Great Itineraries in England

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Great Itineraries in England

London

Day 1. The capital is just the jumping-off point for this trip, so choose a few highlights that grab your interest. If it's the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, check the time to be sure you catch the pageantry. If Westminster Abbey appeals to your sense of history, arrive as early as you can. Pick a museum (many are free, so you needn't linger if you don't want to), whether it's the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, the British Museum in Bloomsbury, or a smaller gem like the Queen's Gallery. Stroll Hyde Park or take a boat ride on the Thames before you find a pub or Indian restaurant for dinner. End with a play; the experience of theatergoing may be as interesting as whatever work you see.

Windsor

Day 2. Resplendent with centuries of treasures, Windsor Castle is favored by the Queen, and has been by rulers for centuries. Tour it to appreciate the history and wealth of the monarchy. The State Apartments are open if the Queen isn’t in residence, and 10 kings and queens are buried in magnificent St. George's Chapel. Time permitting, take a walk in the adjacent Great Park. If you can splurge for a luxurious stay (versus making Windsor a day trip from London), head up the valley to Cliveden, the Thames Valley's most spectacular hotel.

Logistics: Trains from Paddington and Waterloo stations leave about twice hourly and take less than one hour. Green Line buses depart from the Colonnades opposite London's Victoria Coach Station.

Salisbury and Stourhead

Day 3. Visible for miles around, Salisbury Cathedral's soaring spire is an unforgettable image of rural England. See the Magna Carta in the cathedral's Chapter House as you explore this marvel of medieval engineering, and walk the town path to get the view John Constable painted. Pay an afternoon visit to Stourhead to experience the finest example of the naturalistic 18th-century landscaping for which England is famous; the grand Palladian mansion here is a bonus.

Logistics: For trains to Salisbury from Windsor Riverside, head back to London's Clapham Junction to catch a train on the West of England line.

Bath and Stonehenge

Day 4. Bath's immaculately preserved, golden-stone Georgian architecture helps you recapture the late 18th century. Take time to stroll; don't miss the Royal Crescent (you can explore the period interior of No. 1), and sip the Pump Room's vile-tasting water as Jane Austen's characters might have. The Roman Baths are an amazing remnant of the ancient empire, complete with curses left by soldiers. Today you can do as the Romans did as you relax in the warm mineral waters at the Thermae Bath Spa. There's plenty to do in Bath (museums, shopping, theater), but you might make an excursion to Stonehenge (by car or tour bus). Go early or late to avoid the worst crowds at Stonehenge, and use your imagination—and the good audio guide—to appreciate this enigma.

Logistics: Trains and buses leave hourly from Salisbury to Bath.

The Cotswolds

Day 5. Antiques-shop in fairy-tale Stow-on-the-Wold and feed the ducks at the brook in Lower Slaughter for a taste of the mellow stone villages and dreamy green landscapes for which the area is beloved. Choose a rainy or off-season day to visit Broadway or risk jams of tourist traffic. Another great experience is a walk on the Cotswold Way or any local path.

Logistics: Drive to make the best of the beautiful scenery. Alternatively, opt for a guided tour bus.

Oxford and Blenheim Palace

Day 6. Join a guided tour of Oxford's glorious quadrangles, chapels, and gardens to get the best access to these centuries-old academic treasures. This leaves time for a jaunt to Blenheim, a unique combination of baroque opulence (inside and out) and naturalistic parkland, the work of the great 18th-century landscape designer Capability Brown. For classic Oxford experiences, rent a punt or join students and go pub-crawling around town.

Logistics: Hourly trains depart from Bath for Oxford. Buses frequently depart from Oxford's Gloucester Green for Blenheim Palace.

Stratford-upon-Avon

Day 7. Skip this stop if you don't care about you-know-who. Fans of Shakespeare can see his birthplace and Anne Hathaway's Cottage (walking there is a delight), and then finish with a memorable performance at the Royal Shakespeare Company's magnificently renovated main stage. Start the day early and be prepared for crowds.

Logistics: From Oxford there are direct trains and a less frequent Stagecoach bus service.

Shrewsbury to Chester

Day 8. Head north to see the half-timber buildings of Shrewsbury, one of the best preserved of England's Tudor towns. Strolling is the best way to experience it. In Chester the architecture is more or less the same (though not always authentic), but the Rows, a series of two-story shops with medieval crypts beneath, and the fine city walls are sights you can't pass by. You can walk part or all of the city walls for views of the town and surrounding area.

Logistics: For Shrewsbury, change trains at Birmingham. The train ride to Chester is 55 minutes.

The Lake District

Days 9 and 10. In the area extending north beyond Kendal and Windermere, explore the English lakes and beautiful surrounding mountains on foot in the Lake District National Park. This area is jam-packed with hikers in summer and on weekends, so rent a car to seek out the more isolated routes. Take a cruise on Windermere or Coniston Water, or rent a boat, for another classic Lakeland experience. If you have time for one Wordsworth-linked site, head to Dove Cottage; you can even have afternoon tea there.

Logistics: Train to Oxenholme with a change at Warrington Bank Quay. At Oxenholme you can switch to Windermere.

York

Day 11. This historic cathedral city is crammed with 15th- and 16th-century buildings, but don't miss York Minster, with its stunning stained glass, and the medieval streets of the Shambles. Take your pick of the city's museums or go shopping; have tea at Betty's or unwind at a pub. A walk along the top of the city walls is fun too.

Logistics: By train from Oxenholme, switch in Preston, or from Carlisle change at Newcastle.

Cambridge

Day 12. Spend the afternoon touring King's College Chapel and the Backs—gardens and sprawling meadows—and refining your punting skills on the River Cam. The excellent Fitzwilliam Museum, full of art and antiquities, is another option, as is the Polar Museum. To relax, join the students for a pint at a pub.

Logistics: For train service, switch at Peterborough or Stevenage. Trains leave Cambridge for London frequently.

Hampton Court Palace

Day 1. Start your trip royally at this palace a half hour from London by train. It's two treasures in one: a Tudor palace with magnificent baroque additions by Christopher Wren. As you walk through cobbled courtyards, Henry VIII's State Apartments, and the enormous kitchens, you may feel as if you've been whisked back to the days of the Tudors and William and Mary. A quiet stroll through the 60 acres of immaculate gardens—the sculpted yews look like huge green gumdrops—is recommended. Be sure to get lost in the 18th-century maze—if it's open (diligent maintenance leads to occasional closures). It's easy to spend a whole day here, so start early.

Logistics: Tube to Richmond, then Bus R68; or catch the train from Waterloo to Hampton Court Station.

Tips

All stately homes in this itinerary, with the exception of Hampton Court Palace and Longleat House, are closed for winter, though gardens may remain open. Even homes open April through October may not be open every day. It's best to confirm all hours before visiting.

A car is best for this itinerary, as some houses are remote. Use a GPS or get good maps.

Country roads around the Peak District are hard to negotiate; be especially careful when driving to Chatsworth House, Haddon Hall, and Hardwick Hall. Drives will take longer than you expect.

Look into discount passes, such as those from the National Trust or English Heritage, which provide significant savings on visits to multiple sites. Memberships are also available.

Knole and Ightham Mote

Days 2 and 3. Clustered around Royal Tunbridge Wells south of London is the highest concentration of stately homes in England, and, as if that weren't enough, the surrounding fields and colorful orchards are often wrapped in clouds of mist, creating a picture-perfect scene. We've picked two very different homes to visit, leaving you plenty of time to tour at a leisurely pace. Knole, Vita Sackville-West's sprawling childhood home, has dark, baroque rooms and a famous set of silver furniture. Ightham Mote, a smaller, moated house, is a vision from the Middle Ages. Its rooms are an ideal guide to style changes from the Tudor to Victorian eras. Spend the evening at one of the many good restaurants in Royal Tunbridge Wells.

Logistics: Take the train from London's Charing Cross to Sevenoaks, from which it’s a 20-minute walk to Knole. There’s no public transportation to Ightham Mote.

Petworth House

Day 4. Priceless paintings by Gainsborough, Reynolds, and Turner (19 by Turner alone) embellish the august rooms of Petworth House, present-day home to Lord and Lady Egremont and one of the National Trust's treasures. Check out Capability Brown's 700-acre deer park or the Victorian kitchens, and for the perfect lunch peruse the offerings in the winding lanes of Petworth town. Head to Chichester for the evening, along a route passing through the rolling grasslands and deep valleys of the South Downs.

Logistics: Train to Chichester, switching in Redhill, then bus to Petworth.

Wilton House

Day 5. Base yourself in Salisbury for two days, taking time to see the famous cathedral with its impressively tall spire and to walk the town path from the Long Bridge for the best view of it. Visit neoclassical Wilton House (in nearby Wilton) first, where the exquisite Double Cube Room contains a spectacular family portrait by Van Dyck and gilded furniture that accommodated Eisenhower when he contemplated the Normandy invasion here. On your way back make a detour to Stonehenge to view the wide-open Salisbury Plain and ponder the enigmatic stones.

Logistics: Take a train from Chichester to Salisbury, with a switch in Cosham or Southampton; then bus it to Wilton House.

Stourhead to Longleat House

Day 6. Day-trip west from Salisbury to Stourhead to experience perhaps the most stunning house-garden combination in the country, and either spend the day here (climb Alfred's Tower for a grand view of the house) or leave some time for nearby Longleat House—a vast, treasure-stuffed Italian Renaissance palace complete with safari park and a devilish maze. If you want to see the safari park, you'll need plenty of time here. Once back in Salisbury, relax in one of New Street's many cafés.

Logistics: Bus to Warminster and then a taxi for the 5-mile journey to Longleat; for Stourhead, take the train to Gillingham from Salisbury, followed by a short cab ride.

Blenheim Palace

Day 7. Home of the dukes of Marlborough and birthplace of Winston Churchill, Blenheim Palace uniquely combines exquisitely designed parklands (save time to walk) and one of the most ornate baroque structures in the world. After your visit, have afternoon tea at Blenheim Tea Rooms in the adorable village of Woodstock. Overnight in Oxford; do your own pub crawl.

Logistics: From Salisbury by train, change at Basingstoke for Oxford, then catch a bus to Blenheim.

Snowshill Manor and Sudeley Castle

Days 8 and 9. Here you can take in the idyllic Cotswold landscape, a magical mix of greenery and mellow stone cottages and ancient churches (built with wool-trade money), along with some famous buildings. Spend the first night in Broadway to explore nearby Snowshill Manor—with its delightfully eccentric collection of Tibetan scrolls, Persian lamps, and samurai armor—in the unspoiled village of Snowshill. If you have a car, don't linger in busy Broadway. Instead, head to Chipping Campden, one of the best-preserved Cotswolds villages, which nestles in a secluded valley. Move to another charming town, Winchcombe, on the second day. Take a stroll past honey-color stone cottages and impeccably well-kept gardens. Visit Sudeley Castle, once home to Catherine Parr (Henry VIII's last wife), a Tudor-era palace with romantic gardens (only a few rooms are now open to the public). Another option near Winchcombe is Stanway House, a Jacobean manor owned by Lord Neidpath; hours are limited, but this timeworn home and its gabled gatehouse are typically English.

Logistics: Take a train from Oxford to Moreton-in-Marsh for the bus to Broadway; from Broadway, walk the 2½ miles to Snowshill Manor; for Sudeley Castle, take a bus from Broadway to Winchcombe, then walk.

Chatsworth House, Haddon Hall, and Hardwick Hall

Days 10 and 11. For the final stops, head north, east of Manchester, to a more dramatic landscape. In or near the craggy Peak District, where the gentle slopes of the Pennine Hills begin their ascent to Scotland, are three of England's most renowned historic homes. Base yourself in Bakewell, and spend your first day taking in the art treasures amassed by the dukes of Devonshire at Chatsworth House. The gardens, grounds, shops, and farmyard exhibits make it easy to spend a day here. If you have any time left over, get out of Bakewell and take a walk in the hills of the Peak District National Park (maps are available at the town's tourist information center).

On the second day, devote the morning to the crenellations and boxy roofs of medieval Haddon Hall, a quintessentially English house. Give your afternoon to Hardwick Hall, an Elizabethan stone mansion with a facade that’s "more glass than wall"—a truly innovative idea in the 16th century. Its collections of period tapestries and embroideries are remarkable reminders of the splendor of the age.

Logistics: Take a train back to Oxford and then up to Manchester for the connection to Buxton; then catch a bus to Bakewell.

Ongoing, late May–mid-September

Regent's Park Open Air Theatre. This theater gives you the chance to see Shakespeare's plays and other works. Inner Circle, London, NW1 4NU. 0844/826–4242. www.openairtheatre.com.

Ongoing, mid-July–mid-September

The Proms. The Proms is a celebrated series of classical-music concerts that take place largely in London, but a few events are held in cities across the country. Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore, London, SW7 2AP. 084/5401–5040. www.bbc.co.uk/proms.

December 31

New Year's Eve at Trafalgar Square. New Year's Eve at Trafalgar Square in London is a huge, freezing, sometimes drunken slosh through the fountains to celebrate the new year. Not organized by any official body, it is held in the ceremonial heart of London under an enormous Christmas tree.

Mid-March or early April

British Antique Dealers' Association Fair. British Antique Dealers' Association Fair is large and prestigious, with many affordable pieces. Duke of York Square, Chelsea, London, SW3 4LY. 020/7589–6108; 877/872–0778 in U.S. www.bada-antiques-fair.co.uk.

Head of the River Boat Race. The Head of the River Boat Race offers the spectacle of around 430 eight-man crews dipping their oars in the Thames around London as they race from Mortlake to Putney. The best view is from Surrey Bank above Chiswick Bridge (Tube to Chiswick); the starting time depends on the tide. www.horr.co.uk.

Oxford versus Cambridge University Boat Race. The Oxford versus Cambridge University Boat Race takes place a week or two after the Head of the River Boat Race, in the opposite direction but over the same 4½-mile course near London, carrying on a tradition going back to 1829. Around a quarter of a million people watch from the banks of the river. www.theboatrace.org..

April 21

Queen's Birthday. The Queen's Birthday (April 21) earns a showy 41-gun salute at Hyde Park in London. In June, Elizabeth II's ceremonial birthday (a Saturday in mid-June) is celebrated by Trooping the Colour.

Mid–late May

Chelsea Flower Show. The Chelsea Flower Show, a prestigious five-day floral extravaganza, covers 22 acres on the Royal Hospital grounds in London's Chelsea neighborhood. Tickets can sell out well in advance. Royal Horticultural Society, Royal Hospital Rd., London, SW3 4SR. 0844/338–7506 or 0121/767–4063. www.rhs.org.uk/chelsea.

Early June

Trooping the Colour. Trooping the Colour is Queen Elizabeth's official birthday show in June at Horse Guards Parade, Whitehall, London. (Her actual birthday is in April.) Note that on the two previous Saturdays there are Queenless rehearsals—the Colonel's Review and the Major General's Review. You can stand; seats require tickets which are allocated by ballot. Write for tickets in the seated stands from January 1 to February 28 (enclose SASE or International Reply Coupon): Brigade Major, HQ Household Division, Horse Guards,Whitehall, London, SW1A 2AX www.royal.gov.uk.

Mid-June

Royal Ascot. Royal Ascot is the most glamorous date in British horse racing. Usually held during the third week of June, the four-day event in the Thames Valley is graced by the Queen. Reserve months in advance for tickets. Ascot Racecourse, Ascot, SL5 7JS. 0870/727–1234. www.ascot.co.uk.

Late June

Glastonbury Festival. Glastonbury Festival, the biggest musical event in England, sprawls across Somerset farmland, where hundreds of bands (rock, pop, folk, and world music) perform on a half-dozen stages for three days and nights. Note: tickets sell out as soon as they go on sale. www.glastonburyfestivals.co.uk.

Late June–early July

Royal Henley Regatta. Royal Henley Regatta attracts premier rowers from around the world on the first weekend in July. High society lines the banks of the Thames during this five-day event. Henley-on-Thames, RG9 2LY. 01491/572153 Inquiry line; o1491/571900 Ticket line. www.hrr.co.uk.

Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships. Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships get bigger every year. Applications for the ticket lottery for the two-week tournament are available August through mid-December of the preceding year, but you can also line up early each morning for tickets for that day. 020/8971–2473 ballot ticket inquiries; 020/8944–1066 general inquiries. www.wimbledon.org.

Early July

Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, a six-day event on the grounds of the palace, nearly rivals the Chelsea Flower Show for glamour. Hampton Court Palace, East Molesley, Surrey, KT8 9AU. 0844/338–0338. www.rhs.org.uk/hamptoncourt.

Late August

International Beatleweek. International Beatleweek, at the end of August, sees hundreds of Beatles tribute bands descend on Liverpool to play to fans. Other events add to the fun. Liverpool. www.cavernclub.org.

November 5

Guy Fawkes Day. Guy Fawkes Day commemorates a foiled 1605 attempt to blow up Parliament. Fireworks shows and bonfires are held all over the country, with the biggest celebrations in Lewes in Sussex.

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