A guide to Buckinghamshire: What to do and where to stay

Enjoy fine dining, outdoor pursuits and rich heritage on an exploration of Buckinghamshire

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Guide to Buckinghamshire, including places to stay, things to do and wildlife highlights.

Buckinghamshire is famous for its beautiful footpaths and landed estates. The county’s numerous hotels and inns are complimented by historical sites and engaging activities, sure to provide entertainment for the entire family.

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Olney in Buckingahmshire
Looking across thew Great Ouse river In the market town of Olney ©Getty

Facts about Buckinghamshire

Buckinghamshire is home to 16th-century Chequers, a country retreat for the serving Prime Minister of Britain since 1921. Listed as a Grade I property on the National Heritage List for England and used a hospital during the First World War, this beautiful residence was also once used as a prison for Lady Jane Grey’s younger sister and has links to the Cromwell family. Chequers can be found within Ellesborough, nestled at the foot of the Chiltern Hills.

Chequers, Ellesborough, Buckinghamshire, 1924-1926. Originally built in the 16th century, Chequers is the country home of the British Prime Minister. A print from Hutchinson's Britain Beautiful, edited by Walter Hutchinson, volume I, 1924-1926. (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
The Prime Minister’s 16th century country retreat, Chequers, by Herbert Felton ©Getty

High Wycombe, the largest town in Buckinghamshire, is the only town in the world to weigh its Mayors. It does this to see if they have gained any weight at the taxpayer’s expense.

Every year on Shrove Tuesday the ladies of Olney compete in the world-famous Pancake Race, a tradition that dates back to 1445.

High Wycombe was also the location of Sir Francis Dashwood’s notoriously exclusive and debauched ‘Hellfire Club’ meetings. Dashwood installed suitable statuary in the grounds of Medmenham Abbey and excavated caves to shield his group’s activities from the public gaze.

butterfly

At various points in history, Buckinghamshire has been home to a number of notorious authors and poets. Some of these include:

  •  Percy and Mary Shelley, T. S Eliot and Jerome K. Jerome who at one point each lived in Marlow.
  • John Milton who once lived in Chalfont St Giles and whose cottage can still be visited.
  • Road Dahl who lived in Great Missendon and who included numerous features and characteristics of the surrounding area in his works.
  • Enid Blyton who once lived in Beaconsfield.
Frankenstein
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein ‘bringing the monster to life’ ©Getty

What’s on

From collector’s exhibitions and historical re-enactments to wildlife observation and musical and theatrical performances, Buckinghamshire offers a wealth of activities and destinations to please the whole family.

  • The Bucks County Show will be held on Thursday 29 August just outside the village of Weedon, Buckinghamshire’s 2016 winner of ‘Best Kept Village of the Year.’
  • Chalfont St Giles will host the Classic Vehicles Show between 27-28 July 2019 at the Chiltern Open Air Museum, whose collection of historic tractors and wagons was once used for the filming of British TV Drama, Downton Abbey.

Visit visitbuckinghamshire.org/events for an extensive list of additional upcoming events.

Stowe landscape gardens, Buckinghamshire
Stowe landscape gardens, Buckinghamshire ©Getty

Explore Buckinghamshire’s towns and villages

Beaconsfield

Along Beaconsfield’s main street one can enjoy the sight of stunning Victorian buildings that date back to between the 16th and 18th century. With attractive coaching inns, wide, spacious streets and a flint and Bath stone parish church – which still possesses a 15th-century tower crowned with intricate pinnacles – Beaconsfield is a town rich in both beauty and history.

Buckingham

Located in the rural north of Buckinghamshire, Buckingham is home to an array of beautiful Georgian buildings and an impressive Old Gaol, which dominates the town’s centre. The roads are lined with trees, the River Ouse winds its way through the centre and there are plenty of green spaces to explore. Buckingham additionally has numerous places to eat, markets on both Tuesdays and Saturdays and a variety of wonderful specialist shops.

Buckingham, Buckinghamshire
Buckingham, Buckinghamshire ©Getty

Marlow

Marlow’s Georgian market town – lined with myriad beautiful boutique shops, cafes and historic streets – is set among the rich meadows of the Thame’s riverbanks and the rolling Chiltern Hills. Why not take a boat trip along the River Thame, enjoy fine dining at The Hand & Flowers, the only UK pub to have been awarded two Michelin stars, or explore the World War One training trenches found along Marlow Common.

Cyclists cross Marlow Suspension Bridge (completed 1832, by architect Tierney Clark) over the Thames, Marlow, England, May 1944. The church in the background is the All Saints Parish (erected 1835). (Photo by Frank Scherschel/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Cyclists crossing Marlow suspension bridge in 1944 © Getty

Great Missenden

The Roald Dahl village trail is a great way to begin exploring Great Missenden, starting with a visit to Dahl’s grave and ending at the Roald Dahl Museum and Story centre. Take a break for refreshments at Café Twit or the 16th-century Cross Keys. Great Missenden offers numerous bike trails and walking routes, many of which follow Misbourne Stream and link back to the town through the Chiltern’s woodlands and farmlands.

British author Roald Dahl (1916 - 1990) reads to three of his children, from left, Tessa, Theo, and Ophelia, in the kitchen of his home, Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, England, September 1965. Teh two women in the background are unidentified. (Photo by Leonard McCombe/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Road Dahl reads to his children in the kitchen of his home in Great Missenden, 1965 © Getty

Wendover

This lovely market town is home to various antique shops, the leading aviation art gallery, Aces High, and an excellent local produce market (taking place on the third Saturday of every month). With many destinations for afternoon tea and ‘Views of the Vale Walks’ taking you through ancient beech woods, carpets of bluebells and wildflower meadows, Wendover is a stunning location to explore during the warmer months.

Bluebell wood, Hyacinthoides non-scripta.(Photo by FlowerPhotos/UIG via Getty Images)
Sunlight filtering through an English bluebell wood © Getty

West Wycombe

In the beautiful village of West Wycombe, many of the buildings still possess their original facades. These date back to between the 16th and 18th centuries and are preserved by The National Trust. Adjacent to the village are the stunning neo-classical West Wycombe House and Park and West Wycombe Hill, the latter of which still possesses an Iron Age hill fort. Browse the traditional shops before taking a picnic to the top of West Wycombe Hill to enjoy the incredible views.

circa 1930: West Wycombe in Buckinghamshire (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
A street in West Wycombe circa 1930 © Getty

Princes Risborough

Each September, Princes Risborough attracts over 400 historic vehicles for its ‘The Kop Hill Climb’ race, an enjoyable event for all the family. The town is home to many local shops, a street market on Thursdays and a larger farmers’ market on the third Thursday of every month. There are also plenty of opportunities to refresh yourself before venturing out on one of the surrounding walking routes and trails. Phoenix trail follows a line of disused railways and passes The Three Horseshoes at Towersey. This makes a great half-way point between Princes Risborough and the finish at Thame.

Essex Motor Club Kop Hillclimb, Buckinghamshire, 1922. Place: Essex M.C. Kop Hillclimb. Date: 25.3.22. Artist Bill Brunell. (Photo by National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
Spectators gather to watch vehicles compete in the Kop Hill Climb, 1922 © Getty

Best attractions in Buckinghamshire

The Chiltern Hills

With a variety of exceptional walks and trails to follow through the surrounding area, the Chiltern Hills – designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – have something to offer any outdoor enthusiast seeking fresh air and fun. Autumn is a great time to visit as the beach forests turn amber and gold.

Bletchley Park

Home of the Second World War’s code breaking and the birthplace of modern information technology, Bletchley Park is a treasured site of historical significance. The park is the perfect place to learn more about the role of cryptography, technological innovation, secret intelligence and Allied collaboration during World War Two, as well as to understand how these still matter today in a society undergoing profound technological changes.

'Wrens' operating the Colossus computer at Bletchley Park, 1943
‘Wrens’ operating the Colossus computer at Bletchley Park, 1943 © Getty

Stowe House and Landscape Gardens

In the 18th century, the powerful Temple-Grenville family landscaped their own personal Eden. Filled with temples and monuments of varying grandeur, the gardens and main house once offered visitors a chance to explore an ancient world of classical mythology and design. Nowadays, the main Manor is home to Stowe school and the surrounding landscape gardens are said to be one of the most remarkable legacies of Georgian England. Visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/stowe to see how you can spend a day exploring Stowe.

The Palladian Bridge in the landscaped garden of Stowe House. About 2000. (Photo by Imagno/Getty Images) .
The Palladian Bridge in Stowe Landscape Gardens © Getty

The Rothschilds’ Buckinghamshire estates

Buckinghamshire is home to many of the Rothschilds’ gorgeous country homes. Of particular note are Ascott House, Champneys and Waddesdon Manor. The first is a half-timbered house originating from 1606 and contains a wealth of impressive collections. As Britain’s original health spa, the second boasts 170 acres of idyllic countryside and a variety of traditional and innovative spa treatments. Finally, built in the style of a Neo-Renaissance French chateau, Waddesdon Manor is still home to Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild’s superb collection and an exotic aviary.

Exterior of Waddesdon Manor, a country house in the village of Waddesdon. Built in the Neo-Renaissance style of a French chateau for the Rothschild Family. Dated 21st Century. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
The exterior of Waddesdon Manor © Getty

The Ridgeway National Trail

Running for 87 miles between Overton Hill in Wiltshire and Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire, the Ridgeway National Trail passes through open downs, secluded valleys and along idyllic stretches river. The western section of the trail is generally recognised as England’s oldest road, a path that dates back to the Neolithic period and is studded with numerous features of archaeological interest. Upon reaching Ivinghoe Beacon, keep your eyes peeled for evidence of an existing Bronze Age presence. You will likely see the rise of remaining burial mounds scattered across the plains.

Vale of Aylesbury
Looking down on Ivinghoe Beacon and across the Vale of Aylesbury during the mist of early morning © Getty

Wildlife and Nature

The Red Kite

Thanks to a successful reintroduction project that took place between 1989 and 1994, the Chilterns are now one of the best spots in the UK to see the red kite. Nearly driven to extinction by human persecution at the end of the 19th century, these fork-tailed birds of prey have since made an impressive comeback. They can frequently be seen soaring above the fields and hilltops and, due to their relatively weak claws, will tend to target smaller mammals or carrion for food.

Red kite
Red kites tend to pair for life, building large, untidy nests in the forks of trees © Getty

College Lake Nature Reserve

This thriving nature reserve is one of the Berks, Bucks & Oxen Wildlife Trust’s flagships nature reserves. Previously a chalk quarry, the wetlands and grasslands now boast a vast array of wildlife species that can be viewed from an eco-visitor and education centre or from one of the reserve’s many hides. With wetland birds – such as lapwings, redshanks, wigeons and teals – and some rarer insect life, such as the small blue buttery, College Lake is a haven for wildlife and widely regarded as one of the best places in the county for viewing water birds. Please click here to see what’s on at College Lake over the coming months.

The small blue (cupido minimus)
The small blue butterfly is rare but can be found on sheltered, warm grassland habitats ©Getty

Linford Lakes Nature Reserve

Take your binoculars and camera and bed down in one of Linford Lakes Nature Reserve‘s four hides to observe breathtaking views and wildlife. During the warmer months you are likely to see barn owls, cuckoos and common terns. In winter, you may be lucky enough to see bitterns, great white egrets and short eared owls. While in spring, the reserve’s thriving heronry offers wonderful views of nesting little egrets and herons. Foxes, deer and badgers sometimes also make an appearance. Foraging and cooking classes, bat walks and wild dying and felting activities run throughout the year.

Sumpfohreule Altvogel auf Ast sitzend vor blauem Himmel hersehend
Short Eared Owls will be seen quartering an area of suitable habitat, hunting on the wing and listening for signs of prey in the grass below © Getty

Coombe Hill

Coombe Hill was designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) to protect its chalk grassland and acid heathland. There are over 30 species of wildflower and 28 species of butterfly, including small heaths, meadow browns, ringlets and common blues. With various walks in the area, it’s the perfect place to head out for a sunny stroll while keeping your eyes peeled for soaring birds of prey and scurrying mammals.

Ringlet butterfly (Aphantopus hyperanthus)
Adult Ringlet are known to continue to fly with their characteristic bobbing motion in cloudy conditions when most other butterflies remain inactive ©Getty

Red Deer

Red deer are the largest of Britain’s native land mammals. They are prolific in Scotland and scattered elsewhere across East Anglia, South-West England and the Lake District. Were you to walk quietly through Buckinghamshire’s woodlands and meadows during the first few hours of early morning, you may well spot one here too. During rutting season, stags deliberately brush their antlers through vegetation in an attempt to snag debris and make themselves look larger.

Red deer stag
Roaring competitions and parallel walking allow Red Deer stags to size one another up during rutting season without exacting physical harm © Susie Webster @websterwilds 

Outdoor activities to do around Buckinghamshire

Walks and Tours

Venture out into the surrounding countryside and explore a variety of pathways and trails, or simply stroll through the landscaped gardens and parklands of one of the county’s fabulous estates. Find out more about Buckinghamshire’s walks and tours. 

A Sunny Day At Dunstable Downs
Walkers heading along sunny hilltops © Getty

Boat Trips

From self-drive launches to rowing boats and traditional cruises, the River Thame and the Grand Union Canal offer many opportunities to explore Buckinghamshire from the water. Hobbs of Henley offer regular river trips and boat hire, along with themed cruises, such as ‘Comedy on the Water’ and ‘Sunday Lunch Jazz.’ Others options include The Little Boat Trip, which offers passengers the chance to operate a lock.

Marlow And The River Thames
Looking up the River Thames towards the town of Marlow in Buckinghamshire ©Getty

Watersports

Enjoy a day of watery fun​​​​​​ with canoeing, wakeboarding, raft building or sailing. Engage Watersports in Taplow and Willen Lake in Milton Keynes offer an excellent range of activities for the whole family.

Cycling and biking

There are various cycling trails across the county, ranging from easy to hard. The Chiltern Hills make a stunning back drop for many, while others pass through attractive villages and farmland. Click here to explore the trails further.

Walking in Buckinghamshire

Aylesbury Ring, Ridgeway Path and the numerous other trails that pass through and around Buckinghamshire, walking in the county is a must. One of Buckinghamshire’s best walks wends through the countryside from Stone to Waddesdon Village, passing beautiful Eythrope Estate and Waddesdon Hill. For a more details on the 4.5-mile route, please click here.

Kingfishers nest along the banks of the Derwent
Kingfishers can sometimes be seen during this walk when crossing the River Thames © Getty

Places to stay around Buckinghamshire

Chiltern Yurt Retreat, Wendover

For a fun, romantic and comfortable retreat into nature, visit Chiltern Yurt Retreat. Here, there are a variety of lodges, yurts and cabins available, all of which are beautifully and rustically decorated. Nestled amid woodlands and meadows, you’ll be able to sit back and listen to the sound of hooting owls, watch roving deer and keep your eyes peeled for the flash of kingfishers and dragonflies. The accommodation is within walking distance of Wendover’s pubs and restaurants and offers easy access to the Chiltern Hills’ fabulous cycling and walking routes.

The seating area outside Hazel Tree Cabin, Chiltern Yurt Retreat © Chiltern Yurt Retreat
The seating area outside Hazel Tree Cabin, Chiltern Yurt Retreat © Chiltern Yurt Retreat

The Pointer, Brill

The Pointer resides atop the quintessentially British village of Brill. With astounding views, a mouth-watering gastro-pub, its own personal butcher and easy access to nearby shopping destinations such as Bicester village, The Pointer is the perfect destination for country walks, good meals and a little spot of retail therapy. Relax in front of a burning log fire before heading into the restaurant for a heavenly meal.

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Hartwell House and Spa, Vale of Aylesbury

Surrounded by 90 acres of stunning meadows, forests and gardens, Hartwell house is the epitome of a luxurious country retreat. Owned by The Natural Trust and bursting with antique treasures, Hartwell House offers wonderful dining, beautiful interiors and an extravagant spa and indoor swimming pool for those who are in need of a little pampering. Easily accessible from London, Hartwell House is minutes from Aylesbury Train Station. To explore the hotel further, please click here.