16 Best Cities in England


Despite its small size, England has a plethora of wonderful places to visit. As the cornerstone of the United Kingdom (the UK also includes Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland), England has been a centre of government and the site of numerous significant historical events for centuries.

Spend time sightseeing in any one of its many top cities and towns, or touring its pretty countryside and picturesque villages, and you’ll find yourself stumbling across an endless array of visit-worthy attractions.

To help you make the most of your trip, check out our list of the top easy-to-explore cities in England.

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1. City of London

It’s nearly impossible (and certainly not advised) to visit England without spending time in its capital, London.

This sprawling metropolis, one of the world’s largest and most cosmopolitan cities, is surprisingly easy to get around thanks to its first-rate (though sometimes crowded) public transportation systems.

Taking a double-decker bus or a famous black cab is a great way to get your bearings, and will take you past iconic landmarks such as the Tower of London and nearby Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace, and Westminster, where you’ll see the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.

Begin walking once you’ve gotten your bearings. London is a fantastic city to explore on foot. Grab a map (or, better yet, an app) and plan a route along the Thames, stopping at the London Eye and the Southbank.

Visit Hyde Park and Regents Park, two beautiful green spaces (even better if you’ve planned ahead and secured a Harrods hamper), and walk around any of London’s famous markets, such as Camden, Portobello, or Borough.

And all of the attractive cities listed below are an easy commute from London.

2. A bath

Bath, only an hour and a half by train from London, has earned a reputation as one of England’s most romantic cities.

For starters, the Romans built the famous Roman Baths in this lovely, livable city in Somerset, a remarkably well-preserved edifice built around a hot spring that continues to draw visitors from all over the world.

These famous waters can be enjoyed at the nearby Thermae Bath Spa, which is only a stone’s throw from the Roman Baths and a great place to relax and unwind with a loved one… or on your own (the views over the city from the rooftop pools are amazing).

Bath is also a popular tourist destination due to its beautiful architecture. This is most evident in the city’s magnificent Royal Crescent, a spectacular and long curved row of 18th-century townhomes.

Allow time to visit #1 Royal Crescent, which is now a museum offering a glimpse into the city’s history.

3. York

York, located in North Yorkshire at the top of the country, is another charming old city to explore that was also founded by the Romans.

While there are only a few signs of early Roman settlement here, it’s the incredibly well-preserved mediaeval architecture that will take your breath away.

York Minster is the best place to start your exploration. This magnificent mediaeval church, located in the heart of the city, is the largest in England, with regular tours of its impressive interior, including the crypt.

The famous views over the Shambles, a network of 14th-century lanes and alleys lined with charming timber-framed buildings now housing shops, restaurants, and tearooms, are not far from here.

Climbing the City Walls is a must-do while in York. This massive structure still encircles the majority of the city, and the five-kilometer walk around it is well worth it… especially for the fantastic views of the old city centre.

4. Canterbury

Canterbury, like York, has long been an important religious centre in England. While evidence of the original Roman settlement can still be seen (check out the city’s excellent Roman Museum), the main draw for tourists is Canterbury Cathedral.

This beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site, the seat of the Church of England, was already a pilgrimage site when Archbishop Thomas Becket was brutally murdered here in 1170 – possibly on the orders of then-king Henry II.

You can even go to the exact location where this heinous event occurred.

5. Oxford University Press

Oxford, a university city, is only a short train ride north of London. Oxford, as the home of the world’s oldest university, has a wealth of history to discover, much of which is accessible on foot and free of traffic.

You’ll see many finely preserved medieval-era buildings along the way, as well as many that were added centuries later.

A highlight is discovering the historic (and photogenic) Carfax Tower, which is well worth the climb for the spectacular views, as well as the Bridge of Sighs in Hertford College, which connects two of the campus’ buildings.

A tour of one of the colleges should be one of the highlights of an Oxford visit. Christ Church College, known to Harry Potter fans as the setting for the Hogwarts dining room, is a popular filming location.

If you’re visiting outside of term time, inquire about the availability of a stay at this or one of the other colleges that offer dorm use to visitors – a truly memorable experience in the heart of the historic city.

6.Durham

Durham is a delightful place to explore due to having one of the highest densities of UNESCO-designated buildings – over 600 at last count – and is considered one of the most attractive small cities in England (by virtue of its cathedral, the benchmark by which a place is deemed a city).

Many of these lovely old buildings, some dating back to mediaeval times, are centrally located and within walking distance of two of the city’s top attractions: Durham Cathedral and Durham Castle.

The cathedral, which was built in 1133, is particularly beautiful. It’s best to take one of the attraction’s informative tours to ensure you don’t miss any of the highlights, which include the finely decorated naves and chapels, the 325-step climb up its tower, and the rich treasury collection in the crypt.

After exploring this and the 11th-century castle, make time to wander the old streets surrounding the old Town Hall, which is also from the 11th century.

Durham is also a great place to shop, and there are many good places to eat here, ranging from classy restaurants to casual inns and pleasant teashops.

7.Salisbury.

Another cathedral city that should be on your England itinerary is Salisbury. While the exterior of Salisbury Cathedral is stunning and dominates the city’s historic skyline, it’s what’s on the inside that draws the crowds.

The cathedral, which was built in 1220, is perhaps best known for housing an original Magna Carta, a valuable historic document written in the 1200s as a charter of rights for the people of England.

Many of the well-preserved old streets and architecture surrounding the cathedral, as well as a number of smaller churches, date from this time period.

Salisbury is also an excellent starting point for exploring Stonehenge, possibly England’s most famous landmark.

This remarkable World Heritage Site, located 16 kilometres from the city centre and well served by a variety of tours and excursions, has been a draw for humans long before tourism became a thing.

In fact, pilgrims have been visiting this important site for over 4,500 years, travelling from as far away as central Europe – no small feat for the time.

While the site is quite large (it spans more than 20 square kilometres), you’ll want to stay close to the visitor centre; from here, you’ll be able to get a good sense of the site’s unique history before heading to the viewing trails.

(Editor’s note: Due to the popularity of Stonehenge, it is recommended that you purchase admission tickets in advance to avoid disappointment.)

8.Liverpoo.

Liverpool, long one of England’s most important ports, has done an outstanding job of preserving – and commemorating – its rich maritime history.

For example, if you go to the Albert Docks area, you’ll find yourself in the midst of a maze of old warehouses and wharves that have been meticulously restored and now serve as homes, places of work, or shopping and dining destinations.

The Merseyside Maritime Museum is a must-see, telling the stories of the ships that helped put Liverpool on the map, as well as the countless millions who sailed from here to new lives across the Atlantic.

Other noteworthy museums and attractions to visit include the Museum of Liverpool and the city’s branch of the Tate Gallery.

However, no trip to Liverpool would be complete without seeing at least one attraction or landmark dedicated to the city’s most famous sons:

The Beatles. Whether you go on a Beatles-themed tour or go it alone, make sure your trip down memory lane includes a stop at the Cavern Club, where the Beatles got their start on the live circuit.

The homes of Paul McCartney and John Lennon can also be visited, and The Beatles Story, a great museum that covers their career, is also located in Albert Docks.

9.Brighton & Hove

Brighton, with a well-deserved reputation as one of England’s top resort towns, is a fun and easy trip from London for those looking for a seaside getaway.

Set overlooking a long stretch of beach on the English Channel, it has been welcoming holidaymakers since the 18th century, all drawn here for the fresh air, the hotels, and the endless fun things to do.

A stroll along the town’s long promenade and a stop at the Victorian Palace Pier with its arcades and souvenirs are highlights of a visit.

Another must-see is the Royal Pavilion, King George IV’s former summer residence that would not look out of place in India. Add to that the beach, numerous great festivals and events, pleasant parks, and delicious restaurants, and Brighton is sure to tickle your fancy.

10. Bristol

Although it never saw the number of migrants that Liverpool did, owing largely to the smaller size of its port, Bristol was once an important embarkation point for those heading west.

Sheltered inland on the Avon River and with direct access to the Bristol Channel and the Atlantic, it was here in the late 15th century that explorers such as John Cabot would set out on their voyages of discovery, soon to be followed by adventurers and settlers seeking new lives in the New World.

Visit the Cabot Tower, an impressive landmark built in the 1800s to commemorate the explorer’s accomplishments.

A visit to the SS Great Britain is another maritime-related thing to do in Bristol. This remarkable vessel, famous for being the first steam-powered vessel to provide trans-Atlantic passenger service, was designed and built by I.K. Brunel, who also left another lasting landmark for the city: the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

This elegant structure, considered one of the most romantic views in England, should definitely be on the “to do” list of anyone looking for a beautiful place to photograph in England.

11. Cambridge

Cambridge, like its collegial cousin to the west, Oxford, makes for an excellent day trip for those staying in London, as it is less than an hour away by train. Cambridge is best known as a place of higher learning, but its numerous college campuses make it a joy to explore on foot.

College campuses are well-kept lawns and courtyards surrounded by immaculately preserved buildings that house faculty and students.

There are 31 colleges in total, some of which date back to the 13th century, when Cambridge University was founded. Must-sees include Queens’ College, which dates back to the 1400s and is home to the much-photographed Mathematical Bridge, and King’s College, which is known for its chapel and choir.

Set aside some time to go fishing on the River Cam. The best way to see the city and its colleges from the water is on one of the many punts that ply the river here.

These flat-bottomed boats are pushed along by a “punter” at a gentle enough speed to allow passengers to get a proper, slow-paced view of their surroundings.

Traditionally powered by students (though this is becoming less likely), these flat-bottomed boats are pushed along by a “punter” at a gentle enough speed to allow passengers to get a proper, slow-paced view of their surroundings. Time well spent, without a doubt.

12.Manchester

If you want to focus your travels in northern England – or even venture west into Wales – the former industrial city of Manchester is a great place to start.

Manchester has a first-rate international airport that is just minutes away from the city’s top attractions and is only a short train ride from Liverpool.

Exploring Manchester’s extensive canal network is one of the top things for visitors to do. These once-busy waterways lead to Castlefield, a neighbourhood known for its attractive old Victorian townhomes and warehouses, many of which now house boutique shops, art galleries, cafés, and restaurants, and are a blast from the city’s industrial past (Manchester was a major English manufacturing centre for decades).

Before venturing out into other parts of England, be sure to visit a few other Manchester attractions. Chinatown (one of Europe’s largest), the Museum of Science and Industry, the Manchester Art Gallery, and Manchester Cathedral are all popular attractions.

13.Nottingham.

Consider Nottingham, England, and you’ll undoubtedly recall childhood memories of that Hollywood staple, Robin Hood.

While there are numerous references to the English legend in Nottingham – his likeness is, of course, widely used here – there is much more to this charming Midlands city than its most well-known hero.

Nottingham, with its wide, tree-lined streets and plenty of green space and parks, has a lot to offer. Wandering the old market square and its markets (Nottingham was famous for its lace), as well as its famous castle, are highlights.

The city is also built on a large cave network, which can be explored as part of the City of Caves attraction.

Those interested in learning more about Robin Hood can visit the nearby Sherwood Forest. There’s even a 104-mile trail that runs from the castle deep into what was once the hero outlaws’ neck of the woods, passing through some of the best scenery in the region along the way.

14.Dover

Few places in the world can compete with the views afforded by Dover, Kent. On a clear day, you can see all the way to France, a distance of only 30 miles as the crow flies and still accessible by ferry.

Because of its strategic location overlooking the English Channel, the coastal town has grown in importance over the centuries.

The ruins of a Roman lighthouse can still be seen within the grounds of Dover Castle, a fortress built in 1168 and garrisoned during the Napoleonic Wars and again as recently as WW2.

 It is now a fascinating museum with a lot to do, such as mediaeval festivals and other events.

Of course, you’ll want to see the breathtaking White Cliffs of Dover. These iconic white chalk cliffs can be explored on foot or via trails. Bring a picnic and those binoculars.

15.Birmingham.

Birmingham, the country’s second largest urban area, is large, though not as large as London.

Birmingham, like its northern neighbour Manchester, was shaped by the rapid growth that occurred during the Industrial Revolution, a period during which it cemented its reputation as a world leader in manufacturing.

Evidence of this illustrious past can be found everywhere, particularly along the city’s historic canals.

They were once an important means of transporting goods into and out of Birmingham, but nowadays you’re more likely to see a canal barge rigged up for pleasure trips (in fact, a few days or so spent aboard one of these delightfully slow watercraft is a must-do experience in England).

Whether by barge or on foot, a visit to Birmingham’s charming Gas Street Basin neighbourhood should be on your list of things to do. From quaint canal-side inns and tearooms to lovely boutique shops selling handcrafted goods and arts and crafts, you’ll find it all here.

16.Hastings, California

Hastings, in East Sussex, is another coastal town with a significant role in English history. William the Conqueror landed here in 1066 and defeated the English forces in the Battle of Hastings.

The campaign ended in the market town of Battle, a few miles inland, after King Harold was assassinated, resulting in William’s accession to the throne.

After seeing the sights in Hastings – including the Stade and the Historic Net Shops in the old fishing harbour area – make the six-mile journey to Battle.

Here, you’ll find an excellent visitor’s centre with exhibits relating to the area’s historic events, as well as the ruins of a large Benedictine abbey church that William ordered built on the site of the battle.


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