20 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in England
Britain is truly a unique destination—so why not enjoy it to the fullest? From the towering edifices of London and the ancient heritage of Stonehenge, to the glittering cities of Manchester, Liverpool, and Brighton, England's capital city, London, as well as its vast coastline and the ancient castles of Scotland are just the start of an adventure.
Beyond the cities and rolling hills of England's pastoral landscape are the canals and pretty gardens of its many hamlets and magnificent stately homes. After visiting the country's historic sites, enjoy exploring some of the many parks, wildlife reserves, castles, and vineyards.
Plan your trip with our list of the top attractions in England, the gateway to one of the world's most unique places.
Stonehenge, 10 miles north of the historic city of Salisbury on Salisbury Plain, is Europe's best-known prehistoric monument. It's so popular that visitors need to purchase a timed ticket in advance to guarantee entry. Exhibitions at the excellent Stonehenge visitor center set the stage for a visit, explaining through audio-visual experiences and more than 250 ancient objects how the megaliths were erected between 3000 and 1500 BC, and sharing information about life during this time. After walking around the various viewing points adjacent to these enormous stones, visit the authentic replicas of Neolithic Houses to see the tools and implements of everyday Neolithic life as volunteers demonstrate skills from 4,500 years ago. Although you can't go inside the circle to wander among the stones during normal opening hours, you can reserve special early morning or late evening access into the circle through English Heritage, which manages the site.
Windsor Castle has served for centuries as the royal residence and the home of the monarchs of the United Kingdom. It was here in the 11th century that William the Conqueror built a castle to establish his Norman control over England, a castle which became the seat of the kings of England for 600 years. Today it's the largest inhabited castle in the world, housing an estimated 4,000 people who, to keep costs down, live in the sprawling staterooms that line the castle's entire front. To enter the castle, visitors need to buy a timed ticket, which must be pre-purchased in advance. This includes a guided tour and admission into the castle and the Royal Apartments, where you can see some of the most famous items of royal regalia, including the famous Crown Jewels. Among the other highlights of the castle are the magnificent State Apartments, with a room for every conceivable occasion and time of day, and a cupboard filled with more famous items, including the Crown of St. Edward and the Royal Sword.
Westminster Abbey is the largest and most important of London's cathedrals. Designed by English architect Henry Hobson-Penny in the Perpendicular style, the building was originally constructed from 1297 to 1314 and is known as "the new place of prayer for all kings and all nations". Today, it is one of London's most impressive architectural and religious monuments and one of the world's most magnificent churches. It is worth visiting Westminster Abbey to experience a new world of quiet. Even in the face of crowds, the atmosphere at the abbey is surprisingly tranquil. The 60-minute guided tours are also a lot of fun, focusing on the rich history of the abbey. If you visit Westminster Abbey during the day, it is possible to do more than just see the magnificent buildings and see the changing of the guards in the abbey square. The adjoining Houses of Parliament are also open to the public and it is worthwhile visiting the King's Apartments and the Houses of Lords and Commons for an insight into the political and ceremonial roles of the sovereign. There are also lovely chapels throughout the abbey, and more than any other tourist attraction, Westminster Abbey gives a good idea of the rise of Christianity in England in the 12th and 13th centuries.
Buckingham Palace, located at St. James's Palace, is the official London residence of the Sovereign of the United Kingdom. The palace stands in grounds that are usually open to the public. It is closed to the public on certain State and Royal occasions, and only the public areas and the Sunken Garden (see above) are open to the public. The Sunken Garden was the site of an earlier palace built for George II. Today's palace is a replica of the original, having largely retained George IV's "Rose" state rooms, designed in 1815. Royal tours of Buckingham Palace and the surrounding neighborhood are available by appointment only (0207-491-7414). Two booklets (containing color photographs of many of the rooms) are available: Buckingham Palace; The Sights of London by Peter J Baker (September 2008), and The Royal London (September 2006). Like all Royal residences, Buckingham Palace retains its own lighting system in some of its interior rooms. There are hourly changes of the lighting for various events and openings.
Dover Castle is actually a magnificent fortified manor house built between 1206 and 1220, making it the second oldest in England. The property has been in the possession of the same family for over 800 years. On the grounds are more than 70 buildings ranging from a magnificent four-story 19th century pagoda to a rare original Tudor residence. In addition to the ornate Queen Anne style, there are three Norman castles and a 12th century moat. The coastal town of Dover is a popular resort and sightseeing base and is connected to the castle by ferry. Highlights include the Eastgate Clock, a 17th century brick and timber building of defensive character, and the remains of an old Roman lighthouse. Other attractions include a mock-up of Henry VIII's sailing ship The Mary Rose.
Sights around the English town of Cheltenham include the free-to-visit Cotswold Water Park on the banks of the River Thames, with its lighted mini-swimming pool, pedal boats, bumper cars, playground, and paddleboats for hire. Across the river is the grand open-air Cheltenham Art Museum. Another nearby attraction is the Cotswold Conservation Area, the first of the European-designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) and designated as a World Heritage site in 1979. More than 1,300 hectares (about 3,000 acres) of countryside is protected from development. Some of the finest buildings in Gloucestershire lie within the conservation area, including Stow-on-the-Wold Castle. Other highlights include Stow, Bourton-on-the-Water, Moreton-in-Marsh, and Tetbury, a charming town on the banks of the River Windrush, a tributary of the Thames. You can take a stroll through the streets of Cheltenham and its historical attractions, visiting places of interest, such as the town's free-to-visit museum, or take a train from the city to the picturesque town of Gloucester.
The most famous tourist destination in the United Kingdom, London, one of the world's most visited cities, is a major business, cultural, and educational center as well as one of the most influential and powerful cities on earth. London has been inhabited since Neolithic times and today's visitor will find a city that has transformed beyond recognition since it was walled in 1216, its rivers were blocked and filled in, and huge conurbations were built on the surrounding marshes. Its history, culture, people, and restaurants make the city worth visiting, and there's plenty of great sightseeing to do outside the center, including the Thames River. A river cruise will take you to some of London's best known attractions, including the Tower of London, St Paul's Cathedral, and the Shard skyscraper, built on the South Bank. For many visitors, London is synonymous with tradition, high culture, and fabulous shopping. As one of the world's most popular tourist destinations, London draws tourists from all over the world and has a busy international flight and shipping port.
The world-renowned and largest Gothic cathedral in England, York Minster, also known as the Minster, was begun in 1220 and is built on the highest point in York. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Minster is still a working parish church and houses the heart of the city. Open seven days a week, the cathedral is free to enter and you can wander freely around the five magnificent and breathtaking naves and the four beautiful towers. The high point of a visit to the cathedral is its close-up views of the most important art in the church. High up on the walls of the naves are the clerestory windows, and above them are the painted woodwork and stained glass windows. With nearly 900 windows, there are more than 17,000 panes of stained glass, which represent the lives of the saints and is a legacy of the 12th century cathedral, which had a solid stone roof.
Home to the immortal Bard and, thanks to filming locations at Ashridge, the infamous Heineken Brewery, Stratford-upon-Avon is one of the most popular destinations in the UK. Home to the Royal Shakespeare Company's famous productions in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, including the latest additions The Taming of the Shrew, performed in December 2008, and The Mousetrap, performed continuously since 1952, the town offers plenty of accommodation and eating options for visitors. Restaurants in the area include Adria, The Stone House, and The Savoy, serving local cuisine, as well as the popular Italian eatery An Enoteca.
The city of Bath is renowned as a spa and one of the world's greatest historic cities. Located in southwestern England, near Bath's elegant rival, Stonehenge, is one of the most important historic churches in the country. Built between 1828 and 1863 to the design of architect John Nash, the Bath Abbey was built on the site of an 11th-century Benedictine monastery. Highlights include the Abbey Cloisters, a collection of medieval and medieval Italian paintings, stained glass, and tapestries, and the Norman Lanes, a series of symmetrical, winding streets built in the early 19th century. Bath is surrounded by beautiful landscapes and, within the city limits, there is a canal known as the River Avon, which flows around the ruins of the Roman city of Glastonbury and is one of the most important trading routes in the country. The city is home to more than 100 Georgian houses, many of which are now either private residences or museums. Bath also has its own airport, which serves a number of destinations throughout the United Kingdom.
Hampton Court Palace
Stately ruins in the wild, secluded grounds of the private Hampton Court Palace, five miles southwest of London, are the former seat of English kings, and today the site is an atmospheric palace museum with exhibits that include Henry VIII's notorious 'closet', his collection of 653 wives, men, and beheadings. Famous residents included King Charles II and his brother, Prince Rupert, the eccentric, rebellious son of Charles I. Born in 1619, the prince, who fought with the Parliamentary army during the English Civil War, was responsible for creating the Royal Society, then the world's oldest scientific academy. The well-preserved remains of the palace, which is a major attraction in its own right, include medieval tower, Renaissance gardens, long-abandoned maze, and Tudor period outbuildings. Access to the palace grounds is restricted during the day, but there is free access at night, when most of the palace attractions are open. You may like to visit one of the nearby Hampton Court attractions, including Hampton Court Maze (there's a large model) or Hampton Court houses, the historical home of the house of Windsor, a living monument to Henry VIII's daughter, Mary I, and her ambitious plans for the home.
Westminster Palace (Oswaldosbethakhusen Westminsterpalast) is situated in a royal park in central London and is the main palace of the British sovereign. It was begun in 1030 by King Harold II and originally had eight towers along its frontage. However, only two have survived and they are currently open to the public. Between the two remaining towers is a storied wall with fifteen 11th-century Norman arcaded doorways, which used to lead to the home of the Bishop of London. The palace's lavish living quarters have been preserved as they were when first occupied by King Henry III. Other notable features of the palace include the Royal Gallery, St. Stephen's Chapel and the Unicorn Tapestry. Highlights of a visit to the palace include a guided tour, which includes the great hall, the chapel and the Royal State Apartments. But most intriguing of all is a look into the palace's history, as the tour guides in the various rooms are able to tell you the personal stories of the princes who once lived here. Westminster Palace and its surrounding grounds, set among magnificent royal parklands, are quite a contrast to the city they are in. These are green, quiet and very relaxing and the palace itself is beautifully set within a park which features a man-made lake, heronry and grassy areas and various species of trees and shrubs.
Built in 1843 and situated in the center of London, Trafalgar Square is a classic English public square. Surrounding the famous equestrian statue of Queen Victoria stands a series of fountains and statues, both notable and historic, such as the world-famous Naiad fountain, which dates back to 1852. Close by Trafalgar Square is Piccadilly Circus, a famous junction with many hotels and shops. The area is one of London's biggest shopping areas with chain stores, luxury fashion and high-street shops lining both sides of Shaftesbury Avenue, one of the world's largest shopping streets. At the other end of the square is Hyde Park, the largest of London's eight green spaces and also a popular place for activities such as jogging, skating, and bicycling.
The London Eye
If you've been to London, you'll have seen the Eye - what else do you call it? It's the giant Ferris wheel that has taken over from the Millennium Wheel as London's most distinctive landmark. Completed in 1999, it offers a ride, lasting one hour, for an eye-watering £16.50 a pop. Take a tour of the wheel to see what all the fuss is about, and you can climb to the top for a fabulous view of the London skyline. A walk along the outside of the wheel offers a peek at what you can see from the top floor. A light show features on a loop.
Isle of Wight
With its long, white sandy beaches, low-rise buildings, and subtropical vegetation, the Isle of Wight was once an important center of Roman maritime trade. Today it's Britain's best-loved vacation island with a population of more than 140,000 people. And it is packed with fun activities for all the family. Some of the best family attractions on the island include the Isle of Wight Sea Zoo at Newport, famous for its playful otters and otter cuddles, and the Sarcophagus Museum, which tells the story of its mythological past through an incredible collection of Ancient Roman artifacts. At the heart of the island, the Isle of Wight is a peninsula and has the most stunning natural landscape, made up of rugged coastline and lush countryside. To get around the island, choose from around 20 public bus routes or hire a car, which can take you from the mainland to all of the major attractions. The Isle of Wight rail service links all the main towns and towns and villages on the Isle. To explore the island, most visitors choose to rent a car, as public transport is limited, although bikes and other transport is also available. Roads are generally busy and heavy traffic, so if you're a keen motorcyclist, best to avoid the Island.
Situated in a landscaped courtyard between The Mall and the River Thames, Somerset House is the flagship of the Imperial War Museum. Over the years it has provided the British government with a number of offices, including that of the first Prime Minister. The first palace in London and the first purpose-built royal residence outside of the British Isles, Somerset House has one of the country's most extensive collections of the history of the British monarchy and empire, as well as related information about English architecture and design. Its several buildings are connected by a series of gardens, courtyards, lawns and fountains. Highlights include the Queen's Gallery, where the monarch's possessions and those of more than 800,000 other subjects are displayed. In the landscaped courtyard are extensive displays of military artifacts and machines. Inside the building, the Hall of British and Irish Art chronicles British art from the Norman Conquest to the present, with exhibits of the newest finds from the archaeological expeditions in the British Isles.
The well-established Chester Zoo is on the outskirts of the British city of Chester. It's open to the public daily, and admission is always free. Although, with 12 hectares of park, woodland, animal enclosures and rest areas, the zoo is open year-round and offers visitors an insight into different habitats and animals, both past and present. Highlights include Africa House, Europe House, China, and the Birdlife in the World and Bumble Bee houses, where you'll find the best example of bumble bees in the UK. Don't leave the zoo without checking out the Great Family Forest, a walk around the educational displays and rest areas of a reconstructed woodland environment, such as hay meadows, a woodland and wildflower garden.
Recently listed as one of the country's finest haunted houses, Wallington House is a 17th-century country residence which is now open for guided tours. Once owned by Robert Clive and also George III's great-grandfather, it was home to the present owner, Gerald Nevill, from 1959. His main hobby was theatrical costuming, which he took up at a very young age, and for this he designed a costume that he said was inspired by a scene in a William Shakespeare play. The costuming theme developed into a fascination with all things theatrical, especially the work of Edgar Allan Poe. He arranged his lavish rooms to look like scenes from a number of his works and there are displays and displays of his costume designs, props, stage costumes and sets, all of which are included in the price of the tour.
Visit Kew Gardens, one of the top garden destinations in the world, and you'll enjoy the story of its history. Kew gardens was first founded in 1688 by William III. It was originally designed as a private pleasure garden but was taken over by the crown in 1759. Although Kew is noted for its greenhouse collections, it has undergone significant renovations to other areas since it was founded. Its landscape and many specimen trees, along with its famous collections of Himalayan rhododendron and azalea, were laid out in the 1800s by the pioneering horticulturist, Lancelot "Capability" Brown. Of particular interest is the Great Pagoda, which has a series of stories from Buddhist history along its base. The Kew Gold Collection is also fascinating. It includes 12 famous paintings by the French Impressionist and post-impressionist master Claude Monet, including his famous water lily, The Waterlilies, which hangs above the Long Water channel. Kew Gardens is an easy 45-minute bus ride from London. For information about Kew, call Kew Direct Tel: 0844 877 7300.
With a population of around 14,000, Greenwich Park (Greenwich Palace) is the smallest of London's royal parks. With its formal lawns and decorative flowerbeds, its Gothic palace and the surrounding green belt, Greenwich Park is the quintessential park, with the historic part laid out in the 18th century to resemble an English landscape. As the home of the Prime Meridian, the Greenwich meridian was the birthplace of navigation. Greenwich Park is home to over 50 species of birds, such as the Robin, the Blue Tit, the Great Tit and the Goldcrest, while others that nest in the park include the Buzzard, the Carrion Crow and the Peregrine. Commonly seen is the Little Egret and many, many types of wading birds. The Department of the Environment have set up several bird-watching hides, providing information to visitors who want to observe the various types of bird in the park. Entry is by tour only and must be booked in advance. At 10am on selected dates, the park opens to visitors and offers a guided tour, which includes a bird-watching tour around the park as well as a garden tour.