Photo from Wikimedia
London, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle…. When you look into a trip to England, these are the places that come up. They’re among the major cities scattered around the country, and they’re all wonderful to visit for their own reasons. For a relatively small country though, England has a fairly massive selection of things to offer the curious tourist beyond its urban centers. And if you’re anything like me – someone who is drawn to expanses of green hills, small cottages that look plucked from Tolkien films, and animals in open spaces – it’s these non-urban attractions that might speak to you most!
It’s always tricky to say anything is “best” when it’s really just my perspective. But these are at least among the top experiences in England I’d recommend to someone who wants to explore beyond the cities.
The Obligatory Stonehenge Pilgrimage
Stonehenge is one of the most fascinating wonders in all the world, and is a must-visit attraction for anyone venturing outside of English cities! It’s also a lot easier to get to than a lot of people might guess, as it’s essentially smack in the middle of southern England, and located just off the main road on a flat field that looks almost too unassuming. As simple an attraction as it is to visit though, Stonehenge is wonderfully mystifying to look upon. The idea that we still don’t know for certain why or how it came to be is simply remarkable.
Hiking The New Forest
The New Forest, or more specifically New Forest National Park, is another place in the South of England that should be visited, if only because it’s such a wonderful picture of how many of us imagine the country. It’s an expansive area full of fields and forests and wild ponies, and known for its walks that let tourists experience everything in the most authentic and natural way. One can almost feel an attachment to old English myths like those of King Arthur and Robin Hood wandering through such a pretty and perfectly English place.
Also Hiking The Lake District
For a more challenging hike, and a look at a more striking region, you can also venture farther north to take in Lake District National Park. I could live 300 years and never come to understand why this natural wonder within England isn’t more famous internationally, but perhaps it’s best that way. With its peaks, valleys, and glassy, glacial lakes, this park is every bit as beautiful as any mountainous region in the world, be it the Colorado rockies in America, the ski slopes of the Alps, or the otherworldly landscapes of New Zealand. And rest assured there are innumerable opportunities to hike there.
Horse Racing At Cheltenham
This is somewhat more of a commercial attraction, in a way, but it still has a countryside feel to it, not least because the Cheltenham Racecourse is gorgeously situated at the edge of the Cotswolds region. The real aim should be to attend the Cheltenham Festival, an annual event that takes place in March and for which people block off four entire days for what’s essentially a party revolving around the races. Many dress up for the occasion, many more sift through horse racing sites to place bets, and still others like to mingle at the cocktail bars and restaurants around the grounds. It’s pure fun, horse racing fan or not.
A Show At Minack Theatre
I may have used up most of my hyperbole concerning the Lake District, but there cannot be a more beautiful outdoor theatre in the world than Minack Theatre. Built on the edge of a cliff at what is very nearly the farthest southwestern point of England (sometimes called Land’s End), it’s an open-air venue at which spectators look down upon a rocky stage with the sea at its back. Catching a show there is like a dream come true, though I’ll also mention that Porthcurno Beach, more or less under the theatre, is one of the semi-hidden gems of England as well.
Castle Tours, Here And There
I’ll simply say that England is full of incredible castles, most of which stand either in the middle of the country or within shouting distance of coastal areas or major cities. You should see as many of them as possible while you wander around the country, because each and every one is fascinating – and many are still quite beautiful.