How to See the Best of England in One Week

Aerial view of an orange overcast London through a rain speckled glass pane Shellmush/Flickr

If you’re coming to England for a short time, you want to make the most of it. Our week-long tour does just that. It might seem packed, but limiting much of the travel to short bursts helps you see more sights. The tour gives you a good dip into London (the Tower of London, British Museum), and then takes you on a highlights trip of places you could name almost without thinking (Windsor Castle, Stratford-upon-Avon, Oxford).

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Facade of Westminster Abbey, view from ground up Simon & His Camera/Flickr

On Day 1, start on the banks of the Thames, the mighty river that flows through London. A ride on the London Eye observation wheel near Westminster Bridge is one way to get your bearings.

Afterwards, cross Westminster Bridge, with its wonderful view of the Houses of Parliamentto the clock tower containing Big Ben. Walk past them and you’re at Westminster Abbey, where most of England’s queens and kings have been crowned and where many lie at rest. There’s time for the National Gallery, where you can take in the collection's must-see paintings, which include Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and works by Constable, Monet, and da Vinci. Dine around Covent Garden, the former fruit and vegetable market, now full of shops, bars, street artists, and restaurants. That also puts you on the doorstep of London’s Theatreland.

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Panoramic aerial view of the lobby of the British Museum Rick Harris/Flickr

On Day 2, start at the world’s most impressive city castle, the Tower of London. Afterward, walk out onto Tower Bridge and marvel at this Victorian engineering feat. Take a river bus for the short ride past the Tower, South Bank, and the Savoy Hotel to Embankment Pier, then walk north to the British Museum. This is one of the world’s greatest treasure troves—much of it plundered from other parts of the globe when Britannia ruled the waves.

You have time for St Paul’s Cathedral, masterpiece of architect Sir Christopher Wren. Cross the Millennium Bridge to Tate Modern, a vast power station now one of the world’s most exciting art museums. There’s dining, culture, and nightlife along the South Bank.

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Green lawn path to Royal Windsor Castle Karen Roe/Flickr

This is a perfect daytrip, and calmer than the previous two days: Windsor and Windsor Castle are just a half-hour train ride from London. Wander through St George’s Chapel, where monarchs are entombed, and stroll the Jubilee Gardens. You’ll need at least two hours, and maybe a bit more for a riverside stroll.

Then head back to London, where you might want to have a quiet walk in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens (basically the same park) for a look at the Albert Memorial, Queen Victoria’s tribute to her late husband. Now you’re in the Kensington and Knightsbridge area, and it’s not finding a restaurant that’s the problem—it’s choosing.

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The front of Anne Hathaway's Cottage and its greenery Ashley Van Haeftan/Flickr

From Marylebone Station, you can be in the riverside town of Stratford-upon-Avon in around two and a half hours. After checking into a hotel for two nights, head for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, which owns five Bard-related properties. Start with Shakespeare’s Birthplace; pop into Holy Trinity Church, where he's buried; and then move onto Hall’s Croft, where the poet's daughter, Susanna, lived. Then you can watch the Shakespeare production we know you arranged tickets for ahead of time . . . .

On the morning of Day 5, continue with the Shakespeare theme, visiting Anne Hathaway’s Cottage (where his wife lived before they married) and Mary Arden’s House (Glebe Farm) & Palmer’s Farm, his mother’s childhood home. Next, catch the train to Warwick (30 min.). Here you'll find Warwick Castle, one of England’s most intact standing fortresses.

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Oxford dreaming spires against orange cloudy sky with tree silhouettes Tejvan Pettinger/Flickr

You can get to Oxford by train in one and a half hours, changing at Banbury or Leamington Spa. After depositing your bags at your hotel, head for the Oxford Tourist Information Centre for a 2-hour walking tour. Have a late lunch and a pint at the 17th-century Turf Tavern; it’s where Bill Clinton used to hang out while at university.

In the afternoon, make for the Ashmolean, which echoes the British Museum’s ancient hoard. Around the corner is the quirky Pitt Rivers Museum, the collection of early anthropologist General Pitt Rivers.

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Path to Hospital of St. Mark through silhouetted archway Spencer Means/Flickr

From Oxford, it takes just over an hour to get to Winchester via train. This 9th-century stronghold of King Alfred the Great has one of England’s great cathedrals—also the burial place of novelist Jane Austen. Stroll along the banks of the River Itchen to the Hospital of St Cross, almshouses run by a charitable institution founded in the 12th century. Winchester has a thriving dining scene, too. Reserve your favorite ahead of arrival. You can return to your Oxford hotel for the night, stay overnight in Winchester, or make tracks for London on the quick Winchester–London Waterloo train (a little more than 1 hr.).

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