Town center of Burford, England. Image credit malgosia janicka via Shutterstock

11 Best Small Towns in England for a Weekend Retreat

For a relatively small country, England exceeds itself in the area of tourism. Each year, approximately 31 million foreign nationals descend on the island nation to see its sights and experience its culture—and that's without mentioning the millions upon millions of domestic tourists who take weekend holidays within their own borders. Traditionally, visiting the metropolis of London tends to dominate the travel plans of those coming from outside the country, home as it is to such mega-attractions as Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, and the West End theater district.

However, English tourists on weekend getaways usually take the opposite approach and visit small towns, which begs the question: what do they know that the rest of us do not? Well, a great deal, as it turns out. The things that make London an international powerhouse, such as its size, population, and economic strength, also have considerable downsides, such as its complexity, frenetic energy, and hurried pace of life.

For those who prefer to spend their weekend vacations resting and relaxing, visiting England's small countryside towns, villages, and hamlets is a far superior option. Although there are many to choose from, the following eleven communities stand out as distinctly delightful destinations.


A sunny scene of people shopping in the centre of town market, Ludlow, Shropshire, England.
People shopping in the centre of town market, Ludlow, England. Image credit Wozzie via Shutterstock

Described by acclaimed English poet Sir John Betjeman as "probably the loveliest town in England", Ludlow is a market town and civil parish found in Shropshire County, near the border with Wales. The star attraction of the town is Ludlow Castle, built in the 11th century and fantastically preserved. The ghost of Catherine of Aragon, one of the six wives of Henry VIII, is purported to haunt the old Castle Lodge building. Ludlow's St. Laurence church is famous for its many intricate stained glass windows. Some local shops that out-of-towners love to frequent include Mousetrap Cheese Shop, Chocolate Gourmet, and Ludlow Farm Shop, a grocery store filled with locally sourced produce, pastries, and cakes.

The Feathers Hotel is known for its elegant rooms and fine dining. The Cliffe at Dinham is a charming country house hotel.


Waterfront in Falmouth, England
Waterfront in Falmouth, England.

Falmouth is a civil parish and port in Cornwall County situated, appropriately enough, at the mouth of the Fal River. It is home to Pendennis Castle, a Tudor-era fortress built to protect the town's strategically located harbor, as well as the National Maritime Museum, a three-floor, twelve-gallery facility hosting exhibitions on all manner of nautical subjects. Falmouth's two main beaches are also held in high regard, with Gyllyngvase Beach repeatedly receiving a Blue Flag Award, and Swanpool Beach also receiving praise from visitors.

The Greenbank Hotel has rooms with fantastic views of Falmouth Harbor. St. Michael's Resort is a large hotel and luxury spa.


Glastonbury Town centre in Somerset, England.
Glastonbury Town centre, England.

Internationally famous for its five-day pop music and youth culture festival held every summer, Glastonbury is very different the other 360 days of the year. Planted firmly in the center of Somerset County on a coastal plain known as the Somerset Levels, the town has been a hotbed of mythology for centuries. Over the years, it has been rumored to be the hiding place for the Holy Grail, as well as the final resting place of the debatably fictional King Arthur and Queen Guinevere.

One of the most popular things to do in Glastonbury is climb Glastonbury Tor, a hilly and grass-covered rock formation at the top of which is found St. Michael's, a roofless church whose construction dates back to the 15th century. At the bottom of the Tor lies a gorgeous natural spring called Chalice Well (thusly named due to an alleged linkage between its almost magical appearance and Glastonbury's reception of the Holy Grail), which is surrounded by gardens, making it a marvelous place for an extended rest or a picnic lunch. The ruins of Glastonbury Abbey are another excellent place to spend some time. Dating back to the 8th century, it was once one of the wealthy and most powerful monasteries in England, peaking around the 14th century.

George & Pilgrims Hotel is one of the oldest inns in England, featuring rooms that ooze character. No. 51 is a boutique bed and breakfast.


Shops and businesses along The Hill shopping street during the Summertime, Burford, Oxfordshire, England
Shops and businesses along The Hill shopping street, Burford, England. Image credit Caron Badkin via Shutterstock

Nicknamed "Gateway to the Cotswolds" (the Cotswolds are a range of rolling hills in England's central southwest), Burford is seated along the Windrush River on the western edge of Oxfordshire County. Constructed between 1175 and 1500, the Church of St. John the Baptist is top crowd-pleaser in Burford, attracting more than 100,000 tourists each year. The town also contains Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens, a lush enclosure housing many exotic animals like giraffes and lions. Along similar yet more unusual lines, Crocodiles of the World is the only crocodile sanctuary in England and a bona fide staple of Burford tourism. For candy aficionados, Burford Sweet Shop is a must-visit location sure to dazzle the eye and please the tongue.

The Bay Tree Hotel is a charming hotel with elegant rooms and a renowned restaurant. The Highway Inn is a traditional Cotswold inn.

Chipping Campden

Quaint stone buildings along the street in Cotswolds in English countryside.
Quaint stone buildings along the street in Cotswolds in English. Image credit littlenySTOCK via Shutterstock

Yet another pleasant community based in the Cotswolds, Chipping Campden is notable for its ancient vernacular architecture—meaning architecture designed outside academic tradition and done without professional guidance. Many of these buildings are also made from golden-tinged oolitic limestone (also referred to as Cotswold Stone), which is found locally. Some other historic buildings worth visiting in Chipping Campden include the medieval-era Church of St. James, and Market Hall, a beautiful arched structure built by Sir Baptist Hicks in 1627. Fans of taking long country strolls will be delighted to learn that the town is also one of the way stations along Cotswold Way, a 102-mile long-distance footpath.

Cotswold House Hotel & Spa is a luxury hotel with highly-rated amenities. Eight Bells Inn offers cozy rooms.


Buxton, Derbyshire, England, UK - Shoppers and tourists in the town centre.
Buxton, Derbyshire, England. Image credit travellight via Shutterstock

Buxton is a spa town found in Derbyshire County in the East Midlands region. Its caverns, naturally occurring geothermal springs, and proximity to Peak District National Park make it a premium vacation spot. Poole's Cavern is considered one of the finest show caves in the country. This great, winding, carboniferous limestone cavern is filled with crystal formations, and artifacts dating back to the early Bronze Age and even the Neolithic period have been found inside. The town's hot water springs are also a big draw; Buxton Hot Baths and Natural Mineral Baths, constructed in 1811 and 1853, respectively, were structures built to house spas in order to take advantage of them. Following a slowdown in hydrotherapy treatments, Buxton Hot Baths was converted to a shopping mall in the 1980s. Natural Mineral Baths still functions as a luxury spa to this day, and is housed inside The Buxton Crescent, a huge and breathtakingly gorgeous Georgian hotel. Built by the Duke of Devonshire in the 1780s, the Crescent is one of the most architecturally significant buildings in the country.

The Old Hall Hotel is a historic hotel dating back to the 16th century. The Palace Hotel is a grand Victorian hotel.


Chichester cathedral, England
Chichester cathedral, England.

As one of England's famed cathedral cities, Chichester is also no stranger to weekend tourists. While the 408-foot high, combined Norman- and Gothic-style cathedral is by far the town's main point of interest, there is no shortage of other things to do in Chichester. History buffs will appreciate the Novium Museum, a three-floor institution showcasing the region's history, including the remains of an ancient Roman bathhouse. Culture vultures will enjoy taking in a show at Chichester Festival Theatre, which holds a full calendar of professional productions each season. Sporting enthusiasts will gravitate toward Goodwood Estate, home to a wide variety of competitive events, most prominently motor circuit racing and horse racing, but also cricket and golf.

The Goodwood Hotel is a luxury hotel set on the Goodwood Estate. The George and Dragon Inn is a charming place to stay in the center of Chichester.


Marlborough College Public School in Marlborough, Wiltshire
Marlborough College Public School in Marlborough, Wiltshire. Image credit Nigel Jarvis via Shutterstock

A market town and civil parish, Marlborough is found in Wiltshire County just off the old main road from London to Bath. In the center of Marlborough lies a wealth of historically important buildings. Of these, the St Mary's Church, St Peter's Church, and The Merchant's House are the most sought out by visitors. Just beyond the town borders is the beautiful Savernake Forest, the former hunting ground of William the Conqueror and the only remaining privately owned forest in England (although it is, aside from a single day each year, open to the public). Beech trees and oak trees dominate the 4,500-acre forest.

Add to all this the fact that the Stonehenge UNESCO World Heritage Site is scarcely more than a half hour's journey from Marlborough, and the town becomes even more appealing as a place to get away from it all. As a bonus, on the same site as Stonehenge sits Silbury Hill, a lesser known but arguably equally impressive Neolithic monument, which takes the form of the largest man-made mound in Europe.

Castle and Ball Hotel dates back to the 15th century. The Lamb Inn is a lovely inn with stylish rooms.

Castle Combe

Castle Combe is a village and civil parish within the Cotswolds Area of Natural Beauty in Wiltshire.
Castle Combe is a village in Wiltshire, England. Image credit Powerofflowers via Shutterstock

Although it may seem a bit counter-intuitive considering the name of the town, there is no castle in Castle Combe. There was at one point, but it was demolished centuries ago. That being said, the town—which, much like Marlborough, is also located in Wiltshire County—has no dearth of sights to see. St. Andrew's Church and the nearby medieval market cross memorial are pillars of local tourism, while Michelin-starred The Bybrook restaurant inside The Manor House Hotel is a wonderful place to enjoy a gourmet dinner. Castle Combe also holds a sentimental spot in the hearts of fans of the beloved British period drama Downton Abbey. Much of the series was filmed in the town, probably because of its undeniably authentic look and feel. The reason for this aura of authenticity? No new houses have been built in Castle Combe since the 1600s.

The Manor House Hotel and Golf Club is a luxury hotel set in a 14th-century manor house. The Castle Inn is a traditional English inn.


Group of tourists on the streets of Keswick, England
Group of tourists on the streets of Keswick, England. Image credit Victor Maschek via Shutterstock

Keswick lies within Cumbria County inside the boundaries of Lake District National Park. That being the case, it should come as no great surprise that the majority of its attractions are of the outdoor variety. Weekend vacationers can rent mountain bikes to traverse the region's terrain at the Cyclewise Whinlatter Trail Centre Bike Hire or clamber up and down obstacle courses at Keswick Climbing Wall and Outdoor Adventure Centre. There is also Go Ape Whinlatter, a tree-top forest adventure experience suitable for families and featuring wobbly bridges, zip lines, tree-to-tree crossings, and dramatic views. And all that is aside from taking advantage of Keswick's lake access through boating, swimming, paddle-boarding, or simply kicking back in a wicker chair and admiring the view.

And, if, after all these outdoor activities, a day or two of indoor fun is called for, Keswick contains the childhood home of William Wordsworth, which is now a museum dedicated to honoring his life and poetic legacy. Wordsworth House also features an intricately cared-for and much-lauded garden. Additionally, the town plays host to the Derwent Pencil Museum, proudly touted as the world's only institution dedicated to chronicling the history of pencils.

The Inn on the Square is a well-reviewed contemporary hotel. The Borrowdale Hotel is a classical hotel possessing beautiful views of the countryside.


Market square of Lewes county town East Sussex England, Lewes, England
Market square of Lewes, England. Image credit Michalakis Ppalis via Shutterstock

Renowned throughout the nation for its raucous Bonfire Night celebrations (also known as Guy Fawkes Night or Fireworks Night), Lewes is the seat of East Sussex County. The town boasts a slew of buildings registered on the National Heritage List for England, including Lewes Castle, Lewes Priori, and Anne of Cleaves House, which comprised part of the ex-queen's annulment settlement from King Henry VIII. The town is also home to the Lewes Arms, generally considered to be the most eccentric pub in the country, having earned this reputation through a series of high-profile and silly competitions over the years, such as pantomime animal races, the unofficial world pea-throwing championship, and "dwyle flunking," a contest for which the rules are nebulous and ever-changing. The shops on Lewes' High Street are also held in high regard by visitors. Two favorites are Symposium, which sells artisanal gins, and Darcy Clothing, a haberdasher and clothing store specializing in men's outfits from the past.

Pelham House is a boutique hotel set within a Georgian mansion. The Shelleys Hotel is a charming hotel near Lewes Castle.

There are far more places for short-term vacationers to explore in England than in its capital. While London contains some of the nation's best-known landmarks and most hallowed buildings, the small towns of the English countryside have merits all their own. Among these are beautiful accommodations, serene pastoral settings, a slow and easy pace of life, rich history, and charming character. Whether enjoying the Neolithic monuments of Marlborough, the geothermal springs of Buxton, or the vernacular architecture of Chipping Camden, these eleven communities never fail to disappoint anyone who chooses to visit them for a weekend retreat. Or, to put it in the native parlance, these towns are positively cracking! Cheers.

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