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England: Must-See Places

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From quaint countryside villages to major metropolises, England is a storied country of vastly varying landscapes and towns, each with a unique blend of history and modern pop culture to share. It’s the largest country within the nation of the United Kingdom by land and population, and this is reflected in the diversity of both its geography and its people. Add these six special English destinations to your itinerary for a taste of the variety of life on this island nation.

London. Photo by Eva Dang from Unsplash.

1. Shoreditch

London, England

For all its history and heritage, London above all remains a vividly modern and global city. You could return to London a hundred times and experience a different side of it on each visit. A first-time trip to London should include classic sites like Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London, which you can read more about in Portico’s Must See Places in London guide, but London’s contemporary side is a must-experience too. To see this aspect of the city up close, venture east via Liverpool Street Station to the neighborhood of Shoreditch in the southern part of Hackney Borough.

Shoreditch is a cultural hotspot of tech companies, student housing, street art, fashion, and trendy bars and eats. The best place to get a taste is at BOXPARK Shoreditch , a shipping container pop-up mall and food hall, with everything from burgers, dumplings, and churros to artisanal oatmeal and edible cookie dough. For shopping, wander through the Old Spitalfields Market , an eclectic mix of indie shops, vintage, and vinyl.

If you can get a reservation (they open two months in advance and tend to fill right away), treat yourself to dinner at Duck & Waffle , a 24-hour restaurant on the 40th floor of one of London’s tallest buildings. Even without your name on the list, you can enjoy a drink with sweeping views of the city from the bar; the scenic view from the double-glazed glass elevator is worth it alone. Finish the night partaking in the neighborhood’s fashionable nightlife scene. It may not look like much from the outside, but the craft cocktails at Discount Suit Company , a former tailor’s storeroom turned speakeasy, are some of the best in the world.

Cambridge. Photo by Julius Dūdėnas from Unsplash.

2. Bath

Bath, England

Stroll the streets of Bath along the River Avon and over the Pulteney Bridge , and you’d be forgiven for believing you’d time-traveled into a Jane Austen novel or wandered onto a Bridgerton set. With its old, honey brownstones lining cobbled streets, grand estates, greenery, and an unbroken chimney-dotted skyline, there’s an undeniable romance to this place, long revered as a destination for history, literature, and wellness buffs alike.

Over 2,000 years ago, the Romans built a settlement here surrounding the city’s namesake thermal baths—The Roman Baths —now a UNESCO world heritage site and a must-see for any first-time visitor to the city. You can’t actually enjoy the baths themselves anymore; for that, head across the street to Thermae Bath Spa , Britain’s only natural thermal spa, where visitors can indulge in anything from two hours of access to the entire facility to extravagant treatments. The heated rooftop pool has some of the most charming views in the city. Maintain the time-travel spell for dinner at The Raven , a historic English pub just off of Queen’s Square in the center of town. Find a seat upstairs by a window, order a savory pie, and watch the world promenade across the stone streets below.

Yorkshire Coast. Photo by Luke Thornton from Unsplash.

3. Yorkshire Coast

St Nicholas St, Scarborough, England YO11 2HG

To really experience the wildness of England, head northeast to the Yorkshire Coast, a picturesque expanse of dramatic seascapes and fishing villages, set in the heart of the North York Moors. Cleveland Way Costal Path is a 109-mile national walking route that runs the length of the coast, and though it would take at least seven days to walk the whole thing, smaller sections of the path can easily be tackled in less than a day.

Begin in the postcard-like seaside town of Staithes and pick up the trail at the top of the hill for incredible cliffside views of the village below. Walk south for just under two miles and you’ll be led to the former ironstone exporting point of Port Mulgrave , where you can search for fossils on the beach before looping back along the inland main road. Replenish all the calories burned on your adventure with a seafood platter from Cod & Lobster , best enjoyed outside at the picnic tables on the water’s edge as the sun sets. Other villages worth adding to your area itinerary include Whitby , home of the oldest fishing pier in England and a 1,300+-year-old abbey, Whitby Abbey , said to have inspired the book Dracula, and Ravenscar , a National Trust site where you’ll find a grey seal colony thriving on the rocky beach at the foot of the cliffs.

Kynance Cove. Photo by Alessandro Frati from Unsplash.

4. Penzance

Penzance, England

Penzance is a quirky harbor town of pirate-lore with hundreds-of-years-old pubs, seafood shacks, hollyhocks, and hydrangeas bigger than the size of the average human head. As the western-most major town in Cornwall, it’s the perfect base from which to explore the entire region.

On a clear day from Penzance’s rocky beach, the silhouette of St Michael's Mount , a medieval island castle, dominates the skyline in the west. To get there, check the tides; it's only possible to walk from nearby Marazion during low tide, otherwise, you’ll have to take a boat. Outdoors-lovers will want to make the journey to the Lizard Peninsula , affectionately known locally as “The Lizard," where it’s possible to walk along the cliffs of the Southwest Coast path to picturesque Kynance Cove . Or, for a slower-paced day and a shorter drive, visit the tiny village of Zennor where cell service is scarce and spend the day playing board games in the garden at The Tinners Arms , which has been welcoming guests continuously since the year 1271. Back in Penzance itself, enjoy the seafood and the atmosphere. A thirty-minute walk along the beach will take you to Mackerel Sky Seafood Bar , which features shareable small-plate dishes and is top-rated for a reason. Or stay local for a classic pub meal at The Dolphin Tavern , best enjoyed outside across the street from the sailboats proudly flying the Jolly Roger flag.

Cambridge. Photo by Julius Dūdėnas from Unsplash.

5. Cambridge

Cambridge, UK

With its stone-castle university halls, green public pastures, and medieval market square bordering a busy high street, the city of Cambridge in the East of England often feels as if it's set in a universe all its own. Renowned worldwide for its namesake university, the city is best explored by bike, or as the English call it, cycling.

Rutland Cycling provides bikes for hire (that’s bikes for rent, for American-English speakers) from the central train station for the day or as short as four hours. Pedal west toward Lammas Land and pick up the trailhead south along the River Cam into flower-speckled Grantchester Meadows to see a softer side of the scholarly city; be careful to navigate around the cows that congregate along the bike path as you return north along the river into town. Make a stop at the Cambridge Wine Merchants on Bridge Street for some wine and cheese to enjoy spread in the grass among the flocks of people on a sunny day at Jesus Green , or take it all in from a different angle with craft cocktails at The Roof Terrace of the The Varsity Hotel & Spa . Former students Charles Darwin, Alan Turing, Sir David Attenborough, Stephen Hawking, and Arianna Huffington all once moved through the colleges, parks, and pubs condensed in the cobblestone maze of story-filled streets below.

The Lake District. Photo by Sam Barber from Unsplash.

6. Lake District National Park

England

With sixteen lakes and more than 150 peaks, the natural beauty of The Lake District, England’s largest National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has attracted and inspired artists and writers for centuries. Nineteenth-century English poet William Wordsworth described the lakes as, “the loveliest spot that man hath found.” At nearly three hundred miles north of bustling London, the popular holiday destination retains much of that remote, other-worldly mystique today.

Lake Windermere , the largest of the namesake lakes, features an array of trails for all levels, from short meadow walks to steep mountain treks. If you’re up for a climb, the trail to Orrest Head will reward you with a stunning 360-degree view of mountains, water, and greenery. Across the lake, travel back in time with a visit to Wray Castle , a Gothic Revival castle on Windermere’s western shore maintained by the National Trust. Beyond the outdoors, there’s the nearby village of Bowness-on-Windermere, home to The World of Beatrix Potter Attraction , which celebrates Peter Rabbit and more of the children’s writer’s most beloved characters. At the lake’s very northern tip sits Ambleside , an energetic resort town with no shortage of charming gift shops and restaurants to suit every taste. After a day of hiking, cozy up at Mr. H's Tearoom with a pot of tea and a slice of homemade cake.