For those looking for picture-postcard England, the northwest region of the country might not appear at the top of many sightseeing lists, but it has plenty more to offer. Manchester, Britain's third-largest city by size and second by cultural significance, bustles with redevelopment, and Liverpool is undergoing similar revitalization.Yes, the 200 years of smokestack industry that abated only in the 1980s have taken a toll on the landscape, yet the region does have some lovely scenery inland, in Derbyshire (pronounced Dar-be-sha)—notably the spectacular Peak District, a national park at the southern end of the Pennine range.
Manchester and Liverpool, the economic engines that propelled Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries, are sloughing off their mid-20th-century decline and celebrating their rich industrial and maritime heritage through some excellent museums—either in converted Victorian edifices, strikingly modern buildings, or, in the case of the Manchester Art Gallery and Whitworth Art Gallery, a stunning combination of the two.
The cities, each with a population of about 500,000, have reestablished themselves as centers of sporting and musical excellence, as well as hot spots for culture and nightlife. Since 1962 the Manchester United, Everton, and Liverpool football (soccer in the United States) clubs have between them won everything worth winning in Britain and Europe. The Beatles launched the Mersey sound of the ’60s; contemporary Manchester groups still punch above their weight on both sides of the Atlantic. On the classical side of music, Manchester is also the home of Britain's oldest leading orchestra, the Hallé (founded in 1857)—just one legacy of 19th-century industrialists' investments in culture.
As you head inland to the Peak District, nature comes to the forefront in the form of crags that rear violently out of the plains. The Pennines, a line of hills that begins in the Peak District and runs as far north as Scotland, are sometimes called the "backbone of England." In this landscape of rocky outcrops and undulating meadowland you'll see nothing for miles but sheep, dry-stone walls (built without mortar), and farms, interrupted—spectacularly—by 19th-century villages and stately homes. In and around this area are Victorian-era spas such as Buxton, pretty towns such as Bakewell, and magnificent houses such as Chatsworth and Haddon Hall. The delight of the Peak District is being able to ramble for days in rugged countryside but still enjoy the pleasures of civilization.