Pub lunches, leisurely strolls and browsing quaint shops for artisan goodies and one-of-a-kind souvenirs: you can’t beat an English village. Whether you fancy an afternoon out or a weekend away there are so many charming small towns right on our doorstep. Our guide to the prettiest villages in England can help you plan your next staycation.
Note: things change quickly during coronavirus. At the time of writing on 9 September, all of these areas were safe to visit. Always check local lockdown restrictions before setting off.
Most beautiful seaside villages in England
If you love feeling the sand between your toes and snacking on chips by the harbour wall, you’ll love these English coastal villages.
Nestled in a cove surrounded by cliffs, the fishing village of Polperro is a mish-mash of cottages and narrow, traffic-free streets. It has an interesting past: during the 18th and 19th centuries it was a notorious den for smugglers. You can learn all about it in the Polperro Heritage Museum of Smuggling and Fishing, which sits right on the harbour. As well as illicit alcohol and tobacco, the village was also famous for its pilchards. This is where the town’s oldest pub, The Three Pilchards, takes its name.
Robin Hood’s Bay, North Yorkshire
This fishing village sits on the coast of the North York Moors National Park: six miles south of Whitby and 15 miles north of Scarborough. Narrow cobbled streets wind down to a sandy beach with rock pools to splash in. Wander into the pubs, shops and cafés on your way back up. Robin Hood’s Bay has a long history, and you can see it represented in the mosaic on the parapet wall. If you’re feeling energetic (and have a week or two to spare), it’s the eastern starting point for Alfred Wainwright’s 190 mile Coast to Coast walk.
Pastel-coloured houses line the maze-like streets of Appledore, which sits at the junction of the Taw and Torridge rivers. The quayside has been the heart of the action since the Elizabethan times, when the village was one of the most important spots for tobacco. The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t stopped the award-winning Hockings Dairy Cream Ices van from stopping here. Grab one of their famous 99 cones and go for a stroll.
Most beautiful countryside villages in England
If you want to get off the beaten track, these villages are the perfect base for exploring the rolling hills, sparkling lakes and windswept moors of England’s countryside.
Set on the banks of a lake and surrounded by hills, Grasmere is one of the Lake District’s most beautiful villages: especially in autumn, when the leaves of the surrounding woods start to turn. The poet William Wordsworth obviously agreed: he owned three houses nearby. You can visit his grave at St Oswald’s churchyard, where Sarah Nelson is also buried. If you’re not sure who she is, you will after a visit to Grasmere. She was a local baker, and you can still try her famous Grasmere Gingerbread at the shop nearby. They’re operating a traffic light system during COVID-19, but it’s well worth the ‘one in, one out’ system.
Set underneath the ruins of Peveril Castle, Castleton is a charming village in the Midlands. It’s a haven for walkers, climbers and cavers. It sits at the opening of Winnats Pass gorge, and is surrounded by limestone caves: some of them are open to visitors. One is the Blue John Cavern (masks are required on tours), where the semi-precious Blue John stone comes from. This is the only mine in the UK where the mineral can be found. Local shops often sell jewellery made from it, which makes for a unique souvenir.
With its pretty cottages and 19th-century church gathered around a small green, Snowshill is the quintessential English village. The main attraction is Snowshill Manor and Garden, a National Trust property with beautiful terraced gardens. Due to COVID-19 the manor itself is closed, but you can stroll around the gardens, have a tea in the café and browse the shop if you book your visit in advance. The village is also home to a lavender farm: although it’s already been harvested this year, you can pick up some hand sanitiser made from it at the Cotswold Lavender shop.
The prettiest English villages near London
You don’t have to go too far from the big smoke to visit some of England’s prettiest villages. All of these are within two hours drive of the city.
Britain’s best-preserved medieval village, Lavenham is famous for its half-timbered houses and 15th-century church. During Tudor times it was the 14th richest town in England, thanks to the broadcloth produced there. Today the streets are lined with art galleries, boutiques, restaurants and – of course – charming country pubs. There are 350 listed buildings, including the Old Grammar School which the painter John Constable attended.
With its duck pond, hump-backed bridge and redbrick cottages, Finchingfield is the typical chocolate box village. People have lived here since records began and held an important position on the road between London and Norwich. It’s packed with interesting buildings, including a thatched cottage that was once owned by Dodie Smith: author of 101 Dalmations. If you’re craving some pub grub, head to the Finchingfield Lion pub. They’re serving a limited menu due to Coronavirus, and it’s worth calling ahead to reserve a table.
The most picturesque villages in the Cotswolds
The Costwolds AONB (Area of Natural Beauty) is home to some of England’s prettiest villages and small towns.
Described by William Morris as ‘the most beautiful village in England’, Bibury is no stranger to the big screen. It’s most famous for the quaint stone weaver’s cottages of Arlington Row. Dating back to the 17th century, they’ve appeared in films like Stardust and Bridget Jones’s Diary. The village sits on the River Coin: one of the tributaries of the mighty Thames. It’s also home to England’s oldest trout farm, where you can catch your own fish. You can hire a brick barbecue on-site and grill your catch for lunch.
This pretty English village straddles the slow-moving River Eye, crossed by two small footbridges. The picture-postcard streets are lined with limestone cottages, built in the classic Cotswold style. Lower Slaughter is home to one of Britain’s most romantic streets, Copse Hill Road. One of the biggest attractions is the Old Mill which dates back to the 19th century – although there was a mill on the same site when the Domesday Book was written in 1086. Today it’s a museum and tea room, although it’s currently closed and hoping to reopen this month.
No new houses have been built in Castle Combe since the 1600s, so its fairytale cottages seem like they’ve been frozen in time. A meandering river, church spire and wooded hill backdrop make it one of the Cotswold’s most stunning villages. Once you’re done exploring the medieval streets, there’s an easy five-mile woodland walk which takes you through the surrounding hills. For a real treat, pick up a takeaway afternoon tea from The Old Rectory Tearoom and bring it with you on your stroll.
The Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is famous for having some of the prettiest villages in England. But, as you can see from our list, there are pretty villages across the country. Look out for Best Kept Village awards. These are often given to villages that are tidy and typical.
Flash, in the Peak District, has the distinction of being England’s highest village at a whopping 1,514 feet above sea level. Residents often find themselves snowed in during winter. Some other high villages include Nenthead in Cumbria at around 1,500 feet above sea level, and Allenheads in Northumberland at 1,325 feet.
There are literally thousands of villages in England, so we’re just scratching the surface. One of our favourite things to do is get in the car and start exploring. You never know when you might find a hidden gem.
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