If you love London, try York, Nottingham or Norwich

Over 40,000 people cross the London Bridge every day

From medieval streets to historic castles, uncover the rich history and hidden gems of these lesser-known English cities for a unique and unforgettable adventure. Writer Bron Maxabella explores York, Nottingham and Norwich as additions or alternatives to your next British holiday.

By Bron Maxabella

There is so much to love about a visit to London – royals, history, diversity, culture, food and, of course, the Underground which makes it all so accessible – but don’t make the mistake of only visiting England’s capital. 

There’s so much on offer in some of the country’s less visited cities (fewer tourists to queue behind being first on the list). Next time you fly into Heathrow, drive straight out to one of these top spots.

Moors and museums in York

If London’s cobblestone streets winding around centuries of history is your jam, York is your new sliced bread. 

“The history of York is the history of England,” King George VI declared. The result is one of England’s finest old cities, with its Roman, Saxon and Viking past building into the magnificent medieval, Georgian and Victorian influences that shape the city today.

There’s the ancient walled city, with 3.4 kilometres of beautifully preserved city walls to traverse and countless cobblestoned lanes to wander.

The Shambles, York’s impossibly quaint street (thought to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter books) is among them. 

On a hill overlooking the walled city is Clifford’s Tower, the remains of York Castle which was first built by William the Conqueror. A climb to the top opens views across York out to the famous Yorkshire Moors (a day trip is highly recommended, especially if you’re a Wuthering Heights fan – both Bronte and Bush).

If all that has left you breathless, calm yourself down with a visit to one of York’s many museums and cathedrals. The Yorkshire Museum and Gardens explores the city’s medieval past; JORVIK Viking Centre takes you back to 975AD; and York Minster is one of the world’s most stunning gothic cathedrals. Incidentally, the National Railway Museum is also surprisingly fascinating even for non-trainspotters...

The Shambles, York. Can you see the similarities to Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter books?

Art and ales in Nottingham

So often bypassed en route from London to Manchester, Nottingham beckons for a lengthy stopover. Not least because the city’s tram system rivals the Underground for efficiency, taking you seamlessly around all the top spots. While transport options might not be top of your list when choosing a city base, they should be. When it’s home time after a big day out and you can’t get a cab for love nor money, an effortless public transport network quickly shines in importance.

You’ll be getting excellent bang for your day or weekly season ticket as there is so much to do in this creative city. Art and design lovers will hop off at Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham Castle, New Art Exchange and BACKLIT, as well as countless smaller galleries across the city. Museum seekers will want to alight at Nottingham Industrial Museum, the National Justice Museum or the Natural History Museum at Wollaton Hall (also home to many music festivals and shows). 

Naturally, you’ll also want to make time for the Robin Hood tour of Nottingham’s old city. It’s a terrific way to meet the legend and learn more about the city’s history and landmarks as you go. The tour ends with an ale at one of England’s oldest pubs, Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, after which you’ll want to kick on at one or two of Nottingham’s many, many drinking establishments.

Take it easy, because the next day you’ll want to continue to the tour by jumping on a train to explore the wilds of Sherwood Forest.

St Peters Church, Nottingham City Centre

Nature and nooks in Norwich

Norwich isn’t the first place that springs to mind when dreaming of an England adventure, but spring it should. It’s an adventurous, creative, As well as a 2000-year history (and all the castles, cathedrals and cobblestones that go with it), Norwich prides itself on its many hidden nooks and crannies worth exploring.

The city celebrates outdoor art, with murals depicting Norwich’s history dotted across her buildings and laneways. It’s also a garden-lovers paradise with city parks, gardens and walkways (many of them dating back to ancient times) beautifully kept. Norwich embraces these outdoor spaces with markets, festivals and parades at every time of year. 

The natural beauty extends well beyond the city limits as Norwich is situated in the Norfolk Broads National Park. The Broads is an intricate web of man-made open waterways that were dug out during medieval times to support peat extraction. They are fed by seven rivers, of which the Wensum, Yare, Tud and Tas all flow through Norwich.

This means water sports are top on the agenda for any visit to the city. You can hire a SUP, canoe or kayak and paddle from pub to pub or take a rowboat down the River Wensum, under the city’s three historic bridges, Bishop, Jarrold and Fye. If you want to explore further, hire a houseboat to putter along tranquil waters past the Broads many historic windmills, meadows and woodlands. Try ‘puttering’ anywhere in London and you’ll soon realise the beauty of stepping further afield to enjoy England’s quieter cities.

The River Wensum in Norwich
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