England is enchanting, eccentric, endlessly fascinating and offers a variety of things to do. In England, dotted with natural marvels, lush National Parks and rural vistas that are begging to be front and centre on a postcard, you can explore the width and breadth of the tiny isle while discovering myths, legends and traditions, castles, ruins and landmarks with hidden histories. It’s the land of Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, The Beatles and an iconic Royal Family, but it’s not a country that is stuck in its past. England boasts a great modern art scene, incredible home-grown food and home-brewed drinks, awesome nightlife and exciting pockets of creativity the country over. Not forgetting London, the country’s vibrant, multicultural and thriving capital city, which has been leading the way for over two millennia. Discover all the best things the country has to offer with our guide to England.
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Best things to do in England
This mystical stone circle in the Wiltshire countryside attracts hundreds of curious visitors a day (and an incredible 1.4 million in 2017). Made out of rare stone from 160 miles away, the construction has sat proudly on the Salisbury Plain for over 5,000 years and no one knows how it got there or what it was first used for. A solar calendar or a site for sacrifices? Go to come up with your own theories. You can visit at sunrise on the summer solstice for a totally mystical experience but it’s pretty special every day of the year.
Shakespeare’s Globe on the South Bank in London is a pretty special spot to watch one of the Bard’s beloved plays, but there’s nowhere better than Will’s hometown in Warwickshire. Head to Stratford-upon-Avon to see a performance at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre on the river’s edge. Stick around to visit Shakespeare’s birthplace and the church where he was laid to rest before rowing along the river Avon in a boat named after one of the writer’s famous characters. Bagsy Ophelia.
The pretty town of Whitstable in Kent is picture-perfect for a day by the seaside, with colourful painted houses, a wide pebble beach, cool shops and some great coastal art galleries. The real star of the show, though, is the food. Whitstable is the place to indulge in seriously fresh fish ‘n’ chips and incredible seafood. Have a pint at The Old Neptune before heading to The Lobster Shack. As well as doing a nice line in the shellfish it’s named after, it serves stunning Whitstable oysters.
There’s so much to see in central London it’s hard to know where to start. We’d recommend setting off from the gardens beneath the London Eye, with views of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, and walking east along the South Bank. You’ll pass brutalist beauties like the Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall and Hayward Gallery and the National Theatre, a sprawling book market under Waterloo bridge and the OXO Tower. Keep going to wander past Shakespeare’s Globe and spy St Paul’s Cathedral across the Thames. Pop into the totally free, world-class art gallery Tate Modern before ending up in the culinary paradise that is Borough Market for a well deserved treat.
Take a magical mystery tour around the city of Liverpool in north-west England. It’s where the famous foursome first met. Step inside the National Trust-owned homes where John Lennon and Paul McCartney spent their childhoods. Head to The Beatles Story, the world’s largest permanent exhibition devoted to the musical icons and their history. Finish your trip with a visit to the rebuilt Cavern Club, which sits near where The Beatles first started to play in the early ’60s, and live your best psychedelic life.
On a clear day you can see for miles from Glastonbury Tor. It might be a bit of a steep climb, but a visit to the Grade I-listed tower at the top, which is steeped in history and legend, makes for a magical day out. Afterwards wander back into the tiny Somerset town of Glastonbury. It plays host to the iconic music festival most summers, but it keeps those hippie vibes going all year round. Shop for crystals and spells on the high street or stop by the Chalice Well Gardens for a sip of healing water.
Bath’s thermal waters have attracted visitors for hundreds of years. The Romans were the area’s first big fans, and the extravagant baths they constructed using the naturally heated springs can still be visited today. They are not for swimming in, though. Once you’ve seen The Roman Baths, head to the Thermae Bath Spa. Here you can soak in mineral-rich springs and look out over the honey-coloured Unesco World Heritage city that author Jane Austen called home from the rooftop pool. Bliss.
The seaside town of Brighton, just an hour south of London, is the perfect destination for a day by the Great British seaside. The town is crammed full of creativity and culture. Wander around vintage shops on the Lanes, marvel at the exotic-looking Royal Pavilion, spy bold street art, dip into independent art galleries and pause for a Mr Whippy ice cream and a play in the arcades on the Pier. Brighton’s nightlife is legendary, so stay put for a wild night out in the town’s quirky pubs, bars and clubs.
Read Emily Brontë’s ‘Wuthering Heights’, or at least sung along to Kate Bush’s musical version? Head to the pretty village of Haworth in West Yorkshire, where the vicarage Emily, Charlotte, Anne and their family lived. The weather-beaten building has now been turned into a museum, documenting their lives. Afterwards explore the cobbled streets, tea rooms and old-fashioned railway station before heading off on one of the walking trails to waterfalls, rugged moorland and ruined farmhouses, like Top Withins, which is said to have inspired Emily’s gothic novel. Walking boots recommended.
Potterheads the world over will know England as the home of The Boy Who Lived. There are filming locations dotted all over the country, but true fans will want to head straight for Leavesden Studios, where the majority of the movies were filmed. Set off on the ‘Warner Bros Studio Tour London: The Making of Harry Potter’ to wander around the Great Hall, peek into shop fronts on Diagon Alley, see original costumes and discover the special effects secrets behind your favourite scenes. No trip would be complete without a pint of butterbeer and the opportunity to ‘fly’ your very own broomstick. 'UP!'
One of England’s National Parks, the New Forest is a wild expanse of moors, forest trails, heathland and ancient woodland. Spend a morning walking or cycling around spotting the wild ponies which roam around the area. Don’t miss Bolderwood’s Deer Sanctuary at the very heart of the New Forest. Round off the day with a visit to Beaulieu’s National Motor Museum and pretty river, a trip to coast at Lymington or to the small village of Brockenhurst, where you’ll find foodie heaven in boutique restaurant with rooms The Pig.
Compared to a lot of England’s gentle rolling hills, the landscape of the Lakes is dramatic, with jagged mountains meeting deep mirrored lakes. The Lake District is the largest National Park in England, and home to its highest mountain (Scafell Pike) and deepest lake (Wastwater). Get stuck in by renting a boat at Bowness-on-Windermere and floating around the great expanse of water. Afterwards head to the National Trust’s Hill Top, where children’s author Beatrix Potter lived, before stopping off for a seasonal dinner at The Drunken Duck Inn.
There’s nowhere quite like the wide expanse of sand at Holkham Beach in Norfolk. At low tide it stretches out, seemingly forever, as you emerge from underneath pine trees and pad out onto the beach. The sea is there, though, breaking gently in the distance past the sand dunes. The bright open space is an unspoilt stretch of sand, sea and sky. Walk the two miles from Lady Anne’s Drive at Holkham Bay to Wells-next-the-Sea, stopping to picnic in a sheltered spot and admire the pastel-painted beach huts. Head off further down the coast to spot seals at Blakeney Point or explore the traditional charm of Cromer.
Open air theatre doesn’t get more dramatic than this. Set into the edge of a Cornish cliff top, the Minack Theatre puts on plays where ticketholders sit on seats carved into granite, and the backdrop is a sheer drop into the Atlantic. It was built in the 1930s to be a setting for ‘The Tempest’, but nowadays you can see performances of all kinds throughout the summer months. The theatre is just a few miles from Land’s End, the westernmost point of Cornwall, which is definitely worth a visit too.
You probably know the bucolic city of Cambridge because of its world-famous university but there are plenty of other reasons to visit. Its stunning, historic centre, for starters. It might be a city but it’s as rural as they come, with lush meadows, herds of grazing animals and the river Cam at its heart. The best way to see it all? Weave through the middle of the city, spying the backs of the academic colleges, on a classic Cambridge Punt.
Blackpool is the epitome of the English seaside, with waterparks, arcades and bracing sea temperatures. A trip to the iconic coastal location in Lancashire isn’t complete without a visit to the Blackpool Tower. Inspired by the Eiffel Tower, the structure tops off an entertainment complex including the Tower Eye, Tower Circus, Tower Ballroom, Tower Dungeon and more, like Dino Golf. But the massive Blackpool Pleasure Beach amusement park is where you’ll want to spend most of your time, braving the biggest, fastest and most terrifying roller coasters out there. Drop by during the autumn to spy the famous Blackpool Illuminations.
Quaint York boasts a huge cathedral, centuries-old city walls, a castle and a ruined Norman keep. But the best way to soak up the city’s old world vibes is to head to The Shambles, a winding and astonishingly narrow street at the heart of York’s historical quarter. It’s a wonky, almost perfectly preserved medieval street, which has been around for so long it was mentioned in the Doomsday Book of 1086. Walking around the charming area is like stepping back in time. Continue the time travel by stopping at Bettys, which has been serving afternoon tea to the city of York since 1936.
Stow-on-the-Wold pretty much encompasses everything you might be after in a picture-perfect Cotswolds town. Small, cute and abundantly characterful, Stow-on-the-Wold was once known for its wool trade. Now it’s famed for being both aesthetically pleasing and totally charming. Go to check out St Edwards Church, famous largely for its fairytale-esque north door, which, rumour has it, inspired Tolkien’s ‘Doors of Durin’ in ‘Lord of the Rings’. Stay for the art galleries, independent boutiques and brilliant antique shops.
Manchester Warehouse Project is a world-class institution, playing host to some of the best DJs and parties in clubland. It’s moved from the disused Boddingtons brewery near Strangeways prison to a World War II air raid shelter underneath Manchester Piccadilly station with various stops in between. Regularly catering for 3,000-plus revellers, the party runs only 12 weeks a year, with spin-off nights running throughout the year.
The University of Oxford has tuned the minds of Stephen Hawking, Wendy Cope, Oscar Wilde, Tim Berners-Lee, Nigella Lawson, Lewis Carroll, Philip Pullman, Alan Bennett, Margaret Thatcher and loads more British prime ministers. Visit the beautiful city of Oxford and wander around the historic colleges pretending you’re an undergraduate. Finish up at one of the oldest libraries in Europe, the Bodleian Library, to gawp at ancient texts and the kind of reading rooms daydreams are made of. Along with its sister libraries, its walls hold over 13 million printed items. Think of the shelfie opportunities.
Not many people think of wine when they think of the English countryside, but Chapel Down vineyard in Kent is giving France a run for its money. The Chapel Down winery is set in 22 acres of vineyards and it’s open to visitors all year round. Drop by for a tour and tasting, before eating on the open-air terrace at Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant The Swan. Really get a taste for those English grapes? Sign up to the Chapel Down Wine Academy for a day learning about how the professionals taste and describe vino. Go in for a second nose.
Head to renovated retro theme park Dreamland in Margate for some old-fashioned fun. The amusement park was bought back to life in 2015 after falling into disrepair. Take on the Mirror Maze, ride the scenic railway, test your balance in the indoor Roller Room and take a selfie by the Hollywood-esque Dreamland sign. Staying in Margate? Check out the mysterious Shell Grotto, wander around the Turner Contemporary or brave the waters in the Walpole Bay Tidal Pool too.
A yearly celebration of London’s Caribbean communities, their culture and traditions, the Notting Hill Carnival has been taking place since 1966. It’s Europe’s biggest street party and it always takes place in the streets around west London on the August Bank Holiday weekend. The Carnival, which runs over two days (Sunday is family day), features a colourful parade, fantastic live music, static sound systems, soca floats, steel bands and a whole lot of delicious Caribbean food.
Hidden within the residential streets of Clifton in Bristol, Bristol Lido is an open-air swimming pool, with an ace restaurant on site. The urban retreat is a restored Victorian pool that now features fittingly trendy touches: colourful changing areas, greenery and Insta-worthy design. Visit to lazily float around in the gently heated pool, or try out the sauna, steam room, hot tub and spa. Afterwards, nab a pool-view spot in the restaurant, where you can eat tasty tapas by the water’s edge.
Not quite Isla Nublar, but pretty close, the Jurassic Coast is a 95-mile stretch of super pretty south England coastline famous for its unique geology. Running from Exmouth in Devon to Studland Bay in Dorset, the rocks record 185 million years of the Earth’s history and became England’s first natural Unesco World Heritage Site in 2001. Don’t miss Lulworth Cove, a breathtakingly blue secluded bay, or its neighbour, the grand, natural limestone arch of Durdle Door.
London is home to some incredible (mainly free) world-class museums and amazing cultural institutions, but if you really want to soak up those city vibes settle in for a stint in the heart of London’s West End. Soho is home to some of London’s best theatres, restaurants, bars, clubs and shops. The maze of streets, linked by narrow Dickens-esque alleyways, are always busy and full of life. Order a coffee at one of the pavement cafés on Old Compton Street and watch the world go by in all its glory.
Okay, not exactly with the lemurs. But a grassy perch at the top of Primrose Hill in London will give you amazing views of the city skyline as well as the edges of London Zoo, in the northern reaches of Regent’s Park. After a wander around Regent’s Park or along Regent’s Canal, treck up to the top of the hill with a picnic and stay put to watch the sun go down over the city’s skyscrapers. London, you’re a stunner.