London was never at the top of my “must visit” list. For whatever reason, I’d convinced myself that it was basically just a big city like New York, but with a different accent and equally hefty price tag. I clearly overlooked the incredible history. I also really love the feeling of culture shock and speaking a language other than English, so add those reasons up, and like I said, it just never was my first choice. But then my boyfriend convinced me to go (it HAD been top of his list), and I have to say, I really wish I’d gone sooner.
London is the kind of city I’d move to in a heartbeat. The accessibility to so many other places would be incredible for starters, but let’s talk about the city itself – it’s so diverting with much to entertain (yes, I stole that line from Pride and Prejudice). I really wouldn’t recommend trying to cram as much as we did into three days in London – you’ll want more time, especially if you want to do any day trips outside the city. Either way, here are some of the main sites you’ll want to check out:
- Leadenhall Market: for you Harry Potter fans, you’ll recognize this as the filming location of Diagon Alley in the first movie. It’s also just a really beautiful market with shops, pubs, and restaurants
- Tower of London: plan to spend a couple of hours here, because the complex is massive, and it’s home to the crown jewels (note: you aren’t allowed to take pictures inside the crown jewels chamber – we watched them confiscate and delete photos off multiple phones while we were there). There are also some pretty stunning views of the Tower Bridge from the Tower as well
- Tower Bridge: following the Tower of London, we crossed over the Tower Bridge so we could see it from all sides. We didn’t climb the bridge given time constraints, but it’s still beautiful to see from the ground, so don’t feel like you’re totally missing out if you don’t have time either
- St. Paul’s Cathedral: the dome of the cathedral is one of the tallest in the world, and you can climb up to the top inside if you’re feeling brave. There’s also a whispering wall up there. Plan to spend 30-45 minutes inside
- London Eye: given recommendations from friends as well as timing constraints (the queue was over 2 hours), we opted not to actually ride it
- Parliament + Big Ben: plan to spend about an hour or so walking all around the outside of Parliament and Big Ben. There’s a beautiful garden on the south side of Parliament if you have some extra time, too. Note that this area is VERY busy because, as you can imagine, every tourist is trying to get that perfect photo, so try to go early to avoid the crowds
- Westminster Abbey: just a short walk from Parliament and Big Ben is Westminster Abbey. Same note about pedestrian traffic here – pop into the Dean’s Yard just to the south west of the entrance for a respite from the crowds
- St. James Park and Buckingham Palace: if you’re up for walking, head towards Buckingham Palace by way of St. James Park. It’s a beautiful, scenic walk and will allow you to experience two iconic London landmarks in one
- Millenium Bridge: from the Palace, head back towards St. Paul’s Cathedral and cross over the Thames via the Millenium Bridge. As a Harry Potter fan, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that this is the bridge where they filmed the Death Eater attack in the beginning of Half Blood Prince. It’s also pedestrian-only!
- Shakespeare’s Globe Theater: unfortunately it was closed for a private event when we were in town, but the outside is still worth seeing if you have the time
- Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden: we were very short on time so just took a bus from Trafalgar Square through Covent Garden on our way back to our hotel for dinner
Looking for that extra-special instagram-worthy shot? Check out one of the many mews that London is famous for. We took a bus to Warren Mews, which was quite a bit out of the way given the limited time we had in London, but it was absolutely beautiful and there are so many more mews that are more conveniently located in neighborhoods like Kensington
Usually I include restaurant recommendations, but for London, i’ll make an exception and note some of the pubs we particularly enjoyed
- New Moon Pub (just inside Leadenhall Market)
- The Draft House (just across the Thames/Tower Bridge from the Tower of London)
- Hung, Drawn, and Quartered (heading back towards our hotel just past the Tower of London)
- The Ship (up the street towards the hotel from Hung, Drawn, and Quartered)
- Ye Old Cheshire Cheese, one of the oldest pubs in London (on the way from St. Paul’s to the embankment)
We loved our hotel, especially the location. I know most people want to stay closer to Kensington and that area, but we chose to stay in the trendy Shoreditch area, and I would highly recommend it to anyone visiting London for the first time. We stayed at the Ace Hotel London Shoreditch, which was a fun and trendy boutique hotel within walking distance to several different sites and bus/underground stops to the rest. For more info on why we loved it and typical rates, check here!
Here are some tips for getting from the airport and getting around once you’re there
- From the airport: we took the Tube to our hotel, which was very easy. You just buy an Oyster card at the airport Tube station (note that you need one per person)
- Getting around town: we walked everywhere the first day since everything we did was basically just down one road from our hotel. The second day, we walked half the time and then used the bus system the other half, and we would sit up top so we could see sights as we went, which I’d highly recommend if you’re low on time so you can get around AND see the city at the same time. We put 20 pounds on our cards and probably have half of it left – I think each ride is about 2 pounds, and you get free transfers
Sightseeing Note: we bought 2-day London Passes from a tourist shop at the Tower of London. They were about 80 pounds each, but it got us into everything we did, so it was worth the cost, and you don’t have to wait in line everywhere to buy tickets. I’d check online prior to arriving in London as I’m sure you could get a better deal than the 80 pounds we paid
What are your favorite places in London? Drop me a line with any questions or comments!