You know how Global Debauchery likes to find quirky spots around the globe. And I especially like to find them in places that aren’t typically considered all that unusual. Example—if I told you I was visiting England, you wouldn’t exactly say, “Oh wow, that’s unique.” But we’re gonna make it different. So here—with a little help from my fellow blogger friends—may I present to you: “Best Cities in England to Get Off-the-Beaten-Path.” Disclaimer: They’re not all cities. But they are all delightful. And, if you’re a fan of this, don’t forget to check out my off-beat London post, too.
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Colchester, the Very First of the Best Cities In England
Have you ever wondered where the first British town was? You might be surprised to hear that it wasn’t London. Dating back over 2000 years, the oldest recorded town is actually Colchester—a town in the middle of Essex. It was believed to be once the capital city of Roman Britain which means it’s a fantastic place to visit if you enjoy a little history.
Not only is Colchester full of history, it also has a charming high street with many boutique shops and restaurants. Its biggest and most famous attraction has got to be Colchester Castle, located just off the High Street and surrounded by lovely gardens.
The castle is an 11th-century Norman keep which is open to the public. It holds exhibitions and showcases artifacts from ancient Colchester. Castle Park, the grounds on which the castle sits, holds many activities all year, like local farmers’ markets, arts and craft stalls, concerts to medieval fairs. It’s, therefore, a great place for families, couples, and everyone in between!
Another great part of Colchester is the old wall surrounding the town. You can still find segments throughout, but the longest stretch is at Balkerne Hill and behind Castle Park. A pub called Hole In The Wall sits on the wall at Balkerne Hill and is a great place to grab, surprisingly, some Thai food. The monumental arch at Balkerne Hill is also the oldest surviving gateway in Britain. Another interesting archeological site is St Botolph’s Priory, which sits in ruins but maintains an impressive charm!
Colchester also offers some other (non-historical) activities such as Colchester Zoo, fantastic walking trails, and theatres. If you’re up for a beach day, then thirty minutes outside the town is the lovely island of Mersea which has a wonderful seaside feel. There’s a long sandy beach, seafood shacks, and a vineyard. You can take a guided tour of Colchester town which runs weekly; it’s known as the Camulodunum to Colchester Tour and explores the dramatic events that shaped the town. It costs £6 p/p and £3 for a child. For a unique and historic British experience, Colchester is one of the best cities in England.
Contribution by: Abigail from I’m Going On An Adventure
Get Off-Beat in the Non-City of Hackfall Woods
Nestled in the stunning countryside of Nidderdale AONB, Hackfall Woods is the perfect place for an off-the-beaten-path adventure. Hackfall was landscaped by William Aislabie during the 17th century and was described as “one of the most beautiful woods in the country.” The site was reclaimed by nature for several years until a huge investment in the early 2000s transformed the woods back to their former glory. Today, Woodland Trust maintains the site.
A visit to Hackfall isn’t a regular walk in the woods! Stepping into Hackfall woods is like setting foot into a fairytale. You will encounter forgotten follies and hidden waterfalls. Some of the highlights not to be missed include the restored fountain pond which propels water into the air using a hand pump, plus a dramatic forty-foot waterfall. Pause to soak up the beautiful views from Lovers Leap and seek out the remains of the magical Fisher’s Hall.
It is easiest to access Hackfall by car. There is a free car park at the entrance (HG4 3BS). You can pick up a map of the woodland trails from here. Alternatively, you can catch the 825 bus which runs between Selby and Masham and stops at Hackfall.
Contribution by: Hannah from Get Lost Travel Blog
Get Charmed in One of The Best Cities in England, Hebden Bridge
Located in West Yorkshire, Hebden Bridge is a charming little city that will take you back to old England. The buildings are all made from stone, and Ed Sheeren even grew up there.
The best way to explore is by foot, and I recommend spending the day exploring different parts of the town. You can walk in the park and along the Rochdale Canal. If you go for a walk along the canal, you’ll see houseboats where locals live part-time or full-time.
When in town, make sure to grab a bite to eat at a local restaurant. If you want to do some shopping, my favorite store I recommend visiting is The Yorkshire Soap. It is full of handmade soaps, and my favorite soaps were the ones that looked like cupcakes. Everyone in the city was so friendly and welcoming everywhere we went. Some of the best things I think to do in the town is just walking around and seeing all the unique shops they have, and if you are visiting on the weekend, you might get lucky and run into a farmer’s market.
I also recommend visiting in the fall. Although the weather may be a bit damp and chilly, the trees all start to turn bright red and orange, making for a beautiful contrast with the stone buildings. Hebden Bridge is lovely, and I highly recommend you stop there to experience one of the best cities in England.
Contribution by: Ali from Inspired Lifestyle Blog
The Off-Beat & Beautiful Isles of Scilly
The Isles of Scilly are located off the coast of Cornwall in the far west of England. The Scillies—made up of five inhabited isles and many uninhabited ones—are tranquil and beautiful, but the journey to reach them is long. The islands are famed for their beautiful beaches, and even in the height of summer, the stretches of sand are mostly deserted.
Each island is unique, and it’s easy to travel between them using the regular boat service. The main isle of St Mary’s offers the widest choice of accommodation and restaurants, and it’s a good option for families who are looking for lots to do—a museum, bike hire, and water sports are all available. St Martin’s is the island to head for if you’re after those picture-perfect beaches with fine white sand and vivid blue seas. Tresco is a private island with luxury accommodation, and the isles of Bryher and St Agnes have the most remote and wild feel, perfect for long walks along the beach and escaping the stresses of modern life.
Reach the Isles of Scilly by plane from Exeter, Newquay, or Lands End, but most travelers take the sea crossing from Penzance. Visitors cannot bring a car to the islands; the modes of transport are generally your feet, a bicycle, or a boat. While islands and not cities, the Isles of Scilly absolutely belong in this “Best Cities in England” rundown.
Contribution by: Annabel from Smudged Postcard
Picture-Perfect Knaresborough, One of The Best Cities in England
Knaresborough is a historic market town and one of the prettiest places in Yorkshire. If you are looking for one of the best cities in England to get off-the-beaten-path, then Knaresborough should definitely be on your travel list. Even though the town is small and compact, there are plenty of historical and cultural tourist attractions in Knaresborough that will make you fall in love with this charming town.
Steeped in history, Knaresborough is most famous for its stunning railway viaduct towering over the River Nidd, the Mother Shipton’s Cave, and the petrifying well—one of the oldest visitor attractions in England.
For the most breathtaking view of the viaduct and the River Nidd, visit the Knaresborough Castle, a ruined medieval fortress. Also, visit the adjacent Courthouse Museum. Here, you will learn the history of Knaresborough and its many colorful residents.
After that, hire a rowing boat from the nearby River Nidd Waterside to admire the view of the layered houses and the viaduct. Get lost in the cute cobbled streets of this picturesque town. Walking is the best way to explore it.
It takes around 24 minutes from York and 45 minutes from Leeds to reach Knaresborough by the Northern train service. Also, there are bus services from Harrogate.
Contribution by: Moumita & Sankha from Chasing the Long Road
You Can’t Be Crabby In Looe
The beautiful town of Looe is an absolute must-visit location, whether you’re visiting with family, friends, or your partner. Situated near the Cornwall-Devon border, Looe is a bustling fishing town full of fun activities accessible on foot.
The best method of visiting is by car, and we’d recommend parking at Millbay Car Park due to its location and the number of spaces available. Spaces can fill up quickly, however, so you may need to wait or be inventive with your parking. Alternatively, as it is only 20 miles from Plymouth, getting the train is also a viable option.
While eating locally caught fish and chips on Looe’s beach is undoubtedly the main attraction, there are many more activities that Looe offers; our favorite is crabbing. Many stores sell crabbing nets and bait at a very reasonable price along the harbor. It’s a great activity for everyone and goes well with an ice cream in hand. Looe also makes its own gin at Copperfish Gin Distillery, which is a great place to stop off for a tasting session with your companion(s).
If you get the chance, Looe is a must-visit, and one of the best cities in England to get off-the-beaten-path.
Contribution by: Alex and Leah from Alex and Leah On Tour
The Must-Love Village of Minster Lovell
The quaint and beautiful Cotswolds village of Minster Lovell is found in Witney in West Oxfordshire. This underrated village is rarely visited but has some beautiful things to see. From the rows and rows of chocolate box houses, a great pub, The Old Swan, and a stunning spa and hotel, Minster Mill—which is set in 65 acres of beautiful gardens and meadows and offers afternoon tea from Wednesday to Sunday.
The highlight has to be the ruins of Minster Lovell Hall and Dovecote, however. Set next to the picturesque River Windrush, the manor house was built in the 15th century by one of the richest men in England (Baron Lovell), but has been left in ruins since the 18th century and is currently looked after by English Heritage. They can be visited all year round for free, but Autumn is particularly beautiful, as there are plenty of tall trees surrounding the Hall.
The best way to explore the village is by foot but it can be difficult to find these ruins. The easiest way is to walk behind the St. Kenelm’s church graveyard or along the river behind the cricket grounds. For a truly off-the-beaten-path adventure, one of the best cities in England to visit is Minster Lovell.
Contribution by: Roshni from The Wanderlust Within
A Whole Off-Beat County—Northumberland
Northumberland County is England’s most northerly county. Visitors often pass over it, heading straight to Scotland instead. But the county has an incredible history and stunning beauty, and there are some amazing places to visit in Northumberland.
There are more than 70 castles here. The most recognizable of which is Alnwick Castle, used as Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies and only one of the reasons to visit the lovely market town of Alnwick. You’ll also find the Holy Island of Lindisfarne here, an island with a tidal causeway that is only accessible at certain times of the day. There’s a stunning ruined priory, Lindisfarne Castle, some rather lovely walks here, and the home of Lindisfarne Mead – made to a centuries-old recipe.
Further offshore are the Farne Islands, where puffins, migratory birds, and seals make their homes. The stunning Longstone Lighthouse has incredible views and equally interesting history involving a famous rescue in the 1800s by a lighthouse keeper and his daughter, Grace Darling. Learn more about her story and details of the rescue at the RNLI Museum in the lovely village of Bamburgh just down the coast.
Northumberland is the least populated county of England, making its wildness all the more special, especially in places like the National Park and the stunning Kielder Water. Northumbrians know how to make you feel welcome, and you must try the local fare while you’re here. A favorite breakfast item here is smoked kippers, and the best place to get them is the Robson smokehouse in Craster.
Contribution by: Sarah from Northumberland’s Best
Stroll Mermaid Street In Rye
A stone’s throw away from the beautiful East Sussex seaside and one of the best cities in England for off-beat touring, Rye is an idyllic little town that is both quintessentially quaint and refreshingly trendy. Just 2 hours from London, either driving or by train, Rye is a great option for a day out.
Many start the tour by strolling along the harbor on the River Brede. Pay a quick visit to the heritage center to learn about the history of the area and have a peek at some quirky collectibles and vintage knickknacks at the many antique boutiques and craft shops behind The Deals.
Head to the center of town by taking the hillside road of Mermaid Street, which is renowned as one of the prettiest and most characteristic in Britain. At the top of the hill, you can get stunning views of the traditional medieval houses and find the 600-year-old Mermaid Inn. Make sure to pop in for a peek and step back in time while you dine in the coziness of the restaurant.
From there, make your way to the Church of Saint Mary and climb the bell tower for stunning views over the mossy rooftops of the town, the harbor, and the castle. Finish your visit by visiting the castle itself, where you can admire authentic artworks and artifacts from medieval times.
Contribution by: Giulia from Jules’ Trails
Time Your Visit to Spurn Point
Spurn Point—not a city—in East Yorkshire still deserves a spot on the Best Cities in England to Get Off-the-Beaten-Path list. And here’s why: the remote and exposed spit of land, sometimes known as “Yorkshire’s Land’s End,” is 3.5 miles long but only 50 meters wide in some places.
Once home to a military garrison of 1,500, protecting the mouth of the River Humber, Spurn Nature Reserve is owned by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and teems with wildlife. It’s a haven for bird watchers, and you might see wild deer and grey seals.
Check tide times before visiting, as Spurn is cut off by the tide twice a day. The most exciting way to visit Spurn is to park at the visitor center and take a “Spurn Safari” on a Unimog military vehicle along the long windswept path to the Spurn lighthouse. As part of the trip, you’ll get to explore inside the old lighthouse for incredible views of the river, the North Sea, and Spurn itself.
Don’t miss seeing the lifeboat station, the abandoned military defenses, and the old lighthouse, and enjoy the view of the old military forts built to protect the river from enemy shipping. And remember your camera as Spurn is wonderful to photograph!
Contribution by: Coralie from Grey Globetrotters
Visit Ventnor & Steephill Cove on Isle of Wight
One of the best cities in England to get off-the-beaten-path is Ventnor on the Isle of Wight. Located in the very south of the UK, this spot is easily reachable with a short 45-minute boat ride from the city of Southampton or Portsmouth. It’s a great place to visit all year round; however, the spring and summer are best for the weather.
Ventnor is the perfect place for getting out in nature and enjoying the beachfront along the water’s edge. There are calm waters for paddling, swimming, and sunbathing on the stony beach. And some typical British restaurants and food locations along the seafront too. You also have the local donkey sanctuary, heritage museum, and of course, some local shopping in the quaint Victorian town.
For something on land, head over to Steephill Cove via the Ventnor Botanical Gardens. Here, you can explore the beautiful (and free!) public gardens. When you get a little hungry, head to the cove for some local fish dishes and eat the best lobster on the island! If you fancy something sweet, try some freshly baked cakes. Both options are great to take away and eat along the seafront.
Contribution by: Zoe from Together In Transit
The Baby City of Wells
Wells is the smallest city in England and is located close to its more famous neighbors, Glastonbury, Bath, and Bristol. Behind the city are the Mendip Hills, which give way to the flat expanse of the Somerset Levels.
As a small city, Wells is more like a small town with the history of a city. It can be visited easily in a day with all of the main sights within walking distance. These are centered around the bustling marketplace and high street, with several independent shops.
Wells Cathedral is at the top of the high street, beyond the market square. The cathedral is spectacular, with the west front covered in over 300 statues. Inside it is equally beautiful, with painted ceilings and intricate stonework.
Next to the Cathedral is the Bishop’s Palace. The combination of ruins and a small chapel, set in beautiful gardens with views of the cathedral, is beautiful. The palace is surrounded by a moat home to swans and kingfishers, adding to the beauty of the place.
Visit Wells by bus from Bristol or Bath. There is no train station. The easiest way to visit Wells is by car, and it is located on the A39 south of Bristol.
Contribution by: Suzanne from Meandering Wild
What Are Your Best Cities in England for Off-Beat Travel Recs?
So, after your visit to London, incorporate these spots into your perfect UK road trip itinerary and have an absolute blast. What are we missing? Have you been to any of these places before? Any and all feedback welcomed; tell me everything! Or, reach out via my Contact page.
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