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Favorite quaint English town

My husband and I are traveling to London for 8 days and would like to spend 4-5 days visiting a quaint English town or Edinburgh. We have visited Henley-on-Thames and enjoyed the countryside river walk and picturesque downtown.

What is your favorite small town or village in England?

If you could spend a few days exploring a small English town or Edinburgh which would it be? We love to explore and have many interests but would love to live like a local steering clear of crowds.

Thanks for all of your help!!

Posted by
2746 posts

A few points of clarification would help us give appropriate answers.

Would the 4-5 days be in addition to 8 days in London, or are you talking about 3-4 for London and 4-5 for a small town?

Does it need to be accessible by train from London, or do you prefer someplace that would involve renting a car?

Are you asking if we'd vote for a small town vs. Edinburgh? They are vastly different -- if you are looking to avoid crowds then Edinburgh (at least the Royal Mile) would not be a good choice.

Where do you want to end up afterwards? Are you flying home from London at the end of the 8 (or 12-13) days, or are you heading to Edinburgh next?

Posted by
2624 posts

Here are a few......Painswick, Bourton-on-the-Water, Broadway, Ebrington and Castle Combe. These are villages all in the Cotswolds and well with a visit.

Posted by
6 posts

Thank you for all the great replies!

We are spending 3-4 days in London then 3-4 in a small town or Edinburgh. We are open to renting a car, but would prefer a train. We'll be flying out of London.

Yes, I realize quaint towns/villages often are discovered by tourists but the charm remains.

This is such a helpful forum!!

Posted by
908 posts

Tanya,
If you get a chance, check out the latest issue of Victoria magazine (mine just arrived today) online or most grocery stores sell issues. September is the British issue and Broadway and Bibury are featured.

Posted by
9799 posts

I agree the Cotswolds are high on my list with Castle Combe being a must. Bibury was also pretty but tourists have found it.

Canterbury and Salisbury are two places south of London (southeast and southwest respectively) that offer a great deal to see.

Posted by
571 posts

Is now the time to point out that "quaint" is rather a derogatory adjectve in British English? It is used to describe something that isn't quite real, but has been deliberately created in an affected antiquated style. Don't go to somewhere like Wells and tell the locals their city is quaint. It is certainly old, but is a thriving place and the centre for a wide rural area. As a tourist, you may be seen as gettng in the way of people going about their ordinary lives.

If you want somewhere which is attractive but with fewer tourists, I would suggest you look at places in the Welsh border area such as Monmouth, Abergavenny, Ross on Wye, Bishops Castle, or Montgomery. However, they won't be quite as pristine as Bibury or Lacock.

Posted by
2023 posts

Bibury, Lacock, Castle Combe but I do love Tetbury which is not tiny but has much to offer.

Posted by
2727 posts

Grassington in the Yorkshire Dales. If you are traveling from London to Edinburgh, it is fairly reasonable to access on the way. We use public transportation, but might be even easier by private car. Many lovely walks in the area and it is an adorable village. Of course, if you are traveling in the winter, not so much.

Posted by
5975 posts

We were just in Lacock and Castle Coombe. Lovely places, but neither would be of interest for 4-5 days. You can leisurely walk around either "downtown" in an hour. Assume you mean as a base for visiting other places? Perhaps another town in the Cotswolds would be a better base. I'd consider somewhere on the sea myself.

Posted by
3173 posts

Personally I like Rye on the south coast.

Emma, we're considering a day trip to Rye via rail from London in mid October. I was happy to read that you recommended it. Would you still recommend it in October and, if so, why? Thank you.

Posted by
4751 posts

Most small towns and villages will keep you occupied for half a day maximum.

Rye is good all year round, but be prepared for inclement weather at that time of year. In addition to the town centre, you could walk down the hill to Rye Harbour and walk the loop round the nature trail to the sea and back.

Nearby Hythe is worth visiting for a non-touristy small town. Good walks along the seafront, a heritage steam railway and explore the Military Canal, built to keep Napoleon at bay, but never needed. Winchelsea is also worth a visit.

The Cotswolds have been ruined by the numbers of tourists and the resultant traffic log jams. You could visit Rutland instead, which has similar chocolate box villages but without the crowds. Take a ride on the pleasure boat on Rutland Water or hire bikes and cycle round. Nearby towns worth visiting include Stamford, Oakham and Uppingham. Oakham Castle is interesting. Many gardens to explore if that's of interest plus Leicester is about an hour away (Richard III etc).

Another option would be Yorkshire - Harrogate, Thirsk, Whitby and smaller towns such as Pickering. Surrounded by great countryside.

Posted by
6508 posts

This is so funny, I've had Rye on the brain ever since reading Helen Simonson's The Summer Before the War. And for some reason today I started thinking about it again, then click on this topic, only to see it turn partially into a Rye discussion. Hmmmmm, this is definitely bearing consideration. Emma, I'll of course Google, but among those shops, are there good bookstores in Rye??? (If I end up switching from a London trip to there, I'll tell the TI office to send you a commission!)

Posted by
4751 posts

There are a few bookshops in Rye, selling both new and antiquarian books, but it isn't as well known for its books as say Hay on Wye. Rye also has a number of galleries, cafes etc.

Posted by
3173 posts

In addition to the town centre, you could walk down the hill to Rye
Harbour and walk the loop round the nature trail to the sea and back.

I didn't realize you could walk to the sea (the English Channel?). That's great. What is the distance of the walk from the town centre to the sea and back? Also, is Rye Harbour a separate village or town?

I like Rye because it's an attractive little town with an interesting
history and a good range of interesting shops and pubs etc.

The weather in October can really vary. It is autumn but often at the
the start of the month the weather can be quite fine and sunny, with
cold evenings. That said, it could also be wet and miserable.....

Sounds like it's good NOT to plan in advance but see how the weather is. Thanks. Your description and Jennifer's of Rye really makes me hope for good weather!

Posted by
2789 posts

Adding Rye to my bucket list :) Is "picturesque" an ok adjective to use?

Posted by
8889 posts

In addition to the town centre, you could walk down the hill to Rye Harbour and walk the loop round the nature trail to the sea and back.

I didn't realize you could walk to the sea (the English Channel?).

That's why Rye is as it is. It was once one of the major ports handling trade with France. That made it rich and had well-built and expensive buildings, and a wall to defend the town (built after the French sacked the town in 1377). But then the port gradually silted up and the sea receded, leaving it inland. Unlike the other channel ports (notably Dover) the town never expanded, industrialisation bypassed it and the old buildings never got re-built.

The nearby town of Winchelsea is also a former port left high and dry be the receding coast and smaller than it was in previous centuries. Also worth a visit.

If you are in that area. also visit Lewes.

Posted by
4751 posts

Rye to Rye Harbour is a good 2 miles as by foot, car or bus, as there are no bridges over the River Rother, so you have to take a slightly longer route. It's 8 minutes by bus according to Google. I always drive there, living about an hour away.

Rye Harbour is very different to Rye itself - more ramshackle, but nevertheless charming. It has a pub and a couple of cafes.

Nearby along the coast is Dungeness which is unique and merits a visit if you have time. It started out years ago as a bit of a hippy kind of place, with houses made from old fishing boats etc and is now trendy, with individually designed houses. There is a heritage steam railway, you can go up the lighthouse and there are a few places to eat. Walk on the beach. I understand that technically, it is the only desert in England. It's also the location of a now redundant nuclear power station, but it's concrete bulk adds to the attraction.

Posted by
135 posts

I suggest going east - well off the usual mainstream tourist trail, but many, many 'quaint' English villages. Try [Thaxted][1] and Finchingfield in Essex; Bury St. Edmunds is bigger and a good base even to see Cambridge, Saffron Walden and even Ipswich.

Posted by
3406 posts

I would not spend a few days in Edinburgh if the alternative was a town or village. I find that I enjoy visiting smaller locations that have less of a "tourist" emphasis. Now, I know I am a tourist and I am adding to the crowds. However, away from Edinburgh or Glasgow, I feel more like a visitor. In those cities I feel like a tourist. Nothing like the Royal Mile to make me feel like I have reached the depth of tourist tackiness. It's just my opinion, but I found the castle at Stirling to be a better experience for me than Edinburgh Castle.

I think that you might enjoy a visit to Oban and the Hebrides more than Edinburgh if you enjoy country walks and picturesque downtowns. Consider staying on the Island of Iona.

Posted by
1395 posts

I love Rye and some of the other villages mentioned. Last year we spent time in Bridgnorth close to the Welsh border. Just loved that town!

Posted by
5634 posts

Try Durham. 3 hour train ride from London. Stay the night.

If it was good enough to film an episode of Inspector George Gently it was good enough for me.

Durham Castle is fabulous. National Heritage site.

I went when the colleges weren't in session. November but in time to enjoy a pleasurable Christmas market in the town square.

I loved walking the river path and the comfort of the Ye Olde Elm Tree pub.

Posted by
35 posts

A few years ago, my husband and I visited Castle Combe as part of an escorted tour. We were only there for an evening, going for a walk around followed by by dinner at a very nice tavern. The area was truly charming, but the enduring memory was the earful we got from a local woman who was not especially happy about the intrusion of these tourists into her village!

It does seem that people from more and more places, large and small, would prefer to keep their homes to themselves. Having seen the crowds and the way some tourists behave, I can understand their frustration. However, given the dependence of those local economies on tourist dollars, they may want to be careful what they wish for. Who knew that vacationing could be so complicated?

Posted by
1395 posts

I should make a few comments about Bridgnorth that we loved so much last year. We did have a car and stayed there for a number of days while we made day trips. However, Bridgnorth has so much there - we stayed in a very wonderful hotel (like a B&B - The Croft) 1/2 block off high street. The high street has many restaurants and shops and a wonderful market - also a museum there. Bridgnorth has a high town and low town connected by a funicular. One night we were walking and a crowd was heading in a direction, and I asked where everyone was going. Down the steep steps toward the low town was a theater, and they were showing a local Shakespeare production and invited us to come along. The people there were so friendly and were very interested in talking to us, given we were from the U.S. and California. One day we took the Severn Valley Steam Train ride - got off at a train museum; got back on and got off at a small village and walked in for lunch, got back on. Beautiful ride - delightful. Much more there. I do want to go back.

Posted by
8293 posts

We went to Alresford from Winchester one day to buy a hat for a wedding. Liked the High Street, lots of nice shops, but best of all, my sister-in-law led us down a laneway to an opening where there was a large wooden box filled with potatoes for sale. It was on the honour system (now there's a quaint idea!). You took the potatoes you wanted and left money in a tin. There was no one around to check on you.

A quaint village indeed.

Posted by
4751 posts

If you are travelling in June or July, many villages hold village fetes, usually on a Saturday afternoon, which give a different view of England - probably local brass bands playing on the village green, homemade produce such as cake and jams for sale, raffles, horticultural shows including the biggest vegetable competitions, dogs that look like their owner competitions and tea and coffee stalls etc. A real taste of local life.

Posted by
426 posts

Lavenham - but only for a day or two.

Posted by
47 posts

I will second the recommendation for Durham. It is obviously bigger than a village, but it is very charming and oh-so-friendly. We were there just a few weeks ago and enjoyed it immensely. We rented a car and spent our days exploring Hadrian's Wall and the Beamish Museum. Both were highlights.

Having said that, our family loves Edinburgh. It is a wonderful city (especially if you get beyond the Royal Mile--although that, during the Fringe, was great fun). We stayed in Leith, which was great, and took the bus into the city. If you go to Edinburgh, be sure to take the time to explore Craigmillar Castle in addition to Edinburgh Castle. Two VERY different experiences. Craigmillar is far less visited and a lovely, evocative ruin of a castle.

Posted by
133 posts

I will be staying in Chester in the Spring. It will be my jumping off point to explore the Welsh countryside, and hopefully find my ancestral home. I haven't been to Chester, but it has intact town walls and a lot of historic atmosphere from the pictures and websites I've seen about it. I'm hoping it turns out to be nice. If anyone has been there, I'd love to know how you liked it.

Posted by
6 posts

Thanks Emma. I appreciate the gesture.

I think I'll need to plan another trip just to visit a few of these aforementioned "picturesque" villages. Great discussion!

Thanks to all for your helpful contributions and suggestions.

Posted by
133 posts

Emma, I can't wait to see Chester. I went down to street level on Google maps, and it looks just wonderful. My two daughters and I will be taking the train from London to Chester and I was wondering if we'd have any trouble getting a taxi from the station to our hotel, or is the city center within walking distance of the train station?

We plan to walk the walls and see the Cathedral. Do you have any other suggestions for "must see" things? We aren't staying long, only one day. The next day we will be driving around Wales, and then return to London that evening.

Posted by
28 posts

We just returned a couple of days ago from a whirlwind 23 days in England and Scotland. My favorite small town in England that we visited was Bakewell. We just loved the area and it wasn't very crowded. In Scotland the favorite was probably Fort William.

Posted by
109 posts

Emma Thank you for the fabulous Chester post. My husband and I will be there the 22-22nd Sept and look forward to a fast exploration before we set off for Wales. Any suggestions on good pubs so my husband can quench his ale thirst? Again Thanks. Always like your posts.

Posted by
133 posts

Thanks Emma! Not sure where we'll be staying yet. Thanks for all the great suggestions!

Posted by
618 posts

I agree with Mark. If you want to go off the tourist radar then go East of London by about 60 miles. I absolutely love Finchingfield. We rented a beautiful cottage (very cheap) and toured the area going into Thaxted (Audley End House is beautiful). Cambridge and then into the Suffolk villages of Lavenham and the costal village of Aldeburgh.

Posted by
109 posts

Emma
Brilliant! Thank you for the pub suggestions...we are sure to visit at two, three..four.