We had two full days in London and while you might need a week to exhaust all there is to see, I think we did plenty to satisfy our appetite: two museums, afternoon tea, theatre, a night out, good food and thousands of steps. Check out our top 10 list of London’s Best at the bottom of the post.
By a miracle we made our morning flight from Amsterdam with 2.5 hours of sleep after a great night out. Upon landing in London, we were both so tired we passed out on the comfortable seats of the Thameslink about 20 minutes past our stop. Our first half-day in London was spent visiting with family friends we were staying with in St. John’s Wood. It was such a relief to have a home cooked meal after days of pub food.
With a loose itinerary in mind, and the rough outline on the map below, we set out to tackle London. This self-made walking tour ended up taking two full days. We followed a simple rule that also dictated our itinerary – if the sun was out, so were we.
We took the Underground to Green Park Station to Buckingham Palace. Frommers clearly says not to go out of your way to see the 11 am changing of the guard. Depending on which way you look at it, our timing was perfect or horrible. But I know for certain I needed that extra few hours to nurse my day old hangover so hitting the ground at 11 am was more than acceptable for me. I was more enthralled with the crowd than the actual guards, they do love their royals. The guards played brassy instruments and wore big furry hats but all I could see were umbrellas. For the first time the selfie stick came in handy.
From Buckingham Palace we walked to Piccadilly Circus to take in the scene from the fountain and the heart of the famous intersection. Contrary to its name, Daran and I were the only two clowns at this circus.
With only two nights we knew we needed to lock up theatre tickets. Extending off Piccadilly Circus, Shaftesbury Avenue is considered the heart of the West End theatre district and close to the box office for Book of Mormon.
Trafalgar Square was close by and we stopped to take in the street performers that gathered an impressive crowd. It’s also at the base of the National Gallery.
London is home to some of the best museums in the world. It has been said if you want to see ancient Greece go to London. The British Museum will not disappoint, unless of course you are Greek. Not wanting to be inside for a half day, we hit up the National Gallery, a free art museum that is of manageable size for a 1.5-2 hour commitment.
The National Gallery exhibits several from my favorite artist of all time, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. Daran loves Monet. And “yes” they let you take photos just turn your flash off.
We walked down to Big Ben, not stopping for long before boarding the Underground, getting off at Tower Hill for Tower of London and London Bridge.
If you want to go back in time with a more interactive experience, the Beefeaters at the Tower will take you there. In my opinion it feels more like an entertainment attraction than a museum. The crown jewels are here, and for a moment I understood how Gollum felt when his Precious was near.
The second day we took the Underground to the London Bridge stop where we hit up the Borough Market and strolled the Thames River to take in the skyline and London Bridge. By far the Borough market was my favorite new discovery of the city. It is an outdoor food market for those wanting a top tier lunch out of a basket and on the run. Musicians were playing, artisans were sampling their foods, and each stall was serving something more delicious than the next. We grabbed a croissant and did a lap which took about 45 minutes before we could settle on where to land. It turns out the first place we passed hit the spot, Louisiana Gumbo!
We made our way back to the Westminster station to visit the Churchill War Rooms, our second museum of choice.
Now a museum, the Churchill War Rooms make up the subterranean complex where Churchill commanded World War II. The display is impressive but is probably not for everyone. You get a sense of life underground but feel the relief of fresh air when you surface. Definitely not to miss for history buffs. Having both grandfathers served in WWII it carried a bit more weight.
We had a 7:30 pm showtime for Book of Mormon, so we continued our walk toward SoHo for dinner and drinks. Along the way passing 10 Downing Street and the Horse Guards Parade, where we coincidentally caught another changing of the guard.
London theatre is arguably the best in the world, and I think it deserves a spot on your bucket list. And yes, Book of Mormon is as good as they say. We snagged great tickets for our second night. For half the price we sat center stage five rows back from the orchestra pit. See our pro-tip at the end of the post in our Best of London on how to get great seats.
By the end of two days we felt we covered the city in a way that satisfied our bucket list but felt unhurried. I’ll be damned if I didn’t get my afternoon tea.
Camden is a borough of London well known for its market. It is also the center of a party scene in London that is more rough around the edges than the posh scene of Chelsea. After the show, we made our way into Camden for live music only to catch the tail end of the set. We both ordered Old Fashioneds and the bartender was so excited about what seemed to be a rare order, how could we only keep it to one round? All in all, caught some great live music and cocktail bars and learned that Uber drivers in London take you on the scenic route.
They gave us a great rec for the next late night bar. John’s was just down the street and when we walk in there was soul music playing. Our enthusiasm for the place made us some new friends. We worked our way around the bar as if we might run into someone we recognized. Making our way to the back of the bar, Daran and I found the urge to join in with some others dancing. He tried to entice one woman to dance and she looked at him like he had a third eye but we all know he has four.
Scheduled to fly out the third day, we wanted to fit in a morning visit to the famous Abbey Road, a 10 minute walk from where we were staying. I imagine on any given day this place has tourists lined up to cross. On this particular day we had it to ourselves…well ourselves and the vehicular traffic. By law they have to stop for pedestrians. The locals must get so frustrated with people taking their time! I think we only managed to piss off one Pommy, but we captured a pretty amazing series of shots.We also say that we missed our flight to Dublin for this shot, so it turned out to be a fairly expensive endeavor. We had to rebook airfare on another carrier at another airport that was two hours back through the city. Fun travel times.
1 – Walking Tour – Create your own to prioritize based on your starting and ending points. Of course, I’d suggest hitting up these sights because they don’t give any time constraints and are free to enjoy. Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, London Bridge, Piccadilly Circus
2 – Theatre/Soho – You should splurge on a show in London. As a tip, it’s not uncommon to get really goods seats by buying the day of. Box offices open up any VIP reserved seating to the public a day or two before a showing. Before your show, hit up happy hour or have dinner in Soho, an easy walk from most theaters and a range of cuisine and pricing options.
3 – Museums – British Museum, National Gallery, Tate Modern, Churchill War Rooms to name a few.
4 – Borough Market – Plan to have lunch here one day. It’s open Wednesday thru Saturday 8am – 5 pm, the atmosphere is energetic and the samples and smells are free.
5 – Tower of London- My opinion is that it’s more of an attraction and great for families but be prepared for crowds.
6 – Food – The English have it down when it comes to afternoon tea. Take them up on this cultural norm, the timeout can put an extra pep in your step. International influences are undeniable and curry will be on the menu at almost every cafe and it will usually hit the spot on those cold rainy days. Markets give such great variety and value it’s worth it to plan your day touring timing lunch within close proximity to the markets.
7 – Clubs and Pubs – If you want an experience comparable to Vegas, Chelsea clubs have bottle service and celeb sightings. As an alternative, Camden has great live music and is less pretentious having more of the pub variety.
8 – Abbey Road – My first CD as an adolescent was HELP. As a huge Beatles fan this felt like holy ground.
9 – Underground – As the subterranean lifeblood of London, the Underground has a personality all its own. Riding the Underground you feel apart of everyday life. Don’t forget to mind the gap.
10 – You can see everything or nothing and you will still get the best of London. The tourists sights are world class, but London is a city that gets better with each visit likely because instead of going to museums you can see a new neighborhood, seek out a new restaurant, buy bespoke at the arcades.