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21 best towns to visit in England

There’s so much to explore in this corner of the UK. From trips to the seaside, visits to incredible Roman baths and walks through ancient woodland, what’s not to love? Whether you’re after a romantic break or trip with friends and family, if you’re not sure where to visit, make your choice easier with 21 of the best towns to visit in England.

1. Cheltenham

Location: Gloucester

Best for: Its famous annual horseracing and literature events

Cheltenham is a large Regency spa town on the edge of the Cotswolds – a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Here, you’ll discover a mixture of traditional and modern architecture, shops, theatres, restaurants and beautiful parks offset by a backdrop of green rolling hills or ‘wolds’. 

If you do one thing: Take a dip in Cheltenham’s Grade II listed art deco Sandford Parks Lido with its impressive 50-meter heated pool. 

Place to stay: This Barn in Gloucester is a detached property tucked away within the peaceful countryside, yet within easy reach of Cheltenham Spa.

2. Richmond

Location: North Yorkshire

Best for: Exploring the glorious Yorkshire Dales. 

Set on the borders of Wensleydale and Swaledale, Richmond is a historic and thriving town incorporating a large cobbled market square, tearooms, independent shops, pubs and restaurants and an 11th century castle. 

If you do one thing: Walk along the banks of the River Swale from Richmond Castle to see the ruins of Easby Abbey. 

Place to stay: This charming Grade II listed cottage is perfect for exploring the stunning Yorkshire countryside.

3. Alnwick

Location: Northumberland

Best for: Visiting Alnwick Castle which was used to film Harry Potter 

There’s lots to do for all the family in this bustling market town. The castle dominates the west of the town and its fairytale gardens are open all year round. The main shopping streets surround the central marketplace. Alnwick also has a thriving, multi-purpose playhouse, which stages theatre, dance, music, cinema and visual arts productions.

If you do one thing: Visit Barter Books a huge quirky second-hand bookstore in the former railway station. 

Place to stay: This ground floor Apartment in Northumberland is a superb location for exploring the historic town and nearby coastal villages and beaches.

4. Bodmin

Location: Cornwall

Best for: History buffs

Bodmin is an ideal location for exploring all the attractions Cornwall has to offer including the Eden Project, The Lost Gardens of Heligan and many others. National Trust properties nearby include Lanhydrock, Trerice and Trelissick. Ports and harbours such as Port Isaac, Padstow and Charlestown are under an hour away by car. 

If you do one thing: Walk or cycle through part of the 17-mile long Camel Trail.

Place to stay: This Cottage in North Cornwall is situated in a stunning area on the edge of Bodmin Moor.

5. Ipswich

Location: Suffolk

Best for: A few miles from Ipswich is Jimmy’s Farm, which has now become a top attraction.

Ipswich is a historic county town with an impressive marina at the waterfront where you’ll find a buzzing mix of cafes and restaurants. It also has plenty of lovely parks which are sanctuaries for wildlife and a haven of tranquility.

If you do one thing: Make sure a boat trip along the beautiful River Orwell is at the top of your ‘to-do’ list. 

Place to stay: This Cottage in Suffolk is an ideal base for exploring the area.

6. Barnstaple

Location: North Devon

Best for: Its incredible local market

Barnstaple has an array of amenities including the characterful Pannier Market which is open every day selling crafts, antiques and food. It’s surrounded by quaint alleyways and courtyards, as well as open-fronted speciality shops. The popular Tarka Trail runs by the estuary and is well used by walkers and cyclists. 

If you do one thing: Visit the award winning Exmoor Zoo.

Place to stay: This Cottage in North Devon is a superb shepherd’s hut that’s a short drive away from the sandy beach of Westward Ho! 

7. Whitby

Location: North Yorkshire

Best for: Smoked kippers

Whitby holiday cottages are framed by a picturesque seaside town, split by the River Esk. On the East Cliff, you’ll find the ruined Gothic Whitby Abbey overlooking the North Sea, which inspired Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’. A family-friendly beach is close to the town for the full bucket-and-spade experience.

If you do one thing: Join the queue at The Magpie Cafe, which is famous for its fish and chips.

Place to stay: Abbey View is a quaint one bedroom apartment close to many cafes and traditional pubs. 

8. Bakewell

Location: Derbyshire

Best for: Bakewell tarts and puddings

The pretty market town of Bakewell has many shops and cafes, making it an ideal place for an interesting walk. A bustling outdoor market takes place every Monday. Idyllically situated on the banks of the river Wye, the biggest town in the Peak District National Park features mellow stone buildings, quaint courtyards and a medieval arched stone bridge. 

If you do one thing: Take a brewery tour and sample world-beating craft beers at Thornbridge Brewery.

Place to stay: This Cottage in Derbyshire is a great base for making the most of the surrounding countryside.

9. Kirkby Lonsdale

Location: South Lakeland 

Best for: High quality shopping from small independent retailers

Kirkby Lonsdale is a small town in the Lune Valley, between the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District. It holds a weekly market and offers a range of shops, pubs, and restaurants. Nearby beautiful towns such as Ingleton and Kendal are also worth exploring, as are outdoor opportunities within the Lakes, the Dales and the Forest of Bowland.

If you do one thing: Follow the signs from the far corner of St Mary’s churchyard to Ruskin’s View, a breathtaking panorama of the Lune Valley and Underley Hall.

Place to stay: Courtyard Cottage is set over three floors in a quiet courtyard in the centre of the popular market town.

10. Bowness-on-Windermere

Location: Lake District

Best for: Boat trips on the lake

There’s lots to do in this pretty town in England. Bowness-on-Windermere has plenty of quaint tearooms and cosy bookshops which are ideal spots to while away a few hours, especially if the weather isn’t in your favour. 

If you do one thing: Visit the World of Beatrix Potter.

Place to stay: Hidden Nook is an apartment for two with excellent amenities on your doorstep and perfectly located for exploring the lakes.

11. Stratford-Upon-Avon

Location: Warwickshire

Best for: Lovers of Shakespeare

The town of Stratford-Upon-Avon is steeped in history and culture. As the birthplace of William Shakespeare, it’s home to the world-famous Royal Shakespeare Company. Houses connected to his family are open all year round, giving visitors a great idea of what life in Tudor England was like. 

If you do one thing: Take a short boat cruise to see famous sites from the river.

Place to stay: The Cow Pen is one of three wonderfully-appointed semi-detached barn conversions dating back 300 years. 

12. Castle Combe

Location: Wiltshire

Best for: A romantic break

Castle Combe is one of the most beautiful villages in the Cotswolds with its picture-postcard honey-coloured cottages. Enjoy a walk over the cobbled streets and ancient bridges and visit one of the many lovely cafés and restaurants in the area. The beautiful city of Bath is a short drive away..

If you do one thing: Stop for a drink in the White Hart, a lovely pub which has been serving refreshments for five centuries.

Place to stay: Castle Combe Cottage is a period house dating back hundreds of years that have been beautifully furnished with super-swish interiors.

13. Nantwich

Location: Cheshire

Best for: Shopping

Nantwich is a delightful medieval market town resting on the banks of the River Weaver and the Shropshire Union Canal. There’s a monthly farmers’ market, plenty of historic buildings and a wealth of shops, pubs and places to eat. The town also houses annual events including the Jazz, Blues and Music Festival and the world-famous International Cheese Awards. It’s a great base for a day trip into Chester.

If you do one thing: Go for a swim in the Nantwich Swimming Pool an outdoor brine pool.

Place to stay: Molls Cottage is one mile away from the town centre and also a mile away from the lovely pathways by the Shropshire Union Canal.

14. Cartmel

Location: Cumbria

Best for: Sticky Toffee Pudding

Cartmel is built around the 12th century Priory Church and you’ll find delightful buildings dating from the 16th to 18th century around the market square. Local restaurants are destinations in themselves, as are Cartmel’s pubs and cafés. There’s an interesting selection of artisan food shops in Unsworth’s Yard plus a thriving local food market on the third Friday of every month. The Village Shop is world-famous for its Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding. 

If you do one thing: Treat yourself to a meal at the Michelin-starred L’Enclume.

Place to stay: Cottage in Cumbria is situated by the river Ea and is just a short walk from the main village square.

15. Southwell

Location: Nottinghamshire

Best for: Bramley apples

Southwell is a town in Nottinghamshire, just nine miles away from Newark. It features lots of historic buildings, including the Archbishop’s Palace and Southwell Minster where you can see where Oliver Cromwell’s troops destroyed monuments. You might also enjoy traditional performances such as ceilidhs and morris dancing. The Bramley apple was first grown here more than 200 years ago.

If you do one thing: Spend some time at nearby Sherwood Forest, home of the famous Robin Hood

Place to stay: Hayloft is situated on a working farm with captivating views of rural Nottinghamshire.

16. Windsor

Location: Berkshire

Best for: It’s famous castle

Windsor has an excellent selection of clothes boutiques, pubs, restaurants and tearooms, along with a wealth of attractions including boat trips on the River Thames and Legoland, only two miles away. Discover the famous Windsor Castle and Museum or stroll along the bridge to Eton and soak up the college atmosphere of William and Harry’s school days.

If you do one thing: Take a horse-drawn carriage ride through Windsor’s Great Park.

Place to stay: This Apartment in Berkshire offers a comfortable base, situated in a quiet courtyard setting with direct access to Windsor High Street.

17. Glastonbury

Location: Somerset

Best for: Its famous music festival 

Glastonbury is a town in South West England, dating back 400 years and is associated with legends, mysticism and folklore, with links to the Holy Grail, King Arthur and Ley Lines. Within the bustling town, you’ll find a wealth of fascinating shops and businesses. 

If you do one thing: Visit the fascinating Glastonbury Tor, with its tower, now managed by the National Trust.

Place to stay: The Hayloft is the perfect base for exploring the vast array of historical landmarks, pretty market towns and the glorious countryside.

18. Bognor Regis

Location: West Sussex

Best for: Family-friendly beaches

The large expanse of sand at low tide and the 2.7-mile-long promenade make Bognor Regis well worth a visit. Not only does it have some of the most sunshine hours in mainland Britain, but a short distance away is the South Downs National Park with its beautiful Sussex countryside, castles and country houses.

If you do one thing: Grab an ice cream and settle down on East Beach.

Place to stay: Beach Mews holds an excellent location on the very seafront.

19. Whitstable

Location: Kent

Best for: Oysters

A walk along the beachfront promenade will soon offer your first taste of Whitstable’s renowned seafood. Its quaint high street is lined with individual boutiques, restaurants and cafés.

If you do one thing: Book a private tour of Greta Thames Sailing Barge.

Place to stay: With the beach merely steps away from your door front, the location of Beach Walk couldn’t be better.

20. Henley-on-Thames

Location: Oxfordshire

Best for: Its famous boat race

Henley-on-Thames is a market town situated on the River Thames which hosts the famous Henley Royal Regatta boat race in July. Within the town, you’ll find independent shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants. Visitors can explore the banks of the River Thames or hire a canoe to take them on the water.

If you do one thing: Walk along the Thames Path National Trail.

Place to stay: Hunts Farm Cottage is set within the rolling countryside of the Chiltern Hills AONB, close to the bustling town.

21. Lyme Regis

Location: Dorset

Best for: Taking a traditional seaside break

Known as ‘The Pearl of Dorset’, Lyme Regis is an ancient town that was featured in the Domesday Book. As well as a sandy beach and seafront promenade, Lyme Regis includes many restaurants, cafes, pubs and tearooms. A wide selection of independent shops can be found as well as an award-winning museum and small theatre. 

If you do one thing: Book a table at celebrity chef Mark Hix’s superb Oyster and Fish House Restaurant

Place to stay: The Hideaway offers rooftop views across the town, towards the sea and historic Cobb.

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