In the East Midlands, Northamptonshire is a mostly rural county with just two large towns, Northampton and Corby.
Everybody else lives in sleepy villages with thatched cottages and country pubs.
Just like its neighbour Buckinghamshire, this county is littered with stately homes, more than you could hope to fit into one holiday.
In fact, Northamptonshire has often been described as the county of “spires and squires”, for its parish churches and posh country manors.
The restorative Northamptonshire countryside will invite you to slow down on peaceful walks and visits to Elizabethan estates and little villages.
But if you need to get the adrenaline pumping, Silverstone is the home of the British Grand Prix and a must for petrolheads at any time of year.
Lets explore the best places to visit in Northamptonshire:
The county town is home to almost half of Northamptonshire, and the short commutes to both London and Birmingham continue to make Northampton a desirable place to settle.
A good place to start a visit is the Cultural Quarter, which has polished Georgian architecture and one attraction that people travel cross-country to see: 78 Derngate is a Georgian house with an interior redesigned in 1917 by none other than Charles Rennie Mackintosh, one of the leading lights of art nouveau and the arts and crafts movement.
Northampton Museum is also in the Cultural Quarter and offers a window on the town’s first boom in the 19th century when it was the centre of the leather and shoemaking industries.
There are also some breathtaking country estates very close at Castle Ashby, Althorp House, Coton Manor and Delapré Abbey.
A large chunk of Northamptonshire’s population lives in and near this former steel town in the north of the county.
One of the peculiar things about Corby is the large number of people with Scottish heritage.
Up to a fifth of the town was born north of the border.
For sightseeing there’s an array of country estates outside the town.
The most spectacular of these is Kirby Hall, once owned by Sir Christopher Hatton, who was Lord Chancellor to Elizabeth I. Deene Park meanwhile has been in the Brudenell family for more than 500 years, and the regal house and gardens with boulevards and parterre welcome visitors in summer.
The medieval Rockingham Castle also merits a visit, and has loads of stories to tell about the English Civil War.
The historic town of Oundle is constructed with limestone that has wonderful golden tones, and in many ways resembles somewhere like Cambridge but without the colleges.
The infamous Fortheringhay Castle is just outside the town, even if there isn’t much remaining.
You can make out the earthworks and masonry of a building that was once a favourite residence of Richard III, who was born here in 1452, and also saw the execution of Mary Queen of Scots in 1587. The castle was dismantled shortly after, and a lot of the stone was used in Oundle, notably at the historic Talbot Inn.
Have a wander around Oundle and go by old pubs like the Ship Inn, a coaching inn from the 1300s and the Rose & Crown on the marketplace, serving customers the 17th-century.
4. Higham Ferrers
Although a relatively minor settlement in the Nene Valley, Higham Ferrers deserves a detour for its history and very charming ensemble of period properties.
St Mary’s Church has one of those Northamptonshire spires, and was founded in the 13th century.
Much of the original architecture is still in place, and the stonework on the west port is likely to have been crafted by the same masons responsible for London’s Westminster Abbey.
College Street is particularly historic and is the site of a college from 1422, set up by Henry Chichele, the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time.
There’s a hall belonging to this long-defunct institution, now putting on occasional art exhibitions.
Part of one of the larger urban areas in the county, Rushden’s biggest landmark is the medieval Church of St Mary, which has a 60-metre spire.
And for repose there are the lawns and paths of Rushden Hall Park, surrounding a historic manor house that opens for exhibitions about the town in summer.
An intriguing relic from the days when Rushden was on the railway network can be visited at the Rushed Transport Museum.
This attraction preserves the old Victorian train station and ticket hall, which opened in 1894, and also has a real ale bar for grown-ups.
If you’d like to dawdle around the market town of Daintry for a while, Sheaf Street is a good entry point.
In the middle of the town’s pedestrianised shopping precinct, Sheaf Street has many of Daventry’s period properties, comprising former staging inns and handsome Georgian townhouses.
There are more than 70 listed buildings in all, and if you show up on Tuesday or Friday you’ll be in time for the street market on the high street.
Daventry won the privilege to stage a market back in 1255 during the reign of Henry III. Also, in Northamptonshire you’re never far from a marvellous stately home, and so it goes in Daventry which is a minutes north of Canons Ashby House, dating to 1550.
In the centre of the county, Kettering is a working market town that serves as a shopping destination for people from the villages around.
If you’re coming from outside the region the main motive for visiting is to bring children to the superb family days out in the area.
Wicksteed Park opened its doors all the way back in 1921, making it the second-oldest theme park in England.
There’s a nostalgic glamour about the Wicksteed Park, typified by the narrow gauge steam railway, and the park was a sensation when it opened, needing special train services to bring in visitors from across the East Midlands.
Kids will also be wild about Bugtopia a hands-on zoo where they can handle all kinds of creepy crawlies.
The marketplace in Brackley is one of the most arresting townscapes in Northamptonshire, with rows of historic inns and flat-fronted houses around the Town Hall.
This elegant, quoined building is from 1704 and you can see the arches on the ground floor where there used to be a covered market and which have since been closed up.
Americans may be interested in the village of Sulgrave, just north of Brackley.
Open to visitors is Sulgrave Manor, the ancestral home of the Washington family, who sold it off in the mid-1600s after George Washington’s great grandfather emigrated to Virginia.
A little way outside Brackley is a quaint village made from a fetching pale limestone.
This stone has been quarried in the area since the 1300s, and became the material for some of the region’s grandest country houses like Stowe House in Buckinghamshire and Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire.
There’s a quintessential Nottinghamshire spire in Helmdon, belonging to Mary Magdalene Church, built in the gothic style around the 13th and 14th centuries.
And on a very different tack, if your idea of a fun day out is crushing cars with a tank or firing a vintage musket, go nuts at Tanks-Alot, which is every military enthusiast’s dream come true.
Also minutes from Brackley in the south of Northamptonshire is a village with a name that will be known to all Formula 1 racing fans.
Silverstone is at the midway point between Northampton and Oxford, and has been the circuit for the British Grand Prix since 1948. The story of this track echoes that of many around Britain, as it started out as an airfield, in this case a bomber station for the RAF. During most weeks, apart from when there’s a major even on, the circuit has a menu of driving experiences in Ferraris, Porsches, Aston Martins and single-seater race cars.
The village of Silverstone also has two golf courses that welcome pay-and -play, and for a complete change of pace, Catanger Llamas in neighbouring Towcester, is a llama farm in bucolic farmland.