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Top 10 Small Towns in England


Cities might have the art galleries, the Michelin-starred restaurants and the trip-defining tourist attractions, but a well-chosen town can give visitors a homely insight that a city can never hope to match. With their long histories, beautiful locations and oddities to tell your friends about, these top ten towns are a great taste of the best England has to offer.

1.  Whitby (Yorkshire)
Set below a crumbling 7th century abbey, and featuring a quayside fish market, a shallow-water beach and TV chef Rick Stein’s “best fish and chip shop in Britain”, Whitby is the archetypal traditional English port. North Sea winds rush down the narrow lanes and rattle the windows of traditional stone buildings where jewelers sell local jet jewelry. Traditional tall boats often mingle with the rugged fishing vessels that frequent the harbor, a whalebone arch nudges the skyline, and a Dracula museum adds a spooky intrigue.

2.  Bibury (Gloucestershire)
A highlight of the hobbit-like Cotswold district, Bibury’s tiny stone-bricked houses sit against narrow car-free tracks. With buildings coated with red ivy, tiny bridges, water meadows and a working 17th century mill, it’s a fisherman, photographer and wildlife enthusiasts dream. Watching the river flow past whilst drinking locally brewed ale in Bibury’s ancient pub offers a return to a different time; a slow and simple way of life. Sit back and enjoy!

3.  Clovelly (Devon)
Clovelly’s steep cobbled lanes rise 120 meters from the seafront, offering dramatic views of the North Devon coast. Ramshackle stone houses, wooden ladders made from driftwood and chalkboard advertising are still features of the traditional lifestyle here. The roads are too steep for cars, and until recently donkeys were a key method of transporting goods in and out of town. Now they transport tourists amongst the restored cottages and over the backache inducing cobbles of North Devon’s most picturesque piece of seaside.

4.  Market Harborough (Leicestershire)
Centered around a grammar school built on wooden stilts and a castle-like 14th century church, Market Harborough is a stunning example of a traditional English market town. The stilts were to protect from the flooding of the river Welland, and used to feature a butter market under the classrooms. Now locals make do with a Roman museum based in a former corset factory and the nearby “staircase locks”, part of the Grand Union Canal. The shortest street in Europe, “Little Street” leads to a popular local pub.

5.  St Ives (Cornwall)
The beachside holiday town of St Ives is a Cornish cultural centre, home to a huge artistic community and three homegrown festivals. A host of galleries (including a local version of London’s infamous Tate Gallery) fill the town, and its streets are liberally adorned with statues and modern art. As well as being a popular summer tourist destination, famous for its clear water, St Ives beach is also amongst Britain’s top surf beaches. Nearby attractions include “Lands End” (Britain’s most Southerly point) and the incredible cliff side Minack Theatre.

6.  Stratford-Upon-Avon (Warwickshire)
12th century Stratford is full of wooden framed houses, wonderful parks, riverside walks and river boating opportunities. One name, however, rises above it all: Shakespeare. The great man was born in Stratford, and you can visit his homes, watch his plays and even take part in a parade held in his honor. The “Shakesperience” is overwhelming, and Stratford’s literary heritage is exquisitely and imaginatively presented. Alternatively, murder mystery weekends offer a break from the bard.

7.  Arundel (Sussex)
Arundel’s fairytale castle matches every Disney-fuelled preconception. This Norman turreted monster contains priceless paintings, suits of armor and even its own luxury apartments. Elsewhere the archways and pointy towers of the cathedral are almost as impressive, as is the shambolic assortment of old houses that make up the town centre. A huge number ply the local trade: antique trading. In the summer, outdoor swimming pools and playful river festivals add a fun-filled air.

8.  Bowness-On-Windermere (Cumbria)
Bowness is a fairly ordinary town, though its Victorian buildings and pretty hillside location are notable. The surroundings are what make Bowness really stand out: In the heart of Britain’s Lake District, and on the shore of magnificent Lake Windermere, Bowness is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. Hundreds of hiking routes, fishing, sailing and a difficult-to-match wilderness feel attract visitors to the Lake District, and Bowness, right in the districts rugged heart, is perhaps the best starting point.

9.  Totnes (Devon)
The Elizabethan town of Totnes is known for its red sandstone church and memorable street scenes. An ornamental arch spans the entrance to the high street, and around town you can find the “Butterwalk” (a covered marketplace from Tudor times) and drink from the Leechwell. Lepers used to flock of Totnes to drink the medicinal water. Modern day Totnes is known for its Bohemian lifestyle, and is home to a large artistic and musical community, as well as shops with a heavy global influence.

10.  Richmond (Yorkshire)
Georgian architecture, a strong regimental history and a dominating castle have put Richmond on the tourist map. The terraced houses and bustling market square are typical rustic Yorkshire, and are often used as makeshift television sets. Richmond’s friendly residents never fail to entertain; the pubs and restaurants are the best places to sample the famed dry northern wit. Legend has it that the sound of a boy-drummer, lost forever in the castle’s tunnels, still permeates the winter nights.