I spent a year of my life living in London, so whenever any of my friends go there they always ask me for travel tips. I composed a list of must-see spots several years ago, and have been amending it and sending it to friends ever since. So I figured it was about time that I memorialized it on the blog!
Most people only have a short amount of time in London, so here’s what I recommend doing if you only have 2 days:
Houses of Parliament/Big Ben
You must walk by the Houses of Parliament and take tourist photos. Unfortunately, you have to know someone or be with a school group to go inside, which is a bummer because the tour of Parliament is super fun! I even went to Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) once there too (google it: it’s hilarious!). Oh and here’s a fun fact: Big Ben is actually the name of the bell inside the clock tower, not the name of the clock!
Tube: Westminster or Waterloo
This is right across from the Houses of Parliament, so you’ll be able to see it from the other side of the Thames (pronounced “tems”). If you choose to ride on the London Eye, go in the evening when the sun is setting. It’s gorgeous, and if you’re looking for a romantic spot, this is it.
Tube: Westminster or St. James’s Park
You absolutely should go inside! This is a must see, and you’ll find the history to be really fascinating. It’s cool but creepy, because everywhere you go you’re standing on graves. Also, this is where William and Kate got married!
Tube: Hyde Park Corner, St James’s Park, Victoria or Green Park
You can easily walk here from Westminster Abbey. If you see the royal standard flying, that means that the queen is home! Also, you can tour the state rooms (which means actually go inside the palace!) every year, usually in August and September. This year the state rooms are open from July 23 until October 2, 2016 (current schedule here). If you travel to London during this time, you absolutely should take advantage of the opportunity!
This is also where you’ll find the Changing of the Guard. It’s at 11:30am (but you’ll want to arrive earlier) every day in the spring/summer and on alternating days during the remainder of the year (current schedule here). It’s neat, I wouldn’t put it on my must-see list, but everyone else likes it so I included it here just in case.
This is a road, not a shopping center, sorry! If you go straight out from Buckingham Palace you’ll be walking along The Mall. Any time there’s a parade or procession it usually travels along The Mall. This is where I first saw Kate Middleton, Prince Harry, Prince William and the Queen!
10 Downing Street / Horse Guards Parade
If you turn right from The Mall on Horse Guards Road, you’ll pass the Horse Guards Parade on the left where they have the Trooping of the Colour in June (a very cool ceremony- definitely watch it if you’re here at that time!). This is also where they laid down the sand for the volleyball games during the London Olympics.
Then if you keep going, on your left will be Downing Street. You just have to peek down the street, they won’t let you pass by #10, sadly.
Tube: Charing Cross
If you go back to The Mall and continue under the arch, you will end up in Trafalgar Square, one of London’s most famous squares. You have to take a picture by those lions!
Tube: Charing Cross
This is on the opposite side of Trafalgar Square, and if you go in one museum I recommend this one. It’s free (all the museums are) and it has really cool paintings. I love the impressionist work in this museum.
Tube: Leicester Square or Piccadilly Circus
Note: this is pronounced “luster.” From the National Gallery you can walk up to Leicester Square. It’s another famous square where they host a lot of movie premieres (I saw the Sex & the City and the Harry Potter premieres here). Leicester Square itself isn’t that special, so unless you’re attending a premiere, walk through it in 2 minutes and move on.
Tube: Piccadilly Circus
From Leicester it’s a 1 minute walk to Piccadilly Circus. FYI: circus means circle. It’s another big tourist spot for no particular reason. It’s best at night, when it’s all lit up (it will remind you of Times Square).
Tube: Covent Garden
This is my happy place! It’s also a couple of minutes walk from Leicester. I love just walking around Covent and exploring, and there’s a lot of good people watching. There are usually buskers (street performers) which are fun, and you can find lots of food and pub options in the area. It’s especially beautiful when decorated for Christmas.
Tube: London Bridge
Note: don’t pronounce it “south wark” it’s “su-thurk.” This is my favorite cathedral in London. I took my family here for Easter service one year, and I go back every time that I can. It’s beautiful, and is something I stumbled upon my first time in London. Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s are also really cool, but I like this one because it’s lesser known and feels like mine.
Tube: London Bridge
This is one of my favorite markets, and it’s right next to Southwark Cathedral. It has a bunch of fresh gourmet food with a relaxed London vibe. I usually will buy some cheese and bread here and then sit somewhere pretty and eat it. You can find the current hours here.
Tube: Tower Hill
This is the iconic bridge in London. Everyone thinks that this famous landmark is called London Bridge, but it’s not! London Bridge is boring looking; this gorgeous bridge is Tower Bridge.
From Southwark Cathedral you can walk across Tower Bridge to… THE TOWER!
The Tower of London
Tube: Tower Hill
This is absolutely a must see! After you buy your ticket and go through the gate, wait for a Beefeater tour. These guides are hilarious and tell the coolest historical stories about the tower. I love it here because of all of the history and intrigue, and you’ll like it a lot too! After the tour walk around a little and explore. They have everything from armor and weapon exhibits to a display of the crown jewels!
St. Paul’s Cathedral
Tube: St. Paul’s
This is an amazing cathedral, definitely go in. Also, I climbed to the top and I would recommend you do that too for really great views of London. Poor tip: if you go during a service they let you in free, and then you can look around from your seat while enjoying choral music. I went to a Palm Sunday service here once and it was beautiful.
Tip: if you walk towards the Thames and onto Millennium Bridge, you’ll get really great pictures of St. Paul’s.
Tube: Holborn or Russell Square
I don’t really recommend this for such a short visit, but in case you wanted to go here I put it on the list (because I am the best tour guide ever!)
Tube: Marble Arch, Hyde Park Corner, Lancaster Gate or Queensway
This is pretty to walk through, and maybe have a picnic with those mini sandwiches. There’s also a Hyde Park Naked Bike race during the summer, which is exactly how it sounds… hilarious!
Harrods is one of those things that you may want to see, but it gets super crowded and touristy so I usually hate being here. They do have some good restaurants inside, but really though, you should just skip it.
While you’re in London, there are a few things that you should do for fun.
Jack the Ripper Tour
This is a cool way to get the history of the East End while learning about the famous killer. You can find more information here.
London is known for its theatre, especially in the West End. Go see something!
I absolutely love seeing the Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. They have really inexpensive student tickets, and also some cheap standing tickets, so anyone can afford to go.
You MUST order a pint (or a few…) at a pub. They’re everywhere, and the atmosphere is pretty much the same anywhere you go. If you’re hungry, you can also order fish and chips, or I prefer the shepherd’s pie.
Afternoon tea is a British institution, and you absolutely have to partake during your visit. My favorite tea places are:
The Ritz (it’s iconic)
Sketch (the decor changes every two years)
The Berkeley (the desserts are adorable and based off of the season’s biggest fashion trends)
Where to Eat
London food isn’t as bad as people say, don’t worry! My favorite restaurants are:
The Folly (The City) – cool garden vibe with fresh dishes
Darwin Brasserie at the Sky Garden (The City) – gorgeous views of London and delicious food
Dans le Noir (Clerkenwell) – you eat completely in the dark! It’s the most unique dining experience in London!
Beach Blanket Babylon (Notting Hill and Shoreditch) – the two restaurants have very different vibes, but both have very good food
Bob Bob Ricard (Soho) – each booth has a “press for champagne” button!
Don’t leave London without doing the following:
Riding on a double decker bus (the front row of the top level will give you the best view)
Riding in an iconic black cab
Taking a phone booth picture. See if you can find this location, which will give you the very best phone booth picture ever!
And, of course, don’t forget to keep calm and carry on.
Have a fabulous trip!