Thoughts of England lead to London, Manchester, Oxford and Bath. While its cities are stunning, there’s nothing wrong with picking up a backpack and hitting the hiking trails to explore the England seldom seen by tourists. Whatever you are looking for, you’re likely to find it while travelling in England… unless you’re looking for somewhere cheap, that is.
England travel resources
England makes up the largest and most wealthy part of the United Kingdom, which also comprises Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Common hops from the island of Great Britain include Ireland, France, Spain and Italy, while flights from the capital, London, can take you almost anywhere in the world.
From rolling grass downs and white cliffs in the south to the Lake District further north, Britain still manages to have a fair amount of green space, albeit influenced by thousands of years of agriculture and urbanisation. The industrial and trade cities of London, Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds are all being constantly remade and re-imagined, with smaller towns such as Bath still holding onto certain Georgian sensibilities.
A carefully preserved cultural history means that England is an excellent place to explore the literature and archeology of Britain’s past, with many trusts and national parks being established in the last century to lovingly restore old buildings and gardens. But England is no slouch when it comes to modernity, with amazing modern art, architecture and engineering feats sitting alongside an exciting music and arts scene.
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City focus: London
London is such a gargantuan and ever-changing city that it seems impossible to catch in a few paragraphs. The vibrant markets, accessible arts, and amazing live music and sporting events combine to make it a leading city.
The prices reflect this, however, and the budget traveller is likely to suffer here although there are cheap options if you’re willing to research and book things in advance. Independent travel, however, is easy with lots of tourism and transport infrastructure plus hundreds of things to see and do within a minute’s walk from any Tube station.
If you’re in pure sight-seeing mode, the London Pass gives you access to 55 activities plus allows you to skip lines at some places. For those looking to tackle the impressive number of Heritage buildings, find out if your country has a cheaper membership and a partnership agreement or try the Great British Heritage Pass.Read more about London
Getting to and from England
There are transatlantic flights into Birmingham, Bristol and Manchester, with European flights from most English cities.
Ferries ply the waters from most of coastal Europe, and can prove cost-effective. Catching the lowest of the low-cost airline fares will certainly prove cheaper, however.
The “chunnel” links London St Pancras station with France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany by high-speed Eurostar train.
Getting around England
There’s no question that mid- and long-distance travel in England can be very expensive. Our research and years of experimentation show that it’s always best to book your tickets online as soon as you know your travel dates. Fares get higher and higher closer to the time of departure.
The English coach network is very well established and runs with reasonable timeliness. The best fares are often found on Megabus with the National Express website sometimes offering cheap fares too. You’re more likely to find cheap fares if you’re travelling between major cities, and if you book well in advance.
Travelling by coach usually takes longer than the equivalent journey by train, but it’s certainly the most affordable option.
Normally the most expensive of options when travelling in Britain, it’s also one of the most pleasant with much less chance of delays than travelling by road with its frequent traffic jams in and around urban centres.
Virgin Trains offer low-cost bookings on some routes, with The Trainline often managing to find the best-priced routes.
Car and camper rental
All major car hire firms operate in the UK, with various specials available.
Camper van use is widespread, with lots of campsites with power available throughout the country. Our favourite camper van, Spaceships hybrid camper van rentals, operates in the UK as well as New Zealand and Australia. You can also hire reconditioned VW vans in Wight and around Cornwall.
Cycling and hiking
England’s cities are becoming more cycle friendly, and cycling holidays are common throughout Britain.
Hiking is also pleasant, yet challenging at times, with several multi-day cross-country walks and England forming a major part of the John o’Groats to Land’s End hike.
England’s proud maritime history is not forgotten, and sailing off the coast is really popular, with some spectacular regattas held.
You can hire boats to traverse rivers and canals without a license, making these some of the most accessible inland waterways in Europe.
Top 10 things to do in England
- Visit the Tower of London. This incredible complex of buildings is located in the centre of London on the banks of the River Thames. Take a tour with a Beefeater, see the crown jewels, and skate in the moat in winter. Across the river, London’s Southbank has a lot to offer – it’s the home of the London Eye as well as dozens of theatres and pubs.
- Visit Bath. The Roman city and setting of many of Jane Austen’s novels is one of the prettiest towns in Britain, as well as being a haven for history buffs.
- Head to the seaside. Although most of England’s beaches aren’t suitable for swimming for most of the year, going to the seaside is a cultural institution, and there are other things to do beside actually getting in the water. If you’re committed to spending time in the sea, head to Cornwall, where the weather is more favorable and you can even surf.
- Have a Sunday roast washed down with real ale in a country pub. Beef is the traditional option, but chicken, pork and occasionally lamb are also on offer. Don’t miss the Yorkshire pudding and lashings of gravy.
- Holiday in the Isle of Wight. Catch the ferry across and spend a few days relaxing near the sea. The Isle of Wight Festival draws thousands every year, or circumnavigate the island on foot on the IOW Coastal Path if that’s more your thing.
- Ramble. The UK is a great place for hiking, especially for longer walks. Walk the full length from Land’s End to John O’Groats in Scotland, or just stick to something smaller like the Pennine Way in Northern England.
- Cruise a river or a canal. A cruise down the River Thames is a nice outing on a summer day, but even better is to hire a canal boat and make a week of it. You don’t need a license and accommodation is included in the price!
- See Stonehenge. This ancient collection of stones needs no introduction, and is definitely worth a visit. You can see a lot from the road if you’re feeling cheap, but the audio guide is well worth the price if you pay to enter.
- Go shopping in Leeds. Leeds gets a bad rap from almost everyone, but it’s actually a really nice city. Visit the markets, the Corn Exchange and the waterfront area, and do some shopping while you’re at it.
- Study at Oxford or Cambridge. These two universities are world-renowned, a qualification from either is held in high esteem. If you can’t quite manage to study there, at least visit the grounds.