Taking an unforgettable journey through England’s historic cities is easier than ever. Covering 3,000 years of history, it’s easy to hop on a train starting in London and make your way out of the bustling capital to explore England’s history and countryside.
Each city has a unique story to tell through its culture, heritage, and particularly, architecture. We’ve rounded up a list of architectural wonders, one from each of England’s historic cities, all just a train ride away from London.
The city of Bath, a UNESCO World Heritage Site synonymous with Georgian terraces, spas and all things Jane Austen, is most famously known for its Roman Baths. This architectural wonder was built around 70 AD and preserved for the enjoyment of history lovers. Walk in the footsteps of the Romans who used them to bathe and socialize. Make your way around the grounds with an audio guide to learn about the ancient chambers. Though swimming isn’t allowed at the Roman Baths, you can take to the soothing waters for yourself at the nearby Thermae Bath Spa. Once you’re well pampered, head to The Pump Room Restaurant to enjoy a traditional afternoon tea.
The city of Cambridge is all about history, culture and education. What better way to experience the city than being in the exact sites where world famous intellectuals like natural scientist Francis Bacon, poets including Alfred Tennyson and Lord Byron, and classical scholar Richard Bentley studied? Even if you’re not one of the Fellows or students at the University of Cambridge, the campus is open to the public. Visitors are welcomed to the Chapel, Great Court, and the Wren Library - home to medieval manuscripts and notably, notebooks belonging to Sir Isaac Newton - open to the public during select times and days of week.
No visit to Canterbury is complete without seeing UNESCO World Heritage Site, Canterbury Cathedral. This cathedral dates back to 597 AD, and was notably the gruesome location of the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170. The cathedral also played a part in the Medieval Ages as the beginning of a pilgrimage to the famous Santiago de Compostela route in Spain. Don’t miss the Great Cloister and Chapter House, the Martyrdom, Quire and Trinity Chapel.
Just a stone’s throw from Carlisle in north west England is Hadrian’s Wall. Walk in the footsteps of the Romans on the 73-mile long well-preserved and important Roman relic. Put on your hiking boots and get on the Birdoswald Trail to see all the highlights including 13th century Lanercost Priory, the tallest vantage point of the wall at Hare Hill, and Piper Sike Turrets - believed to be a living space for Roman soldiers. Or get on other trails like the Housesteads, Chesters or Corbridge Trails, depending on your interest. But whichever you choose, you’re guaranteed beautiful English countryside views.
Proudly sitting in the heart of Chester, Chester Cathedral was founded in 1092 as a Benedictine abbey and the seat of the Bishop of Chester since 1541. Spend a day at the cathedral with a guided Tower Tour which includes a climb to the top for a view over Chester while learning stories from more than 900 years of the cathedral’s history. Outside, take a walk through the gardens and book a falconry experience. Back indoors, enjoy a cup of coffee, afternoon tea or a light lunch in the beautiful stained glass windowed Refectory Cafe.
St. Paul’s Cathedral is a recognizable icon on the London skyline dating back to the 17th century, designed by Sir Christopher Wren. To get the most out of a visit to the cathedral, purchase a sightseeing ticket and join a knowledgeable guide for an Introductory Talk about the history and architecture, a Guided Tour of the cathedral floor, crypt, Geometric Staircase, and areas not usually open to visitors, or a Cathedral Art Tour for an art focused experience. Be sure to climb 259 steps up the dome for one of the best views of London, and on the way find The Whispering Gallery, where whispers are audible from one side of the dome to the other.
Durham Castle, another of England’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, along with Durham Cathedral, was built in the 10th century and is now part of Durham University. Taking a Durham Castle Tour will cover the history of the site, starting as a motte-and-bailey castle to a palace, and now a university. A guide will present this history through a visit to the Norman Chapel, clock tower, Tunstall gallery, Black Staircase, the Great Hall, and more Durham Castle highlights.
Put one foot in the west and one foot in the east when standing on the Prime Meridian - a.k.a. zero longitude - at the Royal Observatory Greenwich. The Prime Meridian has been a dividing point between the eastern and western hemispheres since the late 19th century. Learn about this history and stop by the oldest of the Royal Observatory buildings, Flamsteed House, and the iconic Shepherd gate clock.
More than 1,000 years of history are present at Lancaster Castle, dating back to the Roman times. It’s owned by The Duchy of Lancaster, which today, is owned by Her Majesty the Queen - who is also the Duke of Lancaster. The castle is known for its dark history. Even today, the castle is used as a Crown Court dealing with serious criminal offenses. It was also a prison from the mid-17th century until 2011 and the site of multiple executions, and the Lancashire Witch Trials. Hear stories of witchcraft, religious persecution, crime and punishment on one of the castle’s guided tours.
The Romans, Royals, Georgians, Victorians, and more throughout history have left their mark at Lincoln Castle. Built by William the Conqueror in 1068, the castle is best experienced through the Medieval Wall Walk. Walk the circumference of the castle to explore the towers and dungeons, and for views of Lincoln and the surrounding countryside. Don’t miss seeing an original copy of the Magna Carta, and a darker side of history by visiting the Victorian Prison to learn about how men, women and children of all ages survived life there.
Oxford, named ‘the city of dreaming spires’ because of its architecture, is home to the oldest university in England, Oxford University. One architectural icon in the city is Radcliffe Camera, which opened in 1749 as the Radcliffe Library and funded by John Radcliffe. Today, it’s a reading room for the Bodleian Library, one of the oldest libraries in Europe and J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for Hogwarts.
There is so much to see that covers 800 years of history at Salisbury Cathedral. The cathedral is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, Britain’s tallest spire, the world’s oldest working mechanical clock, and the largest cathedral close. Take a Tower Tour and climb 332 steps to view the interior of this architectural masterpiece. Or take a tour of the 15th century library, ending with a cream tea at the Refectory Restaurant. Among all these events and reasons to visit, the cathedral still holds daily services.
The world’s greatest playwright, William Shakespeare, was born in the Warwickshire countryside, in the medieval market town of Stratford-upon-Avon. The house where he was born and grew up still stands on Henley Street. Imagine seeing what Shakespeare saw while standing in front of his timber framed house. In the interior are costumed guides who will share the story of Shakespeare’s family life.
A Church of England cathedral in the heart of Truro in Cornwall, Truro Cathedral is one of only three cathedrals in the UK which has three spires. Though it has a history dating back to 1259, the cathedral was completed in 1910. A volunteer guide will present the fascinating history of the cathedral and point out a few of the must-sees, including the Pieta, carved by Breton monks in the 14th century, stained glass rose window, and St. Margaret’s Chapel.
Evidence of settlements in Worcester have been found to date back to 700 BC, making it one of the oldest cities in England. At Worcester Cathedral, the royal tombs of King John and Prince Arthur can be found, and it’s the home of the largest collection of Medieval manuscripts in a cathedral in the UK. Visitors can purchase access to the Tower for sweeping views over Worcestershire. Fun fact: It is also the birthplace of the American National Anthem.
Known as one of the world’s most magnificent cathedrals, York Minster is the center of Christianity in the north of England. Entry to the cathedral includes a free guided tour and access to the Undercroft Museum, which showcases artefacts dating back to York Minster's Roman beginnings. After exploring underground, head up to the highest point in York by climbing 275 steps up the Central Tower.