Steeped in culture and history, central England and the Midlands is home to some of the nation’s most famous cities and regions.
Who knew? Birmingham has more kilometres of canals than Venice. So if you fancy a leisurely boat trip down its waterways, or a walk along its canal paths, you can uncover a whole side to this busy city that many visitors never see. Cosmopolitan Birmingham is England’s second-largest city and a stunning blend of old and new, with heritage buildings sitting alongside striking modern architecture like its famous shopping centre, the Bullring.
Like this? Love Nottingham: Another stand-out city in the region is Nottingham, which is dominated by the 950-year-old Nottingham Castle. Best known for folklore figure Robin Hood, you can follow in the outlaw’s footsteps around the city, or visit his legendary home of Sherwood Forest. Another wild resident was Lord Byron, whose former home of Newstead Abbey is open for visitors, and don’t miss the grand Wollaton Hall, which houses the city’s Natural History Museum.
Pretty little Cambridge, home to the world-leading university, is a charming place to wander around, with must-sees including King’s College Chapel and The Fitzwilliam Museum. Take a punt on the River Cam, which winds its way through the city and colleges, under bridges like the Bridge of Sighs and Mathematical Bridge, all the way to picture-perfect Grantchester, where you can pop in for a pint or pub lunch.
Like this? Love Ely Cathedral: Out of Cambridge in nearby Ely lies one of the wonders of the medieval world – Ely Cathedral, which was founded in the 7th century. Known as the Ship of the Fens, because its 66-metre tower rises out of the flat fields like a huge ship, it is truly an astonishing sight. Its vast and lavish interiors are all the more surprising given that it’s located in such a small city.
Probably the most-filmed region of England, the stone villages and towns of the Cotswolds are so pretty you can hardly believe they are real. From the strangely-named villages of Upper and Lower Slaughter, which tumble down a hill, to the lovely Bourton-on-the-Water, Burford and Chipping Campden, the region is so packed with chocolate-box cottages that even the most avid of Instagrammers will be spoilt for choice over what to snap next.
Like this? Love Blenheim Palace and Highgrove: The best historic house to visit in the region is Blenheim Palace – the birthplace of Winston Churchill and home to the Duke of Marlborough. You can take a fascinating ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’ tour of the magnificent house and its extensive grounds complete with a massive maze. And for more royal gardens, how about a tour of Highgrove Gardens, Prince Charles’ private residence, which opens to the public every summer.
You’ll feel clever just wandering around grand old Oxford with its famous dreaming spires – especially after you learn the difference between all of the colleges that make up the university on a walking tour. Take a photo of the much-snapped Radcliffe Camera and learn it all at the famous Bodleian Library, visit the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and Pitt Rivers Museum, or look around Oxford Castle & prison!
Like this? Love Oxford Botanic Garden: Don’t miss another of Oxford’s secrets – its huge Botanic Garden and nearby Arboretum. With glasshouses containing species from all over the world, a pretty walled garden, water and rock garden, Britain’s oldest botanic garden is always full of new delights. Look out for the recently-unveiled Philip Pullman Daemon Sculpture, honouring His Dark Materials which was partly set there. It joins the Cheshire Cat from another Oxford alumni, Lewis Carroll.
For all things Shakespeare, go to lovely Stratford-upon-Avon. You can see where all the stories began in the house where Shakespeare was born and grew up, as well as various other homes belonging to the family. One of the best is Mary Arden’s Farm, which brings to life a working Tudor farm. Stratford is a delightful market town and also home to the Royal Shakespeare Company, so you can catch world-class performances all year round.
Like this? Love Warwick Castle: For more history mixed with a lot of fun, head to nearby Warwick Castle. Founded by William the Conqueror, this enormous castle brings to life more than 1,000 years of history with lots of re-enactments, including a scary dungeon tour, Horrible Histories maze, the largest trebuchet in the world and a princess tower. Explore its grand interiors and lavish state rooms, as well as 64 acres of grounds.