From the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace to Stonehenge and Hadrian’s Wall, England is a destination that’s packed with iconic sights and bucket list activities that you’ll never forget!
You’ll also never be able to fit all of the best things to do in England into one trip, so you best start planning itineraries for your first, second, and third trips to the United Kingdom’s largest constituent nation!
We don’t need to tell you that England has a rich history, but it does. And it’s a long history too.
Stonehenge is thought to date back to 3000 BC, while in Bath and along Hadrian’s Wall, you can uncover 2,000-year-old Roman ruins. In York, you can learn about the Vikings, in Stratford-upon-Avon you can see the birthplace of Shakespeare, and across the country, you can visit medieval castles and country homes.
But there’s more to England than history. You can find spectacular nature in the Lake District, you can walk along the White Cliffs of Dover, and you can hike multi-day national trails like the South West Coast Path. Then to top it all off, you can eat fish and chips by the beach or enjoy a traditional Sunday roast and a pint of ale at the local pub.
With so many things to do and see, you might not know where to begin. So we’ve put together our list of the absolute best things to do in England for you. Try these fun and unique England bucket list recommendations, and there’s no doubt you’ll have an amazing time exploring this exciting part of the United Kingdom!
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The 25 Best Things to do in England
1. See the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace
Watching the pomp and ceremony of the Changing of the Guard outside Buckingham Palace is one of the best things to do in England. This unique ceremony is one of London’s age-old traditions, and you’ll love the regalia, the magnificent uniforms, and the military marching bands!
Buckingham Palace is guarded at all times by a detachment of soldiers from the British Army, although you’ll see them wearing traditional red coats and bearskin hats rather than camouflage. On certain days of the week, starting at 10:30 am, the “Old Guard” parade in front of Buckingham Palace and prepare to hand over their duties to the “New Guard.”
The “New Guard” march to the gates of Buckingham Palace from nearby St James’ Palace, generally to the tune of military marching songs. Once at Buckingham Palace, an official Changing of the Guard ceremony takes place at 11 am.
The Changing of the Guard Ceremony is a great way to experience regal traditions in London, and you’ll be able to see Buckingham Palace at the same time, of course. If you see the Royal Standard flying above the palace, you’ll know the Queen herself is in residence.
The Changing of the Guard doesn’t take place every day, but generally, every other day. This can vary, though, so check out the “Household Divisions” website for accurate timings.
2. Delve into history at London’s best museums
Across London, you’ll find some of the world’s best museums, and you might be surprised to learn that many of these renowned institutions are completely free to enter.
You can start at the British Museum, which has free admission and where you can delve back millennia. The British Museum is home to iconic archaeological finds, including the fabled Rosetta Stone and the Parthenon Marbles. You’ll need hours to see everything, and there are exhibitions covering everything from the Assyrians to the Egyptians.
Next, head over to the Natural History Museum, where you’ll be greeted at the grand entrance by the giant skeleton of a blue whale. Inside the Natural History Museum, you’ll discover dinosaur skeletons, the taxidermied remains of extinct animals like the dodo, and exhibitions covering geology, evolution, and more.
The Natural History Museum is located on Exhibition Road, where you can then visit the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. If you’ve still got time after that, there’s the Museum of London, the National Gallery, the Tate, the Imperial War Museum, and many more museums!
3. Be impressed by the Tower of London
If there’s one London landmark that stands out as a symbol of the nation, it’s the Tower of London. When the first tower was built in 1078, though, by William the Conqueror, the Tower of London was seen not as a national symbol but as a symbol of oppression.
William the Conqueror began building the fortress in order to control his newly conquered kingdom in the wake of his 1066 invasion, a date that every schoolchild in England learns. Successive monarchs added more towers and walls, built moats, and turned the area into an impregnable fortress.
Visit the Tower of London, and you can join a guided tour given by the “Beefeaters,” who are the ceremonial guards. You’ll learn about the treachery and deceit that occurred within its walls, where people vied for power and where traitors were tortured. You can see exhibitions on medieval warfare, visit the chambers where royalty slept, and see the “Crown Jewels.”
The Tower of London overlooks Tower Bridge, one of the most important crossings of the River Thames. Here you can see the iconic drawbridge that opens and closes for tall ships passing along the river, and that has itself become another iconic landmark of London!
4. Go punting along the River Thames in Oxford
A punting trip along the River Thames in Oxford is one of the best things to do in England. Punting is a unique pastime that involves using a long pole to push a flat-bottomed boat along the river. It’s one of the quirkier activities that you can enjoy next to the colleges and campuses of Oxford University.
After a punt along the river, you can then take a walk through Christ Church Meadow, where you’ll spot free-roaming deer grazing on the grass. From here, tour the University’s many historic colleges, many of which you’ll recognize from period dramas and movies.
If you only have time for one, make sure to take a tour of the Bodleian Library, where you’ll be mesmerized by the ancient books and mysterious bound manuscripts held within.
There’s much else to do in Oxford, too, and you can follow in the footsteps of England’s greatest writers and scholars as you journey through the city. Visit the Pitt Rivers Museum to see shrunken heads and dodos, then head into the Ashmolean Museum to learn about ancient civilizations. If you’ve still got time, there’s Oxford Castle to visit, ghost tours to join after dark, and much, much more in one of England’s oldest cities.
5. Punt down the River Cam in Cambridge
Cambridge and Oxford are home to two of the world’s oldest and most prestigious universities, so there’s no doubt that there’s a fierce rivalry between the two cities. One of the best things you can do in both cities is punting, and you’ll enjoy taking a flat-bottomed barge along the River Cam as much as you will along the River Thames!
Those in Cambridge will tell you the punting is better there, but we think you need to decide for yourself! In Cambridge, you’ll enjoy magnificent views of the colleges as you work your way along the river. However, be careful during term time when the punts and waterways are packed with students (who enjoy a drink or two on the punts).
As with Oxford, there’s much more to do in Cambridge once you’ve finished punting. You can tour through the centuries-old university, explore the botanic gardens, and visit the Fitzwilliam Museum for a deep dive into the world of antiquities.
Cambridge is made for cycling as much as it is for punting. We recommend hiring a bicycle to get around the main sights in the city, so you can speed off into the surrounding countryside!
6. Stroll along the White Cliffs of Dover
There’s no better symbol of England than the iconic White Cliffs of Dover. These famous chalk cliffs rise high above the beaches of southern England, and on a clear day, they can be seen from France.
Dover offers the shortest crossing between England and France, and so the White Cliffs have always been a “Welcome Home” landmark. The cliffs reach a maximum height of 110 meters (361 feet) in places, offering sweeping views over the English Channel from above.
The White Cliffs of Dover are protected by the National Trust, and there is a network of walking trails and viewpoints that can be explored during your visit. You can walk all the way to the cliffs from Dover’s town center, or you can drive up to the car park on top of the cliffs themselves.
Dover has a lot to offer visitors, too, although it’s often overlooked as a busy ferry port. Dover Castle is one of the most prominent medieval castles in England. While inside Dover Museum, you can see the preserved remains of a Bronze Age boat, which was possibly used to ferry people backward and forward over the English Channel many thousands of years ago.
7. Pretend you’re a druid at Stonehenge
It’s difficult pinning down exactly which England sightseeing attractions you should visit, but if there’s one place you can’t miss, it’s Stonehenge. This is the oldest manmade attraction on our England bucket list, and it’s thought that this epic stone circle may date back as far as 3000 BC!
Stonehenge is one of those few tourist sights that really is as impressive as you hope it will be. The standing stones, which are around 14 meters (13 feet) tall each, tower above the small hilltop where they were raised thousands of years ago.
The exact manner in which the stones were erected (some were dragged here from Wales) remains a mystery. Although, it’s clear that they were placed here for some sort of religious or ceremonial reason.
The stones famously line up with the sun during the summer solstice, a time when modern-day pagans, druids, archeologists, and tourists all descend upon Stonehenge. It’s a unique experience, although you might prefer to visit on a dull weekday in autumn when the crowds aren’t quite so large.
You’ll find Stonehenge is a two-hour drive from London, in the western county of Wiltshire. There’s a fantastic visitors center at the entrance, where you can learn about the local prehistory and how the stones have been preserved over time.
8. Watch Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon
One of England’s most famous playwrights is William Shakespeare, and if you plan a visit to Stratford-upon-Avon, then you can watch Shakespearian plays in the Bard’s hometown!
Stratford-upon-Avon is a charming town on the banks of the River Avon, and it’s located in the countryside between The Cotswolds and Birmingham. This is where William Shakespeare was born in 1564, and you can visit the Tudor-era house (it’s still standing!), where he spent his early years and the school where he learned to read and write.
It was in Stratford-upon-Avon where Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, and you can visit the cottage where she grew up, too. Shakespeare also died in Stratford-upon-Avon, possibly on his birthday in 1616.
If you love Shakespeare, there’s no better place to visit than Stratford-upon-Avon. You can even watch a performance of a Shakespearian play at the dedicated Royal Shakespeare Theatre. This historic venue hosts an ever-changing cycle of plays – from Hamlet to Othello – and while some are staged traditionally, many are now performed as modern, updated versions of the original.
9. Have a thermal bath in Bath
The city of Bath is one of the most famous England sightseeing attractions. Take a tour of the city, and you’ll discover that Bath has been attracting tourists for some 2,000 years since the Romans first established thermal baths here to take advantage of the natural mineral water below the ground.
You can visit the original Roman baths in the center of Bath, where they’ve been marvelously preserved. You’ll learn all about the Roman bathing culture, although, sadly, you can’t actually take a thermal bath here. Instead, you’ll have to head to the modern Thermae Bath Spa experience, where you’ll find saunas, steam rooms, and a thermal rooftop pool overlooking the city.
There’s much more to Bath than its baths, and you might recognize the city from a recent Netflix adaptation Bridgerton, which featured the magnificent Georgian architecture and grand townhouses.
The architecture is the reason that Bath is England’s only UNESCO World Heritage-listed city, and you can see more by visiting the Pulteney Bridge and the Royal Crescent. Save time for a trip to the Jane Austen Centre, Bath Abbey, and for a quick stop for a sweet Bath bun at a local teashop.
10. Go medieval at Warwick Castle
Warwick Castle is one of England’s most impressive examples of a medieval castle. If you’d love to delve back in time a few centuries, a trip here is one of the best days out in England!
You’ll find Warwick Castle on the banks of the River Avon, in the historic town of Warwick. The imposing towers, high stone walls, and tall gatehouse can’t be missed, and as you walk under the portcullis, you’ll feel as if you’re back in the 14th century.
The castle has changed much over time but can trace its origins back to a humble motte and bailey castle that was built by the Normans in 1086. Successive kings added towers and bastions to the castle. Then, in the 17th century, large sections were turned into a country home.
Today, you can walk the walls and climb the towers. You can venture down into the medieval dungeons and learn about castle life from the informative and colorful exhibitions. Warwick Castle hosts many exciting yet educational events throughout the year, including jousting competitions and medieval reenactments, which all add flair to your day out.
You can even spend the night in a knightly glamping tent on the grounds if you’re looking for a truly unique experience!
11. Hunt for fossils along the Jurassic Coast
A fossil hunt along the Jurassic Coast is one of the most fun things to do in England. Stretching for 154 kilometers (96 miles) along the southern shores, from Exmouth in Devon east to Studland Bay in Dorset, the Jurassic Coast is known for its unique rock formations, impressive geology, and the large number of fossils that have been found here.
The tall cliffs of the Jurassic Coast are being constantly eroded by the elements. This oppressive erosion means that layer upon layer of geological history has been exposed in the past and continues to be exposed now. Many of the rock layers here date back 185 million years, and many fossils from the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous eras of the earth’s history are waiting to be discovered.
Take a stroll along any beach on the Jurassic Coast, and there’s a high chance you’ll spot ammonites and fossilized shells. In the past, entire fossilized dinosaur skeletons have been revealed by cliff falls, and the area has contributed greatly to scientists’ understanding of prehistoric life.
All of the Jurassic Coast is connected by the South West Coast Path, a long-distance walking trail that allows for easy access to the beaches and the cliffs. The Jurassic Coast is also home to some of England’s most famous coastal spots, including Durdle Door, Lulworth Cove, and the Isle of Portland.
12. Enjoy traditional fish and chips on the beach
The English aren’t exactly renowned for their food, at least not in the same way that French or Italian dishes are beloved across the world. But the English are proud of their culinary traditions, and while visiting, you should make every effort to try their prized specialty, fish and chips. Fish and chips is hardly a gourmet dish, but it is something that a large majority of English people continue to eat on a regular basis – even if it is completely unhealthy!
Fish and chips is exactly what the name suggests. You take a large piece of fresh fish (traditionally cod, but these days you’ll get haddock, hake, or plaice, too), cover the fish in batter, and then deep-fry it until it’s golden brown. The fish is then served with crispy chips (large chunky fries), and can also be served with tartare sauce, gravy, or even curry sauce.
The best fish and chips are always to be found at the seaside, although every village, town, and city across the nation has plenty for you to choose from, no matter how far they might be from the sea. Order your fish and chips from the “chip shop,” then take a stroll down to the beach to enjoy the views. Just remember to keep your chips away from the seagulls!
13. Go on a Beatles tour of Liverpool
Liverpool, the great mercantile city on the banks of the River Mersey, is famous for both its maritime and musical history. And while you’re in Liverpool, we suggest going on a Beatles tour to learn more about the city’s most famous musical songs.
The Beatles made a name for themselves playing in Liverpool, and you can still visit The Cavern Club, where they played many of their earliest gigs. There’s a Beatles-themed hotel where you can spend the night, Beatles statues, and no less than two museums dedicated to telling the story of the Beatles.
The best way to see all the sights and learn more about the city’s connection to the Beatles is to join a Magical Mystery Tour of Liverpool!
14. Explore York’s Viking Heritage
York is one of England’s most historic cities, and we know you’re going to love strolling through medieval streets and exploring its intriguing Viking heritage.
York was originally founded by the Romans, and as a walled city, it became a center of power in northern England before England even existed as a country.
The Vikings called York “Jorvik,” and for many hundreds of years, they used the city as a base from which to control a part of the country that was then known as the Danelaw. Although, they were eventually conquered by the Anglo-Saxons from the south.
You can find out more about this fascinating era of English history at the Jorvik Viking Centre, which is easily one of the best England attractions.
York also has a set of marvelously well preserved medieval walls, a stunning cathedral, and an area known as The Shambles that has changed little since the Tudor era. If you’ve got time left after this, then why not climb Clifford’s Tower or take a boat cruise along the River Ouse to finish off the trip!
15. Watch a game of football (soccer) in Manchester
England is the birthplace of football (or soccer, as they say in the USA), and sports fans won’t want to miss out on the chance to watch a game in some of the best stadiums in the world.
Every town and city (and even the villages!) has its own local teams, but head to Manchester to explore a great northern city and see two of the greatest rival teams in the English Football League.
Manchester needs little introduction for football fans because the city is home to the legendary Manchester United and Manchester City teams.
You’ll be lucky to get tickets to a game at either, let alone when the two are playing each other, but you can sign up for stadium tours and visit their museums to satisfy your footballing lust!
16. Be inspired in the Lake District National Park
The Lake District National Park is one of the most beautiful destinations in England. This vast protected area in the northwest has inspired generations of poets, writers, and romantics before. Plus, we know you’re going to fall in love with the lakes, mountains, and gorgeous scenery that’s found here.
First-time visitors will want to start by exploring Lake Windermere, the largest lake in England. You can explore by ferry, bicycle, or by hiking, and you’ll enjoy staying in charming lakeside villages. Further afield, you can visit famous towns like Kendal (which is regarded for its mint cake) and Wastwater, where you’ll find the deepest body of water in England.
The Lake District is best known for its lakes, but the national park is also home to all the peaks in England that are higher than 900 meters. This includes Scafell Pike, which is the highest point in England.
17. Hike to the summit of Scafell Pike
Outdoor lovers won’t want to miss out on summiting Scafell Pike, a tall hill in the Lake District that has the distinction of being England’s highest peak. At 978 meters (3,208 feet) tall, this is hardly a mountain, but given how flat England is, Scafell Pike has always been a momentous natural landmark.
The most popular walking route starts from the car park at Wasdale, where you’ll also find a campsite. This path is known as the “Brown Tongue,” and it takes you up to the top using the most direct route possible. This route takes around 3 to 4 hours, there and back, depending on your fitness level.
There are many more routes to choose from because Scafell Pike is a unique mountainous area that’s home to hidden peaks and valleys. There are five named routes in total, and once you’ve conquered the first (and easiest) way up, you might want to try the Corridor Route, which also leaves from Wasdale, or the wild, difficult, 10-mile long route from Hardknott Eskdale.
Scafell Pike forms part of the Three Peaks Challenge. This is a difficult activity that sees hikers attempting all three of Britain’s tallest peaks within a 24-hour period. The challenge takes you to Scafell Pike in England, Snowdon in Wales, and Ben Nevis in Scotland.
18. Hike the England Coast Path
If you’d love a serious, adventurous, and strenuous challenge, then you should consider hiking the England Coast Path. It’s no easy feat because this long-distance and waymarked trail takes you around the entirety of England’s coastline.
The England Coast Path is around 2,800 miles long, and it links up many existing coastal trails (such as the South West Coast Path, for example) to create a unified walking route and improve access to the sea.
If you were to hike the entire route, it would take at least six months, possibly much longer, depending on your fitness and experience level. While we understand that’s a time frame beyond most people’s holiday allowance, you can hike smaller sections of the route instead.
If you’ve got time to spare, though, the England Coast Path can be extended when it joins up with the Wales Coast Path, or you can complete a loop by taking on the Hadrian’s Wall hike or the Coast to Coast Path across Northern England.
19. Experience the real-life ‘Downton Abbey’ at Highclere Castle
Everyone loves the scandalous lives of the British nobility, which is why shows like Downton Abbey and Bridgerton have become worldwide favorites. These shows might be embellished, but they are based on real families, and you can experience the real-life Downton Abbey with a day out at Highclere Castle.
This grand country estate was the set for Downton Abbey, but its history is just as fascinating in reality. The lavish house, with its magnificent facade, was built in 1679 for the Earl of Carnarvon. The house and the earldom are still held by the same family to this day.
Much of the house has been renovated over the years, with the gardens expertly landscaped by Capability Brown, a man who landscaped many of the richest estates in England throughout the 1700s.
You can take a guided tour of the house to learn more, with a highlight being the Egyptian Exhibition. It was the 5th Earl of Carnarvon who discovered Tutankhamun, and you’ll learn how inside Highclere Castle.
20. Enjoy a Sunday roast in a traditional English pub
There’s no better way to spend a Sunday in England than at your local pub, where you can enjoy the culinary delights of the Sunday roast!
The Sunday roast is a timeless English tradition that stretches back centuries. In its simplest form, the Sunday roast consists of your choice of roasted meat (or, these days, your meat substitute) and roasted vegetables.
You can usually choose from roast beef, pork, lamb, chicken, or a nut roast, for example, which will have a huge pile of roasted potatoes, carrots, parsnips, and more to accompany it. You’ll then have lashings of gravy, a Yorkshire pudding, and other sauces such as mint or horseradish to top it off.
The roast dinner should always be served on a Sunday. And, although traditionally it’s cooked at home, it’s also an excellent opportunity to visit your local pub with family and friends where there will be a special Sunday menu. Plus, while you enjoy your Sunday roast, you can try all of the pub’s local ales and beers!
21. Spot Banksy graffiti and street art in Bristol
Head over to southwest England, and one of the best cities to visit is Bristol. Located on the River Avon, Bristol is a trendsetting place that’s well-known for its liberal views and alternative scenes.
For creatives, Bristol is fantastic, and you might already know that the city is the place where famous graffiti artist Banksy hails from. You can find many of Banksy’s original and most iconic works across Bristol, as well as countless other murals and art pieces from other artists.
22. Hike the epic South West Coast Path
At 1,014 kilometers (630 miles) in total length, the South West Coast Path is the longest long-distance hiking trail in England. This epic waymarked walking trail has spectacular scenery and an unusual history, and it’s a serious physical challenge.
The trail starts (or ends) in Minehead, Somerset, then heads west along the northern coast of Devon and Cornwall until it reaches Land’s End, the most southwesterly point in mainland Britain. From here, it turns east, heads along the southern coasts of Cornwall, back into Devon, and then into Dorset. The endpoint is in Poole, overlooking the English Channel.
It’s a long walk, to put it mildly. This is no jaunt along the beach either because much of the terrain here rises up and down like a rollercoaster. Complete the entire hike, and you’ll have climbed the equivalent altitude of Mount Everest multiple times!
Despite the overall difficulty of the trail, and the distance, the South West Coast Path is an excellent way to connect with nature. You’ll uncover hidden coves and beaches, stroll through rural coastal villages, and learn how the trail was first built to catch smugglers back in the 17th century.
You can hike the entire trail in one go (the fastest time is 10 days, but most people take weeks or months to complete it). Alternately, you can hike short sections or even just enjoy a few day hikes.
23. Go surfing in Cornwall
England’s cold weather and cold oceans might not seem too appealing for surfers, but head to the beaches of northern Cornwall, and you’ll find one of Europe’s most exciting surf scenes. The action takes place in Newquay, where one of the best surf beaches in the country awaits you at Fistral Beach.
This long, sandy beach is just a short stroll away from the town, and you’ll find consistent waves and surf that can be tackled by beginners and experts alike. This is an excellent place to learn, and there are surf schools and instructors ready to show you the techniques. The beach hosts major international competitions, showing just how diverse a surfing destination this is.
Yes, you will need to wear a wetsuit (even in summer!), but you do get used to the chilly water quite quickly. After spending the day surfing, you can then head into Newquay itself for a drink, which has a firm reputation as a summer holiday destination.
Other great surfing beaches in Cornwall include Perranporth Beach, Polzeath Beach, and Sennen Beach, while neighboring North Devon has also recently been declared a World Surfing Reserve.
24. Take the ferry to the Isles of Scilly
England’s most remote destination is located far out in the Atlantic Ocean, and as the most southerly destination in the country, you’ll find this archipelago is surprisingly sunny and subtropical.
The Isles of Scilly can be reached by ferry from Cornwall. The crossing time from Penzance, in Cornwall, to St Mary’s in the Scilly Islands takes 2 hours and 45 minutes, but that depends on the weather conditions. If you don’t fancy the ferry, you can take a short flight or helicopter ride from Penzance, as well.
When you arrive, though, you’ll find yourself in a world apart from the rest of England. You can hire a golf cart or bicycle on St Mary’s, the largest island, in order to explore, because no cars are allowed here. Or you can take the inter-island ferries to explore the surrounding islands of St Agnes, Bryher, St Martin’s, and Tresco.
On Tresco, you can learn more about the unique subtropical climate and ecosystem by visiting the magnificent Tresco Abbey Gardens. Across the islands, you’ll find white sand beaches, excellent snorkeling, wildlife, shipwrecks, and smuggling history, all waiting to be uncovered.
While you can just about make it to St Mary’s on a day trip from Cornwall, we recommend spending a few days on the islands to really experience them. You can camp out on farms, stay in old castles and rustic bed and breakfasts, and really enjoy everything the Scilly Islands has to offer!
25. Follow in the footsteps of the Romans at Hadrian’s Wall
Head to the far north of England, and you’ll find Hadrian’s Wall, one of the country’s most enduring symbols of the Roman occupation of Britain, which occurred some 2,000 years ago.
The epic work of engineering saw a series of stone forts, connected by tall walls, built across the entirety of the northern frontier of Britain. The wall is 73 miles long, stretching from coast to coast and roughly following a route east to west from modern-day Newcastle to Carlisle. Contrary to popular belief, this is not the modern border between England and Scotland, as that’s found much further north.
There’s a long-distance hiking trail that follows the rough route of Hadrian’s Wall, and in many sections, follows the remnants of the wall itself. There are many museums and archeological sites along the way. Although, you don’t need to hike the trail to enjoy historical sites such as Vindolanda Roman Fort, Chesters Roman Fort, and Segedunum.
There you have it! The 25 best things to do in England. What’s your favorite thing to do in England?
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