I wouldn’t consider myself an expert on the city of London, but I have seen quite a lot of it after spending nearly 9 weeks of my summer here. In between going to class and doing homework, I would be the “ultimate tourist” and try to see as many spots as I possibly could. As you could probably tell from my Wanderlust Wednesday series (insert shameless plug here), I covered a lot of ground in my adventures. Obviously not all of it could be done in a short time, but there were definitely some highlights that I would recommend everyone do.
So what if you did have a week to explore the city? Worry not, because I’ll tell you all the places you should go + important information to keep on your radar!
So you’ve arrived in London! You’re most likely quite jet lagged and would like to take a nap, but don’t do it. If you do, your body clock is going to be out of whack for the whole trip, and you don’t want that. Instead, drop your bags off at your hotel and head out. You can sleep later!
The first day is great to hit some of the major tourist sites. You’ll want to head to your nearest London Underground station, get yourself an week long unlimited Oyster card and a tube map, and figure out the best route to Westminster station. After you leave the station, you’ll see Big Ben immediately in front of you – perfect photo opportunity! Then you can head slightly south to find Westminster Abbey and see where the Queen was coronated, Will and Kate got married, and a whole lot more!
I also recommend doing a walking tour on a few nights you’re in London. They take you to parts of the city you would never know existed! If you go to Walks.com, they offer a whole bunch of reasonably priced walking tours and all the guides are great! I’ve been on 4 different ones and they’re all stellar! If nothing at all, at least do a Jack The Ripper tour – it’s super interesting!
Feel like seeing Buckingham Palace? Awesome! Head to the Underground and find the best route to Green Park station. Walk through the park (it’s gorgeous!) and you’ll make it to the front of the palace. If you want, you can buy a ticket to see the inside. It’s absolutely beautiful in there!
After Buckingham, take a walk down Pall Mall. This is the street that you always see on TV during big events in London: Royal wedding, coronations, any big parade, etc. A 10 minute walk leads you to Trafalgar Square, which is another big destination to check off your list! While you’re here, take a couple hours to wind through the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery. They’re full of paintings and some of the rooms are so cool!
On your second day, you should do an afternoon tea. I recommend booking one in advance just so you know you have a table reserved. I’ve been to two – one at The Athenaeum in Piccadilly and one at the Belgraves Hotel near Kensington. They were very different from each other, but I enjoyed both of them equally!
You could end your day exploring a part of the city on your own or taking another walking tour. They’re really worth your while!
Whether or not you’re a European history buff, you’ll love visiting the Tower of London. It’s one of the oldest remaining structures in the city and is home to the Crown Jewels. It also used to be the old palace. The Tower is a great way to learn a lot about London’s medieval history. The nearest tube station is Tower Hill.
While you’re there, take a walk down Tower Bridge. Take note that it is called the Tower Bridge and not the London Bridge. That one’s completely different and much more boring than the former. With a little bit of history under your belt, you can enjoy some modern art at Tate Modern. This is by far one of my favorite museums in London!
End your day with a play or a musical! Piccadilly Circus is home to Shaftesbury Avenue which is basically like the Broadway of London. I went to Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre, and I loved it! I’ve heard amazing things about Wicked and Les Miserables too, but there are a ton of other ones to choose from if none of those strike your fancy. Seeing a show was definitely a highlight of my whole 8 weeks here.
Who likes shopping? I know I do! If you feel the same way, head to Oxford Street around 10 AM right when all the shops open. The most efficient way to go about Oxford Street is to take the tube to Oxford Circus station which is the half way point of the street. After you exit the station, head right and hit all the shops on the way to Tottenham Court Road station. The reason behind this is that Oxford Street basically repeats itself on either side of the main station. This way you can get all your shopping in without wasting any precious moments!
After a nice shopping spree down the high street, you should head back to the Oxford Circus area, and take a left down Argyll Street. At the end you’ll see Liberty of London. This is a huge department store made out of old ships! They have a bunch of designer labels – we’re talking Prada, Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood, etc. It’s so amazing just to look at it all!
Once you’ve been awed by luxury fashion, head south onto Carnaby Street and go into Soho. Soho was the place to be back in the 1980’s because it was one of the cooler, edgier parts of town. Other areas of the city have taken that title for themselves now, but Soho is still a cool place to go if you’re into the alternative scene. There’s a lot of really good vinyl stores in the area if you happen to have a record player! Soho is also a great place to take outfit photos if you’re a blogger!
Calling all art and design enthusiasts: The Victoria and Albert museum is the place for you! It has exhibits on fashion, theatre, ceramics, and every other medium of art you can think of! There’s also this room with a bunch of enormous sculptures! Totally breathtaking! By the way, the nearest tube station is South Kensington and there is a pedestrian tunnel leading straight from the station to the entrance of the museum!
After you’re done at the V&A, take a 10 minute walk down the road and you’ll find Harrods! That’s right, the ever-famous London department store. You’re going to need a few hours to navigate this gigantic place if you want to see it all! If you’re looking for a shortcut, the gift shop is on the 2nd floor – perfect for getting that Harrods shopping bag without spending a fortune!
The next place you’re going to want to go is Hyde Park. It’s just a short walk north of the department store, and if you follow the signs for Royal Albert Hall you can’t miss it! Hyde Park is home to Kensington Palace & Gardens (hello Royal Family!), the Princess Diana Memorial, and the Serpentine Gallery. Hyde Park is a really nice place to go for some rest and relaxation after a long day!
So by this point you’ve seen quite a bit of London! Want to learn more about its history? Head to the Museum of London to do just that! It’s hidden right inside the Barbican which is a mid-1900’s structure that is very unique. It’s a more calm part of London, which is kind of nice after spending a long time in the hustle and bustle of the city.
Right nearby is St Paul’s Cathedral (a two minute walk from St. Paul’s station). For a small fee you can tour the inside and check out the infamous Whispering Gallery. Due to the construction of the dome, if you whisper something, someone on the other side of the wall can hear it. Almost magical!
After you’re done here, maybe take a 20 minute walk over to Borough Market and find a bunch of food that you’ll want to stuff your face with! Fruit, vegetables, meat, street food – you name it, they have it!
Now for the moment you’ve been waiting for: The London Eye! This ferris wheel is officially called the Millennium Wheel as it was constructed to celebrate the turn of the 21st century. It was actually only meant to stay up for a short time, but people loved it too much to see it go! A 30 minute ride around is the perfect amount of time to see the whole city!
Now that all that touristy stuff is out of your system, it’s time to see what I like to call “Real London”. First stop is Camden Lock Market in North London. The nearest underground station is Camden Town. Take a right when you leave the station and you’ll be on Camden High Street, the road leading directly to the market. At the market you’ll find a bunch of stalls where independent artists will sell their work. I love finding handmade jewelry, unique artwork, and fun trinkets while I’m there. While you’re there, try some of the street food – there’s literally a ton of choices! If street food doesn’t interest you, try the Cereal Killer cafe. They literally offer 100 different types of cereal in an 80’s themed restaurant!
Fun fact: Amy Winehouse worked in Camden before she became famous!
Afterwards, it’s time to hit the current cool place to be in London – Shoreditch. Take the tube from Camden Town to Liverpool Street and then walk down Bishopsgate until you get to Shoreditch High Street. Here you’ll find vintage shops, a fantastic record store, a bunch of independent cafes, fabulous street art and some great nightlife!
If you want to check out some more markets, Spitalfields and Brick Lane are right in this area too!
If you have extra time
It’s impossible to hit all the cool parts of London in 7 days. Heck, I spent 9 weeks there and I didn’t even see everything! However, if you find you have an extra hour or two, here are 7 more fun things to do.
- Take a photo at Abbey Road (Be aware that there’s actually pretty heavy traffic there!)
- Take a Platform 9 3/4 photo at King’s Cross Station
- Go to the British Museum
- Go to the Tate Britain
- Go to the Churchill War Rooms
- Take a double decker bus tour
- Go to Portobello Road Market
I hope this was a useful guide if you have a trip to London coming up soon! Feel free to contact me if you have any questions!
Have any of you been to London before? If so, would you add anything to this itinerary? Let me know in the comments!
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