Explore England, a country that is part of the United Kingdom. The country covers five-eighths of the island of Great Britain, which lies in the North Atlantic, and includes over 100 smaller islands, such as the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight.
England’s terrain is chiefly low hills and plains, especially in central and southern England.
Laced by great rivers and small streams, England is a fertile land and the generosity of its soil has supported a thriving agricultural economy for millennia. In the early 19th century, England became the epicenter of a worldwide Industrial Revolution and soon the world’s most industrialized country. Drawing resources from every settled continent, cities such as Manchester, Birmingham, and Liverpool converted raw materials into manufactured goods for a global market, while London, the country’s capital, emerged as one of the world’s preeminent cities and the hub of a political, economic, and cultural network that extended far beyond England’s shores. Today the metropolitan area of London encompasses much of southeastern England and continues to serve as the financial center of Europe and to be a center of innovation—particularly in popular culture.
The modern landscape of England has been so significantly changed by humans that there is virtually no genuine wilderness left. Only the remotest moorland and mountaintops have been untouched. Even the bleak Pennine moors of the north are crisscrossed by dry stone walls, and their vegetation is modified by the cropping of mountain sheep. The marks of centuries of exploitation and use dominate the contemporary landscape.
More significant is the structure of towns and villages, which was established in Roman-British and Anglo-Saxon times and has persisted as the basic pattern. The English live in scattered high-density groupings, whether in villages or towns or, in modern times, cities. Although the latter sprawled into conurbations during the 19th and early 20th centuries without careful planning, the government has since limited the encroachment of urban development, and England retains extensive tracts of farming countryside between its towns, its smaller villages often engulfed in the vegetation of trees, copses, hedgerows, and fields.
The capital is London, which has the largest metropolitan area in worldtourismportal.com/london-englandboth the United Kingdom and the European Union. England’s population of over 55 million comprises 84% of the population of the United Kingdom, largely concentrated around London.
The earliest known evidence of human presence in the area now known as England was that of Homo antecessor, dating to approximately 780,000 years ago. The oldest proto-human bones discovered in England date from 500,000 years ago.
During the Industrial Revolution, many workers moved from England’s countryside to new and expanding urban industrial areas to work in factories, for instance at Birmingham and Manchester, dubbed “Workshop of the World” and “Warehouse City” respectively.
England has a temperate maritime climate: it is mild with temperatures not much lower than 0 °C in winter and not much higher than 32 °C in summer. The weather is damp relatively frequently and is changeable. The coldest months are January and February, the latter particularly on the English coast, while July is normally the warmest month. Months with mild to warm weather are May, June, September and October. Rainfall is spread fairly evenly throughout the year.
Many ancient standing stone monuments were erected during the prehistoric period; amongst the best known are Stonehenge, Devil’s Arrows, Rudston Monolith and Castlerigg.
With the introduction of Ancient Roman architecture there was a development of basilicas, baths, amphitheaters, triumphal arches, villas, Roman temples, Roman roads, Roman forts, stockades and aqueducts.
It was the Romans who founded the first cities and towns such as London, Bath, York, Chester and St Albans. Perhaps the best-known example is Hadrian’s Wall stretching right across northern England. Another well-preserved example is the Roman Baths at Bath, Somerset.
Throughout the Plantagenet era, an English Gothic architecture flourished, with prime examples including the medieval cathedrals such as Canterbury Cathedral, Westminster Abbey and York Minster. Expanding on the Norman base there was also castles, palaces, great houses, universities and parish churches.
17 of the 25 United Kingdom UNESCO World Heritage Sites fall within England.
Some of the best-known of these are: Hadrian’s Wall, Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites, Tower of London, Jurassic Coast, and various others.
There are many museums in England, but perhaps the most notable is London’s British Museum. Its collection of more than seven million objects is one of the largest and most comprehensive in the world, sourced from every continent, illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its beginning to the present. The British Library in London is the national library and is one of the world’s largest research libraries, holding over 150 million items in all known languages and formats; including around 25 million books. The most senior art gallery is the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, which houses a collection of over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th century to 1900.
The Tate galleries house the national collections of British and international modern art; they also host the famously controversial Turner Prize.
The Greater London Built-up Area is by far the largest urban area in England and one of the busiest cities in the world. Other urban areas of considerable size and influence tend to be in the English Midlands.
While many cities in England are quite large, such as Birmingham, Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle, Bradford, Nottingham, population size is not a prerequisite for city status. Traditionally the status was given to towns with diocesan cathedrals, so there are smaller cities like
Wells, Ely, Ripon, and Truro.
England has many outstanding landmarks and sites of interest.
What to see. Best top attractions in England
- Hadrian’s Wall — the Romans built this 87 mile wall to protect their English outpost from northern raiders.
- Isles of Scilly — magical archipelago of tiny islands off the south western coast of Cornwall.
- Lake District National Park — glorious mountains, lakes and woodlands; the land of Wordsworth.
- New Forest National Park — one of the few remnants of the great oak and hornbeam woodland that once covered southern England.
- North York Moors National Park — with heather-clad hills, woodlands, impressive sea cliffs and secluded beaches, this area is one of the true English gems.
- Peak District National Park — rugged moors and hills which form the northern spine of England.
- South Downs National Park — the gentle rolling chalk downs of southern England.
- Stonehenge — the iconic Neolithic and Bronze Age monument; as mysterious as it is famous.
- Yorkshire Dales National Park — charming, picture postcard villages set in some of the finest landscapes anywhere in Britain.
The medieval cathedrals of England, which date from between approximately 1040 and 1540, are a group of twenty-six buildings that constitute a major aspect of the country’s artistic heritage and are among the most significant material symbols of Christianity. Though diversified in style, they are united by a common function. As cathedrals, each of these buildings serves as central church for an administrative region and houses the throne of a bishop. Each cathedral also serves as a regional center and a focus of regional pride and affection.
Canterbury Cathedral in Canterbury, Kent, is one of the oldest and most famous Christian structures in England. It forms part of a World Heritage Site. It is the cathedral of the Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the Church of England and symbolic leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Its formal title is the Cathedral and Metro political Church of Christ at Canterbury.
Founded in 597, the cathedral was completely rebuilt between 1070 and 1077. The east end was greatly enlarged at the beginning of the 12th century, and largely rebuilt in the Gothic style following a fire in 1174, with significant eastward extensions to accommodate the flow of pilgrims visiting the shrine of Thomas Becket, the archbishop who was murdered in the cathedral in 1170. The Norman nave and transepts survived until the late 14th century, when they were demolished to make way for the present structures.
Before the English Reformation the cathedral was part of Benedictine
Monastic community known as Christ Church, Canterbury, as well as being the seat of the archbishop.
Westminster Abbey, formally titled the Collegiate Church of Saint Peter at Westminster, is a large, mainly Gothic abbey church in the City of Westminster, London, England, just to the west of the Palace of Westminster. It is one of the United Kingdom’s most notable religious buildings and the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English and, later, British monarchs. The building itself was a Benedictine monastic church until the monastery was dissolved in 1539. Between 1540 and 1556, the abbey had the status of a cathedral. Since 1560, the building is no longer an abbey or a cathedral, having instead the status of a Church of England “Royal Peculiar”—a church responsible directly to the sovereign.
Since the coronation of William the Conqueror in 1066, all coronations of English and British monarchs have been in Westminster Abbey. There have been 16 royal weddings at the abbey since 1100. As the burial site of more than 3,300 persons, usually of predominant prominence in British history (including at least sixteen monarchs, eight Prime Ministers, poet laureates, actors, scientists, and military leaders, and the Unknown Warrior), Westminster Abbey is sometimes described as ‘Britain’s Valhalla’, after the iconic burial hall of Norse mythology.
England is well serviced by domestic air, land and sea routes.
There are taxi firms everywhere (many are by booking only), and every town has a bus service. ‘Black Cabs’ are also common in cities and can be hailed from the side of the road. Sometimes in city centers, usually just after the nightclubs have closed, there will be queue for taxis which will sometimes be monitored by marshals or police.
To be safe, make sure you take a registered taxi or black cab; despite government action, many unlawful unregistered private taxi drivers exist – these do have a reputation for being unsafe, particularly if you are a woman.
England has one of the highest densities of railway lines per square mile in the world. There has been much improvement and investment in recent years to the railway network and rolling stock but delays and cancellations do occasionally occur. Overcrowding can be a problem in large cities, especially at ‘rush-hour’ times (7AM – 9AM & 5PM – 7PM, Monday to Friday) so it is best to avoid these times when tickets can be expensive as well.
Buses are numerous, frequent and reliable in most of the larger towns and cities and an ideal way of getting around. Rural areas are less well served and hiring a car is often the best option to explore the countryside and villages.
The roads are of generally excellent Care should be taken on rural and minor roads, some of which are extremely narrow, twisty and poorly marked, while many are two way roads and only wide enough for one car, meaning a meeting situation can be unpleasant. The signs and markings on most roads are clear, although roundabouts make traffic slow to a crawl during “Rush Hour”. The main problem with driving in England is the sheer volume of traffic on the roads. Unfortunately this is not only limited to rush-hours and large cities, and even cross country motorways can slow to a stop as they pass urban areas. Prepare for travel times being longer than you’d normally anticipate in relation to the mileage. The speed limit, unless otherwise stated, is 30 or 40 mph in built-up areas, 95 km/h elsewhere and 110 km/h on motorways and other controlled-access roads. Speed cameras and traffic police are numerous so caution is advised.
London is the start and finish point for most international tourists. It offers countless museums and historical attractions. To truly experience England, however, you must venture out of the hustle and bustle of the capital and see what the rest of England has to offer. You will find the rest of England very different to its capital city; indeed, if you only visit London, you haven’t seen ‘England’ – you’ve seen one city that bears few similarities with the rest of the country.
If short on time, you may find it more convenient to base yourself in a regional city and take day trips to the National Parks, coast and smaller towns. If you have plenty of time, then you could base yourself in a B&B (Bed and Breakfast) in any of the above. You will find that public transport to and within cities and large towns is acceptable, but that in smaller places off the beaten track then you should research your journey carefully, or consider hiring a car.
Popular places to visit include the counties of Yorkshire in the East, and Cornwall in the South West of England, the National Parks listed above, and the historic cities such as York, Bath and Lincoln.
Liverpool, as well as being a popular city break destination in itself with its Beatles heritage and maritime attractions, is centrally located for day trips to the Lake District, North Wales, and Yorkshire.
Plymouth makes a good base for exploring Dartmoor, whilst allowing day trips to Cornwall and offering its own range of attractions and museums.
Bristol, the West Country’s largest city makes for a very enjoyable weekend break. Although until recently overlooked by other Southern English cities such as Oxford, Cambridge, Bath and Brighton, Bristol has come into its own thanks to its leftfield attitude, laid back easy going groove, the West Country’s largest shopping complex, and above all its stunningly creative and brilliant music. Although Bristol doesn’t have any specific sights (apart from the Clifton Suspension Bridge), it’s a city to just browse and glide through at your leisure and soak up the mellow, amiable vibe of Britain’s most relaxed and laid back city.
If you have a little longer, you may be able to spend a week more locally based, for example staying in Ambleside in the Lake District.
If you want white sand beaches, turquoise sea, Arthurian atmosphere and a raw, misty eyed Celtic landscape head to the West Country coastline of Devon and Cornwall – particularly, the magnificent surf blasted beaches of North Devon’s Bideford Bay and King Arthur’s birthplace in North Cornwall’s Atlantic coastline (Bude, Tintagel, Padstow, Polzeath etc).
England has traditional dishes famous the world over from Beef Wellington and Steak and Kidney Pie to the humble sandwich. However, a modern English meal is just as likely to be Lasagne or Chicken Tikka Masala, with the traditional Italian and Indian meals taking on a decidedly English flavor. The English are great adopters of other countries’ cuisines.
There are many low-quality establishments and mediocre chain restaurants, and the motorway services can often still manage to produce food that is barely edible, however, you can generally expect pubs and restaurants to provide interesting and well-presented meals.
“A meal out” is the usual way to celebrate a special family event, and people expect the meal to live up to the occasion. Cooking programs are now among the most popular on the television, supermarkets have turned many previously unknown foods into everyday items, and Farm Shops and Farmers’ Markets have surprised all the commentators by becoming extremely popular weekend “leisure” destinations where people can buy excellent English meat, fruit, and vegetables.
Typical traditional English food
- Fish and chips— deep-fried, battered fish (usually cod or haddock) with chips, best from specialist fish and chip. Available throughout the UK.
- Pies– The Pie is a central part of English Cooking. Coming with many different fillings, Steak & Kidney, Chicken & Ham, being two popular options of many. Can be served made with either Puff or Short crust pastry and eaten Hot or Cold.
- Roast dinner(also known as the “Sunday roast” due to the day it is traditionally consumed on) is available between lunchtime and early evening in virtually any English pub serving food. Quality will vary greatly depending on how freshly cooked the food is.
- Yorkshire pudding— a batter pudding served with a roast (usually beef); originally used instead of a plate and eaten with the meal. Giant version often appears on pub menus as a main meal item, with a “filling” (Giant Yorkshire Pudding filled with beef stew).
- Toad in the Hole— sausages in Yorkshire pudding batter
- Steak and Kidney Pie— a suet pudding made with beef steak and kidneys
- Lancashire Hotpot— a hearty vegetable and meat stew from Lancashire
- Cornish Pasty(and other forms of meat pie around the country) — beef and vegetables in a pastry case
- Full English Breakfast— (often abbreviated: do not be alarmed if your server at the hotel breakfast table asks you “Do you want the Full English?”) At its “fullest”, it might consist of fried bacon, fried eggs, fried sausages, fried bread, fried black pudding (blood sausage), mushrooms, scrambled eggs, baked beans in tomato sauce, and toast and butter – “washed down” by a large amount of hot strong tea or coffee with milk. An Americanized version is now emerging, with hash browns instead of fried bread. Served in less refined versions in truckers’ stops, and posher versions in hotels (where there will often be a buffet of these items to “help yourself” from). It is sometimes said that this meal is only a legend foisted on tourists, because the English are now too busy for breakfast. Typically, however, the English perceive the ‘fry-up’ (as it is known) as a suitable meal to consume when hangover after a night of drinking or as a weekend treat. Any inexpensive café (of the type with Day-Glo price stickers in the window, and whose name is pronounced “caff” in northern England) will have “all-day breakfast” on the menu. The Full English Breakfast is often imitated in the neighboring regions of Scotland, Wales & Ireland.
- Ploughman’s Lunch— Typical in the West of England. A cold lunch consisting of cheese, chutney and bread. Additional ingredients include ham, apples and eggs.
Pubs are a good place to get reasonably priced food, though most stop serving food at around 9-9:30PM. Others may stop serving food between lunch and dinner. Pub food has become quite sophisticated in recent years and as well as serving the more traditional hearty English fare, more exotic dishes are now prepared in the majority of the larger pubs and specialist “gastro pubs”.
English food has recently undergone a revolution with many larger cities having award-winning restaurants run by the many ‘famous’ TV chefs who have now become part of the English obsession with food. Eating out at a high-quality restaurant can be an expensive experience. A decent three-course meal out at a respectable restaurant will normally cost around £30-£40 per head including wine.
If good quality and cheaply priced food is more your choice, try one of the many ethnic restaurants such as Chinese, Asian or Mexican. Eating a curry or balti in an Indian restaurant is tantamount to an English obsession. These restaurants are found everywhere — even the larger villages have them — and usually the food is of good quality and they will cater for most tastes. A good curry with side dishes can be had for around £10-15 per head, and some without liquor licenses allow you to bring your own alcoholic beverages in. Eating a curry out is a social occasion and often you will find the men try to challenge their own taste buds to a duel, opting for spicier curries than they find comfortable. In the towns and cities these restaurants are usually open late (especially on a Friday and Saturday night) to cater for people eating after the pubs have closed. It is at this time that they can get very busy and lively, so if you want to avoid the crowds then visit the restaurants before the local pubs shut.
Unlike many other European countries, vegetarian (and to a lesser extent, vegan) food is widely available and appreciated in pubs and restaurants with several dishes usually appearing on the menu alongside the more normal meat and fish options. However, vegetarians may still find the variety of dishes rather limited – particularly in pubs, where certain dishes such as “veggie” lasagna or mushroom stroganoff feature all too regularly.
Tipping is generally expected in restaurants unless a service charge has been added to the bill, with a tip of around 10% considered to be the norm. Tipping in bars and cafes is less common.
The traditional drinking establishment is the “pub” (short for “public house”). These are normally named after local landmarks or events, and most will have a heraldic (or pseudo-heraldic) symbol on the sign outside; more recent establishments may poke fun of this tradition (e.g. “The Queen’s Head” featuring a portrait of Freddie Mercury, lead singer for the rock band Queen). England seems to have an incredible number of pubs. While in a city you are usually not more than a 5 min walk from any pub.
The pub is an English institution, though a declining one. Tastes are changing, smoking has been banned inside pubs, beer is ever cheaper in supermarkets, drink-driving is taboo, and pub landlords are often squeezed by sharp practice by the big firms which supply beers, and which also own many pub buildings.
There are many different kinds of pub. Some are traditional ‘locals’, and a real part of the community. In most neighborhood pubs you will find all generations mingling together, which often gives patrons a feeling of community. It would not be uncommon to see three generations of one family congregating in a neighborhood pub. Nevertheless, pubs can vary widely in character. Depending on the area, you can find a warm and friendly welcome, or drunken youths spoiling for a fight.
However, many pubs are evolving in a more healthy direction. There are now many pubs which pride themselves on serving ‘real ales’ – beer brewed on a smaller scale to traditional English methods and recipes. Any visiting beer lover should track these down. Many pubs, both in the countryside and in cities, have moved towards serving good food. And while most pubs will serve food, it’s in these ‘gastro pubs’ that you’ll find well-prepared food, generally a mixture of traditional English dishes and international influences. The prices will tend to match.
The English are in general very polite people, and like most other places it is considered bad manners not to say “please”, “thank you”, “cheers” or “sorry”. A nod or a smile is also often the response. The English do apologize a lot, whether it is their fault or not. You should do the same even for little things. Sometimes, strangers and friends address each other by “mate” informally, but this should not be used to people with higher status than you.
Keep all of this in mind when you explore England.
Unesco World Heritage List
- Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd
- Durham Castle and Cathedral
- Ironbridge Gorge
- Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites
- Studley Royal Park including the Ruins of Fountains Abbey
- Blenheim Palace
- City of Bath
- Frontiers of the Roman Empire
- Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey including Saint Margaret’s Church
- Canterbury Cathedral, St Augustine’s Abbey, and St Martin’s Church
- Tower of London
- Maritime Greenwich
- Heart of Neolithic Orkney
- Derwent Valley Mills
- Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
- The English Lake District
- Jodrell Bank Observatory
Official tourism websites of England
For more information please visit the official government website: