England Holiday – 10 Things you Have to See and Do
England always intrigued me growing up. Perhaps it’s the historical ties with U.S., the fact that I’m 60% English or maybe all the James Bond movies.
Whatever it is, England is was where I made my first international solo trip back in 2010, before my second Afghanistan deployment. This little journey is what really got it all started for me exploring countries on my own.
Listed below is my “England Holiday – 10 Things you Have to See and Do.” A timeless list that will take you through major cities, national parks, beautiful beaches and historical landmarks. Here’s a little map of my route to get you started.
England Road Trip Route
1) At least two days in London
I can’t say enough about London. After this 2010 trip, I went back a couple times in 2012. It’s one of my favorite European cities and believe it should be the first stop on any trip to England. If not the only stop.
London is a great starting point to get your bearings and experience almost anything one of the world’s greatest cities has to offer. From museums, plays to historical tours and boat rides, there is something for everyone. As you can see below, some of my historic tours included a pub (or three).
Since this isn’t a London specific post, I’ll share one of my favorite links, http://www.visitlondon.com, so you can search out your own adventure. I’ll be sharing all my London pictures and stories in a later post.
2) Rent a Car and Drive
To truly experience England, you need to drive through the cities and countryside. Driving on the left hand side of the road, navigating turn circles in London should be on everyone’s bucket list. Right after driving a sports car on the German autobahn. Both will quickly take you out of your comfort zone.
The United Kingdom, of which England is a part, and Ireland are the only two countries in Europe that drive on the left side of the road. I think that may come as a shock to many people that think all of Europe drives on the left side of the road.
After my first couple days in London, I rented a car for a week to visit all the places you’ll see below. To be honest, my brain locked up many times the first couple days before I finally got the hang of looking right at intersections again. Luckily, I’d spent six months in Japan back in 2001 and had a little “wrong” side of the road driving experience.
In addition to the general fun of driving on the left side of the road, the main reason you should rent a car is to explore and witness the English countryside. Since I had a navigation, I was constantly leaving primary roads to wander through the hills and small towns. I have no idea where the pictures below were taken, all I know is I wouldn’t have seen them if I wasn’t driving through England.
NOTE: Plan for at least one embarrassing driving moment, because it’ll happen. At least you’ll be able to laugh about it later. “Bad decisions lead to great stories.” My embarrassing moment takes place in the Cambridge section below.
3) Brighton Beach and Pier
I learned about Brighton Beach from my British Aunt, Paulette. She was great in helping me plan my England trip and is the reason I saw so many great places.
After London, I jumped in my rental car drove south to Brighton Beach. There I spent a few hours walking the town, beach and pier. Lucky for me, I arrived on a warm, sunny afternoon. And the term “warm” is based on British standards. The sun was out, but it was a bit chilly.
Brighton Beach and pier were beautiful and a great place to spend a few hours. Although I must say, I was a little surprised to see a beach covered in what I’d call pebbles, not sand. It wasn’t all that much fun to walk over but I guess that’s because I had tourist feet. The locals definitely didn’t seem to mind.
After Brighton, it was back in the car and on to the next stop.
4) Wild Horses in New Forest National Park
If you’re a horse lover, New Forest National Park is a must visit. The park is filled with around 3,000 ponies freely wandering the beautiful forest.
My next stop after Brighton Beach was Lyndhurst, which is smack dab in the middle of New Forest. It was the perfect overnight stop as it allowed me plenty of time to explore the park the following morning.
It was quite the experience seeing those beautiful ponies up close in their natural habitat. And of course driving through a pack of donkeys running down the street provided some comedic relief.
After my morning with the ponies, I stopped at Stonehenge on the way to my next stop. Now, I don’t want to sound like Debbie Downer, but Stonehenge wasn’t all that impressive to me.
Yes, Stonehenge is one of those mystical places we hear about our whole lives. And that’s why I stopped. And that is also why I’m still recommending it in my England top ten. If you have the chance to visit, you have to. Because it’s a once in a lifetime experience. And who knows, when you visit maybe you won’t have your cranky pants on like I did and you may blow your socks off.
6) Cotswolds - Stow on the Wold
The Cotswolds region of England is a picturesque collection of thatched medieval villages that are distinctly British. Like Brighton Beach, Aunt Paulette also recommended visiting the Cotswolds and the town of Stow-on-the-Wold. The locals were super friendly and treated this wandering Yank like I was one of their own. Their hospitality made it the best overnight stop of my trip.
After checking into a my centuries old hotel room (that I barely fit into), I toured the town, met the aforementioned friendly locals and stayed out way past my bedtime. I also tried to learn the British game in the picture below, which didn’t end too well for me.
If you know the name of the game, please let me know in the comments section. Unfortunately, you still can insert an image into Google but I’m sure that’s coming soon.
The city of Cambridge was actually much more impressive to me than the university. Maybe that’s because I only spent a few minutes on campus before turning around to explore the historical town. Like Brighton Beach, this was another short stop that I wished was longer.
While I missed out on the splendor of the Cambridge University campus, the city definitely made up for it. The pictures below give you quick glance at it’s beauty and one of it’s most popular attractions, “punt tours.”
Cambridge was also where I experienced my most embarrassing English driving moment.
As I rounded a corner approaching the center of town, I went left instead of right. And left took me into the closed off bus lane that required a magnetic badge to exit. No badge to get in, but ya needed one t to get out. Great. Oh, and this was in front of 100’s of people walking the street. I had to do 20 point “Austin Powers” turn about in that lane while buses and people waited, staring. I remember that moment vividly, so embarrassing and so much stank eye from all the bus drivers.
8) Cambridge American Cemetery
I was a little surprised to see the Cambridge American Cemetery signs on my drive out of Cambridge. As far as I knew there were no WWII land battles in England involving American troops.
I soon discovered that this cemetery honors all the fallen U.S. bomber and fighter pilots that flew out of Cambridge during the war. One of the pictures below shows their reach across Europe during the war.
I think we’ve all seen the WWII movies like “Memphis Belle” where so many bombers were shot out of the sky. The men in those planes are represented here and it was quite a moving stop. If you look at those rows of crosses, hopefully you’ll understand why. And why I say it’s a must see.
9) Peak District National Park
Peak District was the perfect stop on my way to Manchester from Cambridge. I spent the day in the park taking in some of England’s best landscapes. Peaceful and serene are the best way to describe this park. I couldn’t count the number of times I stopped just to watch the animals or enjoy the landscape.
10) Manchester United Football Game
Last but not least, a Manchester United football game, or soccer game for Americans. Now, I’m not the most avid Premiere League football fan, but I do love me some European football in person. Or in a German restaurant when the Germans win the world cup. That’s pretty cool too.
I’m simply going to say that if you’re into sports, then you really must go to a European football game at some point in your life. Preferably a British Premiere League match so you get the full pre-game pub singing and beer drinking experience. The Old Trafford pub before the Man U / Scotland match definitely didn’t disappoint.
The match was great and at times secondary to what was going on in the stands. 1000’s of fans singing, jumping up and down in unison and waving huge flags. The Scots were in the section above me and didn’t stop jumping up and down and singing the entire match. The energy is unreal and nothing like I’d ever experienced at a professional or college American football game.
Until next time, England
After Manchester and the great football match, I was soon back on a plane to the states. That trip gave me a new appreciation for England, her history and her amazing countryside. I hope it did the same for you. England remains one of my favorite places.
I have to give special thanks to my Aunt Paulette, whose insight and recommendations made this trip a great experience before I took off on my seven month desert camping trip.
Please comment below if I missed any great spots and let me know if you’ve been to any of the same spots I visited during my trip.