When I started planning my trip to Scotland I decided to add a stopover in London to give my family a taste of this fantastic city. Our stop in London was for less than 36 hrs. and to be fair that is not nearly enough time to see all this city has to offer. You can probably spend a full year in London and not see it all. However I needed to maximize my time and give my family a perfect London day. If like me you are short on time and find yourself in this incredible city here is a list of ideas to help you plan your perfect day in London.
Take a walking tour
Walking tours are great as they give you a good orientation of the city and you get to see many of the highlights in a condensed amount of time. You have many options for great walking tours in London. It all depends on what you want to see and do and what your budget will allow. I chose Free London Walking Tours and was so glad I did. The guide was knowledgeable and funny, and most importantly we benefited from his experience as we avoided the big crowds. He knew exactly where we should be and when to get the best views of the changing of the guard while avoiding all the crowds.
P.S: Please tip your tour guide especially if you are on a free tour this is how they make their living.
Stroll through a park
London has some amazing green spaces. And spending some time in one of the beautiful parks around the city is a great way to spend an hour or two. You can rent boats, bikes, take a stroll, feed the birds, have a picnic, enjoy some art and even some live music.
Some friendly locals shared their bird seeds with us and gave my daughter and husband a memory they will treasure forever.
Here are some great parks you can choose to visit:
St. James Park
In the heart of London and covers 58 acres. Many ceremonial parades and national celebrations are held here.
There is something for everyone at this park. It is centrally located with plenty of activities for the entire family. Some highlights are the Diana Memorial, the Serpentine Bridge and the joy of life fountain.
This park covers 275 acres and is home to Kensington Palace. This is one of my favorite parks with the beautiful Italian gardens, Albert Memorial, the stunning Serpentine Gallery and the cute Peter Pan statue to keep you a kid at heart.
Enjoy the food or shopping at a Market
Markets in London are not to be missed. My 2 favorites are Borough Market and Camden Market.
For food come to the Borough Market. You will find over 100 stalls with gourmet food from around the world. Many of them give out samples. They have full market days and limited market days. For a list of dates and times check out their website here.
Camden Market has around 200 stalls filled with jewelry, fashion wear, accessories and much more. There is definitely something for everyone at this market. Market is open Monday to Sunday from 9:30 am – 6:00 pm
Get some culture
Most of the museums in London are free and they are a good way to keep out of the sun or the rain. If you like art then a visit to the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery or Tate Modern is in order. These museums display some of the greatest art treasures in the world. Some other good museums are the Natural History Museum, Science Museum and The British Museum. There really is a museum for everyone and you can check out a more comprehensive list here.
Indulge in an afternoon tea
Nothing is more representative of England to me than the tradition of afternoon tea. There is no lack of establishments to enjoy this tradition in. From the super upscale at the Ritz or the Savoy to the more laid back options like an afternoon tea bus tour, there is surely something for everyone. This is the quintessential London activity and a tradition you will quickly want to adopt as your own.
We selected The Royal Horseguards which was perfect for a family with children. They had a special child tea option with selections designed for the younger palette and a reduced rate. The food was plentiful and delicious and the service was impeccable. As far as the tea goes I highly recommend their signature Strawberries and Cream tea. This is one of the best teas I have ever had.
Take in the views
London has some spectacular views. Here are a few places you can chose from to get a view of the city from above:
The capsules accommodate up to 25 passengers and the ride lasts about 30 min. Many famous landmarks are clearly visible, including The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and St. Paul’s Cathedral. On a clear day you can see as far as forty kilometers (25 miles).
Top of St. Paul’s Cathedral
The top of the dome reaches a height of 366 feet and you can climb 560 steps along three galleries all the way to the top of the dome (you can often get 2 for 1 tickets with a national rail ticket).
The shard is a modern glass skyscraper in London. The top floors are home to the “View from the Shard”, an observation deck offering 360 degree views of the city. It is a bit expensive to go up for just the view but you can always have a drink at one of the restaurants and enjoy the view from there.
Sky garden offers views of the city from 155 feet up. This is the perfect location for a free view of London. Just make sure to book tickets a few months in advance as they are limited.
See a show
Musicals, comedy, concerts, kids shows, there is certainly something for you if you wish to partake in a show. Check out what is playing and where it is playing here.
No mater your budget London has you covered. From big box stores on Oxford Street, well known department stores like Harrods or small boutique shops on Brick Lane, London has it all. Some other popular shopping areas are Convent Garden and Piccadilly Circus. If you have money to spend you will find a place to spend it.
See the icons
Don’t leave London without seeing some of it’s icons.
Tower of London
This is a historic royal palace most famous for its grim reputation of torture and death. You can tour this amazing place and see the priceless Crown Jewels.
Did you know that the people who guard the Tower are called Yeomen Warders (also known as Beefeaters) and they live within these walls?
The Houses of Parliament/ The Palace of Westminster
Classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage site The Palace of Westminster is where the two Houses of Parliament (House of Lords and House of Commons) meet to conduct their business. The Palace along with the clock tower are one of the most visited tourist attractions in London.
The houses of Parliament’s iconic clock tower is one of London’s most famous landmarks and no visit to London is complete without seeing it. Just so you are well informed Big Ben is actually the bell that is inside the clock tower, the clock tower itself is called Elizabeth Tower.
The beautiful Gothic abbey sits just to the west of the Palace of Westminster. It is one of the UK’s most notable religious buildings and it is the place where traditionally the British monarchs have been crowned and buried. You can see an online tour of the abbey here.
This is the world recognized bridge that crosses the river Thames and has become an iconic symbol of London. You can freely cross the bridge on the pedestrian walkway or by car. And if you wish to step inside and experience the glass floor you can purchase your tickets here. For bridge lift times click here.
This is the London Residence of the reigning monarch of the United Kingdom and it is one of the worlds few remaining working royal palaces. You are able to tour the inside of the palace and you can see the admission times and costs here. There is much to see inside so if you will be touring I suggest you allow at least 2 hrs to this activity. Many people gather here to see the changing of the guard but it is a crowded place to view it. I recommend taking one of the walking tours that will take you to better viewing points without the crowds.
This square is surrounded by many museums and galleries and is in part the heart of the city. Originally this square was called Charing Cross after a memorial cross that was on the square. Today the nearby tube station still bears this name.
Be a kid again
I like to indulge the kid in me and when I visited London I made sure to visit Kings Cross station to see the famous Harry Potter platform 9 ¾ . I also really loved visiting Neals Yard with its colorful streets and shops that just made me feel happy, young and carefree. You may also want to feed your sweet tooth at the largest sweet shop – M&M’s world. And for some top children’s museums visit the Museum of Childhood or the London Transport Museum.
Now that you have an idea of what to do you will need to know how to get to it all:
London is a great walking city and in most cases I prefer to walk in order not to miss out on what the city has to offer. It is amazing to see all the different architecture around the city and this can be missed if you just stay underground.
Ride the Tube
Do yourself a favor and get an oyster card. Not only will you save money but you can use it on many forms of transport like the tube, bus, trams and boats making transport a breeze. And while I do not recommend spending your entire time traveling on the tube as you will miss out on much the city has to offer above ground you should certainly use the tube at least once.
Hail a Cab
Cab fares can add up quickly, there is a minimum charge of £2.40 and the rest of the fare is based on distance and time. Many black cabs accept payment by credit card or debit card but always be sure to check with the driver before the trip starts.
Cruise down the river
A boat trip along the Thames provides a great way to get around and is a nice vantage point to see the city from.
Hop on a Bus
As a great alternative to the hop on hop off tour buses you can ride a real double decker bus for a fraction of the cost. For only $1.50 a ride you can see many if not all of London’s top sights. Check out some of the best routs here.
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Have you been to London? What is your favorite thing to do in this city? Drop me a note in the comments below or let’s get social on Instagram or Facebook.