I figured that I would wrap up my London posts with a final post on how you can make the most out of a trip to London. I only spent around a week (well, more like 9 days) in London but I saw SO much stuff. Once you orient yourself in the city, getting around is easy and quick, making seeing a lot of sights simple. If you look at the list and think "There's no way to do all that in a week", trust me. I did most of it in 4 or 5 days because 4 of my 8 days there were partially taken up by teaching in classrooms. Keep reading to find a few of my sight-seeing recommendations that you can fit into a week-long trip.
First thing's first: how are you going to get around? For our trip, we got week passes for the London Underground (aka The Tube). The Tube is broken up into zones. Most of the stuff you'll want to see in downtown London is in Zones 1 and 2. If you're staying elsewhere, however, check to see what zone your hotel or other lodgings are in so you can get a pass that covers you. There are a couple places such as Kew Gardens and Hampton Court that are farther outside the city and will require extra fare or a pass that covers those zones.
But, I can tell you right now, that the Tube is SUPER EASY. Once you ride it a few times, you'll feel like you've been doing it your whole life. If you need some extra help, I suggest a routing app for your phone such as Google Maps.
My Top 5
There are, of course, a good number of things everyone needs to do or see in London. You've probably guessed a few of them already.
1. Big Ben
Big Ben is one of the most iconic parts of the city. It sits right on the river and is connected to the House of Parliament. If you can, I recommend seeing Big Ben during the day and at night. It's spectacular at both times.
2. Buckingham Palace
The residence of Her Majesty is defintely worth checking out, whether it's for the changing of the guard at 11:15am daily or just to stroll by and wonder if the queen ever peeks out the window. If you go for the changing of the guard, I recommend getting to the palace a half hour or so early to get a good spot to stand.
3. A Pub
Yup, any pub will do. Maybe ask a few locals what their favorite haunts are, but I just enjoyed the novelty of the corner pub where you could grab a pint.
4. Hyde Park and Green Park
These two parks are very close to each other and are basically attached to the area where Buckingham Palace is. I highly recommend them for leisurely strolls on sunny days.
|Strolling through Green Park in the rain.|
This is the only sight on my list that you have to pay to get into, but I had such a good time on the tour given by a Yeoman Warder that I don't regret a penny. If you're not crunched for time, the tours given by the Yeoman Warders (aka, the Beefeaters) are a great way to see the Tower and learn a LOT about the history of it. It's also the only way you can enter the church where Anne Boylen, Lady Jane Grey and a few other important people are buried beneath the flagstones. The Crown Jewels are also housed in one of the buildings here which are definitely worth seeing.
|Getting a tour from a Yeoman Warder.|
Of course gardens is a category, since that's literally what this entire blog is about. London does gardens REALLY WELL. A lot of this is thanks to the Royal Horticultural Society, but even the parks in the city feel like gardens. If you're big on plants, I'd recommend a day trip to both places because they're so big that you can easily spend a whole day there.
1. Wisley Gardens
This is the first RHS Garden near London. Wisley is not as easy to get to as Kew, so you'll probably have to take a taxi or a bus. But it really is worth the trip because they have acres upon acres of gardens. There are wild spaces with paths overgrown with magnolias and camellias, formal gardens with plants in perfectly spaced beds and a giant glasshouse to soak up some tropical air in. All of the RHS Gardens also have alpine houses, which are definitely worth a look.
2. Kew Gardens
Kew is another GIANT garden and is very easy to get to on the Tube. I honestly felt like I didn't have enough time to see everything and I spent 4 hours there. Kew is big into education and they have a whole line of plant beds that group plants by family as to educate people on how the plants within those families are similar. The two glass houses that I visited while I was there was the Princess of Wales Conservatory and the Palm House. The Conservatory is partially aired climate plants and partially tropical plants. It's really cool to walk into a glass house and see a desert spreading out in front of you. The Palm House is exactly what it sounds like and has some amazing old staircases that contrast wonderfully with the foliage around them.
Just remember, while both of the gardens have places to buy live plants, if you're from out of the country, you won't be able to bring those plants back through customs.
Most museums in London are free, which is awesome for you and your wallet.
1. The National Gallery
Want to see some Monet or portraits of royalty? You've come to the right place. Conveniently enough, it's located directly on Trafalgar Square. Tip: Don't take pictures and get yelled at like I did. Oops!
2. Museum of Natural History
If you're in to dinosaur bones or Audubon prints, this massive museum has all your natural world needs. Tip: Go during the middle of the week to experience fewer lines.
|The central hall of the Museum of Natural History.|
1. Buckingham Palace
I've already talked about this above, but seriously, go see it.
2. The Tower of London
Same with this one. It's worth the ticket.
3. Hampton Court
This palace was the summer home of Henry VIII as well as William and Mary. The gardens are spectacular and there's a wild, wooded garden area off to the side of the palace that's great for daffodils in the spring. The palace itself is magnificent and has the quirk of being two different eras of architecture mashed together. This is because there's the Tudor era architecture and the William and Mary architecture. What happened was that William and Mary decided that they wanted to re-vamp Hampton court, but only got about halfway done. So part of the palace looks more like Versailles, and the older part looks more like the middle ages.
|William and Mary architecture.|
|Tudor era architecture.|
1. The Borough Market
This open air market is a mecca for delicious food. There's fresh produce, fresh vegetarian options (veggie burgers anyone?), Indian food, cheeses, meats, olive oils, wine, and lots of baked goodies. This is open on Fridays and Saturdays so it makes a great lunch option while you're out exploring the city.
2. Tower Bridge
Just a short way from the market is the bridge that everyone recognizes. Walking across it is a pretty neat experience. Tip: The London Bridge and the Tower Bridge are two different bridges. The Tower Bridge is the more impressive of the two. The London Bridge basically just looks like a normal bridge.
3. Indian Food
Yup, Indian Food. Do some research and hunt down the top spots. I heard locals call it the Unofficial National Dish because there's lots of it and it's really good.
4. Westminster Abbey
This is right by Big Ben so it's easy to go from one to the other. Make sure to check it out on a day besides Sunday (there are no visiting hours on Sunday) and know that visiting hours are shorter than normal on Saturdays.
5. St. Paul's Cathedral
This place is MASSIVE and it's really neat to see inside and out. Going in and looking up at the dome is breath-taking.
Places I Didn't Go But You Could
1. The London Eye
If you really want a bird's eye view of London and don't mind sitting on a giant ferris-wheel for a half hour, then The Eye would work well for you. There is a fee to ride.
2. Kensington Palace
Another Royal Palace, Kensington Palace is on the west side of Hyde Park.
3. The Victoria and Albert Museum
This is just across the street from the Museum of Natural History and holds 4.5 million objects all related to decorative arts and design (and it's free!)
And that's about it. There's many many many more things you can do in London, but these are my favorites from my trip. If you have any suggestions on other sights to see, leave a comment on where you've been or what you'd like to see someday!