There’s no need to jet off abroad to witness stunning sites and scenery. A staycation is the perfect way to have that ‘holiday feeling’, without the need for a passport, or having to set your alarm super early for that 5am airport check-in. The UK has beautiful countryside, gorgeous golden beaches and exciting cities bursting with heritage and culture. There’s so much to explore right on your doorstep, whether you’re travelling with your family, friends, or having some ‘me time’. A staycation break exploring English Heritage sites can be just what you need to relax and get away from it all.
Where to go on your day out or week away can depend on many things. If you’re having a family break then you’ll need enough to entertain the kids. And if you’re going with a partner, maybe you want to immerse yourself in history, or explore the romantic English countryside. There are lots of amazing English Heritage sites dotted all over the country for you to explore. From iconic landmarks such as Hadrian’s Wall and the mysterious Stonehenge, to plenty of stunning castles and gardens waiting to be discovered. English Heritage cares for over 400 historic monuments, buildings and places, and we’ve rounded up 11 of the top sites you need to visit, wherever you are in the country.
1. Stonehenge – Wiltshire
Historians and archaeologists have puzzled over the many mysteries of this impressive rock formation for centuries. And today, world-famous Stonehenge attracts more than 800,000 visitors a year. This prehistoric monument is a true icon, and it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986. It took Neolithic builders an estimated 1,500 years to erect, and it’s made up of around 100 huge upright stones placed in a circular layout. While many experts now agree that Stonehenge was once a burial ground, it’s unclear what other purposes it served. And its construction is all the more baffling because, while the outer sandstone slabs hail from local quarries, scientists have traced the bluestones that make up its inner ring all the way to the Preseli Hills in Wales, a whopping 200 miles away!
Visit the exhibition to discover how the Stonehenge builders worked. And walk amongst the Neolithic houses to experience how they lived. And don’t miss the sunset for some truly spectacular views.
Ticket prices: Adult tickets are from £19.50 and children’s are from £11.70. Family tickets are also available.
2. Tintagel Castle – Cornwall
Set on the rugged North Cornwall coast, Tintagel Castle is one of the most spectacular historic sites in Britain. This English Heritage site is supposedly the place of King Arthur’s conception, and sees visitors from all over the world. But the path to the castle has long been challenging, with over a hundred steps winding towards the cliff-top ruins. So enter the new footbridge! Opened in 2019, the 70m bridge recreates the historic crossing from the mainland to the headland. The original bridge was lost some time between the 15th and 16th-century. So, this new bridge is making it much easier for the 250,000 visitors a year to reach the 13th-century castle.
Ticket prices: Adult tickets are from £14.50 and children’s are from £8.70. Family tickets are also available.
3. Carisbrooke Castle – Isle of Wight
Sitting high and proud in the village of Carisbrooke at the heart of the Isle of Wight, Carisbrooke Castle has been both an artillery fortress and a royal summer residence. Most famously, Charles I was held prisoner there during the Civil War, shortly before his execution. Today it’s the quintessential romantic castle, with lots for the whole family to see and do. Experience stunning panoramic views from high castle walls, or wander the moat to discover King Charles I’s bowling green. Enjoy the tranquil Princess Beatrice Garden, before meeting the famous Carisbrooke donkeys.
Ticket prices: Adult tickets are from £11.30 and children’s are from £6.80. Family tickets are also available.
4. Battle Abbey – East Sussex
One of England’s most significant historic sites, Battle Abbey was at the heart of the monumental Battle of Hastings in 1066. It’s one of the best-known events in England’s history, when William of Normandy (more famously known as William the Conqueror) defeated the army of King Harold of England. Much of the battlefield became part of the abbey’s great park, which formed the core of a country estate after the abbey’s suppression in 1538. Now, you can stand on the very spot where this conflict took place. And see the Harold stone, marking the spot where King Harold fell. Or walk the battlefield trail and discover carved wooden sculptures depicting Norman and Saxon soldiers. There are also plenty of re-enactments, exhibitions and ruins to check out, for a fun-filled family day out.
Ticket prices: Adult tickets are from £13.60 and children’s are from £8.20. Family tickets are also available.
5. Whitby Abbey – North Yorkshire
Whitby Abbey was a 7th-century monastery, that later became Benedictine abbey. It played a pivotal role in the history of Christianity in England. Set high on the cliff tops with stunning sea views, the ruins of Whitby Abbey form a part of the site’s incredible history. Communities have lived on this headland for over 3,000 years and it has long been an important holy place. A place where history and legend meet, it’s said that the abbey has inspired many artists and writers over the years, including Bram Stoker, the author of ‘Dracula’. Uncover centuries of history at the Whitby Museum, with many objects in the collection recovered during two major archaeological digs in the 1920s and in 1958. The collection from the 1920s excavation came to the Museum as a donation early in the 2000s and most are now displayed for the first time.
Ticket prices: Adult tickets are from £10 and children’s are from £6. Family tickets are also available.
6. Richborough Roman Fort & Amphitheatre – Kent
Richborough is perhaps the most symbolically important of all Roman sites in Britain, used from the invasion of AD 43 until the end of Roman rule around 410. Though now an inland backwater, 2,000 years ago it lay on the Kent coast, and it was here that the invading Roman forces first came ashore in Britain. As the main entry point from mainland Europe, over time the site developed from a military supply base into a thriving port town and later a huge fort. Explore the large stone walls, the rolling defensive ditches and impressive foundations showing the scale of this once bustling Roman settlement. There is also a museum packed with fascinating exhibitions where you can see the vast collection of objects found at Richborough, giving an exceptional insight into 400 years of history.
Ticket prices: Adult tickets are from £6.90 and children’s are from £4.10. Family tickets are also available.
7. Kenilworth Castle – Warwickshire
Kenilworth Castle is one of the great historical sites of the United Kingdom. First built in the 1120s, it was a royal castle for most of its history, and was expanded by King John, John of Gaunt and Henry V. In 1563 Elizabeth I granted the castle to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, who transformed Kenilworth into a magnificent palace. Many of the buildings remain unaltered since Elizabeth I’s reign, and the spectacular ruins reveal much of Kenilworth’s medieval and Tudor past. Explore the immaculate garden which is a haven of peace and tranquillity, full of colour and fragrant walkways. And have fun with the family-friendly displays in the interactive exhibition bringing Kenilworth’s past to life. Discover how the castle has changed throughout its 900-year history, and see what it looked like in its heyday.
Ticket prices: Adult tickets are from £12.60 and children’s are from £7.60. Family tickets are also available.
8. Audley End House & Gardens – Essex
This spectacular early 17th-century mansion is regarded as one of the finest Jacobean houses in England. Located just outside Saffron Walden, it’s set in a beautifully landscaped park. Although now just a third of its original size, it has many wonderful architectural features and interesting collections to discover. It has a chequered history, which is evident in both the house and park – in the changing use of the rooms, the contrasting taste in interiors and garden styles, and the diverse collection of paintings and objects that reflect the owners and their times.
Ticket prices: Adult tickets are from £19 and children’s are from £11.40. Family tickets are also available.
9. Hadrian’s Wall – North East England
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hadrian’s Wall spans an impressive 73 miles from coast to coast. It was built to guard the wild north-west frontier of the Roman Empire. You can explore the Wall’s rich history and its dramatic landscape at over 20 different English Heritage sites, and discover the remains of the forts, towers, turrets and towns that once kept watch over the Wall. See rare Roman artefacts, get hands-on in museums and take in spectacular views of the rugged landscape to find out what life was like for the men, women and children on the edge of Roman Britain. Head to the Wall at Winshields for the highest point with spectacular views.
Ticket prices: You can walk along the wall for free, but some of the events and sites that take place nearby will include entry fees.
10. Lindisfarne Priory – Northumberland
Lindisfarne – also known as Holy Island – is one of the most important centres of early English Christianity. Cross the dramatic causeway to reach the island, and follow in the footsteps of the ancient monks who built their priory here nearly 1,400 years ago. The ruins which can be seen now are those of a 12th-century priory, which claimed direct descent from the early monastery. Explore the wild coastal beauty of Holy Island, and visit the fascinating museum to learn about the Viking invasion of 793 and the cult of St Cuthbert. And see the beautiful medieval manuscript: the Lindisfarne Gospels.
Ticket prices: Adult tickets are from £7.90 and children’s are from £4.70. Family tickets are also available.
11.Dover Castle – Kent
History buffs will have plenty to discover at this amazing medieval fortress. Sat atop the iconic White Cliffs, Dover Castle has everything. From its impressive Great Tower to Secret Wartime Tunnels nestled deep within the cliffs. The castle itself has stood guard of England’s shores for over 900 years. And there are re-enactments throughout the grounds to really transport you back in time. There are over 80 acres of castle grounds to explore, and you can take in unmissable views across the English Channel as you climb to the top of the castle.
Ticket prices: Adult tickets are from £17 and children’s are from £10.20. Family tickets are also available.
If a few of these places tickle your fancy then you can also become an English Heritage member, which gives you unlimited access to castles and gardens, historic houses and abbeys across the country at a very affordable price. And, by joining, you’re helping to keep the story of England’s history alive for future generations. Note that some sites and attractions do have special events/site closures throughout the year. You may also need tickets in advance, so do check before you travel. (Prices correct as of October 2020).
London’s Blue Plaques
If you’re on a budget, you can discover where famous and influential people in history lived, worked and visited by hunting for London’s blue plaques. Now run by English Heritage, the scheme was started in 1866 and is thought to be the oldest of its kind in the world. There are more than 900 plaques across the capital commemorating notable men and women, including Sir Winston Churchill’s home in Kensington, and Charlie Chaplin’s flat in Brixton. Although the scheme remains focused in London, you can now spot blue plaques all across the country.
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