London will always be a world-class city, but we’ve made it our mission for 2020 to venture out of the capital and discover more of the UK’s own backyard. And there are so many incredible places to visit in England, from picturesque villages to verdant National Parks and cities steeped in culture. Here are 10 beautiful places in England will make you forget the bustling capital.
10 top places to visit in England
- Bath, Somerset
- New Forest National Park
- Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire
- Avebury, Wiltshire
- Happisburgh, North Norfolk
- Northumberland National Park
- St. Ives, Cornwall
1. Bath, Somerset
The Romans were onto something. Soaking in hot, spring water that’s rich in 43 different minerals and curative properties sounds as good an idea today as it did 2,000 years ago. Take a leaf out of their book. In Bath, you can have both a spa (in the steam rooms and rooftop pool at Thermae Bath Spa, once it reopens) and a history lesson. Once you’re suitably soaked, the ancient Roman Baths that gave the UNESCO-protected city its name are a great place to start your city tour.
Your next goal should be taking in the gorgeous, Georgian architecture. Visit the Bath Assembly Rooms, which have served as inspiration for at least two of (former Bath resident) Jane Austen’s books. Take a stroll along the row of honey-coloured, terraced houses of the Royal Crescent. Examine fascinating art at the Holburne Museum, which is a work of art by itself. Then, have one of Sally Lunn’s famous buns (the eatery has been here since 1680) and a pint accompanied with live music at The Bell Inn for those local vibes.
2. New Forest National Park
One of the most beautiful places in England, this park spans 193,000 acres of forest, pastures and heathland filled with grazing animals and hiking trails. You’ll see ancient trees, uniquely coloured butterflies, five species of deer and some increasingly rare heathland birds. If you want to get even closer to the animals, visit the New Forest Reptile Centre, the Longdown Activity Farm and the Dorset Heavy Horse Farm Park.
Since 1086, when William the Conqueror proclaimed it a royal forest, New Forest National Park has equally fascinated nature enthusiasts and mystics alike. The unenclosed landscape of New Forest is rich in folklore and legends. It’s said that a magic ritual he witnessed here, inspired Gerald Gardner to found Wicca.
For more down-to-earth delights in the area, stroll the picturesque nearby villages of Lyndhurst and Buckler’s Hard. Make sure to leave some time to visit the National Motor Museum in (the equally picturesque) Beaulieu, where Formula 1 cars await. For your stay, the laid-back Regent Guest House in nearby Southampton as well as the five-star countryside manor Lime Wood Hotel are both good choices.
If you’re looking for places to visit in England by train, nothing really beats the Cotswolds. In just one hour from London Marylebone you can be in the market town of Banbury and start exploring this area of outstanding natural beauty. The Cotswolds encompass six counties, so there are plenty of rolling hills, honey-coloured stone cottages and picturesque villages to explore. Use the Cotswold Way footpath (which extends from Chipping Campden to Bath) as your compass and you can’t go wrong.
Don’t have time to check every little thatched-cottage village? Make sure your itinerary includes the following: Castle Combe, Tetbury (check out the Chipping Steps), Bibury (for the gorgeous Arlington Row), Bourton-on-the-Water, and Stow-on-the-Wold. The Cotswold Wildlife Park & Gardens in Burford will bring you shoulder-to-shoulder with giraffes, rhinos and lemurs. And at the Sezincote Estate you can have tea and a stroll around the gardens of an Indian palace.
There are many great places to stay in the Cotswolds. The 17th-century Dial House Hotel in Bourton-on-the-Water and the 5-star Old Stocks Inn in Stow-on-the-Wold will ensure your stay oozes old world charm.
4. Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire
Any fans of The Bard need to visit Stratford at least once. Shakespeare’s hometown is just north of the Cotswolds, so it’s a great road trip if you have a car. But you can also book a flight to Birmingham and rent a car from there. Visit Shakespeare’s Birthplace, the playwright’s 16-century home-turned-museum, to see where his masterpieces were written, then have a cuppa in the garden of his wife’s (Anne Hathaway) cottage or hop on a boat and cruise the Avon river. It goes without saying that you should also visit the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, even if you don’t intend to catch a play.
Other great things to do in Stratford-upon-Avon include the Butterfly Farm (a large greenhouse with hundreds of exotic butterflies) the Bancroft Gardens and the Holy Trinity Church, where you can also visit Shakespeare’s grave. For local ale and a hearty meal, head to the historic Dirty Duck pub.
There are many glamping opportunities around the area of Stratford. If you’re looking for some opulence though, book your stay at the 19th-century neo-Jacobean Hallmark Hotel The Welcombe, or at the Mercure Stratford Upon Avon Shakespeare Hotel.
5. Avebury, Wiltshire
One of the most beautiful places in England that very few people know about is the picturesque village of Avebury in Wiltshire, encircled by one of the oldest stone circles in Europe. The ancient site, which is open all hours, predates Stonehenge by five centuries. Take a stroll to admire the stones of the once sacred landscape. They make up the largest megalithic circle in the world.
Other things to do in Avebury? Visit the Alexander Keiller Museum in the Stables Gallery, which houses one of the most important prehistoric archaeological collections in all of Britain. Check out St. James church, whose history dates back to the medieval times, and Silbury Hill, Europe’s largest man-made mound, just outside Avebury. You can’t reach the mound itself, but there is a viewing footpath adjacent to it from where you can take in the views. Back in the village, you’ve earned a pint at the Red Lion local pub.
As for your stay, The Lodge Bed and Breakfast (once owned by Lord Avebury himself) offers great views to the stone circle and charming Georgian architecture.
6. Happisburgh, North Norfolk
On the coast of Norfolk, Happisburgh is a historic village. Visitors are drawn here by the cinematic-looking lighthouse, but stay for the secluded, sandy beach. Built in 1790, Happisburgh’s iconic red and white striped lighthouse is the oldest working lighthouse in the UK. It’s not always open to visitors, but on a summer Sunday, you may have the chance to explore the lighthouse. You’ll catch amazing views of the Norfolk shore from its top.
Another notable attraction at Happisburgh is St Mary’s church, dating back to the 15th century. If you take on the 133-step climb up the church’s 110-feet tower, you’ll be rewarded with impressive views all the way to the city of Norwich. In fact, the church used to operate as a secondary lighthouse, warning sailors of the nearby sandbanks.
For your stay, Bridge House in Coltishall is an old-fashioned bolthole that’s ideal for exploring the North Norfolk countryside.
When people talk about iconic places to visit in England, Cambridge (and its forever rival, Oxford) is inevitably mentioned. Home to the UK’s largest collection of preserved historic buildings, the 31 stately colleges of Cambridge University and the green fields surrounding the river Cam, Cambridge gives the opportunity to step into what feels like a period movie set.
Start with a walk along ‘the Backs’ of the college and visit the Late Gothic King’s College Chapel, where new students enrol. Layers of history are on offer here, from the wooden rood screen that was a gift by Henry the VIII, to the graffiti created by Oliver Cromwell’s troops during the Civil War. The Church of St Mary the Great is also another interesting stop, especially if you climb up the tower for the panoramic views of the city.
You must, of course, make time in your schedule to visit some of the colleges. Prioritise Newnham for its impressive gardens, rivalled only by the 16-hectare Cambridge University Botanic Garden. With Cambridge being a college town, you won’t get shortchanged when it comes to eating and drinking either. Pop by Fitzbillies for Chelsea buns or a hearty English breakfast.
For your stay in Cambridge, Varsity Hotel & Spa offers lovely views of the city from its rooftop terrace.
8. Northumberland National Park
Featuring some of the country’s most iconic landmarks, Northumberland National Park is truly one of the most beautiful places to visit in England. The park is home to anything from sandstone boulders from the Ice Age to secluded, 19th-century Roman Catholic chapels built in medieval towers. And of course Hadrian’s Wall, the famous barrier that once marked the Roman Empire’s last bastion, along with the Housesteads Roman Fort.
The opportunities to immerse in Northumberland’s nature are seemingly endless. Take a horse ride at Otterburn Ranges or trek through the ancient woodland of Hareshaw Linn, to its nine-metre waterfall. In fact, there are numerous scenic walks to take, with Steel Rigg and Crag Lough along Hadrian’s Wall being good places to start. When night falls, you can go stargazing at Cawfields, Stonehaugh and Harbottle.
There’s no shortage of incredible places to visit in England by train, and the World Heritage city of Durham is definitely one of them. The first thing you’ll notice is Durham Cathedral. Built in 1093, the Romanesque marvel has been a place of worship for almost a millennium. If you climb the 325 steps up its central tower (once the cathedral reopens), an unrivalled view of the historic city and the River Wear awaits.
The river loops around the Norman Durham Castle, built in 1072 under orders of William the Conqueror. North of the river you’ll find the Grade I-listed, 13th-century house Crook Hall & Gardens. To the south, there’s Durham University with its Botanic Garden and the Oriental Museum where you’ll find artefacts from Asia, Egypt and the Middle East. (Note that some of the sights are currently closed due to the pandemic.) Once you’ve had your fill of culture and history, Hardwick park in Sedgefield makes a great picnic spot.
10. St. Ives, Cornwall
Cornwall is a must-visit place in England, if a beautiful coastline, great food and a vibrant local culture do it for you. Within that, the fishing town of St. Ives on the north coast of Cornwall is a true gem. Blessed with one of the sunniest climates in the UK, St. Ives is a great destination to visit even in the winter.
The harbour is the beating heart of St. Ives, thanks to its cobbled streets lined with inviting fishermen’s cottages. Tate St. Ives, the Southerly outpost of the Tate museum group, is a world-class centre for contemporary artworks with an emphasis on local artists. Don’t miss the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, where the 20th-century modernist sculptor worked and lived.
Of course, St. Ives is all about its beach (and surf) culture, with four beaches within short walking distance from the town. Go to Porthmeor for some waves from the Atlantic ocean or to the more tucked away Porthgwidden, where you can also rent a beach hut.
For your stay in St. Ives, The Queen’s Hotel is just steps away from the harbour.
Here are some more ideas for amazing places to visit and things to do in the UK:
Our recommendations of the best staycations in the UK, for couples, families and groups of friends.
We take a look at life in some of the most beautiful villages in the UK, from Port Isaac to Plockton.
Head to one of these picturesque lakes in the UK for rest, relaxation, water sports and stunning views.
Discover where you can go
Making plans to get back out there? Find out whose borders are open with our interactive global map, and sign up to receive email updates when your top destinations reopen.
Here are the latest Skyscanner coronavirus updates you may want to check out as the world slowly reopens to travellers:
Our coronavirus travel advice is updated daily with changes to travel restrictions.