Bab's Guide to London: It's a British Thing!
Whether you're a novice or a veteran traveller, this is one city that everyone should see at least once. London is one of the most popular year-round destinations. With centuries upon centuries of history, spectacular architecture, brilliant landscapes, iconic landmarks, and of course the Royal Family, what isn't there to do and see in London?
Pre-Planning Your Trip
London rivals New York City as one of the busiest and most populated cities in the world. There are endless things to do and places to see, so it's important to decide what is most important to you when planning your London excursion, and then plan from there. Do you like museums, art, and theater, or are you more interested in history and architecture? What about iconic landmarks like the London Eye and the Tower of London, or famous parks and gardens? Make a list of your must-sees, your would-like-to-sees, and your would-be-nice-to-see if you have time. This will help you schedule your time and plan accordingly!
The best way to experience all London has to offer is to allow yourself a minimum of 5-10 days of travel time. You'll want to get past that first bit of jet lag and adjust to the differences in directional orientation (more details on that below). This is especially true if you plan to do any driving around the countryside – getting used to inverted directions of the road can be daunting for even the most experience travelers!
Getting Around Town
ALWAYS check the sidewalks before attempting to cross the street. If you are from the USA or any other country that uses the right side of the street, your instinct will be to check for traffic on the side you're accustomed to.
To avoid any unpleasant surprise trips to the hospital, look out for the signs that say Look Right and Look Left. There are also sidewalk illuminations and indicators, which are on the poles at walkways with white and yellow bulbs at the top. These are reminders to check the crosswalk before stepping into the road.
If you don't plan to do any driving yourself, then taking public transportation is the way to go. The Oyster Card is a great way to utilize the transportation system, get to where you need to be at nearly any time of day, and best of all, save some cash. I personally recommend topping up your Oyster card for however many days you plan to be in the city so you don't have to worry about standing in lines to reload your card for each trip.
Hint: you can reload your Oyster card online and skip waiting in line entirely! Check out this website for info on public transportation, maps of the tube, reloading your card, and more!
In London, there are museums, palaces, restaurants, stately buildings and history aplenty. And best of all, many of the museums in London are free or inexpensive admission! There are hundreds of things to see in London that are free and fabulous. Let’s start with the most popular museums.
The British Museum
Opened in 1759, this museum contains a vast collection of cultural and ancient artifacts. The Rosetta Stone is one of the most famous historical pieces housed here. If ancient history piques your fancy, this is one stop you won't want to miss!
British Museum of Natural History
Opened in 1881, this is considered the pre-eminent facility for natural history and related fields of research. For all the science buffs out there, the National History Museum is your one-stop-shop for everything from dinosaurs, to a tree gallery, to birds and stars. The museum also functions as a research center specializing in taxonomy, identification and conservation.
The Victoria and Albert Museum
The Victoria and Albert Museum was founded in 1852, and is home to the single largest collection of decorative arts and design in the world. Over 2.3 million artifacts are kept here, including furniture, artwork, ceramics, jewelry, textiles, sculptures and more. Art majors and creative enthusiasts – make sure you mark this one down!
The Tate Modern
The Tate Modern building itself is as much a work of art as the treasures it hides inside. Opened in 2000 by the Queen herself, it is one of the largest modern and contemporary art museums in the world. If you're a fan of modern and contemporary pieces, this is the place to be!
Hint: At the top of the Tate is a restaurant where you can get a gorgeous view of St. Paul's Cathedral from across the Thames river.
Other Museums to See
The British Library contains over 150 million books and periodicals. Book nerds, rejoice!
The National Gallery was opened in 1838 and houses art from many French Impressionists, including Van Gogh, Cezanne and Monet.
The Museum of London traces the history of London spanning a time period of over 2000 years.
The Science Museum contains an IMAX theater and interactive exhibitions – which include clocks and watches from as far back as the 1600’s!
Make it a Royal Occasion
What would a trip to London be without visiting the Royal scenery?
In 1703, the original townhouse that we know of today as Buckingham Palace was constructed for the Duke of Buckingham. This was a site of private ownership for over 150 years prior to the construction of what was known then as Buckingham House. Today, it is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world, and is the current home of Queen Elizabeth.
Hint: The changing of the guard is a free exhibition open to all, but you can tour the palace with a paid ticket entry. I can book a tour for you that includes afternoon tea and tour of the palace and gardens!
Housing the tombs of 17 Kings and Queens, Westminster Abbey is formally known as the Collegiate Church of St. Peter at Westminster. Hundreds of monarchs, royals and famous Brits are buried here, among them Charles Darwin, Geoffrey Chaucer, Stephen Hawking and Charles Dickens. Sunday is open to worshipers and closed for visitors.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
Another one of the most iconic buildings in the world, St. Paul's is considered Christopher Wren’s masterpiece of architecture. It's domed structure is among the highest in the world. It is also the second-largest church building in the United Kingdom.
Fast Fact: Princess Diana and Prince Charles were married here!
It is a fully-functional church with regular prayer and daily services; a tourist fee is £18 at the door, but no fee is charged to worshipers, of course. It is also closed to tourists on Sunday. Tours here include the Cathedral and its Whisper Gallery. This domed area of the church allows you to hear people whispering from across the other side of the church because of the design and acoustics of the building.
This is one view of London you won't want to miss. It is widely considered the best view of the entire city! It takes approximately 30 minutes to make a full circle around, but the line will take you much longer. It is highly recommended to purchase tickets in advance – otherwise you'll spend the better part of a day just waiting in line to get yours!
Tower of London
This fortress houses the Crown Jewels. If you like torture and prison stories, this is definitely the place for you! The tours include the Armory, animal chambers, and a complete history of the beheadings that took place in this building. It’s fascinating if you steer towards the darker side of history – and if you like to look at Royal Jewels!
Fast Fact: Anne Boleyn was beheaded here!
Of course, there is plenty more to do in London. When you're looking to book your next trip, you must work with a travel agent who knows your destination city inside & out! A travel agent can help book tours, plan and coordinate events, and will check in with you throughout your trip to make sure things are going according to plan! And I'm lucky enough to do this for a living! Call me at 770-740-9099 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll begin your booking today!