Like that, love this
The UK is home to some of the world’s best – and busiest – attractions. Stonehenge stone circle, the Roman city of Bath, Gothic Canterbury cathedral and the exciting capital city of London all see more than their fair share of tourists.
But why should visitors join the throng? Swerve away from some of the classics instead and there are numerous alternatives that are just as enticing.
Like London, love Liverpool
Arts, culture, fantastic food, London has it all. But it has the crowds to match. Liverpool, though, is often overlooked by foreign visitors – despite being one of England’s most enticing cities.
There’s the Beatles for a start, “born” here in 1960 when four boys banded together to make music. Visitors can take a magical mystery bus tour, taking in sites such as the childhood homes of Paul, John, Ringo and George, as well as Penny Lane and Strawberry Field.
Afterwards, the Cavern Club calls visitors in to gigs at the pulsing heart of the city’s live music scene, while the Tate, on the quayside at historic Royal Albert Docks, offers thought-provoking exhibitions. Liverpool is also one of England’s best shopping cities and the home of a rather successful football team.
Like the Lake District, love Northumberland National Park
The Lake District is famous for its dramatic landscape, vast lakes and associations with English writers William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter, but its popularity can lead to congestion at peak times.
Northumberland National Park, by contrast, is one of England’s least visited, its plunging hills and crystal-clear rivers disturbed more regularly by red squirrels and wading birds than by pairs of human feet. Roman Hadrian’s Wall also runs through the park and there are numerous walking and cycling routes to tackle, plus the dark skies of this remote location make the park one of England’s best stargazing spots.
Like Cornwall, love the Norfolk coast
Cornwall’s beautifully rugged coastline tucks hidden bays between its cliffs, their golden sands washed by turquoise waters – and often packed with holidaymakers.
The Norfolk coast, however, remains more undiscovered, its vast sandy beaches busy only on the hottest days of summer. There are 90 miles of coastline here, linking lively places such as the pleasure beach at Great Yarmouth and the pier at Cromer (home to the last end of the pier show in Europe) with quieter strands like Holkham and Brancaster. This is one of the best places in England for birdwatching, especially around the North Norfolk coast, where an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty protects ancient dunes and unspoiled marram grassland.
Like Snowdonia, love the Peak District National Park
Walkers flock to Snowdonia, as do those keen to climb Wales’ highest mountain, Snowdon, via the leg-saving Snowdon Mountain Railway. Trails here can get busy, so why not head instead to the Peak District National Park, the first to be designated in the whole United Kingdom.
Here visitors will find miles of walking and cycling trails, some of which run along disused railway lines, and a system of designated bridleways suitable for horse-riding. The 17-mile High Peak Trail is completely traffic-free and runs through quintessentially English countryside complete with colourful wildflowers, darting butterflies and twittering birds, while the 5.5-mile Jane Eyre Hathersage Trail takes walkers across breath-taking moors to locations from Charlotte Bronte’s famous novel.
Like Edinburgh, love York
Few cities on earth can rival Edinburgh for drama, its castle sitting atop a plug of volcanic rock, its streets carving through an old town little changed since Medieval times. But the secret is out and visitors pack the city year-round.
York retains a Medieval core too, including a ring of Roman walls that date from the 1st century. Visitors can walk around the city atop the walls, scouting imposing York Minster from all angles before heading down into the Gothic cathedral itself for a tour of its magnificent nave and medieval stained glass windows.
York was once captured by the Vikings and visitors can explore Viking life and culture in the Jorvik Viking Centre. But all is not history here – today the city is one of England’s most desirable places to live, in part thanks to its thriving independent shops and lively cafes and bars.
Like Canterbury, love Lincoln
One of England’s best-loved buildings, Canterbury Cathedral draws thousands of visitors to its grand Gothic confines and is the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Lincoln Cathedral is far lesser known, yet it is larger than any other cathedral in Britain bar St Paul’s and York Minster, and was once the tallest building in the world (until its spire collapsed in 1549). Visitors can step inside this Gothic masterpiece and stand atop its roof for fine views of the Lincolnshire countryside.
Also in Lincoln is a Norman castle, home to one of only four copies of the Magna Carta, and the Usher Gallery, with works by English painters Turner and Lowry.
Like Bath, love Harrogate
Bath wasn’t the only city to find fashion as a spa resort during the Georgian era, but today it welcomes the vast majority of those seeking stately architecture and the chance to take the waters, and is often packed with visitors.
Harrogate, though, remains under the radar, its glorious Victorian baths now renovated and reimagined as the Turkish Baths with elegant Moorish arches and glazed brickwork, as well as a full range of relaxing spa treatments. The city is also home to Mercer Art Gallery, housed in the 200-year-old Promenade Rooms spa building, and the original Bettys Tearoom, celebrating its centenary in 2019 and serving fine tea and cake in an elegant setting.
Like Glasgow, love Leeds
Few places can rival Glasgow for live music and the Scottish city’s nightlife is known for its vibrancy. Leeds, though, is lesser-known – despite its Purple Flag accreditation, awarded for entertaining and diverse but safe nightlife.
In Leeds big-name gigs bring music-lovers to the Arena Quarter, cocktail bars serve creative drinks in Millennium Square and cosy traditional pubs line the cobbled streets of Briggate. Call Lane is perhaps the liveliest spot though, home to bars playing every type of music, from both live bands and DJs.
Leeds also has plenty of theatres, including Leeds Grand Theatre, the base of leading English opera company Opera North, and is the home of Northern Ballet, a touring company who perform classical ballet and use dance to tell their stories.
Like Salisbury, love Chester
Salisbury has one of England’s most attractive historic centres, its leafy cathedral close lined with gorgeous buildings and leading up to the world-famous cathedral, which has the tallest spire in the country.
Chester is more off the beaten track but arguably even more beautiful. Here visitors can walk for two miles along the medieval and Roman city walls – the most complete in Britain – as well as soak up the tranquillity in the garden of Chester Cathedral, a red sandstone beauty that dates back to the Norman era. The Rows though are the most beguiling sight, runs of half-timbered shop buildings that are a blend of Tudor and Victorian and are today one of England’s prettiest places to shop.