Okay people, I think we did a solid job exploring the major cities of England. We’ll get into Scotland next post, don’t worry. Because we spent time in England, then bounced up to Scotland, and then returned to England, this post isn’t 100% in chronological order based on our trip. But in the end it is easier for everyone if we do this location-based.
Anyway, these are the major cities we visited in England: London (which has it’s own post), Oxford, Manchester, York, Liverpool, Birmingham, Bath & Bristol.
Ahhh, Oxford, home to the University of Oxford- which is actually a bunch of different schools/colleges under one umbrella term. Each school has their own coat of arms and everything. The University of Oxford is almost 1000 years old. It is almost older than the modern English language. A university so dang old it outlasted the Aztec, Mayan, Ottoman, Holy Roman, Spanish, Dutch, and English empires – plus many more. Sorry for berating this point but the University of Oxford is the grand daddy of higher education. Plus it is so dang cool.
A quick aside: At home in the USA it is common for people to say they’re “Going to college. We all understand that to mean they’re going to a public/private university or a technical school. In many parts of Europe they talk about “going to Uni”, which means they’re going to a university. A “college” is more like a school within a school.
Anyway, back to Oxford. It is a little touristy but it has a ton of legit history – plus people actually go to school here, lest we forget. Enough of my blabbering, here are some pictures of the buildings on campus.
Famous alumni: T S Eliot, C S Lewis, Rupert Murdoch, Dr Susan Rice, Margaret Thatcher, J R R Tolkien and on and on – you get the point.
Through this gate of the Oxford Union walked greats like Winston Churchill. The Union is famous for hosting world class debates. Love it!
Who in their right mind wouldn’t geek out over the official Oxford University Press bookshop?!? Cool!
And who doesn’t love a solid wall of dictionaries?! Just me?
On our way out of town we swung by a palace. Yes, a monstrously large palace.
Hands down Oxford is a fantastic town to visit just oozing with history.
Next we went up the road to Manchester. Truth be told we didn’t really like this town. We were in a super sketchy neighborhood and the mood was thick. Remember that jihadi that ran over cyclists in London we wrote about in our London post? Well he lived and attended mosque here in Manchester and we had just arrived days after the attack.
We still found some gems around the city, though. Manchester has a rich history of being the epicenter of the Industrial Revolution. They also have a most excellent cathedral turned library. We didn’t take a picture of it, but on display they have ancient remnants of the book of the Gospels. These were very early copies from almost 2000 years ago.
We were also please to finally get some mac and cheese. Been a long while since we had some proper stuff. Hayley had this place picked out a long time ago. Yummy!
And of course, no visit to an old English city would be complete without seeing their massive cathedral.
Okay, so after we packed up and left Manchester we had the pleasure of spending time in York. What a fun little city York is. Besides Oxford, York is one of our favorites for sure. It has a lot of history, isn’t too large, is easy to get around, and has a lot of unique shops. Plus, York is the inspiration for the naming of New York.
Their cathedral, in comparison to the city, is probably the most impressive in any English city we visited. It’s a monster!
Brownie time from the city’s best bakery!
A quick example of what the streets are like in the city center. They’re windy and half crooked. Lot of fun to just look at the architecture.
Do not go 4 MPH through this driveway!
If you didn’t know Hayley knits, well, she does! So since we were in part of the world that produces a lot of high quality yarn we decided to stock up on some.
Red double-decker bus cruising past the fortifications and wall of ancient York. It doesn’t get more English than that!
Around a lot of the city, York has semi-original walls which folks can walk. Some areas have no handrails so we had to be careful.
Liverpool was the first English city we visited after leaving Scotland. It’s pretty close to Manchester, and we ended up having a similar reaction to it as we did to Manchester. We didn’t love how big the city was but it had a nice variety of architecture. Plus, we were here mostly to pay homage to the Beatles!
Liverpool is a major ship building city. They’ve done great work bringing visitors down to the newly renovated docks.
After our time in the Beatles hometown it was time to explore Birmingham. Another dud of a visit, unfortunately. The city had a lot of construction going on and drug paraphernalia was all over the streets. This was another English city with excellent architecture but just not much friendly culture that we picked up on.
The Birmingham canals were certainly a high point. They have bars, eateries, and plenty of fun photo opportunities here.
Bath & Bristol
After spending a bit more time in the Midlands than we wanted to, we were off to the Bath and Bristol area. These are small cities to the west of London and a hotspot for people interested in Stonehenge and old timey English sceneries.
Bath’s cathedral is glorious, of course, but it is also very close to the actual thermal baths ancient Romans found here 1700 years ago, or so. Hence the town’s name of Bath.
Europe doesn’t have TJ Maxx… they have TK Maxx.
We have to hand it to Bath – it has some of the grandest apartment/housing complexes.
We stayed in a legit cottage – it doesn’t get more English than that.
Driving on the left is weird, but you get used to it after a while. Most old buildings around here are built with stone, not brick.
Classic stone houses line most of the streets on the way out of town.
And of course no trip to this part of the world would be complete without a stop to Stonehenge. We happened to visit this ancient stone holy place on the fall equinox. Not as special as being here on a solstice but still very connected to the seasons.
The brass arrow in the ground shows the direction in which the setting sun on the winter solstice would be perfectly framed by stones if you were standing in the center of Stonehenge.
The English country side was a blast to explore. The highlight cities for us were Oxford, York, and Bath & Bristol. Their small town feel and overloaded cultural experiences were everything we were looking for in a classic English experience.
Having said that, the Liverpool, Birmingham, and Manchester experience fell short. All in all we give our English countryside road trip…
There you have it! That’s a summary of our time in the English countryside. Have you been there before? Did you love it? Did you hate it? What did we miss? Let us know in the comments below!