From storybook towns to seaside gems: England's 10 most beautiful villages
The thought of England conjures up ideas of small market towns, village pubs, thatched roofs, tea and scones, and gardens in bloom.
While the country has many beautiful cities, London, Bath and York being some of my favorites, it’s worth the time to get out into the smaller towns that dot the countryside.
From quaint coastal fishing villages to Cotswold market towns, the biggest issue can be simply deciding where to go. That’s why I’ve put together this list of ten of the most beautiful towns and villages in England for you to consider visiting on your next trip.
Alfriston, East Sussex
Inhabited since around the 5th century, the ancient village of Alfriston is nestled in the southeast of the South Downs National Park. It's the perfect location from which to explore the Seven Sisters, located a short drive away.
Alfriston is full of delightful boutiques, lovely cafes, cozy pubs and historic buildings.
Take some time to visit the thatched, half-timbered Alfriston Clergy House, a 15th-century Wealden hall-house was the National Trust's first property when it was formed in 1896.
St. Andrews Church, also known as The Cathedral of the South Downs, is a 14th century Grade I listed building on the village green and is also worth a visit.
The church is surprisingly large, given that it was built in a village of only a few hundred people, and is just one of the mysteries surrounding it. No one knows who commissioned it, why it was dedicated to St. Andrew, or why it stands atop a mound that may have been a man-made pre-Christian worship site.
Where to stay:
Built in 1345, The Star was originally a religious hostel intended to accommodate monks and pilgrims. The 30 rooms are divided between the original building and the new building and include 21 standard rooms and 9 Junior Suites. For the most unique room reserve the Heritage Junior Suite, located in the oldest part of the building.
Bakewell was first founded in Anglo-Saxon times, with All Saints Church, the ancient Grade I listed parish church, having been founded in 920. Today the town's stone buildings feel like something out of a storybook.
Best known as the birthplace of the both the Bakewell tart (made with shortcrust) and the Bakewell pudding (made with puff pastry), the almond and jam dessert was invented here in the 1800s.
If you'd like to try a one while you're in town, head over to The Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop.
The town is worth a visit for more than just its dessert. Situated in the heart of the Peak District National Park, it's the perfect base for rambles through the countryside.
The main draw in the area, besides the beautiful scenery and excellent desserts, is the iconic Chatsworth House.
Chatsworth House is one of the finest country estates in Europe, and has served as a filming location for Pride and Prejudice (film 2005, BBC TV series 1995) and The Duchess (2008). It has been the family home of the Cavendish family for 12 generations (over 500 years) and is currently occupied by the 12th Duke of Devonshire.
You'll also want to visit Haddon Hall, one of the oldest houses in England. At over 900 years old, it is still a private residence and has been owned by the Manners family since it was built.
The house is unique in part because it stood vacant for over 200 years. It was spared the modernization of the Georgian and Victorian periods, allowing it to remain a monument to the medieval period in which it was built.
Haddon Hall has also been used as a filming location many times. The most notable films that used it are Mary Queen of Scots (2019), The Princess Bride (1987), Elizabeth (1998), Pride and Prejudice (2005) and The Other Boleyn Girl (2008), and three adaptations of Jane Eyre.
The medieval park surrounding the estate is now open to the public, and the estate is continuing the process of restoring it to its original, 14th century plan.
Where to stay:
Built in 1652 as a manor house, The Peacock at Rowsley is located 3.5 miles outside of Bakewell near Chatsworth House. The hotel is owned by Lord and Lady Edward Manners and is part of the Haddon Estate. Its 15 rooms range from single rooms to suites.
An Edwardian Grade II listed country house hotel, Fischer’s Baslow Hall is 4.5 miles from the center of Bakewell. The boutique hotel has 11 individually-styled rooms, as well as an award-winning restaurant.
Castle Combe, Wiltshire
Often listed as the most beautiful village in England, the storybook town of Castle Combe is the jewel of the Cotswolds located in the Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. There’s a reason it’s been used as a filming location for Downton Abbey and movies like Stardust and Steven Spielberg’s War Horse.
Built from honey-colored Cotswold stone, the narrow lanes are lined with blossoming flowers in the spring and summer. The 15th century St. Andrews’s Church is home to one of the oldest working faceless medieval clocks in the country.
Make sure to get out early or in the off-season if you want to have the town to yourself. Its beauty has made it very popular, and it can get quite crowded after mid-morning.
You won’t find any large grocery store chains or tourist shops in Castle Combe. Instead, you may find small honesty boxes set up outside the locals homes. You can often purchase cakes, pies, jams, fruits and vegetables and simply leave the money to cover whatever you take.
Where to stay:
A 14th century manor house on the outskirts of town, the Manor House Hotel has a beautiful Italianate Garden, a spa, and a Michelin-starred restaurant. Its 50 rooms and suites are located in the main house as well as in the Mews Cottages on the grounds.
The Castle Inn is a traditional British pub just off the main square of Castle Combe. The 12 ensuite rooms range from cozy singles to four-poster rooms. The pub on the main floor is one of the top 50 gastropubs in the UK and serves hearty, seasonal dishes as well as a range of local beers.
A country house hotel and spa, Lucknam Park is located 4 miles outside of Castle Combe. The Palladian mansion is set in 500 acres of parkland, with 42 individually-styled rooms and suites. 7 cottages on the grounds are perfect for families, friends, or couples looking for a private retreat.
Cobbled, winding streets wend their way down the 400-foot North Devon cliffside that Clovelly is set on. At the bottom, after you make your way past the flower-adorned white cottages, you’ll find the picturesque 14th century harbor which is still in use.
You won’t see any cars in Clovelly, instead you’ll need to make way for donkeys and sleds. Due to its fragile location, entrance is restricted to between 9am-6:30pm unless you are staying in the village.
The village is privately owned and there is a small admission fee, which helps pay for upkeep.
Where to stay:
Each of the 17 rooms at The Red Lion offer a sea view, and the hotel has been hosting guests since the 18th century. Beautifully situated at the quayside, guests can awake to the sounds of the harbor and the sea below the hotel.
Known for its connections with both William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter, Hawkshead is a beautifully preserved, postcard-perfect village in England’s Lake District. With its whitewashed cottages, cobbled streets and old pubs, it represents idyllic English country living at its best.
This part of England has attracted writers, poets and painters for centuries. William Wordsworth attended school in Hawkshead while living in the nearby town of Grasmere, which is also worth visiting. Beatrix Potter’s family also lived in a nearby town, and her husband worked in Hawkshead. His office is now a museum dedicated to the author.
Take some time to wander through the warren of narrow alleys to find pubs, old coaching inns, and classic English tea rooms. After you’ve seen the village you can visit nearby Hill Top, Beatrix Potter’s beloved cottage. You can also visit Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage in nearby Grasmere.
Where to stay:
Across Lake Windermere you’ll find the Gilpin Hotel & Lake House. To reach Hawkshead you can either take the scenic drive around the lake, or there is a ferry that goes across. Technically two separate hotels, the Gilpin hotel has 30 rooms and two restaurants (one with a Michelin star) and the Lake House has six rooms, a private lake, and a small restaurant.
The Grasmere Hotel is a Victorian country house hotel, built in 1871. Many of the 11 rooms have views over the countryside, and guests can take walks through the beautiful Lake District scenery right outside the hotel’s front door.
Lavenham was a center of the wool trade during the 15th century, making it one of the wealthiest towns in England at the time. After the wool trade started to decline due to cheaper imports from mainland Europe, many workers left.
Today Lavenham looks much like it did in the 15th century, with hundreds of haphazard half-timbered medieval buildings painted a riot of pastel colors.
You may feel like you’ve entered a movie set, which wouldn’t be too far off. The town has appeared in many movies, including Harry Potter, where it was the setting for Godric’s Hollow.
The Guildhall, which dates from 1530, is one of the most popular sites in the town. Over the past 5 centuries it has served as a workhouse, religious meeting place, prison, and more. Today it is a museum run by the National Trust where you can explore the history of both the building and the town.
Where to stay:
The Swan Hotel has 46 unique rooms, as well as two restaurants and a spa. The 15th-century building is located in the heart of Lavenham, with the timber-beamed ceilings and rich decor that guests would expect in such a historic location.
Rye, East Sussex
Rye’s twisting, medieval cobblestone streets and crooked houses make it one of the most charming spots in southern England. Mermaid Street, with its 15th-century timber-framed houses, is the most famous of the town’s many narrow roads and alleyways.
The historic Mermaid Inn was established in 1156 and is still one of the most charming pubs around as well as being one of the oldest inns in England. Take some time for a pint in the bar with its enormous fireplace and imagine what it would have been like when the infamous Hawkhurst Gang was using it as a base for their smuggling operations.
You’ll want to leave some time to shop in Rye. It’s known for its many vintage shops that sell antiques, books, and pretty much anything else you can think of.
For the best view in Rye you’ll want to climb the 12th-century bell tower of St. Mary’s Church. After you’ve burned off the calories climbing, you’ll be ready to head over to the Cobbles Tea Room on Hylands Yard for a scone with jam and clotted cream or a full afternoon tea.
Also worth a visit is Rye Castle, also known as the Ypres Tower. This defensive fortress was built in 1249 to protect the English coastline from attacks by the French navy. Through the years it has served as a fort, prison, museum, and even a private residence.
Where to stay:
The Mermaid Inn is one of the oldest inns in England. Established in 1156 and rebuilt in 1420, it was later used as a smuggling den in the 18th century. The 31 rooms are all unique, ranging in size from single rooms to large historic four-poster rooms.
Shaftesbury’s steep, cobblestone street of Gold Hill has been called “one of the most romantic sites in England.” It’s exactly what you’d expect from an English village, with thatch-roofed cottages, charming tea shops, and cobblestone streets.
The walks through town are steep, but the beautiful views over the surrounding countryside are well worth the effort. You’ll want to make it to the top to visit the Gold Hill Museum. The museum occupies two of Shaftesbury’s ancient houses and traces the history of the town from its founding to the present day. The museum’s secluded garden also offers magnificent views over Blackmore Vale.
The town was founded by King Alfred the Great, who is credited with bringing together the Anglo Saxon, Celtic and Danish inhabitants of the island to create the country of England.
You’ll also want to visit the ruins of the Shaftesbury Abbey, established by King Alfred in 888. The Abbey was once one of the most important Benedictine nunneries in the country, but it was destroyed in 1539 on the orders of King Henry VIII.
Today you can visit the foundations of the Abbey, set in a peaceful walled garden with roses, an herb garden, and a medieval orchard.
Where to stay:
A historic coaching inn, the Grosvenor Arms offers 16 boutique rooms with ensuite bathrooms. Each mixes modern amenities with historic charm, comfortable furnishings and a soothing color palette.
St. Ives, Cornwall
A popular vacation spot for Brits on the Celtic Sea, St. Ives is full of narrow lanes, more fresh seafood that you could eat, Cornish pasties, cream tea and plenty of cozy pubs. It has won many awards, including “Best Seaside Town," “Best Family Holiday Destination," and has been listed as one of the “Top 10 European Beaches".
Formerly a small fishing village, St. Ives has become one of Britain’s most popular seaside destinations. Unlike many beaches in England, which are stone, the beaches of St. Ives are soft and sandy.
Art lovers will find plenty of museums and galleries to explore. One of the most popular is the Tate St. Ives, which features a rotating exhibit of modern British artists.
Where to stay:
The Blue Hays Hotel offers spectacular views from its location overlooking Porthminster Beach. Guests staying in one of the six suites can meander through the private gardens, out the garden gate, and down to the beach or into town a short walk away.
Guests will never tire of the panoramic ocean views at the Boskerris Hotel. Built in 1931, the hotel has been family run since its inception. Many of the 15 rooms offer ocean views, and guests can enjoy dinners featuring locally sourced ingredients in the restaurant on Wednesday-Sunday evenings.
Whitby, North Yorkshire
The earliest known inhabitants of Whitby date back to 656, when a monastery was founded by King Oswy of Northumbria. Today Whitby is perhaps best known as the setting for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, drawing tourists and goth fans to the twice-yearly Whitby Goth Festival.
A quintessential English seaside village located on the North Sea, Whitby has one of England’s best sand beaches as well as twisting streets and alleyways filled with shops, pubs and tearooms. The tiny chippies in town have some of the best fish and chips around.
Take a scenic hike through the heather on the Cleveland Way National Trail through North York Moors National Park, or walk in the footsteps of James Cook, the 18th century explorer who apprenticed as a seaman here.
The top attraction is the ruined remains of Whitby Abbey. The site dates back to the 7th century, and the soaring Gothic remains that are the main attraction are all that’s left of the spectacular Abbey built on the site in the 13th century.
Where to stay:
Set in the heart of Whitby, The Leeway offers seven individually-styled guest rooms. All are ensuite with the exception of the twin room, which has a private bath across the hall. Guests are welcomed with homemade cake and a cuppa when the arrive, and the front garden is a lovely spot to relax with a cup of coffee and a good book.
The Bottom Line
England offers so many small, beautiful villages for travelers to explore. No matter what corner of the country you find yourself in, there’s sure to be one nearby.
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