new Forest

Best sites in central southern England

From Oxfordshire to the Isle of Wight - a thematic guide to Britain

Heritage tourism in central southern England

Index  Central southern England Ten best historic monuments Best towns and countryside
Places to stay in the UK
Hotels, apartments and other accommodation at best rates from

Winchester cathedralThe long medieval nave of Winchester cathedral

For the purposes of this guide, Central southern England is made up of the counties lying to the west and southwest of Greater London, between 25 miles and 100 miles from London. It stretches from Oxfordshire in the north and Wiltshire in the west, to the home counties of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Middlesex and Surrey, and to Hampshire and the Isle of Wight in the south.
   For areas to the east, including the southern counties of Sussex and Kent, see southeast England.  To discover areas and sites further away from London towards the west, see the Southwest of England 

In addition to two National Parks, the New Forest and part of the South Downs, central southern England includes a lot of very attractive countryside and traditional small towns and villages. In the north, it includes part of the Cotswold hills and most of the Chiltern hills. The centre of this part of England is an upland area known as Salisbury Plain,  home to what is probably the world's best-known prehistoric monument, Stonehenge. In the south, visitors can discover the New Forest National Park, and also the old world charm of the Isle of Wight. The Hampshire and Isle of Wight coasts are particular popular with sailors.

Ten of the best historic monuments and sites in southern England

Ratings out of 5 are relative to other similar attractions or monuments

Name Rating (/5) Highlights
Windsor  Castle

5 Perhaps the finest historic royal  stronghold in Europe. Windsor castle has been a royal residence since the 11th century. As such it has been regularly kept up, extended and rebuilt through the centuries, but the Medieval core survives to this day, among the other parts dating from the Renaissance and later. Windsor and Eton Riversite station is easily accessible by train from London Paddington - about an hour.

5 UNESCO world heritage site. The most amazing prehistoric monument in Europe.  Visitor centre. See Prehistoric sites.  Access by road only
Winchester Cathedral
5 One of the oldest cathedrals in England. Winchester Cathedral has the longest nave of any medieval cathedral in Europe.  Parts of the Norman building survive in the transepts and in the crypt. See best cathedrals  Easy access by train from London Waterloo in just over an hour
Salisbury Cathedral
5 Medieval cathedral built in just 38 years between 1220 and 1258 in the Early English Gothic style.  Salisbury Cathedral has the highest spire in England.See best cathedrals
Easy access by train from London Waterloo in an hour and a half.
Blenheim Palace
5 UNESCO world heritage site. The palace was built for the triumphant Duke of Marlborough, after his victories in the War of the Spanish Succession. It is the only "palace" in Britain which is not a royal palace nor an epispocal palace. One of the largest residences in Britain. Birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill.
Longleat House
5 Beautiful 17th century stately home, set in some 500 hectares of parkland. The parkland is England's original and biggest safari park, famed for its lions and other African wildlife.
Wilton House
4 Beautiful seventeenth century English Palladian country house, with grounds described as the most beautiful in England. Among the architects who designed the house are Inigo Jones and James Wyatt. The interiort is richly decorated, and houses a collection of old master paintings.
near Lyndhurst, Hampshire
4 A triple attraction, including Beaulieu Palace house, a historic country house, the ruins and former refectory of a  medieval Cistercian monastery, and Britain's national motor museum, with some 250 historic vehicles from 1880 to today - and more. An eclectic mix with something for all tastes.
Portsmouth historic dockyard
4 Historic naval dockyard, attached to today's Royal Navy dockyard. The yard contains three major historic ships, Nelson's Victory, that fought at the battle of Trafalgar, the 19th century armoured frigate Warroir, a steam and sail ship, and the remains of King Henry VIII's 16th century Mary Rose.
Stonor house
near Henley, Oxfordshire
3 One of England's oldest and most beautiful country manor houses, lived in by the same family for over 8 centuries. Set in a fold in the Chiltern Hills

Best towns and country attractions to visit in central southern England 

Name Rating (/5) Highlights
50 miles west of London
5 Remarkable collection of university buildings, dating from the Middle Ages onwards. Beautiful gardens; the Ashmolean museum, one of the best art galleries in England outside London. Easily accessible by train from London Paddington. Also accessible by coach from London. See Oxford & Cambridge
New Forest national park Hampshire and Dorset 5 Large expanse of natural forest and heathland, the last extensive former royal hunting forest in England. Attractive woodland with charming small towns such as Lyndhurst and Lymington - the latter much loved by yachtsmen
4 The most famous neoclassical landscaped gardens in Europe, and the archetypal "English garden" in the sense of parkland.  250 acres of 18th century landscaped gardens, dotted with temples and monuments, and laid out by the greatest landscape architects of the itme. Stowe House, which can also be visited, is considered to be one of the finest neoclassical buildings in England
The Isle of Wight- ferries from Southampton , Portsmouth or Lymington 4 A mile or two off the English coast, but an island in the full sense. Lovely coastal footpath all round the island (65 miles), passing the dramatic Needles point, the coloured sands of Alum bay, and Queen Victoria's favourite house at Osborne. The island has many small seaside resorts such as Shanklin or Ventnor - which also has noted sub-tropical gardens
South Downs National Park Hampshire and Sussex 4 Mostly in Sussex (see Southeast England), but the western end of the National Park is outside Winchester.
Avebury and Silbury Hill Wiltshire 4 After Stonehenge, the second most famous prehistoric sites in Britain. Prehistoric stone ring, and prehistoric artificial hill.
Stourhead Wiltshire, near Warminster 4 One of the most famous landscaped gardens in Britain. An 18th century Palladian house particularly famous for its gardens and grounds covering 1000 hectares. The grounds are dotted with "follies", a Temple of Appollo, a grotto and King Alfred's Tower
Lacock Village and Abbey Lacock, Wiltshire 4 Reputedly one of the prettiest villages in England, now managed by the National Trust. In the middle of the picture-postcard village is the "Abbey", a former abbey converted into a country house, home of the Talbot family. The Abbey is home to the Fox-Talbot photography museum, and it was here that Fox Talbot produced the first photographic negative in 1835.
Marlow and Henley Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire 4 The classic small towns on the River Thames. Quintessentially English. Marlow with its elegant suspension bridge over the Thames, Henly famed for its rowing and regattas. The Thames Path hiking trail links the two towns on the south bank of the river.
3 A classic Cotswold stone town, with a broad main street running down to an ancient stone bridge over the river Windrush at the foot of the hill.  The Cotswold Wildlife Park is a top class wildlife centre, famous for its large rhino enclosure and it reptile collection, the UK's largest.

Other attractions in  central southern England

Photo top: the village of Burley, in the New Forest
Central southern England is easily accessible from London; though while the towns and cities can be reached by train, a car is necessary for visitors wanting to visit some of the great stately homes or country houses, and other places in the heart of the English countryside.

Windsor castle
Windsor Castle


Longleat House

Old Burford

Burford, Oxfordshire

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Hotels with character...
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