12 places you won’t believe are in England

Provence or Gloucestershire? Cornwall or the Med? Here are England’s most beautiful backdrops

Rhiannon Curry
Thursday 25 January 2024 09:50 GMT
Stunning aerial footage shows whale playing with dolphins off the Isles of Scilly

You don’t have to go beyond England’s borders to find some amazing places. From hidden beaches to ancient buildings, this country has plenty of destinations which look like they could be a plane ride away but are actually in your own back yard. No need to pack your passport: here are 12 of the best.

Read our hotel reviews for perfect stays across the UK.

Pedn Vounder Beach, Cornwall

(Visit Britain)

This sweeping beach with its turquoise water and white sand could be a Greek or Caribbean island, but is actually at the very tip of Cornwall. Smaller than its more famous neighbour Porthcurno, Pedn Vounder has remained relatively off-limits to tourists thanks to its tricky approach. But if you’re willing to scale a rugged cliff path to climb down onto the sand, the reward of a crystal clear sea and a secluded cove will be yours.

The best hotels in Cornwall

Lavender fields, Gloucestershire

(Visit Britain)

It might look like the rolling hills of Provence, but these lavender fields are actually in Gloucestershire. In a typical English summer the distinctive purple plants should start to come into flower mid-June, with the best time to see them in early to mid-July. Farms offer entry for a small fee.

The best hotels in the Cotswolds

The Roman Baths, Bath, Somerset

(Visit Britain)

Step into ancient history and spend an afternoon wandering the Roman bathhouse complex in Bath. Built over a 46C hot spring, the Romans would have bathed here before jumping into a cold pool to reinvigorate themselves. Set alongside a temple dedicated to the healing goddess Sulis-Minerva, the baths now form one of the world’s best-preserved ancient Roman spas, and are encircled by beautiful 18th- and 19th-century buildings.

The best hotels in Bath

Cheddar Gorge, Somerset

(Visit Britain)

Cheddar Gorge is a natural rock formation in the Mendip Hills and is lined by Britain’s highest inland limestone cliffs, rising 450ft. Beneath your feet there is a cave system formed by a subterranean river over millions of years, where it is possible to see stalactites and stalagmites. In 1903, Britain’s oldest complete human skeleton, Cheddar Man, estimated to be over 9,000 years old, was found at the site.

The Painted Hall, Greenwich, London

(Visit Britain)

The Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich reopened in 2019 after a two-year conservation project to bring its magnificent ceiling back to life. The room has been referred to as the Sistine Chapel of the UK – its vast decorated interior, extending to 4,000 square metres, was designed by famous architect Sir Christopher Wren in the early 18th century as a ceremonial dining room for what was then the new Royal Hospital for Seamen.

The best hotels in London

Bowfell mountain, Lake District, Cumbria

(Visit Britain)

A casual observer could mistake the snowy peaks of Bowfell mountain for somewhere in the Alps. It is the area’s sixth highest peak, standing at 2,960 feet, and is in an amazing spot for views at the head of the Langdale valley – making it popular with walkers.

The best boutique hotels in the Lake District

Tresco Abbey Garden, Isles of Scilly

Tresco Abbey Gardens
Tresco Abbey Gardens (Michael Day)

The sub-tropical climate in the Isles of Scilly means thousands of exotic plants can flourish at Tresco Abbey Garden. The garden was built in the 19th century around the ruins of a Benedictine Abbey and is now home to species from across the world, from Brazil to New Zealand and Myanmar to South Africa. It’s quite easy to while away a day meandering among sheltered glades of tree ferns or strolling along sunny terraces, gazing out across the borders to the ocean views beyond.

The best hotes in the Isles of Scilly

Rathfinny Wines, Alfriston, Sussex

(Visit Britain)

Sussex is perhaps not the first place you would associate with wine production, but this vineyard in the South Downs produces exemplary English sparkling wines thanks to a lucky combination of chalk soil, temperate climate and south-facing slopes. Pick a sunny day and enjoy lunch in the vineyard’s restaurant and you could almost be in Champagne.

The best hotels in West Sussex

Minack Theatre, Porthcurno, Cornwall

(Visit Britain)

Perched on a cliff on the edge of the Atlantic, the Minack Theatre could have been hewn by ancient civilisations – but in reality was built by a local theatre-loving woman, Rowena Cade, in the 1930s. Today, it is a spectacular venue for drama, musicals and opera throughout the summer months.

Wastwater, Lake District, Cumbria

(Visit Britain)

This spectacular lake is half a mile wide and 260ft deep, the deepest of all the lakes in the area. Surrounded by mountains including Red Pike, Kirk Fell, Great Gable and Scafell Pike – England’s highest mountain – the lake offers one of the best views for miles around and is a good starting point for a number of hikes.

Cliftonwood, Bristol, North Somerset

(Visit Britain)

Just outside the centre of Bristol is Cliftonwood, an upmarket enclave where many of the houses are painted in bright colours. Nobody’s entirely sure when or why houses in the neighbourhood started being painted, but they have become a colourful and recognisable part of the city’s skyline. As well as being very photogenic, the area is also known for its epic street parties.

Royal Pavilion, Brighton, Sussex

(Visit Britain)

This building wouldn’t look out of place in India, but was actually built as a seaside retreat for George, Prince of Wales, later George IV, in the late 18th and early 19th century. Its onion-shaped domes, towering minarets and detailed colonnades have been likened to the Taj Mahal, albeit in a slightly chillier location.

The best hotels in Brighton

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