England continues to thrive as one of the hottest international destinations for tourists.
If you are a first-time tourist, you’ll want to see many of the rare attractions in London, Cambridge, Leeds, and York. You’ll spend a great deal of time exploring some areas by foot, with options to take short boat cruises for a different view of the landscape.
As Europe’s biggest city and capital of the United Kingdom, London is a lively place that draws crowds year-round. Begin the day at St. James Park, the oldest Royal Park in London. Enjoy its serene landscape and magnificent wildlife. Take a self-guided tour through Buckingham Palace, the office and London residence of the Queen. You’ll be able to view the lavishly furnished staterooms in the heart of the working palace, which contain many of the greatest treasures from the Royal Collection.
Embark on a deep journey into medieval Britain’s history at the Westminster Abbey, a timeless masterpiece and shrine to several great leaders. It holds valuable remnants of the monastic, gothic, and modern architectural styles, exhibiting three centuries of development in response to the changing religious influences. Visit the Temple Church, where you’ll learn of the Knights Templar, the infamous order of knights founded on the avowed mission of protecting Christian pilgrims journeying to Jerusalem during the Middle Ages.
Next, wander through the Spitalfields and Brick Lane Markets, two neighboring street markets with a rich diversity of antiques, foods, home accessories, electronics, furniture, and everything else in between. Uncover stories of past kings and queens at the Tower of London, an iconic symbol of Britain and home of the Crown Jewels, which still remains the greatest working collection of crown jewels in the world. Up until the 19th century, it was maintained as a fortress against enemies, a place of imprisonment and execution and a base for royal power. Travel across the River Thames and experience the life and art of Shakespeare at the Globe Theatre. You may choose to watch a Shakespearean classic performed in the circular arena modeled after his original Renaissance theater. Or discover the remarkable stories of the famed poet/playwright and the magic he brought to the stage at Shakespeare’s Globe Exhibition.
At the Queens’ College, behold five centuries of classical, elegant architecture preserved in the Old Hall and Chapel. The Cambridge Botanical Garden is a 40-acre oasis of charming gardens and glasshouses right in the heart of the city. Take on the passage through Cambridge history at the Fitzwater Museum and Cambridge Folk Museum, piecing together the stories of the town and the everyday life of its people since 1700. Stroll through the lush green paths at the Wicken Fen Nature Reserve, Britain’s oldest nature reserve and a haven for wild ponies, otters, rare butterflies, and a colorful variety of birds.
See the Ely Cathedral, an Anglo-Saxon monastery that flourished for centuries as a refuge for medieval pilgrims. Travel north to Peterborough, where you’ll find England’s most beautiful Norman cathedral. An important sanctuary for Christian worship for 1,350 years, the cathedral contains an original wooden ceiling in the nave (one of the few remaining in Europe) and modern Gothic architecture.
You’re in for a unique cultural affair at the Quarry Hill Cultural Quarter, the site for the West Yorkshire Playhouse (an internationally renowned producing theater), Leeds College of Music, Yorkshire Arts, and BBC Leeds. If you enjoy performing arts, Opera North is another popular place with many spellbinding operas and musical theaters. The cultural center of Leeds city, Millennium Square is amidst some of the city’s most important buildings, including the Town Hall, Civic Theatre, and Leeds General Infirmary. The square is an innovative space for outdoor theater, pop concerts, orchestral performances, civic ceremonies, fairs and markets and home to several pieces of public art – including a pair of bronze owls, a well-known symbol of Leeds.
Travel back in time to get a glimpse of early English monastic life at Kirkstall Abbey, a Cistercian monastery on the outskirts of Leeds that was founded in 1152 and remains one of Britain’s best-preserved abbeys. Visitors will see many of the originally carved arches, pillars, stone coffins, and traditional ideals of austerity and simplicity found throughout its structural design. Perched on the hillside is the Abbey House Museum, where you’ll find a wealth of historical artifacts from the Abbey.
Walking the York city walls is a very popular activity for tourists and local residents. Start at Micklegate Bar, the main entrance into the city. It was also the famous place once decorated with traitors’ heads to discourage rebellion. Stop by the other three main gates – Monk Bar, the most elaborate of the city gates, Walmgate Bar, and Bootham Bar. You’ll spot the Multiangular Tower, a notable Roman remain and the most intact portion of the walls that stands 30 feet tall. Go north to Clifford’s Tower, an unusual four-lobed keep that is now the principal surviving stonework remnant of William the Conqueror’s castle.
Visit the York Castle Museum to understand how citizens used to live through a large recreation of the rooms, shops, streets, and common possessions in England from the 17th – 20th centuries. Also, see some of the museum’s feature exhibitions on World War II and the abolition of the British slave trade. Go inside the private world of stonecutters, glassmakers, and builders at the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, one of several guilds that were sweeping across Europe in the early Middle Ages. Wander through the three attached buildings and learn about the hall’s traditional business, social, and religious functions. If you have time, go to the National Railway Museum and discover more than three hundred years of world railway history, from Japanese Bullet trains to Queen Victoria’s favorite carriage.