It’s Not Grim up North: Your Guide to the North of England

Many visitors to England never step foot outside of London – and they’re missing out. You will find a wealth of natural beauty, and exciting culture in the North.

You’re planning a trip to England. London is top of your list, and you’re not sure where else you want to go. You might pop to Oxford or Cambridge to soak up the atmosphere of the university towns, but you probably won’t go up north.

You’re not sure where you should visit, and you wouldn’t know how to go about it. You might think there’s nothing there worth seeing, and that you’ve already seen everything England has to offer during a few days in London.

If you think this, you’re missing out on so much.

By not venturing any further north, you are depriving yourself of a lot of beautiful and interesting places. It’s not as scary as it might seem, either: although there are some very rural areas, there are also big cities, and England’s roads and public transport are well-developed and safe to use.

If you’re now convinced that you want to visit the north of England, keep reading to find out where you should go, how you should get there, and what you should do there.

Whether you feel like you won’t be happy unless you can find a beach, you want to stay out all night partying, or you’re desperate to go for a scenic hike, there will be something for you to enjoy.

Where should I go?


Think about what you want to experience: vibrant cities or sleepy villages, built-up towns or areas of outstanding natural beauty. You might want to go to a few different places: if so you should plan a route that will take you easily from one place to another, allowing you to take in the scenery as you travel.

If you’re a city lover, look into a trip to Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool, or Newcastle. Rather than simply playing second fiddle to London, these cities have their own rich culture, history and heritage, as well as a thriving food scene and nightlife.

In Manchester, you can learn about the Industrial Revolution. Famous for its reputation as the city of steel, Sheffield is an incredibly vibrant and friendly city. Newcastle has an explosive nightlife and an exciting art scene.

Leeds has a huge range of options for shopping, dining, drinking, exploring, and taking part in the culture. Fans of the Beatles will find no better place to stay than Liverpool.

Maybe you feel overwhelmed in huge cities, but still want some of the atmosphere. Settle yourself in a large town or small city, such as Durham, Harrogate, or Bradford. These places will offer you all the conveniences and culture that you want, while still giving you the opportunity to find some peace and quiet when you need it.

If a rural retreat is more your style, head to Northumberland, the Lake District, or the Yorkshire Dales. These regions are an idyll for anyone who loves ‘the great outdoors’, as they hold a number of options for pursuits such as walking, hiking and climbing.

That said, don’t expect these areas to be a cultural wasteland: you can still hunt out some fascinating museums and galleries, and many towns and villages put on festivals and events regularly.

If you do like to be beside the seaside, there’s plenty of choice up north. Whitby, in North Yorkshire, is a charming harbour town that served as an inspiration to Bram Stoker as he wrote his popular novel Dracula.

Blackpool, in Lancashire, is a quintessential beach town on the surface, replete with deckchairs and donkeys. Though for those willing to take a second look, the town will offer a wealth of culture and heritage.

How should I get there?

Legend may have it that northern England is all farm tracks where a pony and trap is more common than a car, but this is just not true nowadays. You can reach any destination of your choice in a car, and many places have good public transport links.

If you want to explore at your leisure, and investigate some of the more rural areas, you may want to hire a car, or take your own. Driving gives you a lot of freedom, as you don’t have to bother getting a train, or navigating the public transport in an unfamiliar place. What’s more, you might find that you really enjoy your driving experience up north.

If you can’t or don’t want to drive, you should be able to get to most places on public transport. To get to some more rural places, you will have to let go of any pretentions and get in the country mindset: you might have to get a bus that takes hours on incredibly winding roads, and there might only be one or two buses a day. Ask the locals how to get to where you want to be, and chalk any odd journeys up to life experience.

Travelling by train or coach is relatively simple when visiting cities and large towns in the north of England. Use websites such as The Train Line or Red Spotted Hanky to check routes and times, get good deals on your fares, and book tickets. National Express and Megabus have coach services that travel on various routes throughout the UK.

If you want to go from one major city to another, train travel is probably your best option. Trains are likely to run at regular intervals during the day.

If you want to fly straight to your chosen northern destination, there are a number of airports in the north of the country, including Durham Tees Valley, Newcastle, Manchester, Leeds Bradford, Humberside, and Doncaster Sheffield.

Many of these airports are well served by flights to and from Europe, as well as further afield, and have good transport links to nearby towns, cities and villages.

What should I do there?


As with many other places, the northern England has something for everyone. Many people head to the region to engage in outdoor activities such as walking, hiking or climbing. Others come to experience the rich and often quirky culture present in towns and cities.

Some are history aficionados who travel to discover the birth- and death-places of various historical figures, or to chart the progress of a famous battle. Others might head out to smaller towns and villages to enjoy a peaceful pace of life, and indulge themselves with the friendliness of the local communities.

Literature lovers might want to follow in the footsteps of some great authors. If you are fond of William Wordsworth’s poetry, take a trip to the Lake District, where you can visit his childhood home in Cockermouth, take in the beautiful surroundings that inspired some of his finest work, and see the Wordsworth Museum.

Fans of the Brontë sisters will want to explore the area of West Yorkshire that has aptly come to be known as Bronte Country, to admire the wild landscape that shaped and inspired their writing. If you loved Winifred Holtby’s classic novel South Riding, you could visit the East Riding of Yorkshire, which is (confusingly) the inspiration for the story.

If you have enough time, you could plan to see everything the north of England has to offer: rugged beaches, rolling hills, buzzing cities, unpretentious towns, fascinating museums, cosy pubs, stunning nature trails, fine dining establishments.

If you are on a tighter schedule, spend some time working out what is most important to you, and start your plan from there. What is the one place you absolutely must visit? What would you always regret not seeing? Do some research, and ask people you know, to find out which areas you think you would enjoy the most.

People who are interested in real ale and pub culture will be well served in most places in the north of England. The tourism organisation Welcome to Yorkshire has created an ale trail for beer lovers to follow – as well as a fish and chips trail, and a tea trail.

There are also a number of beer festivals in the region. In many parts of northern England, the pub industry is suffering due to various factors, including the economic recession, but those that remain represent a welcoming safe haven in local communities, and offer a lot to visitors and tourists as well.

Thrill seekers who want to keep active will find a plethora of opportunities to get out and about. Dalby Forest in North Yorkshire is the prime destination for cycling enthusiasts, as it encompasses more than 60 mile of biking trails.

If your interests lie with walking more than anything else, pay a visit to Hadrian’s Wall Country, which spans across the North East and Cumbria. In this part of England, you will find a walk to suit everyone, from a short and gentle stroll, to a longer and more taxing route.

About the author


Reader, writer, blogger, part-timer, volunteer, all things to all men. I can usually be found wearing yellow clothes and drinking green tea. Some of my favourite things include waterfalls, polar bears, rum, and charity shops.

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