When travelling to England for the first time, it makes sense to start in London. There are plenty of options for flights from different airports to fly in to London – Heathrow in particular.
In most cases, you will be arriving early in the morning after an overnight flight. So, the priorities for the first day are to check in to your hotel, and to get acclimated to the area. Getting into London is very easy, with options including taking the Tube (London’s subway system”), taxis or private transfer.
Hotel options are available for every budget, and every location, including hotels that are really more like apartments. When we were in London, we stayed at what is now the Clermont London, Charing Cross, and the location could not have been better. We were within walking distance of Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Hyde Park, a Tube station, and the River Thames.
Day 1 – Visit Shakespeare’s Globe Theater
Also on the first day, you are going to be jet lagged, and schedules can be a little jumbled. So don’t schedule a lot to do on the first day. After checking in to our hotel, we walked along the Thames to the Globe Theater, where we had a scheduled late afternoon tour, and Afternoon Tea at a local restaurant.
Day 2 – Westminster Abbey and the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace
On our second day, we walked down to Westminster Abbey, where we had a scheduled tour including the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. On the way to the Abbey, we walked by Downing Street. The tour of Westminster Abbey lasted about 2 hours, and ended just in time to walk over to Buckingham Palace. The crowds at the Palace can be large, so going with a tour guide helps you get to a place where you can see.
After the Changing of the Guard, we found a local pub so that we could enjoy a lunch of Fish and Chips. From there, we walked over to the Churchill War Rooms.
Day 3 – Oxford and Stonehenge
We had 10 days in England, so we scheduled four trips out of the city. That may not be possible with only a week, but 2 all day trips can easily be scheduled. Most of the day tours start from Victoria Station, which is easily reached by Tube from anywhere in the city. On this day, we visited the Town of Oxford and the Stonehenge historic site. The Stonehenge site is really impressive. These massive stones were transported from sites miles away. Oxford of course is the home of Oxford University. The town also has religious historical significance with the early conflicts between Catholicism and Protestantism. In the middle of town is Martyr’s Memorial, to honor three Protestant Leaders who were put to death in Oxford by the government of Queen Mary, who was trying to reverse the country’s transition to Protestantism started by her father, King Henry VIII.
The all day tours can be long days, often starting before 8 AM and getting back after 6:00 PM, so you may have to skip the hotel breakfast and pick something up on the way. And, don’t make early dinner reservations.
I should note that, in all cases, I recommend booking your tour reservations before going. The lines to getting into these places, without advance reservations, can be quite long.
In the evening, you can also take a dinner cruise on the Thames. These typically start after 7:30, and will last 3 hours.
Day 4 – The Tower of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral
This can be another early day, in order to get to the Tower of London to see the opening ceremony. We took the tube from our hotel, in order to get there before 8:00 AM. We spent the morning at the Tower, including the Tower Bridge. Afterward, we walked to St. Paul’s Cathedral, stopping on the way for lunch in the Financial District at a small restaurant. We then spent a few hours touring the Cathedral. The Cathedral was about halfway back to our hotel, so we just walked the rest of the way back. The Tower of London not only houses the Crown Jewels, but also has a very impressive display of medieval armor, including Henry VIII’s armor.
That evening, we went to a play in the West End. The plays typically start at 8, so plan your dinner reservations accordingly.
Day 5 – Bath and Stratford on Avon
Again, these tours start early and end late, so plan accordingly. Bath has the old Roman Baths to explore, and has a beautiful Cathedral. In Stratford on Avon, visit the school where Shakespeare studied, and the church where he is entombed.
Day 6 – Several Options
Okay, on our trip, we went to the Formula 1 British Grand Prix at Silverstone instead. Getting to the Formula 1 Race was quite easy, but takes some planning. We booked our tickets several months in advance. To get to the track, we took the Tube to Euston Station, and then took a train to Milton Keynes. In Milton Keynes, we took a bus to the track. Afterward, we reversed the process. It was a long day starting at about 7:00 AM, and getting back to our hotel about 8:00 PM.
Instead of going to the race, you can always go to Windsor. Windsor is an easy day trip from London, and there are several options for guided tours to the Castle and the town.
When we went to England, we went on our own, but there are dozens of options for escorted tours to visit England. Trafalgar has an 8-day tour called the “London Explorer”, that includes much of what I described here. Prices start at $2,150 per person, plus air. Globus has a 7-day tour that is also based in London and includes day trips to Stratford on Avon and Oxford, and another to Stonehenge and Salisbury. Prices start at just under $2,000 per person, plus air. Of course, longer tours are available, and can include France, Scotland, and Ireland.
Flights to London are plentiful with direct connections from most major US airports.