The beautiful East Midland’s county is full of myth, legend, culture, and history, and although Nottinghamshire is mostly known for its heroic outlaw Robin Hood, it also served as a home to many other historic heroes include DH Lawrence (of Lady Chatterley’s Lover fame), and the most flamboyant and notorious of all English poet’s Lord Byron.
Bustling Nottingham is the dynamic county capital, Sherwood Forest serves as the county’s green lung, and dotted all over the area are a huge handful of majestic halls, grand country houses, and intriguing ancient castles. Here are the best and most beautiful places to visit in Nottinghamshire…
1. Sherwood Forest – Robin Hood’s former stomping ground and one of the best places to visit in Nottinghamshire
There can be very few people who have not heard of Robin Hood and Sherwood Forest. This makes the beautiful forest a very popular place to visit with tourists, but it is still a great place to visit.
It has been here since the last Ice Age and is the home to some of Europe’s most ancient oaks. The celebrity among these trees is known as the Major Oak, and is reputed to be 1000 years old.
Much smaller than its original 100 000 acres in the days of the legendary hero, about 450 acres of the forest is accessible by the public, and this includes heathland as well as woods.
The keen birdwatcher can look for woodpeckers and woodlarks, and there is a variety of walks from less than a mile to 4 miles for the more energetic. There is a visitor centre which is a good place to start your visit and learn something of the history of this wonderful place.
2. Wollaton Hall and Park – starred as Bruce Wayne’s stunning home in “The Dark Knight Rises”
This elaborate and striking Elizabethan home was built in the 1580s for Sir Francis Willoughby and stayed within the family until 1881, when they decided it was too near Nottingham’s smoke and activity, ironic when one considers that Sir Francis Willoughby, who had the house built was an industrialist and owned a colliery.
The house stood vacant for some time until Nottingham council bought it in the 1920s and converted it into a natural history museum.
Wollaton Hall is known as a “prodigy” house, a style of the times that had elaborate features that gave it rather an eccentric appearance, like stone rings to tie up a gondola, carved by master masons brought in from Italy.
The Hall may be familiar to Batman aficionados, as it was Bruce Wayne’s home in “The Dark Knight Rises”. There are 500 acres of parkland surrounding the Hall, with herds of deer, and a lake where one can sight waterfowl from the bird hide. The formal gardens are lovely, and you can visit the oldest cast-iron glasshouse in Europe, which houses beautiful camellias.
3. The Old Town of Nottingham – the most picturesque part of the famous city
Nottingham is a smart, modern city, with quirky shops offering designs of clothing and other products designed by young creatives, as well as well-known high street brands.
What is more, the city is very walkable and most of the attractions can easily be visited on foot, although there are ample tram routes too.
The best place to start your exploration of the city is the Old Market Square, which has been a marketplace at least since the 11th century and covers 3 acres of paved open space.
It has been, and remains, the place for citizens to gather to celebrate, mourn or protest. Formerly a major lace-making centre, the Square saw protests by the Luddites, who were against industrialization, which was destroying the livelihoods of the many artisans in the town.
On the west side of the Square is the Nottingham Council House, an imposing domed building and major landmark, built in the 1920s. Although it is the mayoral seat, it includes a smart shopping arcade.
You should also take a deviation to the Lace Market area, and visit the City of Caves, a warren of man-made caves in the limestone, which have been used for everything from cellars to air-raid shelters. Near to the Lace Market area is Hockley, a trendy area to wander through and find a spot to eat.
4. Clumber Park – a historic country park and one of the most beautiful places to visit in Nottinghamshire
Known as one of the best places to explore in Nottinghamshire, Clumber Park is an extensive estate of some 3 800 acres, which was once the seat of the Dukes of Newcastle.
The mansion which once graced the estate was demolished in 1938 to avoid taxation, but had been damaged by fire, as had the mansion before it. The National Trust took over the estate in 1946, and it is now a tranquil place to visit for walking or cycling.
Although the mansion no longer remains, there are other buildings from the estate that still remain, notably the Gothic Revival church of St Mary the Virgin.
There are Victorian glasshouses dedicated to growing palms and vines and are situated next to the 4-acre kitchen garden. There is also a pretty serpentine lake in the estate which offers great bird-watching.
If you were wondering about the name, this is indeed the home of the Clumber Spaniel, a heavyset spaniel that was first bred here.
5. Newstead Abbey and Park – an exclusive estate set within a beautiful wooded countryside
Another famous son of Nottinghamshire was Lord Byron the poet who spent some time at his ancestral home of Newstead Abbey when he was not on his travels.
The Abbey was in fact a Priory, built in the 12th century, and was granted to the first Byron in 1540 by Henry VIII. There are many mementos of the poet to be seen in the Abbey, such as letters and manuscripts and the desk where he sat to write.
He was the sixth Lord, but his financial position forced him to sell the Abbey in 1818 to Thomas Wildman, who in his turn sold it to William Webb, who was an African hunter and explorer.
His wife, Emilia Jane, collected some of the Byron memorabilia you can see in the Abbey today. Eventually, the Abbey passed into the ownership of Nottingham Council in the 1930s.
After exploring the rooms in the stunning Abbey, there are still 300 acres of parkland to roam, including a lake and the Leen River, meandering through the estate.
In the gardens to the rear of the Abbey stands the elaborate grave and memorial to Boatswain, Byron’s faithful Newfoundland dog, with the moving poem that Byron wrote in remembrance of his canine friend inscribed in stone.
Byron wished to be buried next to Boatswain, but the estate had already been sold when he died in Greece, and he was interred in the family vault in St Mary Magdalene church instead.
6. Newark Castle and Gardens – one of the best places to explore in Nottinghamshire
The ruins of Newark Castle stand alongside the River Trent, a stark reminder of the upheavals of the Civil War and several sieges before that.
Originally built of timber by the Bishop of Lincoln in the 12th century on a site that was probably favoured by the Anglo-Saxons, the castle was rebuilt in stone towards the end of the same century.
The castle is notorious for being the place where England’s most unpopular king, King John, died, reputedly after eating too many peaches, but more probably from a bout of dysentery. The Castle was “slighted” (partially destroyed) at the end of the Civil War, but it is still possible to explore the remaining tower and crypt.
The Gardens have been painstakingly restored and provide a pleasant interlude after viewing the grim remains of the Castle, with curving pathways that take you through the garden and provide changing views of the gardens with the background of the castle. A must-see attraction in Nottinghamshire!
7. Nottingham Castle – a stunning earthwork motte and bailey fortress founded in 1067
Nottingham Castle is not really a castle, it is a mansion, which was built on the site of the former castle, and was the seat of the Duke of Newcastle.
After the castle was destroyed in 1651, the Duke commissioned an Italianate-styled home on the site. The castle contains a museum and an art gallery.
Exhibits not to be missed are ethnographic collections of New Zealand jewellery and Burmese bronzes and a superb collection of Anglo-Saxon brooches.
The grounds of the striking castle are wooded and offer some respite from sightseeing. If you are fond of a pint, two of the oldest pubs in Britain are within easy reach, Ye Olde Salutation Inn and Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, both worth a look-in for their atmosphere, even if you are a teetotaller.
8. Nottingham Arboretum – a historic and beautifully maintained park to explore in Nottinghamshire
Opened around 170 years ago, the beautiful Arboretum is Nottingham’s oldest park and easily accessible from the city centre on foot or by tram.
Botanist Samuel Curtis designed it originally and it has seen little change since then, so is an excellent example of Victorian landscaping. There are over 800 trees in the park and many species of flowering plants that ensure the park always has a fine display.
It also has an interesting collection of buildings, ranging from an aviary and bandstand to a war memorial to the 59th regiment, which is flanked by 2 cannons captured at Sebastopol.
There is a common belief that JM Barry, the author of Peter Pan, and a citizen of Nottingham, based Neverland on the Arboretum, which he probably walked through daily.
9. Creswell Crags – a striking enclosed limestone gorge
On the border with Derbyshire, there is a ravine known as Cresswell Crags that has been providing shelter since the Ice Age. Proof of this is demonstrated by the northernmost cave art in Europe, and also through archaeological excavations.
Cave hyenas roamed this gorge and took refuge in the caves, as did woolly rhinoceros and bears.
The caves that can be visited have been named, and each cave has different points of interest and archaeological importance. Church Hole is the most important cave, although many of the artefacts and animal bones were discovered some time ago and are kept in various collections around the world.
Despite the fact that people have been exploring these caves for many years, taking their finds away with them, it was only in 2003 that various engravings and bas-reliefs were found in the caves.
It had already been declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in 1987, and has been nominated for consideration as a World Heritage Site. A fantastic place to visit in Nottinghamshire.
10. Southwell – one of the prettiest towns to visit in Nottinghamshire
Pretty Southwell is regarded as Nottinghamshire’s most attractive town and with good reason, with its attractive streets and houses and the Greet River running through it, there is much to please the eye.
This was King Charles last stop before he surrendered the next day; he stayed at the King’s Head (now the Saracen’s Head). The key point of interest in Southwell is the Minster and the adjoining Archbishop’s Palace.
The Palace is now in ruins, but the Minster is still in fine condition, despite the ravages of the Cromwellian troops, looking for scrap metal and other items of value.
The church may have had a predecessor as early as the 7th century and the remains of a Roman villa were also unearthed in the church’s grounds. The Minster is a fine example of a Norman Church, and was completed in 1150.
When you have visited the Minster, why not head out to the Swan Sanctuary to unwind. A tranquil place with 5 lakes and swans and waterfowl, this is a place of contemplation and peace.
11. Rufford Abbey Country Park – the beautiful estate and grounds of a former 12-century Cistercian Monastery and country house
Originally a Cistercian abbey built in the 12th century, Rufford has seen some changes since its glory days. Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the estate and abbey were granted to the Earl of Shrewsbury, who converted it to a country house.
The Abbey has seen many tribulations over the years, so not much of the original abbey or Jacobean mansion remains, except for the crypt, with its impressive vaulted ceilings, which can be visited.
The lovely parklands surrounding are also open to explore and is another great place to visit.
Even at the beginning of the 20th century, the estate was 75 square kilometres (18,500 acres in extent), adjoining Sherwood Forest.
Although much smaller now, it still offers 150 acres of woodland and park to explore. It is a very child-friendly place for recreation, with special children’s trails and play areas, as well as attractions for the child in all of us, such as adventure golf and boating.
For animal lovers, if it does not make you too melancholy, there is a pet cemetery, with graves of favourite horses and other pets
There is even an opportunity to overnight in an apartment in the old coach house, giving you extra opportunity to explore when the day visitors have left.
12. Newark-on-Trent – another pretty historic market town to explore in Nottinghamshire
We have already mentioned Newark Castle, but you should not overlook the attractions of Newark-on-Trent itself. A thriving market town, it has probably fulfilled this function since Roman times, as it sat beside the Fosse Way, a road that stretched between Exeter and Lincoln and was the western frontier of Roman occupation.
It still functions as a route, although the stretch near Newark is now a double carriageway. Later on, the Great North Road from London to Edinburgh passed the town, although it has now been replaced by the A1.
Today, Newark’s markets and stores are still a good place to visit, especially if you are on the hunt for antiques and collectables.
There are also other attractions in the attractive Nottinghamshire town, this was a Royalist town in the midst of a Royalist county, and the history of those days can be unearthed by following the Civil War Trail, which starts in Nottingham and ends in Southwell, where King Charles was captured.
Newark itself has 13 places of interest on the trail, from the Old White Hart pub to the Wharf (you can visit Newark by boating along the Trent too).
There are several museums you can visit. If you are an air enthusiast, why not visit the Air Museum and then the cemetery, where many Polish airmen and allies are buried, including General Sikorski, whose remains were later repatriated.
13. Felley Priory and Gardens – a beautiful Elizabethan house with a walled and hedged garden
Felley Priory was an Augustinian priory established in the 12th century. It was probably a small priory, although it was demolished and replaced with a domestic house in the 1530s, with the same name.
The beautiful house itself is a place of interest and appears to incorporate some of the original priory.
However, the main attraction is the gardens. In the spring the woods are full of bluebells; there are masses of daffodils and snowdrops; and at any time of year, there will always be a display of some exotic or indigenous blooms.
Parts of the garden are formal, with box hedges, topiaries, and pathways lined with trees, and there is an immaculately maintained kitchen and herb garden.
14. Worksop – a lovely town known as the ‘Gateway to the Dukeries’
Worksop is a market town on the River Ryton, bordering on Sherwood Forest. While it contains some interesting buildings, its main claim to fame is its proximity to the “Dukeries”, four stately homes that were the homes of British Dukes, with another two homes close by.
We have already described Clumber Park, the three other homes are Thoresby Hall, Welbeck Manor and Worksop Manor.
The current Thoresby Hall is the third home built on the site in the nineteenth century, but there has been a property there since 1670. It was the home of the Pierreponts, the Dukes of Kingston-upon-Hull and the Earls of Manver.
The Dukes of Portland lived in Welbeck Abbey, which had been built in the 12th century by the Premonstratensian monks. The original building was rebuilt into the ducal home in the 17th century, with extensive alterations in the nineteenth century by the 5th Duke.
Worksop Manor was the seat of the Dukes of Norfolk and had been in the possession of the Talbot family since the 1500s. The eighteenth-century home was built to replace the previous building, which like so many others, was destroyed in a fire, but was destroyed piece by piece by the Duke of Newcastle of Clumber Park.
The Worksop property was granted to the Lords of the Manor of Worksop on condition that they would supply a glove for the monarch’s right hand during each Coronation, and this practice persists.
15. Idle Valley Nature Reserve – a spectacular wetland site covering 450 hectares
This 1100 acre reserve is a must-see for birders. A combination of land reclaimed from gravel works and adjacent grassland and scrub, it is a good place to look for wildfowl such as the gadwall and tufted duck.
Flanked by the River Idle, the gravel pits are now filled with water, the largest of which is Belmoor Lake.
There are not only birds to be observed, British wildlife can be spotted, from roe deer to the occasional stoat or weasel.
16. Holme Pierrepont Hall – a striking medieval hall in Nottinghamshire
This was the first brick building in Nottinghamshire and a fine example of the craftsmanship of the day. Visitors to this stunning family home can get an idea of what it was like to live in earlier times, with open fires and oak beams supporting the ceilings.
The family has kept faithful to the original spirit of the house, furnishing it with regional furniture and paintings of their ancestors. The Hall is in a tranquil spot, surrounded by parkland, and has some notable formal gardens too.
The beautiful house is built around a courtyard garden, laid out around 1875, and has a modern East Garden, landscaped in the 1970s, which has an amazing winter display of snowdrops, aconites and daffodils.
The orchard is a must-see, not so much for the fruit trees, but rather for its old British sheep breed, which forage there. The Jacob sheep is piebald and can have up to four large horns, which makes it very different from our general idea of what a sheep should look like.
They are believed to have originated in the Holy Land, which is why they bear this biblical name.
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Beth Pinches – writer and photographer
Beth was born under a wandering star, with drama in her veins and ink in her pen. After stints studying theatre in Dublin and Utrecht she used her creative streak to see as much of the world as she could on as little money. She toured Italian Schools with a children’s theatre troop, lived as an au-pair in both Rome and Washington DC, explored the British countryside, worked her way through much of Europe, Salsa danced in Cuba and road tripped down America’s west coast where she discovered her spiritual home; Portland, Oregon. Other places she loves include Croatia, Finland, Japan and India. In between adventures, travel writing and performing she resides peacefully with her family, cats and ukulele. Find Beth on Linkedin or Facebook.