There’s no shortage of historic stories to uncover in England. Take time to reconnect with incredible stories, heroes of history and tales of discovery. From walking in the footsteps of ancestors to unearthing tales of World War II bravery there’s lots to explore. Here are ten incredible destinations where you can explore authentic cultural, ancestral and heritage stories.
With restrictions easing across England, please continue to follow government guidance and remember to plan ahead and check attraction websites before travelling. Take a look at our top tips on how to escape the everyday responsibly to see how you can make the most out of your day trips and breaks.
Step on board the ship that changed the world
SS Great Britain, Bristol
Enveloped in the hills of South West England, Bristol has its own unmistakeable identity. Discover the city’s centuries-old heritage and incredible creative spirit. Float over historic landmarks in a beautiful balloon, seek out world-class street art and follow the sound of live music flowing through the cobbled streets.
Reconnect with adventure on Brunel’s SS Great Britain, located in the heart of Bristol. Step on board, and step back in time on the world’s first great ocean liner. The brain-child of Isambard Kingdom Brunel; this iconic steam ship forms part of a multi-award winning visitor attraction.
Reconnect with wartime heroes at this stretch of beautiful Devon coastline. If being an extremely picturesque and popular beach wasn’t enough, Slapton Sands plays an important part in the survival of some of the UK’s rarest flora and fauna.
And if you like your scenery to have a bit of history then Slapton Sands has a very moving story attached to it. In 1943, the beach was taken over by the allied forces to use as a rehearsal area for the D-Day Landings. Unfortunately, a combination of live ammunition and poor visibility resulted in the deaths of 749 American servicemen as part of Operation Tiger. You can visit a stone monument in place on the beach to commemorate this ill-fated exercise.
Discover the legends and legacy of the Mayflower pilgrims
The Box, Plymouth
Reconnect with ancestry at The Box, Plymouth’s new museum, art gallery and cultural centre. With nine permanent galleries showcasing incredible collections it includes 14 monumental ships’ figureheads, thousands of natural history specimens, a full size woolly mammoth replica, paints art and more.
Mayflower 400: Legend and Legacy is the national commemorative exhibition for the Mayflower 400 anniversary. Forget everything you thought you knew about the Mayflower. This exhibition will debunk myths and explore how one shop connects four nations over 400 years.
Powerful perspectives will be shared through images, ideas and objects including the first Bible to be printed in America, the last known record of the Mayflower, the oldest existing state document of New England, drawings, diaries, maps, plans and portraits, and the first piece of Wampanoag art commissioned by the city.
Once you’ve finished exploring the exhibition you can take a short walk to the historic Barbican and see the Mayflower Steps portico, commemorating the place where the pilgrims set sail on board the Mayflower.
Dover Castle is one of England’s most famous sights. Along with the White Cliffs, visitors from across the Channel are greeted by the dominating structure of the castle, which has had fortifications since the Iron Ages, guarding our shores from invasion for 20 centuries.
Reconnect with history here, a stronghold during countless battles such as the Nine Years War and Napoleonic Wars, the Castle was most recently used during the two World Wars. 16,000 troops were stationed here during WWI, with many heading to the Western Front. During WWII, the castle once again became a headquarters with the Vice-Admiral Ramsay’s naval offices taking a critical role in Operation Dynamo – the Allied evacuation of Dunkirk planned and controlled from deep within the chalky cliffs.
The secret tunnels have since been expanded and played a key role in many other operations. Today, these can be explored with vivid recreations of the Dunkirk evacuation, complete with real film footage and high-tech AV displays.
The cathedral city of the Cotswolds, Gloucester has its roots stretching back to Roman times and has continued to be an important English city, boasting over 2,000 years of history.
Ancient, spectacular and a beautifully serene place to visit, the Cathedral is one of the most magnificent Gothic buildings in the world. The cathedral is also the final resting place of Edward II, where a nine-year old Henry III was crowned and where pilgrims have flocked for centuries.
Reconnect with WWII heroes in Hampshire. Tucked away at the very south of England, bordered by Dorset, Wiltshire and Sussex the county offers visitors miles of idyllic countryside, with two national parks – the New Forest and South Downs.
Less than an hour from London with excellent transport links Hampshire offers the beauty of the national parks alongside super coastline and three vibrant cities.
The D-Day Story is the only museum in the UK dedicated to the Allied Invasion of Europe in June 1944 and tells the unique personal military and civilian stories behind this epic event.
Renowned for its glorious countryside, striking coastline and unique attractions, you’ll find an abundance of places to visit in Cornwall that will connect you with history.
Although much of Tintagel is known for the legend of King Arthur, there are other ways to connect with history. Visit the old Post Office, or walk the South West Coast Path to discover where slate was mined and dropped down the cliff into waiting boats. Or visit the ancient church of St Materiana’s, perched high on the cliff overlooking Tintagel Castle, where King Arthur is supposed to have lived.
Proud of its maritime heritage and pivotal position today in international shipping you can reconnect with ancestral stories in Harwich.
Four hundred years after the Mayflower ship and her master, Captain Christopher Jones, sailed to the New World in 1620, visitors to Harwich can wander down streets and into houses Harwich resident Christopher Jones would have known – including his own house, still standing in King’s Head Street.
Peek into gardens behind houses even older than the Mayflower, sample food salted in the way sailors would’ve known and experience your own voyage in the interactive heritage centre. You can also walk the Mayflower Trail, a 1km long trail taking in eight sites around Historic Harwich, telling its fascinating connections to the founding of modern America.
Stunning stately homes, wild days out, cultural escapes and magical memories, Hertfordshire has all the makings of a perfect short break. Just 20 minutes from London by train, the lush, green county is brimming with exciting things to do and some seriously great places to stay.
At St Albans Cathedral you can connect with ancestral heritage, and stand in the place where Alban, Britain’s first ever saint, was buried over 1700 years ago. The building you see today was begun after the Norman Conquest and was at the heart of the premier Benedictine monastery in England in the Middle Ages. You can follow in the footsteps of medieval pilgrims and visit not only the shrine of St Alban, but also that of St Amphibalus and learn about their story.
The Connections project and Reconnect campaign is funded by the Discover England Fund, supported by Visit England and 10 destination partners Plymouth, Devon, Kent, Essex, Hertfordshire, Hampshire, Gloucester, Cornwall, Bath and Bristol.
19 May 2021(last updated)
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