...we love it
We have traveled to England for a month at a time to visit friends and family there. We often stay with friends and need to spend a day or two between them to make schedules work. We've gone often enough that we have to find new places to see. We sometimes do a web search to find places near by and then stop in on a whim.
Friends sometimes ask us for ideas for their own visits to the UK. That led me to assemble this page of what we have enjoyed. And if we found somewhere to be a disappointment, I'll mention that too.
This is not going to cover the usual things everyone tells you to see. There are lots of great places to visit in the UK. Tower of London, British Museum, Cambridge, Greenwich, Stonehenge. These are all very worthy of your time, but everyone will tell you about them. This page is a list of places I didn't visit until I'd already been to the UK six or seven times.
Hatfield House (web site) is on the north side of London. A huge property with self guided tours of the house and a giantic ground to walk around. It has been featured in many British television shows and movies, both inside and out. I remember standing in the armory thinking, "I've been here before." You can easily spend a day here. The long walk to the tree where Elizabeth learned of her accession to the throne (just a replacement tree) is a beautiful walk but the tree is nothing special. The Lawn House is a BnB on the property. We often stay here the night before flying out. We enjoy it very much.
Hampton Court Palace (web site) is also in London. Another gigantic house with a fabulous tour and lots to see. The kitchen, the royal rooms, all very interesting to me. I recommend three hours. You can also take a river boat on the Thames to get there. The river boat offers an unusual look at the all the communities and homes that live on the river.
Fishbourne Roman Palace (web site) What an unusual place! Built in 100AD, the largest Roman palace outside of Italy, it was clearly an important place. Even better is it was only discovered in the 1960's when a guy was digging a ditch for a water pipe. Now impecably restored, the place is a wonder. We spent a half day there and read every exhibit in the well curated museum associated with it.
Portsmouth: Historic Shipyard (web site) If you like naval history I can't recommend this place enough! We went in when it opened, expecting to spend a few hours, and we didn't leave until it closed. All day and we still didn't see one big building. This is a collection of several museums all in one location. The Mary Rose sunk in 1545 and was recovered and on display in a very modern, air controlled environment. The HMS Victory was Nelson's ship in the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar. The audio tour is very engaging and uses the timeline of the battle to lead you from the top deck to the bowels of the ship. A short boat ride across the bay takes you to the submarine museum, both very old and very new on display. So much to see, we will go back again.
Bath (web site) Ok, everyone will tell you to go to Bath, but I like it so much I think it's worth a mention. We have stayed the night and there are plenty of excellent restaurants. Look for the free "mayors walking tour." The Bath Museum will take half a day if you keep moving. The Royal Crescent, No. 1 Royal Crescent Museum, Sally Lunn's historic restaurant, and so much more.
Midland Air Museum (web site) Has a nice set of indoor exhibits and a substantial outdoor fleet. You can walk up into the cockpit of a Vulcan strategic nuclear bomber - shades of Dr. Strangelove!
Royal Airforce Museum, London (web site) Wow!!! Multiple gigantic buildings filled with all kinds of aircraft. Stand with a WW2 flying fortress. Spitfire, Sopwith Camel, Avro Lancaster Mk I, helicopters, jets, and a Vulcan bomber that shows just how damn big it really is. We spent all day here.
Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, London (web site) If you like gardens this is on a grand scale. The place is so big that it takes 30 minutes to walk across the narrow side. Inside Kew are numerous arboretums, each with a specific theme. You can walk around plants that were brought back to England in the 1700's. An excellent place to wander and explore.
Wells Cathedral (web site) As cathedrals go, you may not want to see them all. Wells is particularly interesting. They started building this in 1200. And if you're in this part of the UK you might want to stop in Cheddar Gorge for a visit to the caves. It has interesting history, parking is easy, but you have to walk. We enjoyed lunch at one of the many tourist restaurants in the gorge.
The Back to Backs, Birmingham (web site) are row houses that were preserved through the efforts of one particular man, a black tailor. These are restored and period furnished. The tour guide spun many great stories as we walked through these tiny homes.
Weald and Downland Outdoor Living Museum (web site) The museum has gathered a large number of old houses onto this land. Medieval thatch roof homes, graineries, cottages. Restored and many have costumed recreators toiling away inside. We had a great talk with a woman in an old house with an open interior chimney while she made bread. We spent 3 hours here.
The Bloomsbury Group home, Charleston (web site) An ecclectic artist colony (really a home) started in 1916. Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster, Keynes, T.S. Elliot and others visited for months on end. You see where and how they lived. Many rooms are highly decorated, both walls and furniture. The art studio is to be seen, and their garden is still growing. Near Brighton. We spent a few hours on a tour and wandering. The cafeteria offers a great atmosphere to get a coffee and relax.
Sarehole Mill, Birmingham (web site) A smallish museum and grounds of a converted mill and pond. JRR Tolkien lived across from the mill and said he took inspiration for middle Earth from there.
Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway (web site) A restored railway run by volunteers. They have several steam and diesel trains that run on an abundant schedule. The 28 mile trip from end to end offers excellent views across the Cotswalds. We like old stuff and this railway is excellent. We went for the scenery, but many people want to travel on all the different trains. The diesel excursion is the least spectacular train, but offers the most spectacular views. We ate a simple lunch at the big cafeteria there.
British Camp Earthen Fort (web site) This seems like just a big hill, but then you find out it was built up by hand in 1000 BC! It is quite a hike to the top, but that reveals far reaching views of the countryside. It was windy and damp when we went. Parking was plentiful. Use your smart phone map to figure out how to get here.
Wimpole Hall (web site) built in 1640 near Cambridge. Bought and restored by the daughter of Rudyard Kipling. Another massive house you can wander through with guides in every room to answer questions and tell you the history.
Kenilworth castle ruins (web site) started in 1120, this large castle has a long history and many stories. We wandered through the ruins for a few hours.
Witley Court (web site) A grand house built in 1650 that became a party house and burned into a ruin in 1937. You can roam the house and grounds for several hours.
Arundel Castle (web site) The oldest part of this castle is a keep that was built in 1067; you can stand in this small cylinder and wonder what life was like back then. I found it interesting that the owners still live here in half the castle; you wander through the other half. In fact, you walk through what are the current guest suites - if you can call humongous rooms guest quarters.
Wings Museum (web site) This small museum in a large quanset hut has a nicely curated, ecclectic collection of aircraft parts. I say parts because this museum is based around pieces of WW2 planes that have been dug from the countryside. When a site is found they gather all the bits they can find. Then they identify the specific aircraft. Each plane is represented with an outline of the plane showing where the collected parts came from. A story of the mission it was on when it went down, and a history of the crew is also shown. Run by volunteers and donations, this is a gem of place.
Royal Pavilion, Brighton (web site) Started in 1787 it grew and in 1815 John Nash turned it into a south Asian themed, gaudy party house for the then Prince of Wales. Queen Victoria sold it to the city of Brighton in the mid 1800's because she hated it. Now it is an interesting bit of history with a completely out of place architectural style. We loved it.
Avoncroft Open Air Museum (web site) Another excellent collection of old buildings that have been brought to this site. Includes an old nail factory from the 1800's and a very old windmill. Also houses the national collection of telephone kiosks (more interesting that you might imagine).