The Best of Blighty: 12 Things to Do in England
Enjoy England with Plum Guide’s curated list of historical places, natural beauty spots – and where to drink English wine
We may as well get the cliché out of the way first: it does rain in England. But not as much as you might believe. According to people who like to measure this sort of thing, New York, Miami, Rio, Sydney and Mexico City all have more rainy days than London. And on the days it’s not raining, you’re all set to explore England's rolling hills giving way to shimmering lakes, sprawling golden beaches and bloom-filled gardens. Plus, there are plenty of fascinating historical sites and top drawer restaurants to dive into if you do end up caught in a downpour. Read on for Plum Guide’s curated list of things to do in England. We are experts in this kind of thing, after all (if you’re looking for more reassurance, just look at our professionally vetted collection of the top 3% of holiday rental homes in some of the country’s top locations).
Enjoy the beach at Mersea Island
This Essex island offers British seaside charm in spades with its beach-view cottages, meadows and welcoming foodie spots. Bring your own bread and wine to The Company Shed seafood shack to try just-caught local seafood, and sample the island’s wine at Mersea Island Vineyard. The island is also part of a programme to reintroduce red squirrels back to the UK, so you might spot one if you’re lucky. Do check the tide times before you arrive and when you plan to leave, since the road to the island can at times be inaccessible – though it’s worth the minor inconvenience, since the setup makes for peace, quiet and a slower pace of life.
Go punting on the River Cam
It may be best known for its university, but Cambridge isn’t all about academia (all work, no play, and all that). With a bucolic, green feel, this is one of the best UK cities for spending long summer days outdoors. And, amongst the many things to do in Cambridge, one of the most quintessentially English things to do in England is punting on the River Cam. Rent your own punt or go for an effortless (on your part, at least) chauffeured punt with a reputable company like Scudamore’s. Wend your way peacefully through the city via its main waterway, peeking into the “College Backs” (the gardens and grounds that back onto the river) while trying your darnedest not to fall in.
Explore Hampton Court Palace
This 16th century Tudor palace with baroque flourishes was once the home of Henry VIII. It’s probably the place for a peek into the lifestyle of one of England’s most infamous (and chubbiest) kings. The maze is well worth getting lost in, but the riverside garden is the best bit – if you're anything like us, you'll get a kick from how meticulously aligned the tiny hedges and flowerbeds are.
Discover Kew Gardens
Botanists have been bringing plants to Kew from around the world for more than 250 years – and today’s result is a Unesco-protected gardener’s dream filled with more than 50,000 plants. Wander through expertly curated rose gardens, a Mediterranean garden, and the world’s largest Victorian glasshouses, filled with exotic leafy, floral and occasionally fruity species from Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific Islands. And when you're done exploring all that greenery, retire to one of Richmond's gorgeous tranquil townhouses, like the lovely Vicarage Gardens – vetted by the Plum team.
Escape to Holkham Beach and Nature Reserve in Norfolk
Take a walk around this coastal nature reserve for forest, salt-marshes, dunes and stretches of seemingly endless golden sand. This beauty spot appeared in Shakespeare in Love and shows off some of Norfolk’s best natural assets. Once you've hiked up an appetite, sate yourself with upscale English pub fare at The Victoria Inn. And after that, fear not, because there are plenty more things to do in Norfolk too.
See the ponies in the New Forest
This swathe of unspoilt heath and woodland is best known for its wild ponies, which have roamed and grazed the land in New Forest National Park for millennia. There are about 5,000, so you won’t have much difficulty finding them. Also explore walking and cycling trails through majestic pines, redwoods, oaks and yews.
Ponder the mysteries of Stonehenge
On everyone's checklist of things to do in England is this neolithic stone circle. No one knows quite how it arrived in the Wiltshire countryside, 5,000(ish) years ago – or, indeed, why. It may have been a solar calendar, the marker of an ancient burial ground or ceremonial complex, but since they weren’t into keeping records back then, we can't know for sure. Still, a visit to these mysterious stones standing in the middle of picturesque green fields is well worth your time, especially at sunset.
Set sail on Lake Windermere
With different options ranging from yachts to Canadian-style canoes and even a ferry, there’s a lake-faring option for anyone wishing to get out on the Lake District National Park's Lake Windermere. Your reward? A deep-green, tree-clad mountain panorama from a shimmering watery viewpoint. If you're looking to spend the night in the Lake District, try one of Plum Guide's cosy lakeside homes.
Have a history lesson in York
JK Rowling recently came out and said she’d never actually been to The Shambles – a narrow, cobbled street with wonderfully wonky 13th-century timber buildings that’s long been sold as the inspiration for a place in her Harry Potter novels. The less said about that the better – but those who couldn’t care less about wizards won’t be disappointed by the old-worldly feel of this street at the heart of a city that wears its history proudly on its sleeve. Do try Roly’s Fudge Pantry, do visit the beautiful York Minister cathedral, and be sure to visit one of the city’s many ‘haunted’ pubs. Later on, indulge in artfully presented seasonal contemporary cuisine at Le Cochon Aveugle, or its more laidback wine bar Cave du Cochon.
Visit Land’s End
The famous counterpart to Scotland’s John O’Groats, Land's End is at England’s most south-westerly point – surrounded on three sides by the Atlantic Ocean. Take a windswept walk in this protected Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to explore pretty coves and grassland thick with wildflowers. Be sure to stick around for sunset.
Go for a tasting in an English vineyard
England’s wine-producing nous has been maturing of late – and one of the country’s best vineyards is Chapel Down in Kent. Pay a visit to see the sun-soaked vines and have a tutored tasting of some of their best grapes. Chapel Down's sparkling wine is the official beverage quaffed at the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, so you know you're in good hands.
Bathe like a Roman in Bath
You may not want to sip the spring waters on offer at the Roman Baths – in our opinion, the strange taste simply isn’t worth the health benefits. That aside, the Roman-era plunge pools that made up this former bathing and socialising hotspot are well worth exploring. But the most wonderful part? There’s a modern spa here too, with treatment rooms and various pools that make full use of the hot springs for all your wellness needs.