Britain’s small towns are full of beauty, character and markets. Throughout history, many were the hub of the region, built close to a river or a castle where local farmers, producers and tradesmen came to sell their wares. Lots still have weekly market days or regular farmers markets and are well worth a day out. So if you want to buy the best local seasonal produce or pick up a bargain, here are 11 of the best market towns in the UK.
Best for: Food and drink
Ludlow is one of the loveliest medieval market towns in England and an architectural gem surrounded by the beautiful countryside of South Shropshire and the Welsh Marches. The impressive ruins of the castle occupy the oldest part of Ludlow. Sit and relax in Millennium Park, a large green space for picnics or for feeding ducks. Ludlow is also noted for hosting many events and festivals throughout the year.
If you do one thing: Walk to Whitcliffe Common, for panoramic views overlooking the castle and town.
Place to stay: This House in Shropshire is a quirky 17th-century cottage.
Location: Harrogate, Yorkshire
Best for: Shopping
The pretty and historic market town of Knaresborough is an ideal base for visiting Harrogate, York and Leeds, all an easy train ride away. Knaresborough’s untouched medieval streets and picturesque setting make it a special destination. Take a scenic stroll along the banks of the river or even take a boat and row under the soaring arches of Knaresborough viaduct. There’s a weekly market on Wednesdays.
If you do one thing: Visit Mother Shipton’s Cave which has been a tourist attraction in Knaresborough for hundreds of years.
Place to stay: This Apartment in North Yorkshire is only a short walk away from Knaresborough’s pubs, shops and restaurants.
Best for: Sightseeing
Dorchester has Roman roads, eight museums and a selection of pubs, restaurants, independent shops and cafes. The large indoor market and outside undercover section opens every Wednesday with over 200 traders. On Sundays the market transforms into one of the area’s largest car boot and table top sales. Seven miles away are the beaches and harbour of Weymouth and the peninsula of Portland, linked to the mainland by Chesil Beach.
If you do one thing: Visit the Dorset Museum with a room devoted to Thomas Hardy.
Place to stay: Apple Tree Cottage provides an all-year-round perfect holiday experience.
Best for: A beach holiday
Holt is an elegant Georgian town with a real community feel to it. Guests staying here will have an excellent range of shops, restaurants and coffee shops right on the doorstep. To the north of the town, the beaches, harbour towns and nature reserves of Norfolk’s north coast await. It offers scenic walks in National Trust areas, leisurely boat trips or just a day of sunbathing and beach games.
If you do one thing: Take the Holt Owl Trail, by following the owl pavement plaques.
Place to stay: This Cottage in Norfolk offers comfortable accommodation for three guests.
Best for: Historic guided walks
The historic town of Faversham has one of the finest examples of a medieval street in Britain, where antique and craft shops, quaint tea rooms and old English pubs are in abundance. The excitements of Canterbury are not far away, and the wildlife rich ‘Oare Wildlife Marshes’ is also within easy reach.
If you do one thing: Tour Shepherd Neame, one of England’s oldest breweries.
Place to stay: This bijou Cottage in Kent has a fully enclosed garden which houses part of the original 12th Century Abbey.
6. St. Andrews
Best for: A golf break
The streets of the historic coastal town of St Andrews are lined with an interesting mix of 13th century to modern-day buildings, along with a whole host of independent shops and restaurants. History buffs can explore the castle and the ruined cathedral. Golf lovers can tee off at St Andrews Links, the largest public golf club in Europe. Alternatively, stroll the sandy expanses of the St Andrews West Sands Beach and venture to the rest of the beautiful county of Fife.
If you do one thing: Climb the spiral staircase to the top of St Rules Tower for unbeatable views of the town and its surroundings.
Place to stay: Cottage in Fife is located in a peaceful setting with fantastic sea views over the world famous town.
Best for: Book lovers
The famous market town of Hay on Wye is world famous for its historic and literary connections. Lying on the Welsh/ English border, it’s a popular destination for holidaymakers wishing to enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Wye Valley. It’s perfect for walking, cycling, bird watching, fishing and canoeing. This ancient market town lies on the River Wye and is renowned for its many book shops, antique shops, restaurants and cafes.
Place to stay: Lower Moor Lodge is a perfect cosy cottage for a family trip.
Best for: Foodies
Clitheroe is a wonderful market town with a great mix of long established specialist food and drink shops, such as multi award-winning D. Byrnes Wines, Exchange Coffee and Cowmans butchers. There’s a growing number of quirky bars and pop-up restaurants, shops, pubs and a food hall, not to mention a castle with a maze and a museum.
Place to stay: Castle View is the perfect property for a memorable getaway.
Best for: The number of gardens nearby
Helston lies at the western gateway to the Lizard Peninsula, a large area of downland fringed by the coastline. This market town is famous for its Flora Day Festival and the many stories and legends about the ‘Furry Dance’ are told in the Helston Folk Museum. Further afield is the harbour town of Falmouth to the east and Land’s End to the west.
If you do one thing: Visit the Poldark Mine, the underground experience which tells of the widespread mining heritage of this area.
Place to stay: The Old Cows House, about six miles from Helston, is perfect for couples seeking a relaxing break.
Best for: Family fun
The popular town of Keswick is the holiday centre of the North Lake District and has plenty to offer visitors all year round. The town boasts numerous shops and restaurants, as well as miniature golf, the Pencil Museum and great mountain biking opportunities. The beautiful lake of Derwentwater at the head of the stunning Borrowdale Valley is also only a few minutes walk from the town centre.
If you do one thing: Visit the famous Theatre by the Lake.
Place to stay: Little Hallgarth is a pretty, two-bedroom cottage within easy walking distance of the bustling market town.
Best for: Natural thermal springs
Buxton has the Edwardian Opera House, the Great Stable, the semi-circular Crescent, as well as many interesting pubs and restaurants. Places to see nearby include Chatsworth House and Heddon Hall, along with walking at Rushup Moor and the Peak District National Park. Shoppers can explore the many independent retailers and high street brands at The Springs Shopping Centre, Cavendish Arcade and The Old Court House.
If you do one thing: Enjoy walks, lakes, play areas and a miniature train at the Victorian Pavilion Gardens.
Place to stay: The Shavings is a wonderfully welcoming and economical base for a relaxing holiday in the Peak District.