The Most Charming Small Towns in England

These ten singular places offer history, shopping, a warm welcome, and some seriously good fish and chips.


The beach huts at Wells-next-the-Sea can be rented for the day.

Photo by Steven Docwra/Shutterstock

The buzz of British cities like London, Manchester, or Bristol is irresistible and infectious, but it’s in England’s small towns that you’ll often find the real heart and soul of this eccentric country. Discover market towns with crumbling castles, seaside communities brimming with contemporary art, and more as you travel around England’s best small towns.

View of Ludlow in Shropshire

The farmers’ market at Ludlow offers unusual cheese and local salami.

Photo by Ashleigh Cadet

Ludlow, Shropshire

Sitting near the Welsh/English border on the edge of the undulating Shropshire Hills in the west of the country, Ludlow is a truly charming 11th-century market town with creaking timber-framed buildings leaning against handsome Georgian townhouses. Come on a Saturday to shop for unusual flavored cheese by the Weird and Wonderful Cheese Co. and locally cured salami and honey at the farmers’ market, right outside the magnificent ruined medieval Ludlow Castle; hike up the towers for far-reaching views over the surrounding countryside.

Where to stay

Book Now: The Feathers

Pay a visit to Ludlow Brewing Co. to try a traditional English ale, and stay overnight at the Feathers, a 17th-century, 42-room hotel with the most ornate timber frontage in town and original features inside, including intricate plasterwork and dramatic timber-vaulted ceilings.

Whitby Abbey

Adult tickets to Whitby Abbey are around $12.

Courtesy of English Heritage

Whitby, North Yorkshire

There’s no missing the 13th-century Whitby Abbey on a visit to this Yorkshire seaside town. Whether you take a boat trip from Whitby Harbour along the precipitous cliffs, where the abbey perches high above the town, or you wander through its tangle of cobbled streets, which connect to the stone staircase that leads up to it, you’ll find yourself drawn to the vast ruin that inspired parts of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. If spooky is your thing, come in late April for the Whitby Goth Weekend, when hundreds of eyeliner-adorned alternatives swarm the town in their black lace and big, heavy boots.

Where to stay

Book Now: La Rosa Hotel

Keep it quirky and stay in La Rosa Hotel, right in the center of town, which has esoteric decor and a Victorian tearoom.

Falmouth harbour

Falmouth’s harbor is the deepest in western Europe.

Falmouth, Cornwall

Tucked away on Cornwall’s south coast at the mouth of the River Fal, this pretty seaside town has a lively history of piracy, smuggling, and oyster farming. Spend time in the National Maritime Museum to find out exactly how Falmouth came to be such an important place for nautical business before sampling some of those local oysters, which are still dredged by hand on unmotorized boats. There are a pair of soft, white-sand beaches on the town’s southern coastline, while the Tudor-era Pendennis Castle overlooks the entrance to the Carrick Roads estuary on a small peninsula.

Where to stay

Book Now: St. Michael’s Resort

Bed down at St. Michael’s Resort, which has bright, breezy rooms with a nod to the nautical in its decor.

Woodstock Town Hall dates back to 1766.

Woodstock Town Hall dates back to 1766.

Courtesy of Experience Oxfordshire

Woodstock, Oxfordshire

This attractive Cotswolds town has been home to the seat of the Duke of Marlborough for over 300 years, and quite the seat it is. Blenheim Palace and its wide-reaching, leafy estate dominates the landscape around Woodstock, with its opulent baroque architecture and large boating lakes. But the town itself—awash with the golden sandstone this region is most famous for—is well worth exploring, too. The fascinating Oxfordshire Museum is home to ancient dinosaur footprints and a millennia-old hoard of coins that were found locally, while the high street is all independent boutiques and craft coffee shops.

Where to stay

Book Now: The Feathers

Stay in one of the creaking suites at the Feathers, a collection of four townhouses stitched together to create a beautiful, old-timey hotel.

You can stroll for hours on Wells-next-the-Sea's sandy beaches.

You can stroll for hours on Wells-next-the-Sea’s sandy beaches.

Photo by Myriad Life Photo/Shutterstock

Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk

It’s the simple things that make Wells-next-the-Sea such a delightful vacation destination: A vast golden-sand beach stretches out for miles east of the town’s seafront, backed by pine forest and big dunes, plus a row of multicolored traditional beach huts, many of which are for day hire. Crabbing from the quay is a popular pastime in the town itself, with both kids and adults competing to catch a 10-legged friend or two, and classic British, locally caught fish and chips should be eaten from a paper bag for lunch—French’s has the best.

Where to stay

Book Now: The Victoria

Stay nearby at the Victoria in Holkham village, where local venison curry is the dinner menu highlight.

Some 5,000 people call Keswick home

Some 5,000 people call Keswick home.

Photo by Victor Maschek/Shutterstock

Keswick, Cumbria

The Lake District is famous for its towering fells, but its little towns should also garner some attention—especially the small but spirited town of Keswick, which sits on the shores of Derwentwater and is home to the world’s only pencil museum. While the history of writing apparatus might not sound enthralling, give it a chance and you’ll find fascinating military and spy connections, a world record–breaking pencil, and some intriguing royal memorabilia—and an opportunity to dry out from those all-too-common rainy Lake District days.

Where to stay

Book Now: Inn on the Square

Stay at the colorful, 34-bedroom Inn on the Square, where its enormous beds are overlooked by photographs of rare-breed Herdwick sheep and the in-house steak restaurant serves local cuts.

Buxton's thermal springs have been drawing in visitors for centuries.

Buxton’s thermal springs have been drawing in visitors for centuries.

Photo by Pete Stuart/Shutterstock

Buxton, Derbyshire

The Romans were the first to popularize breaks in Buxton, a town that could easily be mistaken for Bath thanks to its fabulous Georgian and Victorian architecture. Visitors first came here for its natural thermal springs, which like many other mineral waters were believed to have healing properties. Today, those springs are back up and running at the Buxton Crescent Hotel. Spend your days exploring the natural wonders on the town’s doorstep, including hiking in the Peak District and delving into the vast limestone Poole’s Cavern. You can enjoy a performance at the elegant Buxton Opera House, and don’t miss a chance to “take the waters” just as the Romans would have done over 2,000 years ago.

Where to stay

Book Now: Buxton Crescent

Stay at the magnificent Buxton Crescent Hotel, an elegant 18th-century building constructed as a perfect crescent in the center of town.

Lewes is a great option for a weekend getaway from London.

Lewes is a great option for a weekend getaway from London.

Photo by Graham King/Shutterstock

Lewes, East Sussex

Artsy locals and reams of fascinating history make Lewes a compelling weekend break in England—and it’s also just over an hour from London Victoria by train. This market town sits at the eastern end of the South Downs National Park, which means arresting bucolic landscapes are never too far away. There’s the ruined Lewes Castle to explore, various food, flea, and craft markets—don’t miss the vegan dumplings by Vegan Peace Foods or the game pies by Sussex Wild Food—throughout each month, and you can wander the creaking hallways of Anne of Cleves House, the home of Henry VIII’s fourth wife.

Where to stay

Book Now: The Ram Inn

Stay at the Ram Inn in nearby West Firle, which has five bedrooms with fresh, contemporary decor and a fantastic pub downstairs.

Glastonbury in England

Glastonbury’s high street is not your normal high street.

Photo by Ian Brodie

Glastonbury, Somerset

When international superstars aren’t headlining the eponymous music festival, Glastonbury is an enchanting mix of traditional market town, ancient sites, and a high street of stores selling crystals, Wiccan wares, and spiritual trinkets. Tour the ruined monastery that dates back to the 8th century and climb the punishing hill that is Glastonbury Tor for views across the flat expanse of the Somerset Levels.

Where to stay

Book Now: Middlewick Farm
Stay at Middlewick Farm, an ecofriendly glamping site with pods and huts powered by a biomass boiler system. Excellent local produce, from cider to sausages, is available in the on-site farm shop, too.

Margate in Kent

Margate is a creative enclave on the Kent coast.

Photo by Neil Lang/Shutterstock

Margate, Kent

A once down-at-the-heels seaside town, Margate’s fortunes have turned over the past decade. The opening of its retro amusement park, Dreamland, and then the presence of the Turner Prize at the seafront Turner Contemporary gallery in 2019 saw it making headlines for all the right reasons. Since then Londoners seeking a little more space—and sea—have flocked to join this lively, creative community on the Kent coast. Even Banksy took a trip here in February 2023, only to have his Valentine’s Day Mascara artwork removed swiftly in the following days (it’ll be on permanent display at Dreamland). Come for the art and amusements and stay for small plates and tapas in the town’s many restaurants.

Where to stay

Book Now: Reading Rooms

Bed down in the chic Reading Rooms, where it’s all calm neutrals and a short walk to the sandy beach.

Lottie Gross is a travel writer based in Oxfordshire, England, who has spent the last four years exploring her home isles to become an expert on all things Britain. She has over a decade’s experience as a travel writer and has specialized in dog-friendly travel across the U.K. and Europe, penning various books on traveling with pets, including Dog-Friendly Weekends.
On Now
Where Was “Harry Potter” Filmed? Destinations You Can Visit in Real Life
There’s a New Cheese Conveyor Belt Restaurant in London and It’s Spectacular
On Now
Inside London’s Cheese Conveyor Belt Restaurant
On Now
The 10 Best Cities in the World 2023 List
The Best Neighborhoods in London
From Our Partners
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
More From AFAR