Currency: British Sterling, Pound
There is a bounty of things to do and see in London and the city is very easy to navigate, making it possible to tackle many sights in one day. I suggest you pick the places you want to investigate and take a look at a map to group by location. My strategy is to pick a couple of things to visit each day with lots of walking to ensure a full review of the city. I love the big city and small bustling neighborhood feel of London and I find that I’m quite happy to wander and explore the streets between the major sights. In the list below, I’ve tried group sights by location.
Key sights and attractions grouped by area:
Westminster Abbey - One of my favorites because of the amazing history and the tombs of so many writers, actors, poets, etc. I found it mesmerizing to walk through and see so many familiar names beneath my feet, solidifying in my mind that London is truly an historic city.
Buckingham Palace - Residence of the monarchy of the United Kingdom. There are always throngs of tourists lingering outside the gates hoping for an accidental glimpse of royalty. Well, one can always hope….
The Royal Mews - Touring the carriage house with its numerous and opulent royal carriages is fascinating as they remain a key part of the royal presence.
St. James Park - Lies adjacent to the Palace, a nice place to take a break from “inside” space and enjoy a walk.
Horse Guards - Stop to see the mounted guards and if you time it right, even see the Changing of the Guard (check website for times) with a parade of highly trained horses and riders.
Piccadilly Circus - Not so much a circus of events as of crossroads complete with flashing lights and video (think Times Square in NYC) and the residual tourists that accumulate. It’s an easy stopping point as it is close to major shopping and entertainment (Theatreland - the main theatre district).
From here you can easily access some of the more famous shopping streets:
These areas have a high concentration of stores but you will have to wade through the throngs of tourists to access the shops. It’s great to walk along here for the sheer volume, but I actually prefer shopping in the neighborhoods such as Notting Hill and Chelsea. And don’t forget Harrods. It’s a nice walk west from the Palace and Wellington Arch.
Trafalgar Square - A tourist filled square behind the National Gallery and a good place to sit and have a sandwich while people watching and pigeon dodging.
National Gallery - For art, this is the place to go. I especially enjoyed the National Portrait Gallery for the historical review of the royal and famous as well as the modern portraits of contemporary icons.
British Museum - A splendid collection from around the world. It has invited controversy as the museum displays many treasures culled from other countries.
London Eye - To see or to ride, it is a giant Ferris wheel that sits alongside the river.
Tate Modern - Museum containing modern and contemporary art along the River Thames.
Tower of London - Tour with the famous Beefeaters and learn the history of this historic castle and the infamous prisoners who were imprisoned and died there.
Tower Bridge - Located close to the Tower of London.
London Bridge - West of the Tower Bridge.
Notting Hill - Made famous by the movie of the same name (I was once asked to take a photo of some tourists as they posed in the famous bookstore), it has some nice clothing shops and restaurants along Westbourne Grove and shops that contain lots of trinkets and treasures along Portobello Road. There is also a great daily market for your food shopping (handy when you are staying with friends and cooking dinner). On the weekends it is packed with locals and tourists.
Kensington Garden and Hyde Park - When you’re ready to enjoy the outdoors on the occasional sunny day, take a walk through the park or go for a run. You can pop over to Kensington High Street for more shops, restaurants and a giant Whole Foods for refreshment afterwards.
Heathrow Express, Gatwick Express - From either airport, these trains are fast and comfortable. You can buy tickets online and they can scan the confirmation from your Smart Phone or you can buy tickets in the kiosks or at the train station.
Tube - One of the best commuting systems I’ve ever experienced for quickly and effectively navigating a city. However, they are prone to strikes which has happened to me TWICE while visiting London. Buses are also very effective for getting around. You can buy an Oyster card which is a handy way to store credit and pay as you go. It can be turned in at the end of your trip with the deposit fee (£5) credited back to you along with any unused balance.
Eurostar - Train to Paris - Book well in advance for a quick two hour ride to Paris where you can spend the day and a night before zooming back to London. Just do it!
Restaurants: It is now well accepted that there is genuine cuisine in London. There are so many great upscale restaurants and many small “fast food” places for yummy cuisine such as Middle Eastern “grab and go” falafels. You don’t have to spend a lot to eat well. A couple of places I visited on my last trip:
Redemption - Mocktails!
Hereford Road - great dinner
Bill’s - fresh and inventive lunches
Hotel: Since I normally stay with friends while I’m in London, my hotel recommendations are sparse. However, I did have the chance to stay in the Rosewood Hotel on High Holborn Street (formerly known as the Renaissance Chancery Court) on one trip and it was fabulous! A great central location and a very well appointed room. If you have deep pockets, I would recommend it.