The home of Shakespeare, the Rosetta Stone, and Beefeaters is a spectacular place to vacation. When touring London for the first time, it can be quite daunting. This wonderful city is filled to the brim with historical sites, wonderful restaurants, and superb shopping. When there are so many activities demanding your attention, it is advisable to strategically plan each day you spend in London.
When my fiancée and I traveled to London in 2013, we were a bit overwhelmed. Luckily, when I studied abroad in Lancaster, England, I shared a flat with two Londoners, Jon and Mae. They were ecstatic that we were visiting their home turf. Jon and Mae did not hesitate to put together a five-page guide of their favorite spots and “must-sees” for tourists. Within their guidebook, Jon and Mae planned day-long tours for us to see most of the highlights. The best way to see London is by walking as much as you are able. However, the tube (subway) system is efficient and easy to use. We utilized day passes for the tube several times to ease our exploration. Anyways, let’s get to the individual tours!
Westminster will strangely invoke some degree of nostalgia, even if it is your first time visiting. From the hundreds of photographs and movie scenes, this section of the city has become quintessentially London. The best tube station to start the tour is at Embankment Station. From here, turn left to walk along the river until you reach Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament. This area will also give you great views of Big Ben. Westminster Abbey does cost a fee to enter unless you attend Evensong, which I recommend doing. From this area, other places that are easily accessible are Buckingham Palace, St. James’s Park, Hyde Park, and Knightsbridge.
City of London
On this tour you will see more historic sites of London. Start your journey at Barbican Station and begin by visiting the Museum of London. Continue south towards St. Paul’s Cathedral, which is close to a fabulous restaurant called Duck and Waffle. This is a great date spot, as it gives you beautiful views of the London Skyline. I highly recommend taking a guided tour of St. Paul’s, but it is also open for free during Evensong. On the tour, you are able to experience the fascinating architecture that allows for the nickname “whispering walls.” After St. Paul’s, head towards the millennium bridge and cross to the south bank where you can see the Tate Modern, London Eye, the Globe Theater (Shakespeare), the Tower of London, and Tower Bridge.
Bloomsbury and Soho
This was one of my favorite days spent in London. Start this tour at Charing Cross Station next to Trafalgar Square. From here, you can choose to visit the National Gallery or travel on to Chinatown and Soho. Chinatown is a great place to enjoy some food and visit Bubbleology for a fun bubble tea experience. After finding some grub, you can enjoy a stroll through Leicester Square. This is also a great place to purchase discounted tickets for theatrical performances for that evening. If you aren’t burnt out after all of this, continue on to the market of Covent Garden and the British Museum. The museum is free and houses the Rosetta Stone.
This is a lesser-visited part of London, but it has many activities to offer tourists. We took the DLR from Bank Street station to get to Greenwich. From Greenwich station, it is quite simple to find your way to Greenwich Park and the Meridian Building that houses a prime meridian. After standing in two different hemispheres at one time, be sure to head down towards the river and visit the Cutty Sark and the Greenwich Maritime Museum. There are plenty of pubs to grab a bite and a pint.
photo credit: Jimmy Baikovicius
At the time, my fiancée and I were poor college students with little expendable income for shopping. However, London is a great place to indulge in some high-end fashion. Even if you don’t buy anything, it is always fun to look at the pristine storefronts and gorgeous patrons. Start your day of shopping at Marble Arch Station and visit Oxford Street, Bond Street, and Regent Street. While on this journey, be sure to seek out the interesting pedestrian intersection of Oxford Circus. The quirk of Oxford Circus is that all the lights turn red simultaneously, allowing pedestrians to swarm this busy intersection from every direction. At the end of Regent Street is the famous Piccadilly Circus, which is equated to a miniature Times Square. If this doesn’t take you all day, Kensington is nearby which has the Science Museum, Natural History Museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
We spent almost an entire day exploring Kew Gardens. This is quite out of the way and not exactly close to any other sites, but it’s an absolutely marvelous place to day-tour in London. I mean just look at these giant lily pads!
Cover photo credit: travelandleisure.com