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15 of the Most Picturesque Small Towns in England

Because there’s more to England than London and Brighton.

England is a country of contrasts. Ditch the London buzz and you’ll soon find yourself drooling over half-timber houses, rugged coasts, ancient castles, and all the old-age charm that comes with small English towns. Wander through the magical caves in Tintagel and reminisce with King Arthur. Or indulge in all the world-class culinary pleasures Malton has to offer. Then again, Robin Hood’s Bay could be calling your name—and it’s hard to say no to secluded coastlines and winding cobbled alleyways. Whatever you do, be sure to add a few of these British escapes to your bucket list.

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PHOTO: photosounds/Shutterstock
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Arundel

WHERE: West Sussex

Arundel is where time goes to stand still. Dating back to the Roman and Saxon era, a day here is best spent touring medieval castle grounds, dipping into antique shops, and eating like a local. Enjoy the 11th-century charm of the Arundel Castle and venture to the gothically blessed Arundel Cathedral before taking up a day in the quaint timbered town. It’ll be hard to ignore the smells of fresh bread and hot pastries floating out of the Pallant of Arundel, but just remember to save room for a lazy lunch along the River Arun at The Black Rabbit.

INSIDER TIPVisit in August for the treasured Arundel Festival, where you can listen to sweet music by the river, watch Shakespeare come to life, indulge in some English comedy in an old jailhouse, and experience the very best of Arundel art and hospitality.

 

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PHOTO: John Spur
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Lynton and Lynmouth

WHERE: Devon

It’s not every day you meet two towns joined by majestic coastlines and English scenery—or maybe you just haven’t been to Lynton and Lynmouth. Once you manage to pry your eyes away from the dramatic cliff views, take in a summer day of the arts at the Pleasure Dome Theatre. Brace yourself for a ride on the only water-powered railway in the U.K., experience art and culture along the Exmoor Arts Trail, or take a romantic walk up Coleridge Way. Just make sure you recharge with a classic cream tea at Watersmeet.

INSIDER TIPIf you don’t want the day to end, stay at the Seawood Hotel. The pastel pink Victorian house boasts luxury en-suites, a sun terrace, and unmatched Lynmouth Bay views.

 

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PHOTO: Ron Ellis/Shutterstock
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Lavenham

WHERE: Suffolk

One of the richest towns of the Tudor period, Lavenham still holds onto its history, with all the medieval architecture still very much intact. Meander down the narrow streets until you land on the statuesque St. Peter and St. Paul Church—if you keep an eye out, you may even catch a Harry Potter backdrop or two. Then it’s time to indulge in some more modern pleasures—enjoy award-winning French cuisine (in a 14th-century building, as expected) at The Great House, dip into chic boutiques and attractive tea shops, or simply enjoy the kind of sunny community atmosphere that can only come with village life.

INSIDER TIPIn medieval spirit, the village comes with several mysterious carvings dotted around the area. Peek into the Swan Hotel and browse around High Street to find them!

 

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PHOTO: English Heritage
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Tintagel

WHERE: Cornwall

Tintagel has long been famous for its mysterious history, like being the supposed birthplace of King Arthur or the apparent magical home of wizards in Merlin’s Cave. But whether you believe in folktales or not, you’ll be drawn into the charm of the area almost immediately. Roam the Tintagel Castle and discover St. Nectan’s Waterfall, or visit The Old Post Office to feel transported in time. Don’t leave without indulging in hefty dollops of traditional Cornish ice cream at Treleavens.

INSIDER TIPIf you can spare the journey, make a pit stop at Bossiney Cove, just a few miles north of Tintagel. The lesser-known beach (with a quirky cliff in the shape of an elephant) is prime for picnics, lounging along soft sand, or admiring the turquoise waters, just be mindful of the tide.

 

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PHOTO: Nigel French
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Lewes

WHERE: East Sussex

With a population of under 20,000, it’s surprising to see just how much you can get up to in this traditional market town. Just a short hop from Brighton, this alternative summer destination packs a historic castle, museum, a national park, and a no-frills pub—just the way it should be. The famed Harvey’s Brewery is conveniently tucked in Lewes, where you can catch a glimpse of English gray horses delivering the pints of the day. Otherwise, take up a spot of shopping at the coveted craft market followed by a lazy sit down at “The Grange” as the locals call it.

INSIDER TIPBefore it hit London’s restaurant scene by storm, Bill’s Restaurant found its humble beginnings in Lewes, and there’s nothing like the original. Indulge in a seasonal dish (or two) and people-watch along Cliffe High Street.

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PHOTO: Jack Cousin/Shutterstock
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Malton

WHERE: North Yorkshire

Known as Yorkshire’s foodie capital, you’ll want to have as many meals as possible in this award-winning market town. The countryside village holds everything you’d want in an English escape—grandiose castles and gardens, rolling hills, and an inviting people zone. Take your pick of the litter at the Talbot Yard Food Court for savory pleasures followed by hot bread, creamy gelato, fragrant coffee, and sweet macaroons (not necessarily in that order). Oh, and rumor has it that it’s a sin to leave before dipping into the Rare Bird Gin Distillery.

INSIDER TIPFor the full English summertime experience, stay at The Old Lodge—an idyllic Tudor mansion, complete with honeymoon suites and a lovely afternoon tea.

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PHOTO: Helen Hotson/Shutterstock
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Brixham

WHERE: Devon

Life in Brixham starts and ends by the harborside. Proudly situated along the English Riviera, this South Devon English hub is renowned for its fish market and never-ending menus that clearly have seafood lovers in mind. Take a timeless walk along the oceanfront promenade and enjoy views of rare and eager trawler boats and luxury yachts. Then relax (or try your luck at scuba diving) at Breakwater Beach before winding down with a catch of the day at Breakwater Bistro.

INSIDER TIPBrixham also holds a mighty pirate history. Dress for the occasion and enjoy the local festivities at the Brixham Pirate Festival—fit with a Golden Hind ship, lively entertainment, and, of course, seaside mischief.

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PHOTO: Wirestock Creators/Shutterstock
8 OF 15

Mevagissey

WHERE: Cornwall

This small English village is everything you’d expect of quintessential Cornish life—known for its untouched coastline, troves of boutique shops (the silent refusal of chain anything), and the best fish and chips England has to offer. Mosey along the coastal path long enough to reach Vault Beach, a secluded crescent of sandy pleasures. Enjoy the entrepreneurial spirit of all the independent shopkeepers, as passionate as they come. As the day turns to night, retreat to The Fountain Inn for a warm welcome and 600 years of history hiding in the walls.

INSIDER TIPFor a local gift, visit the Roberts Gallery, home to several artists who are more than happy to share the story behind every creation purchased.

 

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PHOTO: Lilly Trott/Shutterstock
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Rye

WHERE: East Sussex

Rye might be one of the more popular English villages, but the hype is well-deserved. This East Sussex hideaway is an easy backdrop for a day of roaming storybook houses, aweing at 16th-century castles, bargain hunting, and quenching your thirst at the Rye Waterworks Micropub. If you’re keener on nature, take the three-mile trek down to the golden beaches of Camber Sands, or a simple walk through the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve.

INSIDER TIPSave some precious minutes for a visit to Knoop’s Cafe for the silkiest hot chocolate you’ll find South of England.

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PHOTO: Gordon Bell/Shutterstock
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Knaresborough

WHERE: North Yorkshire

Knaresborough is a village of postcard perfection, but there’s more to do than gawk at all the storybook houses. Pique your curiosity along the dungeons and secret tunnels of Knaresborough Castle and Museum before venturing to the town square to lay your eyes on the statue of Mother Shipton—an infamous witch thought to have predicted the Great Fire of London and the Spanish Armada’s defeat. The Yorkshire English hub doesn’t disappoint in market offerings, with fresh meat, fish, cheeses, and bread practically spilling out onto the streets since 1310. Have a row along the River Nidd for a peaceful hour, then stroll over to Marigold’s for a creamy scoop, rumored to be the best ice cream in Yorkshire.

 

INSIDER TIPBook a stay at the Teadrop Cottage, a tranquil B&B with charming rooms, immaculate breakfast, and a hot tub.

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PHOTO: evenfh/Shutterstock
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Bakewell

WHERE: Derbyshire

Bakewell is where the 18th century comes to life. The old stomping grounds of Jane Austen are perfect for a day of sampling fresh markets finds, devouring a Bakewell pudding from the Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop, and finishing it off with a spot of tea. But there’s more than gluttony to satisfy here. Visit the stately home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and Haddon Hall—one of the oldest houses in England. If things are starting to look familiar, your hunches are right—both served as quintessential English backdrops for films such as Pride and Prejudice, The Princess Bride, and Jane Eyre.

INSIDER TIPThe village market gets rather busy, so be sure to go for a morning visit.

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PHOTO: travellight/Shutterstock
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Robin Hood’s Bay

WHERE: North Yorkshire

It’s easy to imagine life in Robin Hood’s Bay—long lazy walks across the coast and winding alleyways, looking for fossils and jewels along powdery sand, and retreating into candlelight dinners at a cozy pub. Luckily, tourists can experience these same pleasures of seaside life year-round. If you’re wondering about the name, legend has it this is where Robin Hood had a tiff with some pirates.

INSIDER TIPIf you’re up for the hike (or drive), journey from Robin Hood’s Bay to Ravenscar, a lovely coastal village about 10 miles away.

 

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PHOTO: Konmac/Shutterstock
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Weymouth

WHERE: Dorset

A UNESCO world heritage site and King George’s holiday destination—Weymouth is a Georgian era dream. Walking through the candied-colored houses, popping into welcoming food stalls, and lounging on pristine beaches feels like nothing short of a royal British holiday. Plopped in the middle of the Jurassic Coast, you can enjoy 185 million years of history and views before taking up the nightly comedy scene at the Pavilion Theatre.

INSIDER TIPPay a visit to the Bennetts Water Gardens, housing one of England’s largest collections of water lilies (from May to September).

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PHOTO: Warwick/Shutterstock
14 OF 15

Lacock

WHERE: Wiltshire, Cotswolds

If you’re looking for an English getaway and just so happen to have a Harry Potter obsession—welcome to Lacock. The medieval wool town has come a long way from its 13th century village days but still stands as a mirror back in time. The village holds everything from dainty antique shops to chocolate havens begging you to come in and have a taste of their delectable delights. Check out the stoned memorials at St. Cyriac’s Church and ooh-and-ahh at one of the earliest photographs ever taken in the world at the Fox Talbot Museum.

INSIDER TIPDip in for a pint at St George’s Inn. If you sit at the booth near the right-hand window, you’ll find hordes of photographs from all the movies and tv shows filmed in the village.

 

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PHOTO: Great West Way
15 OF 15

Castle Combe

WHERE: Wiltshire, Cotswolds

Castle Combe is proof that fairytale towns do still exist. Despite the tourists, a local feel still survives here. Discover the rustically charming St. Andrew’s Church and wind through the 5.5-mile loop around the area. Have a proper English roast at The Castle Inn, then dip into the Old Rectory Tearoom for the best home-baked cake in the Cotswolds. But don’t leave before you’ve snagged a picture at the famously beautiful Castle Combe Bridge.

INSIDER TIPBook a stay at Manor House, a luxury hotel with a Michelin-Star restaurant, gin bar, and golf course to match.

 

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