Even as a standalone country in Great Britain, England is a timeless destination. It doesn't have to be trending to be cool, and the weather doesn't have to be nice for it to be enjoyable. It’s simply chock-full of monuments, sights, attractions, and wonders—of both the natural and manmade variety, with many of them iconic—that you just have to see them for yourself at some point in your life.
With an endless list of things to see—from the famous White Cliffs off the southern coast to the great cathedrals dotted throughout and, of course, the capital city of London—a weeklong trip feels like it just scratches the surface. But hey, we’ve all gotta start somewhere. In this England itinerary, you’ll find a breakdown of the essentials if it's your first time, with optional extensions in some less obvious directions that will leave you wondering how is this not world-famous, too?
But remember—this is just a sample. Every Journy itinerary is built entirely from scratch just for you, taking into account your tastes, preferences, priorities, budget, and more.
An England Itinerary For First-Timers
For a weeklong trip, first-timers should cover the essentials in London and add one—or all—of the following day trips, which can also be an even easier overnight stay, offering the perfect mix of town and country.
Stop 1: London (3 nights)
Samuel Johnson famously said, “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life"—a statement that rang true in 1777 and is arguably even more true now. Each neighborhood in the city has a different character, architectural style, claim to fame and even local accent. The epicenter of the former British Empire is dotted with grand buildings and monuments, serene parks, the London Eye, and museums—as well as vibrant pubs and restaurants. To say nothing of the shopping.
This is why, though you could spend a lifetime, we suggest at least three days in London to visit the essentials.
Sample Day 1: London
Start off your day at Buckingham Palace. Once you get your picture out front (and maybe even witness the Changing of the Guard ceremony), meander through the stunning gardens of St James Park—full of the Queen's own swans and other fowl—towards Trafalgar Square, home to Nelson's Column and the National Gallery (free entry). Inside the museum you’ll find works by some of the most famous artists in the world, from Da Vinci to van Gogh, and the line of sight from the square down towards Westminster Palace gives you one of the most iconic views in London: Big Ben rising above Whitehall. You’ll feel like you're in Mary Poppins.
If you follow Whitehall Street, you'll pass Number 10 Downing Street—the Prime Minister's residence. Continue towards Big Ben at Westminster Palace and Westminster Abbey where the Kings and Queens of England have been married, crowned, and buried. You can opt to do guided tours of both the Abbey and the Houses of Parliament at Westminster Palace—which your Journy trip designer would be happy to arrange for you.
If you’ve still got some kick in you, make a left before crossing Westminster Bridge and head down the Victoria Embankment for some elegant sightseeing along the riverside gardens as you wander towards Covent Garden for dinner—and maybe even a West End musical afterwards. Mama Mia is always on, but if musicals aren't your cup of tea, cross the Westminster or Waterloo Bridge and you’ll find Royal Festival Hall and the National Theatre where there’s always an amazing production to be seen.
Nearby Gabriel's Wharf is a surprisingly enchanting little nook in the city that looks like it would be more adequately suited to a small coastal town than the middle of Europe’s largest city, but is nevertheless filled with a mix of shops and restaurants that make an ideal spot to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Sample Day 2: London
Grab a Central line train on the Underground (red line) to St. Paul's Cathedral to admire the sheer scale and grandiosity of one of London's original icons. Situated by the river, the path south of the Cathedral leads directly down to the Millennium Bridge, a famous pedestrian crossing on which you can traverse across the River Thames to the former Bankside Power Station that now houses the Tate Modern museum. The soaring rectangular tower that dominates the museum has a hue of tar-stained brick that is in stark contrast to the white marble of St. Paul's Cathedral—while standing in between the two, you can really appreciate London as a city of monumental contrasts.
After a stroll through the museum, pause to admire the view from the cafe on the glass-covered top floor of the main building, which provides a sweeping view of the city. A two-minute walk from the entrance to the museum is The Founder's Arms: a pub with indoor and outdoor seating in front of the river.
Continue a bit further east along the river (to the right if you’re facing St. Paul's) and you’ll find Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Catch a show as they did back in the day or simply do a tour (which your Journy trip designer can arrange) before continuing past the series of pubs, bars, and restaurants at the foot of Southwark Cathedral at Borough Market—possibly one of the best food markets in the world, if not the most charming. Walk through the market and Cathedral courtyard towards London Bridge Underground Station. Continue past it towards Hay’s Galleria, a former shipping wharf of impressive proportions now turned into shops and restaurants that makes a grand gateway back to the riverside where the floating naval museum/warship The HMS Belfast is permanently moored. If you have it in you to fit in one more museum, The Tower of London—of crown jewel fame—is a short walk away past the iconic Tower Bridge (the one that everyone mistakes for the London Bridge!).
Sample Day 3: Many Londons
Option #1: The East End
For a hipster experience, head east to Liverpool Street Station (Central Line) and dive into the post-industrial world of Shoreditch for hip galleries and restaurants. Brick Lane houses unparalleled Indian food, vintage stores, and food markets. And London Fields is home to the largest outdoor pub in London, Pub On The Park.
Option #2: The Royal Borough
For the opposite experience, head west to High Street Ken(sington) and admire the elegant shops and houses that lead to Holland Park, famous for the Design Museum, ruins of the stately Holland House, and the Japanese Gardens (peacocks included). As you continue further north along the park, past the celebrity-filled houses, you’ll come by Notting Hill, the home of the famous Portobello Market. The area provides a mix of elegance and la vie bohème set amidst one of the most charming neighborhoods in the world. The Union Tavern Pub near Westbourne Park Station has a large outdoor terrace right on Regents Canal and is as good a spot as any to call it a day with a pint and some bangers and mash.
Option #3: South Kensington
If you haven’t had your fill of (free!) museums, South Kensington might be the right move for you. Here, you can pick up a world-famous treat from Ben’s Cookies and head to the Natural History Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A)—or just walk around Royal Albert Hall and its environs towards the Albert Memorial at the entrance to Kensington Gardens. Once inside, the Serpentine Gallery almost always has interesting exhibitions, or you can head to the Lido at the mouth of the Serpentine (the lake that separates Hyde Park from Kensington Gardens) and sit for a spot of lunch or coffee. If you walk towards the northern end of the lake, the Italian Gardens are an idyllic place to sit with a book or have a picnic.
READ MORE: The Journy Guide To London
Stop 2: Oxford
An easy day trip from London, the thousand-year-old university that dominates the city of dreaming spires is famous for its parks and architecture. Marvel at the Radcliffe Camera, the great domed library that goes around for a mile underneath the city. Take a tour of Christ Church College and be transported to the Great Hall at Hogwarts. If the weather allows, go punting on the river Isis (think rowboats but with poles like in Venice instead of oars). The parks and gardens surrounding the university building are a delight as well, but if the weather doesn't allow for strolling, then The Ashmolean museum—which started out as a cabinet of curiosities—is always a treat, as is the Covered Market, home to many quaint shops as well as the original Ben’s Cookies, an Oxford staple.
Stop 3: Stonehenge and Bath
Stonehenge is easily one of the most iconic places on earth. Be warned, however, that you can’t actually go inside the stone circles, just around them—the exceptions being during the summer solstice or during a special visit. Your Journy trip designer can vet all tours and transportation options and book everything for you.
The fair city of Bath has been renowned for the healing properties of its waters for thousands of years, so much so that you can still visit the ruins of the ancient Roman Baths. It became host to a vibrant social scene (indeed as evidenced by Jane Austen’s first novel, Northanger Abbey) and consequently beautiful architecture. Bath stone is famous throughout the UK for its beautiful tone and can be admired throughout the city, but particularly at the Royal Crescent, easily one of the most iconic locations in the city.
Stop 4: Brighton
Just south of London, Brighton—with its elegant white terraced houses—looks a bit like London, but on the ocean. With an Indian Palace. And a carnival, on a pier. The Royal Pavilion is the fantasy brought to life by George Prince of Wales who later became The Prince Regent—which is undoubtedly Brighton's claim to fame (aside from its pier and rowdy nightlife). Just a 30-minute drive away is Eastbourne, where you’ll find the awe-inspiring limestone cliffs that drop straight into the ocean and the Beachy Head Lighthouse. The Beachy Head pub stands above it and is an idyllic way to end the day.
Stop 5: Worcestershire
Worcestershire is the place that inspired the shire in The Lord of the Rings...need I say more? The town can best be described as perfectly picturesque. The perfect size, right amount of conservation, and innovation set amongst beautiful natural surroundings make it a quintessential British town to visit. Its relatively central location to many sites of interest also makes it worthwhile.
Within the city itself, the Worcester Cathedral is a must-visit, as is Friar Street—a long medieval street full of old, sometimes warped buildings inhabited by cafes, bars, and restaurants (Greyfriars' House and Gardens being the oldest of these built in the 1400s). Just down from the Cathedral, the riverside garden at the Diglis Hotel is a perfect spot for lunch. If you’ve got the stamina to row upstream, the Camp House Inn at Grimley is just outside the town—and while the inside is hundreds of years old and resembles a hobbit hole more than anything, the outside garden can best be described as British summertime at its best: cider, peacocks, and bandstands included.
Another beautiful day trip, Witley Court is the ruins shell of a palatial stately home that provides a romantic backdrop to the gardens and fountains that survived the fire. Stratford-upon-Avon, the home of William Shakespeare, is technically in Warwickshire but is a short drive away, as are the Cheltenham race courses.
If you want to continue on your journey around the United Kingdom, rent a car or catch a train to other great destinations: Manchester, Bristol, Yorkshire, Salisbury, Canterbury, Birmingham, Cotswold, and York.
Want an England itinerary custom-built for you?
When you travel with Journy, you'll get paired 1-on-1 with your own personal trip designer who's an expert on all things England—restaurants, hotels, activities...you name it. From there, he/she will build an itinerary from scratch just for you, taking into account your tastes, preferences, budget, and priorities. To get a sense for what it's like to travel with Journy, check out this sample London itinerary.