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England is filled with wonderful historic sights, grand palaces and ancient castles. Luckily, you don’t always need a car to get to them. This guide will highlight some of the best places to visit in England without a car.
Many of the country’s sites and attractions date back to a time when there were no cars, trains or buses. Although they lie in remote locations that may seem hard to get to, don’t let this stop you from going – many of them are accessible via public transport, bike or on foot.
Read on to discover the different places you can visit without a car.
Eltham Palace, London
Eltham Palace in Greenwich was once a medieval palace and a Tudor royal house before it came to be what it is today – a unique Art Deco mansion. Millionaires Stephen and Virginia Courtauld bought the palace in 1933 and restored it into an extravagant home.
Take an interactive guide which explains the history of the palace more, and get a feel for what the couple’s lives were once like.
There are some pretty unusual rooms in the palace, like the map room where they would plan expeditions and the sleeping quarters which were designed especially for their pet lemur. Make your way through the dramatic entrance hall, the luxurious golden bathroom and the basement bunker.
Head outside into the 19 acres of beautiful gardens. Stroll through the Rock Garden and cross the moat on London’s oldest working bridge. Grab a bite to eat in the glasshouse cafe, and check out some Art Deco gifts in the shop. Mottingham Station is half a mile from the palace, whereas Eltham station is a bit further away.
You can also take the TfL bus service – 124, 126, 160 and 161 stop close by.
Clifford’s Tower, North Yorkshire
When visiting the historical city of York, a visit to Clifford’s Tower is a must. Standing on a high mound with stunning views across the city, Clifford’s Tower is almost all that is left of York Castle, which was built by William the Conqueror in 1068.
The tower has suffered a stormy past, having been burned twice before it was rebuilt in the 13th century. The name comes from Roger de Clifford who was hanged from the tower walls for treason against Edward II.
You can take a self-guided tour on the ground floor, once home to the royal exchequer and treasury. Make your way to the top of the tower and take the wall walk.
From here you’ll be able to see the remains of the medieval castle, and spot for the buildings which form the ‘Eye of York’. Clifford’s Tower is a short walk from York station, but there are also several buses which stop along Clifford St and Tower St.
Stonehenge is arguably the world’s most famous prehistoric monument. The UNESCO World Heritage Site has always been shrouded in mystery, and speculation of its meaning and significance continue to develop today.
Take your time walking around the stone circle and admire the great columns. The visitor centre has an exhibition with over 250 archaeological objects including jewellery, pottery and even human remains.
Nearby you’ll find five recreated Neolithic houses which are furnished with artefacts like axes and pottery. They’re based on the remains of houses which were excavated in 2006 and 2007, and give you a glimpse of what a typical home looked like when Stonehenge was built.
You can find out more about what life was like four and half thousand years ago from volunteer guides, who can show you what common daily activities were like, including grinding grain and making rope out of rushes.
There is a Stonehenge Tour Bus which collects visitors from Salisbury train and bus stations throughout the year. Otherwise, I recommend a Stonehenge tour as this will be the easiest route to get there.
Pendennis Castle, Cornwall
Pendennis Castle was constructed by Henry VIII between 1540 and 1542. Originally built as an artillery fort, the castle has defended Cornwall for hundreds of years, including defence against invasion from France and the Holy Roman Empire.
The castle is perched on a headland and has panoramic views out to sea and the nearby town of Falmouth. There are plenty of exciting activities to get stuck into at Pendennis Castle. Visit the exhibition that explains the role of Pendennis Castle during the First World War, and take a look at the artefacts and memorabilia from that era.
The castle has a collection of big guns used as coast defence weapons from Tudor, Napoleonic, Victorian and 20th century times. There is even a tunnel leading to Half Moon Battery, where ammunition was stored in the Second World War. You can find out how enemy ships were spotted during the war at the Battery Observation post.
If you fancy something to eat, why not dine as the Tudors did in the castle’s cafe, which serves fresh Cornish dishes made with a Tudor twist. Falmouth Docks station is half a mile from Pendennis Castle.
There is also the Falmouth Town Shuttle Bus 366 which stops at Pendennis Rise, close to the castle.
1066 Battle of Hastings Abbey and Battlefield, Sussex
1066 is a particularly significant year in British history, which was when the Battle of Hastings was fought. The armies of King Harold and William the Conqueror came to face each other, changing the course of England’s history.
You can visit the site where the battle happened, and follow its tale with an audio guide. Explore the ruins of the abbey, the site where King Harold allegedly died. The abbey gatehouse has an exciting exhibition which looks at the stories of the abbey throughout history, complete with fascinating artefacts. The gatehouse also has a rooftop viewing platform with panoramic views across the battlefield.
The site is also home to a rare surviving example of an ice house and dairy, which were commonly used for entertaining guests. The ice house at Battle Abbey was built between 1810 and 1820 and features a thatched dairy and underground icehouse, once used to store ice collected from ponds. The train station at Battle is half a mile from the abbey.
There are local buses as well, including Stagecoach services 304 and 305, and Renown services 95 and 355.
Tynemouth Priory, Tyne and Wear
Located on the North East coast of England, Tynemouth Castle and Priory is set on a rocky headland overlooking Tynemouth Pier. The priory was founded in the early 7th century, and in 651 King Oswin of Deira was buried at Tynemouth.
He was the first of three kings who were buried at the priory. The two other kings to be buried here were Osred II and Malcolm III, and the site became a place of pilgrimage.
Through the ‘Life in the Stronghold’ exhibition, you can discover the story of the priory from its original beginnings as an Iron Age settlement, an Anglo-Saxon monastery, a royal castle, artillery fort and coastal defence. There is also a 15th-century chapel to be explored.
Don’t miss the restored gun battery and canon, used to defend Tyne during the First and Second World Wars.
With stunning views across the North Sea and the River Tyne, the surrounding gardens are a great place to have a picnic on a sunny day. Tynemouth metro station is half a mile away from the priory. The 306 bus runs from Newcastle city centre to Whitley Bay, and Tynemouth Village is the closest stop.
Carlisle Castle, Cumbria
Carlisle Castle is located near the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall. First built in 1092 by William Rufus, the castle was built as a defence against the Scots. It was constructed on top of the remains of a Roman fort dating back to the first to fourth centuries.
The castle is probably most known for being the place Mary, Queen of Scots was held captive in 1568. You can visit the tower that she was imprisoned in and learn more about her time at the castle through the exhibition.
Listen to the stories of prominent inhabitants of the castle, including Bonnie Prince Charlie and Kinmont Willie Armstrong.
Take a look at the stone carvings in the castle keep, or discover the warden’s apartment which was once King Richard the Third’s bedroom.
The castle is home to Cumbria’s Museum of Military Life, which displays the 300 year history of Cumbria’s Infantry Regiment. It has an immersive exhibition, featuring a First World War trench environment, audio/visual displays, an extensive collection of uniforms, medals and weapons, and an interactive trail for kids.
Carlisle Castle is half a mile away from Carlisle station. Make your way through the historic town centre and under a subway at the Tuille House Museum.
There are also several Stagecoach buses that stop nearby.
Dover Castle, Kent
One of the largest castles in England, Dover Castle was founded in the 11th century by William the Conqueror and is nicknamed the ‘Key to England’ because of its remarkable defences. There is so much to explore within the castle.
Start at the Great Tower and admire the luxurious furnishings, decked out to what it would’ve looked like in medieval times. Head down to the underground hospital where Second World War casualties were treated.
There are audio effects in place, including the gripping story of an injured pilot fighting for his life. Explore the wartime tunnels beneath the castle and watch footage from the Dunkirk evacuation, or check out the oldest surviving lighthouse in the country.
The castle has an escape room which is inspired by the Cold War history of the castle. Once you’ve solved the puzzle, reward yourself with a treat from the choice of eateries.
The Dover Priory station is a half an hour walk from the castle. You can also take the Stagecoach 15 bus which leaves from Priory Street. There’s also the option of taking a taxi from the station which shouldn’t cost too much.
Osborne, Isle of Wight
Queen Victoria once said “it is impossible to imagine a prettier spot” when describing Osborne House, her royal holiday home on the Isle of Wight. Constructed between 1845 and 1851, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s rural retreat was built in the style of an Italian Renaissance palazzo.
In 1901 Queen Victoria died at the house, which is now open for tours. Explore the lavish staterooms where the Queen would entertain royals and aristocrats. Admire the collection of artwork that the couple accumulated over the years, many of them Christmas and birthday present to each other.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had nine children, and you can take a look at the nursery and family rooms at the palace. Step onto the balcony that the royal couple used to sit on, and see the Queen’s bedroom where she died.
There is a ‘Children at Osborne’ exhibition where you can learn about the different children and their interests and personalities. The palace has a beautiful private beach where the Queen bathed and her children learned to swim. It’s open to the public, and there’s even a cafe where you can grab an ice cream.
To get to Osborne, take the Southampton to Cowes ferry and then a bus to Osborne.
Chiswick House, London
This Palladian villa in west London is an impressive example of 18th century British architecture. The house was designed by Richard Boyle, the third Earl of Burlington and completed in 1729.
Inside, you’ll find exquisitely decorated rooms, filled with paintings and architectural drawings belonging to Boyle. The house was never designed to be a private residence and was seen as an architectural experiment. Look out for the velvet wallpaper and the beautifully intricate ceilings.
The garden itself is worth visiting, notable for being the birthplace of the English Landscape Movement. Spread over 65 acres, there is so much of it to explore.
Admire the famous cedars of Lebanon, relax by the lake and check out the camellia collection in the conservatory. The garden cafe is an airy, modern space to relax in, and serves breakfasts, light lunches and cakes.
If you visit in the autumn, you can even buy fresh produce from the garden. Chiswick station is only half a mile from the house on the District and Overground lines.
The nearest tube station is Turnham Green, just over a mile away.
Audley End House and Gardens, Essex
This 17th century country house is one of the finest Jacobean houses in England. The house was built on the site of Walden Abbey, a monastery granted to Henry VIII in 1538.
It was transformed into a domestic house, before being extended into a grand mansion for entertaining King James I. The first Baron of Braybrook made significant changes to the house before he passed in 1797, including designing new rooms.
Wander through the different rooms, including the great hall, state apartments, dressing rooms and the 18th-century chapel. The state bed is one of the most notable 18th-century beds in England and was made especially for a royal visit in 1794.
Kids will love the 1830s nursery room and dressing up as Victorian children. Learn about what life was like as a Victorian servant in the Service Wing and Coal Gallery.
The Baron of Braybrook also commissioned Capability Brown to design the gardens. The River Granta runs through the gardens, with several charming bridges crossing it.
Don’t miss the serpentine lake and the walled kitchen garden, which is full of organic fruit and veg.
Audley End station is a mile and a quarter away from the house and there is a footpath that runs along the main road.
Alternatively, there are several local buses that go to Saffron Walden and stop within a quarter of a mile to the house.
York Cold War Bunker, North Yorkshire
The formal name for this bunker is Royal Observer Corps 20 Group Headquarters. This semi-submerged nuclear bunker is perhaps one of the most mysterious and eerie English Heritages sites, and was only open to the public from 2006.
The bunker was opened in 1961 when it was used by different government agencies until it closed in 1991. It was originally used by the Royal Observer Corps, and designed to monitor fallout in case of a nuclear attack. The bunker features decontamination rooms and sewage ejectors which could serve up to 60 people in bombproof conditions.
The bunker runs guided tours which include a short introductory film showcasing original Corps members who tell their stories of working in the bunker during the Cold War. The bunker is only a half hour walk from York station. There are also several buses that stop close by.
Pevensey Castle, Kent
Pevensey Castle is a medieval castle and former Roman Saxon Shore fort built around 290 AD. Although it’s not known for certain why it was built, it’s thought to have been a part of a Roman defensive system to guard the coast against Saxon pirates.
After the Romans, the castle fell into ruins but was subsequently occupied by the Normans, where William the Conqueror landed for the first time in 1066. During the Second World War, the castle was used by the Home Guard, British and Canadian Armies and the United States Army Air Corps.
Today, the site is managed by English Heritage and you can still see the machine gun posts that were left there.
Take a tour to discover the 16 centuries of history. The dungeons are open to visitors and there is a newly added museum. It displays important artefacts including jewellery, household items and weapons which were excavated from the site.
Pevensey and Westham and Pevensey Bay stations are both a ten-minute walk from the station. The 55 Stagecoach bus connects the stations to the castle.
Whitby Abbey, North Yorkshire
Perched on a clifftop with magnificent sea views, Whitby Abbey is one of the most interesting attractions in North Yorkshire and has been popular with visitors for over 1500 years.
The abbey was once a 7th century Christian monastery which later became a Benedictine abbey. Over the years, it has served as a king’s burial place, the location for a historic meeting between Celtic and Roman clerics, the home of the poet Caedmon, and perhaps most famously as the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Walk around the extensive ruins of the abbey and enjoy views over the town and across the sea. Walk in the footsteps of many different religious leaders, artists, writers and poets, including St Hild, a leading abbess. At the visitor centre, you’ll find exhibitions that tell the story of the abbey using artefacts including medieval manuscripts, Anglo-Saxon crosses and a signed copy of Dracula.
During the school holidays there are plenty of activities for the whole family to get involved in. Whitby station is served by Northern Rail and the North York Moors Railway.
The abbey is only half a mile from the station and includes a walk up the famous 199 steps.
Stott Park Bobbin Mill, Cumbria
The Stott Park Bobbin Mill was built in 1835, and is still working today. It was designed to produce millions of wooden bobbins which were used in the spinning and weaving industries in Lancashire. Located on the picturesque shores of Lake Windermere, the mill is the only remaining working bobbin mill in the Lake District.
There are tours on offer to find out about the story of the mill and learn about the production process from tree to the bobbin.
See the original Victorian machinery at work, which was originally powered using a waterwheel and steam engine.
The tour guides will give demonstrations on how the machinery is used and you can even see bobbins being made. Don’t forget to pick one up for yourself at the gift shop.
Although relatively small compared to other mills, there were around 250 men and boys who worked here, producing approximately a quarter of a million bobbins per week.
The mill was named best small visitor attraction at the Cumbria Tourism Awards in 2014, and won Silver at the visit England Awards in 2015.
To get to Stott Park, take a boat from Ambleside or Windermere. Windermere station has trains from Oxenholme Lake District station.