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South England - worth visiting beyond some grand houses?

Trip this coming September --I am interested in seeing some of the National Trust properties in the southern counties below London but want to do other things too. I am a member of the American branch of the Natl Trust and have all the resources I need to plan seeing houses and gardens, but RS doesn't cover this geographic area in his book on Great Britain (maybe it's in the other book, on England...?). Surely there are some interesting sites to see there, pretty towns to explore and stay in, museums, local festivals, cool places to walk, etc. I will do my research on the web of course but would love to have tips to get me started. What about the Isle of Wight, Portsmouth, Southampton too? Thanks, Ann.

Posted by
6353 posts

You might try some other guidebooks for England - Lonely Planet, Michelin Green Guides, Insight Guides, DK Eyewitness Guides, etc.. Personally I don't think RS guides to Great Britain are particularly comprehensive.

Posted by
10344 posts

Unlike some other guidebooks, Rick's are intended to be selective, not comprehensive. His omission of areas doesn't mean those areas aren't worth seeing.
Other guide books, that are intended to be comprehensive, should give you the information you seek.
Several residents of England/UK are regulars here, but it's the middle of the night there, right now. Look here tomorrow and you may see comments that they have.

Posted by
5362 posts

There is lots to see, as Kent mentioned, RS only hits a select portion, maybe even examples of sites to see. For myself, I found Portsmouth to be very worthwhile, especially for someone with a Maritime or Naval interest. More South and West though is Cornwall, a real wealth of sights, from charming coastal villages to ancient sites, to estates and gardens.

Posted by
1399 posts

I loved the trip we took to the south. We first drove to Winchester and spent the night - very nice town. From there, drove to the New Forest and spent a couple nights Toured Beaulieu and the National Motor Museum, Bucklers Hard. Took the ferry boat over to the Isle of Wight. Really enjoyed seeing Osborne House and Carisbrook Castle. Many other things too on the island. Portsmouth was great. On another trip we had come from Kent and toured Arundel Castle - not sure how far east you will plan to go. Anyway, bottomline, we really loved this area. It's been quite a number of years since we were there.

Posted by
1878 posts

The Royal Pavilion in Brighton may be worth a visit. My wife and I drove by but did not have the time to stop on our 2000 trip to England. Rick covers lot of southern England stops, but I think you mean directly south of London. Rye is a nice small town to visit, we were there on our 2000 trip as well. We did a day trip to Dover Castle, which was amazing. Wish we had more time in Rye itself, as we only spent a morning there. Arundel Castle also looks extremely worthwhile, although I have never been there. If you wanted to venture to the west, Dartmoor which is in Rick's England book is spectacular if you have any interest in the outdoors (we there for a couple of nights on our 2013 visit). The Jurassic Coast likewise looks great, though I have never visited there. Salisbury is worth day trip for it's cathedral which is right up there with Chartes in France as the best I have been to.

Posted by
6353 posts

Winchester is another cathedral town definitely worth going to along with Salisbury. And I really enjoyed Brighton a lot, the Royal Pavilion was marvelous and walking along the pier was fun, kind of like the Atlantic City boardwalk. Farther east toward Dover is the town of Battle, the site of the battle of Hastings. The abbey there is more like a castle than an abbey and very interesting.

Posted by
26026 posts

Do you like Jane Austen?

Or maybe preserved steam railways?

Medieval history? Or ancient and Roman history? Or perhaps Tudor history?

Perhaps messing about with boats? Or Pooh Bear?

Posted by
1829 posts

In my county of Kent you will find lovely countryside, pretty villages and towns, lots of historic houses (big and small), castles, country parks, old pubs and loads of walking opps.

http://www.visitkent.co.uk/

Posted by
115 posts

Everything you all have mentioned or suggested is very helpful. It gives me a place to start. Thanks. We will start by going to Chartwell (Westerham, Kent) and then want to explore south, southeast, and southwest of there. Nigel, my problem is that I am interested in everything, so, "yes" to your questions. Ann.

Posted by
26026 posts

tough to narrow it down with such broad goals.

Are you here for a year?

Posted by
115 posts

Nigel, oh, how I do wish I could stay for a year. How about one recommendation from each of your categories, or just pick any two or three things to direct me towards. Thanks! Ann.

Posted by
278 posts

When I get a chance to go to southern England, the place I want to see is Fishbourne Roman Palace near Portsmouth--it was bigger than Buckingham Palace when it was built, and has a huge collection of Roman mosaic floors still in place.

Posted by
1586 posts

We have visited SE England and SW England, but not south-central. (However, I agree that Arundel Castle looks quite worth a visit.) Starting with the SE, more or less in geographical order, here are what we felt were the highlights: Bodiam Castle, Hever Castle, Igtham Mote, Bayham Abbey, Battle Abbey, old fishing shack areas of Hastings. Not too fond of Canterbury Cathedral, although it certainly is important.......We wanted to see Sissinghurst gardens but they were closed the day we visited......SW England: Winchester and Salisbury (fun to compare the two cathedrals) and Montisfont (spelling?) which is between the two, Corfe Castle, the swannery, Lyme Regis, Cadbury Hill if you are into King Arthur. Is Cornwall also to be included? ---lots of sights there.

Posted by
806 posts

We really enjoyed the Weald and Downland Open-Air Museum, about 35 miles west of Brighton [and a bit north]. They have dozens of houses and other buildings spanning more than 500 years, which were moved here from many places in southern England. Check the website closer to your visit and you'll be able to see if any demonstrations or festivals are going on while you are in the area.

And I'll second the vote for the Royal Pavilion, especially if you're a fan of Regency historical fiction; it's a beautiful building with an interesting history.

Posted by
1607 posts

We thought the audio tour of The Royal Pavilion in Brighton was exceptional. We also loved Portsmouth and found lots to do there - the Martime museum complex can occupy the better part of a day and, as WWII buffs, found their D-Day Museum to be fascinating. It was particularly interesting to see photos of the damage done to the town and then look at the buildings today. Most of the guides were quite willing to share their knowledge. The museum also has a tapestry of D-Day done along the lines of the tapestry at Bayeux.

Posted by
150 posts

If you are interested in the Titanic and find yourself near Southampton, there are a few things to visit there: the maritime museum (which I believe is now called the SeaCity Museum), which has some Titanic memorabilia and also hosts a huge model of the Queen Mary. Although when I was there the museum was in the old Wool House so I don't know for sure what it's like now, but if they've rehoused their collections presumably it's to showcase a lot more stuff (the Wool House was rather small). There are also two Titanic memorials in the city's parks, one to the engineers and the other to the band who played on while she was sinking. If you want to have a pint where the officers of the White Star Line used to drink, you can stop by at the Grapes, a very pleasant pub not far from the waterfront.

Just outside of Southampton is the New Forest, if you're into nature. You'd probably need to rent a car for that, but it's very nice, with wild ponies (don't be fooled by the name: it's not just a forest, there are villages and heathland in it, and it's not new).

And although this isn't in the south, it's not too far, and can be of interest to Americans: in the southern tip of Buckinghamshire there is a village called Jordans which has a barn they call the Mayflower Barn, allegedly made out of the timbers of the Mayflower after she was broken up in the years after her historic voyage.

Posted by
2710 posts

If I were heading south out of London, I would be sure and see three things.

  1. Leeds Castle. Spectacular. Remodeled and enlarged by Henry VIII.

  2. Hever Castle. Home of the Boleyn family; one of the locations where Henry VIII wooed Anne Boleyn. Located in the village of Hever, Kent, only 30 miles south-east of London. Not far from Chartwell. The lovely county of Kent is not to be missed. Many moated houses and beautiful gardens.

  3. Dover Castle. Overlooking the sea, with medieval walls and an old Roman lighthouse.

Others have offered some great advice. But for me, I would plan on these three, and add more things as time permits. If you then start traveling west, add Winchester Cathedral and Salisbury.

Posted by
150 posts

Rebecca you are right, those are not-to-be-missed sights. Adding to what you have written, there is a maze in the grounds of Leeds Castle and WW2 tunnels below Dover Castle that are very fun/interesting things to see.

Posted by
2710 posts

"We want to see Chartwell. We then want to explore southeast and southwest of there."
Southeast of there takes you to Canterbury, for one place. Are you interested in Canterbury and its Cathedral?

"What about the Isle of Wight, Portsmouth, Southampton too?"
Other posters have covered Portsmouth and Southampton. As for the Isle of Wight, it is lovely. It will take more than just a brief visit to do it justice. There are small villages all around the island. Our favorite was Shanklin. We stayed there for 3 days and rented bicycles to ride around. You must take a ferryboat to Isle of Wight (from Portsmouth Harbor), so count on more time there than just an afternoon. You will want to see Carisbrooke Castle (ancient Saxon fort site) and Osbourne House (Queen Victoria's home).

"England; The Rough Guide" by Rough Guides, is a guidebook that goes into great detail about every region of England. When I don't find the details on a town that I need in Rick Steves England guide, I turn to the Rough Guide. It's good; has regional maps at the start of each chapter. City, town or village maps with each major location. I took both guidebooks to England with me last time.

Posted by
2710 posts

You could just spend some time walking around the towns/villages of Hever (near Hever Castle), Westerham (where you will be visiting Chartwell), and Edenbridge, a village with an interesting "old town" section, with many Tudor era black-and-white timbered buildings. Sit on a park bench, visit a tea room, or have lunch in a pub.

You could visit Knole House in the town of Sevenoaks.

When visiting Leeds Castle, visit nearby Maidstone. A lovely town on the River Medway. Maidstone Museum is in an Elizabethan manor house. There is a Archbishop's Palace there that dates to Tudor era. Just walk around Maidstone by the river, admire the views over the water and boats.

You could visit the village of Otford, whose High Street has many Tudor-era buildings and pubs. Many walking paths come through Otford. The North Downs Way runs through the village and then intersects the Darent Valley Path.The famous Pilgrims' Way path also passes through Otford. This is the historic route taken by pilgrims from Winchester to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral.The North Downs Way parallels the Pilgrims' Way.

It would be interesting for you to visit Winchester, then come to Otford and walk a bit of the Pilgrim's Way, then visit Canterbury Cathedral, to see for yourself where their journey ended.

Posted by
4872 posts

It depends on how long you are visiting for as to how far to spread your wings.

After Chartwell, you could visit Igtham Mote to the east, a lovely National Trust property a 14th century moated manor house, then go to Sissinghurst Gardens (also NT). There are many olde worlde bed and breakfasts in the area such as www.honontoncottage.co.uk near Tunbridge Wells.

Brighton is south of Chartwell and it's interesting to peruse the old 18th century The Lanes shopping area where you can get everything from antiques to old guns to hand-made cosmetics and the latest fashion. The Bluebell steam railway still runs daily in September and nearby is Sheffield Park, a great landscape garden. Hever Castle and Leeds Castle are nearby but are owned by English Heritage, not the National Trust. Penshurst Place near Tunbridge is a 14th century house that is still lived in and is open to the public (privately owned).

Rye is worth a visit further east along the coast and there are plenty places to stay here. It has plenty of old buildings (better in my opinion than Otford that has been previously mentioned) and there are good walks along the coast from here.

If you want to go further north east, Faversham has a great old town centre, there are great coastal walks to Oare and the Shepherd Neame brewery runs tours and tasting and is Britain's oldest brewer. Canterbury is then just down the road.

It's all personal taste, but I think that the town centres of Southampton and Portsmouth are less attractive than many other towns and cities as they were destroyed during the war and subsequently rebuilt, but they have interesting museums. The Isle of Wight is also worth a visit. Good luck choosing!

Posted by
359 posts

so many lovely houses and gardens in South East England, many of historical significance. You can also go to Dover and see Dover Castle and its underground WWII military facilities.

Posted by
714 posts

Wisley Gardens in Surrey, operated by the Royal Horticultural Society and Sissinghurst Castle Gardens in Kent are well worth visiting. Fishborne Roman Villa is near the cathedral city of Chichester. and the small coastal town of Bosham Harbour with its Saxon chapel. Lewes in Sussex with its castle (700 years old this year!) and the house Ann of Cleeves lived in after her divorce from Henry VIII (both operated by Sussex Archaeological Trust). Pevensy Castle - dates back to Roman times and also used as anti-aircraft battery during WWII. Dover, Hastings, Eastbourne along the south coast. Alfriston, an old village inland from the Seven Sisters Cliffs. Yes the Southeast of the UK is worth visiting.