Popular London Shore Excursions
You can visit plenty of attractions in London for free or inexpensively. Our favorite freebies are the museums (charge for special exhibits). These include the British Museum, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Tate Britain, Tate Modern, Natural History Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, Museum of London and Science Museum. Other free attractions include the pageantry of the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace and the craziness of the ad hoc speechmakers who do their thing at the Speakers' Corner of Hyde Park. We also love the city's markets, which offer a chance to view local life and pick up some bargains.
What many visitors aim to see is atop St. Stephen's Tower near the Houses of Parliament. Big Ben is named for the 13-ton bell inside the clock. When it was completed in 1859, it had the largest bell in the U.K. Its accuracy is controlled using old pennies. The coins act as counterweights in the clock's mechanism to ensure it keeps time to the nearest second. A photo is a must-do. Only permanent residents in the U.K. are permitted to visit the clock tower; tours must be arranged through your member of Parliament (MP) months in advance. Note that Big Ben is currently cloaked in scaffolding for an extensive restoration project, expected to be completed in 2021. Tube: Westminster.
The spectacular Gothic buildings overlooking the Thames, known as the Houses of Parliament are home to the British government. They comprise the House of Lords and the House of Commons. U.K. residents can arrange tours of the Houses of Parliament through their MP, but tours are not available to overseas visitors. U.K. residents and overseas visitors can book tickets for a guided or audio tour of the Houses of Parliament on Saturdays throughout the year and on selected weekdays during Parliamentary recesses. There is also the option to book a table service afternoon tea. U.K. residents and overseas visitors may watch debates free on current issues or proposed new laws in both Houses by visiting the public galleries. (Westminster; +44 (0)20 7219 4272; open to the public when Houses are sitting (meeting), from Monday to Thursday and on "Sitting Friday," 2:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Monday, 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Thursday, 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sitting Friday; Tube: Westminster)
Free tickets are necessary for entrance to Prime Minister's "Question Time" and are issued to U.K. residents through their MP. Overseas visitors and U.K. residents without tickets can queue but will only gain entrance if there is space after ticket holders are admitted. Expect heavy security and airport-style searches when entering.
London's largest museum, the British Museum is one of the most visited attractions in the city. Highlights include the Elgin Marbles, a collection of sculptures and architectural features acquired by Lord Elgin when he was ambassador to the Ottoman court of the Sultan in Istanbul. Originally, they were part of the Parthenon in Greece, and every now and then, the Greek government asks for their return. To date, however, they can still be seen in London. Another important exhibit is the Hoxne hoard, a collection of more than 15,000 gold and silver coins, gold jewelry and items of silver tableware, which was buried a 407 or 408 A.D. and discovered in Sussex in 1992. Admission is free. (Great Russell Street; +44 (0)20 7323 8299; galleries open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily, most open until 8:30 p.m. Fridays, Great Court, tickets for special exhibits and information and ticket desks open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily and until 8:30 p.m. Fridays. Tube: Holborn).
It is fun to watch the Changing of the Guard at the Queen's 600-room London residence -- Buckingham Palace. The Queen's Gallery is worth visiting to see hundreds of objects collected by George III and Queen Charlotte after 1762, when George III purchased the house for his bride. You can also get inside 19 lavishly furnished State Rooms adorned with works by Rembrandt, Rubens and others, but only when the royals decamp to Balmoral in Scotland, mid- to late-summer. The Royal Mews is home to a grand collection of historic carriages and coaches -- many still used today -- such as the Irish State Coach the Queen takes to the opening of Parliament and the nearly four-ton Gold State Coach that has carried every monarch to their coronation since 1821. The Changing of the Guard takes place in front of the palace daily during summer, and less frequently the rest of the year; check online for schedule. (St. James Park; +44 (0)20 7766 7300; State Rooms open mid-July through September only 9:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. daily, The Queens Gallery open 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily, The Royal Mews open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. February through October, but hours vary, so check ahead; Tube: St. James's Park).
Carnaby Street is a five-minute walk from Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus Tube stations in the heart of London's West End. It has regained its Swinging Sixties vibe with fashion and lifestyle stores -- as well as some excellent dining options. It is also known for holding fantastic shopping events, live music gigs and pop-up concepts. Carnaby Street marks the west side of the square mile which makes up Soho, still London's most eclectic and LGBTQ-friendly neighborhood, packed with bars, clubs, restaurants, boutiques and independent shops. Soho is a great place to walk the streets, stop for a coffee and people watch. It is flanked by Theaterland in the south along Shaftesbury Avenue; Oxford Street to the north and Tottenham Court Road to the east.
The world famous store Harrods, a British institution, attracts about 15 million customers annually and is London's largest retail space, spread over seven floors. It is well worth a visit, even if it is just to admire the architecture and interior design. You'll also find branded gift items, such as leather diaries embossed with Harrods crest, luxury tea from its Food Hall or iconic teddy bears and bags in Harrods colors green and gold. For those who have money to cast to the winds, some of the most expensive items sold here include a yacht costing £102 million, Ambootia Snowmist tea at £4,900 per kilogram and a handmade bed at £52,000. Rules at the store include no photography in certain departments, presentable clothes -- no torn jeans or rucksacks -- and unaccompanied children younger than 16 are not allowed. (Knightsbridge; +44 (0)20 7730 1234; open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, browsing only between 11:30 a.m. and noon; Tube: Knightsbridge).
Once a venue for duels, executions and royal hunts -- and a giant potato field during WWII -- Hyde Park is a manicured park filled with idle sun-seekers along the Serpentine Lido swimming venue and joggers running a broad swath through an urban English countryside. Check out the Henry Moore and Jacob Epstein sculptures dotted throughout. Head to the northeast corner, and you'll see rambling orators astride soapboxes at Speakers' Corner going on about anything they want -- a kind of retro standup act that started in 1872 in response to serious riots. The only rule is they can't be obscene or otherwise breach the law.
Kensington Palace is the birthplace of Queen Victoria and the former home of Princess Diana. The unprecedented outpouring of grief after Diana's death brought the biggest collection of flowers there. The seven-mile-long Diana Memorial Walk winds its way in a figure-eight and is marked by 90 handsome circular plaques. Current Palace residents include Prince and Princess Michael of Kent, the Duke and Duchess of Kent and the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester. The three men are the queen's cousins. In fall 2013, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge moved into Princess Margaret's former apartment, and Prince Harry also now lives at Kensington Palace. Permanent exhibitions include "Victoria Revealed," which explores the reign of one of the palace's most famous residents, Queen Victoria; the King's State Apartments, which tell the story of the Hanoverian court; the Queen's State Apartments, which offer a more modern and theatrical display to tell the story of William and Mary up to George I; ; and the Palace Gardens. While at the palace, have a light lunch or afternoon tea in The Orangery. This 18th century greenhouse was built for Queen Anne. They don't take reservations. (Kensington Gardens; +44 (0)20 3166 6000; open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. year-round; Tube: High Street Kensington).
The Natural History Museum is housed in one of London's finest Gothic-revival buildings; prime exhibits include "Visions of Earth," where you can see a piece of the moon; the coelacanth, a prehistoric fish still living in the Indian Ocean; and the Volcanoes and Earthquakes gallery. The Darwin Centre offers behind-the-scenes access to Charles Darwin's collection. Admission is free here, though there is a charge for some temporary exhibitions. (Cromwell Road; +44 (0)20 7942 5000; open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily; Tube: South Kensington).
Notting Hill, which gained prominence after the 1999 film of the same name, is relatively new by London standards. In the 19th century, the area was dominated by potteries and pig farms, but it is now one of London's fashionable areas. The biggest street festival in Europe, the wonderful, colorful and exuberant Notting Hill Carnival takes place over three days at the end of August and if you find yourself here at the time it's well worth a visit; while the extensive Portobello Market is always a draw for bargain hunters. Arts- and crafts-lovers will enjoy the small, independent galleries that abound in the area. (Tube: Notting Hill Gate).
As the gateway to the West End of London, Piccadilly Circus is where five of London's busiest streets meet. By day, it's a bustling area filled with tourists, shoppers and business people. By night, it springs to life with high-voltage hues of neon and a big party vibe. Have a seat at the statue of Eros in its center before joining the throng to shop, dine, go to the theater or the movies and sightsee. Tube: Piccadilly Circus.
Created by King Henry VIII in the 16th century, St. James's Park is one of London's loveliest. You'll see ducks, swans and even pelicans, a large lake and the central bridge that offers great views of Buckingham Palace. Nearby St. James's Palace (also built by Henry VIII) is one of London's oldest buildings. Unfortunately, it is not open to the public, but you can try to get the two ever-present Royal Household Guards standing guard in their cherry red tunics and "busby" hats to smile. (They won't do it.) (SW1; +44 (0)300 061 2350; open 5 a.m. to midnight; Tube: St James Park).
St. Paul's Cathedral is Sir Christopher Wren's 17th-century Baroque masterpiece (the only cathedral to have been built by a single architect and completed in his lifetime). The dome (second in size only to St. Peter's in Rome) and 295-step climb are the best part. Try a touchscreen multimedia tour in which zoomable close-ups of breathtaking mosaics and paintings help you see St Paul's in depth. Multimedia guides and guided tours reveal the history, architecture and daily life of the cathedral. The American Memorial Chapel should not be missed -- it's a moving tribute to nearly 30,000 American soldiers who were stationed in Britain and lost their lives in WWII. Check out photos of Charles and Di tying the knot in 1981. After your visit, take time to enjoy a quintessentially English afternoon tea in the onsite restaurant. You can enjoy delicate sandwiches, scones with clotted cream, a sumptuous variety of cakes and perhaps a glass or two of English sparkling wine. Many free musical events are scheduled throughout the week, including orchestral masses, cathedral choirs, and organ recitals; check online for schedules. Editor's note: Bear in mind that when you whisper secret messages in the Whispering Gallery, everyone else standing there will hear them, too. (Ludgate Hill; +44 (0) 20 72468348; open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday; check for later hours in summer; Tube: St. Paul's).
An impressive historical archive of British art, the Tate Britain is filled with works by the likes of J.M.W. Turner and Thomas Gainsborough. Admission is free. (Millbank; +44 (0)20 7887 8888; open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily; Tube: Pimlico). Younger sister, and home to a massive collection of international modern art (from 1900 to present day) by artists like Matisse, Picasso, Dali, Warhol -- along with a good showing of British upstarts -- the Tate Modern, housed in a magnificent former power station on the South Bank of the Thames, is a must-see gallery. Admission is free. The two galleries are connected by riverboat, which leave directly opposite each gallery and is a fun way to visit them both. (Bankside; +44 (0)20 7887 8888; open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; Tube Blackfriars or Southwark)
When hunger strikes, head down the Thames to the Borough Market. Located on the South Bank of the Thames, near London Bridge, the market was established 250 years ago and still does an overnight wholesale trade every night, except Saturday. Make a meal of cheese from one of the dairy shops, buy a loaf of bread and some meat pies, and check out the freshest produce in London. There are also restaurants, caf?s and bars serving a wide variety of food and drink in informal settings. (Southwark Street; +44 (0)20 74071002; stalls and shops operate from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed Sunday; Tube: London Bridge).
The original London residence of the British Royal Family, the Tower of London is a walled complex of ancient buildings right in the middle of the city. It is home to the Crown Jewels, Beefeaters and Anne Boleyn's chopping block. Kids will like the cool collection of armor. It's pricey to get in (family tickets are available), but the Beefeaters give free, one-hour guided tours every half hour. Arrive early to avoid long lines in the summer to see the jewels. The Ceremony of the Keys, which is the traditional locking up of the Tower of London takes place every night. This is when the red-coated and Tudor-bonneted Chief Warder carries a candlelit lantern and the Queen's Keys to lock the tower gates as all the guards and sentries salute the keys. Visitors must apply well in advance to attend the free ceremony. Observers are escorted to the tower at 9:30 p.m., and the ceremony ends at 10:05 p.m. No toilet facilities or refreshments are available, and no photography is allowed. (Tower Hill; +44 (0)20 3166 6000; open 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sunday and Monday, last admission 5 p.m.; Tube: Tower Hill).
One of the world's most famous spans, the Tower Bridge is an excellent example of Victorian engineering. Opened in 1894, it still operates using the original mechanisms. Climb to the North Tower for excellent views. Check online for bridge lift times. (Tower Bridge Road; April to September, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., October to March 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Tube: Tower Hill).
Check out popular musicals at London's many theaters, which are clustered around Covent Garden and Shaftesbury Avenue (collectively known as Theatreland)."The Mousetrap" is still piling them in as it has been doing since 1952, as well as other classics such as "Les Mis", "The Lion King" and "Matilda", as well as more contemporary shows. Book your shows through the TKTS facility for a good deal (Leicester Square's Clocktower Building). The service often has half-price tickets available for same-day shows. Tip: Order your intermission drinks before curtain to avoid the mad rush to the bar. (Tube: Leicester Square).
Pedestrianized Trafalgar Square is great for people watching and soaking up London ambience. Built in 1805 following Britain's naval victory in the Battle of Trafalgar, the square is adorned with fountains and statues, the most famous being that of Admiral Horatio Nelson (a triumphal memorial to England's victory over Napoleon) in the center. There are four plinths in each of the corners of the square; the sculpture atop the one in the top left (looking north), changes every few months. Stop to see the National Gallery and the nearby National Portrait Gallery, featuring famous British personages. (Tube: Charing Cross).
The Victoria and Albert Museum -- or simply the "V&A" --is where you'll see thousands of items, including the enormous Great Bed of Ware mentioned in "Twelfth Night" and which is said to be haunted, an 8-feet-wide petticoat and glorious hanging panels from Oxburgh Hall that were painstakingly embroidered by Mary Queen of Scots during her imprisonment from 1569-1585. If you're after newer items, you can see pairs of Elton John's spectacles and Adam Ant's jackets. The museum has indoor and outdoor cafes. Admission is free. (Cromwell Road; +44 (0)20 7942 2000; open daily 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m., until 10 p.m. Fridays; Tube: South Kensington).
Westminster Abbey is the site of every British Coronation since William the Conqueror in 1066 and is also the final resting place for countless Royals and nobility since the 13th century. The church was also the site of Princess Diana's funeral service. Elizabeth I is buried on the North Aisle of the 1519 Chapel of Henry VII (he's behind the Altar); Geoffrey Chaucer and Lewis Carroll are over in Poets' Corner with William Shakespeare. Check out the 700-year-old oak Coronation Chair and High Altar of the Sanctuary. Guided tours are offered throughout the day. (Westminster; +44 (0) 20 7222 5152; open Monday to Friday 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., or until 3 p.m. May to August, open for worship only on Sundays and religious holidays; Tube: Westminster).
Military history buffs will want to stop by at the Cabinet War Rooms to see the underground bunker from which Winston Churchill directed the British efforts in WWII. The rooms are exactly as they were during the war, and there are lots of photographs and wartime memorabilia. (King Charles Street; +44 (0) 20 7930 6961; open 9:30 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. daily, till 5 p.m. September through June; Tube: Westminster).Another haunt for wartime buffs is the Imperial War Museum. (Lambeth Road; +44 (0)20 7416 5000; open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily; Tube: Elephant & Castle).
Among the numerous royal haunts, Hampton Court Palace is famous for its giant hedge maze, planted in 1690, as well as its ghosts; we like to arrive by boat, via the Thames, but there are direct rail services from Waterloo. The palace gardens are a joy as is seeing the oldest tennis courts in the U.K. The Tudor and Baroque palace itself is magnificent. It is the oldest Tudor royal residence in England. (Surrey; +44 (0)20 3166 6000; open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, last admission 5 p.m., last entry to maze 5:15 p.m.; National Rail: Hampton Court Station).
Gardeners will want to ogle the orchids inside the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew Gardens. Established in 1759 and home to more than 40,000 varieties of plants, the Princess of Wales Conservatories offer 10 environments. Make sure you see the Palm House (a lovely, 19th-century, wrought-iron and glass pavilion), the 10-story pagoda and 1631 Kew Palace, which was a country retreat for King George III. There's also an on-site restaurant. Located along the banks of the Thames, it's an easy, no-climbing walk. (Kew Road, Richmond; +44 (0)20 8332 5000; open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, last entry 6 p.m.; Tube: Kew Gardens).
Westfield is a relatively new, upscale and elegant shopping mall offering a designer section and flagship stores for everything from Hollister to Topshop to Prada. The mall contains several restaurants, decent bars and a multiplex cinema -- perfect for rainy days. Tube: Shepherd's Bush.
One of the world's largest observation wheels, London Eye serves up great views of London's best from 32 capsules during a 30-minute ride (though it might seem like a lifetime because it moves at a snail's pace). If the weather is clear, you can see Windsor Castle from the top. Book in advance to avoid long queues. (Jubilee Gardens; +44 (0)871 781 3000; open daily 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., but longer hours offered Spring through Fall; Tube: Waterloo).
If you're docked in Greenwich, you're a bit removed from many of the major attractions in London, but there's plenty in history-filled Greenwich to keep you occupied for a day, all of it easily walkable. This is where Longitude "0" was established, and in 1884 Greenwich was chosen to denote the Prime Meridien Line, the point from which time is measured round the world. But actually the Greenwich story begins long before -- the royal Palace of Placentia was built here in the 15th century, and many royals were born in Greenwich, including Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.
Maritime Greenwich is one of London's four UNESCO World Heritage-listed sites. The first examples of Palladian architecture in England are here, as well as renowned architecture of Christopher Wren and Inigo Jones. But Greenwich will always be inextricably linked to the Royal Observatory, which sits up on a hill just a short walk from the port. Here, the royal family named its first astronomer to study the skies, and because navigation and time are linked to the stars it was from here that the world could be charted with increasing accuracy. At the Meridien Line you can straddle both the western and eastern hemispheres -- check out London's only planetarium, and explore the museum, which holds such relics as the first chronometers and other navigational and astronomical instruments. (Blackheath Ave.; 44 (0)20 8312 6608; the museum is open daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.)
Admission is free to the National Maritime Museum, home to some of the artifacts from Britain's long, proud naval history, along with temporary exhibitions. The collection includes such treasures as the uniform Admiral Nelson was wearing when he was fatally wounded at the Battle of Trafalgar; J.M.W. Turner's largest painting, "The Battle of Trafalgar," and other artworks; the first speedboat to attain 100 mph, Miss Britain III; and the golden state barge built for Frederick, Prince of Wales in 1732. (Greenwich, no street address; 44 (0)20 8312 6608; open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
Built for Anne of Denmark, queen of King James I, the Queen's House was the first commission for Inigo Jones following his Grand Tour of Italian architecture in 1613-1615. As such, it was also Britain's first Palladian building, a style which became exceedingly popular in England over the next century. While notable for its classical architecture, the Queen's House inside is devoted to an art collection of marine paintings and portraits. (Romney Road; 44 (0)20 8312 6608; free admission; open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
Unmissable from the Thames, Cutty Sark is the only surviving tea clipper, used at the height of the tea trade with China, when the only route to Asia was around Africa's Cape of Good Hope and speed was of the essence. When the Suez Canal opened, 3,300 miles were cut off the journey, making the 563-ton clipper less cost efficient than steam ships. But Cutty Sark remains a beauty and, following a devastating fire in 2007, the ship been carefully restored and converted into a museum. Visitors can walk beneath the gleaming copper hull and check out the captain's cabin and bunk beds for the crew. (King William Walk; 44 (0)20 8312 6608; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
It's worth finding the Greenwich Market, an open-air market with stalls selling clothing, vintage books, vinyl records, antiques and art, and more than a dozen food stands selling a variety of local and ethnic cuisines. (Between Nelson Rd. and A206; 44 (0)20 8269 5096; open daily 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.) There are lots of places to grab a bite, but the Trafalgar Tavern wins for its Thames-side view of Canary Wharf and a menu of burgers and proper fish and chips. (Park Row; 44 (0)20 3887 9886; open daily 12 noon to 11 p.m.)
On the opposite side of the Thames from Greenwich lies Canary Wharf, an area that just a few decades ago was derelict and dodgy. Massive redevelopment in what was London's docklands has turned it into the world financial center it is today, with towering edifices a testament to its success. There's little to see there (apart from the aforementioned buildings); but if you do have time, it's worth jumping on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) from the Cutty Sark station, and changing there (to the Jubilee Line) for travel to North Greenwich where you can visit both the Millennium Dome (which has featured in a James Bond movie and now houses temporary exhibitions); -- and take a cable car across the Thames for great views.
On the other side of the city, you'll fined another domed building -- Royal Albert Hall, which opened in 1871 and features three Italianate porches and a mosaic frieze around a crown. Check out the Promenade Concerts (Proms to locals) -- a series of classical music concerts in July and August. (Kensington Gore; +44 (0)20 7589 8212)
Exhibitions change frequently at the Saatchi Gallery, an art museum that houses many interesting works. Admission is free. (Duke of York's HQ, King's Road; +44 (0)20 7823 2363; open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily; Tube: Sloane Square).
If you have kids in tow, they'll love the chance to touch 2,000 hands-on exhibits and visit more than 40 galleries heralding major scientific advances from the past 300 years at the Science Museum, the largest museum of its kind in the world. The Wellcome cq Wing is exceptionally cool. You can change your gender (simulated, of course) or see what you'll look like in 30 years. Admission is free. (Exhibition Road; +44 (0)20 7942 4000; open daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Tube: South Kensington).
On a warm, summer evening, the best place to pay homage to the bard in London is at Shakespeare's Globe, a reconstruction of the playwright's theatre on the banks of the Thames. There are no performances from October to April because it is an open-air venue, but an exhibition and tours are available year-round, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (confirm exact times prior, as rehearsals in summer may affect tour schedule). The original 16th-century playhouse was accidentally set on fire during Shakespeare's performance of Henry VIII. This venue was recreated to near-exact specifications. (21 New Globe Walk, Bankside; +44 (0)20 7902 1400; Tube: Blackfriars or Mansion House).
There's so much to see in London you might not want to stray, but if you do, Windsor is a lovely town to visit. At the castle, the official residence of the queen, you can visit the State Apartments, furnished with art from the Royal Collection; see Queen Mary's famous Doll House; and visit St. George's Chapel, one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in England and the location of the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in 2018. Take the old cast-iron bridge across the Thames to historic High Street in Eton -- where you'll spot antique shops galore and well-heeled boys in their walking coats among the venerable old buildings of Eton College. The school was founded by Henry VI in 1440 and attended by Prime Minister David Cameron. Tours of the school are available March to September. The train from London Paddington Station to Windsor takes around 35 minutes. (+44 (0)20 7766 7304; tours of Windsor Castle are offered year-round from 10 a.m., with last admissions at 4 p.m., or at 3 p.m. November through February, closed on holidays and dates when official functions are scheduled).
One of Europe's first seaside resorts, Brighton is less than an hour by train from Victoria or London Bridge stations. Go there to see the spectacular Palace Pier, awash in old-fashioned charm. You can also shop in the area called North Laine with its independent shops and have afternoon tea at one of many traditional cafes.
Stratford-upon-Avon is under 2.5 hours by train from London's Marylebone or Paddington stations. This is a must for Shakespeare lovers, in spite of the summer crowds. You can see the house where he was born, as well as his grave at Holy Trinity Church. The town is pretty as a picture -- with well-preserved, timber-framed buildings and graceful white swans swimming on the Avon. You can also see the thatched roof cottage that was the childhood home of Anne Hathaway, the bard's wife. The big draw is the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, where some of England's most famous actors hit the boards from April to January. For spotting the actors, eat at Marlowe's Elizabethan Restaurant.