I had a conversation recently with some friends in the States. They were telling me about a trip to Italy they are trying to plan, but it required a 17-hour layover in London. Their concern was that there's so much to do in London, so what could they truly cover in such a short time? Well, let's see.
This got me thinking back to my first trip to London a year go. It was a weekend trip and I wanted to make the most of it, so my husband and I let the road take us forward. The great thing about London is that it's a very walk-able town. There are sidewalks and bike lanes throughout much of the city. And there aren't highways or areas where only cars can travel. Often times, it's faster to travel via tube or foot than to even sit in a cab or bus waiting in traffic.
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Where we'll start first is at the Buckingham Palace. It's one of the most iconic of all London attractions especially to Americas since palaces aren't a common sight in the States.
I know what you're thinking: we have to see the changing of the guards! It happens Monday through Friday at 10:45am. On the weekends, it takes place at 10:00am, so please be aware of the day of the week.
There's so much to see inside of the Buckingham Palace. You can visit the State Rooms where the Queen and the family members of the Royals entertain guests. Or stop by the Royal Mews where road travel arrangements are made for the Royals. Then, check out The Queens Gallery that have rotating exhibitions including the Royal Collections and antique art and furniture. You'll leave the Buckingham Palace thoroughly amazed at how beautiful and glorious everything looks. It's amazing that these areas are continually utilised to this day.
Saint James Park Mall
After your tour around the massive and beautiful Palace, you can take a stroll down the St. James Park Mall. This 57-acre park is known for it's beautiful display of flowers by the palace. When you walk through it in the autumn season, the leaves changing colors is stunning.
What's so great about parks? London is actually well known for having pristine and well-groomed parks. Some of these parks even have beautifully curated gardens that are always impressively blossoming in the early spring. I highly encourage you take advantage of visiting the St James Park or any of the other popular parks such as Hyde Park and Regents Park. No two parks look alike and they were clearly made to cater to runners and cyclists.
London has plenty of rental bikes including Zip, Lime, and Santander all over London. It's a great experience to take advantage of this and ride a bike around the gorgeous parks.
The National Gallery
From here, you'll end up at our next stop, which is the National Gallery. The gallery has must-see famous artwork, which include Monet, Rembrandt, van Gogh, and Michelangelo just to name a few. I'm sure you've heard of them. If you love timeless paintings, the National Gallery is the place for you.
What else is great about the National Gallery? Admission is free except for some rotating exhibitions. Of course, donations are encouraged to keep the place running. So far in this day trip, your wallet has remained about the same weight as when we started. And now, you've been enlightened by coming face to face with some of the oldest and most beautiful paintings that everyone merely hears about. How are you loving London so far?!
The Westminster Abbey
After the National Gallery, we'll walk southward to the Westminster Abbey. It's the home of all Coronations since 1066, several royal weddings, and the tombs of kings and queens. It's also a current place of worship, not just a historical sight.
That's one thing I love about visiting London. The historical places you're visiting are not merely historical but also still properly utilised to this day. Often times, historical sites mean they were once in use but now abandoned and left to collect dust and push tours through. That's not the case in London. You're walking in the same place that the Royals have walked over and over again.
You can always find tours taking place. Just make sure you make it here before 3 o'clock in the afternoon on the weekdays to make it to the final tour of the day. On the weekends, the schedule is shorter and some of the areas are closed, so you'll want to plan ahead for that.
Now that we've walked around quite a bit, I think we've worked up an appetite. We can walk by the Big Ben clock tower over the Westminster Bridge and take a meal break at the Borough Market in Waterloo. For a guide through the Borough Market, see my previous post called Spend a Day in the Borough Market.
Why should you visit the Borough Market? For one, this is one of the largest gatherings of independent small businesses in London. Also, each market is going to have different shops. The shops you have in the Borough Market are unique to the Borough Market. It's not like in the States where each town has the same chain in strip malls that look identical. These small businesses presented as carts, small kitchens, or single store fronts are what makes each market unique and you know which brand you can trust.
For example, there are at least 3 oyster stalls in the Borough Market. I mainly go to the same one because I enjoyed their service, the quality and type of oysters they're selling, and of course, the price. But I won't find the same oyster shop in the Spitalfields Market, if I find any seafood at all. Another great reason to visit is that the Borough Market continues to support independent greengrocers, which is always good to do.
The London Eye
Walk along the River Thames, towards the London Eye to capture this beautiful view as the sun is setting. Just to note, the sun sets between 4 and 5 o'clock in the afternoon during the winter months in London, so you'll unfortunately see it grow dark early. It's completely dark by 6 o'clock in the evening. But what's so important about going on some ferris wheel?
The London Eye is quite massive. It provides you with a great view of London where you can take an infinite amount of iconic pictures of London from nearly an aerial view. Also, when you book online, you'll save 10% on your admission ticket. The tickets are a bit pricey at around £30. But if it's your first time in London, I highly recommend you try this out for the view even locals don't get from their high rises.
The Theatre District
Finally, we'll make our way to the theatre district, also known as the West End. Take the Golden Jubilee Bridge toward the West End. You'll know when you're in the theatre district once you start seeing posters, banners and street art all paying homage to current musicals that are playing on Broadway.
Musical tickets here are significantly cheaper in London than in the States even though it's the same Broadway musical. I recommend you to take advantage and go see a musical you've been itching to see, but haven't had the opportunity due to the cost or your busy schedule.
Personally, I've only had the opportunity to see one musical in the West End, Matilda. But that was by choice. All of last year, even up until the week I was leaving New York City for my move to London, I had seen several musicals on Broadway. Those included several that were playing in London, so there was no point in watching it again. But I will be taking full advantage of the cheap tickets here when a new musical hits the West End.
I hope this guide gave you an idea of what's possible to see during a short trip or layover in London. It's going to a busy day, but it's absolutely worth it to visit these iconic and historical places. I found a special appreciation for a country that's filled with so much history, especially considering the States is a very young country in comparison.
If you want to experience London with a bit more guidance, TripAdvisor can always help you out. It's helped me so much when I vacationed at a foreign country and didn't know up from down. You can always contact me or leave a comment below. Can't wait to hear how your trip to London turned out.
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