So many people I meet have been to England, and not left London. When I tell them I’m English their eyes light up and they eagerly tell me they visited the London for a few days, but nowhere else, or occasionally some went to Brighton or Cambridge or another town close by. Of course, London is a great destination, but there is plenty more to explore outside our vibrant capital. If you have the time to venture outside the city and see more of England, I highly recommend travelling to the north of the country to get a taste of the ‘real’ England! Here are 9 reasons you should visit the North of England right now!
Reasons to Visit the North of England: Price
Britain as a whole is now cheaper for most people to visit, following the devaluation of the pound after the infamous Brexit vote. London is, like most capital cities, much more expensive than the rest of the country, and there is still a clear North / South divide when it comes to cost. Northern England is much cheaper than the south, in terms of accommodation, food, drinks and general living costs so your pound goes that much further in the north of the country! Although sometimes portrayed as skinflints and penny-pinchers, Northerners love a good deal – and will spend their hard earned cash if it means having a good time or getting good value.
Reasons to Visit the North of England: The People
It may be ‘grim up North’ for some, and although us Northerners do love a good grumble, we generally are a friendly bunch. In London you’re unlikely to be acknowledged by locals on the busy streets, but a nod, chat or ‘alright?’ as you pass by a Northerner is much more common. A dry sense of humour and a gruff but friendly manner often characterizes our personalities. We like to eat, drink and be merry with a good dose of swearing, banter, broad accents and, perhaps most disconcerting, affectionately ending each sentence with ‘love’, ‘pet’ or ‘duck’ as a term of endearment – for men too! You only have to watch ‘The Full Monty’ or ‘Billy Elliott’ for a glimpse of the Northern way – even in the face of adversity we still come through. I love Northerners, if you haven’t guessed, I am one, born and bred. We are proud of our heritage, and proud of anything northern. Now our cities are melting pots of cultures from all over the world which we have merged into our northern-ness. And our Northern exports continue to do us proud, many famous faces are from the north, including some that you might not expect, for example Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Judi Dench and plenty more besides.
Reasons to Visit the North of England: The Cities
Northern England’s cities are traditionally hard working, blue collar cities, built around industrial centres like ports, factories and mining communities. Now they have bloomed into centres of culture, art, architecture, and are well worth exploring in their own right. Liverpool was the European Capital of Culture in 2008, the only city in England to have held this prestigious title (due to be awarded to Hull in 2017), boasting spectacular free museums, impressive architecture, fantastic shopping, and much more. Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Sheffield & Bradford aren’t far behind, and smaller, historical cities like York, Chester and Durham, are picturesque and have plenty to entice visitors.
Reasons to Visit the North of England: The Music
Hardship, they say, often inspires success. And music in the North of England is a perfect example of this. Working class areas all across the North spawned generations of legendary musicians, from the Beatles to The Smiths to Dire Straits, Def Leppard, Joy Division, Pulp, Kaiser Chiefs and the Arctic Monkeys to name but a few. In Liverpool, Beatles fans can visit several museums dedicated to them, visit the famous Cavern Club, John Lennon’s childhood home and even take a ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ around key sites relating to the Fab Four. In Manchester, which saw the rise in the 80s of rave culture, ‘Madchester’ and the 90s Indie swagger of the Stone Roses and Oasis, here too music is ingrained in everyday life. Sheffield, Leeds, Newcastle and smaller towns all have their fair share of music legends, and with huge arenas now in Sheffield, Manchester, Newcastle and Leeds the North as a whole is a key venue for international superstars as well.
Reasons to Visit the North of England: The Sport
English football (soccer for you Americans out there) is better up North. Since the English Football League was established in 1888, 90 titles have been won by teams in the North of England, with Manchester United and Liverpool leading the way, and a mere 38 titles held from all other areas of the country put together. Although I am not a fan of the ‘beautiful game’, a visit to a stadium like the 75,000 seater Old Trafford (Manchester United’s ground, and the largest club stadium in the UK) is an impressive site. With the Premier League spending a whopping £1.1 billion on player transfers this is a big money business by anyone’s standards. That said, football isn’t the only sport in the North; you can also see a Rugby League game, perhaps more similar to the American Football, in shape of ball at least! Greyhound and whippet racing is popular in Yorkshire, and with horse racing including the Grand National at Aintree (near Liverpool) and the York races, among others, a day at the horse track can be a splendid way to spend a weekend! Motorbike lovers can get their fix at the Isle of Mann TT Race, arguably the most prestigious motorbike race in the world, and an adrenaline filled (sometimes life-threatening) spot on the trackside to watch the riders whizz by is a once in a lifetime experience. The most classic English sport cricket too has its fair share of venues in the North of England – Old Trafford in Manchester, and Headingly in Leeds are great on a sunny day – take your own food and beers for a boozy day pretending to care about the score.
Reasons to Visit the North of England: The Countryside
The North has its fair share of beautiful landscapes too, and 5 of England’s 10 National Parks are in the North of England. The stunning Lake District in the north west (home to England’s largest lake, Windermere), the Yorkshire Dales & North York Moors in Yorkshire, the Peak District across the Pennines and Northumberland where you can visit Hadrian’s wall built to keep out the wild Scots. Keen hikers can attempt the Yorkshire Three Peaks challenge, scaling 3 of the Yorkshire Dales peaks in 12 hours to cover 24 miles, or the 192-mile Coast to Coast walk which passes through the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors on route from St Bees in Cumbria to Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire. Even for the most casual walker, the rolling hills, vast lakes and glorious sunshine (if you’re lucky!), and some of the country’s most incredible scenery has got to be worth the train ride from London!
Reasons to Visit the North of England: The Literature
Shakespeare may be the jewel in the Southern crown, but the Bronte sisters, Beatrix Potter and Wordsworth all hailed from up North. I can’t guarantee you’ll find a talking rabbit during your visit, but a trip here to see the inspiration for your best loved characters is a must. Gaze across the Yorkshire moors and imagine Wuthering Heights’ Heathcliff mourning the loss of his beloved Catherine, or admire the lakes and hills whose daffodils inspired William Wordsworth. The 2016 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Beatrix Potter, it’s hard to believe Peter Rabbit is over 100 years old! The World of Beatrix Potter in Bowness on Lake Windermere tells the story of Potter and her fluffy creations, and the importance of her work in conservation. Ted Hughes, Poet Laureate and husband to Sylvia Plath was born in Mytholmroyd in Yorkshire, and his birthplace is available as a holiday let and writer’s retreat.
Reasons to Visit the North of England: The Food
You can’t leave England without sampling roast beef & Yorkshire pudding. With lashings of gravy. And what about Cumberland sausage and mash, or the sausages with Bury black pudding in a full English Breakfast? Fish & chips in Grimsby or South Shields, or anywhere on the coast for that matter. Lancashire cheese, Yorkshire parkin, Eccles cakes, meat & potato pies from Wigan, scones and afternoon tea in York and Harrogate, and Yorkshire even has a Rhubarb Triangle so you can gorge yourself on rhubarb crumble and custard.
As well as traditional ‘English’ foods, England is truly international, and our long history of invasions, colonisations, immigration and emigration have led to the UK having pretty much every kind of cuisine you can imagine. Some of our most famous foods have come from this blend of cultures, for example Manchester’s curry mile, and Leeds & Bradford’s plentiful curry houses offer a huge variety of Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi cuisine that in my opinion can’t be beaten. If you like Chinese food then visit China Town in Manchester which is the second largest in the UK (and third largest in Europe) or try Liverpool’s Chinatown which boasts the largest Chinese arch outside of China, standing at 15m high.
Reasons to Visit the North of England: The Coastline
I admit, the south coast & Wales may have us beat in terms of beaches, but let’s face it, no-one comes to England to go to the beach. What the North offers instead is a rugged coastline, with good old fashioned seaside resort towns like Blackpool, Morecombe, Southport, Scarborough, interspersed with beaches, cliffs and rocky coves. Blackpool has long since faded as the gem of the Victorian era, when England’s well-to-do people flooded to the beach or strolled along the promenade, but the views from the famous tower are worth a look, and it’s still great for the kids, with a theme park, fun fair and donkey rides on the sand. At Crosby near Liverpool Anthony Gormley’s 100 cast iron statues named ‘Another Place’ eerily gaze out to sea, partly covered by the waves. Whitby, on the opposite shore, is perfect for fans of the macabre as its where Dracula came ashore in Bram Stoker’s tale. Lindisfarne (also known as Holy Island) is cut off from the mainland at high tide and offers a unique chance to spend the night on this tranquil island amid the sounds of the birds including puffins, and various rare species, visit the ancient monastery founded in AD 635, and watch the seals as they lounge on the rocks.
I could go on, but what started out as five quickly became nine reasons, and close to 2000 words on why you should visit the north of England, and each section grew as I thought more about what the North has to offer! Not everyone will make the journey outside of London, but those that do are in for a treat. And for you Northerners out there – do you agree with this list? Have I missed any gem that I should include?
Want to plan for your trip to the north of England?
You might also enjoy reading the book Pies and Prejudice: In search of the North by Stuart Maconie to learn more about the wonders of the North of England!
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