London. The city that I’ll always have a love affair with. Since my first childhood visit in 1999, I continuously find a reason to return as often as possible. From sexy British accents to delicious British food and amazing sights. And of course, there’s always the chance you might bump in Prince Harry or the Queen.
You’ve waited for so long to go and there is so much to see and do in London, the question is always where to begin and what is the most important things to see with limited time?
For a thousand years, London has been the residence of the British monarchs, but Buckingham Palace became the official residence of the British monarchy in 1837 when Queen Victoria moved in. Today, the palace is open to the public between August and September.
The Royal Mews
While waiting for the Changing of the Guards to start at 11:30, head over to the Royal Mews to see England’s stunning royal carriages and the royal horses which are still used during special occasion processions.
Changing of the Guards
Everyday in front of the palace, the Changing of the Guards takes place. These are the Queen’s men who protect the palace and the Queen and are known for wearing their scarlet tunics and tall furry black caps, which are called bearskins. Crowds of tourists line up outside the palace grounds to get a glimpse of the daily show, weather permitting, at 11:30. They walk down from St. James’s Palace and parade for thirty minutes, with a band procession while the keys are handed from the old guard to the new guard. (Check the dates & times here)
The Mall Walk & St. James’s Park to Trafalgar Square
From Buckingham Palace, you can walk a few minutes down the Mall Walk, which passes the St. James’s Park before arriving at Trafalgar Square. This is one of the most fashionable promenades in London and is used for royal processions on special occasions.
Westminister Abbey & Houses of Parliament
From Trafalgar Square, walk south along Whitehill towards Westminister Abbey & Houses of Parliament. Along this route, you’ll pass Downing Street where the Prime Minister lives and the Cabinet War rooms off of King Charles Street before arriving at London’s oldest and most important church where British monarchs have been crowned since the 11th century. The Houses of Parliament is the seat of the British government and is well known because of the Big Ben clock tower.
Ride the London Eye
Cross over the Westminister Bridge to the stationary London Eye Ferris wheel for a 30-minute ride which offers amazing views over the Thames and the Houses of Parliament.
Millenium Bridge to St. Paul’s Cathedral
Start your day at St. Paul’s Cathedral and climb the 259 steps to the Golden Gallery at the top of the dome, which offers AMAZING views over London!
Tower of London & Tower Bridge
By now, your feet probably need a little rest after climbing St. Paul’s Cathedral, so I suggest taking the tube from St. Paul’s on the Central Line to Bank where you will transfer to the District or Circle Lines and exit at Tower Hill.
The Tower of London was built in 1066 by William the Conqueror. It was once used as the first British monarch’s residence, armory, prison and treasury. Today, it houses the Crown Jewels. It is definitely worth doing a full tour of the castle to get the most out of visiting!
The Tower Bridge stands directly next to the castle in Victorian grandeur. Walk across the bridge or check out the exhibition through the walkway above the roadway on the bridge to learn about the history of the bridge.
Where to Eat Dinner:
By now, you’re probably also hungry and tired from a full day of sightseeing. I highly recommend taking the tub again from Tower Hill to Monument and switch to the Northern Line and get off at London Bridge as I highly recommend enjoying a traditional British meat pie with a nice, cold Stout beer for dinner at The Barrow Boy & Banker Pub.
If the weather is a glorious day, then begin your day at Europe’s newest, tallest building by taking the an elevator from the first floor to the 33rd floor and from the 33rd floor to the 68th floor in just 6 meters per second, making the entire trip to the top in just one minute! The views over London are to die for! (Book tickets here!)
Have Lunch at the Borough Market
Not far, near the London Bridge tube station is a food market which has become well known for selling gourmet foods from Britain and abroad. When you’re done eating, check out the Southwark Cathedral.
Visit Kensington Palace & Gardens plus Hyde Park
Head over to Kensington Palace, which was previously the residence of the royal family from the 1690s to the 1760s before Queen Victoria moved into Buckingham Palace. It was here that she was told she was Queen, Princess Diana lived and now is inhabited by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (Prince William and Kate Middleton).
Take the Jubilee Line from London Bridge to Bond Street and transfer to the the Central Line, exiting at Lancaster Gate.
By exiting at Lancaster Gate, you can enjoy some of the beautiful park surroundings of both Hyde Park as well as the Kensington Gardens before walking to the palace.
Meander Through Notting Hill
When you’re done at the Palace, head over to Notting Hill and fall in love with the adorable colored houses, peruse through the unique antique shops near Portobello Road. If you’re in London in August, enjoy Europe’s largest street carnival!
Go to the Theater
No trip to London is complete without attending one of London’s many theaters. The theatrical tradition dates back to Shakespearean times, many of which are located in the West End with over 50 theaters. (Find cheap, last-minute tickets here)
There are no museums in this post! I am not a museum goer, however if you would love to visit one, I highly suggest visiting The Tate Modern after visiting St. Paul’s Cathedral or the Shard.
What should I eat in London?
When visiting England, there are certain foods one should try before leaving. I believe in experiencing authentic food wherever I visit, therefore, I recommend the following at a traditional British pub, although a good curry is always delicious as well.
- A Full English Breakfast – fried bacon & egg, sausage, tomatoes, toast & black pudding sometimes including beans, mushrooms. (**Warning: black pudding is a type of blood sausage**)
- Fish n’ Chips – deep fried cod fish with fries
- Bangers & Mash – sausages and mashed potatoes with a gravy sauce
- Cornish Pastries/Sausage rolls – a puff pastry filled with meat/vegetables.
- Shepard’s Pie – minced lamb with vegetables topped with mashed potatoes.
Traditionally, tea time is taken at 4pm usually accompanied with small delicately cut cucumber sandwiches, followed by scones, jam and cream or crumpets and finally a sponge cake, chocolate eclair or possibly Scottish shortbread. (Find a list of must-try Afternoon Tea Shops in London here)
When Should I Visit?
England is known for having bipolar weather and no trip to London is complete without some rain at some point. However, the warmer months of July/August experience less rain fall but for milder temperatures, early Spring is great for the blooming parks. London experiences a constant influx of tourists, peaking in July/August. Visiting in August gives you the chance to do a tour of Buckingham Palace as the Queen moves to Windsor Castle for the summer and the Notting Hill parade takes place in August. Christmas is a romantic time to be in London.
- STAY to the RIGHT! – When taking an escalator, remember to stand to the right, walk on the left!
- Travel on the Tube at 9:30am, before or after 4pm & 7pm
- MIND the GAP – be careful where you stand when waiting for the tube line!
- 12 vs. 24 hour – Get accustomed to saying 19:00 instead of 7pm.
- Look LEFT – keep in mind that traffic will be coming from the left and NOT the right!
- Raise your hand to flag a bus otherwise the bus won’t know they need to stop
- Buy an OYSTER card!! You can’t pay with cash on the tube. The card costs £5 and you can load it with enough money for your trip.
- Carry a Tube Map & an umbrella with you at all times!
- Don’t forget that the Pound £ is stronger than the Dollar $, therefore, things could be more expensive than they appear!
- It’s all about the name: chips not fries, loo not toilet, lift not elevator!
If you’re interested in visiting London and are looking for more information, I highly recommend using the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: London! Without these guides, I would be lost! This is my travel Bible!
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you click on one and make a purchase, I might make a little extra spending money, at no extra cost to you. As always, all opinions are my own and these products/services have been found useful during our travels and come highly recommended to you from yours truly!