Think of the perfect holiday and we all picture something different. Some see themselves sitting on a sun-soaked shore, while soft and foamy waters tickle their toes. Some imagine wandering across snow-capped mountains, with nothing but birdsong for miles around. But the thing is, whether you picture rolling hills or craggy cliffs, bustling city centres or still sheet-like lakes, you don’t have to go abroad to find it. To prove it, we’ve put the spotlight on the 15 most visited counties in the UK to help you pick where to head next.
Best for: Finding the best beach in Britain
“I have never before been gifted with such an abundance of natural beauty”. These are the words of Steven Spielberg when asked what he thought of Devon. And quite frankly, we couldn’t agree more. Devon is a land of sandy beaches and majestic moors, home to a rugged world of watersports on its northern coast, and a golden, sun-soaked paradise down south. Not only is Devon home to some of the UK’s highest temperatures and lowest rainfall, but it also boasts Woolacombe, the officially ranked ‘best beach in Britain’.
Best for: Having thousands of kilometres to explore
At over 12,000 square kilometres, Yorkshire is the largest county in England, overflowing with cultural hotspots, award-winning restaurants and a coast that can take your breath away. Home to three national parks, 11 national nature reserves and amazing wildlife, this North East county is a strong contender for the most picturesque county in England.
Best for: Utterly English charm
Sussex is what many envision when England comes to mind. It’s where deer scamper across bright green hills. A place to peruse farmer’s markets and sample homemade jam. Sussex is fields of wildflowers, the clip of horse’s hoofs on cobblestones and the thick, whimsical woodland, that Winnie the Pooh calls home. Of the many writers who’ve attempted to sum up the charms of Sussex, no-one did it better than Rudyard Kipling, when speaking to his neighbours, he said ‘you be glad you are Sussex born!’
Best for: A sun-soaked escape
Cornwall is England’s own tropical paradise. Home to 250 miles of gloriously diverse coast, this South West spot boasts more award-winning sandy stretches than anywhere else in England. Best of all, its below-average rainfall and above-average temperatures, can only mean one thing – perfect beach weather!
Best for: Internationally renowned beauty
Nowhere in the world is perfect but Cumbria comes pretty close. Home to the Lake District, countless writers have been swept up by its incredible beauty. Were it not for the county’s rolling hills, sheet-like lakes and rugged mountains, the world may not have known the works of William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Beatrix Potter.
Best for: Incredible architecture
Known as the ‘Garden of England’, it should come as no surprise that Kent boasts some of the most stunning scenery in the country. Home to gentle hills, fertile farmland and the iconic White Cliffs of Dover, a trip to Kent is reminiscent of an English postcard. If you like holidays to come with a spot of spectacular architecture, Kent is an ideal destination. As well as both Hever and Leeds Castle, Kent also has Canterbury Cathedral, maybe the most elegant building in the British Isles.
Best for: Adrenaline pumping outdoor activities
Nestled in the North West, Gwynedd is exactly what Wales should be. It’s miles of rich green fields, mist-covered moors and that quaint, Celtic magic that only exists in Wales’ rural hills. Almost all of the county is taken up by Snowdonia National Park, home to Mount Snowdon and the best outdoor activities in the country. If you’re after an adrenaline rush, there’s no better place to be than here, with everything from white water rafting to cliff diving being available somewhere in this stunning national park.
Best for: Staring into the heavens
Take a trip to Norfolk and you’ll find yourself in some very prestigious company. Not only is the county home to the second, third and fourth in line to the throne, it also houses Sandringham, the Queen’s royal retreat. Even more impressive than its royal ties, however, are its skies. At night, Norfolk boasts one of the clearest skies in the UK and is one of the best places to appreciate the endless expanse of twinkling stars.
Best for: Escaping the stress of city life
The Highlands is what you always hoped Scotland would be. It’s a rough, wild natural beauty, with an undeniable magic. It’s an untainted slice of rustic Britain and a leap off the beaten track. If you’re looking to leave the stress of city life far behind, the Scottish Highlands is the place to be. Watch a winter mist, unravel slowly across a still loch or experience tranquility like no other, atop Ben Nevis.
Best for: A journey into the long forgotten past
Home to miles of rolling hills, craggy cliffs and secret coastline swimming pools, there are endless reasons to visit Dorset but our favourite sits down South. On the surface, the Jurassic Coast is 96 miles of exceptional scenery, but to those who know what they’re looking for, these rugged rocks hide something special. Wander the Jurassic Coast with a guidebook and you’ll be able to read 185 million years of history on Earth. Spot the rock formations, colourations and find fossils where the Earth really shows its age.
Best for: Fantastic local food
While Cornwall is known for its coastline and Cumbria for its incredible views, it’s hard to find anywhere that does food better than Derbyshire. Beyond Bakewell, birthplace of the famous tart, and the Ashbourne Gingerbread, the West Midlands’ rich and fertile farmland makes it easy to grow the most succulent local produce. Wherever you stay in Derbyshire, you’ll be surrounded by award-winning restaurants who use ingredients directly from the county’s abundant countryside.
Best for: Seeing if there’s something in the water
Great Britain is home to prominent faces whose names will be remembered for centuries to come. But even more impressive than the number of remarkable people who come from the UK is the number who come from Suffolk. Something about the county’s craggy cliffs and fertile farmland seems to inspire creativity, as everyone from George Orwell to Ed Sheeran has once called Suffolk home.
Best for: An array of market towns
Somerset is best known for the city of Bath, where healing waters gush from the earth at a gorgeous 46 degrees centigrade. But, as if that wasn’t enough, this South West county is also home to some of the best market towns in the UK. From the eclectic colours of Glastonbury to the historic architecture of Castle Cray, a week touring the towns of Somerset can feel like seven holidays rolled into one.
Best for: Beauty above ground and below
Home to a huge portion of the Cotswolds and the beautiful Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire is the definition of rural England. Once upon a time, the county was known as the primary source of wool for almost all of the UK. But Gloucestershire isn’t just beautiful above the ground, it’s also got a lot to offer below. Beneath its thick and wild forests lie miles of incredible caves, waiting to be explored.
Best for: A walk through English history
Bordering Scotland, Northumberland has witnessed countless bloody battles and brutal uprisings. Over the centuries, kingdom after kingdom left its mark on the bright green landscape, scattering it with everything from Roman forts and Anglian castles to Norman strongholds and medieval barracks. Today, Northumberland is home to the most significant historic structures and recognised battle sites than anywhere else in the UK. It’s the ideal holiday spot with anyone with a thirst for English history.