fbpx
Close
Articles by Year

<<     >>

Articles by Category

UK +44 (0)1768 721 210

English Culture

All Things English

England’s rich customs and traditions are famous across the world. English culture frequently gets associated with copious amounts of tea drinking, the British Royal family and good manners.

However, English culture goes far deeper than these internationally recognised hallmarks and is evolving all the time. Day to day conversations do go beyond the weather, bake-off and football, we swear!

It can be hard at times to separate English culture from the perceived culture of the United Kingdom as a whole. However, like its neighbouring countries of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, England has a unique and vibrant culture filled with its own idiosyncrasies.

Get to know the country that inspired countless literary, cinematic and musical masterpieces, taste your way around a cuisine heavily influenced by a colourful colonial past and experience our wicked sense of humour.

Take me straight to:

Experience English Culture on Our Trips

northumberland history

Northumberland & the Lakes

Activity: Wilderness Walking

Duration: 7 days

Comfort: Classic

Cultural Highlights: Visit Bamburgh, Alnwick & Lindisfarne Castle, witness the contrasting landscapes of the Lakes and Northumberland how this shaped human settlement in both areas and take in the beauty that inspired William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter.

Difficulty:

View Trip Details

Border Crossing

Activity: Road Cycling

Duration: 8 days

Comfort: Classic

Cultural Highlights: Take in the Holy Island of Lindisfarne – castle and priory, Warkworth Castle, Bamburgh Castle, and marvel at the subtle differences between Scotland and England both in landscape and culture as you cross the border and overnight in Scotland at the end of your trip.

Difficulty:

View Trip Details

England Coast to Coast 

Activity: Wilderness Walking

Duration: 9 days

Comfort: Classic

Cultural Highlights: Complete Alred Wainwright’s iconic route, visiting William Wordsworth cottage, various old industrial sites from the industrial revolution and historic sites like castles, priories and abbeys along the way. You’ll also get the opportunity to have a traditional afternoon tea.

Difficulty:

View Trip Details

British Imperialism

English culture, like the individual cultures of the other nations that make up the United Kingdom, is heavily influenced by its imperial past. This is not a great part of British and European history but does form the basis for many cultural elements you’ll come across in England today. At the height of its power in the early 19th century the British Empire stretched across the globe. During its reign, it controlled large parts of Africa, India, Australia, New Zealand, Polynesia, Canada and the Caribbean.

The wealth but also the conflict that the British Empire brought has shaped England as we know it today. This impact is seen across language, cuisine, architecture and the arts.

It’s undeniable that the British Empire is one of the direct causes of English being one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. It should be noted that the English also borrowed words from the nations they colonised, such as words like ‘bungalow’ and ‘pajama’ from India, ‘tea’ from China and ‘hammock’ from the Caribbean. Modern English is of course shaped by various other groups and languages to arrive on this island, including Old Norse (thanks to the Vikings) and old French (thanks to the Normans). The rise of the British Empire also meant eliminating the middleman in regards to trade, allowing more cash flow and imported goods coming into and through England, meaning that this small, isolated island was suddenly the centre of the world. Through new shipping routes and colonies, power had now shifted from the east to the west.

Imperialism in general also meant that Britain and mainland Europe had access to fruits, vegetables and spices they otherwise would’ve had a harder time obtaining. Over time, dishes from colonised countries have been appropriated into western cuisine, often altered to suit European palates.

Tea Drinking

One of the most evident remnants of the British Empire on English culture? Tea. Being English has almost become synonymous with tea drinking, and it’s an understatement to say that the English feel rather strongly about how it’s done. Aside from the obvious differentiators of type and blend, some prefer it strong, others weak. Some like it with sugar and milk, or one or the other. Lemon and honey are also popular but contentious additions.

Although tea first came to England in the 17th century, it wasn’t popularised till the late 18th century. It was first marketed as a medicinal drink, sold for its restorative qualities. It soon became the most fashionable beverage of choice amongst the aristocracy and the upper class (likely due to cost). Especially as sugar was also a luxury commodity at the time, drinking tea with sugar was the ultimate show of wealth. Over time, drinking tea became a status symbol, increasing its demand amongst the middle classes. As the British Empire controlled everything from tea production to importation, the government heavily encouraged tea-drinking over the consumption of chocolate and coffee, products from neighbouring empires. This meant that drinking tea was branded as a patriotic and very ‘English’ thing to do. By that time, both tea and sugar were cheap, it was the ultimate working-class beverage. It both energised labourers as well as brought warmth in less-than-ideal work conditions.

Tea Drinking

The popularity of tea today still continues for a multitude of reasons. The pleasant taste and caffeine content are obvious reasons, but some argue there is more to it than that. It’s habitual in its routine, an English tradition of sorts. There is a very British mantra that there is no problem a good cup of tea can’t fix. You’re cold? It warms you. You’re hot? It cools you. Not feeling well? Tea will make you feel better. Stressed? Tea will calm you. Can’t sleep? Have tea. Need a caffeine boost? Tea. It is also a social experience – the British equivalent of “chatting around the water cooler.” Some also argue that preparing tea is an easy way for an uncomfortable Brit to distract themselves from an awkward situation!

Be sure to try the ultimate English tea drinking experience with an ‘Afternoon Tea,’ popularised initially as a light meal to have between lunch and a later dinner at 8 pm. Afternoon tea consists of, you guessed it, tea! It’s served with small bites like finger sandwiches, cakes, pastries and scones.

Dialects & Accents

Although English may be the dominant language in England, that doesn’t guarantee that you’ll understand who you’re talking to! England is famous for its vast array of characteristic regional accents and dialects. Their existence is owed to the country’s rich past of invasion and colonisation. Cockney, Scouse and Yorkshire accents may be the strongest and most recognisable – but there are over 30 different recognised dialects across the country.

 

English Food

When one thinks of English cuisine, fish & chips will probably be in front of mind. Although this national staple is undeniably delicious, there is a lot more you should try when visiting. England’s climate and location mean that it has a rich and varied natural larder. Expect fresh seasonal produce, seafood, meats and a variety of dairy products. The cuisine is also heavily influenced by England’s colonial past, and arguably you couldn’t get a more English dish than a Tikka Masala. If you’re after a more ‘traditional’ English food experience, be sure to try scones with clotted cream or perhaps a savoury pastry or pie (such as a Cornish pasty).

Below we’ve got some of our favourite English dishes you should try at least once when you’re in England.

Fish & Chips
Fish & Chips

Fish & Chips in a Restaurant

The English have been eating fish and chips since the mid 19th century, and it’s not surprising why. Hearty, cheap and delicious – this meal was readily available to the masses and one of the few foods not subjected to British rationing at wartime. If you’re unclear on the specifics, fish & chips consist of breaded or battered white fish (haddock/cod), served with thick fries and almost always mushy green peas. Grab yourself some at the nearest ‘chippy,’ best eaten with a view of the sea and a dash of lemon for the fish and vinegar for the chips (fries).

Sunday Roast

Sunday Roast, Photo Credit: VisitBritain

There is nothing more quintessentially English than a Sunday family roast. The dish consists of roast vegetables and roast meat like chicken, lamb or beef, served with copious amounts of gravy and Yorkshire pudding. The name and tradition of eating it originated from Sunday church attendance, and not being allowed to eat meat on Fridays. The Sunday roast marked the end of the fast and was also convenient as dinner cooked whilst the family attended the service. Sunday roast is still popular now and is a great way to get the family together for a meal.

A Full English
A Full English

A Full English, Photo Credit: VisitBritain

The English are staunch believers that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Nothing says this more than the full English breakfast. Expect eggs (fried, poached, or scrambled), bacon, sausages, black pudding, baked beans, tomatoes and mushrooms, and served with toast or fried bread as well as tea or coffee. It’s also known as a fry-up as most of the ingredients are, well, fried. It definitely sets you up for the day! Different regions in England and the rest of the United Kingdom include variations of the above. Most places also include a less traditional but filling veggie English breakfast option.

Bangers & Mash
Bangers & Mash

Traditional Bangers & Mash

No surprises here – bangers are sausages, and mash is mashed potato. This is a very traditional English dish and still widely eaten today across the UK as it is both easy to make and very filling. Calling sausages ‘bangers’ is actually a WWI relic. Due to meat shortages, sausage casing were filled up with other ingredients like water that made them explode when fried. The best way to eat bangers & mash is with a generous pouring of onion gravy. You can also get vegetarian variations, although these are not usually served in restaurants.

English Curry
Curry

Curry House, Photo Credit: VisitBritain

Indian curry is so popular in England and the rest of the United Kingdom that almost every town has a curry house, and curry is said to contribute over 4 billion to the UK economy! This love for spice originates from English soldiers and workers returning from India who missed the flavours, as well as the immigration of Indian, Bangladeshi and Nepalese into the UK. In fact, there was sufficient demand for a curry house to open its doors in London as early as 1810. The curries served in the UK are amalgamations of curries from across south-east Asia and much adjusted to suit European palates.

Cream Tea
Cream Tea

Cream Tea, Photo Credit: VisitBritain

On the face of it, you might think ‘Cream Tea’ is tea with cream. But alas! It’s actually a light afternoon meal that consists of generous quantities of tea, scones, jam and rich clotted cream from either Devon or Cornwall. It’s usually served across the United Kingdom as part of an afternoon tea along with other accompaniments like sandwiches, cakes and pastries. If you’re unfamiliar with British scones, they’re similar to American biscuits and are dry and crumbly. Scones are often plain, but there are also savoury versions laden with tangy cheddar cheese.

Crumpets
Crumpets

Crumpets on a Plate

The humble crumpet may change your life when you first taste it. The spongy warm texture with oozy butter is divine. It’s claimed to originally be a Welsh invention but is now very popular for breakfast and brunch in England. Crumpets should not be confused with what is called an English muffin in the USA, which are made from dough and not a batter. Crumpets are best eaten slathered in butter with either sweet or savoury toppings like jam, honey, eggs or just more butter.

Kendal Mint Cake
Kendal Mint Cake

Romney Kendal Mint Cake

Mint cake originated in the Cumbrian town of Kendal in the late 19th century and is argued to be one of the world’s first manufactured energy bars. It consists primarily of sugar and peppermint oil. As it provides a quick hit of energy, it’s a popular snack amongst hill walkers and mountaineers. It has famously been eaten on the first summit of Everest by Sir Edmund Hillary and was packed on the Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Have a nibble for yourself when out hiking the English countryside.

Trifle
Strawberry Trifle

Strawberry Trifle

Definitely, a dessert puzzled over by our foreign guests. Trifles evolved from another popular British dessert called a fruit fool. Traditionally they consist of layers of sponge soaked in alcohol or fruit juice, jelly or jam, custard, whipped cream and fruit garnishes. If you’re a ‘Friends’ fan, rest assured that trifles do not include mince beef, peas and onions. There are many variations depending on the main fruit used. It may be a bit weird to look at but we promise you it’s tasty!

Savoury Pies & Pasties
Pasties

Savoury Pasties

The English love a good savoury pie. Whether that be inside a pastry casing, a stew topped with a puff pastry lid or a metaphorical pie, you’ll find English dinner menus awash with pies.

On the one hand, you’ve got the classic pie pies like steak & ale pie and pork pies that are fully encased in a shortcrust pastry, on the other hand, you’ve got casseroles masquerading as pies like Shepherd and Cottage pies which contain stewed beef mince and vegetables topped with mashed potato and then baked. Then there are Cornish pasties, which are sort of enclosed pockets filled with rich, savoury toppings and served piping hot.

They are all richly delicious and sure to warm you up after a day in the hills.

Puddings
Dessert Pudding

Sweet Dessert Pudding

Puddings, like pies, are a hot commodity in England and break the rules of what’s generally accepted to be pudding. You might be thinking of a jiggly type of dessert – but in England, this can be anything from a blood-based sausage (black pudding) to sponge cake covered in toffee sauce (sticky toffee pudding). There is no rhyme or reason as to what is a pudding in English cuisine, it could be savoury or sweet and the texture differs wildly! Be sure to try Christmas pudding, bread and butter pudding and Yorkshire pudding – we’ll let you discover independently what variety each one is.

It’s also worth noting that Brits will refer to dessert as ‘pudding’, it’s just a phrase that’s used interchangeably for the word dessert. Sometimes post-dinner ‘pudding’ is genuinely a pudding, but more often than not dessert is ice cream, cakes, tarts, jellies etc.

Distilling & Brewing

Beer

Black Sheep Beer

Black Sheep Beer

We can’t deny our reputation for being beer lovers. The English have been brewing beer for centuries and it continues to be the most popular alcoholic beverage in the United Kingdom. Traditionally English beer styles include bitter, mild, brown, and old ale. English ale is famously served “warm” which is a misconception – really, these ales are served at “cellar” temperature. In recent years there has been a considerable increase in demand for craft beer. Now there are over 700 craft breweries in England alone.

Cider

English Cider

Cider Casks, Photo Credit: VisitBritain

Cider is a very popular alcoholic beverage in England, sold ubiquitously alongside beer and wine in pubs and restaurants. It’s made from fermented apple juice and is thought to have come to the United Kingdom along with the Romans. There are dry and sweet variations, and ciders brewed in the South West of England are generally stronger. Be sure to try local farmhouse brews if you get the chance.

Pimms

Pimms

Pimms, Photo Credit: VisitBritain

Pimms is a gin-based liqueur and the favourite summer drink of the English. Although it was originally intended to aid digestion, it gained mass popularity as a tipple at the start of the 20th century. It’s usually served as a long cocktail garnished with fruit and is known to be very refreshing on a hot day. Alongside champagne, Pimms is actually one of the two official drinks of Wimbledon!

“Down at the Pub”

Despite hearing it a countless times separately it may never have clicked that ‘pub’ is actually short for ‘public house’. The concept of taverns and alehouses arrived with the Romans and evolved from there. Going to the pub is a very British pastime – the pub is a place where people gather to socialise, have a drink and enjoy a pub meal. English pubs are different from bars you’ll find elsewhere. Don’t expect fancy cocktails and you’ll likely be expected to order at the bar, even meals. Don’t be surprised if a grizzly stranger strikes up a conversation with you about the weather, football or the latest in politics. That’s normal! It’s customary to order rounds when you’re in a group of people, taking turns to purchase drinks for the whole group. The aforementioned grizzly stranger may join in – don’t be too alarmed. When staff start ringing a bell and shouting ‘last orders’ you know it’s time to finish up – usually around midnight. Even though they say last orders, staff really want you to pack up and leave at this point! Interesting British tradition? In England, they traditionally go to the pub on Christmas day.

The Royal Family

Somehow the British Royal Family have become a main tourist attraction for people visiting England. Visitor attractions tied to the Royal family see more visitors, and royalty-related merchandise outperforms other types of memorabilia. People are fascinated by the British Royal Family – their lifestyles spark a lot of intrigues which has been much assisted by the media because ultimately we all love a good fairytale. The British Royal family have cultivated and glamorised their image carefully to inspire fantasy and escapism to the masses.

If you, like many others, enjoy a bit of ogling at the Royal way of life, there are many places in England worth a visit. Other than the London attractions of Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace and the Tower of London, the English countryside is peppered with places to visit which are tied to the Royal family.

‘Royal’ Attractions in England Outside London

 

Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle, Photo Credit: VisitBritain

Aside from Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle is one of the most recognised royal residences. It’s both the largest and longest-occupied castle in the Royal collection, having been owned by the English monarchy for nearly a thousand years! The Queen is known to spend most of her time between Buckingham Palace in London, Balmoral Castle in Scotland and at Windsor Castle in Berkshire. She’s known to prefer spending her weekends away from London at Windsor, and often summers at Balmoral. The castle famously gets used for big events like Royal weddings.

Sandringham House
Sandringham House

Sandringham House

Originally purchased by Edward VII for his wife Alexandra of Denmark in 1862, Sandringham House is a private royal residence where the Royal family traditionally celebrates Christmas most years. It was at Sandringham in 1957 that Queen Elizabeth II delivered the first televised Christmas message.

Except for when the family is in residence, the house is open for tours, as well as the stunning gardens, surrounding estate and woodlands.

 

Highgrove House & Gardens
Highgrove

The Highgrove Estate

Highgrove House is the private residence of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall (Charles and Camilla). The Prince of Wales invested considerable time, energy and fortune into transforming the house and especially the gardens. Receiving over 30,000 visitors a year, the gardens are known to be innovative in their design. The gardens follow the environmental philosophies of the Royal couple, containing orchards, an organic farm and a wildflower meadow.

English Castles & Country Houses

If there’s one thing the English have a lot of, it is castles, sprawling country estates with splendid manor houses. Although there is no conclusive number that indicates just how many castles and country houses there are in England, as what defines each is heavily debated, we can say with certainty that there are over 800 medieval castles and over 1,500 country houses. Many are open to the public so check out visiting hours and tours. You can let your imagination run wild whilst strolling through the grounds, picturing yourself as British Royalty and or as a famous fictional character.

Below we’ve gathered some of our favourite castles and stately homes from across the country.

Bodiam Castle, Sussex
Bodiam Castle

Across the Water to Bodiam Castle

If you imagine your typical turreted and moated castle, Bodiam Castle is what you get. Constructed in the 14th century, Bodium Castle was eventually donated to the National Trust in 1926 upon the death of owner Lord Culzon, who did notable restoration work to the ruins whilst he owned it. Well worth a visit, the castle is a beautiful medieval relic set splendidly in pastoral countryside.

Bamburgh, Northumberland
Bamburgh Castle

Bamburgh Castle and the Beach

Bamburgh Castle is truly one of the most spectacular castles in the whole of the United Kingdom. Its bulk presides over the Northumberland coastline and has done so for over a 1,000 years. It’s one of the largest still inhabited castles in the country and is open to visitors throughout the year.

Lowther Castle, Cumbria
Lowther Castle

Photo Credit: Visit Britain

These striking ruins are well worth a visit. Built at the turn of the 19th century the castle was designed to be lavish and luxurious, with no expense spared. However, it fell into disrepair and ruin in the mid 20th century when the owners lost their fortune. It’s a popular visitor attraction today with splendid gardens and trails to explore.

Highclere Castle, Hampshire
highclere castle

Highclere Castle, Photo Credit: VisitBritain

Highclere Castle is surely one of the most recognised English landmarks after it featured as the main house on the popular drama series Downton Abbey. The impressive house was completed in the 17th century and is owned – and at times inhabited – by the Earl of Carnarvon. You can visit this splendid estate on pre-booked guided tours that usually include a specially presented afternoon tea.

Lindisfarne, Northumberland
Lindisfarne Castle

Lindisfarne Castle on the Coast

Constructed in the 16th century, you can only access Lindisfarne Castle on Holy Island via a causeway. It’s well worth the well-timed effort! The castle (arguably less castle and more fort), was built using stones from the old priory and is perched on a rocky outcrop. It makes for a dramatic entrance with a steep cobbled ramp with incredible views. The nearby ancient priory, the first place in England raided by Vikings, is also a fascinating visit.

Skipton Castle, Yorkshire
Skipton Castle

Skipton Castle on a Sunny Day

Skipton Castle is a remarkably well-preserved and impressive medieval fortress. The castle was famously under siege for three years during the English civil war before yielding to Cromwell in 1645. It’s open year-round to visitors with access to large parts of the interiors and gardens. Be sure to check out the Yew tree in the courtyard, planted by Lady Anne Clifford, who did much to restore the castle after the civil war.

Corfe Castle, Dorset
Corfe Castle

View of Corfe Castle

You’ll find the beautiful ruins of Corfe Castle on top of a steep hill overlooking a quaint village of the same name. It sits perched between two chalk hills and is constructed out of limestone quarried nearby. The castle changed hands numerous times since its construction in the early 12th century and has served as both a residence and military garrison. The castle was famously defended by Landy Banks during the English Civil War. The location near the Jurassic Coast is jaw-droppingly beautiful, and there are some great coastal hikes in the area.

Alnwick Castle, Northumberland
Alnwick Castle

Alnwick Castle From the Road

After Windsor, Alnwick Castle is the second-largest inhabited castle in England. It’s been in the hands of the Percy family, now the Dukes of Northumberland, for over 900 years! The current Duke and Duchess still reside in a part of the castle. The castle’s use in both film and TV has meant a surge in visitors over the last few years. The oldest parts of the castle date back to the 11th century and the most significant work was done in the 19th century. The present-day castle makes for a great family day out

Tintagel Castle, Cornwall
Tintagle Castle

Tintagle Cliffs, Photo Credit: VisitBritain

Clinging to the cliffs on a small peninsula along the Cornish coastline, the ruins of Tintagel are steeped in myths and legends, most famously as the site of King Arthur’s conception. Merlin disguised Arthur’s father Uther Pendragon as Gorlois, the Duke of Cornwall, who had hidden his wife Igraine in a fort at Tintagel. The myth predates the most recent structures which are the ruins of the castle built by Richard I, the 1st Duke of Cornwall at Tintagel due to its legendary and mythical status. His castle has long fallen into decay but visitors can explore the beautiful ruins and enjoy the spectacular views.

English Country Houses you Should Visit

Wentworth Woodhouse, South Yorkshire

Wentworth Woodhouse is an enormous country house that has over 300 rooms. The house alone is sprawled across 2.5 acres of ground and is surrounded by a further 87 acres of gardens and grounds. Construction started in the mid 18th century and took over 40 years. It was privately owned till 2017 when purchased by the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust. It is said that Wentworth may have been Jane Austen’s inspiration for Pemberly in her iconic novel, Pride and Prejudice.

Attingham Park, Shropshire

Enjoy extensive parkland and walks with a visit to this 18th century home. The estate initially covered 8,000 acres, but the last Lord and Lady Berwick sold off 4,000 acres. They sold the land to gain funds to restore the property whilst they owned it, and is now managed by the National Trust. The house operated as a hospital during WWI for wounded soldiers, and later as an adult education college. It’s now the regional headquarters for the National Trust and a marvellous day out for visitors with exhibitions and gardens to explore.

Montacute House, Somerset

Montacute House is a stunning example of Elizabethan architecture. It’s evident that the house was built to impress its visitors; with formal gardens, impressive glasswork and honey-coloured ham-stone that’s said to glow in the sun. The house is home to the longest ‘long gallery’, an indoor space reserved for socialising and exercise. Montacute was one of the first country houses under the National Trust’s care.

Somerleyton Hall, Suffolk

A visit to Somerleyton Hall, a beautiful Victorian stately home known for its splendid interiors and formal gardens, is sure to delight.The centrepiece of the garden is undoubtedly the Yew maze, planted in 1846 and said to be one of the finest in Britain. The house is owned, managed and inhabited by the 4th Baron of Somerleyton.

Lyme Park, Cheshire

Another one you may recognise from pining after Mr Darcy. Lyme Park played the role of ‘Pemberly’ in the 1995 TV production of Pride and Prejudice. The water outside the house is famously where Colin Firth dunked himself and created one of British TV’s most memorable moments. The house is most definitely worth a visit even if you’re not a Jane Austen fan – the beautiful country house as it stands today was constructed in the 17th century and is now managed by the National Trust. Enjoy a tour of the splendid interiors or go for a walk in the extensive gardens.

Norton Conyers, North Yorkshire

Norton Conyers is not as grand as some of the houses listed but we’ve included it as it’s said to be the inspiration for Charlotte Brontë’s novel, Jane Eyre. Brontë was said to be inspired by stories of a madwoman who was trapped in the attic. The house is absolutely charming and is known for its distinctive Dutch-style gables and beautiful gardens. If you’re lucky, the current owners of the house, Lord and Lady Graham, will give you the tour, filled with personal anecdotes and histories. They invested considerable time and money restoring the house and won a restoration award in 2014.

Chatsworth House – Derbyshire

Often referred to as Britain’s favourite country house, Chatsworth is the residence of the Cavendish family. The Cavendishes are one of the oldest noble families in England. It’s one of the grandest country houses in England and has been visited frequently by the Royal family. There is even a rumour that Prince William did a couple of weeks worth of work at Chatsworth as an anonymous joiner in his youth… You can visit the house and gardens, and you may recognise some bits of it from the screen! The house famously featured as the fictional estate Pemberley in the 2005 film Pride and Prejudice, as well as in the 1998 film The Duchess – Interestingly, both films featuring Keira Knightley. Another interesting coincidence – the same family also owns Lismore Castle in Ireland, the location of another Jane Austen fictional great house; this time, Northanger Abbey.

English Landscaping & Gardens

English gardens and landscaping became popular in the 18th century. Resisting the formality of the previously popular European renaissance landscaping, English gardens were designed to enhance and idolise nature with stylised groves, artificial lakes and ponds and sweeping lawns. English gardens still feature structure in the form of walls and hedges but are likely to be interspersed with winding paths and some informal dense planting. Also find architectural centrepieces in an English garden, such as bridges, rotundas, follies and temples. English “cottage” gardens are especially popular right now, which are deliberately wild with dense and flowery vegetation sprawling up and out of flower beds.

Of course, not all gardens converted to this new style in England in the 18th and 19th century. You can still find formal French and Italian style gardens dotted about in their 100s (although now often as part of a wider informal garden). The 19th century saw the rise of public parks and public gardens. Visiting a public green space is still a very English pastime, especially to those who live in cities and have limited or no outdoor space of their own. There are thousands of gardens open to the public, designed to be enjoyed year-round. Gardening in England is one of the nation’s favourite pastimes, and most English landowners are proud of their gardens no matter how large or small. Below are just a few of our favourites not mentioned in our Castles & Country Houses section, but check out Visit England’s piece on English gardens for more information.

Stowe, Buckinghamshire
Stowe Gardens

Palladian Bridge at Stowe Gardens

The gardens at Stowe House exist on a massive scale. Redesigned in the 18th-century they’ve become the best example of ‘English Garden’ landscaping. For visitors today, the gardens are managed by the National Trust and offer 250 acres of rolling lawns, woodlands and various stunning architectural features (including but not limited to 28 temples and the famous Palladian bridge).

Studley Royal Water Garden
Studley Royal Water Garden

Studley Royal Water Garden

Studley Royal Park and the ruins of Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire make up a UNESCO world heritage site. It’s a beautiful 18th-century water garden with a focus on water features like ponds, lakes, statues and follies. The carefully laid out aquatic features are designed to complement the natural landscape. Make sure to also appreciate the informal features like a wildflower lawn and laurel bushes. You’ll also find the ruins of Fountain Abbey, a 12th-century Cisterian monastery, which is a must-see. The wider area gained heritage status through it’s shared 800-year history.

Levens Hall, Cumbria
Levens Hall

Levens Hall, Photo Credit: VisitBritain

The gardens at Levens Hall are a good example of the types of garden that pre-date what is now known as an ‘English garden’. They contain a much-celebrated topiary garden, said to be the world’s oldest. The topiary garden is mostly intact from the way it was laid out at the end of the 17th century. It’s said there are over 100 different specimens within the topiary, with some shrubs being over 300 years old! The garden is perfectly manicured and features interesting geometrical and abstract shapes.

English Writers

Statue of Shakespeare

Statue of William Shakespeare

Over the centuries, England’s countryside and history have inspired countless renowned writers, poets, playwrights and storytellers. Of course, there are many, many more authors than listed here, but we’ve highlighted a few of the most influential. Read on to learn a little about some of our beloved and timeless authors.

Geoffrey Chaucer, 1343-1400

This 14th-century writer undeniably shaped modern literature. Chaucer is often described to be the best poet of the Middle Ages and as the father of both English literature and poetry. His writings are still read and enjoyed today, with relatable characters. He is best known for The Canterbury Tales – which consists of 24 stories.

William Shakespeare, 1564-1616

This 16th-century play-wright is undoubtedly the most famous in history. Known for his 38 plays which include Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, King Lear and Macbeth. Shakespeare has shaped the modern English language, with many of his phrases still used commonly today.

William Wordsworth, 1770-1850

William Wordsworth is a much-beloved English poet; alongside fellow poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, he kick-started the Romantic Age of literature. Aside from poetry, Wordsworth also published plays, autobiographies and travel guides. His love for the English countryside is evident in his writings.

Jane Austen, 1775-1817

Jane Austen is well known for penning to life Britain’s greatest heartthrob Mr. Darcy, as well as her portrayal of the landed gentry in England. Her six novels predominantly revolve around the life of 18th-century women, detailing their social and economic insecurity and dependency on marrying well.

The Brontë Sisters, 1800s

The Brontë sisters are Charlotte, Emily and Anne. These 19th-century sisters were each heavily influenced by their surrounding landscapes and isolated upbringing. They created individualistic sweeping narratives that covered everything from life in Northern England, the role of women, human nature and the poor living conditions at the time. Their most famous works are Jane Eyre (Charlotte), Wuthering Heights (Emily), and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (Anne).

Charles Dickens, 1812-1870

Known to be the greatest writer of the Victorian era, Charles Dickens wrote 15 novels and various essays, short stories and novellas commenting on and critiquing 19th-century life. His most famous works include A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist, David Copperfield and Great Expectations.

Lewis Carroll, 1832-1898

A notable 19th-century author of children’s fiction and poetry. Lewis Carroll (real name Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) is best known for Alice in Wonderland, Jabberwocky and Through the Looking Glass. He was also an accomplished mathematician, photographer and inventor.

Arthur Conan Doyle, 1859-1930

Doyle himself was Scottish, but his creations are iconically English. Sherlock Holmes is hands-down the most famous detective, ever. The perceptive, stoic, know-it-all detective known for his observational skills, logical reasoning and advanced knowledge of forensic science and his smart, loyal partner Dr Watson in Doyle’s original Victorian-era stories have influenced countless books, stories, TV series, films and fandom as well as the genre in general.

Agatha Christie, 1890-1976

Dame Agatha Christie wrote a mind-boggling 66 detective novels over the course of her life. The “Queen of Crime,” she is considered to be one of the best-selling and most-translated authors of all time. Although she wrote both crime and romantic novels, most people will know her for the creation of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot characters.

J.R.R Tolkien, 1892-1973

Often named the father of fantasy literature, J.R.R Tolkien repopularised the fantasy genre and inspired countless authors with his high fantasy works The Hobbit and The Lord of Rings. Tolkien’s writings are notoriously intricate and detailed. He spent considerable time building the fantasy world in which his stories take place as well as developing various invented languages.

George Orwell, 1903-1950

A twentieth-century writer primarily known for his social commentary and views on totalitarianism. George Orwell was Eric Arthur Blair’s pen name. It’s through his most popular novels Animal Farm and 1984 that the adjective “Orwellian” came to be, used to describe totalitarian and authoritarian social practises.

Roald Dahl, 1916-1990

Roald Dahl is an extremely popular children’s author. His works are famed for their surprise endings, whimsical nature and strong ‘good’ and ‘bad’ archetypes. He also wrote short stories for adults which tended to be on the dark side and co-wrote screenplays, most notably two James Bond films. Some of his most famous works include Mathilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach and The Witches.

Salman Rushdie, 1947

Sir Salmon Rushdie was knighted in 2007 for his services to literature, having published 12 novels, two children’s books and various essays. His work largely comments on the east and west divide, religion and politics. His novel Midnight’s Children won the Booker Prize in 1981, whilst his 1988 Satanic Verses sparked considerable controversy.

Kazuo Ishiguro, 1958

A much-awarded and celebrated author of various novels, short stories and screenplays. Kazuo Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize in literature in 2017 and was also knighted for his services to literature in 2019. His most successful work includes The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go. Ishiguro spent much of his life in England and many of novels take place there.

Malorie Blackman, 1962

Malorie Blackman is a much-celebrated science fiction and children’s author who is best known for the thought-provoking Noughts and Crosses series, which explore structural racism in Britain via an alternate universe where the white race is suppressed by a black authoritarian race.

J.K Rowling, 1965

J.K Rowling and Harry Potter are almost synonymous with English culture. The series will have impacted many a modern childhood and she is currently credited as Britain’s best-selling living author, with the Harry Potter franchise ubiquitously recognised. The series itself, as well as spin-offs, have been translated to both film and theatre.

Kamila Shamsie, 1973

Shamsie is a Pakistani-British author and winner or nominee of several prizes. Author of seven novels and contributor to several anthologies, she is one of Britain’s most interesting new authors, often exploring themes of multiculturalism, nationality and Pakistani/British culture.

Zadie Smith, 1975

One of the most influential modern British writers is Zadie Smith, author of five novels, over a dozen short stories and winner of several prizes. She has also taught creative writing at several top universities including Columbia and New York University.

Reni Eddo-Lodge, 1989

In June 2020, Eddo-Lodge became the first black British woman to be No. 1 overall in the British book charts. A journalist and author, her nonfiction work focuses on issues of race and sexism. Her very topical work, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, has topped nonfiction charts.

England on Screen

The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) is the world’s oldest and largest national broadcaster and offers news, television and radio, and is widely respected throughout the world. 2022 will mark its 100th anniversary. See below for some notable examples of Britain on film (most airing through the BBC though not all).

Sherlock

It’s hard to get much more British than Sherlock Holmes. Dr Who showrunners Mark Gatiss and Stephen Moffet bring the brilliant, lovable yet utterly annoying character into the 21st century. Sherlock is brought to life by none other than the amazing Benedict Cumberbatch and Dr Watson by Martin Freeman, known internationally for his role as Bilbo Baggins.

Dr Who (Classic & 2005 revival)

Arguably the most beloved sci-fi show ever made, at the time of publishing, the show has aired 296 episodes over 26 seasons about the whimsical and cynical Doctor who travels all of space and time in an iconic blue police box. 13 lead actors have played the role of The Doctor – most famously, David Tennant, while the role is currently played by Jodie Foster. Early episodes had low budgets and poor effects, but the 2005 revival is brilliant. The Doctor is often dubbed “Britain’s favourite alien.”

David Attenborough

Probably the most famous nature documentary maker of all time, David Attenborough is in his 90s now and still trying to raise awareness to protect nature. It is his documentaries that have inspired the genre and still have a profound impact on how we see our relationship with the natural world today.

Downton Abbey

This iconic series has brought period dramas to the forefront. Creator Julian Fellows has successfully introduced the world to the fascinating lives of “upstairs” and “downstairs” people in rural 20th century England during the last legs of the gentry.

The Great British Bake Off

“The Bake Off” is exactly what the name says it is – a great baking competition pitting amateur bakers against one another. It is said that the show has instigated renewed interest in baking in the UK.

Peaky Blinders

Peaky Blinders is a dark, gritty gangster period show following the dizzying exploits of the Shelby crime family set in the 20th century. Quite different from US crime shows, UK crime series are shorter, more intense, atmospheric, noir and violent. Others in this cast include Luther, The Fall and Broadchurch.

Blackadder

This iconic 80’s comedy features the famed Rowan Atkinson (also known as Mr Bean), who plays the character Blackadder, with each series set in a different era from the Middle Ages to WWI. Other heavyweights like Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry also star.

The Office – UK version

Chances are you’ve heard of The Office, and likely seen episodes of it. Most likely, you’ve seen the American/Steve Carrell version, which is a lighter version of the original series, set in the UK. Britain’s The Office is a dryer, darker humour – a good introduction to Britain’s unique brand of comedy. Other TV shows followed in this wake, like the IT Crowd.

Black Mirror

This modern, dystopian sci-fi series is unique in that each episode can operate as a stand-alone, with an ever-changing cast of characters set in the near future. The overarching theme is the dangers of technology.

Monty Python

Finally, there’s Monty. We couldn’t have a list about Britain on-screen without this iconic symbol of British humour. The British “surreal comedy troupe” is sometimes considered Britain’s most enduring influence on comedy. Though best known for The Holy Grail and Life of Brian, they also produced dozens of episodes.

England, Music and The Beatles

Liverpool

Liverpool

England has a vibrant and diverse music scene that goes back through the centuries. Currently, the British music industry is one of the largest in the world. It has produced many award-winning artists that have impacted music internationally.

England became a leader in both pop and rock in the 1960s which is often referred to as the “British Invasion” in the USA. Successful English artists of the time include the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, the Who and Led Zeppelin. These bands were inspired by ‘rebellious’ American rock but gave it a classic British twist. The following decades produced notable artists like the Bee Gees, Queen, the Police, David Bowie, Duran Duran, Madness, Radiohead, the Specials, Blur, Oasis, Robbie Williams and the iconic Spice Girls. English music has continued to flourish in the 21st century. The last two decades saw the rise of artists like Amy Whinehouse, Franz Ferdinand, Adele, Stormzy and Florence and the Machine.

You can’t really mention the British music scene and not acknowledge Liverpool, dubbed the City of Pop. Liverpool produced some of the world’s most renowned and successful artists. Musicians like the Beatles, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Cilla Black, Dead or Alive and more recently the Zutons and the Wombats. If you’re a lover of British rock and pop be sure to catch a show at the Echo Arena or one the various nightclubs that hosted England’s finest back in the day.

News & Offers

Be the first to hear about new trips, locations and activities with our monthly newsletter

Active Travel Group

Exceptional travel experiences and adventures from our friends