We spent 2 months in London exploring, catching up with family and friends, living like normal people in one spot and playing “house” which we hadn’t done for being on the road for over 7 months.
Our daughter had been living there, so we played tourist and visited all the attractions we could during our time with her.
With so much to see and do in London a little planning will come in handy. Especially when trying to deal with the crazy traffic and get from one side of the city to the other.
Transport is very easy in London and quite often you have the choice of 3 or 4 routes to get between locations. We soon got the hang of the Underground, changing lines, up and down stairs and escalators along with the thousands of daily commuters, being pushed and shoved in every direction. We purchased Oyster Cards, which we topped up when needed using the machines at any station or you can create an account and top up your card online. These cards cover both the rail and bus transport systems. You can also get a refund on the purchase price of the card and any remaining credit at the International airports when you leave.
There are numerous other passes you can get. One is called the London Pass which includes the cost of entry to many of the attractions in the city.
The bus, however was our favourite, sure it always took a lot longer than the Underground but we got to see more and it was easier to get your bearings than being below ground. And no steps or escalators! We soon became pretty familiar with London and were able to get around relatively easily.
Here’s just a handful of my favourite things to do in this buzzing metropolis.
You know when you have seen photos of a location a hundred times and then you actually get to see it in real life and it exceeds all your expectations? And sometimes not! Well, the Tower Bridge exceeded my expectations. It’s elegant, functional, understated (in comparison to many bridges we have crossed), it could tell you a story or two no doubt. I just loved it.
Free to walk across, something I would recommend you take the time to do. There are tours you can go on up to the high walkway level with a glass floor. Click here for more details.
Summer Opening Hours: April – September 10:00 – 17:30 (last admission)
Winter Opening Hours: October – March 09:30 – 17:00 (last admission)
Tower Bridge Exhibition is closed 24 – 26 December and open from 10:00am on 1 January.
But be sure to check the times here in case they have changed.
BRITISH NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM
I had heard so much about this beautiful building from friends and fellow travellers, that I added it to our list of places to visit. I am so glad we did. Whilst the British Natural History Museum houses some of the most amazing exhibits you will ever see, it was actually the building itself that I fell in love with and in particular the main hall.
There are stone staircases at each end, worn underfoot from hundreds of years use. The stone columns and arches have an almost checkerboard effect and house some of the most beautiful stained glass windows I have seen.
Admission is free, however some of the special exhibits you may have to pay to visit. We visited the Dinosaur Gallery, Fish, Amphibians and Reptiles Gallery, Mammals and The Blue Whale. In the Minerals Hall you can see the original oak display cabinets from 1881, which house a mind boggling number of “rocks and minerals” over 185000 in total. Here you will also see The Vault, which houses some of the rarest and most valuable natural treasures including a crystallised gold nugget from Australia.
We really only scratched the surface on our visit and time permitting you could spend a week in here and not see everything there is to see.
Here’s a great PDF map of the Museum so you can plan ahead of time what you would like to see.
TOWER OF LONDON
After visiting a few of the attractions you soon realise just how much each attraction has to offer and the Tower of London is no exception.
Seeing The Crown Jewels was one of the things at the top of my list and how stunning they are, indescribable in size and colour. They were breathtakingly beautiful, so much so, we did a second pass on the escalator thingy. It slowly glides you past the glittering array of crowns and sceptres including the ornate and delicate Coronation Spoon. No photos are allowed in here obviously so take your time.
The White Tower was “built, to awe, subdue and terrify Londoners and to deter foreign invaders”. Today it houses the Royal Armouries collection including arms, armour and historical artefacts from the reign of Henry VIII, Charles I and James II.
On the lawns inside the walls of the fortress you will find a number of Ravens hanging around. Steve was fascinated by these and the story that lays behind them, he has written an article titled My Kingdom For Six Ravens? Go have a read, it’s an interesting story.
Adults: £25.00 Children (5-15): £12.00 Concession: £19.50 Family (Up to 2 adults and 3 children (aged 5-15 years)): £63.00 – Book online here and save a few pounds
Tuesday – Saturday 9.00-17.30, Sunday – Monday 10.00-17.30. Last admission: 17.00
Check up to date times and prices here
Being not too steady on my feet or comfortable at heights, I was not initially too keen to experience this modern iconic landmark. The Eye sits on the southern bank of the River Thames and the queues and masses of people that congregate around its base can be rather overwhelming at times.
Sometimes when you arrive at an attraction you get that sinking feeling when you realise that it’s going to take forever just to get to the front of the queue. Well, this time I was wrong, the process ran like clockwork and whilst the lines were long they consistently moved forward. It wasn’t long before we were boarding our little capsule in anticipation of seeing London City from one of the best viewing points there is.
Despite my initial trepidations, you must experience The London Eye. I recommend doing it as early as you can when you first get to London, as it gave me a great perspective on where things were in relation to each other. Many streets in London are not on the regular square grid, so seeing it from the air really helped, well it did for me.
Click here because there are too many options to list!
Again these change month by month…..click here.
ST PAUL’S CATHEDRAL
I wasn’t sure if I was going to include Saint Paul’s Cathedral on my list, given the rather steep entry fee and the fact we were not allowed to take photos inside. But how couldn’t I not include this magnificent iconic place of worship that holds so much history and grandeur with its instantly recognisable world famous dome.
From the central floor, the Underground crypt, Whispering Gallery (257 steps up), Stone Gallery (376 steps up) and Golden Gallery (528 steps to the top) which provides 360 degree views of London, it was all gobsmackingly beautiful!
Click here as they often have sales in advance on the entry fee.
Visit here as they change depending of services etc.
But wait there’s more
There is so much more we did in whilst in London, if I was to include it all you would be still here weeks from now wading through this post. So in brief, we also visited the following:
See a West End Show – We saw the musical Cats and purchased tickets at one of the many outlets available nearby Piccadilly Circus. Alternatively there are several online ticket offices you can purchase from too.
Westminster Abbey – amazing architecture
Parliament Buildings – steeped in history
Big Ben – or the correctly named Elizabeth Tower
Abbey Road – Everyone has to walk across that famous crosswalk!
Harrods – the place to shop if you can afford it or celebrity watch instead
Platform 9 3/4 – for those Harry Potterites out there
Buckingham Palace – check out the changing of the guard and see if His Majesty is at home?
Globe Theatre – to be or not to be?
Trafalgar Square – beware the pigeons and human statues
Piccadilly Circus – people watch the people watching people
Leicester Square – and get your chocolate fix at the M and M store
The British Museum – treasures from all over the world
Sir John Soane’s Museum – for a quirky different collection
SoHo – for drinks, dinner or that late night coffee
Hyde Park – a beautiful green space to enjoy in the city
The Shard – enjoy the view from the top
The Sky Garden – remember no reservation, no entry
Madame Tussauds – get a selfie with a celeb
Churchill’s War Rooms – visit the nerve centre for WWII
National Gallery – for those artistically inclined
Lords – the home of Cricket
Oxford Circus – for the shopaholics
South Bank – eat and drink and enjoy a stroll along the famous Thames
Markets and more Markets including:
We would love to hear from you about your favourite places and things to do in London, please leave us a comment.