England is a part of the United Kingdom, which is made up of England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Only 130,347 sq. km (50,327 sq. miles) -- about the same size as New York State -- England has an amazing amount of rural land and natural wilderness and an astonishing regional, physical, and cultural diversity.
London -- Some seven million Londoners live in this mammoth metropolis, a parcel of land that's more than 1,577 sq. km (609 sq. miles) in size. The City of London proper is merely 2.5 sq. km (1 sq. mile), but the rest of the city is made up of separate villages, boroughs, and corporations.
The Thames Valley -- England's most famous river runs westward from Kew to its source in the Cotswolds. A land of meadows, woodlands, attractive villages, small market towns, and rolling hillsides, this is one of England's most scenic areas. Highlights include Windsor Castle (Elizabeth II's favorite residence) and nearby Eton College, founded by a young Henry VI in 1440. Henley, site of the Royal Regatta, remains our favorite Thames-side town; and at the university city of Oxford, you can tour the colleges.
The Southeast (Kent, Surrey & Sussex) -- This is the land of Charles Lamb, Virginia Woolf, Sir Winston Churchill, and Henry James. In this region are some of the nation's biggest attractions: Brighton, Canterbury, Dover, and dozens of country homes and castles -- not only Hever and Leeds castles, but also Chartwell, the more modest abode where Churchill lived. In small villages, such as Rye and Winchelsea in Sussex, you discover the charm of the southeast. Almost all of the Sussex shoreline is built up, and seaside towns, such as Eastbourne and Hastings, are often tacky. In fact, though the area's major attraction is Canterbury Cathedral, the Royal Pavilion at Brighton rates as an outstanding, extravagant folly. Tea shops, antiques shops, pubs, and small inns abound in the area. Surrey is essentially a commuter suburb of London and is easily reached for day trips.
Hampshire & Wiltshire -- Southwest of London, these counties possess two of England's greatest cathedrals, Winchester and Salisbury, and one of Europe's most significant prehistoric monuments, Stonehenge. Hampshire is bordered on its western side by the woodlands and heaths of New Forest. Portsmouth and Southampton loom large in naval heritage. You may also want to take a ferry over to the Isle of Wight, once Queen Victoria's preferred vacation retreat. In Wiltshire, you encounter the beginning of the West Country, with its scenic beauty and monuments. Here you'll find Wilton House, the 17th-century home of the earls of Pembroke, and Old Sarum, the remains of what is believed to have been an Iron Age fortification.
The Southwest (Dorset, Somerset, Devon & Cornwall) -- These four counties are the great vacation centers and retirement havens of England. Dorset, associated with Thomas Hardy, is a land of rolling downs, rocky headlands, well-kept villages, and rich farmlands. Somerset -- the Somerset of King Arthur and Camelot -- offers such magical towns as Glastonbury. Devon has both Exmoor and Dartmoor, and its northern and southern coastlines are peppered with famous resorts such as Lyme Regis and villages such as Clovelly. In Cornwall, you're never more than 32km (20 miles) from the rugged coastline, which ends at Land's End. Among the cities worth visiting in these counties are Bath, with its impressive Roman baths and Georgian architecture; Plymouth, the departure point of the Mayflower; and Wells, the site of a great cathedral.
The Cotswolds -- A wonderful region to tour, this is a pastoral land of honey-colored limestone villages where rural England unfolds before you like a storybook. In the Middle Ages, wool made the Cotswolders prosperous, but now they put out the welcome mat for visitors, with famously lovely inns and pubs. Start at Burford, the traditional gateway to the region, continue on to Bourton-on-the-Water, Lower and Upper Slaughter, Stow-on-the-Wold, Moreton-in-Marsh, and Chipping Campden, and finish at Broadway. Cirencester is the uncrowned capital of the south Cotswolds, and Cheltenham is still an elegant Regency spa. Our two favorite villages are Painswick, with its minute cottages, and Bibury, with Arlington Row, its cluster of former weavers' cottages.
Stratford & Warwick -- This region encompasses both Shakespeare country and the Midlands. The Midlands was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, which made Britain the first industrialized country in the world. Its foremost tourist town is Stratford-upon-Avon, but also drawing visitors are Warwick Castle, one of England's great castles, and the ruins of Kenilworth Castle. Coventry, heavily bombed in World War II, is visited mainly for its outstanding modern cathedral.
Birmingham & The West Midlands -- The area known as the West Midlands embraces the so-called "Black Country." Birmingham, nicknamed "Brum," is Britain's largest city after London. This sprawling metropolis is still characterized by its overpass jungles and tacky suburbs, as well as its great piles of Victorian architecture. Urban renewal is underway. The English marshes cut through the old counties of Shropshire and Herefordshire. Ironbridge Gorge was at the heart of the Industrial Revolution, and the famous Potteries are in Staffordshire.
East Anglia (Essex, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk & Suffolk) -- East Anglia, a semicircular geographic bulge northeast of London, is the name applied to these four very flat counties. The land of John Constable is still filled with the landscapes he painted. The Fens -- that broad expanse of fertile, black soil lying north of Cambridge -- remains our favorite district. Go there to see Ely Cathedral. Cambridge, with its colleges and river, is the chief attraction. The most important museum is the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge, but visitors also flock to East Anglia for the scenery and its solitary beauty -- fens, salt marshes, and villages of thatched cottages.
The East Midlands (Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire & Nottinghamshire) -- This area encompasses some of the worst of industrial England, yet there is still great natural beauty to be found, as well as stately homes. These include Chatsworth in Derbyshire, the seat of the dukes of Devonshire; Sulgrave Manor in Northamptonshire, the ancestral home of George Washington; and Althorp House, also in Northamptonshire, the childhood home of Diana, Princess of Wales. Lincoln has one of England's great cathedrals, rebuilt in the 13th and 14th centuries. Bostonians like to visit their namesake, the old seaport town of Boston. Nottingham recalls Robin Hood, though the deforested Sherwood Forest is obviously not what it was in the outlaw's heyday.
The Northwest -- Stretching from Liverpool to the Scottish border, northwest England can be a rustic delight if you steer clear of its industrial pockets. Most people come here to follow in the footsteps of such romantic poets as Wordsworth, who wrote of the beauty of the Lake District. But Chester, Manchester, and Liverpool merit stopovers along the way. The resort of Blackpool is big, brash, and a bit tawdry, drawing the working class of the Midlands for Coney Island-style fun by the sea. In contrast, the Roman city of Chester is a well-preserved medieval town, known for its encircling wall. And Liverpool is culturally alive and always intriguing, if only to see where the Beatles came from, but it also has a branch of London's Tate Gallery.
The Lake District -- The literary Lakeland evokes memories of the Wordsworths, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Ruskin, and Beatrix Potter, among others. Windermere is the best location for touring the area, but there are many other charming towns as well, including Grasmere and Ambleside. The Lake District contains some of England's most dramatic scenery.
Yorkshire & Northumbria -- Yorkshire will be familiar to fans of the Brontës and James Herriot. York, with its immense cathedral and medieval streets, is the city to visit, though more and more visitors are calling on the cities of Leeds and Bradford. Northumbria comprises Northumberland, Cleveland, Durham, and Tyne and Wear (the area around Newcastle). The whole area echoes the ancient border battles between the Scots and English. Hadrian's Wall, built by the Romans, is a highlight. The great cathedral at Durham is one of Britain's finest examples of Norman church architecture, and Fountains Abbey is among the country's greatest ecclesiastical ruins. Country homes abound; here you find Harewood House and Castle Howard.
Cardiff & South Wales -- The capital of Wales, Cardiff is a large seaport on the tidal estuary of the River Taff. As the center of the small landmass that is Wales, Cardiff admittedly can't be compared very well with London or Edinburgh, but it's a charmer in its own right. Newly restored, the capital invites with such attractions as that treasure-trove, the National Museum of Wales, and Cardiff Castle, with all its rich architectural detail. If time remains, dip into South Wales, which isn't all remnants of the Industrial Revolution but is filled with beauty spots, such as the Brecon Beacons National Park. West of Cardiff is the city of Swansea, opening onto Swansea Bay. This is Dylan Thomas country.
North Wales -- Even more rewarding in scenery than South Wales, North Wales is a land of mountain peaks, spectacular estuaries, and rugged cliffs brooding over secluded coves, little rivers, valleys, and lakes. Its great towns and villages include Betws-y-Coed, Llandudno, and Conwy, along with such historic castles as Harlech, Caernarfon, and especially Conwy Castle, ordered built by Edward I and a masterpiece of medieval architecture. In this region, Snowdonia National Park covers 2,176 sq. km (840 sq. miles) of North Wales' coastal areas and rugged hills.
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