If you ever wanted to come to England as part of your Vacation to the UK then here's a quick guide on how to see the highlights in a week.
Spend at least three days of a weeklong trip to England in London. You may, in fact, want to stay in London for the entire week, making easy day trips from the city and returning to your hotel at night (that’s the premise I use in this itinerary). This saves you the wear and tear of lug- ging your baggage around. Plus you can often get special rates for a weeklong stay. To maximize your sightseeing time, try to book flights that arrive in the morning and depart in the evening. To avoid wasting time in lines (queues in Britspeak), try to hit the top London sights early in the day, preferably right when they open or late in the afternoon. I mean in particular Buckingham Palace (when it’s open to the public during Aug and Sept), the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, and Madame Tussauds wax museum. Westminster Abbey, to cite just one example, can receive more than 15,000 visitors a day!
Spend part of Day One settling into your London hotel, getting your bearings, and fighting jet lag. Don’t make it a big day, but make walking part of your itinerary. Walking gets you into the swing of London and helps your body adjust to the new time. Start your trip with a visit to majestic Westminster Abbey, visiting the Royal Tombs and Poets’ Corner. Afterward, because they’re right next door, stroll around Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Unless you queue up to hear a debate or come in August when Parliament offers guided tours, you can’t get inside, but you get a great riverside view from Westminster Bridge. On the opposite side of the Thames sits the British Airways London Eye, a 450-foot-high observation wheel. Reserve in advance for the trip up and over London; otherwise, you may spend at least a half-hour waiting in line for a ticket and another hour before your scheduled ride. You’re not far from the Tate Modern, so if you’re in the mood to look at modern art, walk along the Thames to London’s newest museum (open until 6 p.m. Mon–Thurs, until 10 p.m. Fri and Sat). If you’d rather look at 18th- and 19th-century masterpieces of British painting, head over to Tate Britain in Pimlico instead. Have dinner in the Covent Garden area or on the Thames.
Greet Day Two with a walk through Green Park. You’re on your way to Buckingham Palace to witness the pageantry of the Changing of the Guard (check beforehand to make certain it’s taking place that day). For details on touring Buckingham Palace’s State Rooms during August and September, see Chapter 12. Reserving tickets so that you know your spe- cific entry time is a good idea; otherwise, you may have to wait in line for an hour or more to get in. If you don’t tour the palace itself, visit the Royal Mews (the stables that surround the palace) or the newly reno- vated Queen’s Gallery. From Buckingham Palace, you can stroll down The Mall, through St. James’s Park, passing Clarence House, the home of the Queen Mother until 2002 and now the official London residence of the Prince of Wales, and St. James’s Palace.
Next, stop at Trafalgar Square, London’s grandest and certainly most famous plaza. You can have lunch or tea at the National Gallery’s restau- rant or in the restaurant in the crypt of St. Martin-in-the-Fields church on the square’s east side. Spend your afternoon viewing the National Gallery’s treasures. Renting one of the self-guided audio tours helps you to home in on the collection’s most important paintings. You can instead spend your afternoon in the National Portrait Gallery, next door to the National Gallery. The fascinating portrait gallery offers a concise but comprehensive display of famous Brits, from the Tudors to the Spice Girls. If you haven’t already reserved a seat for a West End show, you may want to stop by the half-price-ticket booth in nearby Leicester Square to see what’s available. Have dinner in Soho before the show.
On Day Four, hop on a train from Waterloo Station, and make the half- hour trip to Hampton Court Palace. Or, for a much longer but far more scenic alternative, take a boat. Boats usually depart Westminster Pier at 10 a.m. from April to September for the four-hour journey to the palace; you can also take the train there and the boat back. Give yourself a minimum of three unhurried hours at Hampton Court. Touring the various staterooms and apartments with an audio guide can give you a good historical perspective. The gardens can easily take up an hour. Have lunch or tea on the premises, and be back in London in plenty of time for dinner and a show.
On Day Five, take an early train from King’s Cross Station, and head up north to Yorkshire, where you can spend the day in the walled city of York. The train trip takes two hours, making York a relatively easy day trip from London. Or you may want to stay overnight. For an overview of York, considered northern England’s most beautiful city, hook up with a guided walking or bus tour — several options exist. Give yourself at least an hour to visit spectacular York Minster, the largest Gothic church in northern Europe. The stained glass is marvelous, and a fascinating museum lies beneath the church, where excavations have revealed Roman-era buildings. Two other attractions in York are definitely worth seeing: The National Railway Museum has royal train cars used by Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II, and the Jorvik Viking Centre lets you time-travel back to York in the Viking era. Set aside some time for wandering down York’s winding medieval lanes. You may also want to walk along the circuit of amazingly preserved medieval walls.
For Day Six, take your pick: Cambridge (trains from King’s Cross) or Oxford (trains from Paddington Station) are both easy-to-reach destina- tions for day trips from London. If you spent the night in York, you can take the train to either destination from there. Oxford and Cambridge are fascinating university towns with medieval colleges built around quadrangles. (See Chapter 13 for more details on both cities.) If you opt for Oxford, sign up for the two-hour walking tour that leaves at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. from the Oxford Information Centre. This tour is the best way to gain an overall perspective on the town and get into some of the major colleges, which you may not otherwise get access to. Later, you can spend an hour in the Ashmolean Museum, famed for its antiqui- ties, coins, and porcelain and painting collections. You can also take a two-hour walking tour in Cambridge, or you may prefer the open-top bus tour. You have to see King’s College Chapel, one of the most beautiful churches in England, in Cambridge; hearing the famous boys’ choir sing Evensong (an evening church service in which part of the liturgy is sung) is an unforgettable experience. Set aside an hour to tour the Fitzwilliam Museum; its fine and varied col- lection includes Egyptian, Greek, and Roman antiquities, and some modern British paintings. “The Backs” — so named because some of the colleges back onto the River Cam — is a beautiful place for strolling. If you feel adventurous, you can rent a punt (small boat) and pole yourself down the Cam; you can also pay to have someone do the punting for you.
Day Seven is your last day in London. Ideally, you booked your return flight for the evening, so you can have at least a few morning hours for more sightseeing, shopping, or both. Checkout time is probably no later than noon, so ask the hotel front desk if the hotel can store your lug- gage. If you haven’t made it to Harrods department store yet, do that first, or check out the other shopping options in Knightsbridge. Instead of shopping, you may want to squeeze in one last museum. Several major South Kensington museums aren’t far from Harrods, including the Natural History Museum, with its famous dinosaur exhibits, and the Victoria & Albert Museum, renowned for its superlative art and design collections. Instead of visiting a museum, you can visit Kensington Palace in Kensington Gardens, but allow yourself at least two hours if you do so. Following your morning activities, grab a quick lunch or snack and then make your way to the airport to catch your plane.