In the East Midlands, Nottinghamshire has one of England’s most-visited cities and a multitude of towns and villages where history and legend are sometimes hard to distinguish.
In the west of the county agricultural and industrial landscapes blend together, in a region where the novelist D.H. Lawrence grew up and based many of his most important works, and where the Byron family vault is set.
And the southeast was where the Royalists were based during the English Civil War, and the monuments in the towns of Newark and Southwell still show damage from the fierce fighting that took place here during the deadliest war fought on English soil.
Lets explore the best places to visit in Nottinghamshire:
Among England’s top-ten picks for a city break, Nottingham has the shops, dining, entertainment and culture that you demand of a historic destination.
The revamped centre has been pedestrianised and is a breeze to get around on foot.
Nottingham also has the kind of attractions that don’t come along very often, like the Galleries of Justice, which gives you the chance to tour a Victorian gaol and courtroom, where people were sentenced and executed.
The City of Caves invites you to explore the 1,000-year-old man-made tunnels below the city centre, while Wollaton Hall is a spellbinding Elizabethan palace that has been wowing visitors since 1580.
In the east of the county, not far from the boundary with Lincolnshire, Newark is a town that many students of English history will recognise from the civil war in the 17th century.
During Britain’s deadliest conflict Newark was a royalist stronghold, and the base of their power was Newark castle, which is in good shape remembering that it was partially destroyed and left to crumble after the war ended.
In the centre of the town at Appleton Gate is the National Civil War Centre, that will walk you through the causes and pivotal events in this conflict, while there’s also a Civil War trail around this handsome old town pointing you to the many riveting sites.
In what may well be Nottinghamshire’s loveliest town, the showpiece in Southwell is the wonderful Norman and gothic Minster.
The pair of western towers are held as one of England’s romanesque masterpieces, while the 14th-century choir screen is also a marvel for its dainty traceries.
Southwell saw vicious fighting in the Civil War and landmarks like the Minster and Episcopal Palace bear 400-year-old damage from this conflict.
As you potter around these streets with local shops and pubs in flat-fronted and timber-framed houses, keep the Saracen’s Head in mind.
This inn was where King Charles I spent his last night of freedom in 1647 and the end of the war.
If you know and love the works of D.H. Lawrence you can see a slice of industrial Nottinghamshire described in novels like Sons and Lovers around Mansfield.
A brief drive west is the Pleasley Colliery, which operated up to 1983 and since then has been cleaned up and conserved as a museum.
The Victorian engine house, chimney stack and headstocks are a part of the region’s legacy that has almost disappeared.
A sightseeing tour of Mansfield will focus on Market Place, where the town’s 700-year-old market sets up.
In the 1800s this was moved from the Buttercross to the west, which was marked by a stone pillar in the 1500s.
5. Sherwood Forest
Everybody has heard of Sherwood Forest from the Robin Hood tales, but what you may not know is that Sherwood was actually known as Birklands and Bilhaugh in medieval times.
This was a vast royal hunting forest that spread into several counties and covered a quarter of modern Nottinghamshire’s territory.
Some 430 hectares of heath and woodland of birch, pines and oak have been preserved outside the village of Edwinstowe.
The county is keen to play up the Robin Hood angle, putting on the medieval-themed Robin Hood Festival in August, with jousts, minstrels and markets.
Any other time be sure to see the ancient Major Oak, cited as one of England’s natural wonders and dated to the 11th century.
On the northern side of the Sherwood Forest, Worksop is also bounded by a district of stately homes known as the Dukeries, which we’ll come to next.
One of the most compelling attractions in Worksop is a slightly more modest building: Mr Straw’s House.
This is an ordinary Edwardian home that was bequeathed to two brothers when their parents passed away in the 1930s.
It remained untouched for the next 60 years until it was opened as a National Trust property in the 1990s and serves as a perfect time capsule of a middle class family in Edwardian times.
Outside Worksop you can hike through Creswell Crags, a limestone gorge with caves inhabited by prehistoric humans.
These dwellings have the most northerly examples of cave art in Europe.
7. The Dukeries
It doesn’t get finer than this district in the northwest of the county, where four ducal estates are found close together just south of Worksop.
So if grand houses and country gardens are up your alley the Dukeries should be in your plans.
The trouble with Worksop Manor, Clumber House, Thoresby Hall and Welbeck Abbey is picking just one or two to visit, because they all have something to recommend them, whether it’s history full of intrigue or beautiful walled kitchen gardens.
Another property, Rufford Abbey, wasn’t a ducal seat, but is part of the trail, having been turned into a country house after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1500s.
Far from Nottinghamshire’s main roads and motorways, Laxton would be any other sleepy country village, but for a system of land management that is straight out of the medieval period.
Laxton has the last open field system in Europe, where the village’s three fields are divided into strips and farmed by different landowners.
It’s not easy to explain, but there’s a heritage centre at the Dovecote pub in the village explaining everything you need to know.
Just north of Laxton you can make out the earthworks of what used to be Laxton Castle, a Norman motte and bailey fortress from around the start of the early-1200s.
An idyllic village with a peculiar history, Tuxford was once vital to the transport system in the East Midlands.
It is on the Great North Road, a coaching route that ran from Smithfield Market in London to Newcastle.
Today the A1 road traces much of this route.
Tuxford was a coaching town, where stagecoaches would change mounts or where people travelling cross country would spend the night.
You don’t need to look hard to see signs of this role: The Museum of the Horse is in a former coach house and tells you all about the history of horse-drawn transport in England.
Unmissable in the countryside just north of the village is the Tuxford Windmill, which still mills flour for you to buy, and has a sweet tearoom in its outbuilding.
In the county’s northernmost reaches, Retford is a distinguished market town centred on a large market square with regal Georgian townhouses and little shopping streets that invite you to see what you can discover.
If the Town Hall on the square looks a little out of place, that’s because it’s slightly newer than the buildings around it, and was built in Victorian times in the French renaissance style.
The littlest holidaymakers will be crazy about Sundown Adventureland, an acclaimed amusement park aimed exclusively at u10s.
And for grown-ups there’s the Bassetlaw Museum where you can investigate the ties between northern Nottinghamshire and the USA.
11. Babworth and Scrooby
A rather large number of the people who were on the Mayflower for its momentous voyage to America in 1620 came from a couple of villages just west of Retford.
People like William Brewster were Brownists, who were disaffected with the Anglican Church and wanted to make further reforms on top of the ones that had taken place in the previous hundred years.
So for anyone who’d like to unearth the very roots of America you could spend some time visiting All Saints’ Church in Babworth and St Wilfrid’s in Scrooby where Separatist ideas were first shared.
12. Hucknall and Eastwood
Just five miles apart, in Nottinghamshire’s mining region, are two towns associated with three of the most influential figures of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Start with the Church of St Mary Magdalene in Hucknall, which is where the Bryon family vault is found.
So not only is the romantic writer Lord Byron interred here, but also his daughter Ada Lovelace, who is considered the first computer programmer.
Then, Eastwood is where the early-20th-century novelist D. H. Lawrence was born in 1885: His first home is the D. H. Lawrence Birthplace Museum and has everyday items belonging to what was a working class mining family.
After that last night of freedom in Southwell in 1647, Charles I surrendered and was duly brought to Kelham Hall where he was held by the Scots.
Kelham Hall is a Grade I property that got a gothic-revival facelift in the 19th century.
Today the estate is a 20-hectare country park, with pristine gardens and even a campsite by the River Trent if you’d like to stay a night or two in summer.
The Hall meanwhile is hired out for events like weddings, but you can call in at the tea rooms for a cuppa in a location imbued with a riveting history.
14. East Markham
In the Bassetlaw district, East Markham is a small and very peaceful village with not much more than a single pub.
A strange characteristic here is that the Parish Church of St John the Baptist is on the southern edge of East Markham and not surrounded by it.
The explanation for this is that the entire village was shifted during medieval times because of plague.
As the village is nestled in a conservation area, East Markham has some of Nottinghamshire’s most pleasing countryside, a patchwork of orchards, vegetable and cereal farms crossed by remote country lanes, footpaths and bridleways.
We know you’ve heard this name somewhere before.
Well the relationship between an idyllic village in Nottinghamshire and Batman’s city isn’t as coincidental as you might think.
DC’s Gotham is named after New York, and New York got the complimentary nickname “Gotham” in the early 19th century from the writer Washington Irving.
He recalled a famous story about residents of the original Gotham’s ingenuity in medieval times, in which they feigned madness (then believed to be contagious) to avoid having the king’s road built through the village, and so avoiding all the obligations that came with it.
And as for the name’s meaning, it’s “Goat’s Home”, which doesn’t sound so glamorous!