There’s more to Blighty than Boris Johnson and Brexit. In fact, when it comes to the UK, England has more dazzling destinations than you could cover, even if you flew around on the back of Harry Potter’s broomstick. From off-the-beaten-track islands and ancient castles to oceans brimming with sea lions, puffins, and dolphins (yes, really), here are some of the most beautiful places in England to add to your bucket list.
1. Isles of Scilly
Imagine cobalt blue seas, sub-tropical gardens, and white sandy beaches – no, it’s not the Mediterranean – it’s the Isles of Scilly, just 15 minutes from Cornwall. The Isles of Scilly are an archipelago 40 kilometers off the southwestern tip of Cornwall, with a population of just 2,200 spread across just five inhabited islands. All in all, there are 145 islands in the archipelago.
What to do
You don’t have to go to Greece to go island-hopping. There’s an army of boats waiting to take you on full-day and half-day trips to a number of the Scilly Islands, and between the companies vying for business, they run hundreds of trips a week to see the seals and seabirds. Some will even drop you off at the uninhabited islands. Don’t worry, they’ll pick you up too.
Outdoor enthusiasts have it made on the Scilly Islands. Why not saddle up and explore the islands on horseback? If the tides are on your side you might even be lucky enough to paddle with your horse out into the sea. Regular evening fishing trips and wildlife spotting tours leave from St Mary’s, the largest island.
Arts and crafts are big on the Scilly Islands. The quality of light and the jaw-dropping landscapes of the archipelago have long attracted all types of artists. Look out for the craft shops and the studios that welcome you in for a chat, and/or a souvenir purchase.
Roughly two hours from London, the Cotswolds is an area of eye-popping natural beauty and picture-postcard streets that scream quintessential England. The Cotswolds covers almost 800 square miles of south-central England and meanders through five counties (Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire, and Worcestershire).
Golden stone buildings and rolling green hills, aka the ‘wolds’, make it one of the most beautiful places in England.
What to do
Don’t miss a squiz at Bibury, home of the gorgeous Arlington Row. With its 17th-century stone buildings spread out along the banks of the River Coln, and a charming expanse of boggy water meadow known as Rack Isle, it’s not hard to see why William Morris, a British textile designer, poet, novelist, and socialist activist, called Bibury “The most beautiful village in England”.
Speaking of William Morris, you can visit his former home and retreat on a great English countryside trip to Kelmscott Manor, which was purchased by his wife Jane after his death in 1896. Morris drew inspiration from the home and its barns, meadows, streams, and gardens for his writings and designs, some of which you’ll find on display here.
While you’re in the Cotswolds, you should also head to Upper and Lower Slaughters (not at lethal as you’d think), and take some photos at other beautiful spots such as the Chipping Steps in Tetbury and Bourton-on-the-Water. And if you’re looking for a good pub lunch, The Wild Rabbit in Chipping Norton serves up organic Daylesford-farmed produce by roaring fires.
3. Corfe and Corfe Castle
Okay, so it’s famous for its thousand-year-old castle but there’s more to Corfe than that. The village of Corfe itself is a hive of history that dates from the Cretaceous and Jurassic periods when hungry dinosaurs roamed the Isle of Purbeck. In fact, there’s evidence that civilization existed on the southern edge of the village in 6000 BC! Almost all periods of history can be celebrated in and around Corfe, which is pretty unique.
These days, Corfe offers a special blend of Englishness including boutique shops, cosy pubs with roaring winter fires, enticing restaurants, and tempting teahouses. The Purbeck peninsula and Corfe Castle are considered some of England’s jewels, not to be missed on a trip through the British Isles.
What to do
Partially demolished in 1646 by the Parliamentarians, Corfe Castle is difficult to miss now, even as a crumbling relic. This is largely due to it being perched high on a hill, casting what’s left of its shadow over the village.
The first castle on the site would have been constructed from wood, then rebuilt from stone in the late 11th-century by William the Conqueror, who built the castle’s keep just for his son (as you do). For 600 years, Corfe Castle was a royal fortress for the monarchs of England, and these days, its ruins are one of Britain’s most iconic survivors of the English Civil War.
You can tour what’s left of the castle with a guide, or better still, download an audio tour and soak up the atmosphere as you learn the history through your headphones. There are fallen walls and secret hideouts, arrow loops, and murder holes – and if you go in summer you can even spot a falconry display, or take part in knight school. It’s got all the treachery and treason you’d expect from a place that entertained politicians in ancient England… and then some.
Corfe Castle also has a National Trust shop, some splendid 18th-century tea rooms with a garden, and an informative visitor centre.
4. Lake District
Human settlements have been active in the Lake District for at least 5000 years. In fact, evidence suggests the entrepreneurial folk of the Neolithic era set up camp in clearings and utilized the stone from Langdale Pike to make axes.
The Romans rocked up around 100 AD, the Vikings followed, and in the late 11th century, in came the Normans with their monasteries, field systems, deer parks, markets, and villages. English writers and poets have raved about the most beautiful lakes in England for centuries, and these days the Lake District could be called the largest ‘adventure playground’ in Britain. It’s most certainly the UK’s top holiday destination all year round.
All five of England’s tallest mountains shoot from the ground into the clouds here in Cumbria, peaking at over 3,000 feet high. That means trekking, hiking, cycling, climbing, and just about every other outdoor activity can be found here in abundance.
What to do
Lake Windermere is northern England’s longest lake and has been a popular holiday destination since the railways made getting there a cinch in 1847. There are cute little villages dotted all along the region, plus the Lakes Aquarium, the Haverthwaite Steam Railway, and the terminus for the Windermere Lake Cruises and ‘Steamers’. Don’t miss the picturesque Bowness-on-Windermere where you can get a great meal and watch the steamers arriving and leaving from the pier. If you feel like getting out on the water, you can rent your own boat, too.
Ambleside, at the lake’s northern tip, is a busy hub of restaurants, cafes, and outdoor equipment shops. It’s also the starting point for lots of scenic walks and tours. Elsewhere, why not take the train along the Cumbrian coast, starting at the Edwardian seaside town of Grange-over-Sands? You’ll have the Cumbrian coast and rugged ocean on one side, and the Lake District’s mountains and fells on the other.
Don’t let the fact that Windermere and the Lake District attracts a staggering 15.8 million visitors annually put you off. There’s plenty of room for everyone, and more to do than you could ever fit in!
5. Watergate Bay
Been dreaming of a flaky Cornish pasty? England’s most delicious double-ended pastry treat can be found in abundance in Watergate Bay, one of the most beautiful areas of Cornwall. Watergate Bay Beach itself comprises over two miles of glistening golden sand at the foot of towering cliffs, roughly three miles from Newquay. It’s the quintessential English seaside destination.
There’s so much to do in Watergate Bay, from sunning yourself in a pretty English garden to perusing art in a pristine gallery, to learning how to surf! If heritage sites are your thing, there are museums, castles, heritage homes, and numerous World Heritage Sites to explore in the surrounding area.
What to do
Surfing in the Celtic Sea is just as much fun if you’re a beginner as it is if you’re a champion, although be warned, it’s cold. Basically, everything at Watergate Bay is centered around surfing, and you’ll find a lot of schools. Just head to the beach and look for the signs. Even though Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurant is closed, you can still pack a picnic and enjoy a sunset drink on the beach, or from the cliffs that surround the bay. Of course, there’s always a bag of English fish and chips in the spring or summer, but you will have to bring them in from the outskirts of the bay.
There’s another good place to enjoy breakfast at the famous Watergate Bay Hotel’s restaurant, Zacry’s – but be prepared to pay more! If you want to dance the night away, head to the local’s favorite, The Phoenix, which boasts a terrace with amazing views of the bay and a good selection of beers.
While you’re in Cornwall it would be a shame to miss a visit to The Eden Project. This mesmerising world of flora and fauna explores the relationships between humans and plants and is housed in tropical biomes burrowed into old china clay pits. The world’s largest greenhouse can be found here, and there’s always fun stuff going on for the whole family.
6. Isle of Wight
Just a short hop, skip, or preferably boat ride across the Solent and you’re on the legendary Isle of Wight, one of the most beautiful places in England. Picture forests and farms, quaint fishing villages, sandy beaches, crashing waves, and looming cliffs, and you’re halfway there. The Isle of Wight is so spectacular it’s said to have been the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.
It’s also so steeped in history, it’s said to be the most haunted island in the world! Marching Romans, weeping grey ladies, and wandering monks have all been spotted on the ancient island, which is thought to have separated from the mainland some 8,000 – 9,000 years ago when the last icy sheets of the last Ice Age melted away.
What to do
Soak up the scenery, of course! There are many beautiful places on the Isle of Wight, starting with The Needles Landmark Attraction in West Wight. The memorable image of the world-famous chairlift has graced many postcards over the years, and it still takes visitors from the cliff-top above Alum Bay, down to the beach below. With mind-blowing views, it’s not to be missed and is by far the best way to see the needles rocks and coloured sands.
Yarmouth Castle is a Tudor Castle in a beautiful seaside town, well worth a few hours of your time, while Osbourne House offers a glimpse of Victorian opulence and all the extravagant interiors that befit England’s longest-reigning monarch – this is Queen Victoria’s family home.
If you’re after more nightlife than nobility, head to Ryde. The largest town on the Isle of Wight, Ryde is the place to stroll along a lovely promenade on the seafront, ogle the impressive Georgian and Victorian buildings, and then get tipsy in one of the numerous pubs and restaurants.
7. Northumberland (lots of castles, puffins, seals, whales, and dolphins)
Bang at the northernmost tip of England, Northumberland is the place where Roman occupiers fiercely guarded their walled frontier, where Anglian invaders waged battle with Celtic natives, and Norman lords reigned supreme from castles on the border and vowed to stop the pesky Scots and Scandinavians coming in. As a testament to the border wars of the 14th to 16th centuries, Northumberland boasts over 70 castle sites, which is more castles than any other county in England!
What to do
The second-biggest inhabited castle in England, Alnwick has starred in lots of TV shows and movies. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone filmed on-location at Alnwick Castle in 2000, followed by Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in 2001. Any Harry Potter fan won’t be able to resist a visit to Alnwick Castle, and an afternoon pretending to fly a broomstick around the gorgeous grounds.
Hadrian’s Wall was once the northern frontier of the Roman Empire (begun in AD 122) and you can still find atmospheric temples, milecastles, and forts stretching 100 miles across Northern England, ripe to take selfies with after all these years. See the most beautiful parts in Northumberland at Segedunum, counted as the gateway to Hadrian’s Wall, and in the Roman town of Corbridge.
Amongst all its historic attractions, Northumberland has some of the most beautiful countryside in England. The coast has even been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Explore tiny coves and islands, long sandy beaches, and don’t miss a hike or a bike ride inland in the Northumberland National Park.
Norwich has some of the best beautiful locations in England, all within a 30-minute drive of the city center, although the city itself is a historic gem. History hounds will get a kick out of the English education to be had here in what was England’s ‘second city’ from 1650 – 1750. Printing, leather production, and a new railway that provided links from Norwich to London made it the place to be in the 1800s.
What to do
Lots of people come to Norwich today to see the 12th-century cathedral, but you can also get behind the scenes and explore the site of the 12th-century canal responsible for bringing building materials to the cathedral site. Elsewhere, cross the Bishop Bridge, which is the only surviving medieval bridge on the River Wensum, built in 1340. And don’t miss catching a snap on Elm Hill – one of the most picturesque medieval streets in all of England.
Want to get out of town? Hop in the car and head to Blickling Estate, well-known to be the birthplace of Anne Boleyn, the Queen of England from 1533 to 1536 and the second wife of King Henry VIII. If you can’t envision how it might have been in her time, the costumed performers in the secret garden will enlighten you.
Marriott Way is a 26-mile footpath and cycle route that runs between Norwich and Aylsham. A half-day trip will show you some of Norfolk’s most beautiful countryside. Don’t miss a walk around the 18th-century splendour of Aylsham, a great place for a cup of English tea and a cake.
For more gorgeous nature near Norwich, head to the grassland, woodland, and scrub of Ranworth Broad, famous for its cool floating Broads Wildlife Centre which will give you and your camera panoramic views across the rippling water, and teach you all about the development of the Norfolk Broads.
As the site of the oldest university in the English-speaking world, Oxford might well need no introduction. If you haven’t heard of its prestigious university, you’ll definitely know it as another Harry Potter filming location. The colleges look almost gold-plated, the libraries look inviting even to those who don’t like books, and the pretty cobbled alleyways lead you on a beautiful course to the tranquil River Cherwell which winds through the city, providing romantic punting and picnic opportunities galore.
Did we mention it’s also a flipping good shopping destination? But let’s get back to the most beautiful places in and around Oxford…
What to do
Oxford boasts world-class museums, including the Ashmolean Museum and other university museums like Pitt Rivers and the unmissable Bodleian Libraries.
Radcliffe Square serves up a feast for your eyeballs, showing off some of the city’s best architecture. If you’re looking to venture into nature, however, the Botanic Gardens in Oxford happen to be Britain’s oldest and make for an idyllic escape from the hectic high street. Walk with your date through the conservatory, around the pond, and talk English literature amongst its rows of herbs and roses.
Elsewhere in Oxfordshire, head out to Banbury and check out the grand Elizabethan manor of Broughton Castle. See history and heritage blend at Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill. Show the kids some impressive restored engines at the Didcot Railway Centre or ride a steam train through the Oxfordshire countryside.
Fans of the TV show Downton Abbey can meet the farmyard animals at Cogges Manor Farm in Witney, while Nile crocodiles, American alligators, black caiman, and more are getting snappier than a sleep-deprived television actor at Crocodiles of the World, in Brize Norton. It’s the only crocodile park in England.
Now one of England’s most popular seaside destinations, Brighton offers up charming cobbled streets, teeming tearooms, and miles of pebbled beaches just perfect for people-watching all-year-round. It’s come a long way from medieval Brighton, which was just a small town of four streets and regular fish and pig markets.
There’s lots to do in and around Brighton, including some of England’s best shopping and dining opportunities, but if you’re tired of pebbles and candy floss, get out and explore the East Sussex countryside, which offers some of the most beautiful scenery in England.
What to do
Kipling Gardens make for a peaceful respite, not far from Brighton. The gardens were once the stomping ground of author Rudyard Kipling who had his country house in Rottingdean. You can’t get more British than a good old-fashioned game of croquet on the lawn.
Devil’s Dyke is a National Trust site. This V-shaped valley on the South Downs Way is famed for being the widest and deepest dry valley in Britain. Kids love picking berries here, and you’ll often find families picnicking with a view. Daredevils will opt to paraglide into the wind!
The South Downs National Park is popular all year long and also makes a ‘berry’ nice place to take the kids – look out for the summer strawberry fairs. Rock up any time and explore the quaint market towns or saddle up and take a horse riding tour on the stunning National Trail.