London is a city that evokes images of tea, red phone booths, the Queen (as well as her grandchildren and great-grandchildren!), the river Thames, and centuries of great writers, poets, artists, and world-thinkers.
It’s also overwhelming–especially for the first time visitor. Where to start? What to do first? What is “unmissable?” While I am hardly a London expert by any means (I’ve only been there twice!) but I do wish I had access to this list during my first time visit in London. Here’s the makings of a wonderful first (or second, or third…) day in the incredible city that is London!
1. Hop on a red double-decker. While cliché and touristy, this is one of my favorite activities from our time in London. It’s a great way to see the city and get your bearings, and it’s fun! Seeing Big Ben for the first time from the top of an iconic double-decker hits high on my favorite travel moments. (The buses usually have a covered area, too–as we all know, London can get wet!).
2. Hop on and off as you choose! I would recommend Westminster Abbey, especially first thing in the morning, so you can avoid some of the lines, or Buckingham Palace, especially on days when they are changing the guard–which is not every day. Big Ben is also in that area, as well as Trafalgar Square.
3. Hyde Park. While the weather may impact this one, even on a rainy day Hyde Park is lovely. It’s nice to break away from the crowds for a while and explore some green space. This will lead you to…
4. Afternoon tea at Kensington Palace. Specifically, in the Orangery. In lieu of a bigger lunch, order their full Afternoon Tea. It comes with an assortment of lovely food, including the required clotted cream and scone, as well as tea, of course. It’s in a gorgeous setting! You’ll feel like a royal yourself, just for a little while. Feel free to tour Kensington Palace itself. Much of it was closed during our time there for renovations, but the gardens are also so pretty, so explore! Plus, Will and Kate live there, so make sure to wave at Prince George and his new baby sister.
5. Visit the Tower of London. Hop back on a the red bus (it should take care of most of your transportation for the day) and cruise over to the Tower of London. Our hop-on hop-off tour included a boat ride down the Thames–so that’s how we went to the Tower. The Tower of London is so full of history, and I enjoyed just walking around the walls.
6. Cross the Tower Bridge. Not the London Bridge as many think, the Tower Bridge is yet another iconic symbol of London. We were blessed with beautiful weather–and if you’re lucky, you might see the Bridge open for a passing ship!–so we grabbed an ice cream each and moseyed across..after it closed up again, of course. ;).
7. Walk along the South Bank. After the Bridge, spend some time walking along the South Bank. This is the point in time where I simply fell in love with London–I’m not sure the views could get better than this.
8. The London Eye at sunset. This is an optional one, as it can be a tourist trap, but I loved getting a view of London from this giant Ferris Wheel. Buy your tickets ahead to save time!
9. Dinner in a pub. Finish of the day with a relaxing dinner in a pub. English food gets a bad rap–but I enjoyed every meal we had there, despite being prepared for some soggy fish and chips. Our hotel, the Chamberlain (a bit of a splurge for us, as it was my birthday), had a delicious restaurant, but the city is full of pubs for you to enjoy. Go ahead and pair your fish and ships (or steak and ale pie, or whatever you fancy) with a cider or a beer, for the full “British” experience :).
Some of my other favorite activities in London included King’s Cross station (especially for my fellow Harry Potter lovers), the Harry Potter studio tour for even more hardcore HP fans, the British Museum (possibly my favorite site–but I would recommend a large chunk of time for this!), Oxford Street, a show at West End, grabbing Indian food, more time in pubs, exploring Notting Hill…to name a few!
Linking up with Travel Tuesday!