If you’re searching for some hidden travel treasures in England, come peer in this treasure chest. I’m lucky to inhabit a beautiful island, full of diversity and contrasts. But if you have seen many of her beauties, what’s left to explore? When you’ve asked “Where should I go?” and the answers all sound familiar, where should you try next? Here’s a new take on the destinations you should consider for your next trip. Come with me to see some of England’s hidden travel treasures.
Hidden Travel Treasures: Green and Pleasant Lands
England’s eternally verdant throughout much of its terrain. After all, that liquid sunshine we get has to be great for keeping our greenery watered. For lush woodland and forests, and swathes of beautiful countryside, we’ve got you covered. So where should you head if you’ve seen the Dales and the New Forest and Thomas Hardy’s Dorset?
For this recommendation you’ll need to head towards the middle of England, then hang a left. Just where England bumps into the beauty of Wales, you’ll find the Welsh Marches.
I said Marches, nor Marshes. This is where Offa built his dyke, and the glorious Herefordshire countryside romps abundantly past small and most perfectly formed villages and towns. Here sheep safely graze on the wild gorse-filled landscapes of Clee Hill. You can roam for hours through the black and white villages, so named for their characteristic timber framed architecture. This is the land of cider apples and hops.
It’s not all about the majesty of the countryside either. Ludlow, a slow food town, makes a magnificent place to stop off. Here you’ll find all kinds of gastronomic delights, a vibrant food market scene, and plenty of one off shopping experiences. There’s an enormous and labyrinthine second hand bookshop, a pottery store, a seafood bar, tearooms, organic stores, delis, and a cheese shop (wonderfully named The Mousetrap). If you visit in September for the Food Festival, expect to need the park and ride, and don’t forget your coolbags.
Hidden Travel Treasures: City Living
No traveller escapes the lure of London, and if further city destinations are suggested, then I’m sure you’ll have heard of Manchester, Brighton, Cambridge and Durham. Head for the heartland of England instead, and test out what Birmingham has to offer.
Birmingham is the second city, but it’s bashful about blowing its own trumpet. From the two towers that inspired Tolkien, to eloquent Victorian architecture and the extravaganza that is the Selfridges building, the city is a visual feast.
Add to that the buzz that you would expect from a city of a million people (and a million trades), you’ll find so much here to inspire. From pre-Raphaelite art and the Staffordshire hoard, to a thriving music scene, arts complexes and more interesting shopping than you can shake your wallet at, if you find yourself bored, I’d be astounded.
Hidden Travel Treasures: History
You may be tempted to explore England’s history through places such as York, and the dreaming spires of Oxford. But I’d urge you to look a little further and check out England’s favourite place to live: Royal Leamington Spa.
Famed for its restorative mineral waters, Leamington’s popularity grew significantly as people came to take the waters. You’ll still see glorious Regency terraces. The Royal Pump Rooms complex is now dedicated to preserving the beauty of the Hamman. You can also learn about the people who came to take the waters and those who worked to allow them to do so.
Today you can catch all kinds of gigs at the Assembly Rooms, no longer the site of afternoon tea and formal dances, but still graciously replete with elegant mouldings and sweeping ceilings. There are an extraordinary number of independent shops and dining options, making Leamington burst with interesting things to do and see.
Hidden Travel Treasures: Go Wild In the country
There’s no doubt that England has some stunning National Parks. Even bits of the countryside that are not actually parks are renowned for their splendor, from the craggy landscapes of Cornwall to the rolling hills of Devon. But if you’d like to see a less well-known part of England’s wonderful countryside, then head north and west to the Forest of Bowland in Lancashire.
Just north of Preston, and nestling south of the blond university city of Lancaster, you’ll find the Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty that is Bowland. Home to an amazing amount of wild flowers and other charms, the Forest of Bowland meanders from gentle river valleys full of grazing sheep to wild and wuthering moors. Here a few loitering cows in the road may be the only traffic you encounter for an hour or more.
Check the weather carefully, pack a picnic, and admire the amazing contrasts of this place. There are tiny villages, and the occasional shop, but mostly you’ll be on your own, crossing cattle grids with regularity, and watching the landscape change as you gain altitude. You’ll find footpaths that are far less trafficked, views you aren’t sharing with others, and a realisation that even in Bill Bryson’s “small island” you can find yourself truly alone.
Hidden Travel Treasures: Down to the sea
As that small island, we have rather a lot of coast. And there are so many popular places to visit, whether you focus on the sandy expanses of Holkham in Norfolk or the traditional seaside resorts such as Scarborough and Blackpool, Brighton and Torquay.
But if you want to find somewhere a little bit different, I’m suggesting you take the journey to the North Devon coast. Like some of the destinations I’ve suggested already, this is not the quickest place to reach. Despite the dual carriageway that will now take you to Barnstaple from Exeter, you’ll still need to drive a good half hour further to reach the first of the two places I’m recommending to you.
Not far past the village of Braunton, with its fine chippy and a selection of restaurants and shops, you’ll find Saunton Sands. So flat and smooth it was used to practice the D-Day landings, Saunton Sands has a row of beach huts, a cafe, a couple of shops, and the kind of seaside of my childhood memories. Whether you body board, surf, explore the rock pools to the right of the bay or hire a hut and build a fine array of sand sculptures, it’s a place to let your inner child out to play.
Not far along the coast, you’ll find the contrast that is Hartland Quay. The rugged coast here, marked by a lighthouse on the headland, was renowned for shipwrecks, described along with smugglers’ tales in the small museum. You make your way to the Quay down a narrow, winding, switchback lane, and see the harsh magnificence of the rocky cliffs before you. You can clamber down to the rocky cove at low tide, maybe watching hanggliders soaring above. Or visit on a winter’s day, and see the spray pounding the rocks while you imagine the stoicism and bravery of the sailors who served this port.
Hidden Travel Treasures: Topping up the treasure chest
I’m always in search of more lesser-known treasures for my travel chest. Can you offer up any new places I should visit?
If you’re looking for an overview of England’s charms, I’d recommend you roam the corridors of Visit England, where you’ll find all kinds of details on places, accommodation and things to do.
66 thoughts on “England: Celebrating her hidden travel treasures”
The hidden history of England doesn’t have to be very old. I find it interesting to seek out the not-so-old Victorian structures that showed what she was like at the height of the Empire, and I love cities like Liverpool that have certainly come down, but it still absolutely feels like you are Somewhere.
That’s a great point that heritage doesn’t have to be very old. Liverpool is most definitely one of England’s treasures, and the Victorians did great work on her buildings. There are so many beauties there, like the Philharmonic pub with its mermaids and mermen emerging from the ceiling, and much more maritime heritage. Birmingham’s stuffed with Victoriana too; the part of the city centre around Colmore Row, Bennetts Hill and Cornwall Street has lots of spectacular buildings, many now used as offices but full of balconies and ornament.
Thank you for sharing this ultimate list with us.. Hidden places are always fun to discover. Very well written post.
Ah thanks! 🙂 Loved places are well loved for a reason, but sometimes I want to just jump up and down and proclaim my love for other wonderful destinations that just don’t get enough attention.
We are based in London and rarely travel within our own country. These are some great ideas and definitively something we will look to incorporate into our travels. Love the idea of heading down to Devon and exploring the coast. Thanks for sharing Bernadette.
I have to confess to a love of Devon – it’s my childhood home. The north coast is wilder – Saunton is just around the corner from Croyde if you like to surf, and the whole Hartland Peninsular is worth exploring. Plus you’ve got both Exmoor and Dartmoor within easy reach…ah, you’ve got me wanting to head off out right now!
Nice article, we’re from England so it’s really interesting to see where people visit. What was your highlight?
Ooh – I like a difficult question! I’ve actually been in Ludlow today, so that’s pretty high on my list. But at heart I’m always ready to go down to the sea again, so I’d have to say the North Devon coast. What about you? (Great veggie food at both Wild Thyme in Braunton and the cafe at Fremington Quay down near those North Devon spots btw.)
This post was so lovely! Now I’m dreaming of the Forest of Bowland and Hartland Quay. Definitely will be saving this post for future European travels!
Both are so very worth a visit! Hope you get to see those beautiful wild spots when you visit Europe again.
I love this! I’ve just moved to the UK and I’m so excited to see it! I fell in love with the Lake District, and now I’m keen to see everywhere on this list! Bookmarking!
Ah, welcome! 🙂 There’s so much to see here, and if you love the Lakes, then there are many other fabulous bits of the wild to discover. If you’re looking for less traveled places, then it might be worth checking out the AONBs (Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty) and even the SSSIs (Sites of Special Scientific Interest – usually due to the rarity of species) for more options. Have fun exploring this beautiful island.
I have only been to London only, never had the time to visit more places – but England indeed has a lot of history and its a big country so I guess you could use months there to discover 🙂
There’s so much to see, isn’t there? Despite having clocked up more than half a century in this world, my bucket list grows ever larger for places to go and explore.
Considering that I’ve only been to London and around it a bit, this is very useful. Love those black and white houses.
I’m with you on the black and white houses. In fact, stay tuned, as they say, because I’ve been taking pictures of a lot of them this week, and I’ll be sharing them on the blog soon. 🙂
I was intrigued with this article and shared it with my husband who had lived in England for couple of years and interestingly even he has not heard of all of them. Thank you for putting this together.
Ah, glad to have been able to introduce some of my favourite spots. 🙂
I came to know England by the poetry of British poets that are taught in Indian high school till date. 🙂 Thanks for this blog post. I wish to visit your country someday. Much love
Ah, yes, the literature and poetry can take you on a tour here. I was in the realm of “A Shropshire Lad” yesterday. I hope you get to visit the England of those memories. 🙂
This post has got me eager to explore my home country all over again. It truly is a place that never ceases to amaze! Thanks for sharing these little gems!
We’re lucky enough to live pretty much in the middle of the country, so sneaking away for short trips is easier. I love exploring this group of islands; there are still so many places I haven’t yet been, and I’m curious to discover.
I really appreciate the way you divided your post. Your photos are lovely and I recognize, while reading your suggestions, that I truly haven’t discovered England. I plan on returning next summer and I’ll have to decide which hidden treasure I want to experience!
There are always so many places to discover, aren’t there? I still feel that I have barely scraped the surface of England (and even less so for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as they are a bit further away for me to travel) despite having lived here so long. When you head back, I’d love to know what hidden treasures you visit, especially if you find new treasure I can discover too.
I love the aesthetic of your writing style. The way you have described the places sounds like prose. Beautiful to read.
Thank you so much; that’s really appreciated.
I guess may be go wild in the country would be my favourite . Such a nice place . Thanks for the post , hidden places always peak my interest :)m
Going wild in the country is always so much fun. I love the contrasts in the countryside here, from woods and forest to the moors and the untamed coasts.
When we went to London last year, I insisted that we explore outside more than in the city. What a lovely island you have. I especially loved the area of the Cotswolds!
We’re quite near the Cotswolds, so we get the chance to go there often. Glad you enjoyed your time there. It’s a beautiful part of the country, and there are so many things to see and do.
Great tips and places here. Makes me want to explore England soon. So many hidden spots I want to see.
Exploration’s always fun. I hope you find more things to share too.
Great post, a lot of good ideas here! I must admit, I’ve only ever visited London in England, but I’ve always wanted to return to visit the countryside and Brighton Beach. I’ll definitely keep these tips in mind for my next trip to London.
Brighton’s an easy trip from London, and well worth the visit. 🙂 There’s nowhere quite like Brighton. I won’t promise you all the other suggestions here are quick from London, although Leamington and Birmingham are within an hour and a half by rail. But then you’d have a good excuse to stay longer to see the others. 😉
I love this post! We’ve been talking forever about doing a great English road trip, and this gives us some lovely stops to add to our ideal list. Thanks so much for sharing!
That sounds like so much fun! (Would you notice a stowaway? ;-)) And planning it would be brilliant too, looking for all the lovely places to visit.
You’re so right about Birmingham. It’s very bashful and I was surprised to learn it was the second city. England has a special place in my heart, loved reading this.
I came to Birmingham, slightly reluctantly I have to admit, for work, and was absolutely bowled over by the city. It is way more beautiful than people imagine and has so much to offer. Bashful is such a good word for it.
If there’s one thing you can find in England, it’s definitely history, hidden and unusual. NO matter how many times we visit here, there’s always something new to find and to explore. You’ve found some beauties here too. I’m pleased to say I’ve been to most of these.
Ah, you’ve got an eye for the travel treasures! 🙂 I’m a great fan of historic destinations, hidden places and the odd or unique. Whether it’s nuclear bunkers, castles or lighthouses, I’ll be there.
Can definitely recommend all of these, but you’ve also listed a good few that I’ll have to check out! Have you visited Arundel or Chichester? They’re quite local to me!
Arundel is absolutely gorgeous, and well overdue a repeat visit. I’m ashamed to say I don’t think I’ve ever been to Chichester, but everything I’ve heard means that I should. New additions to my weekender list forthwith! 🙂
These are the kind of things I love about England, charming little villages or seaside towns areas that tourists rarely go but the Brits love and especially areas outside of all the over the top overprices tourist places like London.
Definitely the places I love too. 🙂 Some of them are a bit more out of the way, although it’s still never a massive distance in the small space that is England.
Really enjoyed reading this as I’ve just moved back to the UK and keen to discover more of England. Although I’ve got to start with the basics, I’ll be sure to check out your spots after! Thank you!
It must be lovely to come back with a fresh pair of eyes and enjoy it all over again. Have fun exploring!
Such beautiful photographs and brilliant ideas! I love the idea of exploring more of the UK, to my shame we tend to overlook it as we live there and go abroad instead. It took until a trip to the Dales last year for a wedding for us to realise we missed so much at home! I will be adding Bowland to our planned trip to Lancaster later this year, thanks for the tip!
Thank you. 🙂 I hope you love Bowland as much as we did. We started out from Lancaster via Galgate, and that way round takes you to the beautiful valleys filled with sheep first (header pic) before you climb up into the wilder moors. Take a picnic, as there aren’t many places to provision up there, and there are lots of footpaths marked for great walking. It really was spectacular, and gave even more respect for the farming community; that must take some hard labour to keep stock safe in winter up in the hills!
Wow! England really is so diverse. I love how you highlighted so many places that I have never heard of. We would love the visit the Royal Leamington Spa. The history you described really intrigues me. And then I’ll head to find that beach!
Leamington is lovely. It’s so full of interesting things to see and do. The Pump Rooms exhibit takes you through some individual stories of the workers, which is fascinating; colonic irrigation is nothing new, apparently! Plus the food scene is great and there’s a big food festival too.
Ah, is it bad to admit that I haven’t seen most of these places despite being English? You’re right though, England is an incredibly beautiful country with so much to explore.
Not bad at all – it just means that their pleasures await you! 😉 I’ve still got so much of this country left to see.
These are some great treasures! I am lucky enough to live just 40minutes from the North Devon coast and it is such a beautiful place to visit. Great to see the other side of England away from the tourist traps.
I’m tempted to ask if you have room for a lodger. 😉 Just 40 minutes to the North Devon coast? I’m on my way! I lived in different bits of Devon in my childhood, although not on the northern coast, which I fell in love with way later. I bet you’ve got plenty of recommendations to add to the non-tourist destinations.
Such a great post! I love exploring the nooks and crannies of places. We’re contemplating a move to England, so I’ll keep this post handy 🙂
Oooh! How lovely to get the chance to pick a new spot to live. 🙂 Wishing you all the best for the decisions to come, and I hope you find somewhere beautiful to call your next home.
I love Devon and Cornwall, it’s one of my favourite places in the world, I’m lucky to have had it on my doorstep for so long (I now live in America)! Great picks!
I grew up in Devon, so I had a lucky eighteen years of it. 🙂 Definitely one of my favourite places and I try to get back as often as I can. Hope you’re enjoying the expat life.
Saltmarsh coast of mid Essex – (mouth of the River Blackwater) – the saltmarshes were the setting of the recent TV film Great Expectations & the TV drama, Liar. 😊 It’s beautiful but I’m biased because I live there!
That sounds wonderful. I’ve been to saltmarshes on the estuary in Devon where I grew up, so I can imagine these would be amazing. I’ve heard great reports about Mersea Island too – is that nearby?
Birmingham is my home town, so I have something of a soft spot for it. Glad you featured it 🙂 it often gets overlooked.
Someone recently said to me that Birmingham is bashful, which is a really good description. It’s got so much to offer for visitors, but I agree that it’s so sadly often overlooked.
I love all of these tips!! Definitely will be referring back for when I head to England this year 🙂
That’s great. 🙂 I hope you have fun putting your itinerary together. There’s just so much to see!
You’re a really good writer, and great tips – I’m adding these to the England bucket list for next time 🙂
Thank you so much. 🙂 Hope you get a chance to see some of these lovely places.