I was fortunate to spend a summer in London a few years back. I spent 4 days a week “working” at a law firm, and the rest of my time exploring the city whilst trying out many, many, many pints of cider. Here’s what I would do if I was back in London for a week.
Day One: Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament, and the London Eye
- You can hit these three big sights in one day since they’re so close to one another
- Westminster Abbey is a treasure trove of history with famous royals, writers, and composers buried within. It is also where Prince William and Kate Middleton got married. There’s a great audio tour to help keep you oriented during your visit, so definitely check that out.
- You will need advance tickets to the Houses of Parliament, but it’s definitely worth your time. My favorite part is the Winston Churchill statue.
- The London Eye is an absolute tourist trap, but you really can’t miss it for the birds eye video of London and the River Thames. Make sure to book your tickets in advance.
Day Two: Tower of London, Hyde Park, and Kensington Palace
- Take a tour of the infamous Tower of London with one of the iconic Beefeater Guards. Even if you’re not a history buff, the crown jewels are on display at the Tower as well, and who doesn’t like shiny objects?
- Hyde Park is a lovely place to enjoy a picnic or to sit and read for a little bit of downtime. You can also rent boats to enjoy the Serpentine Lake if the weather is nice.
- Adjacent to Hyde Park is Kensington Palace. This was where Princess Diana called home and where Wills and Kate stay in London. There are rotating exhibitions in the public portion of the palace that are always interesting. They currently have Princess Di’s iconic wedding gown on display, and next up looks to be an exhibit on royal photography.
Day Three: Buckingham Palace, Tate Modern, and the Globe Theater
- Buckingham Palace is a must-see. Tour dates are limited and often related to whether or not Her Majesty is in residence, but if you can find a time slot that works for you, you simply can’t miss it.
- After your tour of the palace, you should hop across the river to the South Bank and make your way to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. The Globe does tours, but the best way to experience it is to see a show there; buy a cheap groundling ticket for the most authentic experience.
- If you’re a modern art person, check out the Tate Modern art museum while you’re over on the South Bank. I’m not a huge modern art person, but I’m told this is an incredible collection.
Day Four: Day Trip to Windsor
- I love Windsor. The town, the castle, the atmosphere. It’s what you think of when you envision a quaint British village with its own castle. And fortunately for us, regular trains ferry travelers from London to Windsor station many times a day. It is a very cool experience to walk out of the train station and be immediately met with the grandeur that is Windsor Castle.
- In a shocking turn of events, I recommend taking a tour. If the Queen is in residence, her standard will be flying and you may get an abbreviated version of the tour, but it’s worthwhile either way.
- There are soooooo so many adorable shops and cafes in the town of Windsor. Spend a leisurely afternoon poking around and checking everything out. If you’d like, walk over the bridge to Eton if you want to see the famous Eton College.
Day Five: St. Paul’s Cathedral, Explore Camden Town Market, See a Show at the West End
- As with the Globe Theater, you can definitely take a tour of St. Paul’s Cathedral. It’s an incredible work of art and architecture, and going up in the dome is awesome. However, if you want to get in for free, go to a service on Sunday. I’m not really a church-y person, and it’s still worthwhile to go soak in the experience. I made sure to go when there was a sung service with a boy choir because I am a music nerd, and it’s just generally a really cool experience.
- To take you in the complete opposite direction, head to Camden Town for the afternoon. Camden is a neighborhood in London most well known for it’s weekend flea market, but it’s also a super cool, colorful area with lots of shops and fun night life. Food carts and stalls abound, and funky art shops are plentiful. If you want a fun night out, check out one of the many Camden night clubs.
- The West End is London’s version of Broadway. As a theater buff, I try to catch a show wherever I go. There are tons of different options, so check out what’s playing during your trip.
Day Six: The British Museum, Harrods, and the Victoria and Albert
- I am a history museum lover, and the British Museum is one of the best out there. Featuring everything from the original marbles from the Acropolis in Athens (which I have OPINIONS about, my friends) to the Rosetta Stone, the British Museum is a must-see, even if you’re not typically a museum guy.
- If you still have the energy and desire to do more museuming, head to The Victoria and Albert. They have an eclectic array of artifacts and exhibitions, which currently includes an exhibit on the Beatrix Potter, the author who brought Peter Rabbit and friends to life.
- Finally, you can’t go to London and not at least stop into Harrods. Bonus points if it’s the holiday season because their seasonal decor is on point. Meander through the many floors of luxury items, and grab a bite to eat at one of their several cafes, restaurants, or even have a cocktail at their Baccarat Bar.
Got More Time?
If you have more than a week at your disposal, these are the excursions that I would add.
- Get your mysticism on and take a day trip to Stonehenge. If you check out Tripadvisor or Viator, there are a billion day tour options from London, and you could bundle them with other sights as well. Stonehenge itself probably doesn’t need a whole day, but it’s a bit off the beaten path, so make sure to be cognizant of timing if you’re booking individual sites/transportation.
- A weekend in Cambridge or Oxford to visit the famed University towns — if you go with Cambridge, take advantage of punting on the River Cam. It’s a bit like taking a gondola in Venice, but it ferries you through the lovely, historic “Backs” of the colleges.
- A weekend in Bath to take in the famed Georgian Architecture, explore the eponymous mineral baths, and climb onto the roof of the Bath Abbey (only with proper supervision and ticketed entry, my friends. No Spidermanning.)
- Get the Harry Potter Experience at Warner Brothers Studios. Unfortunately I have not been able to do this yet, but when I tell you it is TOP of my list for my next visit, I am deadly serious.
Places to Eat:
England is not exactly known for it’s cuisine. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t eat well during your visit. I’ve included some recommendations below to help steer you away from touristy fish and chip shops to more authentic and interesting meal experiences.
- Brick Lane
- If you’re fond of Indian food, this is where you need to go. Located just a few blocks from the Liverpool Street Tube Station, there are dozens of delicious restaurants. However, you will be catcalled by people from pretty much every door as you walk down the street, so doing a little pre-research as to which restaurant is the best for you can help you not get suckered into a tourist trap.
- Grab picnicking provisions from Borough Market
- Borough Market is one of London’s best food markets. They have everything from meat and cheese to bao buns to lobster. There are tables and sitting areas within the market, but I recommend grabbing some goodies and enjoying a little al fresco dining in Hyde Park or Kew Gardens
- Traditional Pubs
- They are everywhere. Obviously the ones near tourist sites are not where the locals are going, so try a Pub a bit further out. Maybe head over to Covent Garden, do some window shopping, and pop into one of the back alley pubs over there. Don’t go to the upstairs dining room — order at the counter and grab yourself a pint for the real experience.