London has become one of my favorite places to visit as I enjoy the city’s diversity, history, energy, and creative lifestyle.
Here are a couple of things I do before planning a trip in such a large city:
- Google Maps – I look at the town on Google Map and divide the city into four quads. This will help develop an itinerary that will allow you to explore all the areas of the city.
- Trip Advisor Traveling Guide – Some towns have itineraries already built that you can utilize but it is a great resource to hear from recent travelers on their experiences and suggestions of various sites and attractions.
3. Hotel or Airbnb – Try to find a location that is in the heart of the city. You may pay a little more but it will cut down on travel time and allow you to be accessible to public transportation or walking to different attractions.
Arrival to the City – Day 1
I call my first day at a new place a “get acquainted day”. I learn the area and locate the bus or subway terminals, as well as get my bearings straight on how the city operates.
We arrived in the evening, so we dropped off our bags at The Park City Grand Plaza Kensington Hotel and went on a walk to explore the neighborhood.
We found the most fantastic café called Scooter Caffe which had the best creamy and thick hot chocolate. This cute pub was very tiny and had a spiraling staircase to get up and down from the basement where all the locals were drinking and socializing. Once we finished up our drinks we headed back to the hotel as we had a busy day ahead of us for Day 2.
Buckingham Palace and the Changing of the Guards – Day 2
The morning air was crisp as we took a stroll through parts of St. James Park heading towards Buckingham Palace. We wanted to arrive in time to see the changing of the guards which occurred at 11:00 am. Buckingham Palace is not open to the public except for 10 weeks of the summer.
The royal guardsmen march in a parade from St. James’s Palace through the Mall and down to Buckingham Palace. The immaculate precision of the parade of red and black uniforms along with horses in full body dress is a sight to see. If you want to get a good picture of Queen Victoria Memorial you need to go at least two hours before the changing of the guards or later on in the day.
After watching the British guardsmen pomp and pageantry, we walked to the Wellington Arch. Alongside the Wellington Arch is Apsley House and other military monuments to view. On Sunday’s many of the official landmark buildings are closed, so we decided to walk around the perimeter of a few to admire the architecture.
After lunch we headed to Parliament Square Garden as it was a beautiful day to walk through the park and read the inscriptions on the statues. The Winston Churchill statue is the most admired statue here. From this point, you can see the Big Ben and the London Eye which is an excellent backdrop for a photograph. Across the street is the Westminster and the House of the Parliament. From afar you can also see the London Eye. If you stand at the correct spot you can capture the Big Ben and the Parliament building all in the same frame. Throughout the afternoon we stopped and checked out coffee shops and several boutiques along the way.
Notting Hill to Camden Market to Soccer Match – Day 3
Day 3 was the day to seek out some London markets as we had a soccer match to attend later that afternoon. Portobello Market wasn’t far from where we were staying so we began our walk passing by the famous Painted Houses in Notting Hill neighborhood. Portobello Market had street vendors lined with their display of interesting items for sale. Store shops were also open, giving shoppers a lot to browse through for something unique to bring home. We also came across flower booths and other food vendors selling fresh produce and meats. If you like antiques, this is a great place to discover something old and put it to good use.
From here we went over to Camden Market which is a very punk and elaborate shopping district. This part of London offers the locals and young people the punk rock and new age style. Although I didn’t find the shopping all that interesting I did enjoy photographing the storefronts as they were very extreme and loud with designs that were 3D. Nearby was the Regent’s River which had additional places to shop and eat. Many locals hang out here for lunch. We also explored the Horse Tunnel Market which was underground. Here we found many unusual costume type items as well as London gift shops.
Arsenal vs. Watford
We love soccer! So I was fortunate enough to be able to book tickets for a match between Arsenal and Watford. We arrived early so we could do a little shopping at the Emirates Stadium. The stadium is an open top stadium, so make sure you bring a warm jacket as it can get a bit cold. This game was so much fun to watch and be a part of as the crowd does a lot of yelling at the referees and players. If you are in London, I highly recommend going to a match as this experience is something very different than any other sporting event in the United States.
Kensington Palace, Hyde Park, Tower of London – Day 4
Off to Kensington Palace starting with a walk past the Natural Science Museum and an adorable red telephone booth. Shortly after we arrive at the Queens Gate. The Kensington Gardens is a well-manicured park offering the old and new pastimes of statues and sculptures that connect with Hyde Park. The vegetation and landscape design make for a relaxing walk in the afternoon.
The Albert Memorial is in honor of Prince Albert and his achievements to the Great Exhibitions. In front of Kensington Palace is an ornamental pond called the Round Pond (although not round) with beautiful white swans swimming about and model yacht enthusiast chartering their course. Once you arrive at Kensington Palace you have the option to purchase a tour guide headset which was very valuable in explaining the people and history who once resided here.
Princess Diana raised William and Harry in this home and was the last person to live in the palace, even after her divorce. After her death, the house was vacant for ten years before the mansion was split back into two apartments utilized by Prince Charles and the Chief of Defense Staff. Here you will also see royal gowns worn by Princess Diana and other royal women of the past. Today the home is a museum and holds many family memories for the royal family.
The Tower of London
Next, we will explore the famous Tower of London which has not only been in almost every textbook but also in many movies and fiction books as it is a genuine medieval castle built in 1066. The tower sat along the Thames River and was once used as a prison during the 16th and 17th century. Today it is home to the Crown Jewels and the Royal Mint of London. Close by is the iconic Tower Bridge which has two vertical walkways to cross the Thames River. It is often confused with the London Bridge.
Our afternoon was a tour using headsets at the Westminster Abbey. The Abbey is a historical treasure of paintings, stained glass, pavements, textiles, wood carvings, and other artifacts of the royal family. The Abbey has been the coronation church since 1066 and the resting place for over 3,000 people who are either buried or commemorated and many among the most significant of the nation’s history. The present church is one of the most important Gothic buildings of the country and has held over sixteen royal weddings. Exploring this site will take a full afternoon as it is so much of the world’s past in one building.
Picadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, National Portrait Gallery, and the Book of Mormon’s – Day 5
We decided today we would visit many of the favorite shopping locations on the most pedestrianized places is Carnaby Street which is in Soho. More than 60 independent restaurants, cafes, bars and quintessential English pubs can be found serving more than 30 different cuisines from around the world.
Oxford Street is also one of the most visited streets for shopping. Here you will find an array of the high street, boutique and luxury brands. If you are looking for the unique tea to take home stop into the Twining, which is the oldest tea shop in London. Every major city has a Chinatown, and you can find one in London which will have many fantastic Chinese restaurants and unique Asian style shops.
One exciting site we passed walking, the St. Clements Dane, known today as the Central Church of the Royal Air Force. Across the street is the Royal of Justice Court which is a gorgeous design court building.
Now to the famous Piccadilly Circus where the bright billboard signs flash with advertisements and five different streets meet at a roundabout. The famous designer of picadillo, Roger Baker, lived in this area at one time. The word “circus” derives from the busy roundabout which many vehicles intersect here to get to one place or another like New York Times Square. Not far is the Trafalgar Square which is surrounded by museums, galleries, water fountain sculptures and many cafes. Close by is the London National Gallery and in front of the gallery you will find all kinds of artists either performing music, miming, painting, drawing, or dancing.
Because I love photography we decided to pay a visit the National Portrait Gallery. Although I do enjoy viewing paintings of portraits and events, my favorite were the photographs taken of Princess Diana who was a lovely person. The gallery which opened in 1856 has the world’s most extensive collection of personalities and faces from the late Middle Ages to the present day.
I booked tickets to see the theatre production of Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales Theatre. The play is a laugh out loud show about the sacred text of the Latter Day Saint movement. This charming historic theatre has been a part of the community since 1882. I would highly recommend seeing this play while visiting London.
Borough Market, Kings Cross Station, Harry Potter’s Platform 9 ¾ – Day 6
A must see while visiting London is the Borough Market. This market is full of colorful fruits and vegetables as well as specialty items. A variety of cut meats are also sold here along with individual food stalls serving up some delicious dishes to sample. A little further down the street is the Menier Chocolate Factory.
We decided at this point to hop on a train and go to Kings Cross Station to search for Harry Potter’s Platform 9 ¾. This is one of London’s busiest terminals and once was known as a seedy and down-market area which later found itself in backdrops for films as a result. Here you can find Harry Potter’s Platform 9 ¾ and gift shop. Expect to wait in line to get a picture of the half-trolley in the brick wall underneath the platform sign.
Across the street from Kings Cross Station is St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel which is a combination of a hotel and terminal for Eurostar, a high-speed bullet train from London to France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The structure and design of the hotel are amazing to see and I wish we would have had more time to experience the Eurostar as it crosses the English Channel underground.
Spitalfield Market, Brick Lane, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Millennium Bridge – Day 7
I had a few more markets on my list and today would be our last day in London. We started the morning off with Spitalfield Market which is home to many local artists selling various types of art and craft items. We took off to Brick Lane to grab a bagel a the famous Beigel Bake. Brick Lane, once the slums of London, has become the new vibe of eclectic style and a young person’s hangout. My favorite here is the mural art which is on every wall you can find down all the side streets. This area was named as one of London’s top street food spots in the city.
Another visit I wanted to make it to the St. Paul Cathedral. St. Paul’s Cathedral sits on one of the highest points of London and can be seen for miles. It once was one of the tallest buildings in London and the dome is still one of the highest in the world. Christopher Wren, the designer met many challenges building this church but drew inspiration from Michelangelo’s dome in St. Peter’s Basilica. Across the street is the St. Paul’s Courtyard which you may mosey through and admire the beautiful landscape and statues.
Once you are finished there you can walk across the Millennium Bridge . This steel suspension bridge that crosses the Thames River, has a very futuristic look compared to most of the historic building structures. Many locals call it the “swaying” bridge because they feel it move as they walk across.
We spent the afternoon revisiting some of the sites and walking the streets enjoying the city.
It was a fabulous trip with so much diversity, culture, history and great experiences to reflect upon. I highly recommend a visit to London.