Tabulating opinions on England’s top sites

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The ITN staff found the strategy described in the following letter clever and thought that, with the wealth of guidebooks available on so many destinations, some readers might be inspired to use this method in planning which sites to visit.

In view of the plethora of guidebooks on England and their sometimes divergent opinions, a few years ago I thought it might be both interesting and useful to determine the degree of conformity among them in choosing what they considered that country’s top tourist attractions.

To do this, I took the seven guides I could find at the time that had some sort of numerical rating system, then I listed the top-rated sights of each and compared these ratings for frequency. The guides involved were. . .

• “Michelin The Green Guide: Great Britain” 1991 (a 2002 edition is available from Michelin Travel Publications. ISBN 2061003532. $18 paperback).

• “Michelin Red Guide: Great Britain and Ireland” 1991 (2003, available from French and European Publishers. ISBN 0320037436. $26 paperback). The Michelin guides each had three stars as the top rating; the two books were surprisingly divergent.

• Philip A. Crowl’s “The Intelligent Traveller’s Guide to Historic Britain” 1983 (now out of print, but a 1990 version is available from booksellers. Congdon & Weed. ISBN 0312923384. Paperback). This guide’s top rating was three asterisks.

• Baedeker’s “Great Britain” 1981 (2000, Baedeker. ISBN 0749524081. Paperback book-and-map edition, $25). Ratings up to two stars.

• “Blue Guide England,” published in 1980 in London by Ernest Benn (1995, W.W. Norton & Co. ISBN 0393313409. $24 paperback). Ratings up to two asterisks.

• “Two to Twenty-two Days in Great Britain” by Rick Steves” 1992 (out of print but can be found at used-book sellers and online. John Muir Publications. No ISBN available. Paperback). Ratings up to three triangles.

• “Nagel’s Encyclopedia Guide — Great Britain” 1982 (a 1985 version is out of print but available at used-book sellers and online. National Textbook Co. Trade. No ISBN available. Hardcover). Very excellent. This guide’s listings did not use a numerical rating system but implied top ratings.

What follows is a listing by frequency of those 39 sights considered tops by three or more of these guidebooks. I think it’s a good list around which to build an itinerary. For simplicity’s sake, whenever only part of a building and grounds complex received a top rating, I considered that a vote for the whole entity.

1. Top rated by all six were the British Museum, Westminster Abbey and York Minster.

2. Top rated by five out of six were the Canterbury Cathedral and Durham Cathedral, the Houses of Parliament, King’s College Chapel (Cambridge), Lincoln Cathedral, the National Gallery, Stonehenge, the Tower of London and the Victoria & Albert Museum.

3. Top rated by four out of six were Coventry Cathedral, Ely Cathedral, Fountains Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral (London), Tate Gallery, Wells Cathedral, Winchester Cathedral and Windsor Castle.

4. Top rated by three out of six were Arthur’s Castle (Tintagel), the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford), the town of Bath, Beverly Minster, Blenheim Palace, Chatsworth House, the Costume Museum (Bath), Hadrian’s Wall, Hampton Court, HMS Victory (Portsmouth), Kew Gardens, the Lake District, Longleat House, the town of Oxford, Regent’s Park Zoo, St. John’s College (Cambridge), Salisbury Cathedral, the Science Museum (London) and Stourhead House.

A word about the guidebooks
Special mention should be made of Rick Steves, because he was the most reluctant of any of these authors to hand out top ratings (only 12 or so for all of England). Also, his ratings were based on a predetermined itinerary: if it wasn’t on this itinerary, it wasn’t rated.

Crowl’s book was the most prolific in giving top rankings.

Steves’ 1992 guide, the smallest and cheapest of the lot, may have been too limited for in-depth sight evaluation, but it was well worth the price for its “how to” information (especially for how to get around economically and efficiently).

Three of the books (“Blue Guide England,” Crowl’s “Intelligent Traveller’s Guide” and Nagel’s “Encyclopedia Guide”) are encyclopedic in nature and would best be studied prior to one’s trip to England. But each has its disadvantage: “Blue Guide England” has very small print, Crowl’s is hard to obtain and Nagel’s is expensive. At least one of them should be consulted by any serious traveler, however.

Crowl’s, incidentally, is unique in its emphasis on military museums and the homes of literary figures. It also ignores natural features and fails to rank cities or districts per se (which, like Steves’ parsimony, somewhat skews this list of 39 sights).

Either Baedeker’s or the Michelin Green Guide, because of the scope, conciseness and portability of each, I think should be travel companions.

In contrast to Crowl’s, the 1991 Michelin Green Guide was strong on natural beauty, especially seascapes, but (like Crowl’s book) paid great attention to major country houses and their gardens. The Michelin Red Guide is primarily an accommodation/restaurant directory, with sights (if any) merely listed and rated at the beginning of the town entries.

Baedeker’s had a special thing about Oxford, stating that “among English towns [it is] second only to London in historical and architectural importance.” This contrasts with the book by Steves, in which he ignores Oxford altogether in his itinerary but is very strong on Bath, which he calls “Europe’s most underrated city.” The solution, of course, is to see both!

WALLACE SPAULDING
McLean, VA

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

The ITN staff found the strategy described in the following letter clever and thought that, with the wealth of guidebooks available on so many destinations, some readers might be inspired to use this method in planning which sites to visit.

In view of the plethora of guidebooks on England and their sometimes divergent opinions, a few years ago I thought it might be both interesting and useful to determine the degree of conformity among them in choosing what they considered that country’s top tourist attractions.

To do this, I took the seven guides I could find at the time that had some sort of numerical rating system, then I listed the top-rated sights of each and compared these ratings for frequency. The guides involved were. . .

• “Michelin The Green Guide: Great Britain” 1991 (a 2002 edition is available from Michelin Travel Publications. ISBN 2061003532. $18 paperback).

• “Michelin Red Guide: Great Britain and Ireland” 1991 (2003, available from French and European Publishers. ISBN 0320037436. $26 paperback). The Michelin guides each had three stars as the top rating; the two books were surprisingly divergent.

• Philip A. Crowl’s “The Intelligent Traveller’s Guide to Historic Britain” 1983 (now out of print, but a 1990 version is available from booksellers. Congdon & Weed. ISBN 0312923384. Paperback). This guide’s top rating was three asterisks.

• Baedeker’s “Great Britain” 1981 (2000, Baedeker. ISBN 0749524081. Paperback book-and-map edition, $25). Ratings up to two stars.

• “Blue Guide England,” published in 1980 in London by Ernest Benn (1995, W.W. Norton & Co. ISBN 0393313409. $24 paperback). Ratings up to two asterisks.

• “Two to Twenty-two Days in Great Britain” by Rick Steves” 1992 (out of print but can be found at used-book sellers and online. John Muir Publications. No ISBN available. Paperback). Ratings up to three triangles.

• “Nagel’s Encyclopedia Guide — Great Britain” 1982 (a 1985 version is out of print but available at used-book sellers and online. National Textbook Co. Trade. No ISBN available. Hardcover). Very excellent. This guide’s listings did not use a numerical rating system but implied top ratings.

What follows is a listing by frequency of those 39 sights considered tops by three or more of these guidebooks. I think it’s a good list around which to build an itinerary. For simplicity’s sake, whenever only part of a building and grounds complex received a top rating, I considered that a vote for the whole entity.

1. Top rated by all six were the British Museum, Westminster Abbey and York Minster.

2. Top rated by five out of six were the Canterbury Cathedral and Durham Cathedral, the Houses of Parliament, King’s College Chapel (Cambridge), Lincoln Cathedral, the National Gallery, Stonehenge, the Tower of London and the Victoria & Albert Museum.

3. Top rated by four out of six were Coventry Cathedral, Ely Cathedral, Fountains Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral (London), Tate Gallery, Wells Cathedral, Winchester Cathedral and Windsor Castle.

4. Top rated by three out of six were Arthur’s Castle (Tintagel), the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford), the town of Bath, Beverly Minster, Blenheim Palace, Chatsworth House, the Costume Museum (Bath), Hadrian’s Wall, Hampton Court, HMS Victory (Portsmouth), Kew Gardens, the Lake District, Longleat House, the town of Oxford, Regent’s Park Zoo, St. John’s College (Cambridge), Salisbury Cathedral, the Science Museum (London) and Stourhead House.

A word about the guidebooks
Special mention should be made of Rick Steves, because he was the most reluctant of any of these authors to hand out top ratings (only 12 or so for all of England). Also, his ratings were based on a predetermined itinerary: if it wasn’t on this itinerary, it wasn’t rated.

Crowl’s book was the most prolific in giving top rankings.

Steves’ 1992 guide, the smallest and cheapest of the lot, may have been too limited for in-depth sight evaluation, but it was well worth the price for its “how to” information (especially for how to get around economically and efficiently).

Three of the books (“Blue Guide England,” Crowl’s “Intelligent Traveller’s Guide” and Nagel’s “Encyclopedia Guide”) are encyclopedic in nature and would best be studied prior to one’s trip to England. But each has its disadvantage: “Blue Guide England” has very small print, Crowl’s is hard to obtain and Nagel’s is expensive. At least one of them should be consulted by any serious traveler, however.

Crowl’s, incidentally, is unique in its emphasis on military museums and the homes of literary figures. It also ignores natural features and fails to rank cities or districts per se (which, like Steves’ parsimony, somewhat skews this list of 39 sights).

Either Baedeker’s or the Michelin Green Guide, because of the scope, conciseness and portability of each, I think should be travel companions.

In contrast to Crowl’s, the 1991 Michelin Green Guide was strong on natural beauty, especially seascapes, but (like Crowl’s book) paid great attention to major country houses and their gardens. The Michelin Red Guide is primarily an accommodation/restaurant directory, with sights (if any) merely listed and rated at the beginning of the town entries.

Baedeker’s had a special thing about Oxford, stating that “among English towns [it is] second only to London in historical and architectural importance.” This contrasts with the book by Steves, in which he ignores Oxford altogether in his itinerary but is very strong on Bath, which he calls “Europe’s most underrated city.” The solution, of course, is to see both!

WALLACE SPAULDING
McLean, VA