With over 400 sites and 11M visitors a year, English Heritage contains the nation’s most celebrated and iconic buildings and monuments, driving floods of tourists and UK dwellers there every year, from Stonehenge to Dover Castle. With 52 weeks in a year, it could take you 8 years to see each attraction, my advice is don’t. Instead I’ve researched and visited some of the top 10 sites you need to see during your next weekend or holiday.
1). Stonehenge – Wilshire
Stonehenge evolved from a simple bank and ditch in the Neolithic period, some 5,000 years ago, to a very complex stone circle built on the axis of the midsummer sunrise. The bluestones were brought 240 miles from the Preseli mountains in Wales. It consists of a ring of standing stones, with each standing stone around at a tall 13 feet high, seven feet wide and weighing around 25 tons.
The impressive rock formation and mysterious origins have made this prehistoric monument an icon, drawing in visitors from around the world and has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are many theories about the significance of Stonehenge. It may have been an astronomical observatory or used for sacred rituals linked to the sun, healthy crops or even the dead.
Explore the award-winning visitor centre to get up close with archaeological finds from the Stonehenge landscape, and step inside reconstructed neolithic houses to imagine life in this part of the country more than 5,000 years ago. Worth a visit, as the top English heritage best heritage site.
2). Dover Castle, Kent
Dover Castle is a medieval castle and was founded in the 11th century and has been described as the “Key to England” due to its defensive significance throughout history. The ‘Key to England’ for over 900 years, Dover Castle boasts a vast and truly eventful history – meaning there’s a vast worth of secrets, scandals, intrigue and mystery to discover on your next visit.
Head underground in the Wartime Tunnels or climb the Great Tower to meet medieval royalty. A brand new, fully immersive Escape Room experience is now open at Dover Castle – Crack codes and complete challenges. Roam through centuries of history at Dover Castle, from the Romans to the Cold War, in an action-packed day out.
3) Castle and Elizabethan Garden, Warwickshire
One of the most spectacular castle ruins in the country, Kenilworth is the perfect spot for feeding imaginations and banishing boredom. Kids can follow in the footsteps of royalty, discover secret nooks and crannies amongst the ruins and get hands-on with our action-packed programme of events and activities.
From medieval fortress to Elizabethan palace, Kenilworth Castle has been at the centre of England’s affairs for much of its 900 year history. Constructed from Norman through to Tudor times, the castle has been described by the architectural historian Anthony Emery as “the finest surviving example of a semi-royal palace of the later middle ages, significant for its scale, form and quality of workmanship. Again tonnes to for the children and worth visiting.
4). Whitby Abbey, North Yorkshire
Whitby Abbey with its gaunt, imposing remains and recently named Britain’s most romantic ruin is set high on a cliff above the Yorkshire seaside town of Whitby. Whitby Abbey has been exciting visitors for nearly 1500 years.
Founded in 657 by St Hilda, Whitby Abbey has over the years been a busy settlement, a kings’ burial place, the location for a historic meeting between Celtic and Roman clerics, the home of saints including the poet Caedmon, and inspiration for Bram Stoker, author of “Dracula”.
Follow in the footsteps of artists, writers and religious leaders to explore the soaring gothic ruins and to take in the stunning sea views. Boasting an awe-inspiring location, interesting history and modern visitor centre, it’s well worth a visit.
5) 1066 Battle of Hastings, Abbey and Battlefield, East Sussex
In 1066, the armies of King Harold and William the Conqueror clashed at the Battle of Hastings. Now you can stand on the very site where the battle was fought and England’s future decided. Explore abbey ruins and meet the Normans and Saxons on the sculpture trail. Enjoy the gatehouse exhibition revealing the abbey’s role in the country’s future, then head to the roof for stunning views of the battlefield. Allow the stories of battle to unfold and discover its atmosphere for yourself. To find out the history , go to the BBC link here.
Families can spend the day exploring the atmospheric ruins, learning in our interactive Discovery Centre and of course, visiting the very spot where King Harold is said to have fallen in 1066.
6) Down house
With its unique place in the history of science and evolution, Down House, the family home of world-renowned scientist Charles Darwin, is a must-see. It was in this house and garden that Darwin worked on his theories of evolution by natural selection which he had conceived in London before moving to Down.
David Attenborough takes you on an interactive multimedia tour around the house, and discover how the great man developed his ground-breaking theories. You can enjoy a visit to Emma’s Kitchen for a cream tea or light lunch. Then take a stroll around the beautiful country gardens, making sure you enjoy a lap of Darwins ‘thinking path’, the sandwalk, which Darwin himself would walk 3 time a day to aid his ideas. This stunning hidden gem is not one to be missed. Come on down (Pun intended).
7). Visit Hadrian’s Wall
Stretching 73 miles from sea to sea across the north of England, ( is a lasting legacy of Roman Britain, covering some of England’s wildest and most dramatic landscapes, it’s not surprise that Hadrian’s Wall is an icon. Walk along what was the north-western edge of the vast Roman empire, and explore the remaining footprints of the empire’s towns and forts. The settlements at Birdoswald, Housesteads Fort , Chesters and Corbridge together make up the Hadrian’s WallWorld Heritage Site, situated in some of the most dramatic country in England. Head to the Wall at Winshields for the highest point, with unparalleled views of the lusciously green surroundings.
For around three centuries, Hadrian’s Wall was a vibrant, multi-cultured frontier sprawling almost 80 miles coast-to-coast. Built by a force of 15,000 men in under six years, it’s as impressive piece of engineering for that era. Milecastles, barracks, ramparts and forts punctuate a diverse landscape that provides a dramatic backdrop. It’s well worth a visit!
8) Kenilworth Castle
Kenilworth Castle is one of the great historical sites of the United Kingdom. First built in the 1120s and a royal castle for most of its history, it was expanded by King John, John of Gaunt and Henry V. In 1563 Elizabeth I granted it to her favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, who converted the castle into a lavish palace fit to entertain his queen.
One of the most spectacular castle ruins in the country, Kenilworth is best known as the scene of a royal romance between Elizabeth I and her favourite Robert Dudley. It’s that romance which has captured imaginations as visitors explore the evocative ruins while the kids become ‘king of the castle’ for a day.
9) Apethorpe Palace, Apethorpe, Northamptonshire
Among England’s greatest country houses, Apethorpe Palace holds a particularly important place in English history because of its ownership by, and role in, entertaining Tudor and Stuart monarchs. By the way Apethorpe is pronounced ‘Ap-thorp’.
Elizabeth I once owned the building, which she had inherited from Henry VIII. For a period, Apethorpe was a royal palace lived in regularly by James I and Charles I.
James I so loved Apethorpe that he personally contributed to its extension to make it more suitable for his ‘princely recreation’ and ‘commodious entertainment’, particularly for hunting in the nearby royal forest of Rockingham. A classic building to see.
Eltham Palace is a 1930’s art deco mansion meets medieval royal palace and gardens. The palace itself is quite different from all the other typical English Heritage owned/run with a vaulted bathroom, onyx bath and decorated doors. Eltham Palace was created for millionaires Stephen and Virginia Courtauld. The fabulous 1930s Eltham Palace is attached to a medieval hall which is all that remains of the original palace.
The Gardens are a full 19 acres of glorious rolling green and bloom and well worth an afternoon all to themselves. It’s a fascinating glimpse into their world back in the 1930’s and is nice trip for the family.
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Visit the English Heritage site here. To find out if it is worth becoming a member or just going on a visit by visit basis, read my article here.
Any locations you think should be there, please add.