Chapel. But no trip to Cambridge is complete without an attempt to take a punt (flat-bottomed boat) along the River Cam by the picturesqueBacks the leafy, green lawns behind the citys finest colleges, offering the best views of the exquisite architecture. Polish off the day with a pint in one of Cambridges many rustic pubs.

Its hard not to be infected by a Liverpudlians love for their own city. For decades this was a hardscrabble town beset by all manner of social ills, but still the love endured, finding its expression in a renowned gallows humor and an obsession with football. With some of the most passionate crowds in the country, taking in a game at either Liverpool FC or Everton FC is a rite of passage here. The waterfront is once again the heart ofLiverpool. The focal point is Albert Dock, an iconic docklands flanked by protected buildings, including a batch of top museums. TheMerseyside Maritime Museumand theInternational Slavery Museumensure the good and bad sides of Liverpools history are not forgotten, while theTate Liverpoolandthe Beatles Storymuseum celebrate popular culture andthe citys most famous musical sons(still).

Best place to see the highlights of English history

With its Roman and Viking heritage, ancient city walls and maze of cobbled streets,Yorkis a living showcase for the highlights of English history. A magnificent circuit of 13th-century walls encloses a medieval spiders web ofsnickelways(narrow alleys), each one the focus of a ghost story or historical character. At the citys heart lies the immense, awe-inspiringYork Minster, the biggest medieval cathedral in all of northern Europe, and one of the most beautiful Gothic cathedrals in the world. Admire the exhibits from more recent times at theNational Railway Museum, the worlds largest collection of historic locomotives. Yorks long history and rich heritage is woven into virtually every brick and beam, and the modern, tourist-oriented city with its myriad museums, restaurants, cafes and traditional pubs is a carefully-maintained heir to that heritage. Enjoy some of the finest views of York from the old city walls, particularly the bucolic section behind the Minster.

William Wordsworth and his romantic friends were the first to champion the charms ofthe Lake Districtand its not hard to see what stirred them. Already the UKs most popular national park, the Lake District also became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017, recognizing its long history of hill-farming but for most people its the chance to hike the humpbacked fells and drink in the gorgeous scenery that keeps them returning year after year. Its awash with outdoor opportunities, from lake cruises to mountain walks, but many people visit for the regions literary connections. Among the many writers who found inspiration here in addition to William Wordsworth were Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Arthur Ransome and, of course, Beatrix Potter, a lifelong-lover of the Lakes.

Best place for a haunting in England

Wonderful, a little weird and occasionally weather-beaten, the classic northern seaside town ofWhitbyhas haunted lanes, fossil-hunting and arguably Englands finest fish and chips. The huddle of 18th-century fishers cottages along the East Cliff are testament to its longtime role as a busy commercial and fishing port it was here that 18th-century explorer Captain James Cook earned his sea legs. The genteel Victorian suburb atop the West Cliff are a clue to Whitbys place as a traditional seaside resort complete with sandy beach, amusement arcades and promenading holidaymakers. Keeping a watchful eye over the town and the River Esk that divides it is an atmosphericruined abbey, the inspiration and setting for part of Bram Stokers Gothic horror storyDracula. But tales of witchery and ghostly legends have haunted Whitby ever since Anglo-Saxon St Hilda landed here to found a monastic community in 657 CE. The town embraces its pseudo-sinister reputation, which culminates in two hugely successfulGoth Weekendseach year.

Best district in England for outdoor enthusiasts

Curiously, you wont find many peaks inthe Peak District. But you will find blissful miles of tumbling moorland, plunging valleys, eroded gritstone crags, lush farmland and ancient pocket-sized villages. This beautiful landscape attracts a veritable army of outdoor enthusiasts cyclists, hikers, cavers and rock climbers on summer weekends, while those seeking more relaxing enjoyment can admire the rural market and famous puddings of Bakewell, the Victorian pavilions of spa-town Buxton, and the architectural drama ofChatsworth House the Palace of the Peak.

Dovers iconic white cliffs grab the most attention, but the colossal chalky walls of the Seven Sisters are a much more spectacular affair. This four-mile roller-coaster of sheer white rock rollicks along the Sussex shore overlooking the waters of the English Channel, an impressive southern border to the South Downs National Park and most dramatic at the towering headland ofBeachy Head. Hikes through the grassy clifftop fields provide wide sea views, breathtaking in every sense. Stop for a breather at the tiny seaside hamlet of Birling Gap where the secluded beach is a sun-trap popular with locals and walkers.

The pretty town ofStratford-upon-Avonis where William Shakespeare was born and later shuffled off this mortal coil. Today its tight knot of Tudor streets form a living map of Shakespeares life. Huge crowds of thespians and theater-lovers come to take in a play at the famousRoyal Shakespeare Theatre. Visit the five historic houses owned by Shakespeare and his relatives, andthe schoolroomwhere he was educated, then take a respectful detour to theold stone churchwhere the Bard was laid to rest.

Destination expert James March reviewed and updated this text for accuracy and relevance. Some content has been adapted from Lonely Planets print edition.

This article was first published April 2021 and updated June 2022

Lonely Planets England is our most comprehensive guide that covers all the country has to offer. Ideal for travelers that are visiting for an extended time and want to tailor their own trip. Experience the charm of the Lake District, gaze up at the dreamy spires of Oxford or kick back in a cozy pub all with your trusted travel companion.

Lonely Planets England is our most comprehensive guide that covers all the country has to offer. Ideal for travelers that are visiting for an extended time and want to tailor their own trip. Experience the charm of the Lake District, gaze up at the dreamy spires of Oxford or kick back in a cozy pub all with your trusted travel companion.

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