Do you enjoy culture, history, architecture, art, food and shopping? You will find all this and more on offer in England’s cities. This guide provides an introduction to 12 of England’s very best cities – an essential read when planning a visit.
While England’s pretty market towns and chocolate box villages may dominate bucket lists there are many cities also worth exploring.
If you are unsure which cities to include in your itinerary this article will help by introducing you to 12 of the very best English cities located across the 9 regions of the country. You will find information about some of the top things to see and do in each city as well as a brief overview of what each city is known for.
These English cities are all accessible by train from London so can be easily included in your UK travel plans if you are based in the capital. To help you plan your trip I have included the logistics of how to get to each city from London.
You will find a map showing the various locations of these best of English cities at the bottom of the post.
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- Cities to visit in North West England
- Cities to visit in North East England
- Cities to visit in Yorkshire
- Cities to visit in the East of England
- Cities in South West England
- Cities to visit in South East England
- Which of these best cities in England will you visit next?
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Cities to visit in North West England
Think of Liverpool and the Beatles or football will probably spring to mind.
With numerous restaurants, bars, and museums Liverpool is the perfect destination for a weekend trip. While it is possible to see the highlights of Liverpool in one day (if you plan well) I would recommend at least 2 days to really explore.
Liverpool is a walkable city and there are good public transport links to and from major destination across the UK.
What to see and do in Liverpool
- Royal Albert Dock Liverpool
The docks and warehouses which were opened in 1846 now form part of the UNESCO World Heritage listed ‘Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City’
With numerous bars, restaurants, museums and shops the Albert Dock is one of the best places to visit in Liverpool.
- Tate Liverpool
Also situated at the Royal Albert Dock is the Tate Liverpool which houses a collection of modern art.
The museum is open Monday to Sunday between 10.00 and 17.50. Entry is free except for special exhibitions.
- Love the Beatles?
Its been a hard day’s night… head to the Cavern Club arguably (as it states on their website) the most famous club in the world.
The Royal Albert Dock is also home to the Beatles Story an exhibition all about Liverpool’s most famous sons. And while at the waterfront don’t forget to take a selfie of yourself posing with the statues of Ringo, John, Paul and George!
More ideas for your visit can be found in my complete Liverpool Itinerary for fans of the Beatles
- Another Place
If you are looking for something different to do in Liverpool why not head to nearby Crosby to see Anthony Gormley’s Another Place? Consisting of 100 cast iron life size figures standing along a 3 km stretch of Crosby beach they are worth the short train journey from Liverpool.
Read more – Complete guide to visiting the city of Liverpool
How to travel to Liverpool from London by train
- Distance from London: 178 miles
- Time taken by train: 2 hours 30 mins
- Leave from: London Euston to Liverpool Lime Street (hourly direct service)
Where to stay in Liverpool
There are accommodation options to suit all tastes and budgets in Liverpool. I recommend staying in the centre of the city within walking distance of Albert Docks and the main train station.
BEST – Hard Day’s Night Hotel
This Beatles themed hotel is round the corner from the Cavern Club and is our number one choice of accommodation in Liverpool. Close to all the main sights this 5* hotel is decorated with Beatles memorabilia and decor.
MID-RANGE – The Liner Hotel
The Liner Hotel is a 3 star ocean liner themed hotel with modern rooms, an on site brasserie and a cocktail lounge.
BUDGET – The Z Hotel
The Z Hotel in Liverpool is an excellent budget option. The rooms are compact but there is a cafe and free WiFi for guests.
Read more – My Liverpool Travel Guide contains everything you need to know to plan your visit to the city
Manchester in the North West of England is often called the Capital of the North and is the 5th largest city in the UK.
It has an outstanding music legacy (it is the home of bands such as Oasis, the Stone Rose and the Smiths) and is world famous for its football team.
Manchester offers culture, sporting venues, nightclubs, shopping districts and restaurants which make it the perfect weekend break destination.
What to see and do in Manchester
- Northern Quarter
Explore the Northern Quarter a trendy neighbourhood of Manchester with street art, bars and cafes. Pop into Federal for brunch and then Afflecks for cocktails and drinks.
- Salford Quays
The Lowry is a theatre and gallery complex situated in the Salford Quays area of Manchester. Take in a show or browse the art.
The second largest Chinatown in the UK with lots of great restaurants and shops. Head there for Chinese New Year celebrations and the best bubble tea anywhere.
How to get to Manchester from London by train
- Distance from London: 163 miles
- Time taken by train: 2 hours 30 mins
- Leave from: London Euston to Manchester Piccadilly
Where to stay in Manchester
These are my recommended accommodation options for Manchester.
BEST – The Edwardian Manchester
MID-RANGE – The Midland
Chester, like York is a walled city with its roots in Roman England. It is a pretty city with loads of character and boasts the most complete city walls as well as the largest Roman Amphitheatre in Britain.
Don’t miss the beautiful half-timbered houses on Watergate Street and Lower Bridge Street during your visit.
What to see and do in Chester
- The Rows
The Rows are galleries which form a second row of shops above those at street level. They have to be reached by steps and are the only shops built like this in the world. They are found along the main city centre streets and contain shops, bars and restaurants.
- Chester’s city walls
Walk the 2 mile circuit around the city and spot many historically significant sites along the way including the four main gates into Chester.
- Chester Cathedral in particular the Cathedral Choir
Don’t miss the beautiful 14th century stalls in the choir area of the Cathedral.
Read more about Chester in my complete Chester Travel Planning Guide which includes all the essential information you need to plan your visit.
How to travel to Chester from London
- Distance from London: 163 miles
- Time taken by train: 2 hours
- Leave from: London Euston to Chester
Where to stay in Chester
There are lots of options to suit all tastes and budgets in Chester. These are my top selections:
BEST – The Chester Grosvenor
This 5* luxury hotel is located in the heart of Chester and offers visitors a luxury experience including a Michelin starred restaurant.
MID -RANGE – Mill Hotel and Spa
Enjoy views of the Shropshire Union Canal while you dine in one of the 4 hotel eateries. Alternatively take a meal and a cruise on the hotel’s Restaurant Cruise or enjoy the hotel’s spa facilities after a day of sightseeing in Chester.
BUDGET – The Saddle Inn
Located in the city centre this hotel offers guests a comfortable stay with free WiFi. Pets are allowed at no extra cost.
Read more – What to do and see in North West England
Cities to visit in North East England
Situated in the ceremonial county of Tyne and Wear (and the historic county of Northumberland) Newcastle with its industrial heritage, lively nightlife, great shopping, restaurants, bars and museums is the perfect starting point to explore the North East.
If you are not from the UK you may find the distinctive regional accent – Geordie – a little difficult to understand but the warmth and friendliness of the people will easily make up for any difficulties.
Spend a day or two exploring the city then embark on a road trip along the Northumberland Coast. With more castles than any other county and the remains of the Roman Wall stretching from Wallsend in the east to Cumbria in the west it is easy to spend a week or more exploring the sights of Northumberland.
What to see and do in Newcastle
- Tyne Bridge
The iconic structure and symbol of Newcastle the Tyne Bridge was opened in 1928. It is strikingly similar to the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia although is 3 times shorted and half the height of its Aussie twin! The bridges were designed and built by the same company which goes a long way to explain their similarities.
- The Angel of the North
Although technically in Gateshead (a town located on the southern bank of the river Tyne) the Angel of the North cannot be missed when visiting Newcastle.
Created by the sculptor Anthony Gormley and standing on a hill overlooking the A1 motorway this beautiful landmark welcomes visitors to the region.
At 20 meters high and with a wingspan of 54 meters the Angel of the North is reputed to be the largest angel sculpture in the world. It is accessible by both car and public transport.
- The Quayside
With great restaurants and bars The Quayside is the place to head for a night out in Newcastle. It is also home to the Gateshead Millennium Bridge (the world’s only tilting bridge and yes another iconic bridge spanning the Tyne river)
If you enjoy modern art the BALTIC art gallery can be found on the opposite bank or if markets are more your thing the Quayside market on a Sunday sells local produce and crafts.
- Segedunum Roman Fort and Museum
If you have an interest in Roman history a visit Segedunum Roman Fort and Museum in Wallsend shouldn’t be missed. Here you will discover all about Roman Britain and many other places the Romans have left their mark in Northumberland.
How to get to Newcastle from London by train
Distance from London: 247 miles
Time taken by train: 3 hours
Leave from: London Kings Cross to Newcastle Central Station
Where to stay in Newcastle
There are lots of options to suit all tastes and budgets in Newcastle. These are my top selections:
BEST – The Vermont Hotel
Set in a fabulous location this hotel and former County Hall offers river views, bars, restaurants and is within walking distance of the Quayside.
MID -RANGE – Cairn Hotel
Enjoy a stay in one of Newcastle’s most hip and stylish establishments. The hotel’s Thai restaurant is not to be missed.
BUDGET – Motel One Newcastle
The centrally located chain hotel offers affordable luxury and a central location.
The university town of Durham with its historic centre, castle and cathedral (which are also jointly a UNESCO World Heritage Site) is one of England’s most beautiful cities.
An easy day trip from London, especially during the long sunny days of summer, Durham is an excellent destination for those traveling to Edinburgh from London.
Make sure to head up the hill to the cathedral and castle and enjoy beautiful views over the River Wear.
Good to know – If you are driving to Durham do not attempt to park in the city. There are three Park and Ride services on the key routes into Durham. Taking one of these options will avoid the stress of attempting to find a parking spot in the city. You can find out more about Durham’s Park and Ride scheme here.
What to see and do in Durham
- Durham Cathedral
Built in the Norman style with huge stone pillars supporting a stone ceiling construction of the the cathedral started in 1093. Home of the Shrine of St Cuthbert the cathedral also contains the remains of two saints – St Cuthbert and St Bede.
Unfortunately the stained glass which filled the cathedral was destroyed during the Reformation. All is not lost however as the cathedral boasts a stunning 18th century Rose window.
- Durham Castle
Durham Castle is located opposite to the cathedral and has, since 1837, belonged to the city’s prestigious university.
The castle was built by the Normans to display the power of William the Conqueror over the rebellious natives who lived in the north of England.
If staying in an English castle is on your bucket list you may be interested to know that you can book a stay at Durham castle. Though not the luxury experience you may dream of the university style student accommodation is great for the budget conscious traveler.
- Beamish Museum
If you are spending a few days in Durham or road tripping around the north of England I would highly recommend a visit to Beamish Open Air Museum just outside Durham. The museum gives visitors a taste of life in the North East of England during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Read more about Durham in my complete Durham Travel Planning Guide which includes all the essential information you need to plan your visit.
How to get to Durham from London by train
Distance from London: 234 miles
Time taken by train: 2 hours 50 mins
Leave from: London Kings Cross to Durham
Where to stay in Durham
There are lots of options to suit all tastes and budgets in Durham. These are my top selections:
BEST – The Kings Lodge Inn
Offering free car parking and located only a short walk from the centre the Kings Lodge Inn offers visitors a comfortable stay with free wi-fi, a cosy bar and restaurant on site.
MID -RANGE – Radisson Blu Hotel
Centrally located near to the train station the Radisson Blu offers visitors fantastic views of Durham Cathedral.
BUDGET – Durham Castle
Perfect budget accommodation in the heart of the city – spend the night in a castle and UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Read more – What to do and see in North East England
Cities to visit in Yorkshire
With its beautiful Minster, cobbled streets and links to Roman and Viking Britain York has something for all the family.
Easily accessible by train it is a compact and walkable city with great restaurants, quirky shops and lots of museums.
What to see and do in York
- York Minster
The Minster which dates back to the 7th century dominates the York skyline. Climb the Central Tower for great views of the city or take a journey through its interactive underground chambers and find out more about the history of York and the Minster.
- National Railway Museum
If you are a fan of trains and train travel a visit to the railway museum in York is highly recommended. Entrance is free and there are some great trains to explore including the Mallard, a Japanese bullet train and Queen Victoria’s favourite saloon.
- The Shambles
Taking a stroll down the cobble-stoned Shambles is like stepping back in time. Dating back to Medieval England the street with its overhanging wooden buildings is filled with quirky and original shops.
- Take afternoon tea at Bettys Tea Rooms!
You really can’t visit England (or York) without experiencing a traditional afternoon tea. Bettys Tea Rooms are the perfect destination for tea lovers but make sure you book well in advance as they are very popular. Open since 1936 enjoy tea and cakes in the beautiful art deco surroundings.
Read more about Oxford in my complete York Travel Planning Guide which includes all the essential information you need to plan your visit.
How to get to York from London by train
Distance from London: 174 miles
Time taken by train: 2 hours 50 mins
Leave from: London Kings Cross to York
Where to stay in York
There are lots of options to suit all tastes and budgets in York. These are my top selections:
BEST – Grays Court
Located between York Minster and the city walls this hotel offers guests the perfect luxury accommodation. Stroll the gardens, enjoy a drink at the bar or a traditional afternoon tea in the hotel’s award wining restaurant.
MID -RANGE – Hotel Indigo York
Spacious and stylish rooms in the heart of York with excellent amenities including a rainfall shower, mini fridge and 32 inch flat screen TV.
BUDGET – The Bar Convent
Offering a historic and quirky stay in York this hotel is ideally located near the station and city centre. An excellent breakfast is included.
Read more – What to do and see in Yorkshire
Cities to visit in the East of England
The university city of Cambridge is located only 55 miles from London which makes it the perfect destination for a day trip.
Dating back to the 13th century the university is recognised as one of the and best in the world. There is a friendly rivalry with the equally famous (and slightly older) Oxford University. Don’t miss the Oxford and Cambridge boat race which has been held along a 4 mile stretch of the River Thames in London since 1829.
What to do and see in Cambridge
- Cambridge University
Among the most beautiful of the University’s 31 colleges are King’s College and King’s College Chapel, Queens College and the Mathematical Bridge, Trinity College, Corpus Christi College, St John’s College and Peterhouse College.
I recommend booking a walking tour to find out more about the history of the colleges (and to ensure you don’t miss anything)
- The Fitzwilliam Museum
A must-visit in Cambridge is the famous Fitzwilliam Museum. Containing antiquities from around the globe as well as numerous art works by Turner, Gansborough, Rubens, Picasso amongst others admission to the museum is free.
- Take a punt along the River Cam
The perfect activity for an English summer’s day! A punt is a flat bottomed boat which is propelled by pushing a pole against the river bed. Book at tour and relax and enjoy the sights of Cambridge from the River Cam.
Read more about Oxford in my complete Cambridge Travel Planning Guide which includes all the essential information you need to plan your visit.
How to get to Cambridge from London
Distance from London: 55 miles
Time taken by train: 50 mins to 1 hour 50 depending on route
Leave from: London St Pancras International to Cambridge is the quickest route
Where to stay in Cambridge
There are lots of options to suit all tastes and budgets in Cambridge. These are my top selections:
BEST – University Arms
Situated in the heart of Cambridge the University Arms offers guests topnotch hospitality. Excellent food and drink are on offer and free WiFi is available for guest.
MID -RANGE – Gonville Hotel
Overlooking Parker’s Piece (famous as the birthplace of modern football) the Gonville Hotel is a 4* hotel with exceptional service and amenities. Enjoy the complimentary bike hire and take a cycle tour of the city.
BUDGET – Leverton House
Located just outside Cambridge Leverton House offers guests free parking, WiFi and an excellent breakfast.
Cities in South West England
The beautiful city of Bath is one of the most popular tourist destinations in England and is worth visiting at any time of year.
With its stunning architecture, quintessentially English character and Roman legacy plan a few days to fully explore this stunning city. It is also an excellent base for exploring one of England’s most beautiful areas – the Cotswolds.
What to see and do in Bath
There are lots of places to visit and things to do and see in Bath. Here are my top choices – for more itinerary suggestions read my guide to places to visit in Bath.
- The Roman Baths
Built over 2000 years ago the Roman Baths attract over 1.2 million visitors a year.
Plan at least 2 hours to explore the Roman Temple, Bath House, Sacred Spring and museum. Head to the Grand Pump Room for a refreshment break or afternoon tea.
- Admire the Royal Crescent
The Royal Crescent is a row of 30 houses laid out in a crescent shape. Built between 1767 and 1774 they are a beautiful example of Georgian architecture.
Take a selfie at the crescent then head over to the park for an ice cream and a stroll in the beautiful gardens.
- Pulteney Bridge
Dating back to 1774 the bridge spans the river Avon. The bridge is one of only 4 in the world with shops across both spans. As well as housing many independent shops there are also a variety of restaurants located on the bridge.
How to travel to Bath from London
Distance from London: 94 miles / 152 km
Time taken by train: 2 hours 28
Leave from: London Paddington
Where to stay in Bath
There are lots of options to suit all tastes and budgets in Bath. These are my top selections:
BEST – The Gainsborough Bath Spa
Located only 100 meters from Bath Abbey and accessing heated thermal waters in its spa the Gainsborough is a fabulous luxury hotel offering visitors the perfect stay in Bath.
MID -RANGE – The Bird
Boutique hotel offering stylish and quirky accommodation in the centre of Bath.
BUDGET – Z Hotel Bath
Modern centrally located budget hotel with excellent facilities and stylish decor.
Read more about Bath in my complete Bath Travel Planning Guide which includes all the essential information you need to plan your visit.
A cultural hub offering visitors great shopping, live music, wining and dining opportunities Bristol is the largest city in South West England.
Bath is only 12 miles to the east of Bristol and 120 miles west of London. Street artist Banksy is from Bristol and works can be found around the city.
If you have an interest in history the name Isambard Kingdom Brunel may be familiar. The Clifton Suspension Bridge and Brunel’s SS Great Britain which were both created by the genius Victorian engineer and are monuments to his talent.
What to see and do in Bristol
- Clifton Suspension Bridge
Designed by Brunel this 150 year old suspension bridge is a toll bridge linking Clifton in Bristol with Leigh Woods in North Somerset. There are free tours available at 3pm on Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays between Easter and October for those of you with an interest in engineering!
- Bristol Shopping Quarter
For serous shoppers the Bristol Shopping Quarter is home to hundreds of shops, restaurants, cafes and attractions.
- Discover Bristol’s street art
Take a self-guided walking tour of Bristol and discover street artist Banksy’s most famous local works.
How to travel to Bristol from London
Distance from London: 104 miles / 167 km
Time taken by train: 1 h 49
Leave from: London Paddington
Where to stay in Bristol
There are lots of options to suit all tastes and budgets in Bristol. These are my top selections:
BEST – Bristol Marriott Royal Hotel
Located next to Bristol Cathedral and the historic waterfront the Royal Hotel offers guests a comfortable stay in a beautiful Victorian setting.
MID -RANGE – Hilton Garden Inn Bristol City
Perfectly located next to the main shopping area and Bristol Temple Meads train station the Hilton Garden Inn offers guests free WiFi, a cosy lounge bar and restaurant options.
BUDGET – Mercure Bristol Grand Hotel
Good location in the heart of Bristol with ensuite rooms, free WiFi and parking available (for a daily charge)
The compact and walkable city of Oxford is home to one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious universities.
The 38 colleges which comprise Oxford University offer visitors a fascinating glimpse into English traditions and a way of life dating back hundreds of years. Nicknamed the ‘City of Dreaming Spires” the city is the perfect day trip destination from London.
What to see and do in Oxford
- Explore Oxford University
Founded in the 13th century Oxford University’s alumni include international heads of state including numerous British Prime Ministers, Nobel prize winners, famous authors, and many well known actors.
Wander the colleges and soak in the scholarly atmosphere of this famous seat of learning. Don’t miss the Bodleain Library and Redcliffe Camera at the university.
- The Covered Market
Opened in 1774 browse the markets many shops and stalls before enjoying a refreshment break in one of the many eateries.
- Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace is located only 20 minutes from the city of Oxford. The present home of the Duke of Marlborough Blenheim is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Read more about Oxford in my complete Oxford Travel Planning Guide which includes all the essential information you need to plan your visit.
How to travel to Oxford from London
Distance from London: 52 miles / 83 km
Time taken by train: 1 hour
Leave from: London Paddington/ London Marylebone
Where to stay in Oxford
There are lots of options to suit all tastes and budgets in Oxford. These are my top selections:
BEST – Old Parsonage Hotel
Dating back to 1660 this boutique hotel in the centre of Oxford offers outstanding accommodation for guests.
MID -RANGE – Head of the River
Great views of the river and an excellent hearty breakfast make this the perfect choice for visitors looking for a more traditional stay in Oxford.
BUDGET – Heather House Bed and Breakfast
With off road parking, the choice of a continental or full English breakfast this cosy and friendly B&B is the perfect budget option.
Read more – What to do and see in South West England
Cities to visit in South East England
Located on the south coast of England is the charming seaside city of Brighton.
During the 18th and 19th centuries the city was a popular destination for wealthy Londoners (including King George IV during his time as Prince Regent)
Boasting of stunning Regency architecture, beautiful parks and a laid back atmosphere Brighton is the perfect weekend destination or day trip from London.
What to see and do in Brighton
- The Brighton Pavilion
The opulently decorated Brighton Pavilion is a must visit. Built by King George IV when he was Prince Regent (at enormous expense to the country) you will discover a home filled to the brim with exquisite furnishings.
- Brighton Palace Pier
Brighton’s famous pier was opened in 1899. It is a Grade II listed structure and an iconic symbol of the city.
- The Lanes
Packed with restaurants, tea rooms, pubs and shops these narrow alleyways are a shopper’s paradise.
How to travel to Brighton from London
Distance from London: 47 miles (75 km)
Time taken by train: 1 hour 22
Leave from: London Blackfriars/ London Victoria
Where to stay in Brighton
There are lots of options to suit all tastes and budgets in Brighton. These are my top selections:
BEST – The Grand Brighton
Relax with views overlooking the sea at the sumptuous Renaissance style iconic Grand Hotel in Brighton. With high-quality furnishings, free WiFi and stylish cocktail bar on offer this is the perfect accommodation for that special stay in Brighton.
MID -RANGE – The Charm Brighton Boutique Hotel and Spa
A luxury, grade II boutique hotel offering guests comfortable and elegantly furnished rooms.
BUDGET – Jurys Inn Brighton Waterfront
An excellent budget option the Jurys Inn is a well located and is near pubs, bars and restaurants and across the road from the beach.
Click here for a selection of the best Airbnb options in Brighton.
Read more – What to do and see in South East England
No list of the best cities to visit in England would be complete without including the capital!
If London is your first UK destination you will find that a few days may not be enough to see and do everything you want. I recommend prioritising your must-sees and building your itinerary from there – you can find ideas to help you in my London Travel Planning Guide.
What to see and do in London
There is far too much to do and see in London to include in this short paragraph but here are a few ideas for your London bucket list:
- Love Botanical Gardens? Head to Kew Gardens
- Love history? Head to the Tower of London
- Love the Royal Family? Head to Buckingham Palace
- Love shopping? Head to Oxford Street, Covent Garden and Harrods
- Love museums? Head to some of the fabulous free museums such as the British Museum or the Natural History Museum
- Love art? Head to the Tate Modern
- Love markets? Head to Borough Market
- Love Harry Potter? Head to Leadenhall Market (Diagon Alley) and Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station. There are also lots of Harry Potter themed tours available or take a trip to Harry Potter Studios (an hour from London)
You can find more about planning your visit to London in my London Travel Planning Guide here
Which of these best cities in England will you visit next?
If you have questions why not join my free UK travel planning group on Facebook – it is a great place to chat and find out more about what there is to see and do in the UK as well as providing practical advice and tips to help you make the most of your trip.