Far too many international visitors visit England just to check out London. While the capital is indeed one of the world’s great destinations, there are plenty more cities just a short rail journey away that also offer incredible appeal. It would be a stretch to suggest a day trip would be suitable for the cities that make this guide, but for a multi-destination vacation, they are all easily accessible within a short rail journey. Brits moan about their trains all the time, but being able to travel between such distinctive cities so easily is an absolute delight!
So for this quick guide, we’ll take a look at the cities outside of London that will reward visitors willing to leave the capital’s clutches.
Perhaps the best possible stopover for those heading over the border to Edinburgh/Scotland, this is rightly regarded as Briton’s favorite city. Who couldn’t like a city with a heritage based on Roman occupation, Viking conquest, medieval charm, and world-transforming industry?
This walled city has long expanded beyond the ancient boundaries, yet still, the city skyline remains dominated by the enormous Minster. Dating back to the 7th century and extended over the following few hundred years, this is considered one of Europe’s most beautiful and significant religious buildings. Strolling around the city itself is a delight, with the authentically medieval ‘Shambles’ featured in countless movies over the years.
Museums and galleries abound, but be sure not to miss the fascinating National Railway Museum, Yorkshire Museum, Yorvik Viking Experience and Barley Hall. All are suitable for kids with plenty of interactive displays and expert guides to explain the details to accompanying adults.
Once one of the largest shipbuilding cities in the world, the river Tyne still dominates the geography of this fabulous city offering iconic views from every angle. Like many formerly industrial English towns, Newcastle has been thoroughly modernized in recent years while paying absolute respect to the existing heritage.
There’s plenty to see and explore – be sure to check out the various museums devoted to the huge amounts of archeological discoveries made in this former outpost of the Roman Empire. For true enthusiasts, just a little north are some of the most important and best-preserved sites in the country.
But Newcastle is famous for one thing in particular. The nightlife. Few cities in the world come close to the sociability of this city, with the ‘Geordie’ locals endlessly welcoming and happy to help teach visitors some of the local dialects. Carnivals, festivals and outdoor music takes place seemingly every weekend in this most vibrant and expressive of cities.
On the other coast, yet still, only a couple of hours by train to most places is Manchester. Home of course to two of the biggest soccer teams in the world, this city is incredibly rich when it comes to things for the visitor to enjoy. Whatever you are interested in – you will find it here. Many visitors prefer it to London thanks to being a large city but less crowded and certainly more ‘authentic’ – whatever that means!
Key attractions have to be the museums. The Museum of Science and Industry is considered one of the best of its kind in Europe, which alongside the Museum of Transport serve to magically rekindle the great industrial heritage of this proud city. Just outside the center is the Imperial War Museum North, taking a greater focus on social history alongside various weapons of war than it’s parent building in London.
For art, you are spoiled for choice. The Manchester Art Gallery has not just a wonderful variety of masterpieces from local and world-renowned artists, but be sure to check out the Lowry (named for the artist) to see precious works that are rarely shared.
A short hop from Manchester brings you to one of the most famous musical cities on Earth. As expected, The Beatles are still much loved and yes – you can visit the famous Cavern Club – but we’ll don’t forget to look at what else Merseyside has to offer. There’s a staggering amount to see here!
The Walker Art Gallery is home to many legitimate masterpieces and demands at least a few hours to really enjoy. In the mood for something a little more interactive? The World Museum is not only free (as many of the attractions in this article are) to enter, but absolutely fascinating. Something you will notice about Liverpool is how much like Newcastle, there is a very welcoming and distinctive character here that offers a very unique sense of internationalism. If architecture is your thing – the RIBA North is unmissable.
Liverpool also acknowledges its role in darker centuries by being host to an enthralling Museum of Slavery. After this, it may time for something to lift your spirits so check out the astonishing live music scene with something great scheduled every evening. In the morning, take the time to revisit the Mersey and explore the Maritime Museum – great fun and with plenty of interactive displays to enjoy.
After all these mighty northern cities it’s time to head back down South and take in somewhere a little more quaint. Canterbury is, of course, famous for the ancient cathedral and remains today the home of the Church of England. With a very rich roman heritage still evident in near perfect city walls, the Roman Museum is perhaps the best of its kind in the country. You’ll find lots of Roman-era relics dotted about the country, but if anywhere was the ‘capital’ of such museums this would be the one.
The city (it is a small city!) remains near perfect in the center, with classic timbered buildings dating back to the Tudor era seemingly still the local architectural vogue. There are other local museums staffed mostly by enthusiastic locals, with the Canterbury Tales providing a lovely little sojourn into medieval times in between wandering the unspoiled streets.
What better way to end around the country tour than a nice pint of Kentish ale! Check out the pubs here – and watch your head as many are still surprisingly low ceilinged they have been serving thirsty travelers for so long.
London is only a very quick train journey away and before you know it, you’re back in the hustle and bustle of the modern world. What you will take from this trip is that even though the capital has world-class attractions abound, there’s still so much else to see and explore across this fascinating distinctive island.