I LOOOOOVE finding the hidden gems, but let’s face it, we ARE tourists!! You’re not gonna go to London for the first time and avoid Big Ben are you? And yes, it’s gonna be packed with other tourists, and yes, you’re gonna get your photo and then be like….cool….now what? BUT….you’re gonna do it, so here’s how to bang out all the hot spots in a day or two so that you can enjoy English Breakfast Tea…for breakfast…IN ENGLAND…all of your other days and spend the rest of your London time as you like it!
So, there’s LOTS to see. And I still haven’t seen it all. That’s the beauty of London Town, you can have a different experience every time you go! But here are a few things I did see in the main part of town and some handy tips on ways to see them which I’ll delve into at the end!
You can’t spell Tourist without a capital T for Tower Bridge!I personally thought that this was the infamous London Bridge, but it’s actually the Tower Bridge, much bigger, and a much more popular attraction. Something you wouldn’t know as a first-timer. It’s definitely a tourist hot spot, but you can always try seeing it at night like I did for a different take on it.
My favourite thing to do in London town is walk through the Parks – perfect in every season!There’s the ever popular Hyde Park
Which is a great way to head to different attractions by cutting through the park either by foot or renting bikes. There are cute cafe’s, ice cream shops and bakeries inside the park and not only is it filled to the brim with beauty, but is a people-watchers dreaaaam. Great to see how london locals live!
You can cross over Buckingham Palace and walk through St James Park and Green Park to head over near London Eye and Big Ben area!
My other fave which we stumbled across after checking out Camden Market is Regent Park!A little quieter, a little more local as it’s a bit further out of the main hub although still walking distance to everything, about half an hour on foot to Hyde Park, Leicester Square and Covent Garden.A place you can’t miss when strolling through Hyde Park is Buckingham PalaceWe seemed to catch it every time and always packed, but, on our strolls I found some great pic area’s just outside the gates with a nice full view of the Palace and then if you stroll down Buckingham Gate Rd you can have a look inside The Gift Shop and see all of the replicas of the actual Royal Chinaware that is used or purchase your very own Queen Elizabeth English Tea set, staying true to form, available in all her fave pastel colours!You gotta get your snap with Big Ben Who I may add, is quite BIG indeed and frustratingly hard to get a full length photo with you in it, unless you’re snapping from a far which I would recommend for the Best “Ben and I” photos or if you just want to share the full magnitude and amazingness of this monument, shooting up from underneath definitely captures it’s detail like I did here!
Then, right across the way is London EyeI feel like almost every major city I have ventured to has some sort of replica of the O.G. London Eye, there seemed to be a Ferris Wheel everywhere but this is the authentic real deal. Plus, there are tons of ways to enjoy it, inside, on the River Thames, across the bridge and sunrise and sunset are definitely a magical view with the water offering that irresistible shimmer that the ‘magic hour’ just loves!
You can hit up Soho, China Town, Leicester Square, and Covent Garden all in one go!They are not only walking distance but sort of follow each other in a little square route so you don’t have to worry about back-tracking or missing anything. There are great markets in Covent Garden as well as little museums. St Paul’s cathedral is also across the road from Covent Garden Markets but the day we visited it was closed to the public. But the gardens in front were just as beautiful and serene!
I didn’t realise I was in Leicester square until I saw the big Cinderella movie exhibit smack bang in the middle of it with a giant sign saying “Leicester Square” but it seems to be a piazza square area with shops, cafes and restaurants you can just chill at and mosy around through.
China Town….I feel like they have board meetings of the China Town theme at every UN meeting and are like “Yep, go with that theme, no no, no changes for L.A, or London or in fact…just make em all the same right? Yeah, same theme works for us, cool, so it’s settled, people won’t know the difference per China Town – meeting adjourned!” If you have never seen a China Town, it’s a good one, and if you jump up the next street you can walk through Soho too and appreciate all the graffiti wall art and chic shops and urban cocktail lounges!
If you’re like me, you got royally pissssssssed every time someone bought The Green’s, Blue’s, Yellow’s AND Red’s in Monopoly, come on mannnnn….just give me the Red’s at least? I have the train stations as my only save point! So when I first got into Trafalgar Square my first thought was…..BUYING!!!The giant lions are pretty cool and depending the direction the guards are looking they may just turn a blind eye to you climbing all over them, unfortunately my boots are only made for walking and there was zero chance of me not slipping on the wall to climb myself up there (gotta work on my parkour) and the fountains are beautiful.
Behind Trafalgar is the National Portrait MuseumBest part about this is it’s freeeeeee! Yay! I swear I saw the same paintings in the Louvre but that could’ve just been my eyes playing tricks on me, buuuut thought I’d throw it out there just in case you think so too, we can conspire together! But it’s beautiful and so interesting to see all of the pieces dating back 1000’s and 1000’s of years ago and to see how creative and expressive the artists were then, even in their frame work! I definitely got a little lost in the beauty of some of the pieces!A great way for heading over to Big Ben and the London Eye is through the Household Cavalry MuseumThis is where you can see the guards dressed in original red uniform, working with their horses and standing guard, you can take picks next to them, I always thought they weren’t allowed to move but one yelled pretty loudly “STAND BACKKKK!!!” to RJ when he got a little too close for comfort, was sliiiightly awkward when the po-po came over to ask what the problem was. We skidaddled fairly quickly!
If you’re in London, Harrods is a MUST!
My policy was look but don’t touch! Except for my Laduree delights! Those I gobbled up quick smart! But this is a shoppers dream! You could literally spend hours in here, the building itself is decorated beautifully, even the elevators are stunning! It’s no wonder it’s one of the most visited department stores of the world!
And the last but not least thing on our London stop was of course, a show on Broadway!!! We opted for some killer bargain seats at the Apollo Victoria Theatre for the showing of Wicked! It was sooooooooo good! I was in absolute heaven and then some! It literally was WICKED! We scored great tickets when we were walking from Regent’s Park to a little corner off Baker’s Street station!There is literally SO much to do in London town that I haven’t even touched on – Westminster Abbey, Parliament House, never-ending Cathedrals and Museums, Notting Hill and so much more!! These were just a few faves that we managed to hit up in a day and a bit before indulging in other not-so-touristy London life. But hey, these are a few that you just gotta get on that camera roll!
THREE TRAVEL WAYS TO OPTIMIZE YOUR LONDON SIGHTSEEING:
1. The ever popular Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus Tours – offering a one-day ticket to get off at a popular attraction, spend your time there and then hop back on to the next with buses running every 10-15minutes for you to catch. The highest rated tour companies are Big Bus and The Original Tour.
2. Walk! You wouldn’t believe it but just about everything is walking distance. It may seem like it’s all the way on the other side of town “Oh my gosh, that’s an hour walk! There’s no way!” but what you won’t realize is all the must-see’s that you will-see stopping along the way. Plan on the closest attraction, and then the closest from there, and then the closest from there and before you know it, the day has gone and you have managed to see everything with nothing more then a great attitude and your own two feet! Bonus: This is the best way to discover the hidden gems, taking a wrong turn, which becomes a right one and bam, you found the cafe that made the best scones you ever did taste!
3. The Underground, Double Decker Buses and Regular Buses! This little puppy right here was such a bargain buy, and I had never heard of it on other travel sights so I feel proud to present my little find. This Day Card will run you about 12 GBP but it is all means of public transport for 24 hours in Zones 1-6 which is central London all the way out to about a 30-45min drive perimeter on the outskirts. We just used it inside central London and travelling to and from our accommodation but it’s cheaper then the Oyster cards which are only beneficial for unlimited tube travel, the moment you want to use the bus it’s an additional charge. This is a perfect option if you want to be able to catch everything, you’re planning a lot of travelling and want a good bang for your buck!
4. (because…bonus) You can rent a “Boris Bike” in the same sense of Hop-On Hop-Off in the fact that you can rent near one popular attraction and then drop it off to the next one and just pay for what you use (it works in 30minute increments). Only thing with this is you get a hold taken on your CC so it depends how reliable you are, and make sure you *click* it back in so that it’s registered the return or you can thank the next stranger for your new bike you just purchased but will never see…
The best advice I can give is going to be contradicting….PLAN your sightseeing so you have a sense of direction…..BE FLEXIBLE with the plan, so you can get a little lost and don’t feel like a robot checking off sightseeing like a to-do list, take a wrong turn they’re usually the BEST turns and have an amazing time drinking tea, strolling the parks, feeling the cold-but-worth-it air and saying ‘ello wherever possible! All my london love your way and have an amazing first trip!!!
Oh…and don’t forget to check out London at night….it’ll be the icing on your cake!