Top 10 places to visit in England besides London for first time visitors
Updated: Nov 12, 2020
You're planning a trip to England and of course London is the number one destination on your to go list. But after London, 'where else should you go to see the best of England?' you wonder.
Having lived in England for more than 10 years, travelled to various different places and seen both the city and the countryside lives, I am confident to say that the beauty of England goes way beyond the glamourous London. The nation's true beauty actually lies in the countryside. Beautiful fields rolling all the way to the skyline, the fresh smell of soil, little cottages in small villages, pristine landscapes, natural reserves, all of which make England a must visit country. However, most tourists don't know this and more often than not, they go down the list of the biggest cities in England, contemplate going to Manchester to visit the Theatre of Dreams, Liverpool to see origins of the Beatles, Birmingham simply because it's the second biggest city in the UK etc. I'm not saying that these cities are not worth visiting. But my honest opinion is that unless you have a personal reason or preference to go to any of these cities, your time would be more well spent in some other places that are less known to tourists from outside the UK.
Here are the top 10 places that I believe would allow you to get the most out of your trip in England. They will show you different aspects of England, the countryside part, academic and poetic part and the natural landscapes.
1. The Cotswolds
Designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in the 60s, the Cotswolds exemplify some of the best sights of British countryside. It splendid scenery, historical architecture, honey-coloured stones would make you fall in love with England countryside. Bourton on the water, known as Venice of the Cotswolds, is my personal favourite village. If you drive, check out my blog post that is detailed on the best villages to visit in the Cotswolds. If you don't, I would still suggest you check it out to get some tips and book a tour because travelling around the Cotswolds by public transport could be a nightmare if this is your first time visiting the UK.
2. Lake District National Park: If you ask any Brits to recommend a holiday destination, I'm sure the Lake District would come up as one of the top places. Many people love it so much that they visit it every year. I personally have been to the Lakes three times and I'm thinking about planning a trip there as I'm writing these words. As the name suggests, the Lake District, also known as the Lakes or Lakeland, is famous for its breathtaking glacial ribbon lakes. These lakes are absolutely stunning, especially when you go hiking and get to see them from above, oh man... you'll be blown away.
The great news is that there is more to the Lake District than just lakes! The lakes are just part of the Lake District's appeal. The National Park is also known for its green valley, famous hiking trails, gorgeous mountain views. If you are into outdoor activities, the Lake District has so much to offer. Boating, cycling, hiking, climbing, you name it. You can also enjoy a cruise on some of the big lakes. The best way to travel around the Lakes is by car. If you don't have access to a car, you will find that your options are more limited with public transport. Keswick and Windermere are the largest towns with good facilities for shopping, tourist information and public transport.
3. Peak District
Situated mostly in the northern Derbyshire, the national park includes parts of Greater Manchester Yorkshire and Cheshire. It's highly accessible from various parts of the UK and it has so much to offer. Peak District is mostly rural and characterised by rounded hill (despite its name, there isn't really any steep peak), tors, valley and limestone canyons. It has amazing view of the countryside and offers range of leisure activities including hiking, cycling, rock climbing and wildlife watching. Its towns and villages thrive on tourism and their attractions vary from country houses to heritage sites.
Some of the most well known places in the Peak District include the Chatsworth House (a stately home in Bakewell with a nice garden in the summer), Bakewell village (remember to try the famous Bakewell tart), Buxton (a very pretty town where Buxton bottled water is sourced from!). Getting around is of course the most convenient with cars but you can surely get there by train with a bit of planning in advance.
You most certainly know about the University of Cambridge as one of the oldest universities in the world. But what you probably don't know is that Cambridge is one of the prettiest cities, if not the prettiest in England.
The historic architecture of the University's colleges, Kings', Trinity, Corpus Christi to name a few, would make you feel like you enter a different era. If you have seen the Theory of Everything, you will know exactly what I mean. The vibe is completely different from London or any other cities in England. The River Cam runs through the centre of the city, making the scenery looks beautiful and poetic. The city town is small, yet has a lot of characters. Cobblestone streets, small independent shops, stone buildings will make you fall in love with the town centre. And remember to go punting because that is the best way to be experience the beauty of the city. You're not convinced yet? Here are some photos to prove you wrong.
5. Oxford: In all fairness, Oxford is very pretty and has a lot of similarities to Cambridge. The University of Oxford occupies a large part of city. As you walk around the city, you will be amazed by the stone built colleges that are scattered throughout the city. The town is slightly bigger than Cambridge so you would have more shops to enjoy. And if you are a Harry Potter fan, Oxford is where you want to be. Oxford is fairly close to the Cotswold so you can combine the two into one trip.
Because of the similarities between the two cities, I would recommend that you pick one only so you can spend your time somewhere else. Both cities are only about 1 hour train from London and doable in a day trip. Make sure to go to at least one of them.
The South West Coast
Most people don't realise that England actually has some really nice beaches in the southwest (to be fair, they are not wrong in the winter). On top of that, there is so much green space in the southwest compared with the rest of England. The countryside is amazing with pretty little cottages and green fields. Here are some of my picks for you if you want to travel down south
6. Cornwall: this county is located in the westernmost part of Britain. As one of the leading holiday destinations among the Brits, it's famous for its beautiful beaches, castle ruins, gorgeous scenery and old mines that are dotted throughout the county. Cornwall is also well known for its Cornish pasty.
8. Devon: Neighbouring Cornwall, Devon is known for its sandy beaches, fossil cliff, beautiful villages and moorland. There is always a bit of rivalry between the two counties when it comes to tourism. Check out my blog on Devon here
9. Dorset: it’s most known for the Jurassic Coast, England's only natural World Heritage Site. It is a long stretch on the English Channel that emcompasses a number of iconic towns, villages and natural landscapes. Its cliffs contain many fossils, and rock formations that are of important significance in geology. A prominent natural landmark on the Jurassic Coast is Durdle Door, an ancient stone arch.
10. Yorkshire Dales: This is a National Park in northern England that is known for its outstanding natural beauty, unspoilt countryside and a rich cultural heritage. Yorkshire Dales It encompasses thousands of square miles of moors, valleys (which means dales), hills and villages. As you can see from the photos, the Dales offer stunning views of British countryside. If you want to have a taste of British countryside and its heritage and you are into outdoor activities such as hiking and cycling, Yorkshire Dales is a perfect place. The only downside of this place is that you need to drive to get around. I don't think it's possible to travel around the dales by public transport. Check out my blog post for more information here.