Use the following itinerary to make the most out of a week in England, but feel free to drop a place or two to save a day to relax. One week provides enough time, although barely. Allow a day or two to introduce yourself to some of the attractions of London, such as the Tower of London or the British Museum. On Day 3 you can head for Windsor Castle, and on Days 4 and 5 you can call on the Bard at Stratford-upon-Avon with a side trip to Warwick Castle. Finally, you can make a quick day trip to Oxford on Day 6, climaxing your final day in England with a trip down the Thames to Hampton Court Palace.
Days 1 & 2: Arrival in London
Take a flight that arrives in London as early as possible on Day 1. Check into your hotel and enjoy an old-fashioned English breakfast. You might even find yourself skipping lunch.
Take the Tube to Westminster Abbey, the shrine of the nation where most of England's queens and kings have been crowned and where they are also buried. Check out the fan-vaulted Henry VII's Chapel (one of the loveliest in all of Europe), the shrine to Edward the Confessor, and, for a final look, Poets' Corner, where the literati are buried. After your visit (allow 1 1/2 hr.), stroll by the Houses of Parliament and that landmark clock of London, "Big Ben".
Continue walking north along Whitehall, bypassing 10 Downing Street, the official residence of the prime minister, and ending at Trafalgar Square, the hub of London and its most famous square.
On the north side of the square stands the National Gallery, where you will be able to see some of the highlights in 1 1/2 hours. Directly north of the square, you enter the precincts of Covent Garden, with dozens of places for lunch.
Then take the Tube to Charing Cross Station. Armed with a good map, walk along the Mall all the way to Buckingham Palace. If it's late summer, you might even be able to visit the palace when the queen is away.
After a look, head east for the one big attraction of the afternoon, the Tower of London. The much-photographed Beefeaters conduct hour-long guided tours.
On Day 2, take the Tube to Russell Square for your descent on the British Museum. This is the mammoth home of one of the world's greatest treasure-troves -- much of it plundered from other parts of the globe when Britannia ruled the waves. The most exciting of these treasures are the Elgin Marbles, taken from Greece, and the Rosetta Stone, taken from Egypt. You'll need at least 2 hours for the most cursory of visits. After the British Museum, head to the City, the financial district of London lying in the East End. An evocative and atmospheric luncheon stopover is Bow Wine Vaults, at 10 Bow Churchyard, EC4.
Fortified for the afternoon, head for St. Paul's Cathedral, the masterpiece of architect Sir Christopher Wren. At the top you'll be rewarded with one of the most panoramic of all London views.
On the south side of the Thames, pay a visit to Tate Modern, housing the greatest collection of 20th-century art in Britain. Allow at least 1 1/2 hours for the most cursory of visits.
Head for Westminster Bridge (Tube: Westminster), the embarkation point for a ride on the British Airways London Eye, the world's largest observation wheel. On a clear day at least, it provides you with a panoramic sweep of 40km (25 miles). It's the most popular ride in London.
Day 3: A Side Trip to Windsor Castle
Having sampled the charms of London in just 2 days, make Day 3 different by heading north of London to visit Windsor Castle, which the queen prefers as a royal residence even to Buckingham Palace itself. In just half an hour, a fast train from London will deliver you to the royal town of Windsor, site of England's most legendary castle. If you skipped the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace, you can see an even more exciting pageant taking place here from April to July Monday to Saturday at 11am (off-season hours differ slightly). Wander through such attractions as St. George's Chapel, where some British monarchs are entombed; and visit the Jubilee Gardens spread over .8 hectares (2 acres). You'll need at least 2 hours to explore the castle.
Head back to London, arriving at Waterloo or Paddington Station where you can take the Tube to Hyde Park (Marble Arch). Strolling through this "green lung of London," take in the miniature lake, Serpentine, and listen to protesters at Speakers' Corner demanding the overthrow of the government.
After a visit, head for the heart of Mayfair, Grosvenor Square, before window-shopping along Oxford Street or else New and Old Bond streets. End up at the Burlington Arcade and have tea at the world's most famous grocery store, Fortnum & Mason. After tea, walk east into Piccadilly Circus, the hub of London.
Days 4 & 5: Stratford-upon-Avon
From London's Paddington Station, you can be in Stratford-upon-Avon in just 2 hours. After checking into a hotel here for 2 nights, you can begin your tour of the Shakespeare properties, after stopping in at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and purchasing a global ticket.
After lunch in Stratford, try to visit at least three of the Shakespeare-related properties in the afternoon, including Shakespeare's Birthplace; Holy Trinity Church, where he is buried; and Hall's Croft, where his daughter, Susanna, lived.
That night have dinner and a pint at the Black Swan, nicknamed "the Dirty Duck".
On the morning of Day 5, continue your exploration of the Shakespeare properties by visiting Anne Hathaway's Cottage and Mary Arden's House (Glebe Farm)/Palmer's Farm.
After lunch in Stratford, head in the afternoon to Warwick Castle, England's greatest medieval castle, lying only 13km (8 miles) northeast of Stratford. Trains run frequently throughout the day between Stratford and the city of Warwick. You can go on a 2-hour tour before the castle closes at 6pm in summer. Return to Stratford for the night. Instead of going to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre this time, visit the auxiliary theater, the Swan, since it presents somewhat more unconventional productions but with actors just as skilled as those who perform in the main theater.
Day 6: Oxford & its University
Return to London and then transfer on to another fast train leaving from Paddington Station, reaching Oxford in 1 1/2 hours. Five trains run to Oxford every hour.
For atmosphere and affordable food, have lunch at the Turf Tavern, following in the footsteps of everybody from Elizabeth Taylor to Bill Clinton. We'd then recommend a 2-hour walking tour that departs at 2pm daily from the Oxford Tourist Information Centre. This is the best orientation for the highlights of this university city. To crown the afternoon, climb Carfax Tower for a panoramic view of the "city of dreaming spires." If there's still time in the afternoon, engage in that popular local pastime: "Punting the River Cherwell".
Day 7: Blenheim Palace & Hampton Court Palace
If you move fast enough, you can see two of England's greatest palaces -- each one different -- before the day's end. From Oxford, trains depart every 12 minutes to Woodstock, home of Blenheim Palace, called England's answer to Versailles. The ancestral seat of the dukes of Marlborough, it was also the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. After a tour of the palace, lasting 1 1/2 hours, return to Oxford and take a fast train back to London, where you can check into a hotel.
There will still be time in the afternoon to visit Hampton Court Palace, the 16th-century palace once lived in by the lusty Henry VIII ("the marrying kind"). You can take frequent trains from London for the 21km (13-mile) journey.
Allow yourself a minimum of 3 hours to explore this magnificent palace and its great gardens.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.