5.SOCIAL HISTORY RETURNED WWI BATTLEFIELD CROSSES NorfolkGARBOLISHAMStJohnBaptist(NickStone)

Discover our five star churches

Based on information on ExploreChurches, discover England’s ‘five star' churches and the best counties to discover different aspects of historic churches here!

  • Cumbria is best for national history
  • Norfolk for church interiors
  • Suffolk for stained glass
  • Cornwall for wildlife spotting
  • London for ‘five star' churches

Scroll down for some great examples to visit in each category.

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Bettany Hughes, Vice President of The National Churches Trust

"Our analysis will help tourists and visitors discover the amazing heritage of churches and chapels.

We hope it will encourage more people to become passionate about these tremendous buildings packed with memories of human life often dating back over 1,000 years.

As well as signposting the best architecture, stained glass, and history, our data also includes information on visitor facilities, which allows us to suggest which churches are ‘five star’ attractions.

Our study shows that churches and chapels offer a tremendous range of unique experiences for visitors including tower climbing, wildlife spotting and even live music. There really is something for everyone."

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The analysis follows the National Churches Trust’s poll of 2,037 British people, conducted by ComRes, which shows 49 per cent of British people visited a church in the last year.

24 percent said they visited a church building, chapel, or meeting house to attend a life event, such as a wedding, funeral or baptism and 22 percent said they visited a church building, chapel, or meeting house for tourism.

Almost a quarter said they would be more inclined to visit a church as a leisure activity or tourist attraction if there were better visitor friendly facilities (23 percent), and 19 percent said they would visit if they knew in advance that the door of the buildings was unlocked. 

The latest data will not only help tourists locate the best destinations for exploring churches in England, but will also put churches in line with other leisure facilities as tourism destinations in their own right. 

*The poll of 2,037 adults in Britain was conducted by ComRes, a member of the British Polling Council, on behalf of the National Churches Trust in September 2018. Full data table available.

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Greater London for Best Visitor Experience

What makes a church 5 star? Visitor centred facilities such as parking, refreshment and toilets have been deemed as key features of a 5 star church. Bringing churches closer in line with other major tourist and leisure attractions, this rating helps visitors know what to expect if planning a visit, from a practical point of view. 

Greater London scores the highest when it comes to visitor experience, with more than half (56 percent) of churches included in the study being accessible by public transport and providing parking, refreshments and toilets. Yorkshire was the second most visitor friendly (49 percent), followed by Surrey (38 percent). Churches in this category are commended for smoothly combining historically rich surroundings with modern day facilities. 

Why not visit a church in one of the top three counties for visitor facilities, here are some of the best:

Greater London TRAFALGAR SQUARE St Martin Fields
Yorkshire SILKSTONE All Saints
Surrey COMPTON Watts Chapel

ExploreChurches map search
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Norfolk for Top Interiors

Norfolk is joint first with Shropshire for the county with the highest percentage of churches with stunning interiors; including furniture, embroidered altar cloths, art, sculptures, carvings in wood and stone and ancient and modern wall and ceiling paintings. Nearly all (96 percent) of its churches are recognised for their interior features, followed by Somerset (94 percent), and Oxfordshire (93 percent).

Why not visit a church in one of the top three counties for glorious furnishings, here are some of the best:

Norfolk CAWSTON St Agnes
Shropshire WROXETER St Andrew
Somerset LONG SUTTON Holy Trinity

Glorious furnishings map search
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Cornwall for Wonderful Wildlife

Cornwall is the top place for discovering wildlife in church grounds, with almost half (49 percent) of its churches either having wildflower meadows, unmown areas of the churchyard to encourage native species or being recognized as sites of special scientific interest. Lincolnshire is the second best county (48 percent) for its wildlife friendly churches followed by Cumbria (42 percent). 

Why not visit a church in one of the top three counties for wildlife havens, here are some of the best:

Cornwall BUDE St Michael & All Angels
Lincolnshire ASHBY PEURORAM St Andrew
Cumbria GREAT ASBY St Peter

Wildlife haven map search
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Suffolk for Stunning Stained Glass

Suffolk joins Cornwall and Cumbria in the top three counties in England for stained glass windows, with 72 percent of its churches, the highest in the country, being recognised for the people they depict, the stories they tell and their famous designers from preRaphaelites to modern day artists.

Why not visit a church in one of the top three counties for spectacular stained glass, here are some of the best:

Suffolk HERRINGFLEET St Margaret
Cornwall ST NEOT St Neot
Cumbria BRAMPTON St Martin

Spectacular stained glass map search
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Shropshire for Most Charming Churchyards

Shropshire is the top county for exploring churchyards with 96 percent listing them as significant features, followed by Warwickshire (84 per cent) and Somerset (82 percent). Its churchyards are considered keepers of community heritage; a rich resource for seeking out family history and other historic information from gravestones. 

Why not visit a church in one of the top three counties for fascinating churchyards, here are some of the best:

Shropshire CHURCH STRETTON St Laurence
Warwickshire BERKSWELL St John the Baptist
Somerset BRYMPTON D'EVERCY St Andrew

Fascinating churchyard map search
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Cumbria for Amazing Atmosphere

Cumbria has the highest percentage of churches offering ‘atmospheric’ or other worldly surroundings (78 percent), followed by Cornwall, which is the second best county (69 percent). Often small and rural, these churches are sometimes referred to as the ‘thin places,’ a term used by Celts and Christians.  

Why not visit a church in one of the top three counties for enchanting atmosphere, here are some of the best:

Cumbria KIRKANDREW ON ESK St Andrew
Cornwall GUNWALLOE St Winwalloe
Lincolnshire SCAMPTON St John the Baptist

Enchanting atmosphere map search
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Cumbria for Links to National Heritage

Cumbria is the top county for churches with links to our national heritage with over half (54 percent) stating a famous connection or association with a national event, followed closely by Greater London which reported 53 per cent of its churches had national links.

Why not visit a church in one of the top three counties for links for national heritage, here are some of the best:

Cumbria KIRKBY LONSDALE St Mary
Greater London WESTMINSTER Westminster Abbey
Shropshire BATTLEFIELD St Mary Magdelene

National heritage here map search
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Northamptonshire for Magnificent Monuments

Northamptonshire has the highest percentage of church monuments (77 percent), followed by Warwickshire (66 per cent), Shropshire (61 per cent), and Suffolk (59 percent). It is recognised for being home to both large, detailed and glorious monuments, as well as those that are quirky and unique. Monuments include architectural or sculptural memorials made to remember individuals and historic events and often display fine stone carving and other artistic characteristics. 

Why not visit a church in one of the top three counties for magnificent monuments, here are some of the best:

Northamptonshire WARKTON St Edmund
Warwickshire STRATFORD UPON AVON Holy Trinity
Shropshire MORETON CORBET St Bartholomew

Magnificent monuments map search
5.SOCIAL HISTORY RETURNED WWI BATTLEFIELD CROSSES NorfolkGARBOLISHAMStJohnBaptist(NickStone)

Norfolk for Social History

Norfolk has the highest percentage of churches, both old or new, with 63 percent considered keepers of community history, with links to stories about people, activities and events throughout the years. Cumbria and Greater London follow closely with 61 percent of churches revealing more about our social history.  

Why not visit a church in one of the top three counties for social heritage stories, here are some of the best:

Norfolk GARBOLISHAM St John Baptist
Cornwall STRATTON St Andrew
Greater London CITY OF LONDON St Bride

Social heritage stories map search

About the study:

Churches were analysed across eight different categories; interiors, stained glass, churchyards, atmosphere, wildlife, national history, monuments and social history. The counties that are home to the highest percentage of churches in each of these categories are revealed to provide hotspots for church tourism. Visitor facilities were also examined to determine, for the first time, the county that has the highest percentage of ‘five star' churches, and therefore offering the best overall visitor experience.

We looked at all 2000+ churches across 77 counties. The data shows what is special about church heritage in different regions and puts our churches firmly on the map as major tourist attractions.

Only counties that have 26 or more churches (the national average for the number of churches per county) have been included in the final study to ensure a fair and comparable analysis. These include: Cumbria, Greater London, Shropshire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Northamptonshire, Hampshire, Cornwall, Somerset, Sussex, Herefordshire, Cambridgeshire, Surrey, Kent, Dorset, Yorkshire, Devon, Lancashire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Essex, Gloucestershire, Suffolk and Greater Manchester.

ExploreChurches is by the National Churches Trust for people who love church buildings