As someone from far away – Australia – it took me a couple of trips to England to learn that there is so much more to the nation than just the capital city of London. And for Englanders, I think it’s sometimes all to easy to think a holiday should involve leaving the country. However it’s worth looking into what to do in England. As a guide, we’ve put together this list of 25 fun things to do in England that don’t involve staying in London!
Old Market Square, Nottingham
Eat candy floss at Brighton Pier
Sian wrote a great post about seven reasons to go to Brighton and as well as checking out the gardens at Brighton Pavilion and strolling The Lanes, she suggested exploring the Brighton Pier with candy floss in hand. Perfect!
Brighton Pier Steve Punter
Go swimming in Plymouth’s Tinside Lido
This gorgeous art deco swimming pool closed in the early 1990s but has since been restored and is now open to the public between May and September – and best of all, it’s free! I’m a big fan of combining some physical activity with sightseeing and I consider the Lido to be like a living museum. There are also some great maritime and historic sights to see in Plymouth, and a lot more ideas in our tips for things to do in Plymouth post.
Tinside Lido by yellow book
Explore Oxford’s Museum of Natural History
Oxford has many attractions but Kimberly mentioned that Oxford University’s Museum of Natural History is a place that can entertain travellers of any age. Smaller, of course, that London’s famous Natural History Museum, the Oxford version is still impressive – it’s housed in a historic building and includes the Oxfordshire dinosaurs, among many zoological treasures.
Elephants in Oxford Museum of Natural History by middric
Wave at the royals at Windsor Castle
An unexpected highlight during one of my trips to England was a visit to Windsor Castle. As well as exploring Windsor town itself (I was fascinated by being able to see school boys wandering down to Eton College – it seemed so famous to me!), the castle is a really interesting one to visit. As Andy noted, it’s the largest inhabited castle in the world, and it’s quite impressive that visitors are allowed to see so much. It also struck me that it’s located so close to other buildings in the town – not far away on a distant hill (as castles in my imagination tend to be!).
Windsor Castle by Amanda Kendle
Get Underground in Nottingham’s Caves
Apparently the city of Nottingham has more man-made caves underneath it than anywhere else in Britain! Karen discovered some of these by visiting the City of Caves last year. Various sections of the caves are set up to illustrate parts of Nottingham’s history, such as a medieval tannery and a World War Two air raid shelter. Karen suggests combining a caves tour with the Galleries of Justice – Nottingham’s former jail and court house – and you can get a joint ticket to these two attractions.
The tannery at the City of Caves
Look at Baths in Bath
Sadly, you can’t exactly take a bath in Bath – well not at the baths I’d like to, the famous Roman Baths. You can, however, take a tour through them and it’s well worth it. You can walk around the baths as well as the museum part of the building and I found the outdoor baths with Bath Abbey overlooking them to be particularly photogenic. If you are a Jane Austen fan then you can enjoy the Pump Room at the front of the baths. And if you’re a mad keen Jane Austen fan, you can get more tips on Austen-related Bath experiences from Kimberly’s post on Jane Austen attractions in Bath. There are also numerous Bath travel tips in our things to do in Bath collation post.
Roman Baths by Amanda Kendle
Shop in Leeds’ Victoria Quarter
Karen gave us some great tips for Leeds after her short break there and my favourite is easily her suggestion to spend some time shopping in the Victoria Quarter. This is a beautiful arcade quite appropriately referred to as “the Knightsbridge of the North” and the building alone makes it look worthwhile visiting.
Victoria Quarter, Leeds
Hit the M Shed in Bristol
We’ve got a post devoted to numerous things to do in Bristol but since that post the new M Shed has opened – a grand new museum which a Telegraph review dubbed as “Bristol’s own Smithsonian” – a big compliment indeed. It’s on Prince’s Wharf and includes several historic vessels moored outside.
Walk the coast from Land’s End
One of my favourite trips to England involved a day-long walk starting from Land’s End. The coastal path is an easy one and the views over the cliffs are so scenic. You’re also far enough away from civilisation (most of the time) to feel like you’re having a bit of an adventure.
Cliffs near Land’s End by Amanda Kendle
Visit Brownsea Island off Bournemouth
Grab a boat from Bournemouth Pier and head over to Brownsea Island. Full of nature walks and with that “get away from it all” feel, it was the top suggestion from our post on things to do in Bournemouth.
View from Brownsea Island by chill
Explore the Norman Architecture of Durham Cathedral
After his visit to Durham, Andy recommended a bunch of interesting activities and that included seeing the Durham Cathedral. It’s over 900 years old, should have been destroyed in the war but was saved by a cloudy day, and offers great views from the top if you are feeling up to a big climb.
Durham Cathedral by Mike_fleming
Explore the Ruins of Norham Castle
Karen recommends visiting Norham Castle in northern Northumberland when you’re holidaying in the border area she likes to call Scengland. It’s a very pretty collection of ruins in a really scenic location and I can imagine enjoying a good picnic lunch there!
The windows at Norham Castle
Snap a photo of Birmingham’s Selfridges building
Karen was very impressed by Birmingham during her visit during the summer of 2009, particularly by the politeness and friendliness she encountered there. We have a post with suggestions on things to do in Birmingham and the one that struck me is quite simply admiring the Selfridges building, by night in particular – it’s stunning!
Selfridges building in Birmingham
Browse for books in Hay-on-Wye
I have a real soft spot for exploring book shops while travelling so it is with no hesitation that I recommend Hay-on-Wye for its numerous book shops (around 30 at last count!). It is also the host town for the annual Hay Festival of Literature each May but you’ll need to plan ahead for that particularly busy time of year there.
Books in Hay-on-Wye by Heather Cowper
Sip hot chocolate in Manchester
After shopping for books, my next weakness is chocolate – and I’m sure I’m not alone there – so hearing about the Chocolate Cafe in Manchester is naturally very enticing. As well as serving regular sandwiches, there is also “pure” hot chocolate (just melted chocolate and milk) and the intriguing chocolate pizza. Personally I think this is reason enough to head to Manchester but of course there are numerous other reasons, and we have some good tips in this post on things to do in Manchester.
Eat in style in Newquay
As well as gorgeous beaches, Newquay is now famous for its high quality restaurants – with no less famous than Jamie Oliver’s restaurant Fifteen. There are also numerous other restaurants (often cheaper and easier to get a booking at than Fifteen!) such Kahuna at Tolcarne Beach, So don’t expect to diet on a holiday in Newquay. You can also read more tips on Newquay which Karen gathered before her trip there a couple of years back.
Grilled Turbot Fillets served at Kahuna
Cross the world’s oldest suspension bridge in Horncliffe, Northumberland
The first ever suspension bridge built for vehicles in Europe is located in England, close to Horncliffe crossing over the River Tweed. Despite dating back to 1820 it is still operational and safe today and we also have a video of the bridge and the scenic area around it which you can check out. Just up the road is the Chain Bridge Honey Farm.
Union Bridge, Horncliffe
Go Fishing in Padstow, Cornwall
Well, the locals go fishing and there are numerous fishing boats in the busy harbour, but if you visit Padstow on the northern Cornish coast, Heather suggests that the great local restaurants might be the places you should visit in search of (already prepared) seafood.
See a performance at the Minack Theatre
If you’re keen on some outdoor theatre there is probably no more spectacular location than the Minack Theatre near Porthcurno, a few miles along the coast from Land’s End. It’s an amphitheatre with one problem: if you see a performance while it’s still light, it had better be really good or you’re going to be distracted by the view.
Minack Theatre by Amanda Kendle
Spot grape-eating squirrel benches in Cumbria
One of Karen’s favourite places in Cumbria is Grange over Sands, on the southern coast of the Lake District peninsula. If you visit, look out for the gorgeous park benches with wrought iron featuring squirrels eating grapes – they’re certainly rather unique!
Squirrel benches in Grange over Sands
Tour the Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden in St Ives
An outpost of the St Ives outpost of the Tate Gallery, the Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden is a fantastic collection of her works in what was her own garden. You can also take a peek at her studio and get a feeling for what her life as an artist may have been like.
Sculpture by Barbara Hepworth, by Amanda Kendle
Go Quirky at the Quilt Museum, York
York doesn’t need much introduction, but an attraction you may not know about is the York Quilt Museum. I’m always interested in unique museums and so was Karen when she visited the quilt museum last year. As you’d expect it is full of all kinds of quilts but the exhibition changes every quarter so there is something new even for regular visitors. Admission to this museum is included in the York Pass.
York Quilt Museum
Watch Three Rivers Meet in Ravenglass
The Esk, the Irk and the Mite rivers all meet the coast at Ravenglass in the Lake District, making it quite a unique place to visit. Karen also admired the tiny Ravenglass & Esk Railway on her visit.
View to Ravenglass
Visit Hexham Abbey
For a holiday in Northumberland, a stop at Hexham between Carlisle and Newcastle sounds nice. Hexham Abbey dates back to the seventh century and there is an annual Hexham Abbey festival held in late September featuring a wide range of musical events, many of them held within the beautiful abbey.
Spot Karen in Berwick upon Tweed
And last but certainly not least in our list of 25 things to do in England: a rather beautiful town that pops up regularly on Europe a la Carte is Berwick upon Tweed, our founding editor Karen’s current hometown. If you need some inspiration for a Berwick visit then my favourite post would be this one from last winter with some stunning photographs. Who knows you may even spot Karen out for her daily walk when you’re in Berwick.
Lighthouse at the end of Berwick Pier
I hope that I’ve illustrated that there’s a lot more to England than London and even encouraged some residents of England to explore their home shores.