If you go beyond the major cities of London, Birmingham, and Manchester, you’ll find hundreds of charming, inviting little towns that have inspired numerous poets, painters, and playwrights throughout the centuries.
It’s like getting a warm hug from the countryside when you see a charming row of cottages. Here is a list of the most charming tiny towns in England, each of which is steeped in sometimes ancient history and packed with sometimes old pubs.
England’s green and pleasant land is brimming with charm, from historic fishing hamlets to picturesque country towns, and is wonderfully well connected by national rail links. If you’re considering a journey across the pond, keep reading for the idyllic break you’ll need.
1. Avebury, Wiltshire
Many people have heard of Stonehenge, but few have heard of Avebury, a charming village less than an hour’s drive from the huge monoliths. Despite being only a fraction of the age of its Neolithic neighbor, Avebury has a rich history extending back over 1,000 years.
The grand 16th-century Avebury Manor and Garden, as well as the glorious village pub, The Red Lion, which is famous for its roaring fire and warming comfort food, surround much of the village, while more modern highlights include the grand 16th-century Avebury Manor and Garden and glorious village pub, The Red Lion, which is famed for its roaring fire and warming comfort food.
Southwold is a picturesque English seaside town with village greens, pebble-clad homes, and sandy beaches, located within the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Its 190-meter (620-foot) pier (constructed 1900) is a superb illustration of what the heyday of English seaside entertainment looked like; unlike others, the English beach holiday of yesteryear is alive and well on Southwold Pier, thanks to the introduction of retro-style coin machine games.
3. Tintagel, Cornwall
Tintagel, on Cornwall’s stunning Atlantic coast, is intimately associated with King Arthur’s mythology, who is said to have governed from his fortress here. As a result, the craggy cliffside castle ruins, as well as Merlin’s Cave, a natural cavern at the base of the cliffs where the magician is said to have dwelt, are major tourist attractions.
Grab a steaming hot Cornish pasty from the suitably titled Cornish Bakery and a cream tea from King Arthur’s Café in the town itself before heading to Roly’s Fudge Pantry for dessert. St. Nectan’s Glen, just outside of town, is a wonderful site with its own rich stories and a majestic 60-foot waterfall at its core, if you’re up for a short trip.
This northern town with a name most people associate with its most renowned product: Bakewell pudding, a pastry casing with a bottom layer of jam and a frangipane filling, is populated by stone buildings right out of a storybook.
Aside from cuisine, the town is quite old, dating back to Anglo-Saxon times – the Grade I listed Bakewell Parish Church was built in 920 AD. The surrounding area, which is located in the heart of the Derbyshire Dales, is full of well-trodden hiking routes.
5. Lavenham, Suffolk
Lavenham was one of the wealthiest cities in England throughout the 15th century, because of a thriving wool trade. Workers left in droves as a result of cheaper imports from Europe, and the town became frozen in time. It still looks the same today as it did back then, with lovely mediaeval buildings leaning carelessly into one another in a riot of drunken pastels and woods.
As a result, walking down the high street feels like you’re in a fairy tale — or a Hollywood film, as Lavenham has been in a number of the latter, most notably as Harry Potter’s birthplace in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One. There are a number of good restaurants hidden behind the jumbled facades, but first-time visitors should make a beeline for the wonderful Lavenham Guildhall, where you may enjoy tea in a remarkably well-preserved Tudor room.
Between 1174 and 1482, it was the most fought-over town in European history, changing possession 14 times from England to Scotland. Eventually, England triumphed — despite the local dialect is strikingly close to Scots, and the local football team is the only English team to compete in the Scottish League.
Berwick-upon-Tweed is now well-known for its visible history, which includes mediaeval town walls, Elizabethan ramparts, 13th-century castle remnants, a 17th-century ‘Old Bridge,’ town hall, Britain’s first army barracks, and England’s northernmost hotel, among other things. That’s a lot of background information.
7. Shaftesbury, Dorset
Shaftesbury is a huge charmer, home to Gold Hill, the steep, cobblestone roadway deemed “one of the most charming views in England.” The ruins of Shaftesbury Abbey, constructed in 888 AD by King Alfred, the man credited with founding England, may also be found in the little Dorset town. Fontmell Down, Duncliffe Wood, and Melbury Beacon — a hilltop that was part of the line of beacons linking London to Plymouth in 1588 to warn of the approaching Spanish Armada — are all within a short distance of Shaftesbury, providing plenty of opportunities for picnicking.
The first permanent colony was established in 656 by King Oswy of Northumbria, who constructed a monastery. The spectacular remains of Whitby Abbey, built in the 14th century, now exist in its place. It was a key inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which is partly set here, and it attracts visitors and goths alike – the Whitby Goth Festival is held twice a year in the town.
And as you gaze out to sea from East Cliff’s gothic stones, you may imagine fellow travelers such as Captain James Cook and arctic explorer William Scoresby who once called this historic fishing harbor home.
England is famous around the world for resembling a Christmas card or something out of The Hobbit. And that’s not a fictitious image: all you have to do is look past the country’s major cities to find it. These were the small towns and villages of England.