London is huge and amazing and crazy and beautiful, and this is going to leave you exhausted, but with some good walking shoes, it is possible to walk through the must-sees in a day.
Warning: I am a walker. I would rather walk my way anywhere than to hop on the underground because I find it miserably claustrophobic and can run as hot as Satan himself. However, this can be adapted to include the underground, public buses, or a particularly lovely tourist bus line called ‘Hop On Hop Off’, which enables you to pay about £25 for unlimited rides throughout the day (and there are deals available for multiple days as well). This company has stops at every major location and runs a bus through every half an hour so that you can get on and off with ease and without the fear of getting lost in a big, new city. On the bus, there are headphones provided so that you can plug in and listen to a general information and historical guide while riding through the city. If you do go with this option, it is nice to just ride the bus around and hear all about it.
Now back to my fellow walkers – London is an amazing city to walk in because it is so centralized. If you get off at Waterloo station, you are about 5 minutes from the Thames, the London Eye, and it is a simple walk across the river to get to Westminster. Although I am not personally excited about the ferris wheel, seeing the Westminster clock tower Big Ben was a surreal, and the cross over the Thames is guaranteed to make you stop in awe.
If you continue on past Westminster, in about 20 minutes you can hit Buckingham palace and the lovely surrounding park. There is a changing of the guards everyday at 11. It is exactly what you would expect, except the view of the queen and corgis that I was hoping for.
For a beautiful overhead view of the city, the go-to location is the Shard tower. And it should be, as it is amazing! Getting to the Shard is also lovely on a nice day. Instead of crossing the river once you reach the Thames after leaving from Waterloo, turn right to walk the path along the water. It is full of vendors, art and musicians. You will pass the Globe Theatre, the London Dungeons, and many buildings older than I can fathom. It is a cool contrast to see these old buildings and poetic chaos and the modern Shard tower.
Here are some things to know for the Shard visit:
1. It costs about £25 to go up to the top viewing floor BUT it is free to go to the bar and restaurant. It is only a few floors below, still has an amazing, panoramic view of the city, and instead, you can spend that £25 on some drinks or munchies
2. It is a little more bourgie than my normal go-tos. There are people who will be serving you in gowns and tuxes.
Next stop on the journey: The Tower of London.
The tower of London is a necessary stop in London. It is beautiful and has a rich history. However, the line for tickets was so long that we went on our phones to buy them online, and picked them up at the express counter. This saved quite a bit of time, but then we waited in another line to get in. Right when we thought we were done with lines, we saw the line to see the Crown Jewels. After a couple of hours of wandering and realizing the lady wearing the red shirt (our time marker) still had not made it in, we decided we were too famished to wait. But the displays throughout the castle, the stories, and the crowns sans jewels were enough to make the experience feel worth it.
Fun Fact: there used to be zoo animals, and there is a ye olde rule about a raven being required to be there at all times.
For shopping, there are destinations for everyone and everything. Camden Market is the home of the artisan, the crafter, the obscene t-shirts, and some funky food. It is the home of the students, the hippies, the hipsters, and those just wandering for a good time. It is easily reached via metro and has some very cool vibes.
On the other hand, you have Harrods, the most exquisite, glamorous, frivolous building I have ever been in. And it does not end. You could go on forever. It is a black hole of themed perfection. On the bright side, if you do get lost, you will not starve. There are cafes selling macaroons and tea. When you think bourgie class, this store will instantly come to mind after one visit. Even the stairwells are themed and have 15′ statues. The Egyptian one was my favourite. Personally, I’m a student and could barely afford to breathe in that store.
If you have more than a day, I highly recommend looking into the museums that London has to offer. The British Museum, the Museum of Natural History and the National Gallery are just a few examples of what London has to offer, and they’re FREE. Amazing eh? And they are amazing – The British museum alone has more to offer than you could really satisfactorily cover in a day.
Last Quick Tips:
Wait to see the city at night. It lights up and is breathtaking.
Wander. Get lost. You will find so many unexpected and cool things.