There’s a host of top historic and cultural landmarks in England to visit and among the very best are Bodiam Castle, Temple Church and Bletchley Park. Other popular sites tend to include Leeds Castle, Blenheim Palace and Beamish Museum.
Reflecting a wealth of myriad influences, the historical places of England are as diverse as this island nation’s history. Indeed, the country we know today as England has witnessed the rise and fall of many cultures, civilisations and empires. From pre-historic peoples to Celtic tribes, Roman conquerors and Anglo-Saxon and Norman invaders, England is a country forged of many influences.
We’ve put together an experts guide to English historical places and heritage attractions, with our top ten places to visit as well as a full list of historic sites in England, which shouldn’t be ignored if you have the time.
What are the best Historic Sites in England?
Perhaps England’s most picturesque castle, Bodiam was built by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge in 1385 and is now a popular tourist attraction operated by the National Trust. The castle itself, of quadrangular design, is characterised by a great moat and courtyard. Today, visitors are invited to explore this beautiful castle and its surrounding grounds. Families and school children are also welcome, and there are a wide range of events and activities taking place throughout the year.
The Temple Church in Central London is named after the Knights Templar, who founded it in the twelfth century. The church became the English headquarters of this famous Christian charitable and military order. This first section of Temple Church is now known as the Round Church, built in a circular form so as to echo the shape of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre. One of the highlights of a visit today is seeing the unique effigies of ten knights on its floor, each with individual characteristics. As discussed in the Dan Brown novel, “The Davinci Code”, which sets a very powerful scene at the site, these effigies do not mark the locations of actual tombs.
Bletchley Park is a country estate fifty miles north of London. As Adolph Hitler’s campaign to invade Europe intensified, Bletchley Park was taken over by the government, who deemed it the perfect place to move the Government Code and Cypher School. Bletchley Park, known by the codename Station X, became the site where the British managed to decipher the machinations of the Enigma, the highly effective code encryption machines used by the Nazis. Today, visitors can explore the history of Bletchley Park’s role during the war. With a brand new visitor centre, an interactive multimedia guide and an immersive introduction, visitors can have a fun and informative journey.
Leeds Castle was originally constructed as a fortification in 1119 by Robert de Crevecoeur, a lord under William the Conqueror. In 1278, Leeds Castle took on a different role, as a royal palace to King Edward I, who expanded it further. Henry VIII also extensively renovated the castle for his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Today, Leeds Castle is a leisure facility, housing an aviary and a maze along with a dog collar museum. Guided tours are available for groups and schools and audio tours are also available.
Blenheim Palace was built as a gift to the Duke of Marlborough following his victory over French forces at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704. On 30 November 1874, it also became the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, one of Britain’s greatest leaders. Whether you choose to wander Blenheim Palace independently or as part of a guided tour, you can enjoy endless artistic masterpieces such as the Blenheim Tapestry depicting Lord Marlborough accepting the surrender of the French and the stunning ceiling paintings of Louis Laguerre. The 18th century house itself is an architectural marvel in its own right with its Baroque design. The grounds are also spectacular with over 2000 acres of parkland and gardens, butterfly house, adventure playground, mazes and even a train!
The lively open air museum at Beamish brings to life the industrial revolution in northern England and allows for a real hands-on approach to history. Within the Beamish complex there are multiple areas to explore. The museum tracks how life in the north of England changed during the industrial revolution and focuses on how the region was transformed through each of the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian periods. One of the most engaging aspects of the museum is the fact that it is a ‘living museum’. This allows visitors to get stuck in and actively involved, with a variety of different aspects to experience. To name but a few, there are chances to wander around reconstructed school buildings, streets and even a drift mine, the opportunity to try some wholesome baked goods from the traditional home farm and even grab a ride on some historical transport – the tram of Beamish offering a full tour of the museum.
Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire, UK, was founded in 1132 after thirteen monks were exiled from St. Mary’s Abbey. In 1539, it was closed under the orders of King Henry VIII in what became known as the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Today, Fountains Abbey is the largest set of monastic ruins in England and has attained UNESCO World Heritage status. Visitors can explore these extremely well-preserved remains, including the cloisters and the cellarium. Interestingly, the cellarium of Fountains Abbey is home to several species of bats, but these only come out after dusk.
Built by a king, the seat of a kingmaker and vital stronghold in the Wars of the Roses and the English Civil War, Warwick Castle has played an important role in British history. The seat of the Earls of Warwick until 1978, Warwick Castle then opened to the public and today offers a range of things to see and do. Visitors can tour the site and its grounds, learning about its history and enjoying its architecture. There are also often children’s activities. A full visit can last around 4-5 hours.
Hadrian’s Wall is a magnificent remnant of Roman Britain and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Built under the rule of Roman Emperor Hadrian between 122 and 130 AD, it took six legions to complete this once 73 mile wall – 80 miles by Roman measurements. Large sections of Hadrian’s Wall remain intact in northern England and these are surrounded by various Roman monuments, forts and other ruins. There are several ways to visit all of these sections and sites, notably as part of the National Trail, which is a signposted walk, by bus, by bicycle and via tour groups. The 15 metre section pictured above is known as Planetrees and is quite central along the trail.
The world famous Roman Baths complex in Bath, UK, contains an incredible set of thermal spas and an impressive ancient Roman bathing house. First discovered in the nineteenth century, the Roman Baths are one of the best preserved ancient Roman sites in the UK and form a major tourist attraction. Today, the Roman Baths offer an incredibly comprehensive insight into the lives of the ancient Romans in the town and around Britain. The site looks quite small from the outside, but it is actually vast and a visit can last several hours. Amongst the other sites at the Baths, there is a comprehensive museum dedicated to exploring the lives of the ancient Roman citizens of Bath. Around the Great Bath itself, visitors can explore the numerous saunas, swimming pools, heated baths and changing facilities at the site. Audio tours are included in the ticket price or visitors can join one of the hourly guided tours.