Instead of planning a tropical holiday, why not head to England and discover a country with an abundance of historical sites and regal landscapes. And don’t be fooled into thinking London is the only worthwhile destination on British shores. The English countryside and coastlines are ripe for exploring with castles and cathedrals aplenty. Not to mention charming fishing villages and grand old university towns that give you a look into bygone eras.
It is almost impossible to set up an all-encompassing itinerary for England as there are hundreds of things to add to your bucket list. Here are some of the top attractions that must shoot to the top of your list!
Relish in the Mystery of Stonehenge
England’s history predates that of kings and queens and Stonehenge is a World Heritage Site that is a testament to these Neolithic times. The site dates back more than 5000 years and is shrouded in mystery. Massive rectangular stones have been placed in concentric circles and form one of the world’s most famous prehistoric monuments. The stones aren’t the only attraction here. They form part of a much larger archaeological area that includes various monuments and burial mounds.
Visit the Home of the Bard, Stratford-Upon-Avon
Stratford-Upon-Avon is the place to be for all things Shakespeare. The town has been impeccably preserved to give visitors a peek into 16th and 17th-century life in England. William Shakespeare is the most renowned playwright in history and literary buffs travel from far and wide to see where he came to be.
His birthplace remains standing almost 500 years later and the interior still reflects middle-class life from the 1500s. There are many more buildings associated with his incredible life including Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Hall’s Croft, and Shakespeare’s New Place where he died. Moreover, his tomb can be found at the Church of the Holy Trinity that lies at the end of a serene lime tree lane. No visit here would be complete without experiencing a show from the Royal Shakespeare Company. The Bard’s plays are performed on an intimate stage by the world-renowned company at the Royal Shakespeare Theater.
Bathe like the Romans, Bath
This antiquated city came to fruition in the 1st century when Romans built spas in the valley known for its hot springs. Over hundreds of years, the city has taken on many shapes and today you can appreciate the many different styles of architecture found here. The most popular attraction in Bath is naturally its namesake, The Roman Baths. With CGI reenactments and interactive displays, you can understand the majesty of the city hundreds of years ago. Even though you can’t bathe in the same baths as the Romans, you can visit Thermae Spa for equally rejuvenating and modern baths and treatments.
Another of Britain’s most cherished authors, Jane Austen, lived here at the beginning of the 19th century. At the Jane Austen Center, you can learn about her life, works, characters, and the influence the area had on her works. The town is chock-full of fantastic museums to visit and the Fashion Museum, Victoria Art Gallery and Holburne Museum should be high on your list of places to visit. Like most English cities Bath also has an exquisite church, Bath Abbey. You can climb the abbey tower to get a bird’s eye view of this incredible city.
Yorkshire- More Than Just a Pudding
In the north of England, you will find the country’s largest county which includes the cities of Leeds, Sheffield, and York. Visitors can enjoy cities and nature alike as this area has plenty to offer in both regards. Yorkshire Dales National Park in the west features divine rolling green hills and old-fashioned stone houses scattered among them. There is also an expansive cave system and various hiking trails to discover.
Nature makes its way into the city at the Sheffield Winter Gardens. It is the largest urban glasshouse in all of Europe and features a stunning array of plants from all across the world. Abbey House Museum is another must-visit for everyone obsessed with historic culture. This immersive shopping street lets patrons play dress up and fully experience what a typical shopping outing might have felt like in Victorian times.
Wave Your Wands at the Harry Potter Studio Tour
Potterheads flock to the hallowed halls of Hogwarts to get the most authentically magical experience known to fans. The Harry Potter Studio Tour takes you on a journey through the great hall and beyond to see what went into the making of this worldwide phenomenon. Most of the original sets remain intact for you to explore, with the addition of a few extras such as a Platform 9 ¾ exhibit.
Take a stroll down Diagon alley and pay a visit to Olivander’s Wand Shop. Don’t forget to drink some Butterbeer and taste every flavor of Berty Bott’s Every Flavored Beans! As you make your way through the studio, keep a lookout for 15 golden snitches hidden throughout the maze-like studio. There are hundreds of original props and costumes on display from the films including wands, robes, and the all-powerful Philosopher’s Stone. The highlight for many is the 1:24 scale of the Hogwarts exterior, which may be the closest any of us will get to this magical castle.
Explore the Lake District
Lake Windermere is the largest lake in England and well worth a visit. Beautiful landscapes surround you as you take to the water in a rowboat or explore the surrounding forests with a hike or a cycle expedition. Scafell Pike is the highest point in England and rises almost 1000m in the Lake District National Park. The area gets around 20 days of snow and a staggering 200 days of rain per year but this all adds to the beauty and mysticism of the surroundings.
If the weather proves to be too bothersome, there are plenty of indoorsy things to explore too. Rydal Mount is the home of William Wordsworth that dates back to the 16th century. It is a picturesque cottage, excellently preserved, and surrounded by gardens planted by the poet himself. The Lakes Distillery will also warm you from the inside with their delicious offering of gin, whiskey, and vodka.
Cambridge is more than just a university town, but visiting the university is a must when coming to England. Students take you on a tour of the prestigious university grounds that are more than 800 years old. You could also opt to see the city from the water by taking a punting tour. You will pass many famous landmarks including the interesting Mathematical Bridge and King’s College Chapel. This chapel is one of the most famous sites in the city and a must-see when visiting Cambridge. The breathtaking gothic chapel holds within it the largest fan vaulting in Europe and is nothing short of spectacular.
The city is well known for its bicycle culture and there is no better way to explore the intricate cobbled streets than on 2 wheels. Ride along the river and visit adorable sweet shops and cafes for brunch. The Market Square is also worth a visit and is full of small stalls selling local goods and crafts. Another curious attraction is the Corpus Clock outside the Taylor Library of Corpus Christi College.
Oxford is another of the world’s leading universities and the town of Oxford is not to be missed. From the grand architecture to the breathtaking gardens the city has a lot to offer. The Bodleian Library is the main research library for the university and features stunning architecture that is centuries old. Similarly, the oxford castle and prison also give you a look into the city’s long history with the aid of costumed characters. Make sure to make the climb to the Saxon St. George tower to get a 360 view of the city.
The Oxford Botanical Gardens is a great break in between all the historic stops. The Pitt Rivers Museum and Oxford University Museum of Natural History both house one of a kind artifacts collected over hundreds of years. These museums show all kinds of rarities and oddities from all over the world.
Take a Deep Dive into History at The British Museum
This remarkable museum holds over 8 million treasures that have been collected during the time of the British Empire. Many of the artifacts are of great importance to human archives. One such remarkable piece is the Rosetta Stone that was discovered in Egypt and dates back to 196BC. Furthermore, the Parthenon Sculpture, Crouching Venus, and Bust of Ramesses the Great all form part of these must-see exhibitions.
It is the world’s oldest public museum and is more than 200 years old. The antique architecture is offset by the grand glass ceiling in the grand court which is made out of more than 3000 glass panels. Over 6 million people visit this museum each year which makes it one of England’s most popular attractions.
Hit the High Streets in London, Soho
Soho is London’s most vibrant and cultured area. Carnaby street was all the rage in the 60s with frequent sightings of rock stars like Hendrix and McCarthy. Today it still holds up to its vibrant reputation with a string of desirable restaurants, quirky shops, and record stores. The famous Piccadilly Circus lies to the south of this borough and from there you can make your way to the lantern-lined Chinatown.
The West End is London’s premier theater district and watching a show here is a must. Shows like Mamma Mia and The Lion King have been running for decades with no end in sight. The Soho Square Garden is a welcome resting spot amidst all of the trendy spots and its central Tudor building pays homage to the history that lies on these cobbled streets. At night Soho truly comes alive. With each restaurant serving something more outrageous than the next, you need to sample more than one establishment to truly soak it all in. Keep an eye out for the 7 Noses, an art installation that has become part of Soho’s deep-rooted culture.
The Salisbury Cathedral is one of the most popular cathedrals in England and sees more than half a million visitors each year. The spire is the tallest in the country and the architecture of this 13th-century building is astounding. It is also home to the Magna Carta which is of great historical significance. History buffs line up eagerly to view this perfectly preserved document. In the nave, you can see what is believed to be the world’s oldest working clock. This is also still an operational church and visitors must take note of service times and tour times to avoid disappointment.
Wave to the Queen at Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle is located in the quaint town of Windsor, west of London. The castle is the second home of the Queen and she spends weekends and Easter time here. Visitors can enter most of the castle and walk the halls where royalty has walked for many years. The lavish interior is stunning and much of it is still in use today.
Queen Mary’s dollhouse is a special treat and is the largest dollhouse in the world. Make sure to check the timetables of the castle as there are various ceremonies such as the changing of the guard that adds even more value to your visit. St George’s Chapel is where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were wed and you can visit or attend daily services here.
The Cotswolds is a large area in the southwest of England that includes various prominent villages and towns like Cheltenham. A visit to this luscious area promises unspoiled nature in between authentically English hamlets. Cotswolds Way is a national trail that stretches over 102 miles through this endearing landscape. You can walk various sections of the route between villages or through the forest.
In the summer, you will be spoiled by vibrant purple Lavender fields or head here in the spring to see the pink explosions of the cherry trees at The Batsford Arboretum. These villages are also popular amongst antique enthusiasts as there are plenty of old-timey treasures to be found in the antique stores. On the Gloucestershire Rail, you can hop on a steam train that takes you on a round trip between Cheltenham Racecourse and Broadway.
Hear the Choirs Sing at Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral
The city of London has 2 equally grand and noble cathedrals on opposite banks of the Thames. On the one side, next to the houses of Parliament, stands the gothic Westminster Abbey. This magnificent church has been used for coronations for hundreds of years and the coronation chair is also on display. The Abbey is also the final resting place of many noblemen and notable English citizens such as Elizabeth I, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, and Laurence Olivier. In recent history, most will remember this as the church where Prince William and Kate Middleton got married.
Over the Millennium Bridge, you spot the striking dome of St. Paul’s cathedral rising through the buildings. The dome is still one of the highest in the world and on the inside, it boasts a precious ceiling fresco with ornate gold trimmings. Conquer more than 500 steps to the top to enjoy spectacular views of the city. The whispering gallery is also an engineering marvel as it is possible to hear whispers from across the dome, nearly 110 feet away.
Both churches offer daily service that can be attended by all who wish to experience the majesty of these structures. The church choirs also often accompany these services and create an angelic atmosphere that feeds the soul.
See Where Heads Rolled at the Tower of London
London has a dark and somewhat macabre history that fascinates many. At the Tower of London, visitors get a glimpse into this chilling past as this was the site of many beheadings and imprisonments, most notably that of Anne Boleyn. It is also where the crown jewels are kept under extreme security and visitors queue for hours to get a glimpse of these stately gems.
The iconic Beefeaters still reside on the premises and conduct hourly tours clad in their unique uniforms. They also perform the elaborate Ceremony of the Keys at the end of each day to close the gates of the Tower. There are also numerous exhibitions across the grounds that depict life in the times during and after William the Conqueror.