Our Favourite Places to Visit in Berkshire
Looking to spend some time in the home counties? Here are our top places to visit in Berkshire.
The home counties are best known for their rolling hills, scenic countryside – and being quite middle-to-upper-class and near London. Possibly the most "home counties” of all the home counties, Berkshire doesn’t disappoint on any of those fronts. In about 30 minutes from London's Paddington Station, you’ll be able to stroll down idyllic stretches of the River Thames (some of which inspired the Wind in the Willows), eat at the UK’s only three-Michelin-star restaurants outside London and gaze at the National Trust’s oldest tree where Henry VIII courted Anne Boleyn (it’s the Ankerwycke Yew, and it clocks in at an estimated 2,500 years old).
Berkshire’s royal connections continue today: Kate Middleton grew up in pretty Pangbourne, and we all know the Queen’s second home is Windsor Castle (well, they do call it ‘Royal Berkshire’ after all). So with Big L’s Queen Elizabeth II’s stamp of approval and all its natural beauty, you’re in for a pretty good time in Berkshire. And with standards that high, you might as well go ahead and book into a Plum Guide home in Berkshire, one of our collection of new curated destinations that reflect a newfound desire to seek out somewhere a little more rural and low-key. Read on for Plum Guide’s insider tips on where to book, and places to visit in Berkshire. We are experts at this sort of thing, after all.
We’re not sure what DH Lawrence was thinking when he gave this charming village on the Thames the nickname ‘Pongbourne’ in 1919. Pangbourne’s notable residents have included The Wind in the Willows writer Kenneth Grahame and one Kate Middleton, now Duchess of Cambridge (and if it’s good enough for Kate…). All in all, Pangbourne is a pretty good day out. Think river walks (it’s on the National Thames Pathway), chocolate-boxy buildings, quaint English pubs and a village fete with a limbo competition, if you time it right.
Within easy day-trip reach of London, Windsor is one of our favourite places to visit in Berkshire – and it’s definitely one for any royalists out there, if you've exhausted all of London's royal attractions. A day out in Windsor might go like this: a walk around one of the Queen’s more famous houses, Windsor Castle, whose 900-year history began with William the Conqueror, or a visit to Harry and Meghan’s wedding reception venue, Frogmore House to start. Next up, it’s lunch at the classically English pub The George Inn, and possibly a tasting at its affiliated brewery – Windsor & Eton Brewery – which supplies bottled beer for Waitrose and the House of Commons. And then the afternoon could consist of a walk around the 2,020-hectare Windsor Great Park, once the private hunting ground of Windsor Castle, or with a jaunt up the river on a private boat.
This affluent 16th-century village on the River Thames is one for the food lovers: two of the UK’s five three Michelin-star restaurants are in Bray (the other three are in London). One is Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck (famous for its snail porridge, but don’t worry, there are other things on the molecular gastronomy-infused menu like red cabbage gazpacho, truffle and oak toast with langoustine cream, and nitro scrambled egg and bacon ice cream). The other is The Waterside Inn, an exploration of the very best in classic French cooking from Alain Roux, with a dining room right on the riverbank. If you can’t get a booking at either of these, you’ll do just fine with The Hind’s Head (Blumenthal’s one Michelin-star spot) and regional Italian spot Caldesi in Campagna. Or stay for a few days and try them all. Our seven-bedroom, seven-bathroom property Water Violet, just up the river in Maidenhead makes a good case for a longer stay with a crowd – or a family, if you're travelling to Berkshire with kids – with its open-plan living spaces, thoughtful design and large lawn that slopes right down to the Thames.
A walk along the river and past the lock at Sonning is about as stunning as English villages get – at least until you take a walk through the churchyard and gorgeously chocolate-boxy houses in Sonning village itself. Do visit the the original Coppa Club restaurant and bar for an aperitif on its popular riverside lawn, and catch a show at The Mill theatre, in a converted 18th century flour mill. You might even spot George Clooney, Sonning’s most famous current resident, who has been known to visit the local pub The Bull. Or you can at least sample his Casamigos tequila, which is stocked behind the bar there.
Once you’ve checked into Plum Guide’s upscale Timber & Brick farmhouse just outside Newbury – and made full use of the freestanding copper bath, caught some rays on the outdoor sun-loungers and roamed around the surrounding fields – you might want to actually explore the area. Newbury is one of our favourite places to visit in Berkshire for its history, horses and theatre. Head to the 16th-century Shaw House, which has served as everything from a school to a battleground and a duke’s residence, and Donnington Castle, if you like your history to be more medieval. Newbury Racecourse provides a good equine day out, while the Watermill Theatre is one of the country’s best regional theatres, often bringing its shows to the West End.