A guide to 10 of the best places and cities to visit in England, including Yorkshire, Cornwall, Lake District, Bath, Cotswolds, London, Devon, Norfolk, Suffolk and Brighton.
Visitors flock to Yorkshire because there is no place on earth like God’s Own County. It considers its food and drink reputation as now the best in Britain. Yorkshire boasts more Michelin-starred restaurants than anywhere else in the country (apart from the clogged streets of London and who wants to go there?). The sheer beauty of the county, sometimes as unexpected as a dilapidated mill chimney stabbing up through a leaden sky, has inspired generations of painters: from John Atkinson Grimshaw’s moonscapes to the Victorian artists of the Staithes Group to David Hockney’s Yorkshire Wolds.
The only downside for visitors is the secret is out. More than 40 million visitors now travel here every year for heritage-related tourism alone. Good job its grand old cities and sweeping moors and Dales are large enough to soak them all up.
Swinton Park, Yorkshire
Swinton Park stands in 200 acres of lake-filled grounds. Beyond that lies its 20,000-acre estate, embracing farmland and moorland. There is also a charming nine-hole golf course. It was first built in the late 17th century, and has been much altered over the years,especially when wealthy mill owner Samuel Cunliffe-Lister bought the estate in 1888, much enlarging it and creating its present Victorian feel. Swinton Park is very family-friendly, offering a charming trail and quiz through the grounds for kids, plus a Games Room, and Bird of Prey Centre.
Middlethorpe Hall & Spa, Yorkshire
Middlethorpe Hall & Spa is set in 20 acres of beautiful grounds, where early risers might glimpse roe deer in the mist-shrouded gardens. The style is smart but not pretentious; sophisticated but not showy. Yes, there are creaky floors and wonky door frames – and the spa is tiny, but it is a 300 year-old country house. Dinner is served by candlelight in the wood-panelled dining room, which dates from 1699, and dishes include locally sourced produce and vegetables straight from the garden outside.
The glorious, honey-coloured towns and villages of the Cotswolds look as if they have strayed into the 21st century from another era.
The glorious, honey-coloured towns and villages of the Cotswolds look as if they have strayed into the 21st century from another era. The area is characterised by gentle dynamism, with lively galleries, vibrant festivals and a liberal endowment of intriguing museums. Covering nearly 800 square miles across five counties (Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire), this region of ‘wolds’, or rolling hills, is the biggest of the 38 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in England and Wales.
Every season here has intrinsic appeal. Crowd-free winters are ideal for bracing walks, fire-side pub sessions – and lower hotel prices. Come in spring to see lambs and wild daffodils. Visit in summer (inevitably with many others) for magical light, particularly in the long evenings. Or make an autumn excursion for a quieter atmosphere and wonderful leaf colour, especially at the two great arboreta, Westonbirt and Batsford.
The Old Swan and Minster Mill, Cotswolds
Located on more than a mile of the River Windrush. The 18th-century mill consists of a sympathetic restoration of original Cotswold buildings. With hens and rabbits in the gardens and 65 acres of grounds to run around in, there’s much appeal for children. There’s much to appeal to parents, too: day and evening child-minding services; a children’s menu; table tennis and table football; and lots of activities for families to enjoy together, from fishing to horse riding.
There’s much appeal for children at The Old Swan and Minster Mill.
The Old Swan and Minster Mill, Cotswolds
Barnsley House, Cotswolds
This gracious 17th-century manor house is tucked into the heart of handsome Barnsley village, which lies in particularly lovely, rolling landscape. With its golden stone, gables and mullion windows, this is a dreamily romantic house. But for all that, the building is magnificently upstaged by its garden. There are four acres of formal gardens including a knot garden and a potager. In the rooms, creamy furnishings enhance engaging artworks, all based on the theme of nature – a row of bird houses; a chandelier cleverly created out of flower pots.
Craggy coves and cream teas, surf breaks and strolls, picnics and pints in pub gardens – holidays in Devon are wholesome, simple and scenic. Most people are drawn to the magnificent beaches on the south and north coasts, but inland Devon has its appeal, too.
A visit here mixes two of life’s loveliest pleasures: good food and the great outdoors. Devon folk make the most of the rich larder of food on their doorstep. Lamb, venison, pheasant, pork and seafood are staples, and the county’s farmers’ markets are full of artisan producers selling delicious cider, apple juice, cheese and ice cream.
Bovey Castle Exterior
A castle only by name. This 1906 baronial granite pile has huge stone fireplaces, soaring ceilings, ornate panelling, feather-filled sofas, sweeping moorland views and a spa. For children, there’s tennis, croquet and a playground in the extensive grounds, with a huge programme of outdoor children’s activities organised as part of Bovey Rangers club. These include survival skills, archery, reptile and owl encounters, rock climbing, raft building, canoeing and golf lessons. The indoor playroom, costing £20 per session, has painting, pottery, biscuit decorating, mask, puppet and badge making. Babysitting services can be arranged in advance. Bovey Castle, Devon
Red Lion, Clovelly
The location here is delightful, a chocolate-box fishing harbour on a private estate. Inside, it’s a traditional Devonshire pub with a homely, hearthside feel. You can hear the lapping of the waves from each of the nine daintily countrified rooms. The view in Room Five through dual-aspect windows is one of the best in the UK: one side is of the ever-changing sea; the other is of pretty Clovelly harbour and north Devon’s majestic coastline unravelling into the distance.
Inside the Red Lion, it’s a traditional Devonshire pub with a homely, hearthside feel.
Visit the Lake District for Britain’s finest scenery, greenest countryside and grandest views. Its picturesque patchwork of lakes, valleys, woodlands and fells make it one of the best places in Britain to get out and experience the great outdoors, whether it’s on a leisurely bike ride down country lanes or a day-long hike across the hills.
The Lake District also has numerous artistic and literary connections, most famously William Wordsworth, who was born in Cockermouth in 1770 and drew much of his poetic inspiration from the surrounding landscape. And while the weather is notoriously unpredictable (locals will tell you it’s not unusual to experience all four seasons in a single day), showers and racing clouds only emphasise the grandeur of the magnificent scenery.
The main advantage at the Cuckoo Brow Inn is its family-friendliness
With its distinctive gabled entrance and handsome bay windows, this inn has served as a way-marker for travellers since around 1700, and it’s still a local landmark. Most rooms are in an annexe attached to the main pub, and have been renovated. The main advantage here is the family-friendliness: there are several twins and rooms with bunk-beds, and you’re even allowed to bring in the (well-behaved) dog if you want to. The hotel’s tagline ‘muddy boots, wet dogs and children welcome’, tells you all you need to know.
Brimstone at Langdale, Lake District
Brimstone at Langdale, Lake District
Langdale is one of the Lake District’s most picturesque valleys: small, but dramatic, quiet yet with plenty of life, standing boldly among the conifers and pines. Brimstone is intentionally reminiscent of a large ski chalet, constructed using beautiful blue-grey Lakeland stone. From the glowing, glass-fronted stove (lit to be toasty just as you arrive and replete with log stack) to the double shower, enormous spa bath and bi-fold doors opening out to Lakeland views – it’s impossible to find fault with bedrooms as well designed and delightfully indulgent as these. It’s impossible to find fault with the bedrooms at Brimstone at Langdale.
Norfolk’s undulating countryside and sleepy, flint-built villages are perfect for gentle cycling, walking or touring by car. Stately homes, ruined castles, medieval churches and half-timbered wool towns with fascinating museums make for enjoyable days out. Although East Anglia gets less rain than many other holiday destinations in the UK, northerly and easterly winds over the North Sea can keep temperatures low. But even on cold, bright days in winter, the beach car parks can be busy with dog-walkers and hikers.
There’s also a good variety of shopping in lively Georgian towns such as Burnham Market and Holt in North Norfolk.
Blakeney Hotel, Norfolk
On Blakeney Harbour, with upper windows offering a grandstand view over Blakeney Marshes: three quarters sky, one quarter bleak, compelling marshland threaded with channels of gleaming water. This is the sort of hotel that attracts generations of families as well as couples returning time and again. Rooms are as calm, peaceful and softly coloured as the marshes opposite.
Rooms at Blakeney are as calm, peaceful and softly coloured as the marshes opposite.
Congham Hall Hotel, Norfolk
Congham Hall was built in around 1780 and converted into a hotel in the early 1980s. The gravel drive leads to the large, whitewashed building overlooking lawns and orchards, with entry through a pillared portico. Elegant public areas (lounge, library and writing room) have plenty of convivially grouped sofas and armchairs. Refurbished rooms feature luxurious, silky wallpapers, state-of-the-art bathrooms and sumptuous fabrics. The hotel’s kitchen garden supplies fruit, vegetables, salad and herbs depending on the time of year. Congham Hall was built in around 1780 and converted into a hotel in the early 1980s.
The beaches fringing the curved Norfolk and Suffolk coastline are the chief draw for visitors to the region. Even on the busiest summer’s day, there is always space for games, kite flying or a quiet family picnic in the dunes. It’s also a wild landscape of dense pine forest, open heathland and great expanses of salt marsh. Bird life is astonishingly rich, and coastal wild flowers include yellow-horned poppies and purple-flowering sea pea, while the unique wetlands of the Broads, one of England’s 10 designated National Parks, is home to more than 400 rare species, including butterflies, dragonflies, moths and snails.
Wherever you are, you’re never far from a cosy, pamment-floored pub serving local ales, or an excellent delicatessen selling the region’s specialities – pungent cheeses, smoked fish or honey. The beaches fringing the curved Norfolk and Suffolk coastline are the chief draw for visitors to the region.
The Swan in Southwold, Suffolk
On Southwold’s busy high street, overlooking shops, and a short walk from the seafront. The hotel is highly welcoming, albeit in a rather old-fashioned way. The green-walled lounge next to the entrance and reception area is a comfortable mishmash of sofas and chairs grouped around coffee tables, and the large dining room, at the back, is a lovely space. The 42 bedrooms are spread between the main house and the garden, and spacious Lighthouse Rooms are geared to families. High tea is served from 5.30pm.
The Bildeston Crown, Suffolk
In a quiet village, a short drive to the medieval wool town of Lavenham and within easy reach of Constable Country. The interior is deceptively larger than it looks from outside, and designers have had great fun choosing paint colours – you’ll find warm reds, duck-egg blues and terracottas. Take your pick from four-posters, damask bed coverings, gothic headboards and fluffy cushions in the 12 bedrooms. Standards of food are high, with a solicitous chef, Chris Lee, who is dedicated to sourcing good local produce.
There can be few more cosmopolitan cities on earth. People pour in from across the world to visit, work or live. Londoners are used to hoardings marking the progress of colossal infrastructure projects such as Crossrail and the revitalisation of King’s Cross-St Pancras, and new skyscrapers, even entire new areas, such as the Embassy Quarter and Battersea Power Station south of the river, are transforming the skyline. Restaurants, bars and theatres are buzzing and the range of events on offer – from sport to food pop-ups, from music festivals to theatre – is unbeatable.
Right here, right now, London is somewhere you just have to be.
Brown’s Hotel, London
Brown’s grand interconnecting suites are ideal for families wanting luxury. Expect sheets embroidered with princesses or pirates, and a play tent, toys and biscuits bearing the name of your child waiting in the room on arrival. All Rocco Forte hotels feature high-quality picture books, specially commissioned for each property, based on fictional characters who live in the hotel – Brown’s has Albemarle, the monkey (a shout-out to Rudyard Kipling, who wrote The Jungle Book here). It is difficult to think of a chain that is commissioning more charming bespoke entertainment for children.
Expect a play tent, toys and biscuits bearing the name of your child waiting in the room on arrival at Brown’s.
Zetter Townhouse, London
Formed from two Georgian buildings that once housed solicitors. The Zetter Townhouse offers a friendly escape amid the venerable and village-like streets of Clerkenwell, one of London’s most pleasant neighbourhoods. The lounge, bar and dining room come dressed in a jumble of Victoriana that includes a stuffed kangaroo, armchairs upholstered in sacking, and walls crammed with oil paintings, curios and old photos. The Townhouse offer guests a compact but super-comfortable playground – unusually, the smallest and cheapest rooms on the top floor are arguably the best, decorated with cheery woodwork salvaged from a circus carousel.
Cornwall is defined by its magnificent coastline, with 300 miles of dunes and cliffs, medieval harbours and oak-forested creeks – all accessible on foot. Such an unspoilt coastline inspires Enid Blyton-style adventures: take a picnic and the dog through fields fringed in wildflowers to a remote beach; clamber down stepping-stone cliffs to rock pools that are works of marine art; swim with seals and harmless basking sharks. Surfing is a big draw for all ages – bodyboarding too – and lessons are available on most north-coast beaches. Cornwall is also known for its artistic heritage. Painters, sculptors and potters of international renown come for the big skies, the rugged beauty of the boulder-strewn moorland, and the intense light that turns the sea cerulean blue even in mid-winter.
Watergate Bay, Cornwall
The only hotel on Watergate Bay, a two-mile stretch of beach near Newquay, with fabulous views in both directions. This is an entirely family-oriented hotel, with an appropriately laid-back and unfussy attitude. There are organised games, craft and activities, as well as evening entertainment in the ‘Kid’s Zone’ and ‘XA Club’, plus an indoor/oudoor pool and two miles of sandy beach right outside, surf and many other watersport lessons at the Extreme Academy (part of the hotel) and rock pools and caves along Watergate Bay to explore. Watergate Bay has an indoor/oudoor pool, as well as two miles of sandy beach right outside.
The Scarlet, Cornwall
An imaginative modern design incorporating tall glass walls that blur the boundary between indoors and out. While many eco-hotels sacrifice style and comfort in pursuit of green credentials, the Scarlet more than lives up to the hype. Rooms are all individually styled with luxurious sateen sheets on deep mattresses, blonde wood furnishings, oval baths – often in the room itself – and powerful rain showers. Most have a floor-to-ceiling glass wall that slides back to access outdoor space, all cleverly designed to give privacy. Rooms are the Scarlet are all individually styled with luxurious sateen sheets on deep mattresses, blonde wood furnishings, oval baths – often in the room itself.
With sweeping, honey-stone Georgian crescents and terraces spread over a green and hilly bowl, Bath is a strong contender for England’s most beautiful small city. It has a fascinating and easily accessible history, from the Roman Baths to the life and times of former resident Jane Austen. Interesting, digestible galleries and museums – including the revamped Holburne and One Royal Crescent – are many and varied, while shopping is also a major draw. Bath’s Achilles heel used to be used to be a surprising dearth of good, affordable places to eat, but that is no longer the case. The foodie transformation of a number of the city’s pubs has been the most significant improvement in years.
SACO Bath – St James’ Parade, Bath
SACO Bath’s studios and apartments are hidden away in a Georgian terrace in the city centre.
These studios and apartments are hidden away in a Georgian terrace in the city centre. Some have their own pedimented blue front door directly on to the street, and are decorated in bland but inoffensive Ikea-style furnishings. There are 10 studios, in which the living room, kitchen and bedroom are one single space, plus 28 one-bedroom and five two-bedroom apartments, where the living room/kitchen area is separate from the bedroom(s). SACO can provide cots and high chairs, and the apartments are ideal for families. However, there are no sofa beds; you will need a fold-down bed or a two-bedroom apartment.
The Queensberry Hotel, Bath
The Queensberry is spread over four interconnected Georgian townhouses on a quiet, residential street.
The Queensberry is spread over four interconnected Georgian townhouses on a quiet, residential street. While Bath’s other luxury hotels are ultra traditional, The Queensberry – its first owner was the eighth Marquess of Queensberry – is, despite its 18th-century surroundings, thoroughly modern in look. The 29 bedrooms are very individual. Striking details – a shag-pile bedspread; silver-coloured pelmet over a bed; boldly designed cushions – combine successfully with understated palates of creams, browns and greys, modern furnishings and elegant Georgian proportions.
Visit Brighton because you need never get bored in this loveably eccentric city. There’s always something unexpected to enjoy – the secret is to roam freely and keep your eyes peeled. Head to the boho North Laine, and you find offbeat designers and dingy flea markets happily melding with sleek restaurants and bars. Throw in gentrified Regency squares, oddball museums, and a clutch of well upholstered parks with traditional cafés attached – and you have a city that truly caters for all tastes.
Brighton is a fiercely all-season city. Of course it can be packed on a hot summer’s day – but come September, the crowds thin and the locals take back their town.
YHA Brighton’s location is near perfect.
Fronting the grassy expanses and cast iron Victoria Fountain of the Old Steine, and backing onto the pier and beach, YHA Brighton’s location is near perfect. With Regency bay windows and a pretty curlicue wrought-iron portico,it has the appearance of a flash hotel rather than a hostel. Inside, the smart good looks balance old with new: a black and white tiled lobby area fronts an industrial-chic café-bar adorned with jazzy murals and stripped floorboards. The dorm bedrooms are ideal for families, and the option to self-cater is a bonus.
Artist Residence Brighton
The wonderfully stylish Artist Residence Brighton exudes character.Spanning two smart townhouses at the top end of grassy Regency Square allows for fabulously lofty sea views without the usual seafront traffic disturbances. This hotel is wonderfully stylish and exudes character. The look is cool private club meets East Village boho – with reclaimed furniture, exposed brickwork, densely pigmented colour schemes and a fabulous collection of paintings and prints by contemporary artists. Nice touches in the rooms include retro Roberts radios, conveniently placed sockets, rolltop baths and industrial-chic lights.
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