There’s no question, London is an unbelievably beautiful city that everyone should visit at least once in their life. There’s also a good reason why the nearby university towns of Cambridge and Oxford are such popular tourist destinations. But it’s also worth your while to venture farther afield to see what England has to offer. Away from the London hub, England has no shortage of beautiful, exciting and unusual cities to explore. The following five cities are worth a visit and are sure to impress you with their unique character.
For pop culture loving urbanistas: Liverpool
Hours from London by train: 2-3
It’s not just passionate soccer fans who should make the pilgrimage to Liverpool. The architecture of the city, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, reflects Liverpool’s history as an important seaport. And this city, famous as the birthplace of the Beatles, also has much to offer in matters of art, food and music. Liverpool boasts the largest number of museums and galleries outside of London, as well as the oldest “Chinatown” in Europe. Oh, and the locals, known as Scousers, are known to be particularly friendly.
Highlights: Albert Dock is the revitalized former center of Liverpool’s harbor complex. In the restored warehouses you’ll find galleries, bars, restaurants and shops; and lots of events take place here, too. Nearby, you’ll find countless historically and architecturally significant buildings (“Grade I listed buildings”). Highlights include the so-called “Three Graces,” the Port of Liverpool Building, the Royal Liver Building, and the Cunard Building. The Liverpool International Music Festival, with a focus on up-and-coming talent, takes place in July. At nearby Crosby Beach, you can marvel at the 100 iron sculptures of the art installation “Another Place” by Antony Gormley.
For scene hipsters: Bristol
Hours from London by train: 2
Bristol is the best place to live in Great Britain. At least according to the “Sunday Times Best Places to Live Guide”. Just like Liverpool, Bristol is a historic seaport city, but the atmosphere here is totally unique. Located in the southwest of England, this university town is a draw for young creatives, and the street art scene is known for more than just Banksy. Independent shops line the streets. This is also the perfect city for cider enthusiasts, as huge quantities of the good stuff are produced around Bristol.
Highlights: In the festival season from May to September, there’s a different festival on the calendar almost every weekend. A popular classic with free admission is the Harbor Festival in July, where you can experience everything from music to circus acts to boat shows. The newer music festival Love Saves the Day (in May) has made a name for itself in the last few years. The view from charming Brandon Hill Park is not to be missed. In the center of the park, the thirty meters tall Cabot Tower offers beautiful views over the whole city.
For lovers of art history and fans of the Middle Ages: York
Hours from London by train: 2
York’s two thousand years of history can be felt all around the city. Here you’ll find the best-preserved city wall in England, remnants of a ninth-century Viking town, and a picturesque medieval town center with cobblestone streets. And if you have a sweet tooth, York is sure to get your tummy rumbling, because when the wind blows the right way, the nearby chocolate factory blankets the entire city with the smell of chocolate.
Highlights: Since we’re already on the subject of food: the ten-day York Food and Drink Festival draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to the city each September. The gothic cathedral of York Minster boasts huge medieval stained glass windows and the Great East Window dating from 1408 is as big as a tennis court. The old city wall is the perfect place for an elevated look at this incredible city. The city’s Viking heritage is celebrated in February with the Jorvik Viking Festival. At the York Castle Museum, you can view everyday objects and curiosities from the Victorian era.
For the classics-loving aesthete: Bath
Hours from London by train: 1.5
This small, charming UNESCO World Heritage Site city is like an open-air museum, dotted with architectural jewels spanning 2,000 years of history. Let your feet be your guide as you marvel at the Roman legacy as well as the many beautiful examples of Georgian and Neoclassical architecture. In Bath you’ll find more museums per square milethan anywhere else in Great Britain. In addition, there’s no hotter natural thermal bath in the country.
Highlights: The well-preserved Roman Baths offer an insight into Roman bath culture. Thermae Bath Spa with its rooftop pool is a classic among the thermal baths for modern-day visitors to Bath. Royal Crescent is a Grade I listed building complex in Gregorian style. Number 1 Royal Crescent is a museum showcasing a historical interior typical of the 18th century. Literature lovers can get their fix every September during the ten-day Jane Austen Festival.
For lovers of kitsch: Brighton
Hours from London by train: 1
Admittedly: Brighton is hardly an insider tip these days. A beautiful city on the beach located so close to London could hardly be a secret. Brighton distinguishes itself with its coastal charm, eclectic architecture and lively cultural scene. There’s also a large LGBTQ+ scene: the most exciting Pride Festival in Great Britain takes place in Brighton.
Highlights: Brighton Pier is the heart of the city. Opened in 1899, this wrought iron bridge now houses a fairground, and you can enjoy the view from one of the Victorian-style cafes. Volk’s Electric Railway (VER) is the oldest electric railroad still in operation today; and you can ride it along the coast. Royal Pavilion is probably the most striking building in the city. Built starting in 1787, its exterior is modeled on the Indo-Saracen style, the interior Chinese. In May, the largest festival in England dedicated to the arts takes the stage: Brighton Fringe celebrates experimental performance and small performance groups. In the same month, Brighton Festival offers music, dance and literature events. If the hustle and bustle is too much for you, retreat to the relative peace and quiet of neighboring Hove, or take a stroll along the Undercliff Walk at the base of an imposing white chalk cliff.