Continually inhabited for over 500,000 years, the country boasts many ancient historic sites, defensive castles, and dozens of fascinating museums. From the pomp and ceremony of the Royal Family at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle to the mysteries of Stonehenge and the beauty of the country's parks and stately gardens, visitors to England are truly in for a treat.
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Buckingham Palace is the official London residence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and is one of the few remaining working royal palaces in the world. Not only is the majestic building the Queen's residence but it is also the administrative headquarters of the British Monarchy and is used for most official receptions. Visitors can line up outside the palace to watch the daily Changing of the Guard at 11 am in summer (three to four times per week in winter) and you should not miss the chance to join a tour of the opulent State Rooms where you will walk in the footsteps of countless world leaders who have had the privilege of dining with Her Majesty. The tour includes viewing several most impressive State Rooms, seeing priceless artworks and antiques, and a brief tour of the palace gardens. You can learn about special exhibitions and book your tour on the website.
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The 700-year-old Alnwick Castle is the second-oldest inhabited castle in England, dating back to 1309. While it was originally used as a border defense fortress, successive generations of the Percy family have made extensive alterations and additions to the castle, and the impressive edifice you see today houses a college residential program and is frequently used as a film set. Harry Potter fans are in for a particular treat when they visit Alnwick - the castle was the setting for the first two books in the series, and young visitors can even join in daily Broomstick Training. There are many free entertaining options for visitors, including archery, quests, and period dressing, and history buffs can avail themselves of various castle tours, all included with the price of your ticket. Alnwick Castle is located close to the A1 between Newcastle and Edinburgh.
Alnwick Castle, Alnwick, Northumberland NE66 1NQ, Phone: +44-166-551-1100
3.Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament
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Boldly standing guard over the Palace of Westminster, which is home to the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and the Elizabeth Tower is without doubt the most widely recognized landmark in London. Big Ben is the name given to the 13.7-tonne Great Bell located inside the Great Clock that has faithfully and accurately chimed the hour from the top of the 11-story Elizabeth Tower since 1859. Until recently it was possible to tour the Elizabeth Tower and see the actual bell and its workings, but tours have been suspended until roughly 2020 while restorations are underway; on-line virtual tours are available on the website. Visitors should not miss the chance to take a tour of the Palace of Westminster - tours are held on most Saturdays of the year and also on weekdays during the Parliament Summer Recess.
Westminster, London SW1A 0AA, Phone: +44-20-7219-4272
4.The British Museum
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The British Museum deserves to be ranked right at the top of your London must-see list. The imposing Greek Revival-style building will impress both history buffs and architecture enthusiasts. It was completed in 1852 and features a dramatic colonnaded entrance that was intended to prepare visitors for the remarkable historic collection within. The British Museum is home to an extraordinary collection of ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian treasures that trace the history and evolution of mankind from two million years ago to the present, including the famous Rosetta Stone. You can go on several free tours or rent an audio-guide and explore at your own pace, and there are many interesting attractions and trails for children. Entrance is free.
The British Museum, Great Russell St, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 3DG, Phone: +44-20-7323-8299
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Canterbury Cathedral is the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican religion and has been a place of pilgrimage since medieval times. The cathedral is located in the historic walled town of Canterbury in Kent, which is located less than an hour from London. The remarkable building dates back to 597 AD, and as you tour the cathedral you can learn all about 1,400 years of history. You can join a guided tour of the cathedral, hire an audio guide or buy a guidebook at the gift shop and explore in your own time. Some of the highlights of the amazing building are the stained-glass windows, the Great Cloister, St. Gabriel's Chapel, the Quire (which was the first Gothic building built in England) and the Tomb of the Black Prince.
Canterbury Cathedral, 11 The Precincts, Canterbury, CT1 2EH, Phone: +44-122-776-2862
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As far back as Roman times there has been some sort of defensive fortress where the present day Carlisle Castle stands on the border of England and Scotland. Your visit to this enduring Norman stronghold will take you on a fascinating journey through the stormy history of England and Scotland. Both historians and architecture enthusiasts will find plenty to interest them on a self-guided tour of the castle, and children can have fun following special trails, dressing up, and exploring inter-active exhibits. Some of the highlights you should not miss include Queen Mary's Tower, where the Scottish Monarch was imprisoned, the Carlisle Castle Exhibition in the old militia store, the Warden's Apartment, and the Prisoner's Carvings.
The Castle, Carlisle CA3 8UR, England, Phone: +44-122-859-1922
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Visitors to Chartwell can get an intimate peek into the life of Sir Winston Churchill, one of Britain's most celebrated leaders, as they tour the beautiful house that was once his home. Much of the house has been preserved just as it was when the Prime Minister and his family lived there, and you can see an extensive display of photographs, personal treasures, antique furnishings, and gifts. Sir Winston was also an avid amateur artist and gardener, and both his old studio and the extensive manicured gardens are open to the public. There is also an area of woodland where you can enjoy walks and trails. You can buy light meals at the on-site café, and picnics are allowed in the meadow.
Chartwell, Mapleton Rd, Westerham, Kent, TN16 1PS, England, Phone: +44-173-286-8381
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Standing guard atop the famous White Cliffs of Dover to protect the shores of Britain, Dover Castle is the largest and probably the oldest castle in England, and it occupies the location of the first Roman fortress built on British soil somewhere around the 1st Century AD. Unlike many other castles that have fallen into ruins, Dover Castle is in pristine condition and is essential viewing for anyone interested in British military history spanning nearly 20 centuries. Your tour of the castle will include the medieval palace of notorious King Henry XIII in the Great Tower, the Secret Wartime Tunnels and Underground Hospital used during World War II, and many exhibits that re-enact medieval life. Dover Castle hosts a full itinerary of events and special exhibitions throughout the year - visit the Events section of their website to find out more.
Dover Castle, Castle Hill, Dover, Kent, CTY16 1HU, England, Phone: +44-130-421-1067
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Durham Castle (and Durham Cathedral) is part of the UNESCO Durham World Heritage Site in North East England, where they form one of the greatest monuments to the Norman Conquest of Britain and are thus essential viewing for both history buffs and architecture enthusiasts. The castle is a typical Motte and Bailey castle that has been continuously inhabited for over 1000 years and today houses students of University College, Durham. Your guided tour of the ancient castle will include all the highlights, including the fortifications, the gatehouse, the keep, and the courtyard. If you travel to Durham by train you can catch a local bus right to the entrance of the castle.
Durham Castle, Durham University, Palace Green, Durham City, DH1 3RW, Phone: +44-191-334-2932
10.The Eden Project
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At the Eden Project in Cornwall you can spend a few hours or an entire day marveling at how one man's vision turned an exhausted china clay pit into Eden, one of the world's most amazing botanical gardens showcasing plants from all around the world. Imagine the early days of the project when over 200 miles of scaffolding was required to erect enormous artificial biomes that now house extravagant habitats for millions of plant species. You can stroll through the Australian Garden one moment, explore the Mediterranean Biome the next, and then make your way across the Rainforest Canopy Walkway. There is plenty to do for children of all ages, and daredevils can visit the adjacent Hangloose Adventures to try the Zip line, Giant Swing, and more.
Eden Project, Bodelva, Cornwall, PL24 2SG, England, Phone: +44-172-681-1911
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No visit to London would be complete without spending an hour or two exploring Hyde Park, one of the country's most impressive Royal Parks located in the heart of the city. The park covers over 350 acres and is visited by millions of locals and tourists every year. During the summer months, you can enjoy a variety of outdoor activities in Hyde Park, including open-water swimming, boating, tennis, cycling, and horseback riding. A few of the highlights of the park include the beautiful Rose Garden, the Serpentine Lake (there is a restaurant overlooking the water), Speaker's Corner, and the poignant Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain. Hyde Park is open from 5am to midnight and is easily accessible via public transport.
Hyde Park, London, W2 2UH
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Leeds Castle is widely acknowledged to be one of the most beautiful castles in England, located on a vast 500 acre estate in Kent, Southern England. The castle has stood guard over the lovely Kent landscape for around 900 years and offers a wide variety of activities for the whole family. You can tour the interior of the castle in your own time with the aid of an audio guide and then step out to explore the expansive gardens and rotating exhibitions. Children will love the chance to go punting on the lake, watch the falconry show, get lost in the maze, and enjoy the themed playgrounds. The estate hosts many entertainment events and also boasts a golf course as well as on-site accommodation.
Leeds Castle, Maidstone, ME17 1PL, England, Phone: +44-162-276-5400
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The Holy Island of Lindisfarne (to give this special place its correct name) is located just off the mainland of the northern-most part of England's east coast, close to the border with Scotland. Lindisfarne was first inhabited by Saint Aidan in 635AD and was the epicenter of Christianity during Anglo Saxon times. Today, the Holy Island is an oasis and peace and tranquility and attracts many visitors each year. You can reach the island via a paved causeway (at low tide!) and spend a few days enjoying boating, walking, hiking, and bird-watching. Highlights of the island include visits to Lindisfarne Castle, Lindisfarne Priory, and the Lindisfarne Exhibition Center.
The Holy Island of Lindisfarne, Northumberland, TD15 2SE
14.The London Eye
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Your visit to London would be incomplete without stepping aboard the iconic London Eye to get a bird's-eye view of London's most famous landmarks. The enormous 135mt high Ferris wheel has 32 rotating capsules that offer 360-degree views of the city and has become one of the most popular attractions in London - to avoid disappointment we recommend that you buy your tickets well in advance. The managing company has come up with a variety of special ticket options for visitors wanting to hire a private capsule to celebrate a special occasion (or pop the question), and you can also buy various combination tickets that will give you access to other London attractions at a reduced rate.
The London Eye, Riverside Building, County Hall, Westminster Bridge Rd, London SE1 7PB
15.National Portrait Gallery
© National Portrait Gallery
Any visitor to London who is even remotely interested in art should not miss the opportunity to visit the National Portrait Gallery near Trafalgar Square. The NPG is home to an enormous collection of over 200,000 portraits dating from the 16th century to the present, featuring a variety of mediums such as photography, oils, pen and ink, watercolor, and much more. The vast collection can best be appreciated by following one of the gallery's themed tours - you can hire an audio guide and then set off to explore what interests you the most. A few of the themed tours include Kings and Queens, Highlights of the Collection, and Fame and Celebrity. The gallery also hosts a series of special exhibitions, lunchtime lectures, and workshops for all ages.
National Portrait Gallery, St. Martin's Place, London, WC2H 0HE, Phone: +44-20-7306-0055
16.Natural History Museum
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Visiting London's Natural History Museum is a fun and educational day out for all ages. The museum's 36 free galleries are divided into four color-coded zones so that you can easily find the exhibits that interest you the most. The Blue Zone is all about dinosaurs, mammals, reptiles, and human beings, the Green Zone follows the evolution of the Earth, the Red Zone teaches us how various forces have impacted mankind and the planet, while the Orange Zone houses the Darwin Center and the Wildlife Garden. In addition to the permanent galleries, you can also visit one of the regular special events or temporary exhibits. You can download a free visitor's app from the website.
The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Rd, London, SW7 5BD, Phone: +44-20-7942-5000
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Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery stands on the site of a 1000-year-old Norman castle, and it is the place where the famous legend of Robin Hood originated. The original castle was twice destroyed and was eventually replaced by the stately Ducal Palace you see today, which houses an impressive collection of Fine and Decorative Arts. You can see about 100 pieces from the collection exhibited against the backdrop of the Long Gallery's striking architecture. To learn all about 1000 years of Nottingham History, you can go on a guided tour of the fascinating Castle Caves, which consist of a labyrinth of manmade tunnels and passages running below the original castle.
Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery, Lenton Rd, Nottingham, NG1 6EL, Phone: +44-115-876-1400
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Rochester Castle stands on the banks of the River Medway in Kent on the site of one of the earliest Roman forts in England, originally built to safeguard a bridge the Romans used to move their legions from Dover to London. The castle you can visit today dates back to around 1127 AD and is one of the oldest and best preserved examples of Norman architecture in the country. You can explore the massive castle keep, the battlements, and the grounds at your own pace and learn all about the turbulent history of the castle by hiring an audio guide, available in several languages. The on-site shop sells snacks and drinks, and you are welcome to bring a picnic to enjoy on the grounds.
Rochester Castle, Castle Hill, Rochester ME1 1SW, England, Phone: +44-163-433-2901
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The British city of Bath takes its name from the remarkably well-preserved complex of Roman bathhouses that were built above a series of natural hot springs as far back as the 1st to 3rd century. The baths are surrounded by some very fine 18th and 10th century buildings and form one of the best historic sites in Northern Europe. Highlights of your tour include the Great Bath and the fascinating projections of ancient Roman life in the East Bath, and an audio guide is included in your ticket price. After touring the baths you are invited to “take the waters” (drinking the mineral-rich water is believed to have health benefits) upstairs in the Pump Room. The complex hosts a variety of events year round and offer various combination tickets - find out more on the website.
Roman Baths, Abbey Church Yard, Bath, BA1 1LZ, England, Phone: +44-122-547-7785
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For centuries Stonehenge has been shrouded in mystery. Although scholars have come to various conclusions, we will never know for sure why and how these massive blocks of stone were moved hundreds of miles and erected without modern equipment. Your visit to Stonehenge will give you the chance to walk in the footsteps of our ancient ancestors and see the most prominent prehistoric monument in the whole of Europe. Highlights of your tour will include a walk around the stone circle, a visit to a reconstruction of a Neolithic House, the amazing Stonehenge Exhibition, and a very educational trip through time as you watch a 360-degree audio visual presentation entitled “Standing in the Stones.”
Stonehenge, Amesbury, Salisbury, SP4 7DE, England, Phone: +44-370-3331181
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The vast and inspiring galleries of the Tate Modern are located alongside the River Thames in what used to be the Bankside Power Station, an iconic landmark that is worth a visit in its own right. Today the Tate is custodian of over 70,000 modern and contemporary artworks dating from 1500 to the present day, most of which are open to the public at no charge. The Tate is essential viewing for all art lovers, and you will need to set aside at least a half day to do the museum justice. In addition to the vast free-to-view collections and free daily tours, the museum holds regular special exhibitions, events, and talks for which you will need to buy tickets. Visit their website for more details.
The Tate Modern, Bankside, London, SE1 9TG, England
22.The Tower of London
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More than just a stone tower, the Tower of London is a 900-year old castle that has been used as a royal palace, a barracks, and an infamous prison. Today the Tower is home to the priceless British Crown Jewels, which are still used on official occasions. All first-time visitors to London should add the Tower to their to-do list, and it's a great attraction for children who will especially enjoy the “Defend the Tower” live historical enactment (daily in summer), dressing up in period costumes, the extensive collection of royal armor, and the Armoury in Action hands-on experience. Viewing the Crown Jewels is definitely a highlight of your visit and is very popular - to avoid the lines, arrive early and head there at the start of your visit.
The Tower of London, London, EC3N 4AB
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Definitely one of the Top Ten London tourist attractions, Trafalgar Square is worthy of a place on your must-see list. Originally a giant courtyard of Whitehall Palace and used as stables, the Trafalgar Square you see today started to take shape in 1812. The enormous public area is a vibrant meeting place where you can see the famous Nelson's Column, celebrating Nelson's victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. The impressive buildings of the National Gallery dominate the square, and they are linked to it by the pedestrianised North Terrace. Two impressive fountains featuring mermaids and dolphins complete the picture. You can easily reach Trafalgar Square on foot from Leicester Square, Charring Cross, or Embankment Underground Stations.
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Located in the picturesque Lake District in northern England, Lake Windermere is the largest natural lake in the country. The lake is over a mile wide and more than 10 miles long, offering outdoor enthusiasts an extremely scenic area suited to a variety of activities. The most popular holiday resort on the lake is Bowness-on-Windermere, which is also the main center for boating. Hikers will find there are literally dozens of walking and hiking trails set against the scenic backdrop of the Lake District National Park. Other diverse outdoor activities include canoeing and kayaking, cycling, caving, archery, climbing, fishing, and much more. For a change of pace, you can take a scenic drive to see a few stately homes, castles, and gardens in the area.
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As the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world, Windsor Castle is definitely recommended viewing during your visit to England. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth still spends most weekends in residence at the castle and often entertains visiting dignitaries in the sumptuously appointed St. George's Hall. There is a great deal to see at Windsor Castle, and you need to set aside at least a half day to fully appreciate this remarkable 900-year-old castle. You can get a good overview by joining a 30-minute Precinct Tour before entering the castle. Some of the highlights of your tour will include the State Apartments, St. George's Chapel, Queen Mary's Dollhouse, and the Semi-State Rooms. On certain days you can watch the Changing of the Guard ceremony through Windsor Town - see the website for more details.
Windsor Castle, Windsor, SL4 1 NJ, England, Phone: +44-303-123-7334
25 Best Things to Do in England
- Buckingham Palace, Photo: Courtesy of Pawel - Fotolia.com
- Alnwick Castle, Photo: Courtesy of bnoragitt - Fotolia.com
- Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, Photo: Courtesy of dbrnjhrj - Fotolia.com
- The British Museum, Photo: Courtesy of Claudio Divizia - Fotolia.com
- Canterbury Cathedral, Photo: Courtesy of valeryegorov - Fotolia.com
- Carlisle Castle, Photo: Courtesy of Kevin Eaves - Fotolia.com
- Chartwell, Photo: Courtesy of david harding - Fotolia.com
- Dover Castle, Photo: Courtesy of PixelPower - Fotolia.com
- Durham Castle, Photo: Courtesy of suziwheatley - Fotolia.com
- The Eden Project, Photo: Courtesy of PETRA - Fotolia.com
- Hyde Park, Photo: Courtesy of I-Wei Huang - Fotolia.com
- Leeds Castle, Photo: Courtesy of Dan Breckwoldt - Fotolia.com
- Lindisfarne, Photo: Courtesy of drhfoto - Fotolia.com
- The London Eye, Photo: Courtesy of Vladan Andrejevic - Fotolia.com
- National Portrait Gallery, Photo: National Portrait Gallery
- Natural History Museum, Photo: Courtesy of andersphoto - Fotolia.com
- Nottingham Castle, Photo: Courtesy of biiyangkah - Fotolia.com
- Rochester Castle, Photo: Courtesy of howardm48 - Fotolia.com
- Roman Baths, Photo: Courtesy of Anthony Brown - Fotolia.com
- Stonehenge, Photo: Courtesy of Aliaksandr Kazlou - Fotolia.com
- Tate Modern, Photo: Courtesy of KittyKat - Fotolia.com
- The Tower of London, Photo: Courtesy of Horva´th Botond - Fotolia.com
- Trafalgar Square, Photo: Courtesy of andersphoto - Fotolia.com
- Lake Windermere, Photo: Courtesy of Kevin Eaves - Fotolia.com
- Windsor Castle, Photo: Courtesy of Lagarto Film - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of Photocreo Bednarek - Fotolia.com