England is just one of three countries (albeit the biggest) that share the island of Great Britain, the other two being Scotland in the north and Wales to the west. For a country covering an area of approximately 50,000 square miles and a population of almost 60 million people, England is surprisingly sparsely populated outside of the major cities and towns. Wide-open spaces, hills, dales and lakes are usually no more than a short drive away with the exception of London which is more a megacity than a city.
Capital of England and the seat of government, London is a vast, sprawling city with an estimated total population approaching nine million. Situated in the south-east of the country, the city was founded over two thousand years ago by the conquering Romans. Straddling the River Thames, and with an estuary leading to the North Sea, Londinium, as the Romans called it, was an important trading port and fortified settlement whose importance has grown over the centuries.
Londinium was a small settlement which existed for approximately five hundred years before the Romans left but there are still some remnants of the original town wall still standing today. Some of the best examples can be seen at:
- The Museum of London
- Tower Hill underground station
- Barbican underground station
The original site of Londinium covers about the same area of what is today called the City of Westminster which encloses many of London’s most popular tourist attractions including:
- Buckingham Palace
- The British Museum
- Palace of Westminster and Big Ben
- Westminster Abbey
- Westminster Cathedral
- Downing Street
- Trafalgar Square
- Kensington Palace
Since 1540, Westminster, although a part of the Greater London area, is a city in its own right where many tourists are more than content with the attractions on offer as well as taking in the fashionable shops in Oxford Street, Bond Street, Regent Street and Piccadilly before spending an evening in the lively Soho district.
Once a rundown city with a poor reputation, the city of Liverpool, in the northwest of England, has undergone a major redevelopment in the past few decades and is now almost unrecognisable. The current population of around 500,000, mainly working class, people are proud both of their city’s history and the present-day improvements.
The city dock area, which was once a wasteland of derelict buildings, is now a vibrant commercial centre and is rated a UNESCO world heritage site while the city boasts more museums than any other English city with the exception of London.
Even before all the regeneration, Liverpool was a major tourist draw due in the main to the legendary pop group, the Beatles, who played at the Cavern Club which was demolished and then rebuilt. Football fans are also drawn to the city in droves as it is home to world-famous Liverpool Football Club as well as their near neighbours Everton FC.
Once a major seaport, Liverpool is on the wrong coast to sustain its once booming import and export trades and has switched to tourism in an effort to replace the lost income. The venture into tourism has been hugely successful due to the success of the Royal Albert Dock regeneration scheme and the dockland area is now home to many of the top tourist attractions including:
- The Tate Liverpool Gallery
- The Museum of Slavery
- The British Music Experience
- The Liverpool Maritime Museum
- The Beatles Story
While Royal Albert Dock and its surrounds is undoubtedly the top tourist attraction in Liverpool, the city centre has also seen major improvement in recent years and has become an attractive place to spend some time. The city boasts not one but two majestic cathedrals, both located on Hope Street. There are numerous museums as well as the popular and interesting Mersey Tunnel Tours to while away a few hours. Beatles fans are well catered to not just with the Beatles Story museum but also the Beatles Magical Mystery Tour. This two-hour coach ride covers all places in Liverpool connected to the Beatles’ story including the Fab Four’s birthplaces and early homes, where they met and the places they made famous in song such as Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane.
Just thirty miles east of Liverpool lies the city of Manchester. A long-standing rivalry exists between the two cities and not just because of the two cities’ football clubs. Since the industrial age Manchester and Liverpool have been competitors for trade but the two cities share a lot of similarities despite the rivalry. Both are basically working class cities with a comparable population of around half a million and both have recently undergone major redevelopment and regeneration.
The earlies settlement on the site was a Roman fort called Castra Mancunium which gives the native population the descriptor Mancunian. The small town grew immensely in size due to the unprecedented growth of the textile industry during the Industrial Revolution as it became the first industrialised city in the world and achieved its status as a city in 1853. However, as happened in Liverpool, the city’s good times did not last and by the end of World War II, much of the city had fallen into disrepair and unemployment risen sharply.
Massive investment and regeneration was required and this began to arrive in the 1950’s and has continued steadily ever since with the city even being awarded the Commonwealth Games in 2002. The city’s port area has been restored and redeveloped into a thriving commercial and cultural area while Manchester is also home to a range of art galleries and museums which attract many tourists every year.
Some of the most popular art galleries, museums and attractions are:
- Manchester Museum
- Whitworth Art Gallery
- The Lowry Art Gallery
- Corn Exchange
- The Printworks Entertainment Complex
- Spirit of Manchester Distillery
- The Trafford Centre
As with Liverpool, football is an intrinsic part of the city’s attraction as millions of fans come to Manchester every season to watch either United at Old Trafford or City at the new and impressive Etihad Stadium. Tours of Old Trafford and the Etihad Stadium are hugely popular and all fans of “the beautiful game” will find something of interest at the National Football Museum located in the heart of the city which is rated as the best of its kind in the world.
England’s second-biggest city, Birmingham, is located in the middle of the country, approximately 120 miles northwest of London. The city has a population of just over one million but this number rises to around 4.3 million when the suburbs and surrounding metropolitan area are taken into account.
Once a small medieval market town, Birmingham grew rapidly during the time of the Industrial Revolution and, by 1791, the city was hailed as the “first manufacturing town” in the entire world.
Extensive German bombing during the Second World War caused widespread damage which led to substantial regeneration and redevelopment after the war ended. Newly rebuilt and restructured, Birmingham left much of its manufacturing roots behind as the city swiftly became an international centre for commerce and a major conference hub.
Although much of the city is new and modern there are still a number of worthwhile historic attractions to be seen and enjoyed including:
- Victoria Square and City Centre
- Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
- The Jewellery Quarter
- St. Philip’s Cathedral
- Birmingham Back to Backs, 19th century homes
- Black Country Living Museum
Birmingham is also a major centre for the arts and education (with five universities) and was the third most popular English city for visiting tourists in 2021.