Looking for some travel inspiration for when safety measures allow it? Our writer Lexi Oerter shares her personal experience of visiting five beautiful cities in England that everyone will love spending time in.
Many of us are wary of travelling with everything going on. It can be daunting to think about crowded and touristy places we would have otherwise enjoyed visiting a year ago. So here is a list of five towns in England that I have visited and would love to go back to, but that aren’t as big as London, Bristol, Birmingham or other large English cities. You might not have thought about them before when planning your next trip, but to me they are little gems that, thanks to their size will not be as crowded when travelling resumes. All of these towns are special in their own unique way and I hope you’ll love them as much as I do.
Brighton is probably the most artsy town on this list. I have been to Brighton both during the summer and the winter and I would say that, as a seashore town, it really comes alive once the sun comes out.
I stayed at the Artist Residence hotel several times now and was never disappointed. The rooms, the food, and the service were always perfect and I really like the trendy and polished feel of this casual hotel. From my experience, the atmosphere of all the hotels in the Artist Residence group is relaxed and cosy.
I loved walking around the town, along the pebble beach with the small seafood shacks, and on the famous Brighton pier. The Lanes are great for some shopping, nice cafés, and all sorts of vintage stores and antiques. Nearby, you can stroll around a lovely park where you can find and visit the Royal Pavilion, the iconic regency palace and museum.
Further down the shore, you get to Kemptown which tends to get less crowded than the very centre of town. I found my favourite café in Kemptown, the Rust & William Morris Antiques café. It is a great place to read a book with a cup of tea and a slice of carrot cake.
Oxford is the perfect city for history-lovers. Old buildings make up the entire town centre thanks to the 38 colleges of the University of Oxford and other academic buildings such as the Bodleian Library, the Radcliffe Camera, and the Sheldonian Theatre.
Oxford has many beautiful hotels in and out of the city centre such as the Head of the River, but I would recommend The Randolph Hotel if you are looking for the authentic Oxford experience. The room, the food and the service were all impeccable and the century-old building was built in the same architectural style as some university buildings, faithful to the Oxford identity.
For activities outdoors in the heart of the city, I loved wandering around Christ Church Meadow. It is a beautiful park next to one of the biggest and most famous colleges of the University. I also enjoyed visiting the Botanical Gardens, which have a beautiful view of the Cherwell River. You can also try out at punting, or have one of their highly experienced punters lead you on a peaceful boat ride along the river.
Oxford has several museums I loved visiting as well. I would recommend the Ashmolean art museum, the Natural History museum and the Pitt Rivers anthropological museum.
For food, I would always go back to the Grand Café on the High Street. The little café has everything from delicious sandwiches and soups for lunch, to Cream Teas and High Teas composed of the best scones I’ve ever tasted, to delicious breakfasts. Their selection of tea, coffee and other homemade beverages is very extensive and will make everyone happy. The café is located on the site of the oldest eating house in England which opened in 1650.
Pubs in Oxford also offer delicious food and I would encourage you to check out The Eagle and Child. This pub was a favourite amongst a particular literary group called the Inklings. J.R.R Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were both part of this group and would meet at the pub they would affectionately call the “Bird and Baby.”
If you feel the need to get away from the buzzing little city, Port Meadow could be the perfect choice. Still close to town, the meadow is a large natural park along the river Thames. Several dog-friendly pubs can be found on the bank of the river, with beautiful gardens and patios for milder weather.
A bit further away there is the majestuous Blenheim Palace, the estate where Winston Churchill was born. The palace itself is beautiful to visit, but I particularly enjoyed wandering in the gardens and seeing the butterfly house.
Bath is the perfect city to feel like a Regency literary character. The architecture alone makes Bath such a special place to spend time in. There are many architectural landmarks worth checking out such as the Royal Crescent, the Circus and the Pulteney Bridge. All three and many more show off the characteristic golden-coloured Bath stone.
I had the chance to stay at the Gainsborough Bath Spa hotel. A lot of hotels in Bath will have spas, in accordance with the reputation of the town of being a popular spa destination in the 18th and 19th century. However, the Gainsborough is the only hotel in Bath that has its own natural hot water spring. The rooms were gorgeous with their high ceilings and windows and beautiful sleek design.
I also recommend visiting the Roman Baths. The water springs on this site have been in use since Classical times even though the current above-ground structures date from the 19th century. The Fashion museum is also worth checking out as they showcase complete outfits in chronological order from around 1600 to the present day. Another museum idea would be the No. 1 Royal Crescent house museum. The historic house was furnished to represent an authentic Georgian life in 18th century Bath.
Jane Austen happened to live in Bath for some time and one of the houses she lived in was converted into the Jane Austen Centre and museum. Jane Austen was known to take long walks in the beautiful Sydney gardens, which are still just as gorgeous today.
For food, I have always enjoyed going to the Sally Lunn’s Historic Eating House. Sally Lunn is a beautiful historic café that serves the authentic Bath buns. You can order the buns either sweet or savoury with a big pot of their house-blend tea.
Exeter is great for a small-town feel that still has everything you can wish for on a holiday. As a student at the University of Exeter, I can honestly say that Exeter is a city I love living in thanks to its friendliness and diversity.
My personal hotel recommendation would be the Southernhay House hotel, as it is a cosy, intimate hotel that offers authentic British charm.
The Exeter Cathedral is definitely on the “must-see” list. The impressive building is located in the centre of town Cathedral Green, a small park where people can sit around on the grass or eat at the many restaurants and cafés on the edges. Every year, the Christmas Market takes place here, with plenty of artists selling their crafts and amazing food. The Cathedral itself is worth visiting as it has the longest uninterrupted medieval vaulted ceiling in the world.
Just past the High Street is Fore Street, the best place in town for independent shops, cafés and restaurants. My favourite café, Sacred Grounds, is located on that street, in a lovely arcade next to a vintage store. Everything is homemade, from their bread and cakes to the syrups they use for lattes.
Fore Street is also the best way to get to the Quay, which was mainly used for trade before the expansion of railways. The Quay is now a leisure spot, with a collection of shops, pubs and restaurants. When the weather is sunny, you can have a drink outside and sit on the edge of the river Exe.
20 minutes and £3 later, you can get to Exmouth by train to spend a day at the beach. The sand beach is amazing to sit and read or simply enjoy the sun, and there are plenty of restaurants with sea-views to enjoy some food.
Penzance is such a lovely town to stay in if you want to explore Cornwall and enjoy time away from crowds. The town itself is charming, but it is also some close car rides away from beautiful Cornish landmarks.
I stayed at the Artist Residence hotel in Penzance and, just like in Brighton, I wasn’t disappointed. The rooms, the service and the food were all amazing. I am now quite attached to the trendy and slightly quirky feel of this hotel group.
Most of the activities I took part in while in Cornwall happened outdoors so I would suggest visiting Cornwall during the summer months. During the few days I was in Cornwall, I walked around Penzance and its beautiful harbour. The next day, we headed out to Marazion to visit Saint Michaels Mount. We visited the castle at the top of the mount and then headed back to shore where we got to watch the tide rising and submerging the entire beach surrounding the mount.
Saint Levan was also a lovely place, full of little hiking tracks in the middle of the dunes on top of little creeks on the seashore. Later we drove to the Land’s End landmark which is the westernmost point of England.
I think Bath might be my all-time favourite out of this list, thanks to its charm that reminds me of a Jane Austen novel and all the parks around the centre of town. Depending on whether you are looking to spend time in a city, at the beach or in the countryside, every single one of these places will bring you joy once it is safe to travel again.
Check out our other review on Our top 5 Irish hotels to visit on your post-lockdown staycation.
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