It’s that time of year again. A time where we come together to celebrate the very best that England has to offer – the best places to rest your head, to tantalise your taste buds, to spend your days and to make lifelong memories.
Applications have been received from all over the country, and the rigorous judging has taken place, meaning all that’s left to do now is announce the winners. From boutique hotels to lakeside campsites, cosy pubs to world-famous film studios, here are our recipients of the VisitEngland Awards for Excellence 2020.
Wanting to book a visit or stay with any of our award winners? Make sure you check their website for opening times and availability before travelling, so you’re in the know before you go.
Accessible and Inclusive Tourism Award
Gold winner - Durlston Country Park & National Nature Reserve
Durlston is more than deserving of their gold award. By providing accessible entry points and designated picnic spaces for wheelchair users, visitors from all walks of life can explore the hundreds of acres of wildflower meadows, woodland walks and spectacular sea cliff views the park and reserve have to offer. As well as a packed events schedule – including dementia-friendly walks and outdoor yoga – Durlston has video tours in British Sign Language. Then there’s The Shed, an indoor communal space designed for guests with autism that puts on a range of hands-on activities from arts and crafts to baking.
A city icon since 1899, Birmingham Hippodrome is famous for hosting world-class musicals, ballet, opera and a wealth of drama and music courses for children. And to make sure that everybody is able to enjoy the plethora of performing arts they have on offer, the inclusive team at the Hippodrome also regularly put on audio-described, captioned and BSL-interpreted performances, as well as more relaxed performances for visitors with autism.
Bronze Winner - Mylor Sailing and Powerboat School
Mylor Bridge, Cornwall
The folks down in Falmouth have good reason to pop the Champagne with this bronze win. Open all year round, this Royal Yachting Association-accredited sailing school encourages engagement in sports by creating a welcoming environment accessible for all. Their staff are fully trained and their fleet – made up of dinghies, keelboats and powerboats – includes a wheelchair-friendly powerboat. On top of that, they’ve even installed a hoist to help less-mobile trainees onto the sailboats.
This funky five-star B&B, just a short walk from Torquay’s seafront, boasts six individually designed bedrooms, each with stylish décor and contemporary comforts like Amazon Alexa room controls – meaning no getting back out of bed when you’ve forgotten to turn the light off! Home-baked treats sit waiting in your room each day too, giving you something to look forward to after a day of exploring the English Riviera.
Step back in time at this impressively restored Presbyterian chapel that dates back to 1810. Each of its six beautifully appointed guest rooms incorporate many of the original features, from the old pulpit to a communion table. But it’s not just its décor that makes it special – St. Cuthbert’s House, close to the iconic Bamburgh Castle, is also praised for its homely feel, with many guests saying that it has the same atmosphere as ‘staying with friends’.
This adult-only guesthouse in Ambleside is all about providing exceptional customer service. Need help planning your day? The team will hand-prepare personalised itineraries for you, recommending the best activities, restaurants and walks the area has to offer. You’ll also get a sumptuous morning breakfast made from locally sourced ingredients, and when you’re not out and about, you can take advantage of the outdoor terrace where you can kick back and enjoy the views.
Tucked away amongst the trees, this five-star holiday park just outside of Matlock is perfect for a nature-filled family break. The luxury lodges all come with outdoor furniture for an al-fresco dinner and some even have outdoor hot tubs. There are dog-friendly lodges, too, meaning you don’t have to leave the pooch at home. The site also has a swimming pool, spa, gym, play area, restaurants and plenty of activities to keep everyone busy, as well as an abundance of woodland walks and cycling trails to explore.
Surrounded by wildflower meadows and woodland, this off-grid paradise is truly about escaping the everyday. Opt to stay in the woodland retreat with an outdoor hot tub, an electricity-free cottage or a luxury cabin with panoramic views across the landscape. You can also book out a hilltop tent for a picnic or for drinks under the stars, and there are heaps of exciting hidden surprises for the kids, should their curiosity get the better of them.
Eye Kettleby Lakes is a luxury family-run holiday park-come-fishery just outside the market town of Melton Mowbray. It’s home to 12 alpine-styled cabins made from Scandinavian logs (all with private hot tubs and saunas), eight glamping pods and an award-winning touring park for campers, caravans and motorhomes. The beautifully kept landscape is ideal for fishing enthusiasts and nature lovers with its array of peaceful walks and never-ending countryside views.
Ethical, Responsible and Sustainable Tourism Award
Gold Winner - The Hive Cafe and Bakery
This organic café and bakery in Birmingham’s historic Jewellery Quarter definitely stands out from the crowd when it comes to sustainability. They make 100% of their dishes by hand, compost all food waste and get lots of their ingredients from their farmed rooftop garden. The café also offers work placements to young people with complex learning needs – giving them the chance to learn to bake, prepare and serve food. Open only on weekdays, The Hive serves up breakfast, lunch and plenty of baked goods.
With stunning views of Ullswater and underground pods called ‘Hobbit Holes’, you wouldn’t think this family-run campsite in the Lake District could get any better – but it does. The owners have invested lots of money into sustainable technologies over the years, including their state-of-the-art glamping cabins, solar and thermal panels, and biomass heating. The holiday park is even the first in Britain to have a zero-waste shop, where nothing is sold in plastic. They’ve also planted bee-friendly flowers and installed a bee hotel to help local wildlife thrive!
In the spectacular White Peak area of Derbyshire is a traditional family farm dotted with log cabins, glamping pods and vintage gypsy caravans, all insulated with sheep wool and powered by renewable technologies. Guests can meet the resident animals, collect eggs and even help feed the new-born lambs in the spring. Don’t bother stocking up on supermarket water either, as you can refill your own bottle with pure mineral water from the site’s borehole. You can even charge your electric car for free, and, if you have one, bring your horse to stay too - they’ll enjoy the ride along the Pennine Bridleway.
Experience of the Year
Gold Winner - Wild Wookey
Wookey Hole, Somerset
Get ready for the country’s most innovative caving experience, set in the UK’s most famous caves. Wild Wookey combines abseiling, Via Ferrata climbs, boat crossings and zip lining with rare geological and archaeological treasures to create one 3-hour high-octane adventure hidden below the surface of the rolling Mendip Hills. Giving you access to previously hidden passages beyond the main Wookey Hole show cave, this underground playground is not for the faint-hearted.
Silver Winner - Ezekial Bone: Nottingham Robin Hood Town Tour
Delve into Nottingham’s history and celebrate the city’s famous son – Robin Hood on this character-led tour. Get an entertaining insight into the legendary outlaw while seeing Nottingham’s famous landmarks and places associated with Robin Hood. You’ll enter ancient caves beneath the streets, learn about the city’s castle that’s not a castle and visit the former lace capital of the world, before finishing up with a pint of ale with the man himself.
Escape the hustle and bustle without leaving the city with a sleepover at ZSL London Zoo. This unique experience lets you enjoy after-hour guided tours, learn about ZSL’s worldwide conservation efforts and settle down for the night inside your own colourful cabin within the Land of the Lions exhibit. Each lodge is themed around a different animal found in India’s Gir Forest and has its own private veranda for enjoying a pre-bedtime snack. Dinner and breakfast is also included, as well as free entry to London Zoo and Whipsnade Zoo for two days either side of your overnight stay.
Experience true indulgence at The Ned, set in the former Midland Bank building at the heart of the City of London. This Grade-I listed property, filled with a wealth of original features and interiors that channel 1920s and 1930s glamour, has 250 funky bedrooms, with discounted deals for under 30s. Guests also have access to an elegant spa and eight onsite restaurants – including Cecconi’s, an all-day Venetian brasserie, and Zombler’s New York-style deli.
Located six miles from Bath, this quintessentially English mansion offers 5-star luxury at every turn. A magnificent winding lime and beech avenue leads up to the hotel which houses 41 individually styled rooms and suites, Michelin-starred Restaurant Hywel Jones, a two-AA-Rosette Brasserie, equestrian centre, cooking school and an award-winning spa. The 500 acres of peaceful parkland also makes for a relaxing afternoon walk.
Gracing Ocean Village with its 5-star opulence, Southampton Harbour Hotel and Spa perfectly blends with the city’s nautical culture with its striking super yacht-inspired design. Great for a pre-cruise stay, the hotel also boasts the award-winning Jetty Restaurant with an extensive outdoor terrace featuring luxury relaxation pods for taking in the views, and a spectacular rooftop bar and kitchen, HarBAR on 6th, complete with outdoor fire pits and a wood-fired pizza oven.
Built on the site of Greenwich Palace, these illustrious Baroque buildings, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, are said to be one of London’s most popular visitor attractions. The Painted Hall (also known as the UK’s Sistine Chapel), captures the hearts of all who visit, while the ‘500 Years of History’ tour lets you delve into the rich history of monarchs and famous figures, like Lord Nelson and William Shakespeare. And don’t forget to visit the Victorian Skittle Alley, where you can try your hand at getting a strike.
Built nearly 2,000 years ago around Britain’s only hot springs, The Roman Baths are one of the greatest religious spas of the ancient world. A visit gives you a glimpse into how the baths operated during the Roman era. You’ll get to explore the world-famous Great Bath, walk along original Roman pavements and see the ruins of the Temple of Sulis Minerva, as well as taste natural hot spa water. Sit down for a bite at The Pump Room restaurant and you’ll even be treated to music from the Pump Room Trio, Europe’s longest-established resident ensemble.
Bronze Winner - Warner Bros. Studio Tour London - The Making of Harry Potter
Relive the magic of the Harry Potter film series with authentic sets, spellbinding special effects and behind-the-scenes secrets. Marvel at the iconic Great Hall, seek out spiders in the Forbidden Forest, board the original Hogwarts Express at Platform 9 ¾ and withdraw some galleons from Gringotts Wizarding Bank, all before wandering down Diagon Alley. Located at the studios where all eight films were produced, Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter celebrates the British talent and artistry that went into the making of the Wizarding World.
Celebrate English wine by going behind the scenes and seeing exactly how it goes from vine to bottle. Set in the scenic Sussex and Kentish countryside, Vine + Country Tours offers bespoke food and wine experiences, allowing you to customise your own wine tasting trip with zero hassle.
Silver Winner - Hotham's Gin School and Distillery
Go in-depth on the history of gin at this unique school and distillery in the heart of Hull. Sample Holtham’s unique artisan gins and learn about the spirit’s origins in the city before putting your new-found knowledge to the test by distilling your very own bottle.
Bronze Winner - The Flower Bowl Entertainment Centre
Combining bowling, curling, crazy golf, golf simulators and a cinema under one grassy roof, The Flower Bowl in Preston feels like a mad experiment gone right. Perfect for parties, families or a couples’ night out, there really is something for everyone at The Flower Bowl.
Home to both relaxed fine dining and a traditional pub setting, the Baskerville in Lower Shiplake, South Oxfordshire, prides itself on top-class service and high-quality food. Just a short walk from one of the most scenic stretches of the Thames and with a beautiful summer garden and a roaring log fire for winter, the Baskerville is a must-visit destination in all seasons.
Packed with atmosphere and character, the Three Horseshoes Pub & Kitchen in Burton Bradstock, Dorset is proud to put community at the heart of everything it does. From a food menu celebrating locally sourced produce to a wide variety of beers from breweries across England, everything about this thatched-roof pub and kitchen is artisanal.
First built over four hundred years ago, the stone walls and floors of The Howard Arms in Shipston-on-Stour, Warwickshire, lend the pub a unique and historic fitting for its close location to both the Cotswolds and Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon. Serving local beers and ciders alongside top food, The Howard Arms is immensely popular with locals and tourists alike.
Offering exceptional farm holidays in the heart of Devon, North Hayne Farm Cottages is suitable for all the family and has received notable acclaim for its autism-friendly services. From animal feeding to donkey rides, there’s plenty of farm activities for the kids to go hands-on with, while the adults will love the private hot tubs and pampering options.
Combining modern luxury with cosy escapism, Wallops Wood Cottages offers underfloor heating, USB charging ports and private hot tubs with some good old fashioned peace and quiet. Surrounded by the scenic South Downs National Park and just a short drive from London, Wallops Wood is an ideal getaway spot.
Set in a quiet, idyllic part of East Yorkshire, Broadgate Farm Cottages has a wide variety of cosy cottages, suitable for couples, families or larger parties. Just a short walking distance from the medieval market town of Beverley, Broadgate provides a perfect countryside escape, even if just for a long weekend.
Situated in York’s historic Minster Quarter, Grays Court is a unique hotel and restaurant, highly regarded by locals and tourists alike. With direct access to the famous York City Walls and twelve individually designed bedrooms, Grays Court offers all the comfort and luxuries of a high-standard hotel in a central and scenic location.
Enjoy all the excitement of a traditional English inn with the style and comfort of a boutique hotel at the Cary Arms & Spa in Torquay, Devon. From luxury seaview suites to chic beach huts and characterful cottages, the Cary Arms mixes unique accommodation with fine dining and relaxing spa treatments.
A five-star boutique hotel and spa, Seaham Hall occupies a striking cliff top spot on the Durham coastline. First built in 1791, Seaham Hall has a long and rich history, but it has continued to adapt and evolve too, resulting in a contemporary interior and an eccentric character to the hotel. Also home to an award-winning spa, Seaham Hall offers a lot of luxury under one roof.
Learn the story of North Staffordshire’s pottery workers at this unique, hands-on museum. Step back in time through a preserved pottery factory and get a close look at authentic coal burning bottle ovens, before trying your hand and creating a unique handmade pottery item of your own. Brought to life by friendly and passionate staff, Gladstone Pottery Museum is one of Stoke-on-Trent’s most intriguing attractions.
Built from the former home of 18th century astronomer William Herschel, the Herschel Museum of Astronomy celebrates his life and the study of astronomy in its entirety. Stand in the spot where Herschel first discovered Uranus, explore his collection of homemade telescopes and globes, and head into the underground auditorium for a film narrated by Sir Patrick Moore.
Bronze Winner - Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum
Two hundred years of crime, justice and punishment are brought to life at the Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum, built on the same site that saw thousands of people sentenced. Brought to life by expert volunteers, visitors can explore the on-site cells and stand in the dock of the famous courtroom.
Gold Winner - The Dining Room - Whatley Manor Hotel and Spa
Under the direction of Executive Chef Niall Keating, The Dining Room in Whatley Manor currently holds one Michelin star, a reflection of the high-quality standards in both the food and service. Uniquely, the high levels of service are supplied by all members of staff – one course is served by the chefs themselves and another is served in the kitchen itself. With a menu of twelve dishes influenced by food cultures across the world, The Dining Room is contemporary, vibrant and immensely satisfying.
Found in the heart of rural Leicestershire, John’s House is a one Michelin star restaurant, housed within a rustic 16th century cottage. With a relaxed and friendly atmosphere, John’s House champions a Field to Fork philosophy, using home-grown ingredients and the best produce that Leicestershire has to offer.
Combining the best produce from Northumberland with Scandinavian values and cooking methods, Restaurant Hjem is a destination restaurant in the heart of Hadrian’s Wall country. Putting North East produce and suppliers in the spotlight and utilising unique methods including an open kitchen, Hjem is a memorable and tasty experience.