Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in South East England
The oldest university in the English-speaking world, the University of Oxford is the main draw to the riverside town of Oxford. With a history dating back to the 11th century, the university’s many colleges offer a wealth of gorgeous historical architecture—not to mention settings for movies including theHarry Potter series.
A neo-Gothic masterpiece, Highclere Castle is best known for doubling as Downton Abbey in the much-loved TV series of the same name. The turreted, sandstone mansion was created by Sir Charles Barry, the architect behind England’s Houses of Parliament. The site upon which it stands has been in the hands of the Carnarvon family since the 17th century, and the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon now welcome the public to explore the lavishly decorated interior, the Egyptian Exhibition, and the 1,000-acre (405-hectare) Capability Brown–designed grounds.
Set on High Street in the heart of town, graduates-only All Souls College is Oxford’s most elitist institution. Only the university’s best and brightest are invited to sit the entrance exam, and just two are accepted as fellows each year. Fifteenth-century architecture mingles with Hawksmoor and Wren detailings for pure tranquility.
Located in the heart of Oxford, the Radcliffe Camera is one of the city’s most recognizable and photographed landmarks, with its unusual shape and impressive dome. Completed in 1749, it was the first rotunda library in England, and today it is one of the main reading rooms of the Bodleian Library complex.
With its imposing stone brick towers, double moat and elaborately sculpted greenery, there’s no doubt that Hever Castle is a home fit for royalty, or at least future royalty. The castle’s most famous former resident was Anne Boleyn, arguably the most notorious of all King Henry VIII’s wives, and the future queen was born and raised on the magnificent estate.
Today, the remarkably restored 13th-century castle is a popular tourist attraction, with the grand paneled rooms decorated with antique furnishings, dazzling tapestries and a fine collection of Tudor portraits. Highlights include two of Anne Boleyn’s own books, an exhibition of her life at the castle and an impressive selection of armoury and weapons. The 125-acre Castle Gardens are also a big draw, including a formal Italian garden, an English Rose Garden, an enormous boating lake, tree and water mazes, an adventure playground and the tree-lined Anne Boleyn Walk.
Burford is a small town in England along the River Windrush and is often referred to as the Gateway to the Cotswolds. The picturesque town is detailed with a medieval bridge, Tudor and Georgian buildings, and old stone houses. A former meeting place for merchants, the 16th century Tolsey building now houses the Tolsey Museum where visitors can learn about the town's social and industrial history. The town's church is another interesting place to look for signs of Burford's past by way of the memorials charting some of the greatest families that once lived there.
The town of Burford has in many ways remained unchanged over the centuries. It is a popular place for tourists looking to explore small town beauty and history. However, more modern appeals can be found as well. Burford is an interesting town for shopping and antiques, and there are plenty of restaurants, pubs, and tea shops to choose from. Despite its popularity, you can easily find a tranquil corner of town to enjoy the scenery.
Between its baroque chapel, extensive gardens, and historic buildings, Trinity is one of Oxford’s prettiest small colleges. Founded in 1555 by Sir Thomas Pope, it occupies a prime position in central Oxford, opposite the landmark Bodleian Library.
The 12th-century Leeds Castle is among Europe’s best preserved medieval landmarks, with more than nine centuries of history represented in the building and grounds. Sprawled over 500 acres (202 hectares) and surrounded by a regal moat, the stone castle and its gardens offer a peek into the past as well as a variety of present-day, quintessentially English events and activities.
Windsor is a handsome town in Berkshire, southeast England, with an ancient heart, a setting along the River Thames and a connection by bridge to Eton, home of one of England’s oldest and most prestigious public schools. St. George’s Chapel sits next door to Windsor Castle, which is both the largest permanently occupied castle in the world and one of the official homes of HM The Queen. The chapel was founded in 1348 by King Edward III and is a fine example of Gothic styling with flying buttresses, glorious stained glass and a vaulted interior of exceptional grandeur, as befits the place of worship of the Royal Family.
It is the burial place of 10 English kings including Henry VIII and George III, as well as many other members of the monarchy, and is also home of the Knights of the Garter; this is one of the oldest chivalric orders in the world and the highest ceremonial accolade in the UK. Members currently include the Queen, Prince Charles and former leaders of the armed services, captains of industry and ex-Prime Ministers; their heraldic banners hang high above the choir in the chapel. St. George’s is closed to visitors on Sunday, but all are welcome at any of the services throughout the week; they are held daily at 8:30am, 10:45am, noon and 5:15pm.
On the coast of the English Channel, the world’s oldest aquarium showcases the aquatic diversity beyond British shores. More than 5,500 creatures call SEA LIFE® Brighton home—including marine species and rain forest critters—while educational talks, tours, and events provide insight into ocean conservation.
More Things to Do in South East England
Climbing up the hillside from the waterfront, the maze of shopping streets known as “The Lanes” make up Brighton’s most atmospheric quarter. The pedestrianized area is home to more than 200 independent shops, galleries, and antique stores, along with a great selection of cafés, restaurants, and historic pubs.
With more than 2 million annual visitors, LEGOLAND® Windsor is the second most visited theme park in the United Kingdom. Just about everything in the park incorporates multi-colored LEGO® bricks, from adrenaline-fuelled rides and interactive entertainment zones to cars and building workshops.
Explore nearly 1,000 years of history at Oxford Castle & Prison, located near central Oxford. Originally built in 1071 by Normans who came across with William the Conqueror, the castle was later turned into a prison. Now a museum and tourist site, it also offers stunning panoramic views over Oxford from one of the city’s oldest buildings.
One of Oxford’s most recognizable landmarks, the Sheldonian Theatre is a neoclassical building dating to 1669. Designed by the celebrated architect Sir Christopher Wren, the venue is used for ceremonial events by the University of Oxford (including graduations), as well as lectures, concerts, and other publicly accessible performances.
Discover a national symbol and gain insight into England’s history at the UNESCO World Heritage–listed Canterbury Cathedral. Dating back to 597, the site has held religious significance for centuries, drawing pilgrims to the location of Thomas Becket’s murder and visitors interested in its medieval towers, chapels, and stained-glass windows.
The observation tower British Airways i360 offers a whole new perspective on Brighton and the south coast of England. In a futuristic glass viewing pod, you’ll glide gently up to 450 feet (138 meters) above ground for 360-degree views across the city, the South Downs and—on the clearest days—all the way to the Isle of Wight.
Maritime galleries, Cold War vessels, and a restored Victorian Ropery are among the highlights at the impressive Chatham Historic Dockyard, a sprawling 80-acre (32-hectare) naval complex among the best of its kind in Britain. Learn about British naval history in a hands-on way at this family-friendly attraction, which holds free talks and tours daily.
Made up of three unique performance spaces, the Brighton Dome is a pillar of the English south coast’s cultural heritage. First the stable block of a young George IV, then a World War I hospital, the 200-year-old venue is now known as a champion of Brighton’s creative scene.
Linking the two halves of Hertford College, the Bridge of Sighs (formally known as Hertford Bridge) arcs above New College Lane in the heart of Oxford. Despite its ancient-seeming exterior and leaded windows, it’s only a little over a century old. While it shares a name with the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, it actually looks much more similar to that city’s Rialto Bridge.
Built in the early 18th century, this stately home is one of Britain’s grandest historical estates. It was gifted by Queen Anne to the Duke of Marlborough, General John Churchill, for his role in defeating the French at the 1704 Battle of Blenheim, and Britain’s beloved wartime leader Sir Winston Churchill was born here in 1874.
Built in 1066 by William the Conqueror above the striking White Cliffs of Dover, the 11th century Dover Castle is the largest castle in England. Climb the Great Tower, marvel at the oldest surviving Roman lighthouse in the country, and stop by Saint Mary in Castro church, then tour the castle’s hidden wartime tunnels.
Located in central Oxford in a complex of historic buildings, the venerable Bodleian Library is one of the oldest libraries in Europe. It’s the main research library for the University of Oxford and also a copyright library, housing every book printed in the UK and Ireland, a collection of more than 12 million printed items.
Home to fishmongers and produce vendors, quirky hat specialists and trendy sandwich shops, Oxford Covered Market is both a bustling retail hub and a destination for food lovers. The market has operated continuously since its founding in 1774, and today it hosts more than 50 independent shops.
Attended by leading luminaries across the centuries—and in possession of an art museum, soaring cathedral, and stately quad—Christ Church is among Oxford’s largest, grandest, and most prestigious colleges. Famously used as a set for theHarry Potter films, it is now also a pop cultural attraction.
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