Whether you go there for the history, the museums, the theater, or to see if the food really is that bad, a trip to London should be on even the most infrequent traveler's to-do list. My friend and I found a week to be a good amount of time to check out many of the typical tourist spots, as well as a few personal interest sites that are off the traditional path.
- Before You Visit London for the First Time
- London Restaurant Reviews
- London Off The Beaten Track and Top 10 London Hidden Gems
Before heading out to London for a week, make sure you have a few things taken care of:
- Check the weather forecast and pack (but don't over pack) accordingly. (See London Weather advice.)
- Get a city map that clearly labels the streets and where the tube stations are
- Let your bank and credit card companies know the dates you'll be traveling
- Make sure you have comfortable walking shoes that you've tested enough to make sure they don't give you blisters (I learned this one the hard way)
Day One: Arrive in LondonWe arrived too early to check into our hotel, but since we were staying near Hyde Park and it was unseasonably warm for early October, it was the perfect opportunity to walk through the park. The park is huge, but be sure to check out some of some of its key spots, like Kensington Palace, the Round Pond (where there are geese and swans waiting to be fed), the Italian fountains, the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain and the Peter Pan statue, commissioned by the author J.M. Barrie.
This is also a good time to take care of things like getting cash from an ATM or exchanging currency, getting an Oyster card for riding the tube (definitely the easiest way to get around), and exploring the area that you're staying in.
After having dinner at a restaurant near the hotel, we headed for the Grosvenor Hotel near Victoria station, where we were meeting up with a Jack the Ripper walking tour. The tour took us through the somewhat unappealing East End of London, where our tour guide led us along the path where the victims of Jack the Ripper were found in 1888 and filled us in on the various theories about the still unsolved crimes. The tour also included a night cruise along the River Thames and a bus ride that points out some other slightly macabre sites, such as the hospital where the Elephant Man lived and the plaque where William Wallace (aka Braveheart) was tortured and killed.
Day Two: Hop-On, Hop-OffFor our second day we spent the day riding around the city on one of those double-decker buses for an all day hop-on, hop-off tours. It's a great way to see all the key London sites like Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abbey, the London Eye and the many bridges that cross the River Thames. Be sure to make a note of any stops you'd like to come back and revisit for longer later in the week.
We ended the day with dinner at the Sherlock Holmes Pub, near Trafalgar Square, which features a decorated sitting room inspired by the detective's office as described in the novels and various Sherlock Holmes books and movies memorabilia. A must-see for any fans of the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
- London Tours
- The Big Bus Company runs hop on, hop off tours.
- Sherlock Holmes Museum
Day Three: Road Trip!While there's no shortage of things to see and do in London, there are some pretty cool spots right outside of London we wanted to check out. So we boarded a bus for a full day tour out to Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Bath.
On the way to Windsor Castle, we passed by the Ascot racecourse, one of the Queen's favorite pastimes. Windsor Castle is an official residence of the Queen, but it was originally built as a fortress to keep invaders out. You can wander through the State Apartments and view various treasures from the Royal Collection. Also on view is Queen Mary's dollhouse, a miniature working replica of a portion of the castle.
After about an hour's drive we arrived at Stonehenge, which is quite literally in the middle of nowhere. As we walked the perimeter of the stones, we listened to an audio tour that told about the various theories on the origins of Stonehenge, from being built by the Druids to being dropped from the sky by the Devil himself.
Our final stop of the day was Bath, where we toured the Roman Baths and the city of Bath itself. After a two-hour drive back to London, we arrived at our hotel late at night and exhausted from a very full day of touring.
- London Day Trips
Day Four: Tower of London and ShoppingA morning tour of the Tower of London took a couple of hours where we got to check out the location where so many important figures were imprisoned and eventually executed. The Crown Jewels are also on display and made for a nice distraction after learning some of the grislier history of the Tower. Be sure to join one of the Yeoman Warder-guided tours, which depart every half hour (to call our guide a "character" would be an understatement).
The afternoon was spent shopping in some of the well-known, and admittedly touristy, shopping areas, including Portobello Market, Harrods department store, and Piccadilly Circus. We also checked out a temporary Dr. Who exhibit at Earl's Court, which happened to be in the town the same time we were. Having never seen the show, I was at a bit of a loss, but my friend (the true fan) found it to be "cheesy, but entertaining."
- Temporary Exhibitions and Events in London
- London Calendar of Annual Events
- London Travel Blog
- Sign up for the free About.com London Travel Newsletter