When planning a holiday to England, you’re probably keen to visit London and maybe learn British history from museum exhibits or a visit to the Tower of London or Buckingham Palace. But what about the rest of the country? There is so much to learn from the smaller towns that carry their own history. Here are the best British towns to visit if you really want to experience some of the character and charm that Britain is so famous for.
1. Stratford-upon-Avon | Warwickshire
For those who adore the works of the illustrious playwright William Shakespeare, Stratford-upon-Avon should be your first stop! A medieval market town rich in history and British culture, this place is easy to fall in love with. Even the quaint library offers the most idyllic literary scene for any book-lover. You can also see his works come to life with a Shakespearean play performed at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.
2. Windsor | Berkshire
Home to Windsor Castle, a spectacular residence of the British Royal Family (and the Queen’s noted favourite palace), this glorious town takes the crown. Step back in time and learn all about Britain’s long line of sovereigns with an exciting castle tour, treat yourself to a river cruise along the famous River Thames, or splash out on some sightseeing expeditions of Windsor and one of the neighboring British towns. Just a short drive away, Eton is home to the prestigious boys’ college.
No visit would be complete without a cup of strong British tea in this adorable little tearoom, located in the Crooked House of Windsor.
3. Amesbury | Wiltshire
Amesbury is a rural little town that rests on the River Avon, not far from the extraordinary Stonehenge site. The fresh countryside and scenic walks along the river are a must-do, as are as the guided tours around Stonehenge, Woodhenge and the stately Elizabethan homes. There are heaps of heritage sites and breathtaking Wiltshire walking trails to give you a hearty and healthy dose of history (and exercise).
4. Warwick | Warwickshire
Warwick is famous for its medieval history and an outstanding castle that was founded by William the Conqueror during the Norman conquest of England. The Great Fire of Warwick destroyed most of the medieval homes back in 1694, so many of the houses now post-date the medieval period but there is still plenty of old architecture to admire!
5. Aldeburgh | Suffolk
While growing up in Britain, I visited the Suffolk coast often and Aldeburgh was always a cherished spot. It paints a picture of your typical British beach – yes, our waves may be too chilly and the beaches hard and pebbly, but many of our coasts have a natural and historical charm about them.
Aldeburgh was a renowned Tudor town with a 16th Century fort. While much of the fort has now been lost to the sea, the 19th Century architecture that stands today brings British history to life.
If you do visit, you need to sample some fare from the famous Aldeburgh Fish & Chip Shop. Wander the nearby village of Thorpeness and take out a rowing boat, or marvel at the old pink dollhouse just off the Aldeburgh shore and enjoy a hearty lunch at the Brudenell Hotel. And if you keep your eyes peeled, you may run into notable actors like I did – Bill Nighy reportedly owns a house in the area!
6. Burford | Oxfordshire Cotswolds
If you’re really looking to appease your hunger for historical British towns, visit Burford! Situated close to Oxford, this old Cotswold town has a string of quaint high-street shops that slope down from the High Wolds. Burford offers spectacular views over the vast countryside and the pretty River Windrush that threads throughout the Windrush valley.
One of England’s oldest medieval towns, Burford dates back to the Anglo-Saxon period, and it grew to be a very expensive wool town. Wander along the river and cross the medieval bridge at the foot of the hill, or explore the many old pubs and shops that hide down narrow side streets. There is a lot of history to uncover in Burford!
7. Saffron Walden | Essex
I probably shouldn’t be biased but this is my favourite town in the country, largely due to the fact I grew up here. This archaic market town in Essex dates back to 1140. Enchanting cottages and pastel-painted terraced homes grace the streets of Saffron Walden, and the main market square hosts a bustling market twice a week near the grand Town Hall.
Visit some of the archaic pubs, such as The Cross Keys (the old headquarters to Oliver Cromwell), and stroll through the scenic Victorian gardens of Bridge End. Take a tour through Audley End House and you’ll feel as though you’ve stepped into a period drama!
8. Emsworth | Hampshire
Popular with sailors, artists, nature-lovers and walkers, Emsworth has a long history associated with oyster fishing and boat building. The pretty streets display a range of 19th Century architectural styles and some exceptional harbour views.
Stroll around the mill pond, along the shore and through Brook Meadow; explore the sailing club that proudly stands as one of the best in the country, and delight in a pot of tea with some warm scones at one of the friendliest tearooms you can imagine. You can learn more about the shipbuilding history of Emsworth and its time as a port through the local museum.
9. Hexham | Northumberland
A gorgeous old market town situated south of the River Tyne, Hexham is very close to the Chesters Roman trail – an outstanding heritage walk with heaps of historic stories, monuments and remains. Tucked away in the valley of Chollerford, this heritage site offers an opportunity to encounter a section of the phenomenal Hadrian’s Wall (an epic Roman wall built in 122AD). It really is a must-do if you’re visiting the British countryside.
What are you waiting for? Enjoy a blast from the past and treat yourself to a bit of British history!