About midway between the capital and the coast, Basingstoke is a well-to-do Hampshire town that's home to the UK headquarters of a raft of big businesses in the fields of finance, retail, IT, telecommunications and electronics. It was expanded rapidly in the 1960s, after being earmarked to help cope with the London 'overspill' - that means there are few period buildings, but thanks to further recent investment Basingstoke remains a thriving modern town with plenty to see and do.
Thanks to its organised growth, Basingstoke is well planned, with countless opportunities for shopping, entertainment, sports, and leisure all within easy reach. The centre is dominated by the vast Festival Place shopping centre, which is home to over 200 shops, plus restaurants, cafes, a multi-screen cinema, a sports centre, and Basingstoke Discovery Centre, a library and community hub. The bus station and a multi-story car park are also incorporated into Festival Place.
Beyond the glass and steel, there are still some smaller-scale delights to discover in the town centre. A wander around the pedestrianised streets surrounding the Market Place - known locally as the Top of the Town - will give you more of a flavour of historic Basingstoke. Here there's more of a mix of independent shops, pubs, and restaurants, plus a street market on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
The Willis Museum, housed in the old town hall, reveals the area's local history and was once, it is said, where famous former resident Jane Austen used to come to dances with her sister.
As well as Austen's house in nearby Chawton, there's a whole host of other attractions in the countryside around Basingstoke, including Stratfield Saye House - the former home of the Duke of Wellington - and The Vyne, a National Trust-run mansion with an innovative adventure playground known as the Hidden Realm.