Great Britain is a fantastic place, with stunning natural beauty, rich history, and warm hospitality. Of course, these qualities vary in degrees depending on the severity of the urban bustle; London will keep you on your toes, while Bath will surely slow your pace. The best part about this duality is the small distance between the two—you can easily sample some charming small-town life during your visit to a larger city. Below are some suggestions of smaller towns and sites that are sure to make your trip memorable, whether it is your first or tenth visit to Great Britain or Ireland.
London and area
Although there are more quaint English towns scattered around London than you could possible see in one visit, it is certainly worth seeing one or two. This can be a difficult and somewhat arbitrary choice, which may result in disappointment when your expectations are not met. A safe bet is Rye, a small, very old, port town that is adorned with cobblestone streets, has historic ties to the war of 1066, and small English pubs and cottages that mirror those found in a story book. A two hour train ride from London, Rye is a worthwhile day-trip; if you can’t tear yourself away by the end of the day, there are several Bed and Breakfasts that preserve Rye’s Medieval, Tudor, Elizabethan, and Georgian heritage. The Mermaid Inn (dating back to 1420) is a particularly pretty place, and you can take a seat next to the huge stone fireplace in the main room for a light meal or a drink. A visit to this undisturbed English town is like taking a step back to a different era.
Edinburgh and area
Although Edinburgh itself offers much charm and wonder in its dizzying maze of stone corridors and eerie sites that preserve some of the more unsavoury history of the city, if the weather is good, so is the walking. You will find many charted walks that take you out of the city and into rolling hills, crumbling castles and famous cathedrals. Rosslyn Chapel, adorned with impressively ornate stone carvings, is reputed by some to contain secrets of the Holy Grail. The nearby Roslin Castle is also worth a look, and there are a number of other interesting castles that surround Edinburgh, and may offer some stunning views of the highlands and the firth. Whichever trail you choose, make sure to see some of the nature and wildlife around the city—its stoic majesty is one of a kind.
Dublin and area
To the north of the city lies an emerald green peninsula that is home to a quiet seaside village called Howth. Just a twenty minute train ride from Dublin, this charming fishing village is dwarfed against a backdrop of ancient cliffs, and stony dirt paths wind up and around the heights to provide a spectacular view of the crashing waves. If your feet are up for it, this two or three hour hike will make your trip to Dublin unforgettable. There is some climbing up small hills and ledges, and since the paths are most often only dirt, it may not be a good choice for a rainy day. If the conditions are right, however, you will see a startling array of lush and unique vegetation, old farmhouses, and Celtic stones marking the graves of ancient Kings and warriors. After the hike up, the hike down is rewarding in its own right, but upon reaching the village at the bottom you can also stop for a bite to eat and enjoy an Irish ale.
The more time you have to spend in a city, the more opportunity you will have to increase the breadth and depth of your experience by trekking a little bit off the beaten track. However, Great Britain is blanketed with an array of interesting and unique villages that are strung together by well-worn routes, and so a few hours’ journey can show you something about the region that the cities simply cannot.